Twins, part two.

Published 2023.06.10

DECEMBER 18 2008.

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

I am seated inside a fluorescent-lit McDonald's in Providence, Rhode Island on the eighteenth day of the twelfth month of AD 2008. I have arranged three Big Macs into a trinitarian triangle, lacking the arrows of the equivalent and nonequivalent, but much like a Kanizsa triangle with even less than absence, the skeleton of the arrows commences its manifestation at the mention of implications. This is my usual order - it is the perfect representation of all primary food groups, with added buns of temptation. All the hysterically healthy choose to eliminate this structural component, the seeded bread, as suspension of disbelief agrees to the pretension that the fourth wall is absent, but its contour is not only imagined but magnified by the mass nature of an audience. Why consume a hamburger without the carbohydrates? Food-deriding gobbledygook. The Kool-Aid of calorie counting madmen. I have never concerned myself with the contempt of food. Growing up Italian, our portions were overproportioned. The preparation of food for four involved feeding millions, so something may be at the ready to offer any unplanned guests. Fed massively and unconcerned with male attention and pornographic standards of thinness, I eat the carbohydrates, probing the surface with fangs as a lander probe makes its geological sampling. I am at this particular location almost everyday, but wear clothes disparagingly different to those which many identify to mine, do up my hair and employ shadeglasses. I seem to have a forgettable face - only my eyes and my hair are attributes which render in the express clarity that hominids have the faces for other hominids. Image processing algorithms at the dawn of digital imaging were primarily stocked with the same set of example images passed around numerous research departments, and many of human faces, as it is an unconscious ability for many things human and human-like to see the corruption of the visage, any slight wrinkle in the symmetry or the malpositioning of a feature setting off alarmed fireworks. My habit of obfuscation exists to ensure that I remain unnoticed by Res Jino, as Rico called myself bitch enough times to institute such a policy. I intend to lower these shades to the ridge of my nose, and angle my head as a ball-bouncing seal to violate the terms of this disadvantageous promise between twins of similar leanings in attentiveness to women. Plainly, we both want Res Jino. I'll get her.

The discussion between myself and Rico went something like this. Or rather, let myself present this in a format not of a discussion but of a listing of Rico's demands and an honest indication of willingness or unwillingness from myself towards the demand which at that moment is in question.

"Okay, so... for realsies, for realz, never tell Res our address. See, I did a little oopsie, no, it was actually on purpose, just a trick of genius Ricococococococo, and I told her I was living in a hotel! I paid off four yearsies in a hotel, I told her, and you know, sis, if you don't keep up the act, I could actually be living in some uncool bumfuck 5-star hotel right now. Imagine Ricococococo having no home, and only a pool she's paying for! Take pity on your poor sister!"

This one is avoidable if I merely show her into the house in the dark, which will lower the readability of any landmarks, and as it is deep winter, fog will further compensate for the time at which the showing will take place. However, since my sister, the fool herself is, never closed the loophole of simply opening the door for Res Jino and letting her inside, I will move to betray.

"Next! This is important, so listen closely! I'll talk your ear off! DON'T come into contact with her, unless it's life or death, serious business, for realz. When you're out on the town, hide who you are, okay?"
Do I have to tell you? I'm already about to violate that.
I questioned it then:
"And why do you get to be an individual of high visibility and a perpetual claimant in the eyes of many for prime target of schoolground warfare, larceny and sabotage? I am operating under the assumption that myself, for I have lived in a glorified cage in the Alps for half a decade, am deserving of interaction deanonymized."
"Okay, fineeeee. Just hide your face when you feel Ressie is near."

Actually, I do have to tell you: please concentrate on the word 'feel' here. As long as I have to turn my head towards a window to assess her presence, and attain exclusively a profile view separated by a cracked wall, a keyhole or a transparent surface, I believe that I can lower my shades then, as my face is unassailable by the lights of her eyes. Please now concentrate on the word 'feel', a second time, but broader, let us expand horizontally. She didn't say know. This becomes nonapplicable when she is mere centimeters away and we are making direct eye contact. This precautionary phrasing, when interpreted with the utmost literalism, maliciously compliant, results in Rico having made the following statement: when she is in the same space as you, you can make yourself visible to her.

"And don't put her in danger. Don't have her limbs cut off and gross stuff. Don't make her collateral. Please don't shatter her weak, slimy, disgusting bones. For reals, sis. Can a gnarly cool girl like Ricococococo trust a business-whore opportunist like you?"

