Twins, part three.

Published 2023.07.01

Res Jino, narrating

"Sometimes reality cannot be seen in reality," I heard Ari say, awakening with my eyes closed, feeling little more than a sense of dull pain to guide me through the menacing elements around - there was no rain, but the wind announced itself with slurred speech, a drunken and pathetic wind I could feel struggling with its inconfidence, intensifying in abject, abstract pitifulness until it died down completely, at which point I felt my eyes forced open. This was far from painful; all Ari did, Ari, who became the first thing I recognized from sight and sound after the blackout just as she was the last before it, was gently push up my eyebrows with twin strands of hair, mind-of-its-own hair, goddamn beautiful hair, and then snap the strands back towards herself, such that my vision would refocus and she would find herself at its very center, wishing earnestly to be the single most important thing in my entire ecumene, every bit of my known world - which she was, little to my knowledge, about to expand even further. Outward from there, the immediate moment, I examined the elements to which I was exposed, a distinctly Northeastern concoction of stately deciduous trees, overambitious, cosmopolitan yet obnoxious evergreens, and humble snow-graced grass and dirt beneath me, accented with the occasional weed, various keystone species with no place in an Anglo-Saxon Protestant's supposed 'garden' despite their niches, discriminatorily eliminated from spaces ostensibly intended to exemplify the beauty of nature, but which instead usually become opulent displays of anthropic control, the same surgical elimination of beauty which befalls a recently passed - or even intentionally slain - atlas moth, collected from the ground with what some might call 'care,' pinned with frigid one-inch javelins of metal - it would seem most people call them 'pins' - to a temperature-controlled display for humans at something the moth does not know is actually a 'natural history museum' in our parlance, to be ogled at, its wings forever to spread, disallowed the closure of decay, never to fly again. Perhaps I'd be better off more plainly discussing cultural fetishization, what Americans do when they find themselves in East Asia, surrounded by CJK street signage yet looking for someplace where someone will speak some kind of English to them, but none of that matters in a vast forest, a vast American forest. Ari had picked a meaningless place to which she could take me. No conservationists in these lush barrens today, no National Park people there to tell us to fuck off, no petit-bourgeois hikers out taking the scenic route with their dates and picking up their middle-of-the-road feature phones - a few features short of 'smart,' of course - to speak with their higher-ups back at the office. There was a simple peace, and somehow, this meaninglessness had a truly meaningful impact on me. Indeed we were, for all intents and purposes, alone and absolutely nowhere, and there was no possible better place for me to hear Ari's explanations and accept her invitations. I still had to ask, soft and delicate in my speech, "Would you mind telling me where you've taken me? And, seeing that the sun's already left us all the way behind, can you make it clear for me whether I've been out for two, twenty-six, fifty-six, or none-of-the-above hours?"

At first, Ari answered me with a gunshot, through the most certainly contraband silencer of a hunting rifle I didn't know she had anywhere near her person. She fired nowhere near my general direction; in fact, the gun faced the exact same way my vision did looking forward, so she had her back to me as she pulled the trigger with the brutal grace of a spec ops sharpshooter. When she turned to face me again, gun suddenly absent after being stuffed into her hair of seemingly infinite depth, I saw the fresh carcass of two consecutive wild boars, apparently slain by the same bullet, leading me to believe the firearm's forbidden, maybe even black-magical, modifications went far deeper than what first met the eye. "Somewhere in New Hampshire," she replied laconically before eventually adding, "To be more precise, we find ourselves across the New Hampshire state line. There's a pack of feral hogs that I am using as setpieces." Suddenly, I found myself thoroughly confused; her subsequent continuation - "Don't worry, my people are on standby if this act encounters fatal difficulties." - didn't help at all either.

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

I don't mask, I have a gun. When I am exasperated, sensorial information untenable, existence a burn-topographical current of the electric chair, I take it to a range. It can be almost any location. It is snowing, but I am not dressed. Least of all troubling stimuli is air temperature - it is non-trouble. Dip me in a volcano and I will feel no different than if I waded into a blizzard. I will feel nothing. It is dark. There are no fires to be kept and carried. I am a torchbearer in one sense. I wear a leather jacket on my back, on it is printed PINOCHET. White seventies film poster style, typeface is Microgramma, font is stretched and capitalized. The font is the boldness and italicization, and the spacing, and all such tweaks. The typeface is but the glyphs. With regard to Pinochet and with hostility and dismissiveness to typographic terminology, there is no telling if a figure of this name happened, or if he is a hysteric patchwork fed, sustained and sedated by mass surveillance culture and the supposed fall of dictatorship. The anthropic follows. Governance and introduction of weeds alike. Frankenstein's monster-ish. I am about to tell a story that is non-anthropic in its actors and its actions, but anthropic in the motives of the relevant actors, and yet more anthropic in the fear created by hypothetically falling victim to a stampede of boars. The same followers, and the same story. Res Jino is very human. To her this danger is real, and the story is another anecdote about a vengeful God of military prowess with 613 rules and a heavenly saltmine to recrystallize the children of the Anthropocene with. I can hear the motor revving as the engine of Claribel's car is rested for frost resistance, if all the burning gurgling machinery may not fall to the unmotivated, purely unbiased forces of nature. Nature only is destructive insofar as it interferes with human interests. Often its destructions are human upsets.

"Might I interest you in something amusing?" I distract her. And she listens.

"See, my other ancestress, beside the turquoise embodiment of all soul drainage, is a nine foot tall tentacle monster with four wings, two functioning, two torn, moth eyes on her cheek, numerous octopodal appendages and complete blindness, seeing only through sensing. 'Mother', my method of reference to the turquoise woman, always deadpans she is 'five-eleven' when it is asked how tall this monstrous being, Saturn Thebes, or Ariadne Thebes I, is. Charmingly, Saturn has never eaten anything but livestock, and never has decimated a single humanoid, repulsed by cannibalism, a manticore in no way." She seems approving of this. That's strange for someone who peers so intensely at my teeth. 'I'll bite off your head.' She seems interested in this. My mistake.

"Some jackass however, an utter imbecile, had the idea that only comes to our best and brightest to slaughter all the sheep and the cows in the land nearby. A group effort of women who considered it their predestination to be wed to Bathys, and set their sights on eliminating Saturn. The lands strewn with amputated goat horns, trampled bloodied red threads of sectioned sheep wool, leatherskins, guts to tie into a noose and hang yourself with, an umbilical hanging, dreams dead before they could see the sun." I can hear her mouthing: 'Dead like campfire stories after everyone goes to bed.' And I respond: 'You don't want to be trampled before you can light the fire. You have to push the lion out of the cave before you make it your home.' Anyway:
"Dead as dreams, hung with the guts of beasties, were these women's ambitions. Something even more amusing than this very premise is Mother's capability to alter bodily functions. She can eliminate what has never lived and what will never die, one of the immortals capacitated to cull other immortals, hence the race to be her bride, and wield her power in the aims of empires that fell on still ground and got a concussion so mild they suffer from amnemonia. The anemia of memory, not so much amnesia, but a weakness of remembering, an embarrassment to even have existed." She's strangely enthusiastic about this: 'Cool coinage.' 'Thanks. I have no respect for Hellenism. Sicily is only mighty thanks to the Arabs. I despise the antiquity fetish of English. The Renaissance should be extirpated from all historical record and all words should be as beautiful as algebra. Al-jabr. Bone-setting. Reunion of broken parts. If all sciences were named this way, peace on this Earth would not be falsified.' She looks dubious, but does acknowledge the etymology of 'philosophy' is unbeautiful. Love of wisdom. Whose wisdom? How passionate of a love? Lunatic imprecision, unlike both eyes closed to see beyond the scope, thermal vision tracing heat maps. Write, record, claim to be a discoverer and the most enamored with the accuracy of recording, then destroy. The Hellenophile European's wise grandfather is himself with a clip on mustache, a clown nose and round glasses. Onward:

