qdesjardin: (Default)
2017-01-08 11:07 pm

Ze Polar Express / SCENE 13 - Fiat Lux

SCENE 13 – Fiat Lux

"How can you just leave me standing?
Alone in a world that's so cold?
Maybe I'm just too demanding
Maybe I'm just like my father too bold
Maybe you're just like my mother
She's never satisfied
Why do we scream at each other?
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry.."

There in the distance, far above horizons known to anyone, is the floating city of Lux. Amidst the dimly red skies of the North Pole, the white domes are aglow – clusters of them, like lanterns perpetually adrift in the sky.

This is where the train's skyroad leads to, and if you peer closely, an intricate series of skyroads connect the domes with one another, with transport cars carrying gnomes who are super busy for the night, and guidance balloons along their paths (they signal the state of the tracks).

Utena and Shinji have their mouths agape outside the Conductor's car.

"Wow!" Shinji goes, while Utena clutches the train railing with apprehension. Even if this is all but just a dream of hers, she would have never imagined Santa Claus to live in such a scene reminiscent of what you'd find in the deep oceans. It shows how much she doesn't actually know about the jolly old man who's supposed to grant any wish a child makes on Christmas Night, no matter how small or extreme.

"How come nobody's ever been able to find this place out?" Utena asks the Conductor, standing right behind them.

"Ahh, it is trade secret," he says. "If I told you, even a middle-schooler like you could spread the news to anyone not incredulous to our existence! You do have one curious mind Utena.."

"I just.." A beat. She wants to say everything that's weighing in her heart, the deep trauma of her soul – how everything she loved has been ripped out her being, and just holding on to the nobility of being like the prince who rescued her from despair – that is what keeps her going.

She wonders if the Conductor could see it in her eyes. The pain she's kept buried for years, leeching out every once in a while, when no one else is around, she'd cry and find it beautiful for some reason that always escapes her lips.

In the end, she just says: "I've always liked learning," with an eager smile to placate any worries.

"Oh.. and that is why you scored a 37% in one of your math quizzes?" the conductor goes off-handedly.

("Sucks to be you!" Wakaba goes, jeering at Utena's piss-poor mark. "Wee-hehehe!")

"Hey.. how'd you know?! I was caught up in those rose duels, I never got the chance to study ever!" Utena is taken aback by the Conductor's mentioning of a personal detail.

"It seemed like you had a lot on your mind.. that's all.." the Conductor says. "I won't pretend to say I know which thought it is, for my ESP powers are failing me this time of year. But I do confess, it is not a healthy habit to allow personal anxieties to get the best of you, Utena-sama. A heavy heart, it inevitably closes itself off from receiving joy - everyone is feeling joyful about Christmas, and you should too! You're one of the rare few in this world who's hand-picked to see the Wizard of Oz!"

Even Utena couldn't resist smiling from the Conductor's enthusiasm, and as she glances at the approaching domes, feeling the wind rushing, ripping over her hair, she feels her gut swell about what these domes have inside.

"You want some tea? Hot chocolate?" Shinji asks from inside the conductor's car – apparently he is fiddling with the Conductor's magic drinky-making machine, which can produce any delectable drink the imagination can conceive, but all Shinji can think of at the moment is how chilly he feels in just his pajamas (he should've worn his bathrobe) and being nice to Utena. Oh, and also the friendly Conductor too.

"How about some black tea?" Utena goes.

"I do not like tea, but I do like the coffee," the Conductor says.

So Shinji makes them black tea and coffee, and he passes the foam cups to each of them, while they seem busy admiring the way all the clouds are layered all around, silhouetted by the domes, as if God hadn't yet formed the world coherently. It looks jarring for the eyes to see, really.

"What else is out there?" Shinji whispers, adding nothing to their conversation.

/

Back in the passenger cars, Stevie is playing with a stuffed Garfield (Santa Claus edition!), making the orange cat do the Spider-Man crawl over the windows. He's having an awful lot of fun seeing the cat defy gravity – just like the floating marbles out the window.

"Oooh, aren't you having fun!" Nanami decides to join in Steve's playing. She was bored of 50 rounds of pattycake with the girls, and wondered how that little geek could keep himself so entertained.

Seeing past the Garfield on the window, the domes remind her of those luxury pearls she's wanted for herself – ever since she walked by the display case one winter's night, where she was window shopping by the boutique district down Roppongi (with Keiko and buddies), and saw a beautifully carved mannequin, in an understatedly elegant black dress that made her think of those older women in those erotic thriller stories she'd read about, with a circlet headdress that made the hair sheen, and.. those pearls, that adorned her neck – completing the whole picture.

She imagines herself dressing up for her big brother Touga, taking him out on a night where her wildest fantasies will come true, a candlelit dinner – take his mind entirely off the Student Council and his worries, and be the only person there for him. A night they'll both surely remember.

But the entire thing.. let alone the pearls, costs the equivalent of $10,000 CAD. And though the Kiryuu family is rich, there's no way they'll let her have it; especially when she's still at a young, budding age.

She made a secret wish, written to Santa Claus, that she'll give her whole being just to be good for the rest of the school year, if she could have a chance of having that outfit, and to spend that one special day with Touga..

"Hey, you just went limp-eyed on me!" Stevie goes. "What's the matter, are you thinking of what you'll be telling Santa on his lap?"

"Why, yes I am.." Nanami goes.

"Ooh, lemme guess, you want a.. uhh, ermm.. Ken and Barbie dollset!"

"Not that, but you're vaguely on the right track." What good does it do to tell him about a grown-up-related thing? "You know, why don't I try guessing what you want for Santa to do for you?"

"Alrighty, but you'll never hit the mark in a million years."

Nanami grumbles. "Humph! Try me!"

Stevie grins. His eyes seem to beam especially behind his glasses. "I want to meet Albert Einstein and Kurt Godel and all the great minds of history and ask them what the speed of an unladen swallow is!"

"African or European?"

"Ohh! So you do have some genius on you, Miss Smartypants!"

She's seen a subtitled copy of Monty Python's greatest hits, thanks to her older brother's collection and taste in art. Nanami smirks at her little victory. Nothing is ever beyond her wits!

"Hey, do you know what these glowing things are?" she wonders, notioning at the globes. "I've never seen those before."

"Hmm.."

A lot of the kids are now peering over by the windows, their eyes awestruck by the fantastic scenery.

The train is zooming in, faster and faster, past the globules – then it is all enveloped in a tunnel, the air currents howling as beams of light rush by the windows in a constant rate. The lights of the train dim and recover in breaths, and the train lurches upward, making everyone feel like on a zooming roller-coaster that's climbing up to a precipice.. except a weird feeling occurs where it feels like the center-of-gravity has shifted to accomodate the change of slope.

And then the tunnel ends, and what everyone on the train can see is the multi-faceted, breathing city of Lux. Where all the buildings seem comfortably constructed upon all the possible slopes and beams, like crystals that have grown upon tree branches, branching out in perpendicular directions.

This is what is inside a snow globe.

qdesjardin: (Default)
2016-12-31 12:17 am

√Čtranges Libellules / 1

Étranges Libellules – by QDesjardin
those strange butterflies, wishing for a fading dream

1

What a cold, snowy world it is on the eve of New Year's. Down the street of Hans-Gruber-Straße, there's a parade – the horses carrying carriages, their sleigh bells ringing, and a candlelit blow-up figurine of St. Helene for the Catholics to pray for their future fortunes.

The parade passes by one of the apartments; upon its seventh floor, where the luxurious live by the penthouse, a man hosts his own party for his guests. They are cheerful, clasping glasses of champagne to their lips, congratulating the rich man (Maxim) for all his generous contributions to help revitalise the province's once-dying steel industry.

But there is illegitimacy behind it. For Maxim had relied on making connexions with the underworld Mafia – the ones who bribe off the lobbyists and quietly put away the people whose policies were contrary to letting Bavarian steel be realized as the high quality product that it should be.

That is how Frau Amelia, an investigator, would come to ring Maxim's apartment door. The doorbell is a button, dressed in a bronze floral frame, and it would be one of the last times she'll ever ring someone's door.

Upon hearing his doorbell, Maxim thinks it could be Jacob and his wife Marlene – they always did have a habit of getting delayed ("Oh, you know how it is, we had to find a babysitter at the last minute!"). He excuses himself to get to the door, not bothering to check the security cameras before he slides the door to find a short, very handsome woman – her hair a dark licorice red, dressed in a dark overcoat with lapels. She looks like she's on a serious errand.

"Yes? Who might you be?" he goes.

She pulls out her badge. "I am a federal investigator, and under the authority of His Majesty King Frederich II, Maxim Kostro – I place you under arrest!"

The frightened Maxim fumbles back, stumbling, and Amelia exploits his footing – pushing him onto the floor chest-wise. Her knee crushes the back of his spine as she goes to handcuff his arms behind him..

"What the hell? Maxim!"

A lady shrieks and gasps in her shock at the scene, and another man beside her – he pulls out his pistol on Amelia.

She notices the man's movements, and before he could squeeze the first shot off, her hands snap to her revolver to install two gashing holes in the man's centre-of-mass. The man's pistol falls away, clattering onto the floorpanes, while cordite smoke arises out of his wounds.

"If any of you try me," she goes, wielding their attention with her aimed pistol, "I retain the right to use deadly force. All of you in this apartment room are accomplices to murder, assault, extortion, illegal trafficking of goods, in a conspiracy to profit off the end result."

Two of the other men exchange hesitant looks, while the few women cower down, terrified of this party pooper.

"And you are all coming with me to the station!" Amelia rises up from the handcuffed Maxim now.

qdesjardin: (Default)
2016-06-26 01:03 am
Entry tags:

LeBlanc / 12 - snake eyes

12 – snake eyes

The Staff of Ra. A few thousand years ago, it was held by Egyptian rulers as a symbol of ultimate trust, and now David Bateson is retrieving it from a hermatically-sealed glass chamber for this evening, up in his private chambers.

He's just finished checking on the hotel's finance records, certain that tomorrow's gigantic event with the Black Rose will give his shareholders the huge boost they've been waiting for – over ten millions in ticket profits (not including the other income sources).

/

When he goes to check on the Black Rose's rehearsal backstage – they've already gotten the gist of their acts, with Renton now being able to fish out yin-yang (Baoding) balls from an unsuspecting audience member – having practiced on a waitress who has free time to spare.

Good.. if everything runs smoothly, along with the auction, I'll be sure to go down in the hotel's history as its best owner. Not to mention a suave retirement.

"For my next trick," LeBlanc twirls with her staff, smirking, "I'll make your 5G reception bars disappear."

Satisfied with the proceedings, David sips a small brandy from his pocket bottle. The Black Rose's itinerary of magic seems solid:

1. Opening act – Lulu and Heimerdinger are French chefs, serving ratatouille (real). LeBlanc is a demanding food critic. Involves one or two audience members.
2. 2nd act – Swain and LeBlanc have a tango ("Roxanne"), involving the dizzying heights of the ceiling.
3. 30 Minute Intermission
4. 3rd act
– Twisted Fate and Renton try to outfox one another in games involving cards, chess, etc. leading to heated duel of words and tricks.
5. Finale – A ballad involving all cast members, leaving everyone with the promise of finding magic in their own lives (metaphorically speaking).

Swain calls everyone over for a group huddle.

"Remember what we need to do.." he goes, once he's sure David has gone away. "While our show is on, the auction will be occuring during the intermissions and afterward. I just found out David will be giving away his staff the first thing."

He nods at Heimerdinger. "Heimer's come up with a duplicate, based off observations. It'll look like the real thing, more or less, just that it will feel a bit off to a familiar hand. We'll be swapping the staffs, so no one will be alerted. By the time they find out, we'll already be stepping foot in Italy."

Renton gulps at the mention of Italy. It's only been around three days since dropping through the rabbit hole to this alternate reality, and he's just getting used to the idea of grandeur – the feeling that you could do anything you wished for, the stuff you'd see in TV, movies and comics, and now being in another country?

He'd never even contemplated that possibility, except as a young child when his father was still alive, promising him someday he'd get to see those beautiful gardens his father's seen in Belgium, where the white water lilies seem to sift on the ponds.

And now, it's as much in his reach as Evaine's billowing cape before him.

She smells like.. a bizarre mixture of oranges and plums that hit the nose in such a manner as to bring your senses to an allured stillness..

"Renton..? Renton!" Swain is calling out his name. "Can I trust you with the actual swapping of the staff? Nobody knows your face yet, and your innoceous looks can prove disarming."

Renton feels like being the lead role of a spy movie, so of course he says "Yes!"

"This is what you'll be doing before the 3rd act.."

/

Being canned is an uncomfortable fit. Singed, in a waiter's outfit, is lugging a cart of canned fruit – along with Zac (in a can).

They are part of backstage catering, and will be checking in on the Black Rose, hoping to glean any info out of their doings. In short, they're just like villains-for-hire in a Saturday morning cartoon.

So far, what they've found out is that there's an auction they're really concentrating on, and a staff of Ra they want to acquire.

"A staff of Ra?"

Yes. Those artefacts which are fabled to ascend anyone to a higher plane of existence. Viktor has searched through his data files and discovered the thread which the Black Rose has been chasing after. A fascinating thread – that would seek to quench that underlying question about magic. He isn't sure what they've already acquired, so he is hoping to forge a temporary alliance with them, despite their long-standing rivalry.

It is a bit of a long-shot, but Swain is enough of a reasonable man to be swayed. A long time ago, Viktor pulled Swain out of a messy situation from the Russian Mafia..

Now Singed puts the cans under the catering table, where Zac is to listen in, and heads on back so he could refill the drinks.

While this is going on, Rumble and Veigar are putting on the finishing touches for the stage lighting.

"Spotlight check!" the head electrician goes, and up in the control booth, the coordinators test each of the spotlights, one-by-one, making sure everything is in working order.

Rumble has set his Tristy mecha on standby, by the ceiling, when everyone else has left the stage. He's dressed it up in a Super Galaxy outfit. Having seen the Black Rose's perfomance itinerary, the idea is to interrupt their finale – giving the audience a real shocker, like something out of wrestling when another wrestler comes by unexpectedly for a showdown. It might seem rude initially, but whatever makes the crowd cheer, so Team ROCHAT can have some publicity, as well as getting the Black Rose's attention to their joint-venture proposal.

He's also reprogrammed the routines in the control room, so the lights will dim and re-focus accordingly when they crash the party. "It's a change of plan sirs," he told the control guys, showing them a written letter with Swain's signature (faked). "They're orders directly from the Black Rose," and with the time pressure, coupled with his convincing tone of authority, the control guys don't bother checking the purpose of these routine changes. An extra dim here, some spotlight focuses there – these seemingly innoceous changes – and the show goes on like normal afterward.