And I said yes. Because I am not putting Res Jino in danger if she is distracted by something much more cosmic and far-reaching than mortal danger. If I tie her to the traintracks and engage in a theological dispute, her attention span, like mine, will drift to the present intellectual stimulation, and we will both play pretend that I did not leave her to be assailed by a multiple ton combination death machine/grain silo. The mind is a wonderful thing, the subjective perception of time, hyperempathy and selective attentiveness, all so impeachable.

Rowan, the kin of my aunt and her present partner, nominally "the Earth's most pointless serial killer", Julmala fal Gero, now proceeds to chime in, three years old and already heartless:

"Do yous ever talk about anything else but some girl? I'm sick of that stuff. Talk about some war that happened three thousand years ago or something. And for the record, I'm illiterate. So yous have to tell me it."

I do find myself pathetic in saying this, but I will keep talking about a woman I barely have ever met, child. It is stereotyped, is it not? Lesbians fall in love within a week. I can make that within ten seconds, just you watch, child. I will be the queen of capturing maiden's hearts, child. This is a three thousand year old, in fact, prehistorical war, the war of hearts, child.

I am a birth of the year AD 1997, and as Rico and myself are identical twins, she is too, in case there was any speculation about a gap of several seconds or even a full minute between our births. Neither of us is older by technicality. It is an indisputable synchronicity even in gestation and emergence. It is almost creepy. I believe in and abide by the Structure of all things, but I do find this to be as strange as anyone who wasn't coming out of the womb with a fully formed consciousness would, which in itself is quite an oddity. I often find myself incapable of plainspeaking articulation, terminally thoughtful, a mind fueled by eight separate octopodal generators, or rather an infinitude of webbed tentacle-minds. I find myself living every minute of my life at once, any memory exacting its intrusive vengeance, parasitically chewing on the present situation, blossoming from trauma-burial sepia to regretful technicolor. Because of this, I speak as if I am defending myself in a transversal court where the light from the incompressible nature (but not the image, I'm Muslim) of God dazzles a hall of mirrors, my image unable to be reflected magnitudes of times, the immediate shriveling up and curving of my face in reaction to my own fate obscured. Not so much compensating for temporary vicissitudes and harrowingly potentiated but not yet occurring embarrassments, but expressing the fact that I can never find a true central place in my own memory and lived experience, as I am always back in that place I never want to be in again, as if I am trying to be the bigger person for my own weakened, scared self. Or maybe I come from wealth, and ritualistic pomposity is just what we, the rich, do. Who knows? Haha.

Nature is only violent insofar as it damages human interests. I sit embroiled in human interests. Toolmaking seems to be common in all of the primate ancestors of the linguistic, theosophical, heretical, statistical, systematizing hominid. I sit embroiled in chains of employment and chains of command chaining of capital and chain-opening of outlets. Linear, presently coherent. Nature is only violent insofar as it damages human interests, but it is linear to a fault. It is reactive to the nauseating works of the arrogant hominid, that much is a certainty. When geological time whistles as a kettle, fires the start shot of a marathon, the hominid acts unprepared. The earthquake has been brewing for millions of years. This is a continental collision hotspot. We have built civilization on a faultline. Language finds being a rock impermissible. We are introduced to concepts everyday of interpersonal dramas, the externalizations of locked-up consciousnesses that attempt to interface with other insular flesh domains, descriptions of situations, characterizations of persons, biased fundamentally, impartial only insofar as the subjectivity of objectivity. It is impartial because it is the machinations of a singular mind-domain. The subjective conditions have an objective stonewall. It is biased because we dare translate empathetic abstraction. We conjure versions of other domains as they appear to us in conversation and demeanor. We impose those versions onto the real person. We are cursed with abstraction, and we have fallen far out of place. We are not plains raised a centimeter a year to become cliffs. We are a paused, resumed, paused, resumed torrential rain. We sit immersed in snow, climatologically, overlooking steel chariots, agents of death, move humdrum on slippery road. Nature acts in continuance of its processes. Frost is a constant. It will outlive the automobile. The deathliness of the automobile and the deathliness of a slip and fall form an uneasy mesh. When I describe to you Res Jino, when I engage in conversation with Res Jino, we are no better than climatology and the labor of human ingenuity signing the Treaty of Versailles. If I could violate it, and communicate only in patterned blinks, stares and soft sighs, I would. But language stunts me. I must make my abstraction become thought. I must let language eat me. I quite like the taste of Big Macs.