"So it went: veins turned blue. Larynxes becoming inflatable airsacks. Eyes depleted no longer seeing tiredness, unable to be reddened with blood. Tissue sagging. Arms and legs stitched on with plushtoy fluff, falling off from the mildest poke. But not so easily were they turned into amputees. Their limbs were burnt off one by one, hydrogen ions in remaining blood remolded to be reagents for an explosive reaction, turned into fuel, popping off cartoonishly like Mentos in soda, and catching fire as if a torpedo." She tells me: 'Tasteful commonplace metaphor.' I tell her: 'I can buy you all the Mentos to put in all the soda, you know. And I can dry your clothes and undo you being pied by carbonated water.' And she says: 'I'll think about it.' Onward:

"Screams a godforsaken thought. There lay four dead women, with much of the coding chemicals in their genome whitewashed, is A actually T?, is C now G?, complete uncoding, the total shuffling of linkage, total disabling of all innate genetic patterns, not for any particular reason but only of one woman's rage, and amidst all this a shoulder is crushed in Saturn's fangs: Bathys' own. Vampirekind feeds. Saturn sobbing slightly, but quite alive. Bathys' eyes meeting the sun and not Saturn's face like a wildcat guarding its newborn. Empty, blackening the air. A forever night threatening to become an event horizon, all other life that is not necessary to sustain Saturn becoming non-matter to be dusted continually by violent gravity. In the grass of alpine valleys, where crystalline rivers flow, now turned Revelatory, blood of both sheep and the sheepish who are sheep to power only imagined too a frozen impurity. In the thousand years that would follow all this bloodshed is dewdrops with a half-birth and a half-life of two-three hours once upon a foggy morning. Is death beautiful? No. I don't think so." She nods.

"Is death purposeful? No such thing as a meaningful death beyond what is projected onto it." Again.

"Which is why it's such a funny story - it's a moral fable of the Grecian kind, where the gods are overkill, and hubris is a chocolate fountain." She resists: 'Nice summary, jackass. Thought you hated the Greeks, though.' 'Don't get too cocky, monolingual. Plato won't be inspired to come back from the dead as a girl.

"I asked to hear it again five times the first time I was told it. Now, why are we here? Oh, of course. To commit violence similar." And then she says: 'Yeah, I sort of get it now.' I say: 'Look out, dumbass.' Bang. Not fingerguns, molten lead. Headshot. May the Christian find the rotting pork and in his penance and avoidance of luxuries like food without maggots thank his God-therapist that the Cordyceps only takes the ant, even though he is God's favorite paltry ant, he thinks, and acts as if it is true, and that the muddy lake water in which he swims in tandem with brain-eating parasites is frozen in this season, the blue sea enveloping his body just once a step too far into Indulgence for the Protestant. I see all men as radial hives of composters and decayers. The pig's face is perfectly clear.

Another charges in. An aggravated pack soon coming. Bang it over the head with a rifle, kick a honeycomb-shaped hole in its heart, throw Jino another burger in paperwrap. Repeat hog elimination pattern in deep twilight. Nobody knows where exactly they'll come from.

"You see that elegant hexagon? A shape that best fills a plane, leaving no wasted space. Its cells are uniform. It is perfect. You can construct millions of it, renew the mechanism, and the system will maintain itself. Conclusives are what happens when your eyes cross from the totality of perfection. Sorry, did I not explain what a Conclusive was? Ah, you know, just the final male to ever be born of any family's blood, like Goni. The Evil, a thing with a name and a face, seems to be the creator of such things, a nihilistic exercise in baiting stronger families, 'enforcers', towards it. There are no strongly supported theories for the origin of The Evil, at least none which seem to be entirely sanctioned. Do you know the name Mariana Alarie? She is literally God, as they say. She was worshiped. Anything she believed to be relevant to her was changed in the minds of millions to be the objective good. A dangerous thing. Approval to any beliefs. Obviously Mother wanted her dead." I toss her a pistol. "Get one. Fire off a few. No brash moves. And don't try to run like hell, they'll stampede you." Reticent. Alright then, talk with my back to her.

"Before I expound on the symbolic significance of the hexagon, and all three untriangular persons that rule morality, entertain me and tell me a story from your life. It is quite grueling to partake in strategic hog warfare. No, not really. But tell me a story. A Jino story. Exercise total recall of your childhood. What is your precedent? Where are you from?"

Res Jino, narrating

At first, the question seemed impossible to react to. With so many available stimuli at my fingertips, I was predisposed to come up with something on the spot rather than extending trust. I wondered, was there really any telling her? Was such a thing possible, given all the carcasses strewn about and the recklessness of our respective youthful minds? I puzzled over it, appearing contemplative with my whole body. My otherwise excellent posture slouched a little, and while I was freed from her tentacular hair, given the opportunity to walk anywhere I wished, an opportunity which I used to examine the dead boars' altered, externalizing bloodflows, paw at the haram flesh with my now-ritually-unclean hands as Ari condescended nearby with an occasional "Well?" or an inquisitive "Jino?" or even an emphatic "Fucking hell, it's not hard at all." In reality, I was merely trying to verify what I was seeing. I had no interest in the boars beyond their immediate implications for my twelve-year-old self's sense of place, truth, and meaning in light of everything I had heard and seen; everything but experiencing this succession of moments further and further down their collective rabbit hole felt moot and played-out. Indeed, life as a drug-dealing tweenage gangster was cold and repetitive, dissatisfying and uncomfortable, so naturally, I began to feel something deeper yet initially indescribable. With the sensation in mind, I tried with all my might to interpret, to analyze, to exegize this awe-inspiring environment, until, without any warning, another hog came charging right at me, as if reckoning me wholly responsible for its mate's death, its offsprings' ends, its social unit's total destruction, with tusks extending harshly towards my abdomen and threatening my entire immature being with a violent, final exsanguination - what humans would call a 'summary execution' if it was between two of us, minus the wild, lawless animal I describe - a death by association. It's exactly what would've happened to me had the Providence PD gotten me and turned me in for further evaluation by the Bureau Hotel world order's unjust lawyers at the behest of rigged judges. Instead, just like Rhode Island authorities had no idea I was responsible for any crimes at all, I found myself shoved out of the way, the boar dead before me, an untouched rifle identical to Ari's sitting in my hands, fully loaded, while her own firearm's barrel smoldered, pointed at a disproportionately - impossibly - large crater dusted with pulverized animal. My ears rang so loud I ceased to hear the wind, so loud I thought I would never hear anything else again, but the tinnitus stopped, and everything returned to complete normalcy. Hell, I could even hear better than before. I knew, of course, that this wasn't supposed to happen. Tendrils of hair shot up and pinned me to the ground spread-eagle, then lifted me up to stand somewhat more comfortably, completely out of the way of what I realized was to be another stampede. It missed us entirely, and the only thing Ari had to say on the matter was, "I think you should tell me now. This is much more than enough delay." In the end, I decided I would oblige.

