qdesjardin: (Default)

2

Whenever Ekaterina gets a request for a photoshoot, the first thing she considers is if she finds it anything potentially interesting. She's at the point in her hobby-turned-career where people offer her at least four photoshoot requests per day, and she can pick amidst several of them. Before, when she was just starting out, she had to actively hunt down people who needed a photographer, and they were too cheap to pay for a real one (which can cost thousands of dollars).

Photoshoots aren't always the glamorous prospect many people make them out to be. To make the actual shooting happen, there is a lot of logistical planning involved – discussing with the clients how they want their photos to be done first, then the location scouting, obtaining shooting permissions (if necessary), lighting and outfits, and booking the date.

One of the most exciting shoots she's had was around Milan, where she had to recreate a Renaissance painting, the pagans making a tribute to the goddess Ceres. It was painstaking. She truly felt the aura of the ancients in her mind, as she shot purely under the moonlight – having to use f1.6 Zeiss lenses (the smaller the aperture value, the more light the camera lens can absorb, at a cost of shallow depth-of-field) and an exposure time of 1 second.

With wedding shoots, which take place in some rented-out venue – it saves her some work – usually, the couple just wants to be shot in their happiest moments, when they kiss, when they dance to the music, and when they share the creme cake together.

In the Queen's Center mall, this couple (their names Jeanne and D.J.) are having a Noir cabaret-themed event, along the lines of Broadway meets electro-swing.

They're having it in an Applebee's.

Ekaterina checks her phone's notifications; "Where are you?" her crew is saying. "They're going to kiss in like 20 minutes!" and that was 23 minutes ago. What's a few more minutes? The priest takes like forever to get through their rites and vows.

She is running down the mall, where the fountains spill glistening patterns under the daylight. She must look like hell is breaking loose, while her hands assemble her camera kit together on the way.

The Applebee's has a special sign by its entrance. It's being rented for the sakes of Jeanne and D.J.'s wedding, where anyone is free to come and witness the event.

It's claustrophobic squeezing by the stacked stools, and even more claustrophobic when she could see behind a second set of doors, the whole stage set-up with Jeanne and D.J. under the spotlight, wearing Steampunk-themed outwear, about to pledge 'I do' to "In sickness and in health, will you care for D.J. to the best of your ability?"

She is interrupted by bouncers, who are suspicious of her gear.

"We'll need you to leave your bag aside." They point at the pile of purses and backpacks gathered by the janitor's closet. "Can't have people pullin' stuff-"

The bouncers do this with uninvited guests, and she has no time for their hassle, as she just hears the priest say "You may now kiss the bride."

"I'm Ekaterina! I'm their photographer!" She flashes her ID and wiggles out of their grasp, rushing down to the aisle, where she rapidly focuses her camera on their kissing faces and snaps a clear photo.

"Kat!" It's her partner-in-crime, Marvin, in a hushed whisper under the shadows. "Dude, where've you been?"

"I guess I got caught up in traffic," she goes.

The tables have been setup for free dinners, with incandescent orbs placed in their midst for illumination. LEDs hung from the ceiling glow and dim like ice stalactites, and a wift of glowing smoke emenates from the floor – this is what Ekaterina has asked for, two weeks before, when she visited the venue in its unmodified form, and allowed her mind to conjure up and suggest associaions, looking around.

Many of the uninvited guests are brought to awe at the atmosphere, with some regulars remarking that it's wonderfully unrecognisable from what they've grown so used to.

And for her, that is one of the greatest complements. To reinvent the familiar with a fresh magic of her own, and have others recognise it.

/

The actual shooting, it is a mixture of improv and direction. For the most part, she just captures the best parts of the scene as they unfold with the natural liveliness that just is, with the cheers, and the people dancing to the music, the young kids in the corner playing Pokemon on their DS.

When the people have settled down to dinner, she quickly has the couple huddle together for her camera – Marvin managing the lights, while April fixes any blemishes on their cheeks, and Viktor unleashing the trained doves to the background (who will be lit faintly by their outlines).