Res Jino, narrating

Two days then passed uneventfully, and it became the eighteenth of December. That day was overcast. A disproportionate amount of worry seemed to drift through each room regarding the weather, as to whether it was going to rain later that day and cancel athletic events and the like. To me, this was far from a big deal; it meant less zealous athletic events at which we could see other schools fall before the hands of students to whom we had never spoken. American football is the reason we discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a thing I'd never wish upon these students regardless of anything they may choose or have chosen to do, unless, of course, they chose to side with Bureau Hotel after this day...which many of them must've done. Rico and I spoke relatively little on the eighteenth; as if in preparation for that evening, but not in truth, for neither of us truly knew Ari would make an appearance, even if we could suspect it. In fact, I don't reckon we spoke at all on the eighteenth of December, 2008, on account of the light Providence breezes obfuscating our detection mechanisms for any desire to speak at any given moment. We did not know what fit us to say, so we did not speak, that simple. Rico Eisenberg, notably, wore her hair in a single braid down the back of her sparklingly clean, patch-laden, and oddly quilt-reminiscent RSA uniform, red-ornamented black with the logo embroidered prominently above the left breast. I wondered whether the braid, sloppy and contradictory, was some kind of statement she had made, an anti-outrageousness gesture procured hastily that morning such that I would understand that I was a fuck-up for having an interest in Ari and noticing her interest in me, that I too could be a braided-hair rebellionist-slash-revolutionary with a little 'counter-' added in parentheses beforehand for ambiguity purposes (Bathys did, after all, write such a thing), but I was uninterested. I could not bring myself to wear anything but the young men's uniform, lest I ruin my image. And I liked, to a certain extent, my image: it was deceitfully butch, not hateable but not lovable, dictatorial, groomed for success. This was my demeanor, and I wouldn't, at the time, change a thing about it. Nowadays I wear more dresses. Now we can move on.

My quasilegally-established bank account ran low, very low, so low that I found myself concerned as to whether I would eat for much of the next week. Utterly drained in my finances by the most recent round of violence, in which our guns were confiscated and our drug lab investigated up and down - albeit to inconclusive results, neither of us properly identified, just another RSA operation among many others that would never receive full justice from the law - I could not go any further. The usual restaurant for a dull Thursday, one which would eventually become and indeed did become pockmarked with transient heavy rain, was down the street, but proved too expensive: upscale motherfucking hotdog stand. The next few fast food joints were closed for some reason or another, some marked with police tape, some with windows smashed, and it didn't give off the energy of a robbery; rather, it appeared the aftermath of some kind of manic assault on the locations. Whatever, I thought, fingers running over the pleather of my increasingly slim wallet. Raindrops occasionally impacted the top of my head, and I saw the darkness of my bangs flutter in the wind as I quietly documented my predicament in an SMS to Rico, which I knew deep down she wouldn't actually answer until tomorrow, when the money would already be spent on something or another and I would already be looking at an allowance of absolute fuckall from Goni. I thought to myself, damn, I would really love to find a hundred dollars in cash on the street right now. At this moment, I should've acted. I was thinking, I could really rob a drug dealer right now; I should go get some McDonald's. Ari Augustenburg must've known exactly how I was feeling. She had some intuitive sense for my emotions, I would later discover, and I could comprehend the intricacies of her thought better than most, but that came later. The necessity, in the moment, was that we start somewhere. I couldn't have fallen in love with Ari had we not picked up where we left off inside a pseudo-derelict, understaffed, and blatantly janitorially insufficient fast food restaurant, and had I not continued picking up where we'd left off over the years, we would both be dead and Bureau Hotel would be living. Our mutual desire to destroy BH's universal order and false-vacuum dictatorship wouldn't have become one of the strongest forces in the world had we lacked the earliest stages of commitment. I may have had terrible habits, I may have been a twelve-year-old drug dealer, and I may have been an overly useful freak, but I had some faith left. That was what mattered.