"I'll begin with my birth if that's alright with you." Ari nodded and let me continue, a little bit of excitement in her eyes. "You see, I'm not from here at all, and like most every other Jino, albeit on a technicality, I can call what you call the Korean Peninsula 'home,' as would my little sister, Saja, you might've seen her around without knowing, but not the Korea on this earth - in other words not the one you'd learn about in class here on the Incipient, if you ever decide to go - and not the one you'd find going to the Deep. Instead, I've got the Luminescent to call a birthplace, a completely separate world, one with less people, a cozy little world, a world I hate a little bit - but that's for another time. Let me get to the point: my parents' names are Nom and Ea Jino. You'll notice that Nom is a valid name in my family, two consonants surrounding a single vowel, whereas Ea is not, since it's neither that structure nor a CVCV arrangement. That's how the Jino name works: it's supposed to mean nothing and just be a thing you're called. That's always how it is; it's definitely that way for me. Ea took up that name when she married Nom, just like every other marry-in does to signify their allegiance, but it was wrong. It was meant to piss off my grandfather, the Goni you've heard plenty about, and that's where everything starts falling apart. The insult to my family is what really did it after all those mounting tensions, the stranger who waltzed into the old man's quiet family life being mad at his five daughters and I guess zero sons for existing, the stranger who finally made a difference and gave one of those daughters hope instead of despair. He never liked my mother or my father, erm, mother...erm, I don't know. How should I refer to her, uh, him for now. I don't know which." "Mother," Ari suggested. Was Nom a woman? I wondered this to myself and thought, may as well, before proceeding with caution. "Alright then. My other mother, my Jino mother. Got it. Things can get a little bit confusing when you haven't seen someone in so long and you've heard so many things about them that you can't figure out what to believe anymore. Hard, actually. Unbearable, even. I think you'd understand. But yes, that's where the problem begins. Goni was never a good man; he once had a strongman's grip on the internal world of Bureau Hotel, perhaps an unreasonably pure iron fist, especially back in the fifties, which was when the...never mind. Point is, he consolidates all that supposed power and might in Red Swan now that Bureau Hotel doesn't want him on the East Siberia conference anymore. He must've made a deal with the devil, the way he's been around so long without doing any dying, maybe even a deal with something much worse. He's already a genuine, verifiable centenarian by a long shot. Longest-lived human on record, gets a lot of press for it. Born 1893 and still kicking for whatever reason. Isn't that just...fucked? You know, given the way he treats me, treats my sister, treated my parents? Oh, yes. Do you want to hear about the blackmail?" "Sure, sure." A little bit of pressure in my head. "It's been twelve years since they had me. Everyone knew going into the exact circumstances of my birth that Goni would want a grandson, that he wouldn't be happy with anything but a grandson. He needed a male heir psychologically, and I'll never know why. And guess what? I wasn't that. Never was, proudly never will be. He loves his order, his manly principle, yet presides over a stolen organization founded by a woman and puts so much time into hunting down the two women - that's still so fucking weird, Ari - who raised me until he made them stop. He collected as much information on his daughter and her wife as he could, revoked their marriage license, harassed them no matter what address they went to, until one day Ea just disappeared, and eventually so did Nom. Ea only ever spoke to me in French, felt very warm in a beautiful, motherly way I somehow still remember when rocking me, always bought me anything I wanted at storefronts as long as it wasn't more than a hundred dollars - and sometimes even if it was - like she'd stolen a credit card from Warren Buffett with nothing to lose, and had a minor cigarette habit she was still careful to conceal from even her immediate family; Nom would read me the ancients at bedtime while I sat enthralled by her vibrant and dynamic narration, tell me out of nowhere every couple of weeks that she knew I would do great things as I grew older, and hug me tighter than a noose at the gallows, but she was always checking the clock, always conscious of how much time would slip away if things were to end all of a sudden. One day, I woke up somewhere other than my own bed. One day, I found myself on a plane ride next to my grandfather, and when I asked where we were going, he started to tell me about Rhode Island. One day, I retrieved four cases of luggage I couldn't even remember packing and was taken to the only nice apartment I've ever lived in, told to call it 'home.' One day, there was nothing left of all the love they gave me." Teared up a little, not too much, just a little. Trying, trying, trying to keep going. "One day, when I was six years old, I lost everything and everyone in this world which made me who I was. That very same day, I started picking up the pieces."

"My focus and attention first wandered to Goni's immediate machinations, his remedies for the supposed collateral damage of an upbringing guided by the gentle hand of Nom and Ea Jino, mothers, immediate family, apparently imposed onto me and Saja. 'Collateral damage,' a euphemistic reference to apparent pain, suffering, and death inflicted upon those deeply unfortunate enough to have watched, like, the unfeeling orange billows warping outward from whatever remains of the body of a dear relative heroically fallen onto a live grenade, to have seen the torturously beautiful glow of the hungry flame left behind, to have been irrevocably scarred by war without ever holding a Kalashnikov or operating a Duster. You'd know exactly what it looks like were you from around here, had you gone to my school; at RSA, they you a video at the very start of the 'Introductory Lessons in Diplomacy' course everyone takes in their third year; that exact scene unfolds on camera, as if entirely preplanned, yet it's strikingly real; you're seeing someone die on camera. Right after the video ends, the replay button unclicked, an eerie silence blanketing the classroom, you're asked, 'What could you have done?' Every single time, no one answers, and after about fifteen minutes of abject shock, the instructor resumes the lesson as if nothing had happened. Everyone picks their pencils up and resumes their notes." Ari seemed to struggle to realize how exactly this was relevant to what I had previously been describing; I decided I needed to tie it back as blatantly as possible. "You seem confused, but this video I'm describing, this travesty, summarizes my grandfather's mindset real nicely. He's of the belief that he fell on that grenade for me and Saja, always has been. From the very first day, I heard him begin to slip up; he would suddenly go on tangents about how glad he was, how wonderful it was that his son, supposedly me, was safe from what quote-unquote 'he' had gone through. He believed it miraculous that he had replaced my parents by force, and every day was transformed into a set of falsified archaisms, him explaining blatant bullshit to me, his eldest granddaughter, like he had twenty-five percent more of a share in my genome than he really did. I was told that Goni was the continuation of the legacy initiated by our first patriarch, Taj Jino, who differentiated the modern Jino line from a dying tribal culture of false progress and separation from tradition. He told me of Taj's formalization of the Jino code, how Taj encoded centuries of unwritten glory to preserve the honorable Jino culture as it had once been - and I didn't believe him for a minute. Scanning through the codes kept on my grandfather's desk four years ago, when I was eight, I saw little bits of bullshit here and there. You might call them 'inconsistencies' or even 'infidelities.' Every once and a while, every few plainly-written pages, the mode of verbiage would turn inconsistent for just a moment, using terminology far more modern than enough where it would raise an eyebrow. There were occasional nonsensical exceptions, unbelievable gaps in the law. I felt a sense of shock; there was nothing there of substance, and I couldn't help but ask Goni why the Code looked different from everything he'd told me about it. I even called the old man a hypocrite, asked why he had lied to me. I don't think I ate dinner that night, or the next night, and then the night after that, I walked half a mile or so without any company to a fast food joint, maybe even the exact one we were before you brought me here, with ten dollars I'd found on the street in my pocket. I ordered a kids' meal and ate it alone. This is the way I started realizing things were wrong, that my grandfather didn't love me. Some realizations took years, others took seconds. I still realize little things to this day. Like, you keep mentioning a woman by the name of Iris. I don't know where that's coming from. Maybe it'll click tomorrow, after I've done a couple hours of lessons in vampire hunting in the afternoon and my mind's worn out just enough that, while tired, I can think boundlessly and make unusual connections. For now, I need to get back to where I'm from. That's what you asked me about anyway. I'm getting there."