Veigar wipes his forehead. Mon dieu! Thank god it's over, everything is set to rock.

"They have Kool-Aid in this place, non?" he says to Rumble, when the rest of the technician team are busy congratulating themselves.

"There's 20-year old Merlot and Sherry," Rumble goes, having glanced at their fine wine collection. "I'm pretty sure they have your favourite somewhere."

/

Alone in her makeup room, LeBlanc is playing around with the blushes and lipstick, experimenting with her new look she'll be presenting outwardly. It's like with Madonna, who's able to reinvent her image with every one of her new albums, which is something LeBlanc's always admired.

Currently, she dabs a bit of lipstick just in the middle of her lips, and pulls back her hair in a fanciful bun. When she spent time imitating a geisha, she found it suiting to be poised like a mime. Ready to suggest people through her hands and gestures, not with her words.

The door creaks open.

"Evaine?" Renton goes. He sees her wiping away her makeup, and catches a momentary glimpse of what she was going for in the brightly lit mirror. She is immensely talented, and his already pounding heart is erupting now, like a volcano.

He inches himself inside the same room as her, and the scent of vanilla caresses his nose. Bursting out of him, those moments which have been underlying himself the whole time.

The way she's kissed him, sliding her lips back like how the ocean waves retreat, before diving deeper in his mouth for more.

Losing all sense of himself under her embrace..

It touches the innermost recesses of his mind, that he's yet to feel comfortable revealing.

"Why do you love me?" he says. "It was so sudden, and.. and.." Nothing can express the confusion he's having over this. "I don't understand. Do you know me from somewhere, like distant cousins?"

"Non." She exits her chair. "Renton.. you don't know what I've been through. Seeing you brings back so many memories. I'm not related to you or anything. I just.. used to have a son, and his father.. that's such a long time ago."

This revelation isn't really that stunning for him.

"I'd have thought you were together with Twisted Fate or Swain," Renton goes. "You're so beautiful, why aren't you in love with-"

"I was. But it grew exhausting on them after a while, and so we had to break it off, keep professional. Ever since, I've hidden my feelings from everyone, though they know about it.. how I had my heart torn to shreds, and left with nothing but despair."

"What happened..?" Renton approaches Evaine's still figure.

"My lover was killed! And they took my son – he was all I had left in my world. My SON, Renton!" Her arms are clasped over her chest, like trying to stifle a bleeding wound. "It's not the Black Rose. Someone else. Katarina.. Cassiopeia.. Riven! Oh god, I can still remember all their names..!"

And she slams the table with her fists, the items on the table clattering. It takes a second for her to recollect herself.

"My son's name was Booker, Renton," she goes, her eyes partly caught up in her memory. "I was going to look after him, hold him tightly in my arms, grow older with him. I don't even know if he's even alive! The last 23 years, I sought to find those bitches who took him – hoping that the next city we'd venture into, I'd find them, and my son with them. Or the next city after that. But they're all gone now, and.. I'm sorry.."

She is weeping, and Renton is agape trying to comprehend what she's saying. He just knows her feeling of loss, thinking of his long-gone father, and that he feels this pull towards her.

"Hey, there's no need to be sorry." He tugs at her shoulder. "When I was around 10, I lost my dad in a truck crash, and it's never been the same for me since. I miss him every day that's passed – it's just something that happens, and I live the best I can for his memory. I try to, at least."

It makes Evaine smile. "He must be so, so very proud of you.."

"I can't imagine how it's like to lose your child like that. But if Booker were here, knowing you still care about him after so long, he'd be so happy." Renton flashes her a reassuring grin. "You never stopped believing in him."

"Oh-!"

A lipstick falls to the floor.

He finds himself suddenly cradled in her embrace. Passionately warm and soothing and intoxicating. His cheeks pressed by her neck, while his breathing is slightly constrained within her arms – every inhalation makes his chest press back against her soft breasts.

It's like before, where he is shuddering at experiencing the entirety of her being up-close. Her fingers running along the back of his neck, curling up at the soft parts she finds.

"Does this.. feel good?"

They look like lovers caught in a still frame of an intimate waltz.

"You're so beautiful.." Renton goes.

"What are you talking about?"

She leans in to kiss him – holding still in his mouth, before slowly drawing back. And then another, this time with a trail of saliva linking their lips which makes her smile.

The excitement proves too much for Renton, and his breath noticably trembling, he tries to lunge towards her life-giving mouth, but she draws away from his unrestrained eagerness.

"Slowly.." she instructs him, a finger on his cheek – not wanting to break the feeling of delicacy – and when he kisses her again, he remembers to relax, and let his mind be saturated with those sensations her soul delights in showing him.

/

Tomorrow evening's show has almost a hundred thousand showing up. The parking lots have been congested with varieties of car colours – when a spot is filled, the ground underneath it is set aglow, which is a nice touch for the event. There's also small business owners inviting other cars into their backlots (with cheap Christmas lights to replicate an MGM Grand spot), and a huge lineup of viewers, reporters, stretching down the sidewalks as far as the hotels some of them are staying at.

Police and security dot the vicinity with their presence, from the parked cruisers that help redirect traffic, to the guards who do random patdowns to check for weapons and laser pointers.

Even refreshment tables are there since the entire line has been growing for hours long.

In the actual hotel/exhibition centre, David Bateson is chewing on a Snickers bar – his reflection silhouettes his walking cane behind the glass. It's like a piece of him is going away with it. And a weight off his mind. Then the custodians tow his cane away, along with the numerous treasures he's found throughout his travels.

And Renton, he is also chewing a Snickers bar. While his stage outfit is ready in the dressing room, he's wearing normal clothes.

"Just talk with David Bateson and lead him into letting you have your hands on the cane. The loading area has a few blindspots in their surveillence, and I'll show up moments later to congratulate Bateson and his crew in their efforts – that's when you make the switch. Hide the real staff in a blindspot, and we'll retrieve it later."

Everyone is already murmuring in the stagearea, and Renton can feel the hefty weight of the retractable cane in his pockets, as he wanders into the loading bay, where David is overseeing the process of every item, film memorablia, jade doll being fitted into its display case.

How am I supposed to get his cane? It's not they'll be willing to undo the boxing just for me..

Doubt gives Renton pause over Swain's idea. A part of him wants to turn back and ask Swain if maybe he should rethink it. He continues forth anyway, and with a slight change of perspective, sees the glass case beside David in which the cane rests.

"Young lad-!" David goes, spotting Renton. "I know you're not one of the faces I usually see here! It's not an appropriate place for you to be – were you looking for the washroom?"

The loud whirs of the drills intermittently erupt through the room.

"Yeah.." Renton scratches the back of his neck. "I was. I got a little lost – I'm in a hurry for the show. Can you show me?"

Bateson checks his watch. More than enough time. So he leads Renton back to the halls..

"Around your age Renton," he says, with a slight lisp in his step, "I didn't really dream big, truth be told. I was what you'd call lazy and modest. I thought the best I could aspire to was being a content pencil-pusher in the offices."

"I don't know yet what I want to aspire to," Renton goes, feeling a tinge of embarassment go through him as they pass by a WC sign that has the gendered stick people pointing in the right direction.

"There's no need to hurry yourself. A lot of the historical greats didn't know what they really wanted to pursue until they were well into their middle ages.. you, my lad, it seems like you've got a lot of spirit showing through you."

"That's really encouraging."

The men's washroom, you turn right at a juncture between the men's and women's. Some music from the first act plays very distantly, as the frightened yelps from Heimerdinger suggest that LeBlanc is slapping his ass over the poorly-made Antoinette cake.

"There we are," Bateson says.

Renton is at an impasse – Bateson is just going to turn back around, and he'll be left in awkwardness if Bateson sees him stumbling by again. Why did he even run along with 'going to the washroom'? That was foolish-

"Oh, now that I think of it," David Bateson goes, "I could use the little men's room too."

So after Renton takes a whiz, he mentions to David about his 'famous' cane that he used to be walking around with. "What happened to your cane?"

"I'm giving it away for the auction tonight."

Renton notices his frown in the washroom mirror.

"You're going to miss your cane, aren't you?" Renton goes.

"We've been through so much together." David pats his face after he's given it a splash. "It even saved my friend's life."

"Really? That must be one cool cane..! If I could have had the chance to touch it beforehand.."

A beat. David eyeballs Renton, and then the idea hits him – the last thing he does with his cane should be something happy, and what better moment for finality, than to let this boy take a look with his own eyes?

"Tell you what Renton," he goes, "You can run your fingers along all its intricate lines if you like. The auction isn't for another half-hour anyways."

"Oh – you're so gracious!" Yeesss!

Coming back to the loading room, David is opening the cane's display case. The workers ask him what he's doing, and he's explaining that he's giving his cane a last, sentimental hurrah. After the case's security alarm has been deactivated, he unlatches the cover, and lets his fingers carry it over to Renton.

It's really thrilling to hold a piece of history in your own hands. By touching it, it's like you become a part of its history. No longer is it just a vague idea you'd find off a library book, with the old picture to prove its existence outside of words.

The light faintly sheens over the staff of Ra's surface as Renton turns it over, revealing the numerous micro-scratches it's accumulated. Somehow it feels lighter than the fake staff Renton's been carrying, and then the thought hits him – wouldn't Bateson know right away that it's fake from the switch? If he gets his hands on the fake..

Where is Swain? He's supposed to show up any second.

"I like it very much," Renton goes, hoping that light talk will let him hold the staff longer. "What did it look like when you first picked it up?"

David snatches the cane from him. "There were bronze gildings over it. 1952. The excavation site of Hamunaptra, where we were looking for the Egyptian tomes buried by Nasus's tomb. Mon dieu, it was so hot. It was a souvenir from what we found, and I kept it – helped me trek back through the desert."

"Ooh. You were an archaeologist?" Renton's hands are just eager to get the staff back.

"Yeah. From China to Greece and the Mayan ruins. Now I'm selling off the last of what I have. It'll be lonely with just my memories, but my work will go on better appreciated once I stop clinging to the past, so to speak." Bateson runs his hands down its whole length, and Renton could swear that there was a weird glow from the staff, before his focus snaps back to his mission.

"Hey, I'm not done looking at it."

The magic show is being broadcast on TVs, and Renton hears the applause over the first act's ending. Swain's going to be in the second act..! It's going to be starting very soon, and he hasn't even come yet.

"I have to put my cane back now, young lad," Bateson goes.

A deluge of confusion. What is Renton to do now? His head is swirling, wanting to snag the staff away and run, or just plain head off and report back to the dressing room.

Then after he hears: "Ladies and gentlemen, we apologise. One of our principle cast members is currently unavailable. But we promise, the show will go on! He should be around shortly." And the groans and uneased murmurs of the audience.

"Umm, excuse me," Renton pips. "I need to be somewhere." And he is striding off – his hesitation dispelled with the fact that Swain is missing from the whole picture. Everything is starting to go wrong..

"What's that all about?" David asks to himself. "Funny lad."

qdesjardin: (Default)
2016-02-19 01:08 am
Entry tags:

Photographie / 2

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)
2016-02-02 10:20 pm
Entry tags:

Photographie / 1

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)
2015-11-01 09:41 pm
Entry tags:

Marionette / 8

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)
2015-10-06 09:47 pm

Diaboliknacht d'Maison / 1

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)
2015-08-29 12:41 pm
Entry tags:

Marionette / 7

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.

qdesjardin: (Default)
2015-08-15 10:15 pm
Entry tags:

Titanic / 1

1

In the beginning, there were the clouds and the sky that loomed over the land. Humanity, for as long as they have existed, has always dreamed of seeing what the heavens are like, and beyond – the mythic realm of the Gods was left up to the imagination, and many stories were told about all that could be above. The angels, the stars where constellations have foretold dreams and led travellers across the oceans to distant lands.

The innate desires of humanity drove them forward, their inventions catapulting them into different eras of intellectual and scientific achievement. But at the same time, the struggles have been expressed between themselves, and in bouts of misunderstandings, there were violent clashes. Differing ideologies, differing religions and viewpoints that could not be naturally reconciliated, so the only answer was by force to extinguish the other.

One thing remained certain; they were alone. There were no traces of other species like themselves – those who had the capacity to imagine and comprehend beyond what they could see with their bare eyes.

Abstract ideals like meaning, purpose, destiny, beauty and love.

It is 1912. A time when airplanes have not yet dominated the skies, so the main means of international travel are by train, or the ocean liners. A period where the future seems bright, full of boundless hopes, where any dream feels possible.

That is what Titanic, the ship of dreams, has been built to embody. One of the largest ships of her time, she will carry over 2,000 people across the Atlantic, from Southampton (England) to New York City. And through a confluence of events, cataclysmicly collide with an iceberg, and shock the world with its tragedy in the vast seas.

qdesjardin: (Default)
2015-07-31 01:17 am
Entry tags:

Marionette / 6

6

ANALYSIS: Rieke has shown exceptional personal growth, as her myraids of grown synapse-networks have shown. In the span of one year, she has matured into a 13-year old girl whose sensibilities and joy are well-developed, having bonded with her given family and their recovered son, Werner. The inventor's wishes have been proven right when he wanted to use the first prototype as a reincarnation of his comatose daughter, as opposed to the personality of what we thought would be the ideal child – docile enough to conform to their parents' wishes, yet have a feisty independence when they encountered illicit situations, should it ever encounter them.

One of our anticipated problems, the malfunctioning of Rieke (either physically or emotionally), has not grown to become a reality. We thought of all the mentionings of artificial intelligence turning hostile against humanity, and despite us insisting on safeguards yet being vetoed by the inventor, Rieke holds a bright and chipper attitude towards the people around her, which helps maintain an overall positive mood wherever she goes.

Another problem would be the discovery of Rieke's android nature and the hostile response – which gladly never came to fruition. Thanks to our collaboration with the academy board members, as well as the inventive resourcefulness of her trusted friends, she has remained safely a human girl in the eyes of the public.

There was an incident where she fought against one Khanh Nyugen, a student whose rough demeanour shows in her streak of academic strikes. With our concurrence, Martin Herzog had her expelled from the academy, and that appears to be the end of that.

Once we have completed diagnostics on Rieke, we will be looking forward to the release of our first batch of marionettes to provide for all the bereaved families, whose children have fallen to Sinclair's Malaise, or who are unable to have children due to pollution-induced poisoning.

