Twins, part four.

Published 2023.07.16

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

Two hours, maybe more, on the way back. Under two hundred kilometers. Jino had tapered out. So I was squozen between warm flesh and unfeeling kerosene tanks, and envious of the practicality of sleep. Who gave her the right to nod out during a mostly silent car ride through the palace halls of shadow? I could sleep at most ninety minutes a night before the vividity of recollection would skyrocket and I would be living two lives simultaneously, one partially sanctified or at least mildly perturbed and inconvenienced and another in grave danger to my psyche. I don't wake up screaming. I have never had the voice to scream. On my right and Jino's direction only called "head slump", and not "side profile", is the house. Too much of a cottage to be white picket. Not un-white picket enough to be born from anything but the lunacy of suburban detachment, every man an island, every property lot its own temporally displaced feudal estate. I wake her up. Slap both of her cheeks. Colpire, colpire, colpire. Colpire is a word you'd more ascribe to a punch in the gut, a guillotine high kick or a siege of a thousand fists on one's testicles. Like I'd know how it is to experience the last of these. "I'm not like other girls, I get punched in my hypothetical quantum superpositive balls." It was none of those things. It was gentle plodding - the whirlwind, flash and risk of tsunami epicentrism of a stick stuck into the creek. A stick then wrung in frustratingly unfinished or skewed circles, true double radiality presenting an actual threat of drowning, and dropped onto nearby grass to go on picking flowers and blowing the bridal veils of dandelions in every which direction, birthing thousands of wind-carried illegitimates out of wedlock, like Thalassa and her some eleven children. I consider kissing Jino; too early. She arises. Groggy. "We're here." Darling protests now that she wasn't so slow to wake up and not nearly as obstinate as I unflatteringly present her to be. The central flaw in her argument is the assumption that I don't think it's cute when girls are tough to wake. Because it is absolutely adorable how her eyelids have to be unsealed as if it is the Spanish flu preserved in the permafrost of Svalbard. Please consider this clumsy metaphor representative of my inexperience with romantic communication as an eleven year old, apparently a natural feature of being eleven years old.

We both stumble out of the car. Darling protests that she stumbled and I came out of the door in a perfect straight line from my seat to the door opposite of it as if I did not need to lower my head or exercise any plasticity innate to my joints and limbs whatsoever. I remember it as myself half-trying to cling onto her and her being too set on taking precautions not to hit her head or arms on anything for my scheme to be permissible, healthcare being expensive, not that I would know. Fifteen years later we discuss this while indeed clinging onto each other, my head over her shoulder, hair draping into her palms, long and white, not from stress but from fire, her fingertips rummaging through the strands almost archeologically, not wanting to disrupt some buried feature through exposure to even one undemanded ray of sunlight. Claribel steps out en suite, once again leaning over her car. A mid-fifties Cadillac coupe, jagged in its plating, toothed, Cubist, Saturnine. "That will be it for the day, Lady Arianna." "Indeed. Good day. I will inform you of any escapades two to three hours prior as usual tomorrow." "I don't mind being dragged along for capers with under five minutes' notice." "You always seem to take issue with it." "I wonder. Do you want those kerosene tanks, Lady Arianna?" "I do not see it in my future that a need arises for them." "A shame. You could always utilize them in pursuance of ground level terrorism, but they will sit unused in the Concord warehouse." "Stop making me empathize with anthropormophic kerosene tanks stranded in outdoor quarantine hospitals for the incurable condition of being an Anglo, Aunt Clari." She snickers, a habit of Mother's for half-laughter when there is any laughter at all even when it is found in her soul to be uproariously funny that Claribel takes after. I bow, she bows back, then takes her leave. Another vanished into the night.

Key into gate lock. Jingles as if pareidolic sleigh bells during a night where you still believe Santa Claus is coming, and perhaps you wish to shoot him down or stray him from his course with a slingshot rock, rocking the entire construction hard enough for you to run outside and collect presents unmeant for you, and become a mortal enemy of holiday cheer, black coal stains appearing all over everything you have ever loved, making people assume you are either a miner or an experimental powder calligraphist in your patient, unending quest to prove to the world ink isn't all that. Maybe you should have stuck to rocks and sticks thrown into the creek and the defloration of dandelions. Blues guitar reverberates through the walls. A talker, an account of an early twentieth century flood in the American South its Biblical viscerality. Oh god help Tupelo. As we encroach further, a child punches holes in their own snowman, one with button eyes and a woolen overcoat of scrap fabric taped onto snow. The first thing that makes one an adult is an irrational fear of impermanence. The first thing that makes one immortal is total permanence. Our children too are violent to their ephemeral works, it is just that all life to them is an ephemeral work in cardinal Aleph durations. "Violence runs in the family." They ignore both of us. "That's Rowan." "Hi Rowan." No response, just another tunnel through the snowman's stomach. The door is mahogany. Not an imitation.