"I mentioned being considered collateral damage by Goni earlier, but I've caused collateral damage myself. I don't speak Korean or French, though those are my parents' preferred tongues over English - I speak collateral damage and a little bit of English. From the moment I was enrolled in Red Swan Academy, I knew where I had to make myself from. Providence, Rhode Island, United States, where students at an elite private school open-carry firearms in the hallways yet never fire them until school's out for the day, usually at each other when the time comes, where student turf wars dominate the environment and choke out any opportunities for peace and quiet, where everything is bullshit and you must make two people, both bearing your name and recognizing your face as their own in the mirror, coexist within yourself. One is an all-American, Bureau Hotel-ready diplomat willing to do anything to succeed within the system, self-grooming into the system without any need for coaxing by instructors or forceful verbal beration, self-reliant, cold, and unfeeling; this is the self you show the adults. The other is a nationless, raceless, mindless, creedless excuse for a human being, the kind that claims the weapon they were discovered with is for self-defense but knows they could kill at any moment and for any reason if it would benefit them, the kind of person with a vendetta ostensibly against everyone who's ever wronged them but really against themself for being far less than enough in their own eyes, the kind that constructs a myriad transient identities for the sake of enabling and justifying their own mundane sensibilities for violence; this is the self you show your peers when no one else is around, regardless of what you really think of them. I know it's already obvious to you, but these selves are far from independent. They ebb and flow against one another, feeding a single, unified narrative of making shit up for your own benefit and caring about nothing but your own success, disconnecting yourself from the world and refusing to acknowledge defeat. Over time, these artificial selves are supposed to integrate into nature and create a monolithic flow feeding into a bureaucratic ocean of blind pragmatism, creating the perfect middle-management worker, who will spend their whole life maintaining hegemony and curating it, but no one tells you this. No one tells you you're supposed to do this. No one tells you the endgame, that the teleology leads only to the destruction of everything that distinguishes you from the status quo. No one tells you anything, and I've never heard jack shit about it out loud. It just happens that way. Now, I don't know how I've come across to you, but I hope you realize that I don't buy it. All my pragmatism is open-eye, Ari. I've spent so much time trying to find a balance. I may only speak collateral damage, but I'm learning every other tongue I can. I want to know a life full of joy that means something other than upholding things I will never understand or agree with, so I want to ask you: would you like to help me grow up, help me learn the truth? Would you like to see a world without Bureau Hotel as much as I do?"

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

A distractingly passionate answer. An answer that could send anyone into an adrenaline-pumping daze should they stand unprepared for the grand gesture of making hurt yours and past past and the blood that flows within you yours and no one else's, carnivorous fungal growths disguised as treebranches disguised as men be damned; but I'm not "anyone". It would be tolerable, heavenly even, for myself to be the kind of woman who hears a challenge to the very integrity of the world as anyone else knows it, beat down by it, reharmonizing undertones of surveillance and paranoia into throat-sung overtoned war cries echoing in the steppe, blinking a thousand blinks each minute trying to see the second mechanical sun projected in connective dots by the scopes of surveillance cameras' red or green light that serves as the indicator they receive current, the single shadow of the world they know to be all-corrupting of all good in it. I wish I was naive enough for one shadow, one past, good stellar burning organic perpetual fusion event sun and carved-out unlit dot sun. In reality, all this takes me less than a second to think, and I open my mouth, expectant of nothing but sheer disappointment, expectant of reception with hurt and confusion, uttering honestly, ulcerating the air, dissipating the pink fumes of a singular common cause: "I guess. It would be just one layer." I then remember I am an idiot. If it is human psychology for the faithful of the New World Order to seek affirmation in forced coincidences, constant signage, psychic whispers, pisspoor anagrammatic evidence, semantics of one's name capitalized on a birth certificate indicating it to be a private corporate entity that without your knowledge you were signed away to fro representation, singular vowels across flickering radio transmissions spelling out the forewarning words of the deceased, breathe in the pink fumes and dream up more examples, my Marxian friend here would love to hear what I have to say about the second, third and fourth and infinitesimal layers still uncounted.

"Let's begin from the very shell of the world. There are three entities that actively partake in the matters of false peace and entropic acceleration. The Devil, The Evil and... Alice." She looks vexed why such an important personage would not have a title. I note that this Alice views herself as above euphemism. She kind of scoffed. 'Kind of'. What am I, a commoner? It must be the poverty getting to me. "The Evil restores and reinforces beliefs that it declares to be worthy of existing, such as the necessity for men, and thus Conclusives, which is an outmoded idea. The Evil and Mariana Alarie function alike. However, one can materialize anything, and the other seemed to be incapable of using her abilities for Baryonic matter creation. But both present the same ideal: belief is reality, rather than the take of The Devil, a different being from The Evil altogether, a hooligan called Giles Corey, whose presumption is that it is true that anyone can believe anything, but it is dangerous to equate hypothesis with the structure of reality, much like it is dangerous to equate the surface of the ideal unoppressive world that Bureau projects with the being of such a world." She nods in agreement.

"Most tend to agree with Giles Corey. I quite agree with Giles Corey. Yet if the system is so flawless, and there are authority figures to be listened to, why then can you cross your eyes at a field of perfection? Why, amongst the 'main three', is there an Evil? Surely there must be some purpose for a being whose existence is a prop for an elimination. A stepping stone to disempower. I believe that if I kill Mariana Alarie, your family will return to you. But let it be known, I hold a grudge against Taj Jino. I had the displeasure of finding out that the people who took me to that castle were de Mentira Niko and Taj Jino, the former foul character not quite relevant yet. I'm overcome with the suspicion, even in the face of my own trauma, that it feels unnatural for your genesis to act in such a way. de Mentira Niko, last I heard of her, was a bitter but not quite demented hag, but definitely grudge-holding to a fault, who escaped from the status of a player. I believe that someone had to force the hand of fate. But that might be rationalization. Maybe I am just speculating and accrediting dumb opportunism far too generously. It seems to me, the nature of The Evil and the nature of what happened to me, which could upset the balance of my life and reveal everything I had ever lived for to be a lie, are two flaws implanted for much the same reason. Your handover to Goni, and the fuzzy narrative that surrounds your two, both female, parents, seem to be another related scheme. If I can dispose of a false God, I can unlock access to a world where I am no longer surrounded by lies. If you dispose of a greasy pig of an old man, you get to 'advance' your family. A bishop piece free hop towards the truest nature. But that pig has died many times over. Five, ten. Many attempts had been made to kill it, even by me, most of them are me, in fact, and it kept rising from the dead. I believe that thing, that man, is protected by The Evil. I don't know that man's face, though. I almost know no distinguishing features. But please don't paint him to me, I'm quite fine with the maggot filter over my eyes, which applies to representative art and photographs of any male-minded individual, foregoing those who are yet to become women, potentiated for the divine feminine, whatever that means, whose faces I see clearly."

"So, is the Evil an intruder into the system?" "You'll see."
"Or is the Evil some anomaly? An archaism?" "You'll see."
"Is the Evil a natural outcome of fear of mortality?" "You'll see."
"Is the Evil related to you?" "God, no."

Fifteen years later, I would find out that this defiance was untrue.