-Dr Ernst Schultz; 21 July 2027

..

They have asked her a lot of interview questions and put her through many scanning machines – one of which has her lie down like a sleeping beauty while robotic arms open her components up for examination, her torso and arms and legs.

She is fascinated by the whole process, but also wants to go home, for there is little comfort to be had with the people in white suits, who are only interested in her as a high-functioning robot and not as a real person.

Then she is left alone, in that strangely familiar white room, where there is a sketchbook of her musings – her drawings of fairytale princesses, and her dreams of wanting to be a ballerina dancer someday. She doesn't remember writing those, yet her own handwriting is unmistakably familiar to the eye, and it occurs to her that all those vague memories she's had of being in a laboratory are real – they were meant to be wiped out when she's sent to the Herzogs, but they linger in her.

And so, the first batch of marionette children are announced, with families lining up and ordering their child by the dozen.

"At last, a love of your own!"

That is the slogan for Cybertronics' campaign, to have their products become accepted across the different continents. But there is growing anxiety from people about their artificial nature – how these growing androids are supposed to be acceptable replacements for real children, when companies like theirs have caused the problem of reproduction in the first place, with all their irresponsible pollution.

Is it supposed to be a kind of a joke? Could real children be expected to compete with the likes of them – with their abilities both physical and intellectual, their well-behaved manner, and above all their love? Questions like these are thrown during the press conferences and online forums, often with an underlying tone of fear, with Pygmalion and biblical references thrown about for added credibility; many are suspecting a dire shift in technology that will be for humanity what fire is for civilisation. A complete uncertainty about artificial sentience.

But the desire from many parents, just to have someone of their own to love is too overwhelming.

Each marionette is custom-made, with the potential parent(s) being able to choose things from their appearance, gender, to their personality. The clients are specifically warned that the marionettes are not like computers, where if something goes wrong – a traumatic event occurs for example, or they just don't like the marionette – you can't just wipe their memories and start anew, for their memories are holographicly-stored, with different aspects of their recorded moments layered together for efficient recall. They can only be sent back to the company for destruction.

These marionettes are equipped with safeguards, such as being able to feel pain and fear in dangerous situations, and guilt when they are made to harm people or other living beings. They also come equipped with service evaluation procedures, where data is sent in on a daily basis to Cybertronics' data-mining servers, to make sure every marionette is performing to a standard; Rieke's data serving as a baseline.

/

On a fine day near the end of August, when Rieke is taken for a walk near the river where the serving-bots clean the grass from the leaves, the professors delightfully give Rieke a special request from the inventor himself.

He would like to meet her, once more time. The one who's originated her.

She quivers at the thought, with heavy feelings of anticipation flooding her heart that she'd be meeting her real father.

For her trip, she is dressed in a dainty dress, with a bonnet and a parasol, and a private amphibicopter takes her over the seas that have been tainted green, a low-enough altitude that carries her beneath the gris clouds, so she could see the build-up of floating debris which are being piled into manageable sections by machines.

How could people be cruel to this world on which they thrive?

The hours pass, and she daydreams of another joyous school year with Werner and friends. Until they arrive by the east coast of Canada, the pilot obtaining permission to land in Prince Edward's Island, where the golden sunset casts its loom against the darkness of the east horizons.

By the landing platform, where the rotors of the amphibicopter send a thunderous breeze, an escort crew is already prepared to take Rieke down into the countryside, in an omnicab, where the inventor's estate is within a grape vineyard.

And just like that, the escorts drive away down the road, leaving Rieke alone in the night, with the glowing vines providing illumination.

She is lonely when she heads up to the estate's doors and rings the doorbell, and is greeted – by an electronic butler whose face is just a curved-screen panel, dozens of apps and schedules being visibly processed.

"Welcome back, Marieke," it says, with an expression of delight. "I haven't seen you in ten years; my, how you have grown."

"Hallo," she goes, not really understanding its familiarity with her. "Where is-"

"He is just waiting for you upstairs."

The estate is almost womblike in how lushly decorated the interior is, with portraits and illustrations lining the halls, the exotic flowers hung from the ceiling (which double as naturalistic lighting), and her heels clack cleanly on the rosewood floor. The glass cabinets hold awards – Hans Andersen earning the lifetime achievement awards for advances in AI, mechanical design, and ballet slippers of various kinds, red and violet and even in gold.

Finally, they arrive at his door – a silhouette of a blue dove, and lyrics from a poem:

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a fairy hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

Rieke gently unlatches the door and pushes it open.

A study room, with sheets of blueprint designs, magazines and essays all tucked neatly in piles. The light shimmers from the ceiling – as if it were the ending to a classic Disney animation, the daylight highlighting the glass casket, where her father lies, his body rasping breaths, his face withered by time, yet the love in his eyes still shines brightly as ever, as it did then when he saw her dancing in her ballet lessons.

"Marieke. My little angel, you've come back to me."

She saddles forth towards him.

"I would have never thought to see you live again," he goes, smiling, but with sadness welling in his eyes. "I know.. you were not meant to die that day, when that car ran you over. I'm blessed that you were sent to me like an angel, to show me how beautiful happiness may be, and I've sent you to your new family, my only daughter, so that they may know your love in the darkness they were left in."

"Daddy..?" she says, holding his hand.

"Not anymore. I may have created you, but your real mother and father is the one who can take care of you now – I am too old, too spent. I'm dying.. Marieke. My respiratory system is failing, and I don't have much time anymore. I wanted my last memory to be with you."

"No.. you can't die," Rieke goes. "They have cryogenics, you can still be saved-"

"My condition is too critical; it would do nothing for me if I'm to be trapped under ice forever, as a dim yet fading hope."

She is crying – it's the first time she feels her heart shattering within. "I don't want you to die. You're still my daddy, I don't want you to leave me alone."

"But I haven't left you alone. You have your new family now – see, Werner has grown so fond of you, he's missing you-"

And the butler's face is showing images of Werner in his bed, holding onto Rieke's pillow. Where he's sighing on the sidewalks, looking glum, silently uttering her name.

"It hurts.." Rieke goes.

"I've already spent enough time with you to know you will grow into being a real princess." The inventor is remembering when he first looked into her eyes as a newborn baby, from his wife who passed away soonafter, and felt only tenderness – that feeling which carried over through her whole childhood, brightening his life just by the way she is. "The only thing that's important for me now is that you'll live happily, for everyone you care about. Promise me, Marieke, you'll live on – even if it seems that the world is in despair."

She gulps. "I promise."

Then the inventor seems to make a nodding, as if to say "Good," feeling happy to see his final wishes come true, before life escapes his body into stillness, and Rieke is left clutching at his body in the quiet loneliness of the room.

qdesjardin: (Default)
2015-06-26 12:58 am
Entry tags:

Marionette / 5

5

For Rieke, she can sense how food smells or even tastes, but she doesn't have any appetite. She won't be eating anything along with everyone else – and cloistered together as a small group with Werner, she might be able to hide this fact from passersby, but with Pepanin who'll be joining, she'll have to let him know about her true nature, as an android. There seems to be no other choice, though she'd prefer to hide this fact, to avoid commotion.

When the lunch bell rings, the scene of Tybalt and his cronies confronting Romeo is fresh in everyone's minds. The Axe members seem to casually shove Pepanin out of their way, in a such a manner that only those who are actually watching will notice, like Rieke.

"Oof!" Pepanin goes, as he seems to stumble into a desk.

"Are you alright?" Rieke asks.

"Yep.. they're just like Tybalt's cronies."

She follows Pepanin to the bustling second floor, where he swaps his textbooks for the afternoon periods and gets his lunch money. (She's hoping to get back to her own locker to meet Werner on time.)

"This school's so much bigger than my elementary," he goes. "I gotta memorise the layout soon, because teachers won't be so lenient about lateness next week."

There's older kids, walking downstairs in groups to the cafeteria, while the younger grades follow them around, with a few kids who sit on the floor, eating their sandwiches or leftovers.

"Are you buying lunch?" Rieke goes.

"No duh."

"Ermm.." How will she find Werner and friends now? She has no phone, she never really planned with him about where they're eating beforehand. But.. she knows his cell number. "Do you have a phone Pepanin?"

"Yeah, what for?"

"I need to call Werner so we can find him."

"Don't you have your own phone?"

The sunlight seems harsh on their backs as they're descending the staircase. It just feels for Rieke like the summer is still yet not over – if she could walk outside the school, she could have fun just as if it were weeks ago. But seeing all the falling leaves reminds her otherwise. Time is something that passes inevitably, and one day, you may no longer experience those moments again.

"Not yet," she goes. "But I will soon." (Her parents have told her that Cybertronics is working on an arrangement with the mobile providers.)

He hands her the phone, and after a glance at his colourful background, she calls Werner.

One ring.

Two rings.

The cafeteria is jam-packed with people, who are either lining up in threes for the roasted beef, sauerkraut and potatoes, or they're trying to escape to the lovely courtyard where it's fresh and doesn't reek of food and sweat.

"Hello? Wer ist das?" Werner goes.

"Werner!" Rieke lines up with Pepanin in the cramped lines of people. "I'm in the cafeteria, with my new friend Pepanin. Where are you?"

"The library-" There's bouts of shouting from the phone's speaker. "It's where the computers are, where everyone is playing in multiplayer! It's amazing, you gotta come!"

Rieke gives the phone back as Pepanin takes a tray and a plate, scoops the assorted food (he has an appetite for sausages especially) and pays the lunchmen five euros.

"You aren't getting anything?" he asks her, noticing her empty-handed, and she tells him she's fine.

He looks for a free spot on the tables, and conveniently a clique of punks have left, so Rieke sits opposite him, where she waits for him to finish eating food – it's so inefficient to have to spend time eating to regain energy, when lunch is only a halfhour long.

"You're anxious.." Pepanin points out, seeing her eyeball him eat, as if she's waiting for him to finish fast.

"Is it fine to eat in the library?" she asks.

"Of course not. I can't even bring the trays out of the cafeteria, it's against the rules."

"But Werner and his friends are having fun there.."

"You can go with them, you don't have to wait for me. These sausages are so good.. why don't you eat Rieke?"

"I.." In this crowded area, people can hear what she's saying. "I'll tell you later, when we're alone."

Pepanin wonders if she isn't one of those anorexics who's so worried about their body image that they don't eat – they starve themselves into becoming ideally thin. "Oooh. Are you anorexic?"

"I'm not," Rieke goes.

He finishes eating, and as he goes to put away his lunch tray, he recognises the Axe members who seem to be idly standing by the disposal area, chatting – but to him, it's an idle threat, so he freezes still as they catch glimpse of him.

"Ahhh, Pepper!" It's Khanh, one of their leaders. Her eyes look rough and ruthless. "You're short and stout as always. Tell me, if you took the chance to exercise during your summer vacation like I suggested!"

And they all laugh, shrill and horrid – where everyone pauses to see what's the hubbub about.

Pepanin wants to shrink away, but there's nowhere for him to go, so he just stands there in an indecisive paralysis, as more people seem to join them in their laughter.

That's why he's afraid of them, Rieke thinks. They enjoy intimidating people like him into submission. "Hey.." she goes, taking a step forward. "Leave him alone!" She finds herself shoving Khanh back, and like a set of bowling pins getting struck, they all stumble onto the floor with her.

It shocks everyone to see her do that.

Even Pepanin, who seems slack-jawed – but moreso of the fact she's willing to stick up for him. Nobody's ever done that for him, besides his few friends.

"Who the hell are you, bitch?" Khanh asks. "His widdle sister?" She picks herself and her cronies up – still feeling the presses of the blond girl's hands against her chest, like she's been shoved by two battering rams. "You want to get in our way, be my guest. I promise you'll be hit twice as hard – what goes around comes around!"

Then the young hall monitors arrive onto the unfolding scene, accompanied by a few teachers.

"Break it up! All of you!" they yell. "Absolutely no fighting is allowed on school premises." The teachers, pulling facial scanners from their belts, scan each of them who's been involved. (When the students' photographs have been taken, their faces are also entered into the system for disciplinary purposes.) "This'll be on your records; I'm not sure how lenient they were in your earlier schools, but at the Fassbinder academy, we expect a much higher standard of behaviour for our brethern."

"Yeah.. wahtever!" Khanh goes, sneering at Rieke, before walking away with her group.

("I saw that nasty glare!" exclaims a teacher.)

"Rieke—" Pepanin is panting in a mix of elation and awe. "That was amazing – how did you push them down like that? I can't believe you did that."

"They should be nicer," Rieke goes. "You can be happy with other people without needing to bully them for your own sake."

"Yeah.. but now you've pissed them off. They'll be targeting you from now on." He stacks his lunch tray with the others.

The lunch bell rings.

"There has to be a way to get them to stop," she says.

/

Afternoon when the class periods are over, Rieke meets Werner at their locker, prepping their textbooks to bring home for studies. The hallways are fairly sparse; many students have left already to line up for the buses.

A few of the Axe group members come by – different ones this time, accompanied by Khanh, all with their menacing glares set on her.

"That her?" they ask.

"Ja."

Werner feels a menacing air, and when he faces away from his open locker, they knee him in the stomach so he keels over onto the floor in an instant, spittle out his mouth.

"WERNER!" Rieke screams.

They're swift to drag Werner away by his legs, giggling, while attempting to pin Rieke against the lockers by her arms. But her flailing is too strong for them to hold; she breaks free of the guys pinning her.

Khanh manages to hold Werner up in a hostage position in front – her arm threatening to strangle his neck.

"You won't hurt my Werner..!" Rieke goes. She lunges after Khanh, who dodges like a bullfighter, and ends up tripping onto the floor for her efforts.

"Hahahah! This is the best you can do for your lover boy?" Khanh blows a raspberry, feeling confident enough to taunt the girl who rammed her earlier on in lunch. "Trip more, bitch."

Then Werner, giving up efforts to loosen Khanh's grip, elbows her behind in the gut – she falls..

"Run!" he yells, and he manages to grab both their backpacks that's fallen to the ground from the lockers – barely avoiding getting snagged by the cronies. Rieke follows him down the halls, grabbing her knapsack from him, all while the Axe members chase them. She manages to sprint faster than Werner, her joints obtaining more power from her energy cells – her skin even sweats.

They sprint around corners, all the way to outside the main foyer, where the buses have just arrived beyond the gates.

The shadows of the leaves shimmer under the light breeze, the sunlight hazing over the area, and Werner is looking for the right bus home. Which one leads back to his neighbourhood? He spots a familiar sign on the #4 bus, when Rieke nudges him – the Axe members are still on their tail.