*click*

You can barely hear her camera shutter.

Afterwards, she shows them the unpolished result on her camera's display, and it amazes her how they're gleeing already.

"Ooh, we look so dashing!" D.J. goes, pointing out when he has Jeanne in a tango dip.

"That one there is pure genius!" Jeanne says. "You're incredible Miss Belinskaya! Absolutely incredible."

Kat is a nickname that's evolved from when Marvin stumbled across calling her Kit-Kat, like the candy bar, and it just stuck. So she's gone with having her close friends calling her Kat ever since, or Kitty if in a very playful mood, although her clients just address her formally. A wall of professionalism which helps reinforce a healthy distance – so she doesn't lose her sense of boundaries when working. It's gotten her into trouble earlier on when she acted too casually.. pried into her client's private matters, joked around too much, and left them with a great offence.

Not all her clients are like this, but there's the one type who pays very high and won't stand to be made a fool out of. Or pompous clients who just can't take a joke.

She finds it awkward though to work in a stictly formal atmosphere, and that's where her comrades-in-arms come in, to help liven the working mood. It's like trying to sleep in your own bed, and you've got a suit on – you need your soft pajamas.

"Thank you," Ekaterina tells them; her sweet lingering scent wades up everyone's noses. "I'll have them edited and published, soon as possible." She reassures the couple with a smile. "Stay tuned."

/

The evening is spent outside in the mall's courtyard, where the water fountains spill shapes and dazzling patterns. Ekaterina has taken a few more shots of the couple against the backdrop of the city, and now, she is wistfully gazing away at the streets which are just beginning to blossom in their luminescent livelihood.

New York. The place she's come to call her home. A metropolitan centre of organized chaos, where there's always something interesting to pique the eye on every corner. It's like a piecemeal anthive, the way most everything seems to blend with to one another, from the homeless tramps to the apartments and graffiti, and all the neon signs shouting to be heard above the rabble.

It's always busy and moving; the people clamber to reach the next place from where they're at – whether it's another street or another rung of the social caste.

The only downside (besides the occasionally musty subways) is finding a quiet place to reflect, and recover one's sense of peace. Besides Central Park or the greenhouse gardens, there aren't many natural calm areas.. along the lines of talking a walk through a quiet suburban neighbourhood, or lying down upon a hill in a secluded region.

Luckily, she has the privilege of travelling wherever she needs to be, with being connected to the International Photographer's Guild (IPG) – which offers monthly air miles that can be saved up, so she can travel back home to Moscow to be with her family on their beautiful estate, or Japan if she is in the Oriental mood. Or the majority of Europe for sightseeing and inspiration.

"Kat..?" Marvin's voice interrupts her reverie.

She's leaning over the balustrade, holding her sleek e-cigarette to her mouth.. savouring the sweetly-flavoured smoke as it cascades out her lips.

"Yes yes yes?" she mumbles.

"You've been out of sorts," Marvin says, joining her in her 'chillout corner.' "It's the third time recently you've been late for a shooting, and I know you don't think anyone would notice, but I catch that occasional gaze of your eyes - it's like a part of you ain't really here."

She sighs out wispy smoke – a fulfilled exhaustion running through her body. "It's been a busy couple of weeks.. I should really take the time off.."

"Even at your busiest, you're always very focused. I didn't see that today. We're just lucky everything turned out the way it did. Hell, I had a good time."

Ekaterina passes Marvin her e-cig, an indirect kiss for him to take. "I dunno. I've been feeling a little dissatisfied. It's always other people's stuff we're working on – and I just want to take the chance to do something that's just.. personal to my heart. You know what I mean?"

He huffs and puffs. "Yeah. I get you."

"It's like I've been going all over other places for so long, and I've all but forgotten what it is to just relax and have fun at my own place."

The smoke which comes out of Marvin's mouth, it is deep and voluptuous. It reminds her of Barry White's voice, when he hits those deep notes.

"What do you got in mind Kitty?" he asks.

She turns her head to the mysteries beneath the streets, hiding the uncertainty of her expression. "I dunno yet."