It came as something of a surprise to spot Ari Augustenburg at this location, a trinity of burgers already purchased and neatly laid out on the table before her, as seen through the raindrop-specked windows and their mild degree of fog, then through the door, then one-hundred-percent direct, right in my face. I was of the belief that I was going to eat alone, of course, because that was how I was accustomed to eating. Goni would make dinner with and for myself and his younger daughter-slash-my sister Saja, so we simply didn't talk about anything and restricted ourselves to our own room whenever possible, notwithstanding if whatever scuffed hotel we found ourselves in in preparation for a conference restricted us to sullenly avoiding him while seated on the couch, spilling little bits of the budget meal he'd have assembled this way and that. Always canned fish, never corned beef. Regardless of the time of day, the season, the circumstance, what he considered hearty was always insufficient, never anything truly filling. I was left with little more than hunger, and, because arguing with Saja could mean, were I to lose, exchanging what insufficient 'high-protein' morsels I had with her as reparation payments for not much more than a ten-minute verbal battle, I could not bring myself to share in hunger with anyone else. Of course, Bureau Hotel's work culture mandated that my grandfather waste his time, energy, and resources on preparing banquets for the rich Red Swan patrons who were sending their children to his school such that he would incorporate them into the system, the canonical world order governing the Incipient, perhaps the first of the three earths, with an iron fist; attending a conference him was as burdensome for us as Bureau was upon the whole world for its centuries of hegemony. Goni supported the system. I supported myself getting something to eat that wasn't inedible catering or tasteless cooking. So much for getting lots of protein so I would grow up to be a strong 'boy.' Oh, have I not mentioned the complex enough?

"Good day," Ari finally began, quite curtly...though perhaps a better word might be 'cutely.' Maybe I could say 'courtly.' I'm going to settle for all three, actually. Curt, cute, and courtly, she appeared. She, as I saw things, addressed me as a fellow young woman rather than as a little boy. The tonality of "Good day" was a real in a benthic zone of ineffective fakes, fakes that cannot outdo the real thing. I, however, outdid the real thing ten times over. To much of Red Swan Academy, my gender was completely ambiguous. People called me 'he,' which I strongly disliked but would not comment on, for being addressed as male brought me soft power, represented me as a tough agent of the ultimately masculine forces keeping the school's gang-slash-drug-slash-combat culture floating along the rivers of wasted youth, its waters in turn approaching an ocean of failed adulthood, approaching too fast to handle. Machiavelli watched over me every day when I woke up and, sanctioned by Goni Jino, who desperately wanted a grandson, put on the male uniform with its pitch-black fabric, red outlines, and familiar Red Swan insignia, the design of none other than Magdolna Asmunodo. It's obvious to anyone who's really read history that Magdolna Asmundo was the progenitor of all things Red Swan, but this is glossed over in most settings - Goni loves to steal wonderful things and degrade wonderful people. Hypercritical he was, not unlike Mag, but there was no love in that hypercriticality; empty, all of it was. I had more power than a grandson ever could. My blood was even purple, always has been. "Good day to you as well. How do you do?" I inquired in response. I could spot the similarities with Rico, but they didn't matter that much to me, because Ari had made her differences known immediately through something we call a show of restraint. "Are you still pretending to be Rico?" "Yes, I am." Interesting, I remember thinking.

This matter seemed very complicated in my mind at the moment, almost at the intensity of a geopolitical conundrum, but Ari simply replied, her face contorted into what could be recognized less as a smile and more as a threat, "The utmost seriousness with which you take that assertion is the trust of a dog." I, frankly a bit insulted, retorted, "I don't know a single dog that entirely trusts the word of someone it just met. I'd prefer if you associated me with-" "- the wren? Yes, Rico has told me of your connection to that cosmopolitan creature. It should be put on your coat of arms when you inevtiably split from the Jino clan." "No, no, no. I wouldn't dare ask for severance from my bloodline now, would I? You don't know this, but I take pride in Jinohood, for I value what the Jinos do...or at least are supposed to." "Why not create a branch house? Why not splinter? Why not fracture?" "Um..." "You must answer the question." "It's complicated." "I will begrudgingly accept that as an answer. Now, where were we?" "Would you mind apologizing?"