Res Jino, narrating

One's understanding is an eternally incomplete thing, a survived Greek chryselephantine long looted of gold and now fragmentary, pieced together by an archaeologist who was never there to begin with for display in some museum on the Italian mainland. However, some understandings are more complete than others, for a temple containing such a sculpture with its aureate ivory coating could become buried, simply forgotten for lack of a convenient location, concealed by a lucky avalanche, perhaps. The chryselephantine, inanimate and unaware of its luck not to have been partially melted down by those ignorant of its worth beyond the precious-metal money market of the day, finds itself unearthed in modernity by curious explorers who neglect to profit except on the display market. Some understandings fall into this class of chryselephantine without one ever realizing until many more incomplete understandings have been discovered over many more year. They will realize how fortunate they were to have understood something so intuitively, so immediately, so completely, through mere glances, compared to all the other things into which they put more significant effort, struggling valiantly to ascertain the truth. It can cause understanders to reckon themselves lazy, as kings and queens given opalescent and regal crowns crafted without a single directive from them, a single oversight aside from 'make it look expensive' might, but this is just what humans call 'luck' in action. Luck is too abstract to exist; ordinarily, the Ouroboros, which I was soon to learn was the closest thing to a God we can understand without coming into immediate contact with the singularity of God, the primordial self-eating snake of limits-approaching-infinity I once met in person - only many years after the story I am telling now, however - allows aleatoric phenomena to occur independently of their influence, doles very little out except where absolutely necessary to accomplish its untraceable agenda, interferes not for the most part, such that 'luck' is an abstraction so far into the abstract it has no way of existing beyond philosophical debates and pseudoscientific inquiries. The Ouroboros even has a Twitter profile, @o, 0 following, 0 followers, join date marked as 'Tomorrow,' an artifacting-encrusted JPEG of a grandfather clock as its profile picture, always a single post on there stating "This is." with a constantly forward-ticking timestamp, perpetually one second ahead of wherever you are without exception. Not once has there been a post about fortune or felicity, only a public expression of the singularity. In short, there is no luck, but I suppose I could've been called lucky when Ari opened the solid-mahogany door for me and I encountered the intrusive high-frequency whistle, darkness-penetrating yet sweet-soft glow, and line-pierced, ever-scanning image of a cathode ray tube television atop a table carved of rainbow eucalyptus, faintly presented before me while Ari kept a hand on my shoulder, hair drifting through the room and highlighting my incomplete understanding, never obscuring the image with any motion she made, Claribel close behind us but ready to leave at any moment. A pair of chairs could be distinguished from the dark as well, inviting us to watch, to decompress in the immediacy of the living room. What exactly did the screen portray? A face.

A face, a sleeping face, an unrecognizable yet unceasingly intriguing face of a woman whom I had never seen before then and believed I would never see again, reckoning this some pirate broadcast on an unused portion of the UHF spectrum on which some unknown individual would occasionally broadcast, but I was proven wrong. "Claribel, if you will make your exit now," began Ari, allowing us privacy as her guardian left the scene quietly, descending towards the basement, where there were presumably one or two guest bedrooms. "Now then. I have localized a broadcast of a scene far away from where we are to this house for our eyes only as a brief test, the results of which shall be mostly inconsequential and are simply for my convenience. Inspect the broadcast with care; do not make any guesses as to the identity of the person portrayed. For your convenience and to save myself from answering any further questions, though answering would not ordinarily be a problem, I will disclose that, of the three earths, the scene shown in this broadcast occurs on the Incipient and is received via bioengineered invivel radio." She pointed at an aquarium tank containing a disorderly mass of flesh connected to a controller with metal antennae and a massive, color spectrum-sweeping assortment of undersized dials, encoders, and indicator lights, then wired to the television. The sight was moreso strange than frightening; I later learned this was the standard among immortals for radio, to use flesh automata devoid of sentience and with the appearance of tumors to pick up and transmit radio-range signals. I took one look at it and turned away, the image burned into my mind enough that my next choice was not to look at the CRT, but at Ari. Her face was perfectly comprehensible to me; I can look at her today and admire the appearance of any of her five or so possible facial expressions, a limited range I have come to respect, given the regular correspondences to gradients of our experience of love for one another and just the sweetness I can see in the two expressions of outright joy possible among these approximately-five. In the moment, I saw anticipation and twitchy, positive-charge nerves underneath the veil of seriousness, signaling to me that Ari wanted to show me something she found incredible and awe-inspiring, something she considered important enough to question me over and create a false-vacuum sense of danger to express. I later learned how much I enjoyed Ari's menace, how much giddiness it would bring me to hear her enumerate ways in which she could endanger me, yet chooses not to because of the availability of the alternative of loving me. There was an idea floating about, the idea that I was under pressure, but I didn't care. I was fine with being under immense pressure for once, for it wasn't truly immense; it was negotiated and readily described with the communication that occurs between people who care about each other. "Look at the screen now," she eventually commanded. I had become absentminded thinking about how wonderful it was that I had become involved in such a matter with Ari Augustenburg such that I had forgotten the nature of the situation, as it were. That said, I took a glance and gave my description.