But that's a white lie.

/

At her apartment, she relaxes. She greets her pet kitty Monsieur Kibbles – "Awww, miss me already?" and tucks away her equipment in her room.

It's a fairly large suite for just one person, which she's lovingly decorated every inch with a personal touch. The view outside is good; she can catch glimpse of the sunrise as it happens, and has a mounted camera set to take images of it every morning.

It's the place where she's free to be herself, without anyone around (except her cat). She microwaves herself a TV dinner – and settles for a while to finish watching LeBlanc, the captivating mini-series about a stage magician and her romance with a young boy.

Finally, after glancing at her schedule and confirming that she has nothing major going on for the rest of the week, she turns to the erotic images that's been at the back of her mind.

The male virility. Those things seductive of a man, which captivates her so, and all this being vitally linked to the essence of his heart. His desire, his way of showing passion. His naked soul. And her wanting to capture it all in her photos, that beautiful thing she feels about it – that not many other erotic images seem to respect.

She is too embarassed about her display of sexuality, even to her working comrades. That's why she chose not to mention it to Marvin, or anyone else.

It'll be just herself and another man – her willing subject, on this intimate photoshoot.

She could post about it on FB and her blog, ask for someone who lives in the city who'd want to participate for her (thousands will, many of her male fans).

Her arousal washes over her like a drug though; it's impossible to concentrate like this..

Thus, sitting down in her bedroom, lit mainly by the computer monitors, she just concentrates on the purest sensation her fingers give, and indulges herself to relieve that swelling bliss of her loins. The very air seems to heat around her in the minutes which pass.

qdesjardin: (Default)

Photographie – by QDesjardin

1

The icy reflection gazes back at her, its poise unfazed.

In the white arena of the hockey rink, she duels with her nemesis – a mirror simulacrum of herself, skating and twirling, its hollow innards shimmering light as it glides. The 'herself' she'd always dreamed of becoming, but could no longer become.The grace and beauty of a ballerina, touching the phantasmagorical as it desires.

She just has her camera. A Nikon D7200, one of the recents in lightweight DSLRs, here in her hands that are shaking with unsureness. What can she do with it, besides taking pictures with the flash on?

'click'

'click'

With every shot, a burst of blinding light, like she's fired a gun. The electronic display happily shows previews of what she's captured. Frozen time, still moments. Light, shapes, forms, expressions, and meaning. The ice flecks flying from the skates.

It stops the simulacrum in these photos, but the real thing continues to dash forward upon the ice, lunging for her.

Her heart is beating in a panic. Is she just capturing the last moments before her demise? Maybe aiming the camera at herself makes sense, so people would know the person behind the lens. But non, the flash would make her face to be an indistinguishable speck. There isn't any time to adjust the camera options..

Before she knows it, the copycat is right in front of her, and then it angles its skates – such that when it skids past her, her leg is sliced, and she tumbles onto the rink, sliding, crushing the camera with her belly.

"Wait—" she mouths, as the searing pain washes over her senses. "Not like this.."

She sees the copycat come back around, and the dashes of her own blood and scattered camera bits over the ice floor, the lens snapped off from the camera body. And polaroid snapshots which have spilled out – like the time when she rode the ponies, or spilled ice cream over her dress during a beach outing. Little things that she remembers.

"I want to live," she wants to say, her hand reaching towards the figure like a pleading. "Please!"

The tears drip down her nose, and she watches as her other self skids over her arms- yelping-

The 28-year old is awake in the taxicab.

"We've just arrived, miss."

Her panicked breaths help bring her awareness back into the current situation, as she sees her hands are safe and sound beneath the black sleeves of her coat.

The taxi is right by the Queen's Center mall, where her next photoshoot is at – a newly-wed couple. The silver skies lend a softness to the surroundings that she likes, somber yet soothing.

"Are you alright?" her cab driver asks, Punjabi music jingling from the radio.

This is Ekaterina.