"Almost.." he pants, noticably out of breath, hearing the recognisable sound of the bus engines starting up, preparing to depart.

Rieke drags him to the bus, knocking on the closed door, and getting the both of themselves safely on – "Phew!"

The members can be seen jeering out the window, the bus pulling out onto the road.

"What was that about?" Werner pants, in a sprawl by the stair, beside Rieke.

After finding a spot on the bus, eyes glancing at them, she explains the situation with Pepanin to him. The Axe members being a part of his last school, how at lunch she saved him from their trouble by pushing Khanh away, and getting cheered on in class as a result, but now being their target for retribution.

"Jeez," Werner goes, "as if school isn't hard enough. But you actually did a good thing for someone; I wouldn't have had the courage to stand up to them."

/

Their mama and papi are feeling very worried for the both of them – Martin fuming about how young kids can be so cruel, with Rena glad that they're still here, safe and alive.

"I protected Werner," Rieke says, "and also Pepanin too."

Martin promises that they won't have to face such difficulty; he can ask his company to leverage the academy to expel the Axe students to another school, so they'll never bother them ever again.

So for the school days following that, Khanh and her cohorts are nowhere to be seen, and Pepanin introduces them to his gang of friends – there's Rafael, Irene and MJ, and a whole host of other people his grade who are like one well-knit underground community, who congratulate Rieke's bravery and whose joviality make the school a much warmer place.

The assignments they give in the classes are hard and tedious, and with regular homework settling in, you'd be lucky to get an hour's free time before sleeping every night. But luckily, they coordinate solutions and answers over the internet, and with Rieke getting her own phone, she joins in the nightly group conversations with Werner. Funny stuff people have seen, and having Magic: The Gathering matches, and even watching sessions of anime together.

It is as fun as Rieke can remember it, and her marks are generally excellent across the board, along with Werner's (he told her to make a few mistakes every now and then, lest they suspect her of cheating or being an android). She justifies not eating at lunch by saying she's on a special diet.

A year passes.

Werner's voice deepens, and his parents have to buy him larger-size shoes; Rieke notices her chest protruding, the growth of her breasts.

By the end of the school year, Werner is part of the school's multimedia team, where he helps produce clips and interviews for the academy. He makes an interview with Rieke, where she describes her experiences learning from her classes (it's boring actually, but she just puts out some nice words so to not embarass anyone).

The familiar summer air is there again, and once she's free from the school for vacation, she wants to make the most of the days, this renewed sense of freedom that comes when all her obligations like exam studies are over. The very cool air blown over her while taking the tests is like a hint of all the enjoyment later on to come.

But her hopes for a wonderful summer are interrupted when Martin gets an urgent call from work – he tries to hush his voice on the phone, but Rieke can manage to make out his words; he's mentioning her a couple of times, with notions of her health and emotional well-being, and all the happiness she's brought the family.

"Rieke," her father tells her soonafter, "I'm taking you to Cybertronics – they're waiting to hear all your experiences, everyone there. Especially the one who's invented you. You have no idea how much of a success story you've become, for your real mothers and fathers. The whole team's anxious to talk to you; they want to thank you, and tell you what's in store for you next."

"But I thought you were my father," she goes, having grown so accustomed to knowing Martin as such. "And Rena is my mother."

"You were programmed that way. To gradually forget awareness of your real origin as a manufactured being – those were early safeguards in case you didn't take kindly to us."

"Martin.."

"Yes?"

".. my brain is falling out."

qdesjardin: (Default)
2015-06-20 04:34 pm
Entry tags:

Marionette / 4

4

The start of the new school year heralds Werner and Rieke, joining the Fassbinder academy – it's a Gesamtschule (comprehensive) school, comparable with the publicly-funded schools in North America, and although Werner hasn't passed his grade yet, the academy has accepted him anyways on part of his high intelligence aptitude.

For Rieke, being without any prior schooling, the Cybertronics corporation has consoled the headmasters in private, letting them know they'd be dealing with the world's first lifelike A.I., and while it shocks them at first, they manage to reconcile with this news and promise that they'll take good care looking out after her.

Along with Werner and his two friends.

It is September, and the leaves are in the midst of turning yellow and orange. The familiar Summer haze has gone, and Rieke misses the warmth and feeling of unbridled happiness she's felt with that season – replaced now by overcast melancholy, cool air, the occasional rain, and a generally more solemn feeling.

When her shoes step on the leaves, she feels them 'swish.'

She knows the concept of schooling, where the younger ones, not being as versed or experienced in knowledge, get taught common subjects by teachers – the ideal being to bring the younger people to a standard by the end, demonstrable in their assignments and exam scores. She just hopes that it'll be a happy experience.

The wait for the school bus has Werner and Rieke standing by a bus stop, and she's hoping to find Klaus and Rene later on at school; it's so much fun to have hung out with them, like seeing the movies (that part where she kisses him in his bedroom is so nice), playing football and the multiplayer matches on their game consoles (with so many other people from across the world).

It is the district #34 Schulbusfahrer, which looks like just any ordinary bus.

"Hallo!" Rieke greets the driver, who seems stupified that a young student would be courteous enough to even notice him. He nods at her as she tip-toes up the steps, her following Werner to a mid spot with two empty seats.

He doesn't recognise much of the faces of those kids his grade – maybe one or two, but none of them seem like the kind of person he'd be happy to know anytime soon, so he's grateful for Rieke for preventing anyone else sitting close to him.

He has his phone out, where he swiftly checks the gaming news for new releases and developments, and then he plays Angry Birds to pass time, even though out the corner of his eye, he knows Rieke is gazing out at the other people. Perhaps she wants to connect with them all, and be the very sociable kind of girl, at the centre of everyone's attention, and she'd have less time for Werner-

Is he actually feeling that way about her? This attachment. It makes him uncomfortable in a skittish way – he doesn't want to say it's love. It's more like a.. if she were his pet, he'd be releasing her in the company of a thousand wolves, all who could prey upon her companionship, and take the purity away from the bond between her and her master.

Non, I'm not her master. I'm her brother.

He finds himself holding onto her hand, and she feels soft and warm. On the inside, it makes him glad.

/

The Fassbinder academy, it resembles a mansion of four floors – being surrounded by a decoratively high fence, the gothic gates swooped open to allow students to enter, the leaves having grown like algae over the walls, with the pretty sight of the falling leaves being carried away by the autumn wind.

The building has a giant clock near the rooftop, chiming when the classes start, when it's lunch, and when it's over.

In the foyer, they find Klaus and Rene waiting for them.

"It's a long lineup!" Klaus goes – they're in a line of students who have yet to pick up their books on their respective subjects. For Klaus and Rene, their families had not the diligence to take them to the academy in August month. "I swear, those damn books look so heavy, you could drop them from the roof and they'd stone a teacher dead!"

The ones who have made it through the school offices, you can visibly see their arms rattling with effort as they strain to bring their subjects to their lockers.

It's almost 8:00, the time when classes start.

"You go on ahead without us-" Klaus says, as they're about to head through the doors. "You mustn't be late; some of the teachers lock the doors shut to teach straddling newcomers a lesson!"

Rieke's attention wanders from the ones who buy snacks at the vending machines, over to the ones who rambunctiously chatter over the summer months they've spent – "Oh, I've seen Nightwish on their tours in Leipzig, I even got it recorded..!"

To that little boy who suddenly stumbles, his books sent tumbling over the floor – calculus, Shakespeare and Goethe, physics introductions.. (He might just be in her classes.)

She zips into action, her feet carrying her to helping the boy up, and then picking up his books.

Moments later, after helping him get his textbooks stored, Rieke arrives back without so much as a sweat. "His name is Pepanin!" she glees. "More seriously, it'll be better if Werner and I help with your heavy textbooks."

So in the end, Rieke and Werner barely make it in time for their first lessons – introductions to calculus. They sit by the unoccupied middle desks, where Rieke mimics the other kids pulling out the textbooks, notepads and phones (she doesn't have one yet) from their knapsacks onto their desktops.

Their teacher, Herr Heinrich Lunge (it says so on a placard on his desk), he shuts the door right as the bell rings, and whacks the ruler down on his desk, commanding everyone's focus. He looks like a harsh man.

"Greetings, everyone!" he goes, sliding the ruler across the desk's edge. "My name is Heinrich Lunge, and I am the one who will discipline you in the art of mathematical calculus. You shall address me as Herr Lunge."

There's two guys at the back, who are still chattering on about Pokemon-

Herr Lunge narrows his eyes.

"Ja," he goes, "do go on about Gengar and his special attack modifiers beating Garfield the cat!"

They pipe down, the intimidation sending shivers through their skin.

"Better." Herr Lunge begins pacing back and forth in front of the glowing smartboard, like a metronome – a time-tested classic technique to help keep the students' attention on the lesson. "What is calculus? Can someone in this class tell me?"

He waits for one of those nerds to shoot their hand up like a rocket, but all he gets is Rieke saying, "I thought you know already."

"Of course, smarty pants!" he goes. "I'm asking to see if you young ones have looked up the subject beforehand."

There's nervous murmurs; "How were we expected to know?" and stuff like that.

"I thought not. Luckily, I am your teacher." He grins. "I'll tell you a story about a Greek athlete who is racing against a bunny. Because the athlete fell mid-way while running, the bunny overtook him. Too proud to allow himself to be beaten by this animal, he accelerates, sprinting.

"There is a distance between himself and the bunny, which he must make up for. In order to reach the original point where the bunny was, the bunny would have hopped some further distance already, and to reach that second distance hopped by the bunny, it's hopped another third distance. This can be said to go on and on, infinitely forever – however far the athlete catches up, he still has some distance to go. And because there are an infinite number of points he must reach where the bunny has already been, you can say he'll never catch up."

"But that doesn't make sense-" Rieke blurts out.

"Silence!" Herr Lunge slaps his ruler against his palm. "What is your name, fraulein?"

"Rieke."

"You like to blurt and interrupt while I'm speaking. I will not stand for that. Maybe I will get you to teach the class for me, it'll save me the trouble!"

She visibly blushes. "Nein.."

"If you want to talk, next time raise your hand." Herr Lunge illustrates the Greek paradox on the smartboard, jotting digital ink on the crisp display, drawing several lines illustrating how the runner has to catch up with infinite points where the hare has been. "This is Zeno's first paradox. Like the young Rieke has said, it doesn't make sense – common sense dictates that he will catch up with the hare. And that is where calculus comes in.

"Calculus is the mathematical understanding of the rate of change of something. Whether it is how a car's velocity changing with acceleration, how a 3D shape's volume changes with regard to its 2D-counterpart's area, or.. how the athlete named Achilles is able to eventually outrun the slower hare – with the distance between them closing in on a limit. The concept of it is not new – rudimentary versions have been come up with by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Arabians and Indians, when they needed to calculate volumes of complex objects by their surface areas.

"It is around the late 1600s, when Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz have derived the fundamentals of calculus that we have come to a modern understanding of this branch of mathematics. Newton through his idiosyncratic notations while he solved physics problems, and Leibniz for formalising the syntax and giving it a name.. Calculus!"

The rest of the lesson proceeds as Herr Lunge introduces derivatives of formulas to the class, with the chain and product rules to account for deriving multiple formulas at once. To practise, everyone uses the school-installed apps on their phones to try out some problems – or for Rieke, she rapidly scribbles on her notebook and comes up with the solutions in seconds flat, attracting much attention for her frentic writings.

"Let's see a good solution," Herr Lunge goes in front of the class.

Without asking, Rieke leaps from her seat, snags the stylus from the teacher and writes all over the board with what she's derived.

Everyone's mouths are awestruck – the machine-like way she handwrites, and someone drops his gum from his mouth.

"That is a good solution," she says, bowing.

Werner looks as though someone has won the lottery right in front of him.

"T-that's correct.." Herr Lunge reaches his finger out to the board, seeing the way she's tastefully wrote 'dy/dx,' begrudgingly admitting that this petite student can actually have the potential to surpass him.

/

When the bell rings for next period, the calculus students murmuring as they go out the door, Werner takes Rieke by her hand into a secluded section in the hallway. "Rieke, you gotta be careful about showing off your abilities. People will notice if you do feats that are beyond human levels, and not in a good way. They'll think something's up – at best, they'll think you have a mental condition, and at worst, they'd start to wonder if you aren't actually like an alien inside."

"I understand.." Even though Rieke will never forget the looks on everyone's faces as she's impressed them, solving the problems.

"What do you have next?" Werner asks.

"Literature studies, with Frau Groen."

"Right, I have fine arts-" He notices how down she looks, the shadows from the lockers revealing a melancholy side to her usually bright face. "Hey, it's just so you won't have trouble getting picked on by anyone in the school. Only me, Klaus and Rene here accept the fact you are an android – the others won't be so nice-"

"I don't want to be an android.." she mutters.

"Eh?"

"I want to be like you Werner. To have a flesh and blood body, so that I may belong and be happy with you as a human being."

For some reason, hearing this from her makes himself wince inside. "Non.. don't you say that. Rieke, I.. I do like you. To admit – I've grown attached to you, more than just being my sister. You are this one of a kind girl, who I can never imagine anyone else being like. You're so kind and interesting, the way you are, and you don't get bored or weirded out by me."

In her eyes, there is a delicate quivering. "Really?"

"I mean it!" He smiles. "You're much better than so many of the other girls I barely know."

It's like a renewed light sheens from her. "Thank you.."

The bell rings again, interrupting their reverie. "Damn, we're late. Well let's hope our teachers aren't like Herr Lunge, all strict and stuff."

/

All she can imagine is the colour of roses, as she preps her books of Goethe and Shakespeare onto the desk – in this classroom where its walls are covered with portraits of famous writers and their associated quotes, and an image of a book's words being turned into concepts and images in someone's mind.

She stops to contemplate each one of them, and then amidst the students pouring in, there is Pepanin, who to his delight finds Rieke in the class, and joyfully sits beside her, before he shudders when a few members of the Axe group stride in also, who take the seats at the very back.

He's on edge.

"What's there to be scared of?" Rieke whispers to him, before Frau Groen herself enters the class, in her brown dress that reminds of the Victorian-era outfits in Eternum Souls. Her fey appearance arrests everyone's eyes.

Even Pepanin's looking – maybe he'll tell Rieke later.

"How do you, my class?" Frau Groen says, her feet trailing. "How now, how fares each one of you after a lovely summer?"

"It's WONDERFUL!" some over-enthusiastic shrill girl yells, along with her friends who clap together.

"It blows, I had to attend summer preparations," a guy says.