"I see incoherent bliss, I see powerful expressions. I see an elderly remnant of an undemented young woman. I see the fundamental flaws of life outside the city proper. I see someone who belongs in a nursing home. I don't know what you're getting at here, but this is a predicament I wish to evade. My desire is to die content but still aware, Ari. It's unbefitting for me to die any other way; you won't ever understand the act of dying, I hope, but this makes me reckon with dying." I pause. "Ari, I'm just saying shit at this point."

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

Maybe I had brought to the center of my memory the moment in which I had shown Res that television screen, choosing to believe that before we had even opened the gate we were stranded to our own devices in a world near completely private. I would assert that sapience has one crime to triumph over all and it is how memorial is only fickle when it is the remembrance of happiness and how the fidelity remains undamaged only in the name of sorrow. Claribel, if you can hear myself in this moment, and you cannot, thanks for always standing guard. Rowan half-opens the door, knife still in hand. "Lot of words. Don't get it." For the first time out of three, the door closes. Res is taken out of her doubting reverie by some sense of embarrassment, momentarily volunteering to unseat herself from the presidency of the Committee on Clear Communication, feeling unsainted now in the Church of Humanity and Nothing Else. Less than ten seconds of silence later, the door opens again for additional commentary, the child's face sharp, eyes heterochromic, orange and turquoise, nightvisioning. "She had it coming. Mariana. Had it coming. Look at the harlequins." I answer: "Play, invent reality." Rowan, nodding, again closes the door, but before it creaks Res is met with their derision as a one-woman foreign invasion and a slight pacing occurs outside, as if they are counting out the seconds of some perfect gap between sequential nonsequiturs. In the kitchen separated by barely any barrier from the rest of the living room, atop a high chair Thalassa is perched, knees on the seat, arms folded at the top of the chair's back, head down, asleep. Fifteen seconds later, the door opens for the first time, as Rowan marches in to look up at Res' face, speaking at the top of their lungs. "I'm not that dumb. I can say full sentences. Stop expecting the wrong thing of me. You're looking at me patronizingly. Who's you, even? Nobody." The child, in their outsized woolen mittens and fur-lined bomber jacket, headbutts Res' legs, charging as if a bull to the swung cloth, and then runs out before Res' heart can even so much beat, leaving the door to be closed by myself as not to invite snow. Fifteen years later, I would remove their tongue on a stormed-in Australian summer morning, ignoring the battered unconscious body of their own love interest, myself dressed as my own mother. A hundred years later, this union would be over because of the name of one woman. Before all that that, two years down the line from the story being told, I would be gone from this city because of the same name, ignoring the half-torn corpse of the child maimed by their own mother all thanks to handwriting on a letter, my hopes growing smaller and smaller, meiotic.

Between Darling and myself in the moment of the story being told is silence. Between Darling, myself and our children wandering for some thirty minutes in labyrinthine, unintersecting, lopsided halls in eternal return, there is loud footsteps and no alcoves. With my fingers I trace six points on the walls, mentally connecting them, a motion that would cave in the walls had it been not rejected in our favor, the architecture voting against the motion for itself to be subsumed by dirt mounds, trace volcanic ash and snow, finally letting us pass to witness Mariana in her rocking chair, ignorant of visitors, capable of being threatened but non-comprehending, or shut-jawed entirely, capable of being hit but the air itself protective of her divinity in the swaying of fists away from her face. Our children waltz around her, poking at her, attempting to get her notice, and when she proves to be unresponsive, they are expecting rips or wrinkles, or an eyeglaze unrendered, something emptied. To the contrary she looks relaxed as if she is all of us home alone in the afternoon. It is a matter to be taken care of by vast repulsion.

Thalassa awakens, shaking the chair as she stretches, realizing she is balancing on top of it. If she fell, she would fall on her back, and the chair would crush her face. She decides to stand up, stumbling out into the living room. "Who's that?" She asks. "Nobody in particular. Just somebody who is under surveillance by myself." I answer. "Oh, I see. How quick'll she die?" She asks. "Slowly." I answer. Thalassa looks satisfied, retreating back to the kitchenette outpost, to brew tea with several quarter-packets. It is midnight. Res, realizing that what she is awestruck by is my bloodlust towards Mariana, myself fixated on her death in the second act of Goni, Mari and Monei, the true name of The Evil. Monet, painter and not not scourge, in the heat of the industrial revolution, had grown numb to the haze of factory smoke, and considered it a comforting factor, the obfuscant a primary subject and primary influence on the palettes utilized, the sky burning. It seems The Evil took to this passivity-as-artistry. If you are exposed to CRTs your whole life, you cannot hear fifteen point seventy-five kHz. In the background of many recordings there is that whine similar to Monet's smoke. It is a literal subject, a literal feature. And yet it is subjectively absent. Passivity-as-normality. Passivity-as-understanding. The smoke itself the new sky. If the sound is not perceived, there has never been a sound. And yet there still is wonderment in Res seeing a radio-enabled homunculus broacast the image of a dying god. The fantastical propellant. The inspirational misery.