Laughing, she started up again. "I do beg due pardon, that was my impression of Mother. A turquoise woman I hold you are certainly acquainted with, and faced with enmity and distrust from. Where was myself?" "You were comparing me to a dog, making sly little gestures with your hands and your hair, I believe, as you did so. Did I see what I think I saw? Never mind." "Oh, that's right. I remember exactly what myself was going to say." "Go on." She shook her head, allowing the hair which I reckoned couldn't have not had a mind of its own with how it shifted into recognizable forms behind her, reached down to her legs, and held one of the Big Macs from which she took a small bite in its strands, seemed to consume some of the food itself, et cetera, while she offered me another member of the burger trinity she'd assembled, leaving only one, which neither of us touched. I bit in myself, eyes still on her, seeing her adjust the edges of her clothes a few centimeters in this direction or that. Tracking the motions, I found myself feeling less hungry than I had in perhaps a year within a single bite. Knowing that the burger was no different from an ordinary burger, I deduced that it was merely a trick of my psyche as the presence of another girl my age, and one whom I reckoned was a well-groomed girl at that, enticed me and made me want to ask for less. It was an instict: the more satisfied I was with a predicament, if this could even be called a predicament with how pleasant it was, the less I would ask for. I didn't want to change conditions except by my own accord. The outcome ended up being that I asked for more. At any rate, I continued eating the burger.

"I'm the pleasant Rico you encountered for a short span at a previous date. Accept this in reparation for the false expectation that my twin sister could be more direct and more capable of leadership. My name is Ari." I allowed myself a break from eating and took a nebulous stare into her intent eyes, and she did little more than look back with the precision of a sharpshooter preparing to zero in on the target, snipe, eviscerate the target after a clean shot to the head, but I knew too well that vampires did not take flesh; they took blood. See, vampires are creatures built on desire. Desire is what the vampire truly feeds on, even the half-vampire or the quarter-vampire, and that exploitation of desire has motivated their biology for many millions of years, far longer than human beings. In fact, the most archaic vampires, those who predate humans, took animal forms, for there were no humans to focus desire and feeding upon immortals was considered too complex, so there they were, hyperintelligent animals with the ability to speak who fed off of the blood of whichever species they resembled. Now, vampires are externally identical to and internally close to the average human being, but magical force still regulates many of their bodily systems, as it always has. This rich history leaves much genetic diversity in the present-day vampire: some are indistinguishable from human beings, lack special abilities, and live out their entire lives without knowing of their vampirism, even up to death and autopsy, while others are so great in power that they have the chance to attain immortality, that they function on equal terms with the great powers of this world. Some feed every day to survive; others only need a meal once a millennium, snakelike. Near-universally, though, the myth that some vampires eat flesh is not the case, for humans and low immortals, generally the best and most accessible sources of blood, in which desire is dissolved and distilled (rather than in flesh), are continuous sources of nourishment and culling is impractical. Creatures of desire do not ordinarily destroy the gentle hands of their prey, or limbs, or organs, or heads. Ari, neither a flesh-eater nor a weakling half-vampire, knew her immortal heritage well and embossed it into my mind as she glared back into me. I remember the sensation having been indescribably pleasant.

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

Her modality swings towards fetishism for vampires. I must emaciate the questions about blood before they emerge. It is not even a matter of sixth sense or second sight. Hence her Unabomberish receiving of the glare. "This establishment happens to be my favorite restaurant." I am asked the 'why are you a princess in a McDonalds' question. Curious query. "I happen to just be fond of the desecration. The impurity of it all. I do not believe that this meat, beef or chicken, is molded out of a primordial sea of pink gunk. I would consider myself a moderate in this stance, as one of my relatives can be accredited with inventing sausage, and she is a billions of years old Buddhist vegeterian that was looking for ways to most horribly rend the spirit and nuance of life of any living, flesh and blood creature. As you see, I have not touched anything with pork. I had never tasted pork from the beginning of my life up until this point, and I have no intention to do so." She looks at me sideways. What is this impropriety and impurity of information distribution? I despise this. "Did Rico never tell you we're Muslim? Astonishingly scatterbrained of her. Perhaps astonishingly intentional. Which is why I had the foresight to make the eating arrangements before you could romance me and serve me a meal containing slain pig." She thanks me for saving her chances with myself, and makes adressantless fists at Rico from somewhere beyond the window. "I'm sure you picture us fighting. It must be in our nature as competitors in pining, that is how you construct your assumption. Allow myself to disprove this: if I attempted to assault her in the throwing of a fist, it would have missed. Had she returned it, it would have missed. It would be comical. She may withhold information, but I am quick on the uptake of what was withheld." A rather unbecoming frost unprayed for strikes the windows. "In Christianity your relationship with God is one of personal connection. Answered prayers. Jesus' overtaking of the wheel. In Islam, we plead due difference to this. We may have taboos on what can be eaten, but we do not see it as our personal responsibility to be overseen by God at all times. Monkhood and frivolous ascetic pursuits? Please make time to forget those. As the Prophet exclaimed, 'Everything in moderation.' If you are sick, do not fast during the month of Ramadan. Do not pray all night, sleep half the night, pray the other half. If you are married, do not discard the pleasure of your relationship. We employ a necessary excess, an extra credit in prayer. Besides the five undertakings of salah, nafl and sunnah are available. In theological terms, they are supererogation, the performance of more than what is asked for. Supererogatory prayer is encouraged, but there is no punishment in the afterlife for its neglect. We are a religion of doing just enough for life to be beautiful and divine, and only doing more when our spirits are strong and our bodies are solid. Extremism is the game of the Christian. A religion of suicidal idealism. Perhaps the root of the exploitative Capitalist spirit is ascetic." Okay, swerve. "Here is what you have most likely been waiting for. As a vampire, the bare minimum for my survival is drawing the blood of the one I love every two weeks. I am however to be wrapped around another for as long as is possible, in hopes of the transmission of body warmth." I stretch out my hand. She feels it. She says what anybody would say: "Cold." And I say: "Yes. A nature resemblant of all reptiles." Despite her monosyllabic response, I can see her ashaken with fascination towards superhumanity. I would consider this a victory.