"Oh, was it very boring?" Frau Groen asks.

"Tres tres ennuyeux."

"It is that bad? French should never have to bore – they are teaching you wrongly." She casually shuts the door. "To know or not to know Shakespeare, that is not the question. To understand him is also not the question; you can easily look up what he means over the internet. To feel him – the emotions he puts into every scene and every character, that is what we'll be covering. And what better than to introduce you to his most esteemed tragedy, Romeo and Juliet?"

Frau Groen quickly fills them in with the play's synopsis, as she prepares the smartscreen to play the Franco Zeffirelli movie. "His words have thrived on for over 400 years, and his plays are the skeletons over which directors and production companies have laid over it their flesh and sinews."

Rieke glees – it already sounds so romantic, imagining the star-crossed lovers.

As the blinds are drawn over the windows and the lights dim, Pepanin inches in closer to her. "The ones behind me are part of the Axe group, from my last school. They're ruthless as hell – they push the weaker people like me out of the way, they hog all the best seats at the tables. They even cheated on the finals. I was humiliated on the playgrounds.. along with my friends.."

"They should know to be nicer," Rieke goes, slowly peering her eyes to the back (as to not get noticed).

"I wish they were, but there's always going to be mean people about. They'll hurt you too if you're not careful."

"Hush..!" Frau Groen says, noticing them talking.

The movie progresses on, where Romeo finds Juliet aboard her balcony. "O Romeo, Romeo.. wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name. Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I'll no longer be a Capulet."

The ones in the back snicker. "Yeah, right! You're still a Capulet by blood!"

"Hushh!"

"Pepanin.." Rieke goes. "You can come eat lunch with me and my brother Werner. It'll be safer with us." She winks, holding his hand as romantically as Romeo professes his love for Juliet.

"Cool!"

qdesjardin: (Default)
2015-05-26 02:54 am
Entry tags:

Marionette / 3

3

By afternoon, the families arrive in droves, either by the front door in a line, the gifts and delicacies at hand, or they're looking for comfortable parking space in their cars. The house has been tidied up, with the fruit punch ready, the garbage bins out, the couches dusted and furniture neatly organised.

Martin and Lena are there to greet everyone entering, while Werner is preoccupied in his room with that Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War novel, which he's been mid-way through reading since that time – the text on the pages show slight fading, but at least it's something that he keeps a connection with. He remembers playing Ocarina of Time once at Klaus's place, where Link traverses 7 years between Hyrule's past and future, many terrible things happening to the towns over that time, such that it feels like a different place entirely.

A knock on his door. It's Rieke, and she tells him that there's boys, and a few girls. They're taller than her, but they're all asking the same thing: where is Werner, the prodigal son of honour?

The news makes him beam.

Werner descends the stairs, and he acutely feels everyone's eyes on him, arousing in him that timid shyness – like when he was on the spelling bee once, and he had to articulate every single letter so the crowd could hear; how he dislikes this kind of embarassing publicity! (He never really asked for this.)

"It's Wernie!" That is Klaus, his voice cracking – the lanky-faced boy who is all but recognisable under puberty's changes. Werner remembers filming his football matches in the school fields. "Hey, long time no see! And who's this gal with ya?"

Alongside Klaus, there's Rene, who has grown plump and big in the interim, chewing on bubblegum with the game disc of 'Warfare Futuristique' at hand.

"I can't believe it!" Klaus goes, coming up the stairs with all the grown-ups talking about them. "You're like one of the first people who's ever recovered from Sinclair's Malaise. It's so weird, looking at you; it's almost as if I've stepped back in time.. I'm talking to my friend from two years ago."

"Yeah, tell me about it." Werner decides to introduce them to Rieke, to deflect attention off himself. "She's Rieke by the way. She's erm.."

He isn't sure how best to describe her.

"Your friend? Little sister?" Rene asks.

"Not really.." For the lack of a better thing to say- "She's my android."

"Hallo!" Rieke nods towards them, coming ahead of Werner. "How do you do?"

"Your android?" Klaus blinks; did he hear his friend right? "Seriously!? Are you sure you're not suffering from cryo-disorientation? I don't believe it – do you Rene?"

"Nuh-uh." (Rene is too busy savouring all the gum's immense flavours.)

Martin, noticing the commotion about the household android, ventures onto the stairsteps and gathers everyone's attention. "Some of you I'm sure have been asking who this girl is. Maybe you've seen her take walks with me, or my son. Her name is Rieke – a lifelike android built and designed at my company, and the very first prototype of her kind. And she'll be one of our family members from now on, treated like another person."

To Martin's coworkers, all of this is redundant, but to the other family friends, their surprise is as good as the cheers they give, admiring Rieke under a new light.

"She looks so real..!"

"Wowzers!"

Rieke pirouettes under her spotlight, and with the sun shining in from the oculus window of the ceiling, she almost seems to glitter with joyous energy. And then she does a curtsy, and everyone applauds.

"Did you design her?" someone asks.

"No, that's not in my department," Martin goes. "She's primarily the work of Hans Andersen, our company's esteemed inventor. If everything goes well with her, we'll be doing mass-production with androids like her- hey, where'd she go-?"

She has gone, and so have Werner and his friends. While everyone's been distracted by Martin's speech, Werner has snuck her through the kitchen, out to the backyard, where a tent has been set up with BBQ catering and balloons prepared. The roast beef is still steaming under the auto-cooker, but the utensils and plates are there beside on the table.

Escaping public situations is what Werner has grown good at – he can do it almost to the degree of a magician's sleight-of-hand technique; all it takes is a break in people's attention on him, and he could sneak away. In this case, with three others, Werner picked the opportunity when his father was making his rousing speech about Rieke. What a shy person wouldn't do.

"If my parents had their way," he goes, "we'd all be stuck standing there while everyone asks us questions."

They enter under the tent's shade, sitting by a table, with Rieke joining them.

"We missed you so much," Klaus says. "A lot's happened since you 'died'.. in junior high, we're all falling heads-over-heels with our English teacher, the food court is a battlefield – there are some real bastards we had to deal with from the older grades, and you're still like 11!"

"You've got a lot to catch up on.. omh om nomh-" Rene spits out his gum and sticks it onto his pant knees.

"I know.. " Werner sighs, his hands playing with the utensils.

"Let's show you this for example!" Rene notions for Klaus to get up, and they head out to the grass, where he pulls what looks like an origami piece out of his pockets, a petite unicorn. When he tosses it in the air, the piece seems to unfold by itself, until it lands as a more 3-D, larger version of itself, on its four hooves. "That's the latest in utilitarian tech – 'drogamis.' It's like a pet that you never have to feed or walk, just charge its power on the occasion, and it'll do your bidding. It skitters on the floor, passing notes to your friend on a test, or say you want to see how this chick is like, so you can send it over in stealth, watch and hear what it sees through the phone. It's so awesome Wern.. hey Tibbers, tap Klaus on the head!"

And Tibbers the unicorn trots over, chasing after Klaus who is running away like it's a rabid dog, "Oh no, not again!" and then it leaps onto his shoulder, his head and gives him a ticklish lick on his hair. "Hahahah- haha- stop it!"

"You see! And that's only the beginning!" Rene tells his Tibbers to stop now.

Werner is giggling; his mind is already whirring up possibilities on using those drogamis, as well as wondering how these drogamis work – do they use GreenTooth, Internet, or radio to connect for example?

Rieke picks up the fallen drogami, which is trying to balance itself on the grasses. "It looks so cute."

"Yea, it is!"

While Rene goes over to show Rieke how to handle it, Klaus decides to be candid with Werner about how it is, getting older. "Maybe you've noticed my voice has grown deeper, it's cracking – I'm half-a-head taller than you, and I can probably kick your ass. We're no longer just kids. It'll hit you too, Wernie. Puberty."

"I know what it is," Werner goes, growing aware of the time difference.

"No, you've only heard of it from your science books. It's a different thing to experience it entirely. Just like how sex is. You start to see life from this new perspective, you feel wild and volatile. The girls no longer have cooties anymore, they start to look hot, and you get all excited about them, you lose your mind.. yadda yadda. And you start growing hair all over, and some acne."

"Eeck." It sounds gross, but more importantly, the thought of losing his composure due to hormonal changes, going insane over the girls, it's not what he's looking forward for. Then again, he'd have gone through puberty already if it were not for that illness. It's an inevitability, and Werner feels anxious about what is coming ahead of him. "I hope when it hits me, I'm taller than you, and I beat you at basketball! Mouahaha!"

"That's the spirit! Nothing to worry about when you leave your old toys behind."

Rieke seems to be getting along with Rene just fine, and he's showing her some tricks with his hand – mostly bending his fingers out of proportion, having her giggle at that.

And Werner, imagining the thought of his older self, still dealing with a young and childlike Rieke. He could relish looking after her as her 'big brother,' but it would be eerie to still see her frozen in age, her young face like a familiar street to him, that he's walked through his whole years.

I suppose it would be amusing to see a young girl with the experience of a woman..

"Hey Rieke," Rene asks. "Since you're an android, that means you won't get older, yes? You'll still look the same, if you live long enough to see us marry."

She shakes her head. "You are mistaken. I do indeed grow as time goes on, into a woman. I don't know how I know this, but it's what I feel inside me." Then she grins.

The images change. No longer is Werner toting little Rieke, hand-in-hand, but instead he is dancing with her, his hand on her shoulder, and her dress glittering and her lips red in lipstick. And then she gazes at him, in love with him-

"Gaahhh!" Werner is shaking his head. "I don't believe this! How are you supposed to grow Rieke? If you're wires and circuitry on the inside- artificial parts don't just grow, do they?"

"Should it matter?" She looks at him, her eyes solemn. "My body is not flesh and blood like yours, but if in the end, I am a girl, a person like you, does that make any difference with my existance?"

"Well, yes.. you are made different; what happens if, for example, you have a breakdown? We'd go to the doctors for medicine and surgery, and you go.. to the manufacturers for repairs. They'd just do a total replacement of your 'organs,' or if your main memory is failing, they'd back everything up into a brand new mind. Does that mean anything to you?"

"As long as I can be well enough to live," Rieke goes, her smile on her face brightening her words with a sincerity.

"Hey," Rene asks, "can you do superhuman feats, like karate chop through a concrete block-"

Their parents are calling them, showing up in the backyard too.

"We're coming!"

qdesjardin: (Default)
2015-05-02 08:20 pm
Entry tags:

Marionette / 2

2

Tonight is Martin and Lena's wedding anniversary, and they're about to head out for a steakhouse restaurant. In their colourful attire, Lena sprays perfume over her neck, while Martin answers calls from family friends, who wish them a happy night.

"Hmm, shall we get going?" Martin goes, after the last call. He kisses her on the cheek, almost tasting the intoxicating scent. "You smell so lovely.. I love it when you wear this stuff."

"Will you still love me when it's all gone?"

"No."

"Oh, stop it Martin!" She laughs.

"We can always begin again, this time with a fragrance that's not in short supply. C'mon – we're gonna be late."

As they descend down the stairway, Rieke is playing another game on the SBOX – Burnout Leagues, where she's having fun smashing the other cars down the racing road (and making "vroom vroom" sounds to herself).

"Hallo Rieke-" Martin gets her attention. "We'll be off shortly. When we leave, all the doors and windows will go smart, so you can't leave the house."

"Walk us out, alright sweetheart?" Lena offers her hand, and Rieke pauses the game – she's in her pajamas – and she follows them to the entrance doors, where they put their shoes on. "We'll be back around 11; you know how to call us, right? In case of an emergency-"

"Yes Lena."

"Good." Lena leans in and kisses Rieke on the head – the marionette's skin warm and blushing to the touch.

Rieke can hear them talk about her as they're walking to their car. "She's so sweet with me," Lena speaks, "she prayed for our son, and she has a way with making coffee."

"If only some of the kids were as nice as her," Martin rambles.

Alone in the house now, Rieke resumes nitrous-boosting her truck to the finish line, until she gets bored of winning all the time, and then she switches the TV to the channels. There's some cartoons, like 'Hey Arnold!' where Helga is still fibbing with herself whether she wants to hate Arnold, or love him.

She flicks through the various channels, catching glimpses of the numerous different images that flash by her. There's a talk show, one old geezer sitting in a dark room, solemnly interviewing a woman about her whistleblowing over the secretive NATO military technologies (60 Minutes), or a comedy show about people in a workplace, getting into wacky hijinks with their co-workers.

Finally, Rieke lands on something that sparks her interest; she sees Superman flying over the horizons, into space, before it turns out it's the end of the movie. Can a person actually fly just by themselves? Maybe she could, one day.

The next movie, it's about an alien who is left behind on Earth, and he finds a boy named Elliott who takes care of him with his brother and sister. "E.T. phone home!" Rieke mimes along with the character, and she finds herself laughing with the cuteness, when Elliott kisses the girl in his classroom, and then she is crying tears of joy when E.T. is resurrected, and they bring him back to his mothership. "I'll be right here," the alien points to Elliott's heart, and Rieke finds her own chest quivering in happiness, for that is the feeling of love.

The one after that, it is Titanic. It's such an invigorating watch, the tale of old Rose remembering her moments on the fabled ship, almost a hundred years ago – with the one person, Jack, saving her from a life of suffocating aristocracy, from the ship's sinking, and- it's so sad, Jack dies in the ocean. But Rose is happy at least, she has a loving family in America, and she got to do all those things she promised Jack..

Before Rieke knows it, it's already way past 11 in the night (almost midnight) – but her parents still haven't come home yet. She wonders what has happened, and remembering their phone number, she heads for the phone and calls them.

*ring ring!*

It takes a few tries, before anyone picks up.

"Rieke?" It's Lena, sounding like she's panicked. "I've got some very special news.. it's Werner. The doctors found a cure for his illness. We're bringing him home."

"That's wonderful!" Rieke's chest leaps; she'll get to see him at least.

"He's not yet fully recovered, but it's a great hope already."

So excited is Rieke that when the doors open, she lets out a squeak at the sight of Martin and Lena – wheeling in Werner who is slumped on the wheelchair, with IV drips and life-monitoring systems attached to the brim on his body.

"This is Werner," Lena says, smiling. "This is my son."

His body is rather thin, from being nourished mainly by IV for all these times, and his skin is drained of colour. But his blue eyes already hint at the jovial mind behind the face.

"Isn't he beautiful..?"

Werner vaguely tilts his head to that girl, not comprehending who she is, or what she's doing in the house.

"He's the most beautiful thing I've seen," Rieke goes.

/

"You are an android," Werner goes.