Res awakens to a thought that proves to be much of a disturbance to myself. "I should go home." And I ask her why. Sparing me again the grudges and complexes of pebbles, she tells me there is a probability of her home being smashed up by a rival establishment within her school of cocaine, guns and obstinate rhetoric. Personally I consider this outcome favorable, setting aside her sister. Fucking Saja. Darling, at her twelve years of age in one mentally erosive Christmas season, had entered into this conflict, and tracing the addresses of fellow schoolgirls is not the stuff of national intelligentsia, so she did have her reasons to pull away from the sacred and to dive into the distracted profane. "That was a rhetorical 'why'. I have always known. It should be no bother to you. I have my people stationed around the perimeter. I have made it glaringly apparent that there shall be no casualty, but there shall be imposing ground-stationed machine guns and entire drill lines of riflewomen. I have staged a military outpost in front of your home." She opens the line of query, questioning how much I have been told by Rico. "Most things. I quite enjoy hearing it from an unsympathetic angle. I find the sheer hatred and pettiness in the direction of the stage-hands and bit parts, all of your foes presented in the miniature, as warped through Rico's eyes, wholly dehumanized. I would concur with my sister that we need not look into the inner lives of snotty, nouveau riche scrap metal." Knowing Saja would be safe, I receive an answer that is warm, light and soft. It is almost a submersible field. It is morning dew. "I don't necessarily have a home, on second thought. Would you like me to be here for the night? I'm sure this place gets lonely. I'm sure my place, if you can even call it that, gets even lonelier."