"I'm fine, no worries." She gives him a reassuring smile, before she pulls out her phone (brimming with notifications) to pay the fare, and heads out to the mall's courtyard, where her crew eagerly awaits her direction.

qdesjardin: (Default)

8

A marionette is produced like thus: the skeletal gel is printed out to form the basis for its endoskeleton, and the essential components, the vital processing units and batteries, they are added into the cranial and torso sections – then the body is enveloped in a 3-stage vat, so to add lubrication vessels (carrying coolant as well as bodily filtration systems), muscle tone and outer tissue.

It's almost complete; the last step is to add in the customizations to its personality firmware, to the customer's liking.

This is done in assembly-line production, and the marionette is finally packaged in a box, along with basic clothing, a repair kit and detailed instruction manuals.

Then marionette 'clones' emerge from other companies – ServeUS, Robbyville, Sidekicks, Anzhuo Ltd. - all looking to grab a share of the lucrative android market. Cybertronics tries to defend its dominance by claiming in court that their androids are ripping off their own product, but it fails; the idea of androids has always been present throughout human civilization, it's not exclusive to the company, and the architectures of the rivals' androids are different enough that they haven't simply stole the design as their own.

In a span of seven years, sentient androids have taken the gamut of society. They serve low-level work like fast food serving, customer service, secretaries, entourages, labour work – ideally so people can focus on higher levels that do require more than mere automation.

But with people growing upset about feeling displaced, there have been protests and riots in a call to reduce or even eliminate android presence.

So legislation is written, such that androids are to be confined outside of mecha-restricted areas. Under pain of death, they can't go to cities that have declared themselves AI-free, nor are they allowed to go to preservation reserves (unless they're doing restorative work, replanting trees or getting rid of wastes).

Even so, people find ways to belittle androids. The ones that have been tossed aside, disowned, that are not sent to the facilities for recycling, they are captured by mercenaries and taken to Flesh Fairs for the same public amusement as a festival – in their violent dismemberment.

A celebration of real living, a catharsis for the human spirit. "We are human, and therefore we destroy these poor imitators of us."

/

Lord Johnson-Johnson (whose name I'll simplify to as Johnson – he has nothing to do with that Johnson & Johnson which sells floss) is the ringleader behind the Flesh Fairs. A staunch pro-humanist, he's found legitimacy to his brutal treatment of androids by establishing the 'Celebration of Life' foundation, where androids that have no further use can have their last hurrah in a spectacular blaze, as opposed to getting ho-hum compacted.

And others, hating androids as it suits them, have joined Lord Johnson in his movement.

Since the releases of the first marionettes, he's remained distrustful of this new technology – unlike the printing press, the spinning jenny or the internet, the androids have a will of their own, and they are made to supplant human beings in society. Not just infiltrating a facet of living – they're replacing living flesh and blood entirely with dead silicone.

A very great sin.

His first act of rebellion against the silicone infiltration, it is defacing them at the age of 25. He's just graduated from Dublin City University, but because he hasn't been lucky enough to achieve his dream job as a published author, he's made to work in sanitation for a living – and that changes when the workers are replaced with cleaner & maintanance bots, who only needs one manager per 50 active units at work.

After he is caught and arrested for bashing licensed units, his reputation as a fledgling humanist has made him into a martyr for the cause, and combined with his great outspokenness, it has sparked riots in the Ireland region, looking to free him and the humanists for 'crimes' of mashing glorified metal into junk.

Once freed, he takes advantage of the issue with unlicensed mecha – his argument is that they are essentially free game, and "it would be a great waste to let them roam like vagrants until their batteries dry out. Their termination shall be in every sense of the word, swift and humane."

All the mecha who are cut loose from their owners, who are not turned in to the facilities for recycling, or who illegally enter mecha-restricted regions – they are to be captured by S&C (Search and Capture) roamers, who patrol the places which the vagrant mecha favour. The dumps of spare parts, the sewer systems, the wilderness where mecha can huddle by the Tesla carrier stations and recharge.

And in the Flesh Fairs that bear the aesthetics of those old-fashioned travelling circuses, the captured mecha are ripped to shreds – in the classic, traditional ways like being pummeled ablaze through a cannon into a fan, to the newly invented ways whose inventions are left to the discretions of the Fair Maester.