In my eleven-year old self's present, she unwrapped the third uneaten burger, hid away in her hair, which is cold, but serviceable, and is braced for handover. "In the trinity that you had sat bearing witness to, this was God, the Father. In Christian art, he used to be contained in the three faces of Jesus, before he was turned into an old man, as Dante's three-faced Satan eliminated the three part Christ with three duplicate faces for God, the Holy Spirit and Christ himself. The complexity of the trinity was lost, and its structure was rendered obsolete. Satan himself was a metaphor, a tempted state of mind, and Hell an inner space, in the Bible and the theology of the Hebrews. This complexity quite bugged The Evil, who awaited the deal with the devil to be a fixture of Christian hysterics. A literal event. The apparent origin of talents, where any mediocrity could become genial at the cost of one's soul. Omens and ratializations like those that come in dreams, which can be superimposed onto the surface of reality, the sudden reckoning with one's mortality overriding reason. A few years ago, I lost the ability to dream altogether. I lost the ability for my subconsciousness to crunch what I believe I saw in the wakefulness of life, and construct an approximation of it. Instead, all I see is everything bad that has ever happened to me, in worsening detail with every hour that I sleep. Insomnia worsens. With this dreamlessness came on the loss of ability to see the faces of men as well. All I see are writhing maggots. Some radial. Some sloppy bouquets. It seems my ability does not discriminate against those who find their truest selves in spite of the false enforcement of biology, or the false enforcement of coasted life. The blandness, constancy and simplification into symbols and good-masked and evil-masked actors of of trauma which dilutes the 'truth' and renders it utterly derealized, the constant resurrection of Goni by The Evil. You want to know how that man has lived so long? A false peace undeath. A constant promise to become something, to make something of himself, to believe that he is not yet a waste, and to believe is to create, according to The Evil. To present is to be, according to Bureau Hotel. To shine white perfect light is to be God, according to Mariana Alarie, the demented hag stuck in a rocking chair on Leif's Island. The proper order, ironically, is a three-act structure, incremental. Bureau, Mariana, The Evil."

"And yet, one troublesome part of The Devil and Alice's own children, the thousands of them, the de Mentira-Coreys, the Arenbergs, is that all begins with humanity. A grudge, a hurt. My own mother, Saturn Thebes, Ariadne the first, Ariadne Navashino, is forbidden to discuss amongst the Navashinos, a prohibited character. We share a common grudge. The 'rich Jinos', of whom you are not part of, the other lineage not started from Taj, had benefited in many ways from my parents, and assisted your move to the Luminescent. The 'modest Jinos', the diplomats, had been here on The Incipient, during the time of my parents' virginal romance. Saturn Thebes had destroyed a Navashino output and planted a Jino knife in it, covering her tracks. The Jinos, however, somehow did not take offense, and sought to preserve the name of Saturn Thebes, who had otherwise fought on their side, as the enemy of one's enemy is one's friend. Mutual hatred for the Navashinos had made both parties quite agreeable to each other. Was it some unconscious thankfulness for letting their richer cousins become resource-owning? Was it sympathy with the woman who had chosen to become her truest self through deformation and rebellion, to find humanity in absolute transformation, a perfected, always complete negotiation where a monster, the ultimate flaw of humankind, the uncanny, foul, could become a policymaker, a beloved figure, and not the simplistic boogeyman whose appearance is distorted through storytelling, true transference of the basest thing, one's own self, through history, agnosticism to all systems of beliefs that center on rejection? I believe now that Taj Jino partook in my own kidnapping after having heard you were born, and wanting to plant myself inside Castle Navashino as to obliterate the Navashino family, the transference of a grudge, already distorted. Which I despise. Absolutely detest. So if I do something human, I will do it for love. For yourself. I choose you, Res Jino."

Res Jino, narrating

Selected as Ari Augustenburg's chosen candidate for her then-separate conception of revolution, which I wouldn't have come close to comprehending in that moment, having only read the ever-influential Book of Unrest through twice and having never even touched her mother's Counterrevolution in the dozen years of life I had the simultaneous pleasure and displeasure of experiencing, knowing Ari's predicament, knowing she was most frequently locked away in a villa outside the Castle Navashino amidst Alpine cliffs, confined by forces she had yet to best, I was immediately elected as target by another party, a far more mindless one, a boar rushing at me and promptly diced into prismatic pieces by frenzied hair, which Ari then shoved into a pile of bodies which had quietly grown throughout our conversation without much attention paid to it by either participant, even Ari, the prime huntress here. The forest green seemed to bleed out of the leaves of trees into the star-specked night while the strikingly red ungulate blood she'd sprayed into our surroundings underwent a metamorphosis against the rarefied atmosphere to grow closer in color to the boars' unremarkable brown fur. As my surroundings followed these dynamics, I let everything marinate in my mind as wild boar would cook in a stew, Ari and I evidently at odds on whether the boar meat was abominable or delectable, allowing one another our contrasting opinions. This was a palpable dichotomy: I was mostly direct about desire, while she would funhouse-mirror the mere concept into marble sculptures and balloon animals. I wasn't surprised: though I had learned - or been told to learn - across many lessons, beyond my education on how to handle the Jino knife everyone in my family carried on their person knowing it had been forged for them in particular, how to stab a violent bloodsucker to death with it, that vampires were simple-minded creatures who only lived to feed, I nonetheless knew that every vampire I had come across had had an elaborate mindset with nuanced goals, indefinite anti-teleologies of their own design, made to prolong the meaningful and do away with the meaningless. Something about this inspired me to take actions an ordinary vampire hunter would deem unacceptable out on serious missions: in some way or another, I would always prevent the death of the target. As one of the few remaining children assigned to the laughable attempt at vampiric genocide and as a supposed heir to the supposedly honorable tradition of culling mutants, I was infatuated with vampiredom. Even then, I wanted vampires to prosper, to understand them rather than withstand them. I could never say it out loud, but I had more respect for vampires than humans. In my mind, I was more prepared for the machinations of the magic world than I would ever be to serve Bureau straightforwardly and without question. "You choose me?" Three boars were skewered on a pillar of raised earth in immediate sequence; four more were stopped in their tracks and underwent an accelerated necrosis before my eyes. They were neatly lined up and allowed to crown the pillar, beasts allowed little pain. I was used to death, as many of my upperclassmen had suddenly passed away over the years, even those whom I had come close to respecting and those whom I thought had the ability to escape the system imposed upon them, make it out of the gang war framework, but I was not used to beautiful, refined death, death that had been ascribed meaning. I had no idea that this was how immortals saw the concept of dying.

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

"I am saying, I would figure, that I love you and see as a viable candidate for a relationship between myself and another." There is no pause between this and what myself says next. Not letting her process it. Nobody told her to have beautiful thoughts about our marriage prospects and our children inheriting countless plots of land and the houses that stand upon them, and in eventuality executive authority over all of Europe and the pity prize of America of the North. Blow the birthday boy kazoo with great dismission.