Res Jino, narrating

Ari had made her presence known when my eyes were all the way open, and then she glanced towards my face every couple seconds as we spoke, always bearing a single expression, which I interpreted as agreement, acknowledgment of a truth so obvious it should not be stated but which is nonetheless repeated with slight stylistic variations out of obligation to a sense of honesty, in the same way a relatively mundane scientific paper can amass hundreds of citations for combining biological knowns towards a conclusion, creating and providing a potential methodology on which others can build, accessibly worded - at least to someone who knows what they're looking at - to encapsulate something holistically rather than through peepholes. In short, Ari knew that I knew what I was saying was the case, and, accordingly, she curled up around me as soon as I could pay full attention to her and let my warmth drift about. The hair tendrils shifted playfully underneath me, pleasant motions drawing pictures on my back through the obstructions of my slightly bloodsplattered uniform, seeming to leave object-permanent marks to linger for a moment wherever they went. Many years later, I would have an intimate familiarity with her mechanics, how the hair contains sixteen additional cores of brain and conceals near-limitless storage capacity, selectively shielding various conflicting mentalities from the direct influence of the world to consider magnitudes more possibilities than most intelligent life could even imagine within fleeting seconds. This phases me not; if anything, I feel closer to her every time she takes an unanticipated action, makes an undiplomatic motion, makes a threat elaborate enough to outclass anything I have ever held over the head of an ignorant Bureau Hotel executive who'd gotten too cocky. But Bureau is gone in the present despite echoing into the future, so I mustn't stray too far from the moment I'm describing. In the moment I'm describing, there is a sense of true peace rather than the false peace many have found themselves accustomed to; it's blatantly obvious to any immortal that creating a false, pacifying vacuum of tranquility that will not last puts them at risk for the Amethyst Deceiver, but there were no worries to be had about it then; I had no clue what it was and was instead overcome with a simple, true desire to exist here, in the dark, where I was at most half-visible to Ari and she was likewise half-visible to me. Somehow, the faint images seemed more complete than anything I could see in the light; darkness highlights fundamental beauty in the end. All was well, I reckoned, and I mused, not knowing any of this about her biology or magical infectious diseases or false peaces and furthermore just wanting to discuss things as I always have, "The abstract concept of 'home,' I want to tell you what I think of it in detail. This is something I consider often, so it's important that someone gets to hear it before I forget." "Of course," Ari told me. "Well, I'm thinking that home is a form of isolation in the end, Ari. Everything has led me to believe that home's all insular, but that the insularity goes to no end, has no intended teleology, unless someone's abusing the concept of 'home' towards some evil purpose. I think there's a gradient covering healthy homes, horrible homes, acceptable homes, a gradient flowing between colors we cannot empirically describe. Like, try describing the color 'red' for me. No, never mind, don't. That's such a cruel request to make. The point is, since we describe isolation - well, isolations, in the plural - in terms of the psychology of isolation, I've come to believe there's an isolation for everything imaginable. There is something setting every last thing apart, and every time we try to determine an isolation, we just create more isolations and relate things by ways in which they do not relate, like negative definitions of God where we try to establish what God doesn't do. Christians say God isn't evil and God isn't powerless, Muslims differ in that they recognize God as not at all multiple, and to some people God isn't only part of the universe, et cetera. They isolate God from God's world. It may not be inherently awful, don't get the wrong idea, but everything has an isolation. Things relate by the ways they're set apart. What do you think of that?" I noticed at this point that the hair had coiled around my limbs and entrapped me, but there was a trust present that stopped me from complaining, for Ari Augustenburg had extended me trust despite extended difficulty and, equally importantly, had bothered intently listening to my spiel the entire time I was speaking, no deviations in her attention I could make out. She took a second to process it all, soft glows still spreading around in the dark, the CRT still whistling. Allowing the environment to sink in while quietly binding me, she responded. "Fourier series are my concurrence to this idea of isolations. So, imagine a continuously variable positive or negative value for every isolation. It may be rational, irrational, transcendental, Zero, essentially any class of real number imaginable to any mind. The value of the isolation can move through time, and no isolation is ever completely still, and it may fluctuate in perspective, just as myself varies in opinion on the more opalescent Mother and my isolation from her. Isolations, with their various frequencies, amplitudes, other wave properties, conjugate in harmonic and inharmonic series, creating the complex nuances of opinion you refer to by way of a Fourier series. Every fundamental isolation combines with other trigonometrically-definable isolations to create unstable unities, and love is what may zero those isolations to unify us, unify us stably. It's possible you could look at it that way, though I much prefer to see the ghosts of things everywhere in everyday analysis. Perhaps those ghosts are artifacts of a discrete cosine transform used to create an inherently lossy, readily sharable MP3 of some WAV or FLAC reality. I'm sure you have plenty such songs on your hard drive back at your pseudohome. Regardless of the truth of either of the perspectives we have presented or the interplay between them, all our bullshit, do you object to being 'unified' here, so to speak, as I restrain" - emphasis on 'res' - "you?" There was an implicit air of pardon-my-mathematical-analogies floating around, and I just sat there for a while before telling her, "No objections. You make me comfortable. Forget everything we just said and keep making this nice, since I still have a lot to figure out." She momentarily appeared to disbelieve, with a slight you're-lying blush to her expression, but this soon faded as she recognized the truthfulness of what I had to say. I could rest assured of the safety of my present environment, the security of Saja Jino, the one member of my blood family I both had everyday contact with and truly cared about - my sister - and above all else, presence. I could not zone even momentarily, and the nondissociative beauty was the greatest of all. Quietly, abstractly, I indulged, allowing myself to forget the garbage, gang wars, and emotional gashes, something keeping me from misfortune.

For a moment, peace, real peace. Then, Rico Eisenberg.

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

The next thing Jino says, her triumphant, epiphanic, between gates of horn and ivory this was true fulfillment of every requirement of an idealized metaphysical construction, the homophonic 'horn'. "Love is the law." She says. And then there's Rico. Do you want me to describe myself to you? I could lavish you graciously with my own overly resolute convictions on what fuels attraction towards me, and that is not what we're here for, and that would be a portrait and commendation of Rico.

I acknowledge her presence, chalant. "You're supposed to be dead."

Even though Darling wished dearly upon a star to jolt and react appropriately, in a human way to being walked in on doing something she wasn't trusted to or intended to, the star failed to report for duty. Now back to the depths of thought. What is Rico then going to do, push me off the couch? I will push her forward, and she will shove me backward, and unstoppable force will keep achieving singularity with immovable object. She will keep trying to gravite towards couch to dismount the occupants, and I will keep bringing her back up to bat again, and the ball flies over the barbwire fences of romance's prison yard.

"Love is the law", it is asserted. And love dictates that until Jino is pleading to be broken out of the safety of my hair, the failed attempts to discharge us from this surface will amount to Balkanization typical of infinite points on the finite line.

Isn't it nice? Let's say love is physics. Isn't it nice how all spectra of light would undergo a pinkshift to be tinted rosy and honeymoon-ish? Let's say love is the heat death of the universe. Isn't it nice how the cessation of expansion would only occur when all possible couplings of those truly star-crossed would be fulfilled, and how with each birth a volcanic awning of island revealed at low tide would distance all that is living from the cosmic cliff, an abyss slid into rather than nosedived into? This is the objective model of the universe. The universe ends when all conscious lifeforms develop acute adoration for the embrace of nihil. It is democratically agreed that the world will end, and a new one will be set in its place for evolutionary cycles to again unsheath. And then it is folded, and a second Big Bang takes place, this being the humanly discredited but immortally observed Big Crunch model. Not happening if all are in love. Isn't that nice?