Res Jino, narrating

"Cold...cold. Very cold." I paused. "But are you sure you're not sick or anything? Because I, at least as far as I know, still have a bit of ibuprofen back at my house if you'll wait on me for a couple-"
"There will be no need, Res Jino. It surprises me that your understanding of vampiric biology, despite your training as a hunter," which I was surprised she even knew about, yet simultaneously not particularly surprised by, given how loose Rico's mouth is, "does not extend to healing of vampires deemed useful. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen would only cause myself to become more frigid were I to ingest either of them, Allah forbid both. What is your goal here? Are all human beings who know of my kind 'dead-or-alive' types?"
"I only wanted to help. Do pardon me." I set down the burger, which was close to finished, only a few bites remaining. Suddenly, an image flashing across my eyes. Fluttering through my field of vision, there's something I recognize intimately and have deduced the circumstances of despite its displacement in time, something a twelve-year-old girl should never have to envision yet was forced to by insertion of memories into the mind, a middle-aged man, dick pressed against the permafrost, examining a bled-out corpse with a fiery look in his eyes, ablaze with a forbidden passion, not ready to be understood, approaching, crawling on all fours, reduced - Apollo and an incestuous edition of Daphne - to an animalistic semblance. I go wide-eyed, silent. I felt cold myself. Goni and Ragu Jino. Them. Back then, I was still trying to figure out what it was; it seemed to appear in select instances, triggered by some unpredictable phrase or another, 'just there,' perfectly still, until my vision could return to its previous subject, in this case Ari. When I could see her clearly again, she appeared puzzled, genuinely so, and seemed ready to either scold me, threaten me, or kindly ask me what's-the-matter. "Would you mind not saying 'dead or alive' again during this conversation?" She nodded politely.
"Finish your burger though." That I did with haste, a little nauseous but ready for anything at this point.

There was a long pause in our conversation, and the natural light outside seemed to dim even further, people coming in and out of the store, seeming to phase in and out of existence in tandem with their exits, as Ari was realer than real to me in this moment. Funny, how the surreal and the absurd are further in touch with reality than realism itself, isn't it? "Is there anything more you'd like? I am well liked in this establishment due to the financial rewards I award the front staff." I would've had no clue, having never seen her there, but knowing that, at the time, I'd have never dared to order more than three items at a restaurant, fearing the economic consequences, so I told her, "No, but thank you very much. I'm a bit full." Total lie; I had already started getting hungry again. And "No." is exactly what Ari Augustenburg said back to me, sliding me the unbelievable sight of fifty thousand dollars after a quick grab out of her hair. "This isn't counterfeit, right? You didn't just put a couple of real Benjamins on top and then get the rest printed, did you? You're not defrauding me, correct, Ari?" "You just referred to myself by my first name in the form I requested. Present me with mutual trust and tell me if this is the most money you have ever had, personally, in your possession, emphasis on 'personally,' as I want none of this going to your Grandpa Goni. Now tell me." "It's true; I can't remember having more than a thousand to my name at any given point, despite myself." "Of course. That's why you should have trust and take all of it. This is already difficult enough for me." It was a miracle that there were no onlookers, but I took the money and shoved it into my pocket as my face started to redden with a blush I wanted to call slight but which must've been painfully obvious to Ari. "To me, Res Jino, this is pocket change. Welcome to the magic world, for real this time."