"I'm a girl."

In Werner's room, the two of them are convening, with Rieke standing, and Werner sitting down on his chair, his glowing leg braces making him resemble an action figure, still getting used to the unfamiliarity of his own room despite nothing much being touched since.

"I've been muddled under a black ocean for the past years, and I would have never expected to be in contact with a humanoid AI."

"AI?" Rieke blinks.

"Artificial Intelligence. Aren't you already aware that you are a machine, underneath the lifelike facade?"

"I'm not a machine, not like a coffee maker or a car, or a sewing machine." Rieke steps forward, as if asserting herself. "I'm a person, like you, and my name is-"

"Rieke – my parents told me. Do you know if you have a serial number, or who your makers are?" Those are some tough questions for her to answer, and on some level Werner knows it – he wants to see just how well she's able to comprehend and answer naturally.

"My maker.."

"The ones who manufactured you."

Rieke puzzles over her memories so far, and the first thing in her mind (before the haze) is being asked lots of questions in a white room, by people in white coats, with wirings hooked over her body. Simple things like what would she do in a given situation, and then being alone in a pink room, playing with the cute plush toys.

"I don't know," she goes.

"Never mind." Werner stands up, his leg braces whirring with effort. He reaches out to touch her cheeks, her face. "You feel so real, and you're warm. You have body heat. This is the stuff that Science Fiction authors would dream of imagining in their own stories."

"Do you know who manufactured you, Werner?" Rieke asks, out of the blue, and for some reason it maks him guffaw.

"Hahaha, I- people don't get manufactured. It's not like that for flesh and blood humans. A man and a woman, they.. well.." He is visibly blushing. "When they love each other enough, they can have a child. That's how I was born, from my parents."

"Oooh. If I love you a lot, then.. we can have a child?"

"Oh, get outta here!"

/

On Werner's walks (leg therapy), Rieke accompanies him while his parents are busy preparing for his coming home party. He doesn't talk much, just observes with his eyes how the scenery has changed, whilst Rieke would wave 'Hallo' to every neighbour she sees. Then he'd put on his headphones, silence out the natural soundscape with the thrashes and drums of metal music, and then he'd gallop and skip down the sidewalk, and Rieke would join him in his fun.

The news spreads through the neighbourhood about Werner's return, as well as that charming girl accompanying him. Gossip spreads over social media, and their answering machines.

Everyone is buying gifts, as well as preparing food and delicacies for the boy's sake. Books, a new laptop, packages of green and ginseng tea, books ("Life without reading is a shame," he was once quoted saying at school), an exercise set, a new PS5 console and tons of games to go along with it.

The whole ordeal has his parents exhausted, with Martin getting tons of congratulations at work for Werner's return, and Lena answering the phone nearly all day.

And Werner? He is admiring how Rieke could manage to get so deep into Eternum Souls, just playing by herself. The build she has on her character is serviceable, and she is struggling to get past the part where she's being hunted by private detectives – he tells her that she needs to change her outfit every time she's spotted by a detective, so to lose their trail.

"Waaa, how could I not have thought of that?" Rieke goes.

"I thought that should've been obvious."

/

The pharmacutical drugs spin on the platter, while Lena is sectioning off the appropriate pills to give to Werner each day, morning and evenings.

"You put the pink ones here.." she tells Rieke, filling a miniscule bottle with the pink pills. "Make sure Werner has two green ones in the morning, and one pink pill in the evening, so he'll recover smoothly."

"Mhm."

Werner enters the kitchen, in his pajamas, his curiousity roused.

"Oh Werner," Lena goes, "we're just getting your pills ready; you'll be having one tonight."

"What are they for?" he asks. He's wary of having his awareness hampered by any side-effects of the drugs – he remembers articles where college students, suffering mania/depression, have taken olanzapine and it turns out it makes them drowsy (as well as getting fatter).

Rieke steps forward. "The pink pills accelerate your body's restitution process for your atrophied tissues, but at the cost of drowsiness. And the green ones undo that effect." She knows Werner seems smart enough to be able to understand.

It surprises Werner about Rieke's straightforwardness – her use of medical terminology like that. His own mother would've just said something along the lines of "They'll help you get better soon, just take them!" He relaxes, and says, "Give me one."

And when he is tucked in bed, the pill is already taking effect on him as he yawns, feeling the sleepiness take over his awareness, and soon he is curled up, his head cozy on his soft pillow like a baby, his arms cuddling his teddy bear. Little does anyone know that Werner has his sentimental side too, but rarely shows it to people.

"Good night, sleepyheads," Lena goes, before turning off the lights.

The celestrial darkness of the room's stars and galaxies puts Rieke into a tranquil mood, alone, hearing the occasional car hum by outside.

"Good night.." she whispers on the bunk bed above Werner, before she closes her eyes.

/

On the day of Werner's welcoming party, he is anxious – still caught up in the thought of those two years, having passed him by indifferently. He's munching on French Toast, watching 'Attack on Titan' on the TV, one of the few shows he's able to recognise from the new lineups, but the episodes have advanced far past the storyline he already knows. New characters, a new situation between Eren, the hunters and Titans, and a few people who seem to have disappeared altogether. It's disorienting to apprehend, but even worse – the people who are coming over for his party, it's going to be like that with them too.

His old friends would be around 13 or 14 now, and would he'd be forgotten by them? Left behind along the sidelines of time's passing? Would he get to have fun with Rene, Klaus, Bruno again, or would they not be there anymore? It almost makes his heart choke up.

Rieke comes by with his green pills and water, when she notices him staring off into contemplation. He seems particularly engrossed by the scene where Eren Yaeger is just chewing bubblegum, waiting for Ymir to arrive with them harpoons.

"Guten tag!" she greets him, waking him out of his reverie. "Aren't you excited for today? Other families, and even your friends are coming to visit you!"

Werner nonchalently takes the pills from her hand and gulps them down, and then he snaps back to current reality, like the muffled bubble he's been in has been popped. "Oh, Rieke – I was.. it's strange, being back after two years, when it felt for me like a prolonged sleep. It's such a long time, and my friends would have likely moved on."

"I don't know how long a year feels yet," Rieke goes. "I do know, there's 365 days in a year, and I've lived two weeks in your house, and it feels long enough already."

"I hope they still know me. If none of them show today.."

Then Rieke starts frowning. "Don't think like that. You're an interesting person, and why would anyone want to forget someone as smart as you? Many invitations have gone out, the whole neighbourhood has heard, and your friends are bound to come!"

"Is that so?" On the TV, he sees Eren and his buddies rally up to assault the underwater Titans. "I guess we can only wait and see."

And Rieke, watching too, clasps Werner's hands. "I know they'll come. You'll see."

qdesjardin: (Default)
2015-04-16 10:52 pm
Entry tags:

Marionette / 1

The Marionette – by QDesjardin
n. A puppet worked from above by strings attached to its limbs. Originally 'Little Mary' in French, for the first marionette created was the Virgin Mary.

1

In the not too distant future, there is a lone inventor who once cared for his young daughter, Rieke – her fair yellow hair and charming yet dainty face made all who saw her fall under a spell of adoration. But an accident took away her life; her doll fell down from the apartment window, onto the road, and when she hastened to retrieve it, she collided with a car, and there she lay, lifelessly still on the street, with the blood pouring from her lips and nostrils.

The doctors have tried everything they could to keep her alive, but only in a comatose state, with very little chance of awakening from her deep slumber. Thoughts of pulling away his daughter's life support come to him – to allow her to rest in heaven, instead of remaining deprived, but the inventor shut away those notions, and put his daughter's belongings into storage – dust may gather upon them, but it is his hope that one day, he will get to see Rieke frolick about again, balleting from room to room in her lively manner.

As time passes, the inventor's productivity grinds to a halt; he could not help himself from weeping whilst he puts together the delicate parts on his workbench, for the investors who have paid him a fortune to deliver the gidgets they want.

His sadness does not go unnoticed. One of the major companies, Cybertronics, offers him an opportunity to mend his aching heart – there is a growing need from the wealthy families to have children to tend for, but a viral outbreak has rendered them irrevocably sterile; no matter how much the couples have tried, they could not conceive a child. And the solution would be to craft for them an artifical one, to entrust their hearts with.

This artificial child, besides fulfilling the need to love (and be loved in return), must also be distinguished from other children – the experience of caring for it must not be irritating, as when one deals with naughty children, or a strain, as when one has to spend extra groceries to keep a child fed and healthy.

Besides those requests, the inventor is free to come up with a prototype of his own imaginings, so he pours all his energies into coming up with a plausible design of the child. He pours through books and online articles about artificial beings, like the Jewish golems, the Mechanical Turk (chess-playing machine, actually a hoax) – staying up days and nights, with thoughts of Rieke always on his shoulders.

The pages of his sketchbooks become filled with varying designs and outlines for the being of the child. How will it feel, how will it think – how will it keep itself going, and if it could be allowed to grow old, and expire.. those sorts of considerations that cannot be left out of the equation. And above all, if it could be loved in turn by a real person, as a person instead of a novel toy.

Months later, he comes up with an actual build; the delicately-assembled modules of the child, the head, the torso, arms and legs, with the exterior having life-like skin, and its face resembling his daughter's. Its positronic brain will allow it to learn and feel experience, as a person would, more than the limited intelligences of conventional computing.

The inventor names her Rieke also. How beautiful she seems, as a still being, and how more beautiful will she blossom to become, when he breathes life and has her animate. The desire of Man, mirroring that of God, to have another being in your image, yet have their own volition.

The first family to be blessed with a manmade child – the Herzogs, they have been chosen out of many thousands, not in the least because of their strignant loyalty towards the company, but also because their case is freshly tragic; their 11-year old boy, Werner, has remained in cryo-stasis for two years, being taken by a mysterious disease, and it would be painful for them to repeat raising another child up to that age, having poured all their love into petite Werner.

Perhaps they could do with her. A private test without public fanfare, for she would be the first of a new kind; the public beta for these artificial children (with press releases) will come once Rieke can get along with her new home.

"I hope you can be happy," the inventor whispers into Rieke's ear. "You'll love them, and they'll love you in return – my daughter. That is the greatest thing anyone will ever know. It is no fantasy, it is no careless product of wild imaginings."

The parents, Martin and Lena, they've been interviewed about the prospect of taking care of their new marionette – they'll be making history, don't forget – and it seems like they'll have little problem taking care of Rieke. There's no sign of martial discord, they are forthcoming for all the questions asked; they've raised Werner lovingly, and they seem more than willing to help Rieke grow into a goodly adult.

/

When the technicians ship her over to their home in the suburbs, they unbox and unwrap her from the cushioned box, where she's dressed in an innoceously white tutu, her eyes resting asleep. Standing her up on the hardwood floor, they push specific points on her body, on her legs and neck in a specific order, and the sleeping beauty awakens.

"Ha..llo?" Her soprano voice wavers, but it's cute enough that it completes the impression of the ideal daughter. She todders around, taking her surroundings in, finding that she's with four other people, the technicians she recognises already. "Who are you?" she asks the couple.

"What – she doesn't know who we are already?" Lena asks. "This is outrageous!"

"Well.." The technicians know they'll encounter some incredulity from the family, and one of them is holding Rieke's shoulders in reassurance. "We haven't pre-programmed her to love you specifically, but she does know how to love, once you'll get to know each other. It's the philosophy behind her design, built to resemble a natural person from the ground up. That includes relationship-wise; once you connect with her over time, the feelings are much more richer, as opposed to having us tell her she's supposed to love you."

"It's nice to meet you Rieke-" Martin shakes her hand. "How do you do?"

"I'm doing fine, thank you for asking." She does a polite curtsy. "What's your name?"

"Martin Herzog, and this is my wife Lena. We'll be your new parents.. Rieke. Rieke Herzog. I like the sound of your name."

"If you have any concerns or questions," the technicians go, "don't hesitate to call us. We'll be providing you with Rieke's legal documentation shortly, the ownership rights, insurance policies, and you'll just have to sign the papers.."

/

"She looks so real..!" Lena's mouth is agape, her hands fuming as a tear comes out of her eye. "I cannot.. I can't accept this! It's no replacement for loving your own child!"

"Please calm down! I thought you were-"

Martin and Lena are in the privacy of their bedroom, while Rieke is left alone, exploring the house for herself.

"She may be artificial, her insides circuitry and metal, but she's still a young girl!" Martin tells her. "She needs our love all the same." He goes over to Lena's side to console her. "Look hun, if.. it doesn't work out for the both of us, we could return her back to the company, there'll be no charge. Oki? Listen, you were so unhappy without Martin, and this is our chance to rediscover that light in our lives again. I thought you were looking forward to her."

Down by the winding staircase, Rieke finds portraits of the family – the little boy, sitting on Lena's lap, smiling; Martin and Lena, holding hands in their wedding dresses; the boy, their son, older now, looking through a camera on the football field.. and one where they're all skiing down the slopes of a snowy mountain.

Her eyes linger on the portraits; it seems like such a happy family, but she's also shy that she'd be able to rejoice in the same happiness.

Lena is huddled over the stairs, looking down at her. She's anxious about all the revealing details of family life, being scanned and processed for Rieke to use; it's as uncomfortable as having a stranger going through her things, and yet it would be so impolite to tell Rieke to go away – get out of the house, out of my mind!

"Let's go to her," Martin says, smiling, and he leads his wife down to Rieke, where he taps her shoulder, finding her face with an awestruck expression.

"You have such a happy family," Rieke goes. "What is your son's name?"

"Werner."

"I saw him getting older – how old is he now?"

"If he were here now, he'd be 13. For two years, he's been sleeping in hibernation, so he's still 11-years old."

"Why isn't he here? Where is he?"

"At the hospital. The doctors say he is sick with a virus, and they're still looking for a treatment."

"I hope Werner gets well soon," Rieke goes. "He is so cute, and I'd love to meet him."

/

The household doesn't have girl's clothing, but luckily Rieke has come along with her own wardrobe, helpfully packed by the company. Some nice dainty dresses, in pink, blue and green; a set of bunny pajamas (including slippers); and jeans with sweaters, when it gets colder.

One of the first things Martin does, after having her dressed up for the rainy Spring, is take her out to the neighbourhood for a walk. It's just freshly rained, and a rainbow gleams over the houses, under the rays of the mid-afternoon sunlight, and the air is alight with that crisp freshness.

Rieke notices the waters, carrying the fallen leaves down the curb like a petite river, into the drainage – while Martin is pointing out the homes of the neighbours: there's Annie, there lives the Zabels who believe in the Holy Christ, and by that home there, new families move in and out on a monthly basis (apparently it's haunted).