Time began in a miniature garden with a single agnostic, partisan God-avatar inside. Having failed to develop consciousness and abstract thinking, unable to rationalize and engage in denial, this avatar executed the ultimate purpose of the universe - for it to end. If it is alone, it does not have to make the effort to suspend disbelief and imagine itself connected to other internally isolated consciousnesses within crawlspaces of skulls. We relate through and in spite of isolation, as Jino says.

Time re-began in a flat void with two lackeys of the universal God that is recursion stationed inside, a God they may themselves be imagining and connecting to in spite of never having heard a word or received a direct order from the Almighty. Beside the lackeys, there were conscious beings who were briefed on the laws of physics and the fastest way towards a complete universe. The lackeys believed they would take the complete state of the universe, the ended state, as something to be avoided. But there was no precedent for fearing death and insignificance. This cadre of some two hundred conscious humanoids were able, within this dream of the Gods, to manifest basal tools that they could use to kill each other. They were presented information they held to be true, authoritative and demanding to be abided by. This universe was gone in twenty minutes, as opposed to the sub-Planck length of the world in total isolation.

One world resembled the flat void of the second iteration, where it is manipulable, and the landscape is volatile. Another is similar to the Earths that remain in existence now, with magical hunter-gatherers and warlords becoming architects and dynasties. One woman was not so impressed with this arrangement, her membership that of the Earth control group, having constructed palatial wood lodgings and primitive forgery to produce tools of bronze and enchant them so that they will knave and cleave bulbously. It was boring. She found gratitude to be a chore. So she walked to the open ocean, and fell in, sinking into the mutant depths.

She hit bottom, where whalefall incentivizes feasts. And upon cracking bottom, there was nowhere to go. This Earth was mantleless and coreless. The magical processes in this control group were believed to be enough to sustain fusion, and they were. Volcanic processes as part of predictive tectonics, and a part of the 'how to build a rocky fluke planet' handbook that was not automated in the confines of this coreless Earth, were a manually toggled event, and took place further and further away as sail was set and cartography reared its ugly head.

The lackeys, the Snake and the Wheel, Ouroboros (Ouroro) and Galgal, took great care to change around the Earth that was not just the semblances of its inhabitants' dreams. When our subject, the perpetually unimpressed Alice, hit bottom after thousand of years in descent, a figure that should not have been so lengthy for any reason but intentional prolonging of her fall, a primordial ocean with dozens of depth zones all christened by overcompensation, a vision was delivered unto her from the God the lackeys conjured, being able to reasonably extrapolate that if there was something that created them, it had a mission, a design sense and preferences derived from sensibility and intent, that was capable of executing its intent from beyond, and they were proven right. Not that they would ever know.

The vision showed, in the liminal plains, vegetables glaze-eyed surrounded by gold, cotton and elephants. Those who dreamt of opulence achieved it, and peaked at it, unafraid of losing their positioning as the aristocracy of the dream of the gods. It was not an ideal, but an objective fact constantly within sight, and there was no striving, and nary a goal set, nor a goalpost moved in hopes for better times or a state that is 'good enough', even just seventy-percent of all that was imagined, enough for gratitude to still be necessitated. When one has an iron grip of their dreams, no longer kept apart from all which glitters, the false meaningful image dissipates. Only when you believe something is more fantastical than it actually is does it actually matter. Alice, in her mind, spoke back to Recursion and proposed that when one is too settled, they will be terminated. Recursion was interested in this. Snake and Wheel, unaware of this conversation, could not be reached for comment.

This third staging of the universe lasted three billion years, and Alice herself soon became unaware of this conversation when the fourth, and current, rolled around. When she was brought before the lackeys to present her case, she wagered that two forces should not be the sole operatives of the world and that many hundreds of other similarly powered but lesser-than-God immortals shall speak. This was softened to the contingent of 'Bronze Agers', truly ancient immortals some thirteen billions years in age, Alice herself reborn amongst them. Alice then wagered that we must do away with immortality entirely. This proved to be too much of an extremity. We must keep apart death and the deathless but make it still loom, said the Snake. Thus arose The Zero. Humanity is the base unit, and inhumanity is coextant with it, and humanity will determine the fantastical flights of fancy of the inhuman. However, her proposal of unsettling the settled was universally agreed upon, but implemented perhaps less punishingly, with a slow vegetative wear that can be reversed with either grand gesture (implausible) or newfound purpose (more plausible) or grand gesture as expression of purpose (plausible as newfound purpose itself but difficult). Thus arose the Amethyst Deceiver, the disease of distance from advancement, and the disease of nearness to mortal completion.