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

"You know, I quite despise your ancestors. Taj Jino and de Mentira Niko. They are the reason I had wound up in this situation I had to escape. Slimy women both." She quizzes me, as if it is her main prerogative to correct some fundamental slit and chasm in how she views the world, as if she just lost something forever, on why I am calling Taj a 'she'. "I quite hate your tendency to save as if you are a dragon resident in a kilometer-deep cave, but I hate what you have been told by Goni more. I am uncertain of the truth of the situation, but I know there are two lines of the Jinos, both of which take root from two female ancestors. It had to do with a split between two economic systems and a shift in terrain, as well as a shift towards the present Jino religion. I know Taj Jino was the founder of this omnisyncretic and simultaneously unsyncretic God-within-everything branch, who fashioned you into diplomats rather than the integrationists of the other line." She looks at me as if she has internalized that Niko's veins run in her blood. I best be careful. "You bear no relation to de Mentira Niko. The family of your mother, Iris Corey, has a history of being wed to the de Mentiras. The union of Corey-de Mentira creates the House of Arenberg. The creation of the House of Arenberg, then, leads to the necessity for the House of Alarie, and the mythical union of the two dynasties, which we seek. Myself is not suited for this task. At best, you fill only a quarter of the requirements for this. However, this process is as unstable as it gets. It had been upset by that night where I first remember holding the hand of my childhood friend, and love too, de Mentira Eko, then somehow reaching the mainland through the Messina Strait, then through mountains finding myself locked up in that castle. Castle Navashino. A sick gothic joke, crumbling, and overwhelmed with vampires. Seemingly, my parents fell into grief and made little effort to resist the disappearance of their own daughter. Eko had lived with Taj and Niko, who were the next door neighbors of ourselves. Mother came to visit and bring the bare necessities, but made no effort to take me away. Was she too stricken by prior trouble to try rescue myself? It never adds up no matter how hard I try. She had prior engagements, prior baggage. Thalassa."

"My amnesiac aunt. Found worldwide, having slept and reproduced with at least ten women, bastards who turn into foundlings. Currently, she is resident here. In the villa on the Navashino's castle grounds, I lay on the floor, skimming the great work, the Book of Unrest. I am taken with an esoteric concept severely unexpounded on. The Zero. It is a propellant force, corrective of the world, inherent to beings such as my ancestress turned inventor of sausage, and as I had come to realize, *Thalassa.* Her patterns of escape matched. The Zero gave her the ability to forget a life, and make thousands of others forget, to alter the precedent of the world, so she may find true happiness. She is unstable, and thus is stricken by regret. Her longest term partner has been 'the world's most pointless serial killer', as she is termed, Julmala fal Gero. You know the name." 'Fas', a book of death threats, bragging, knife-wielding pageantry and plays to superstition, had been a best-seller in the United States. It was penned by Julmala. Res Jino once bought twenty copies in hopes of marking them up so as to profiteer off fear. Scarcity and insanity are one graph. "She had settled, as a herder, field cultivator and baker, here in quaint New England. Over the past sixty years Thalassa has repeatedly returned from her drift across the latitudes and longitudes to resume a family life that seems deeply uneasy. It is clear they are not fit for each other. But to find you here, and be with Rico, I had to exploit this automatically shutting and opening faultline that threatens not to only destroy dams but forge canyons. I had to declare myself an ally of The Zero. I am unable to attain it, but my family possesses something quite close. I do not understand how it works quite yet, but I speculate it is analytical. An integrity check of natures. The absolute possibility of something as it would be reacted to by the vaster system. I did not arrive here simply by saying 'I will tell Thalassa she does not like Julmala'. That would not work. Do you want to know how I did? 'I will avenge Ragu Jino.'"

I can see it in her eyes. 'How are you privy to this information? What brought this on? How am I part of all this?'