Myself: "Have you a light?" Her, in death throes of incapacitation, expecting to review our relationship prospects further but interrupted by what seems trivial concerns: "What?" Myself, assuming all commoners have a predisposition towards arson: "Got a light? Are you in possession of a pack of matches?" Her, snarking at me, somehow in continuance of the class theme: "Is this an all poor people smoke thing? I don't, thank you very much." Myself: "Please, if you stereotype myself as a snotty princess, I would like to think that this snotty princess is of the assumption that all of the poor are quick to embrace Zoroastrianism. More divine and committed than the whims of Prometheus. Absolutely reliant on any fire at all. Any warmth at all." I say, grabbing hold of her hand, fingers entwined, just for a moment crawlspacing the intervalic frictive spaces that exist in the pockets between the spread multimodal appendages of operation. I consider this deed one of softening. Her, embarrassed, at a level of unoratorial syllabic drift, not ponderous but distancing, the thoughtfulness that strangles, but seemingly pleased and poised now to not tangent from this episode of affections: "I don't actually have a light..." Which we do. Sorry, Darling. I was one for constancy of action, unable to determine when all moments that deserve to be eternal will be taken away from me by impositional forces. Fifteen years later, I am in the labyrinth of our bedroom complex, one occupant of an entire castle's floor, nestled in her arms, with two children at our knees, sometimes positioned digging with their heads into them, or laying on them as if peering out of a dug out shelter to ascertain the clarity of the coast, upsetting the narrative flow with familial mythmaking in all its myriad-colored angularity. The third is unaccounted for and seems to be at independent practice of her architectural projects.

Now Darling, then just Jino, asks, impoverished twelve year old to unelected monarch eleven year old, asks, as if having gotchad me: "Hey. Who's 'your people?' I thought they would have every little thing you need. If you asked for a brand new car to be airdropped into the forest, they would." And I say: "Cremator has never been the title of my guardian, Claribel Organum. She has been variously been called My Coke Guy, My Psychiatrist and Windows Vista-Compatible Woman, some on internal paperwork, most outgoing, as Mother finds acquisitions tedious and uses our notarial immunity for merriment. Other flights of notarial non-persecution include Monk That Fucks, Ghost Town Urban Planner, Professional Film Extra for Crowd Shots in Biopics Only and Old-Timey Dutch Tulip Saleswoman." Res: "You mean they won't hold you hostage in a bureaucrat's office for a mismatched signature?" Myself: "Yes, they will not." Res: "Marry me." Myself: "Remember your own signature, idiot."

Res Jino, narrating

I would say I don't know what I was thinking, but somehow, I know exactly what I was thinking, saying "Marry me." like that to Ari Augustenburg, but really, I remember the exact thoughts going through my head. The usual tweenage marry-me exchange comes about in the course of play and is eliminated along with other remaining vestiges of earlier childhood when adolescence properly begins and markers such as menarche, middle school betrayal, and PG-13 movies watched with parental supervision contraindicate simple imagination, leaving instead space for vaster projects and coaxing the now-ex-tween into the world-system. This is where things would've been, had I had a normal early-childhood. My actual predicament predisposed me to go about things in a degree of earnesty seldom seen among those my age, thinking everything through believing it could kill me if I made too many sudden moves. My thoughts were as follows: Ari Augustenburg was easy to feel things for. Ari Augustenburg had differentiated herself from the rest of the world. Ari Augustenburg was beyond death, but there was no thinking about this because I had no time to say anything before I heard, "Do you have a pack of matches?" "Why?" I somewhat answered. "Claribel Organum has never been on company files with her employment listed as 'cremator.'" "No, I don't have any on me. My apologies." The absence was indeed strange, although I had stolen Goni's matchbox collection from him and had plenty at home. I didn't say this, though, lest we become sidetracked and trek back from New Hampshire to Rhode Island all of a sudden. My mind didn't need that kind of thing. "You're in deep winter without a pack of matches," Ari retorted in seeming protest. "What are you going to ask for next, if you can bum a cig off me? I don't smoke." "I more mean just sheer heat."

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

As she remembers it, the words were more choppy, the moment seized by her blurting out 'Marry me.', which had taken place after my solicitation of matches, but affixed itself to the very front of the story, a false start as big as the First World War, if such a thing had taken place. Willy, Nicky. But unlike the unpicturesque and bumbling assassination of Franz Ferdinand, which succeeded only through sheer persistence with several collaborators deserting, I find it to warm my reptile-veined cold-fusing heart that is what she put so much stake in, and a smart gesture of grander romance emphasis when telling a story of how our kids' parents met. After the failed solicitation of matches, I took a stray pair out of my hair, after having fished for minutes idly brushing within whatever non-Euclidian sea of museumpiece acrylic-enclosed knickknacks and curios resides there. The cardboard emerges coated in a protective surface of acid and cancer transparent and unglimmering, full-body tumors of a walking wart succumbed to lung cancer extracted long ago by Mother in an act of public healing. A human-mounted plastic rock climbing wall made of flesh dissolves to reveal most of a woman's face, touched by the faux-Catholic saint, who turns to spectators to say "Underneath this is your body too." That vacuuming of tumors now forms a skin-unsafe (obviously) inflammatory acid that coats all of my clothes in their entire exterior, capable of reduction to a gutless (literally) skeleton within three minutes. I can take off someone's torso by offering my jacket to warm them in this New England winter. The face on their now disembodied head will remain until decay, that permanent glazed-eye peace of human sacrifice.

I ask, then, if she is in possession of kerosene. She takes out a cheap cologne vial with the identificatory label half-erased, doing as the Romans do I say the damage appears akin to a rear-ended SUV, doors gelatinous, spotted, eczemic with blood, reddening here represented by trace underpaper. I clarify I don't actually know how car crashes look, have never been in one, somehow have always avoided the sight, the sounds of impending doom amplified, a hyperacute registry of grinding tires, my misophonia aflame. She laughs. This vial contains kerosene. She never said "yes", but I now have eyes on the second best thing after a clear "yes." In a paranoiac's reverie, she had surmised that an attempt on her life would have been made by some upperclassman, a pig that arrives always dressed in tuxedo and justifies it, in technically sound rhetoric, as a display of willingness to be railroaded to the organization everyone in Goni's Red Swan is just one serving of human shit traveling through the pipeline of, Bureau Hotel. I cared not to recollect any more about this individual. She corrects me she did not tell me much beyond this. I am happy Darling was tactful from the get-go, sparing me the Kafkaesque examinations of the inner lives of pebbles. How she would use the kerosene, then, would be quite uncomplicated. Coat the target's head, drop a match. Create hot air. Convection follows, as hot air travels downward, allowing the fire to spread, hoping to trust the messiness of deployment to produce drops traveling down across the upper half of the target's body, taking leaps of faith to assure fire passage is safe. This, however, will not be enough to cremate even a single boar on its side, as we quickly found out.