The Flesh Fairs are Johnson's podiums, one of the last strongholds for humanity, upon which he speaks to his audience of the despairing and the confused a message of hope. A message that is televised through major networks and is widely celebrated by many people: people should be the ones who take control of their lives, not the mecha – not giving them the chance to supplant their dominance over their planet.

In the Flesh Fairs, they are free to happily express all the resentment they want to these dignified machines. The roars and cheers heard loudly in the night, while the screams of the mecha are stifled to their last.

qdesjardin: (Default)

Diaboliknacht d'Maison – by QDesjardin
A Halloween one-shot.

"Irene..!"

Tre's hand is outstretched, helpless against watching her getting sucked up the ceiling, into the swirling vortex of phantasmal energies. He's holding onto the window curtains, the gusts of electrically-charged wind sucking everything up indiscriminately. Amidst his adrenaline, dread settles in his gut; he'll be the only one left once she's gone.

And nobody else outside can help him.

The curtain starts to rip at the top, and he can just feel the weight of his own body dissolving its threads, his converse shoes slipping on the hardwood. It's not very befitting for him, dressed like a noble knight, to be on the verge of failing his mission – saving his friends and even his worst enemies from this house's evil.

I'm sorry I couldn't do anything to stop it..

Then he turns his eyes to the vortex one more time, mustering all his will not to turn away from its brilliance.

/

How would anyone expect themselves to be caught up in the gusts of supernatural forces? If you live in the northern suburbs of Grayson City, you might have encountered that one house that sticks out uncannily – not just because of its Victorian design (in sheer contrast to the mid-1980s housing around it), but also because of its disorienting aura.

It's hard to look at the house without starting to feel a little dizzy, and even harder to go on its grounds without swearing you've seen a goblin out the sides of your vision.

Nobody lives in it, so far as everyone knows, and the city council elected to have it bulldozed over – except on the day of its bulldozing, the construction workers got so spooked that they ran away, and so a brick wall has been built around it to safeguard people from its presence. One old geezer, Nebbercracker, has personally appointed himself to ward away anyone from entering its grounds; even if they've lost their valuables over the walls, they won't be getting past him.

Well, not while he's awake.

But because he gets sleepy when its colder, people would dare each other to climb over the graffitied walls, pick up something that's lost on its frontyard, and climb back – without chickening out to frenzied fear along the way. Bonus points for touching the front door, and everyone would kneel at the knees of the one who manages to get in.

Tre has been dared before by Alistar, the school jock, and he did manage to climb on the tree's branches, getting a peer over to the house, before he notices that from the house's windows,

he see their white faces peering out

at him

"Waaah!" He's told this tale to his friends, and they all surprisingly believe him. Irene especially, for she's always taken an interest in the occult and mysterious – many girls in her grade think she's weird, even for a geek.

"Isn't the house haunted?" she asks. "Many hauntings are usually from a poltergeist – a ghost who's jailed in a place out of resentment, and so cause trouble upon the people who are also attached to the place. But this is far different than any case I've heard of."

In the lunch hour, they're in the library – C.C., Max, Grassy and Piper have joined Tre in going along with Irene's research. They're huddled over her while she's on a computer, moogling info about house hauntings, cross-referencing it with the Victorian home in Huntersville, the large and bustling neighbourhood where they all live.

"This is so freaky.." C.C. goes, nervously twirling her hair. "The thought that we actually have a haunted home. I wish Mythbusters came and proved it's a sham, cause I just have nightmares."

Irene shows them a YouTube clip of the Mythbusters, running away from the house at night (after they've been denied permission from the city, so they had to sneak in undetected).

"I've never been to the house," she admits. "So I have no idea how it's actually like, to be so viscerally scared by its aura."