Besides Alice were The Devil, Giles Corey and The Evil, Monei. Alice initially had a bid for Godhood, but upon hearing the compromises, chose to be reborn amongst the Bronze Agers, and the winning inning was coiled around indelicately by the tail of the Snake. Alice reborn, crucially, was without her memories of her undersea plummet and direct line to God. Granted, The Devil served as a carrier for all of her life's impressions, save for having spoken to God. Indeed, it would make the unimpressed even moreso to have learned that even though she was right, editorialization took place and censure set in viciously. In the end, these memories remain useless and unspoken of until The Evil dies, and love between The Devil and The Cynic doesn't quite blossom. But distance makes the heart grow fonder, does it not? All that could have been will turn to all that is and ever will be. Isn't that nice, that with The Evil gone, an inevitability, that love will blossom? This proves, then, that love is the law. And that is perfect.

Now... was Rico saying anything? I cannot recall. Was she yelling? Was she still trying to wrestle Darling off the couch? Did Darling launch in a mad sprint? I wonder.

Res Jino, narrating

Ari tells me softly, in the now, in the present day, here in 2022 where we've won the battle, "Darling, if you don't wish to tell this part, there is no need to do it yourself. I recall enough of the scene. Save yourself the strain." She embraces me, reassures me - the shaky bitch I'm being right now - with her softness and warmth. "Your kind words are enough to carry me through this, dear," I respond, despite myself. She shifts deeper into the embrace she's established, prepares me to maintain composure. I rarely have such difficulties with such matters as these, but this seems to be an exception. I don't like to remember any of this if I can avoid it. It's not that any of it was truly horrid, it's not that I found myself abused, it's that I was wronged on a level I did not understand until all deeds involved were more than done. Here's where the story begins to end, at any rate. I hope I tell it well enough to evoke the scene in all its ingloriousness without enveloping myself.

Distraught within mere halves of seconds, I catapulted up from the couch, seeing lights stochastically flicker with a cosmic uncertainty matching that of my own flight from the scene, unnavigated yet unprincipled, the founding of a new Rome concluded with unceremonial drivings-out and swearings-in, humble beginnings for a city still standing after many trials, its aqueducts still circulating the water its citizens drink, its ancient roads still branching carelessly despite the driving of cars, though nowadays, Ari and I only discuss Rome in the context of the Alaries, for Mariana's influence compares nicely to the Rome recorded in human history despite Rome being a construct of mainland Italians holding prejudices against the Sicilian Free State, its Muslim majority, and its Augustenburg armies. In the moment, I could hear Rico screech gutturally as clearly as the tight reverberations of the surrounding room returning those fleeting words of shock to their sender. Her enunciation remained as unusally clear as ever, but all the vocabularic peculiarities were gone. 'Wicked' became literal; her mentions of gnarls now most readily described the contortions of her strained speech than they did an ambigiuous equally good and bad je-ne-sais-quoi as it would mean coming out of her mouth. Yet, no matter how one saw it, Rico's feelings were visceral. She brought forth a primal, ancient, and archaicist sense of terror. I didn't fully understand it for another year, for we never mentioned it again after it happened, at least not for a long time. "Sister! Why must you do these things?" A chair went flying into Ari's writhing mass of hair, which splintered even its durable wood into readily-dodged pieces deflected away from me by a sweeping gesture. I became transfixed, still. "You don't realize, sister! You don't get it! Bitch!" She did not meet me once with her eyes in any capacity; perhaps she was too ashamed to realize I was even there anymore. "Jino is no agent who carries out your designs, damn you! Jino is not a cause even though you treat her like a reassembled find from a Neolithic gravesite! You've made her into a Macguffin when really, it's nowhere near that easy for you! What's wrong with you? You don't get it! Jino is not a game we play!" Ari's response, level in volume, shockingly monotonous, nearly drowned out by the violent transfiguration of the room as I inched towards the door, evading stray ceramic shards, heat-warped plastic dripping slightly from countless surfaces it had been launched into, and fractured glass, was simple and quick: "I thought you were the one who enjoyed games the most." Rico could never play chess against me, for we would always draw. Neither of us would come out on top for there was simply no contest with her. If she willed to make one move, she would make another that would lead to stalemate. She later told me of this once, and I remarked that it was quite peculiar without much fanfare. Ari, on the other hand, is a true even match. I wish I had someone to play games against when I was twelve. I wouldn't have felt even a bit of unhappiness if Ari's act was all a game, but Rico was wrong in the end. There was no gamifying the relationship I would have with Ari, and obscuring this was to Rico's benefit. For that I'll never really forgive her. Finally, going out the door, I heard, in Rico's increasingly strained voice, "I hope you never fucking lose! I hope you never fucking learn! I hope your life becomes exactly what mine is now, a parade of ogling onlookers from places above you stripping you of your autonomy and demanding defiance through backhanded fuckoff orders and expectations! I hope you realize that if you don't apologize, I'm going to devote the rest of my fucking life to making things hell for myself and everyone around me! Do you even hear me? You don't get it! You! Don't! Get! It!" I shut the door, started hotwiring a motorcycle, wanting to make my way home. Matter of fact. Claribel appeared, told me she had me covered, let me back into her car. I shed a single tear. "You don't need to head home on your own now, kid. No, not at all. No one with any good conscience left in their mind would let that happen. You'd put yourself in far too much danger. I know this isn't the best the world can give, but it's my responsibility as their guardian to make sure you aren't-" "I don't need to hear it. I just need you to drive. I hope you understand." We spent the next two hours on the road from some unknowable Rhode Island suburb back to my cramped and painful place in Providence, stopping by a couple of times for refreshments and brief conversations about relatively little at stores that stayed open too late and had their fluorescent lights on a little too bright for comfort. The whole time, I couldn't help but imagine. I could see Ari holding me, running fingers through the hair I cut short, carefully combed and parted. I could think of Ari telling me stories of inconceivable worlds, offering to take me to each one with a sweetly beckoning hand. I felt the weight of the fifty thousand dollars of cash in my pocket, wondered what the hell I was going to do with all that money, wondering why and how it was so important that I have all of it for myself. I escaped the memories of gang warfare and gunshots each time they emerged, but there was no peace to be felt. There would be none until I could fall asleep next to her, next to Ari Augustenburg.