Res Jino, narrating

Having my otherwise discrete container of kerosene revealed was certainly embarrassing, considering the combined utility and risk I carried by having it on my person, and I'm almost certain I was blushing the whole time knowing that I could've just as easily kept one of Goni's absolutely worthless antique matchbooks on me, gotten just as much value out of it, and pissed the old man off in one go, but Ari would certainly be the one to know; even as the underwhelming flame's tendrils burst into being, ready to char the gargantuan mass of flesh but collapsing under its own featherweight frequently enough that nothing much got done, she maintained total eye contact, subverting every last opinion I had had on prolonged stares, for this was pleasant. Although the feeling of being grilled lingered in the same way it would were I being questioned regarding a disciplinary infraction in the sterile cleanroom office of a nepotistically hired Red Swan Academy administrator devoid of all his youth, and although, as I would later learn, the Augustenburg eye was a curse unto the one beheld affectionately in Augustenburg vision to become - to some extent or another - Augustenburg, I was entranced. Consider: after death, it's considered ordinary circumstance for a donated body to only have two usable parts for incorporation into another body, the corneae covering the motionless corpse's eyes that have rolled back into the head. The doctor extracting the corneae must roll them back into precision and calibrate precise equipment to remove the part and render it usable, taken from a being that is no more. The other organs, on the other hand, just decompose, untransplantable, and the rest of the carcass becomes optimal for a body farm, fetid rot consuming traces of personhood until the skeletal remnants can fossilize in a more proper graveyard, perhaps the ultimate display of ordinary humanity. The body of the house Augustenburg was always living, never just a cornea donor, yet through the eyes, it can convey the essence of an entire vital system without a second thought. As Ari took out a feature-phone, one seemingly plated with 18-karat rose gold and inlaid with diamond as became apparent when she flipped it open, she did not look at the phone whatsoever, only at me, with an occasional glance at the world around us, unablaze save for the small fire, which had spared the forest. "I request you allow me a moment of silence on your end, Jino. An important communication must be made. Feel free to contemplate anything you wish, for I cannot read your mind. Now then..." That was that. I noticed how no ashes had spread beyond our immediate vicinity, how not even a single leaf of a single tree exhibited charring or transitioned into embers - the Jino family, I realized, was just as safe. I had no idea of the whereabouts of my biological parents, I had no idea how to stop the coals of my life from spreading omnidirectionally to consume other, less smoldering coals, yet there were no literal burns; there were only berations of Goni's and little absences of important parts of our lives. I had taken care of Saja to the best of my ability since the first time Goni left us behind, explaining that he had important business to take care of without providing any justification when he returned home a week later and so on and so forth. I, I realized, was the safe hands of the Jino family. The Jino knife I had been given when I turned six to carry on my person weighed heavy, but I had done an okay job if everything I had done before this had brought me to the Augustenburgs, had brought me to a semblance of meaning in a world where value is ascertained arbitrarily, and knowing meaning must be manufactured as the core of intelligent life's industry, I was happy and allowed myself to smile. There were indeed things I could set aside. At any rate, Ari dialed a number I couldn't make out listening to the dial tones amidst the light crackling of flame. I could, however, tell it was in a different format from a United States phonebook entry based on the pacing of her entry and the absence of familiar patterns, and I'm pretty sure I could make out the Italian country code at the beginning of the beeps and blips. A few rings in, someone whose voice I couldn't quite hear from the phone's low-volume position against Ari's ear picked up, and I listened carefully. "Yes, cordial greetings, Organum." Oh, a familiar name, I thought to myself. Ari had mentioned an Organum before, generally positively opinionated on the matter, emphasizing her eclecticism as some kind of professional - my best guess, later proven correct, was that she was a method actress - and, oh yes, as her guardian. Interesting. "... yes ... indeed. That is correct. I'll need you here soon. There is a porcine issue; bring plenty of kerosene. I am aware you are a non-Muslim, but ensure that the porcine issue is eliminated to such an extent that no prohibitions of dietary law may originate from my slaughter by anyone whatsoever, regardless of creed. I extend my thanks ... Yeah. See you soon." Click. "Don't mind that, just a brief contact with an aforementioned figure. She comes in anticipation of meeting you as well." Ari emphasized 'anticipation' slightly, such that it stood out from the rest of the sentence like an almost-healed jammed thumb. "I doubt she's heard anything about me, so I'll admit, I'm a bit excited to get to know the rest of your people if they want to know me. Diplomacy, call it?" "Sure, sure. Be sure to make a good impression. No kerosene cologne vials visible. No embarrassment. Just be yourself." With all that said, we waited patiently for perhaps an entire twenty minutes, silently tossing the perfume holder - and the little drop of kerosene remaining inside - between us, which proceeded unceasingly until I noticed a single headlight in the distance, an engine revving and repelling curious wildlife from the scene. A thirtysomething-looking woman, well over six feet in height, dismounted the now-parked motorcycle, well-groomed hair covering up her right eye but leaving the left revealed to the world, quite significant and striking to see for the first time, but not overwhelming. She had just enough presence, just enough bravado, for the scene at hand, hauling a tank of additional kerosene out from behind her. Without a second thought, she said, "Lady Arianna. I'm at your service."

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

Claribel Organum. Rosy, pink eyes, literally. Maybe a thousand years old physically, stopped aging at thirty-four. A late quitter, as opposed to a late bloomer, owing much to the fact that most of us cease pretending we edge closer to death between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-seven. Perhaps having been the subject of a cruel joke, of an unforgivable margin of error, blowback for having taken statistics to get into the heads of my enemies in the one year of university I had attended, a full nineteen years later I stopped aging at thirty. "Guardian" is an employable way to say "surrogate parent". Her field of expertise is espionage, and seduction in intelligentsia fell out of favor after the Cold War, so I see no reason for her investment of time cementing herself as the true emotionally-bonded and attentive mother of myself, incapable of the logistical attenuation of my whims. This assuming that the birth of myself having taken place six years after the end of the Cold War can demonstrably remove any impurities from her motives in retroaction. Canned laughter. In the voice of innocence I speak now, a daughterly pleading, a tonality that in most of its unidealized use cases is succeeded by a window open at night and a front door untouched during covert departure in the direction of certain gatherings, "Aunt Clari, can I borrow sufficient qualities of kerosene for a funeral pyre? Pretty please?" She looks at me with an expression that reads "why do I keep falling for this?" and responds "I'll think about it, Lady Arianna." "Pretty please with a cherry on top?" "I'll do it for the cherry." Jino protests this conversation: "Haven't you guys already talked about this on the phone?". I say to her: "Much like you're meant to be yourself, I am merely urging Organum towards the inclination to be presentable to you, which may encompass saying 'pretty please with a cherry on top', so might you make the appropriate considerations and not lecture myself on inefficiency? If you wish to be resolute, take the risk of wildfire as negligible if nonextant and indeed imbecilic to conjure, and... begin buttering up the hogs?" I tilt my head as if a lost dog. Res laughs uncontrollably. Claribel: "That's a good one." myself: "Please." Claribel: "No, your timing was good. It's a yarner. A scathing passive aggression that unresolves in the awkwardest of all word choice. It's like driving off a cliff to plummet to one's death in a clown car. Wonderful. I love it."

All halfhearted conviviality being fled, we did indeed 'butter up the hogs', as we had taken to calling it, Res somehow having latched onto the metaphor, eyes bright as a child born on Christmas unwrapping a combined nonduality of presents, most likely owing to the fact that to her a cut in its entirety of freshly slain unperforated meat in searing oil is an unabiding luxury, and Claribel having retreated temporarily either to higher ground in the event of wildfire and assess the smoke stacks as they bellow and belch or to exchange the motorcycle for a car in some garage constructed overnight and stocked with motor vehicles to soon be airdropped elsewhere the fleet may stand to serve as transport and the garage to be auctioned off in all its warehouse scale for some two dollars to any willing buyer, a completely symbolic purchase. Pools of kerosene glisten.

A match is dropped. It's an inconsiderate, almost accidental gesture, worthy of an 'ooooopsie!', Jino almost hoping to put it out, suddenly awakened to some ecological duty. I push her out of the way. "Just because they can be made into food later doesn't mean I'm not Muslim. So much like I choose love, I choose to banish this pestilence from the land it does not belong." And Res says: "No, I was more concerned about the forest fire risk, and not the food waste." Myself, then: "You'd let New Hampshire burn?" Res: "No one needs it." Ari: "After us, of course." Res: "We're gonna be the last people to ever set foot in New Hampshire." Myself: "You now suddenly seem onboard with the pyre." Res: "My third least favorite place on Earth after here and California." Myself: "I'll trust you." Res: "We probably shouldn't completely burn this forest off the map, though." Myself: "Of course, I prefer urbane ground level terrorism if I want to wipe a civilizational imposition off the face of Earth. To destroy false hexagons. False containments. False systems. False structures." Res: "I'd put so many fucking bombs all across New Hampshire."