"I glanced this from your reaction to a certain phrase. We are both aware of this incident. During that expedition, Ragu had been with Thalassa. Thalassa, too unstable for the overall tenability of the ancient power growing within her by freak accident, had forgotten how to christen the one she loves as immortal. She had let Ragu Jino die to the cold. You know what happens next. After the defilement, Julmala fal Gero takes centerstage and plays to the directionlessness and strange relationship with death and decay, a commonality among both of them as immortals who have witnessed or experienced or become death. Enough of an overlap to forge a relationship, thinks Julmala. Thalassa, desperate, having not forgotten but just lost, and arguably betrayed one of the women she could truly settle down with, takes on this tenuous offer. Why not? Nothing to lose, she thinks. There is nothing more to be lost than my own memories. The structural integrity of who I am. The inability to recognize my own purpose: to defect from unhappiness. So Thalassa reasons, maybe not so gravely, maybe not even consciously. It informs the way she lives. She returns, a bird on electromagnetic sails, to a perch that cuts her wings. Julmala fal Gero had been a pretender, an obstacle. Goni Jino was an agitator of a similar kind. To The Zero, they are false peacemakers alike, internal rot and eyepatch wear and necrophilia all equal before the all-compressing gravity of the blackhole that is null. All variables hitting the same wall, and then executing their potential for autoevolution, handed their parts in the grand scheme of all things. I came to this city to eliminate Goni Jino. I have been incapable of doing so. I am still studying why that is. I however was capable of teleportation. An ability so rare, and with such impracticality inherent to it, that for even someone as powerful as myself, it takes 'grey magic' for it to transpire. You have been living in the same city as the woman who made Ragu's last year the best year of her life. Even though she was abandoned to die, the expedition constructed as a suicide mission, 'Nonem Nescio', or NN for short, Thalassa's rather on the nose nom de guerre, had stuck by Ragu and made her warm. She was too absorbed in the human drama of shortening supplies, and the fear of cold, the surroundings pointing to magic having already ended, everything already having hit the wall. She was convinced she was equal to Ragu. So she thought that Ragu could survive one more night. She was convinced Ragu Jino had already become immortal. That Ragu Jino was not as unimportant as all the other mortal subjects of this catastrophe. That Ragu Jino was not to be protected by her, as Thalassa did not recall her own name or nature until much too late. This was dismissed as unnecessary information. As far as the extremism of the order of the world was convinced, Ragu Jino was a demigod, and Thalassa was a demigod, and Antarctica is a rainforest, and sunflowers sprout from thermometers in critical temperatures. Usually, she recalls her name by month three, but here she was absorbed in this perfect isolation, a catastrophe turned romantic, until that night when the temperature turned untenable, and a fight for the last loaf of bread and last package of rations ensued. Ragu passed away in her sleep. Thalassa, or rather Thalassa's contribution to the null state, grew convinced that everyone else in the expedition will face perishment, and they will live to face the glaciers poisoning their retinas with holy light. Pardon my French, and because of all this, she fucked it all right up. She could not have made Ragu Jino immortal. She didn't. Ragu Jino was immortal only in the story the way she conducted herself reported. A suicidal year-round vacation of two eccentric sapphics. When you see what you see, construe it as the anguish expressed by the fabric of all happenings and all events."

I take one deep breath. I nearly became airless in the necessary domination of the conversation. The more clarification is provided, the bigger the risk of flashback. Questioning The Zero proves problematic.

Res Jino, narrating

I can recall my surprise at the revelations unfolding before me, the pressing tension in my muscles seemingly threatening to snap my whole body with its gradual intensification over the course of her barely-interrupted near-monologue, the distinct lack of sweat (typical of my physiology - I only sweat in the worst of circumstances), the soft breaths of mine as everything seemed to quiet down so much that I could only hear hers and mine with the sensitivity of my ears, but most of all, I can recall the look in her eyes. My body seeming to lighten as the lights faded a little, flickered once, and returned even brighter than they had been before, I sank into her gaze knowing she was planning something, but I couldn't tell what, and there was nothing at all to be told. I knew she was going to act rather than speak. It didn't seem that another word was at all capable of coming out of her mouth until she actualized whatever was flowing through her mind. My memory blanks right here, though. I remember a wall of black overcoming my vision right after she got up to approach me, right after she made a gesture with her fist, as if to say "Can I hit you on the back of your head?" (though I never heard those words outright; if she said them, I was already out cold), right after she got behind me as if I'd told her 'yes,' right after I felt a concussive thud, right after I got what I thought was the last glimpse of the world I would ever see. And truth be told, I wasn't even that mad about it.