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

As of the time of Darling's leaving, Rico and I were sat on the couch. A fight failed to escalate, for reasons too obvious to recant, learn from and deride. A single line of query was opened. I asked her this: "Did you mean any of that?" I get this answer: "I dunno. I can't tell if I was mad at you or I just wanted her dorky ass out of the house. She's embarrassing." I answer: "We've shared every girl we've had, haven't we?" She shotguns: "But you took Eko, so no fairs, and you don't get to talk about sharing." Ari, myself, me, her non-duplicate and non-dualist external, differentiated self, 'sibling', 'sister': "Your turn with Eko will come. She will be rightfully yours. It's still a game. It is entertainment with animate objects, even if the heartstrings at which it tugs are as thin and fragile as the fur on a mutant balding cat. You haven't been the best possessor of Jino. I can hear it in every conversation the two of you have. How you jeer and laugh at her." Rico: "And? Whazzup with that? You think that's wrong? Boohoo." Myself: "I don't. I just make myself indisposably unclear. Doing what I do could solve the Greater Migraine Issue that your connection seems to be facing." Rico, yelping: "I'll never ever ever ever ever quiet down!" Then both of us laughed. For what felt like hours. And for a reason that felt reactive not to reality but to a televised, serialized event. How authentic does melodrama have to be? Sadness is a construct. Sadness is a contract. Silence is a visceral phenotype you are expected to evolve the moment you lose everything. Bawling and dysfunctional. One physical love less, one house down, one friend circle down, one job position lost, one internal self in disrepair and ceasing to know oneself. Grief is love's persistence. But when this persistence authenticated in its archetypical form, seen as only the traits expected to manifest, you cannot be passive or god forbid competent in the face of loss. To her, this romance that I intrude upon will become a joke. Fifteen years later, her and Eko hold hands and dance in circles around haybarrels in the dream of God, castle spires faint, fata morganae on the liminal horizon. They live in a stone cottage on my own estate with a shingled, multiocular roof. For her, there is nothing to complain about in losing Res. At the end of all ends, she knew even in this very moment that I would disregard every limitation she imposed to dispotentiate my intrusion into her relationship. When she first kissed Jino in a locker five minutes before a class of unknown pedigree, near kicking and shoving at what she had done, she put in two bets of two opposite lines of thinking: that she would keep Jino to herself and gullible would be written on every ceiling; or that she would be a divorce lawyer incapable of mitigating her own divorce and would face disbarment after trying too hard to disrupt the sanctity of a fifty/fifty settlement through the numerous loopholes she has thought of, intrusively, when navigating the proceedings of her own past clients, methods she thought she would never apply but could be argued with the fervor of a Jesus-fraught lunatic, and crucially methods that produced no consequences to herself until that small act of hubris. But was she wrong to perform the expected authenticity? She wasn't. But I was. I was fatally wrong. I thought this suburb of impossible geography was in fact Providence, but it is a total 'elsewhere', perhaps even in a Massachusetts borderland. How embarrassing. In my defense, there was radar interference, and my familiarity with American geography was weak. "Darling, please do not start on the cultural virtues of the hot dog stands uncontrolled by Bureau in God knows where, Rhode Island or Who cares, Massachusetts. Thank you." And that was the last thing of note said fifteen years later regarding this topic.