A fire as pure as a singular blip of starlight on the eve of global outage, a forewarning so short as to become serendipitous enough for communion between witnesses, bonded then by Betelgeuse and bonded now by not knowing next when they'll have ice for their drinks or food at a temperature of imperishability and as idealistic as the burning of a great library all at once rather than the fall of neglect to periodic invasions and administrative disinterest, the loss of all knowledge, and thus precedent, and incapable of reasoning from the mistakes of others, motive. This becomes fire for the sake of fire. A workman extinguishes a cigarette improperly in the scaffolding entombing a Gothic cathedral undergoing idolatric restoration, and all is razed. A city of wood welcomed rudely into the age of industry by a singular mechanical spark, every house of brick as if another oven or incinerator. This is the hexagon: the grid in which all cells are the same size, a distance between trees is averaged for passage of tanks and all fire is equal, an obliteration sweeping, symbol and sheer arsonist euphoria admixed, a perfect suffocation. This is one of many hexagons, and is diametrically opposed to the hexagonal nature of Bureau Hotel, a perfection sickly and unecstatic. This is the elaboration. But this is not a metaphor in a vacuum. Inevitably, fire spreads to bark, and Jino panics. This was inevitable. We had built a high tower of hogs piled, itself almost pyramidal, each level more deathless than the last, until only one death gracelessly represents the spire. I take a tree in my embrace, as if performing some routine of groundedness to the Earth in which the steps are 'sink in mud for five minutes', 'walk barefoot in snow', 'hug tree, hypothetically', 'cycle through these steps in the order described everyday or else'. And I whisper to it, as if reading a private eulogy to the body of an emaciated pigeon discovered on the pavement on an early winter morning, having seen nothing but dark before its unquickening. "Why haven't you remembered that you are fireproof?" I step away. Breath unbated. I've done this before. Fire shrivels serpentine, hoping to reconstruct its torso through convection and other nearby flights of reactionary existence, to borrow valor and fervor from its soon to be historical comrades, a retreat en masse, a sight as idealistic as a Christmas ceasefire, all quiet on the northern front. Traitors die porously. Deserters are last found in the Mediterranean mid-pizza meal and wine sip. Good men kill themselves and pretend they were shot. Jino stares mouth agape and I announce, nonchalantly, "It's reality rewriting. A temporary alteration of precedent that results in alteration of properties. Do you know the persistent urban legend that if you climb the Statue of Liberty everyone will somehow be able to hear you from below? It functions much the same way as that, but only for long enough for this pyre of hogs to become the embers it rightfully deserves to be." I am met with an answer that boils down to "Oh. Cool.", disproportionate to the actual wonderment on her face as she replays that moment when disaster pattered out bumbling, a slide whistle sounding instead of the sirens of evacuation and hyperventilation confined to inhalers, a choral gas mask breathing, all communications in lockup, footage of Swan Lake is broadcast for days and we party like it's 1991, Swan Lake intermittent and overcast with static and teletext, a wave of black snow, ashes to ashes, rumor to rumor, bunker to bunker, dreams to dreams, a nonchalant drag of a cigarette as the sun turns red, double the carcinogens, supine on the porch and waiting to die. And yet this is the crisp New Hampshire night. And we sit distant from a fire. With our bare asses on the snow, having forgotten to get a log. I call Organum again, as I lean on Jino, head on her shoulder.

"Warm." I share a corner of my jacket with her. She objects on grounds of thinking I can freeze to death, which I can't, and tries to provide me with her own. Anything to get closer, so I oblige to this ridiculous offer, and we as lovefools somehow perish the thought that this would be that much easier if we were not chasing hypothermia with the temporary char of unblessed meat.

Res Jino, narrating

From nothing, ex nihilo, emerged a stately - but bright pink-painted - Cadillac, something that couldn't have been any newer than the early 70s, yet roared to life with the vigor of a newborn screeching for milk, seeming to drive itself momentarily before stopping directly in front of us as Claribel, subtly leaning against the vehicle with her eyes on the stars gave us a gestural invitation to enter. The coupe would require us to stuff in, seeing that the backseat was already partially occupied by a couple unused tanks of store-bought kerosene sloppily permanent-markered with 'FOR INCINERATIONS ONLY,' cold and uninviting much unlike the rest of the interior, but it didn't quite matter, as neither of us would've found stuffing in objectionable; for me, the idea of holding someone who just shattered one's perception of reality close was somehow always appealing, even in youth - we'll say it was the opposite of an acquired taste, a taste which is either had or not had from the moment one exits the womb. Anyhow, we all climbed in - indeed, Ari and I were quite close to one another out of need and want alike - and heard Claribel, under her breath, mutter "Heh, dykes." I gave her an odd glance - something two letters, a lowered eyebrow, and about half a second of duration away from being called a 'glare' - and in response she asked me, very bluntly, "Am I supposed to say something else?" Yes, I thought, but couldn't open my mouth in time to verbalize my surprise, as Ari had a word on the matter instead. "There's something I should let you know, Res Jino," she began, looking at nothing in particular, just staring off out the window, perhaps examining her reflection as she would in a freshly-polished mirror, "which I conveniently never said outright, and that something concerns the typical sexual and-or romantic orientation of a woman in the magic world. Now, I will give you the prime human word used to describe this persuasion, or at least the most polite one. Without further ado: lesbian. You should consider yourself lucky to have been told this by myself, dyke, as myself is aware of many filthy men who would try to tell you otherwise and knows you are fortunate to have had this encounter before beginning a career at Bureau. For instance, Aunt Clari over here is most certainly having regular relations with Mother, my mother." Claribel, who had just started the engine, blushed with a color so deep it could reach the center of the earth, before looking back and wonderin, "...are you hurt by it, Arianna?" "No. Continue. I'm sincere. Marry her and become my real Mom." "At long last," I heard Organum say under her breath as the car finally pulled out of its position and navigated towards the road. Despite its looks, it handled much more like a military vehicle than it did a sportscar, probably for the better considering our terrain. As the road came into headlight view in the pitch-black of our surroundings - before which perhaps ten minutes had passed in silence, however relevant the spans of time may really be - Claribel asked Ari, "Home?" and she nodded. Ari and I watched Clari surpass a hundred miles per hour in speed on the apparently deserted stretch of road, at first cold as hell, but soon enough basking in each other's warmth, even as Ari made no eye contact with me for an additional ten minutes, still preferring our reflection. "Anything the matter?" I asked, not really expecting an answer. "Sorry, Jino. What you heard there is a matter of grave complexity, but we have finished discussion of it now. You don't want to go back to your actual place of residence tonight, surely?" I mumbled my agreement, not wanting to discuss it much, and she further clarified her point. "I have somewhere to shelter you." "Rico's house? I mean, that's your house as well, correct? She's never told me where it is in the four or five years I've known her, so like...are you sure?" "She only ever told me I couldn't tell you the address, and it is the deep dark. If you deduce it, I'll make sure she doesn't find out." "Heh, good enough." At last, she turned to face me, and her wry reflected smile had transformed into an insolent, beautiful smirk.