A few neighbours notice the girl, walking alongside Martin. ("It's my niece," he explains.)

And when they pass by the house with the pink flamingos, Rieke is enthralled by their appearance so much that she finds herself moving to touch them, "Ooooh," only to find that it's just still ornaments.

For dinner, it is awkward with Rieke sitting by, watching Martin and Lena munch on hungrily the sauerkraut porridge – herself, she has no bowl of food (she doesn't eat), but she finds it amusing to watch them dip their spoons into the soup – so much so, that she picks up a spoon of her own, and makes airplane noises as she flies the spoon by her face.

Their mouths are gaping open, in amusement; and then Rieke bursts into uncontrollable laughter, because for some reason they look funny, and they are laughing along with her in a release of the whole day's tension.

At night, she is tucked into bed in Werner's room, the walls aglow with blue stars and violet nebulae that would soothe the eyes in dreamy ambiance.

"Do you sleep, mein Fraulein?" Lena asks, while Martin is taking a nightly shower.

"I can lay still, and not make a single peep. But I'll always be awake enough, in case troubles happen."

"Huh, that's pretty nifty. I mean, do you ever dream?"

"I mull over the day's experiences."

"Oh. I suppose that's close enough. Anyways.. well, good night!"

Lena shuts the door behind her, not looking back at Rieke as the longings flood her heart – when was the last time she tucked her actual son in that same bed? He's old enough to do so himself, but on the times when he caught the cold.. or..

It was in the backyard, and Werner was making paper airplanes to fly by the gardens. It seemed like just any other ideal summer day, and Lena was on the porch, sewing patches into his pants, when what she saw would send a chilling numbness through her limbs. She saw him freeze, mid-pose, just as he was about to fly another airplane, and then as he tumbled to the grass, in pain, she heard his groan.

"Werner? WERNER!?"

As she'd waited for the ambulance to arrive, she put the blankets over him in bed – his skin felt cool to the touch, and the look in his eyes seemed that he was fading away into a mist. And when the doctors told her that he was amidst other child victims of a new and unprecedented illness, she cried inconsolably for days; even having to take leave from her workplace, just to grieve.

At the very least, her son is still alive, but the result is still the same – she's without her Werner, just except that there's the faintest hope of ever having him in her arms again. And that hope grows torturous as the days pass by.

How can this artificial thing even hope to mend her heart?

/

The next day, when Martin leaves for work, Lena is doing the household chores – vacumning each of the rooms, getting the laundry into the cleaning machine; Rieke follows her around, observing her going through the motions, wondering why Lena seems to be perpetually frowning when it seems like such a cheerful day.

"Don't you ever stop?" Lena throws her arms to her sides.

"Stop?"

"You've been following me around, like you've got nothing to do on your own. Why? I have to put away my son's coats.."

A beat – Lena has an idea. "Hmm.. do you want me to show you some of Werner's games?" She leads Rieke to the living room, where the curved surface of the TV seems to complement the outside scenery through the window, and she opens the cabinet where the old SBOX console rests, the dust gathered on its casing.

Rieke marvels at the images when the TV is turned on – the crisp, hyperreal colours of people, they are playing basketball (Sports Channel). Lena switches the channel input to INPUT2, and as the SBOX console boots up, the Microsoft logo cleanly splashes over the blackness, before it loads up the game disc that's been inside – Eternum Souls, that game where Lena always sees Werner grunting about in his seat, in the steampunk Victorian atmosphere.

"Ermm," Rieke goes, as she is handed the two-pronged controller. She gets herself accustomed to moving the control sticks around, navigating the menu, and then she makes a new save game, where it's a cutscene introducing the perils of a doomed Scottish country, and it is up to her character to escape to the Unforsaken Realms.

"I don't really know how to play the game," Lena goes. "I just know Werner used to talk about it with his friends over the phone, and he'd get so excited.." She sighs.

It's a tough game to play; the dark hues of the environment along with the menacing monsters Rieke encounters in the lighthouse tower make her feel excitablely uneasy – there's the first boss fight which feels so unfair, until she realises she's not meant to fight him yet (after dying 30 times). The vibrancy of the game's sound, pouring through the wallspeakers, it has her so involved in the game's reality.

Then in the background, she hears someone sniffling.

Rieke puts the controller down on the table, and in the kitchen, she finds Lena, crying into her arms, a bottle of wine upon the dinner table, with a glass that is dripping with the alcoholic drink.

"Are you hurting Lena..?" Rieke asks, softly approaching her.

"No, no Rieke, I didn't hurt myself, please don't worry-"

".. in here?"

And Lena glances up – Rieke is notioning at her own chest, her eyes reflecting sadness. "You must have been so lonely, without Werner. He made you so very happy, just to see him everyday, and I don't know how long a time two years would feel, but it must feel like a long time ago. Two years, without seeing his smile, without ever having the chance to hold him.. it must hurt so much.. "

For some reason, it touches a place deep in Lena, and she's clutching her own aching chest, a new kind of welling sadness she is feeling. "I miss him.. and I don't know what to do.. I try to make myself forget about him so it wouldn't hurt, but I always keep expecting him to come in through the doors, like nothing's happened."

"I may not know much," Rieke goes, touching her shoulder, "but I remember, from somewhere, that love is the greatest thing you'll ever know. To love someone, and be loved in return. And if I could do something for you, I'll love Werner too, as a sister to a brother. So much that it will make him better, and.. he'll come home. I will promise."

How a heart can be touched, by a being comprised by silicon and wiring – Lena realises.

".. thank you, Rieke."


qdesjardin: (Default)
2015-03-25 12:24 am
Entry tags:

LeBlanc / 11 - preparations, pt. 3

11 – preparations, pt. 3

Her morning-after contraceptive is a pink pill from the drugstore – its brand is Alea, and it's one of the few decent pills you could pick from the shelf without needing a prior prescription. Immediately after LeBlanc walks out the mall with Renton, she downs the pill, feeling it slide down her throat with a gulp.

She wouldn't imagine how it would look like, having a child with Renton. (If it were to be a boy, she'd hope he'd have Renton's good looks and natural charm, without the shy self-consciousness of herself.)

Seeing her take the pill, it flashes through Renton's mind, their moment together, and he could barely contain a tremble.

/

At the hotel, Swain and the others are midway through their breakfast in the lounge, and LeBlanc with Renton join them after having packed his outfit.

"I've gotten his things ready," LeBlanc tells them, and she hastily whispers to Renton to sit up straighter – he's slouching in his seat beside, and.. it's still morning, and boys like him would be rousing at this time. But it's making her look bad.

"Renton," Swain goes, munching on a bacon sandwich, "what we'll do now is have you ready for our upcoming performance in a few days. You'll be performing duo, as Twisted Fate's partner on stage."

"My two-timin' card-dealin' partner," Twisted Fate says.

Renton glances down. He wishes he could be on-stage with LeBlanc instead..

"What's the matter Renton?" Twisted Fate goes. "You aren't looking forward to it?"

"Oh, no, no, I'm just wondering.. does it have to be you, or can I pick-"

"I can't think of anything else to put you in currently," Swain says. "Lulu and Heimerdinger have already set up their routine with each other, and I can't think of how it would be very entertaining if you were cowering under my storm of crows. And LeBlanc.."

Renton beams upon her mention.

"Her function is to have the element of audience participation, one-on-one. It wouldn't work if you were there with her."

"Oh.." But what about the last time, with the whole Back to the Future interruption thing? What about her promising me I could be her partner earlier..? Renton wants to say that, but another thought makes him more resigned – that this intimacy he feels about her, it is not exclusive to him. Surely he's not the first she's enticed, and sadly, he probably won't be the last. "So what do I gotta do with TF, are we playing-"

"Playin' Hearts, and you're going to be pulling off funny stunts as the casino dealer. It's a hit especially in Vegas. Shouldn't take you too long to get the hang of it."

"Our stage will be set in MGM Grand," Swain goes. "It is just a matter of getting acquainted with the layout, setting up environmental cues accordingly, and if we are lucky, our audience will be especially receptive.. but that is only the easy part.

"What we're here for is obtaining the second-last artefact; the staff of Ra. Long-sought after, we've manged to pinpoint it to the current owner of the MGM Grand, David Bateson. An old, bald man with a penchant for collection of rare artefacts. I've only just found him two weeks ago, finding an old photo of him from 1986, with what resembles the staff.

"Why none of us has ever heard of it.. it is because everyone else has been expecting to look for it in the museums, or hoping to find it still undiscovered in the archaelogical dig sites. When it's been in Bateson's hands, all along. Just happened to be mis-named as his faithful walking stick, painted a different colour."

"Swain has real brains," Heimerdinger goes, wiping his mouth. "I would have never realised that in a million years!"

"And it's lucky for us that I've found this out when I did," Swain goes. "Bateson is going to auction off the staff the night we perform. If we don't get our hands on it then, it could disappear away in the hands of another, as just a mere walking stick.

"Our two options: we can partake in the auction – bidding online, or we can steal it beforehand, when Bateson thinks his million-dollar stick is safe in the vaults. Preferably, I think we steal it."

/

The MGM Grand Hotel – it is a splendour of a building, exemplifying the Vegas spirit of hedonistic pleasures in its combination of being a hotel, a luxurious casino, and a grand stage to perform in front of an audience of ten thousands.

At day, it is just a building, with many vehicles parked in the lot for the people who stay for the upcoming Black Rose's performance. But at night..

The rented limo drops Swain and everyone off, and Swain leads them through the lobby to the stadium – their presences inconspicuous amidst the people, like distant dreams of a yesterday night.

Right now, the stadium happens to be vacant, with the janitor boys sweeping the littered popcorn and pop drinks from the floors. The vast stadium, all the seats sweeping around the arena, surrounding the centre stagefloor that is to be where the performances are.

"Waw.." Renton says, gawking at how big the whole stadium is. It's like a hockey arena, mixed in with the theatre, and up above, the spotlights are set to a general white lighting.

They've entered through one of the aisle entrances, being led by one of the stage managers, making their way down to the backstage. You can tell the manager is so giddy in their presence – he's babbling on and on about how it's his privilege to help host their show, and how he's got two daughters who'd line up by the TV or their computers for all their shows..

On the bright side, the manager's eagerness is certainly going to translate over to the efforts put into setting the stage up.

While Heimerdinger narrates to the manager what they'll need (a table, hula hoops..), Renton asks LeBlanc if she still gets stage fright.

"All the time," she says. "Lulu holds my hand every time before we're introduced, and I gulp. When we step out from the curtains, it's like a fever dream when you see all those faces gazing upon you. It's so riveting to feel, yet so perilous when you know that every slip-up you can make, everyone is watching. My first couple of performances, I choked because once I was in that moment, I could not get rid of all their attention, bombarding me on what I'm supposed to do. The thought that there'll be some people in the audience who'll hate me on the stage, no matter what I'd do."

"So how did you manage to overcome that?"

".. I just do it." LeBlanc notions at the blank stage displays, that'll be zooming in on them for the benefit of those in the bleeder seats up above. "But more importantly, don't be afraid to fuck up; you can find moments of improvisation, when you least expect it, and you'll wind up taking the show to a new, unexpected direction."

/

Out of a rented utility van, Team ROCHAT step out by the MGM Grand – their leader Viktor in holographic disguise as a normal plumber. They've flown anonymously on public airway, stowing away their belongings in a trans-dimensional pocket (hammerspace), and they are going to make their stay in low-profile.

There was a call from the hotel for extra servicemen, because the stage is going to be packed at full capacity, and they need extra pairs of hands to get things running smoothly.

"Oh, you're part of the hired help? You'll be staying in the utility quarters," one of the valets tells them, trying not to mind how foreign they look, and they're led down to one of the basement levels, past where security rooms monitor the casinos, vaults, and other entertainment venues – and to what looks like a barracks, where other servicemen are idle, either resting on the bunk beds provided, or joking around on MewTube videos.

"You'll find there's a call sheet for whatever duties they need help with," the valet goes. "If you get lost or confused, the others will help you get more acquainted." And leaves them be, thinking them experienced enough to be leaving it up to their hands.

"What kind of crap room are we stuck with!?" Veigar exclaims. "This is not suited for someone like us! It's a six-star hotel, I'm sure they could afford much better for the poor plumbers and electricians! I demand more comfort!"

"Quiet boy," Singed goes – waving away the attention from Veigar's outburst. "We won't be staying here long. If we can deduce what big thing the Black Rose scum are after, our trip will be more than worth the paltry quarters we're residing in."

"Oohh! I hope I do get to play with the white tigers..!"

Zac is mumbling, snugly fitted inside a canister. He hopes they'll let him out soon.

/

After the Black Rose have been suitably familiarised with their grand stage, Twisted Fate is shuffling his cards with Renton at a table backstage. He is going to show Renton how to play the part of the no-good dirty-rotten casino dealer.

"So you're wearin' one of them tight uniforms, with the black shirt and red vest," Twisted Fate goes, shoving half the shuffled deck to Renton. "The room temperature is kept cool, to keep the gamblers in a concentrating mood. But you're still sweatin' by your armpits, because your job is not only to be slick with the cards, but makin' sure your consumer ain't cheating you over the game. You keep your eyes on theirs – watch if they get anxious, or if they're putting their attention on something funny. Not on their hands, because an experienced card shark will easily pull a fast one while you blink."

"Got'cha." Renton is enjoying Twisted Fate's cowboy accent; and soon, he's getting acquainted with the game of Hearts:

The object of the game is to win as many hearts as you can, by duelling your opponent with the biggest card in your hand, and the winner of the duel picks a random heart from the pile. At the end of the game, when you've spent all your non-heart cards in duels – you sum up the value of the heart cards you've picked up, and the one with the larger value wins.

The first few games, Renton always gets beat by Twisted Fate (somehow).

"How are you winning?!" Renton goes, slamming his fists on the table in frustration. "I don't get it. Seems like you always have higher cards than I do.. it's your deck of cards."

"Mmm, I ain't cheating you-" Twisted Fate grins. "It's strategy; you don't blow your whole load right from the beginning, you pick the card that you think will marginally beat your opponent's – I look at the cards I hold, and then I deduce the other cards you're holding. See, you've blown your kings and queens on my threes and fours, and then I savour getting the upper hand over you, because now you ain't got no advantage no more."

"Damn!" Renton shakes his head. "How do you come up with these.. I mean, you're a much better card-player than me.."