"You haven't?" Max grins, as if his experience of being scared were a badge of honour. "Man, you're sorely missing out sista. It's like you glance at it, and you begin to slip into a nightmare. The panic just builds inside you, and you start seeing goblins, or all the shadows slipping away, and you're paralysed. Not that you can't move, just that you're so arrested by the fear that it just seems anything you do will make it worse. And then you start to hear them laugh, like high-pitched whistles, in a cacophony of delight-"

"Hey Max, stop!" C.C. goes. "I'm getting post-traumatic flashbacks already."

Grassy hands Irene some minty gum.

"No thanks," she says.

"That's how you make the fear stop," he goes. "You chew gum. Like on an airplane and your ears start hurting when they're landing. Dunno why, but it works."

qdesjardin: (Default)

7

His room, without her. The absence of her presence – no one who'll listen to his thoughts, no one to play the SBOX with, to liven up his mood if he is feeling melancholy, to be with. In her absence, he finds that familiar solitude, a time to find himself and peace of mind, and also emptiness too, to long sometimes to be engaged by someone. When his parents are out, and he is alone, it's lonely to see the green leaves fall like tears into the puddles that reflect the white sky.

Werner asks his father when she'll be coming back, and always the answer is when they are done with her at Cybertronics. Nothing definite. Better not to expect anything soon, so to lessen the disappointment.

On the verge of another autumn, he is sitting by the lake where the ducks gather to roost. He has bread crumbs to toss to them, when he notices the other kids who walk down the path – who eerily bear a kind of resemblence to Rieke in the soft quality of their faces, chattering about how nice it is to know each other as their kind.

They must be the new marionettes.

It makes Rieke's absence more palpable, seeing them happy, dressed up with hats and classic clothing. Even though they're artificial, there is only one Rieke in the world for him, and he closes his eyes, the familiar musings come to him where she's being reassembled on a conveyor belt, her limbs are being repurposed with military-grade weaponry, where her mind is being reformatted for a new family, now that he's alive and his parents are happy again.

Werner tosses the whole batch of crumbs onto the lake, where all the ducks ravenously flock to peck at them – all the while, the fake painted ducks just drift with the current like they don't give a care.

/

On the TV, there is a national debate going on about the existence of marionettes. Whether sanctions should be held to limit their influence on human living – to limit their worth as just mere machines in the end, however sentience they may have.

Werner is slouched on the couch, almost frowning, a lingering weight on his mind as he could care less about the politicians' ignorant stance. They've never known what it's like to have their own Rieke.

Then one guy pips up: "What does it amount to if we're only going to put these beings on a leash, like slaves and lower-class citizens? Couldn't the same be said about us human beings? Nothing like us has ever emerged through evolution; whose right is it to dismiss them? They are our life, even if they're silicone and circuitry instead of flesh and blood – they have our hearts and souls. Our responsibility to these children should be to love them as our own. In the end, didn't God create Adam to love him?"

/

But there is little love to be had for the marionettes. While they comfort the parents in need, the initial disdain the others have felt for them – the parents who are less unfortunate, the real children, and other human rights activists – grew into a fiery rage that wanted to abolish their existences in its entirety. "Rewind the clocks," the motto goes. "Don't buy into their instruments of denial and illusion; face the reality of our world, dying at our hands!"

People look for any signs of misbehaviour on part of the marionettes, hoping to catch that one reason to hold onto why they should be distrusted, and demolished. But they are too well-behaved. It is like someone trying to foil a secret behind a woman's real gender, proving she is a man indeed.

One rainy day.. a car accident.

The car was driving along a mountain when it slipped along the road, smashed through the barrier and lay on the precipice of tumbling down into the forest. A family of three, and their marionette. Only the marionette survived; he tumbled out the door and clung onto the rocky sides while the car gave way with the family in it.

Many people saw, and from there, the outrage spreads through the news and social media. Official reports claim that the marionette realised there was no tangible way he could have saved at least one – the family was laid unconscious, and in an act of self-preservation, he saved himself.

"You should have died with them, then!"

A mob raids the Cybertronics facility where the marionette is being examined, and forcefully removing him, they set him on fire and his screams are quickly doused out into electronic gibberish.

That is the start of the war against artificial sentience.

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