"Kid," Twisted Fate goes, re-shuffling the cards. "About your age, I did this to make a living. I went around in card-playin' shows and casinos, and outplayed most of them competition at their own game. Is just a matter of figuring out your hand, and their hands, from what's already out on the table, and what to do with the luck that's been given to you.

"I was so good at the games that they swore I was cheatin' them somehow, and I got my ass booted out of some casinos, hauling them short of hundred grands in cash each time I came. Wasn't supposed to be that way for them, but hey, 'the house always wins.'

"I was livin' it large, and I went to see how them fancy Frenchmen would deal 'em in grand Pariee. Little did I know, I was gonna be robbed of my entire life savings, and then some. Faster than a rabbit gets- you know."

Renton shifts in his seat. "What's your name? Your real name, that is."

Twisted Fate looks him straight in the eye. "Owen Thomas."

As it turns out, Twisted Fate has grown from a poor Rancher family, and bored with his family's lack of any ambition (besides herding cows), he's gambled his way to France, where he's lost all his cash against the much more sophisticated French players – and barely survived through the various oddjobs he took, until he met Swain, and was cast as the card manipulator, Twisted Fate.

He was the third member to have joined the Black Rose; there was Evelynn, who was LeBlanc's predecessor, who played the role of the invisible seductress, and who was Twisted Fate's lover, until her feisty temper got the better of her during a confrontation with police.

They continue practising the card game while Lulu is doing something with Heimerdinger – she is turning the thrown hoops into doves who poop out rainbows of skittles, and commanding the doves to fly in formation so that it looks pleasing to see, and some audience members could reach out for the skittles.

By the ladders, LeBlanc seems to be doing a slow box dance with her staff, her eyes seemingly entranced with her staff's crystals, and her reflection in them.

"I think LeBlanc's taking quite a liking for you," Twisted Fate mentions, upon which, Renton spews out his Sprite drink, and starts blushing very red.

"I.." Renton decides to feign innocence here. "Why?"

"Because. Ever since you jumped on board, I've seen her smile more, and whenever she thinks anyone isn't looking her way, she gushes in private. Usually, she is quite serious. I've never seen her like that, except maybe once or twice long ago, in an affair with Swain."

It is a thought that wraps up Renton's head – imagining her kissing passionately with the bald Swain. The seductiveness he's seen from her, and she'd once shared it with him..

"Seems like I've caught you in a doozy," Twisted Fate goes, smirkng. "Well, how about let's get back to our skit; you're thinking of fudging the deck in your favour.."

/

The owner of the MGM Grand, David Bateson – he is a spry man of age 78, and thanks to his diet of vegetables, multi-vitamin pills and daily exercise, is able to hobble along on his new titanium walking stick like he's 30 years old. He's told his friends in his past that a rich lifestyle is nothing if you cannot live healthily too, and now his friends are eating his words at the nursing homes.

Here is David's daily routine: get up at 7, write a journal entry of his dreams, eat fish and high-protein vegetable bars, do a strenuous workout at the gym, and return up to the penthouse floor to catch up on social media while eating lunch, with maybe an old classic movie or two afterward.

While the others of the Black Rose are practising, Swain has caught David just after he has taken a shower from the workout sweatiness – there is not a wrinkle to be seen on David's face, what a miracle!

"M. Bateson?" Swain goes, getting his attention. "I'm Jericho Swain – I'll be performing as the Black Rose this Friday?"

"Ohh! Swain!" David is gleeing.

"I'd prefer if we'd keep the conversation down," Swain goes, almost in a whisper. "We operate under a low profile when we're not performing, and I'd like to keep it that way."

"Oh, sure. What can I do for you? Are the staff treating you well?"

Swain thinks of something to get closer to him. "Yes, they are treating everyone exquisitely-"

"Ooh! Exquisitely! I always like to hear that-!"

"What I'd like is if you can show me around your grand hotel – I always enjoy getting acquainted with the place I'm going to be performing in."

David takes off the sweatband from his head. "I've got to prepare myself for the afternoon first – but you are absolutely welcome to join me for a cup of tea, up in the penthouse."

So David takes Swain up to the elevators, greeting everyone along the way.

You seem like a nice old man, Swain thinks, glancing at David's new titanium walking stick. It is too bad I will have to unceremoniously part you with your treasured old 'stick.' As you'll mourn about it, you'll never know of its true significance.

/

Up on the penthouse floor, David Bateson's dog can be heard barking all the way down the hall.

"What is with that dog..?" Viktor goes, dusting the hanging portraits of David and his collegue on the wall. He's had a pleasant time dusting while Singed is doing some kitchen cooking ("Spicy Indian, anyone?"), and what on earth is Rumble thinking, making a show of himself with the ladies as a valet?

Then Viktor sees David and-

It's Swain!

Even though he is animatronic beneath his human-form disguise, Viktor still tenses up with Swain's presence, fearing for a second that Swain could see through it.

"Carry on, good sir!" David tells the young-looking lad. "Those portraits look dazzling!"

If Viktor could sigh a breath of relief, he'd be doing so. But more importantly, he could find up what Swain is up to, so Viktor hurriedly finishes up the dusting and follows the two into Bateson's personal chambers, where David's dog (Benny) leaps up onto his master, licking his face and giving David a light-hearted chuckle.

Then Benny turns towards Viktor behind them, and starts to bark angrily in his direction – something doesn't smell right about that one.

"Ohh, Benny..! It's just visitors.." David tries coaxing Benny to calmness, and finally, he carries the dog over to a playpen, where Benny's apprehension goes ignored – a resigned whine.

David Bateson's room is the intersection of the MGM Grand's plus shape; a four-pronged crossroads, where David can enjoy the bird's eye view over the lots, and the Las Vegas cityscape – at night, if you have the lights off in the room, you can enjoy staring out at all the artificial awe of the citylights, snuggling with someone beside you.

But nearing the afternoon, the room maintains a business-like tone – it resembles the post-postmodern office room of the current business world, mixed in with the comforts of a luxury home.

"I'm sorry about the mess.." David is gathering up the pile of papers on his desk. "I was busy all week getting the upcoming auction affair sorted out. My walking stick here, one of the salesmen in Texas Astronautics Sciences was a tad too convincing for my taste. Ergonomics.. it's better for my walking posture, so I'm afraid I'm going to be parting with my old stick, since 1958.

"I was born with Polio, and the doctors thought I'd never get to walk in my lifetime. Then my parents took me to see a Chinese mystic, and with acupuncture and herbal medicine, I was able to walk with my own two legs – but not entirely well. So I have this gait.. and I was friends with this nice, absent-minded professor of Egyptology, who gave me the stick that supported me up to this year, on concrete, linoleum, dirt, carpet.."

David tucks the legal paperwork away in a folder. "It's funny, how you bond with an object. You attach all these feelings.. all these fond memories with it over the times."

Swain glances at the folder, while David hobbles over to the stove, and prepares a cooked salad of salmon, beets, onions and pistachios over some Bibb lettuce for himself.

"If you're getting hungry," David Bateson goes, "I can call up my personal room service for you two – I imagine you aren't vegetarian like I am."

"I've already eaten my lunch," Viktor says flatly (he doesn't eat).

"Um, I'll have marinated chicken with soup," Swain goes, and David gives the order through his phone, before serving himself the sizzling salad on a plate and eats the dish by his desk, knife and fork.

The dog is playing with a ball, punting it along the playpen's walls – but really, he's trying to slam the ball into Viktor, whose eeriely metallic scent he strongly dislikes.

/

The aftermath of the meeting is where Viktor is leaning against the hallway walls, seeing David and Swain trail off into the elevators. He is apparently frozen, still mentally processing the revelations that took place as the salad disappeared from David's plate, bite by bite.

Swain seems awfully interested in David's old walking stick, and it is very clear that whatever significance the stick has to Swain, it is something pivotal for the Black Rose.

It's going to be stolen around the auction. Maybe that's why the Black Rose are performing here.

The one thing Viktor has always felt resentful about is how his own Team ROCHAT seems to be left in the dark, while he sees other groups make major headway, stumbling upon the strands of a grand web that looms and affects everyone. The Du Corteaus of Corsica were the prime instigators of the Great Magician's War, and the Freljord Clan exploited their proximity to the North Pole, controlling one of the last few reserves of Emperium-laden land.

In general, how it seems none of Team ROCHAT have struck upon the same kind of massively-affecting success the other groups seem to stumble upon; despite being the pride of Quebec, they would be doomed to being second-rate in comparison with everyone else. With the likes of the Black Rose.

But, perhaps that is all about to change.

The tactic being employed right now is beating the Black Rose to the punch of what they desire, putting themselves into a position where they can make demands to be let in whatever Next Big Thing is taking place.

And the fact that this David Bateson said his 'walking stick' came from an Egyptologist..

Viktor is recalling vague mentions of a long lost Egyptian artefact. The Staff of Ra, which is said to be instrumental to an ancient ritual, relating with the legendary isle of Avalon – it's rumoured to be the origin of all magic on Earth.

Could it be.. the Black Rose believes the Avalon isle is real? It's currently believed to be hogwash by many other groups, but then again, many people believed the Earth had been flat, long ago.

Viktor begins to smile; he's not about to let this golden opportunity slip away. Not while he can help it. He whispers into the earpieces of Team ROCHAT: "I know what the Black Rose is up to. It's something massive – we discuss this during our mutual break times this afternoon.."

The dog is heard growling from the distance, as one of David's maids is tending to it.

/

At Winkies (a fast food diner), the little girl Annie is munching down on a quarterpounder cheese sandwich, pretending to feed some pieces to her stuffed bear Tibbers – "Yum yum! You'll grow big and strong with beef!"

Her much older guardian, Brand, he is intently focused on his phone, sipping some iced tea one second, then the next second, reading the article about the recently stolen egg from Vancouver; how the police had seemingly lost the trail of the 'professional thieves' to a destroyed white van, and arriving on the scene is Bezu Fache, an Interpol investigator who insists there's a correlation between the inexplicible crime and the presence of the Black Rose in the city.

"Tell Mr Tibbers to pipe it down," Brand says, his voice gruff. (He looks like the kind of scruffy vagrant who has been hitchhiking the numerous highways of America.) "Trying to read something important." He has a near-photographic memory when it comes to reading news, but he needs the concentration, and that can't happen when Annie is loudly involved in a play session-

"Tibbers want you to say please," Annie goes, making her bear's arms crossed from rudeness.

".. please."

"Oh c'mon! You didn't mean it! Now you have to say pretty please!"

"Pretty please."

"See?" Annie munches off on her sandwich. "The power of being polite can take you anywhere!"

"Now pretty please, with a cherry on top, shut up and let me finish reading Annie."

Annie gives her caretaker a raspberry. "You're no fun sometimes."

Despite the rough bumps like these, Brand and Annie have a strong bond (her Tibbers included too), inseparable in their performing travels together (except when they use the washroom) – more devoted to each other than a brother and sister, more faithful than a husband and wife. Because of the deeply ingrained feeling that they're all they have in the world.

Together, with their pyromancy, they are the Infernal Inferi; their public appearances sporadic – primarily to replenish their funds from the willing donations of their gathered audiences.

And together, they embark on the search for Avalon also, for the meaning behind their magic. Why, you might ask? It is like the grand question that comes to us Muggles, of the deeper meaning behind our existances – why are we the only ones alive and intelligent in the world.. in space? Where Science cannot adequately answer that question beyond the facts and theories, Religion seeks to provide us with the spiritual answers, sent from God and His divine prophets.

And likewise, the isle of Avalon is a symbol of hope for the true meaning behind their magic. From Avalon, one could derive true power, or better yet, discover the next step for all Magicians alike.

Brand is still reading through the article.

Bezu Fache, the French Interpol agent – he has been a long-time investigator of magicians; specifically, how crime seems to occur around them wherever they visit – and if you tell Fache it's just coincidence, he'll likely fly into a fit in your face, and give you an extensive rebuttal of murders, thefts and other acts of capery; not minor crimes, mind you, but major ones. Influential figures who get poisoned, or suffer 'accidents,' because their agendas happen to stand in the way of a magician group.

Etc.

The trend has been continuing on to this day, and Fache has fought against Interpol's internal affairs division, in order to keep his investigations going – to prove that his efforts are not just chasing after mere conspiratorial fancies, but to bring to a definitive light the malice of Magician-kind.

"Once I do catch them in the act," Fache comments, "the world should not be thanking me; it should already have been obvious to those who do pay attention to things."

An unrelated news article mentions the disappearance of a boy named Renton Thurston.

"This Bezu Fache might prove to be a problem," Brand goes, putting away his phone and finishing up his fries.

"If he comes our way, we'll blast him into ashes!" Annie spurts. "Isn't that right, Tibbers? - Oh yes yes, Fache is Ash!" Tibbers nods.

"No, we aren't allowed to do that. Actually, he'll be on the Black Rose's trail, and bam, if he does catch anything, we'll be long gone with the staff."

The two have coincidentally stumbled upon David Bateson's possession of the artefact, and they've arrived with only two days to spare before its auction.

qdesjardin: (Default)
2015-03-24 02:11 am
Entry tags:

Maleficent / Hitori (Alone)

Hitori (Alone)
lyrics by Satomi

Where did
our shadows
on the pavement
go in this city dyed red?

Did the seasons
quietly pass by?
I'm the only one
left behind..

I could be honest
and show my weaknesses to you
something that I can't even
do to myself
It was
a clumsy love

If I could go back
to when we were together again
Without any hesitation
I would embrace you
and never let go

When the nights are pitch black
I curl my knees close
and remember the days
you were with me

I must have been too childish
to see before
the meaning of your name
and love

My heart is filled with every moment
of that time
replaying over and over again
Even the memories
silently
melt away

If I could go back
to that night right away
I would rush towards your departing back
and embrace you
to stop you from leaving

It's selfish
and I'm fully aware of that
It doesn't have to be right now
But I'll be waiting here
alone

And I'll survive by grasping
my memories of you
close to me
It's pathetic
but even now
I can't forget about you

If I could go back
to when we were together again
Without any hesitation
I would embrace you
and never let go

qdesjardin: (Default)
2015-03-24 02:10 am
Entry tags:

Maleficent / 12

12

In a more ideal lifetime, I'm holding his hands, caressing them as delicately as I would the rose petals. We are resting under the shade of the tree, watching the river carry the fallen leaves to a destination unseen, where I can only dream about. Would the waters cross over different times, sharing those fallen leaves with the people who have once lived? Or who will eventually live?

It matters not, for the restfulness I feel by his side makes time stretch on to a rhythm that only pure contentment can encompass, dictated by our relaxed breathing. The cherry blossoms seem to dance about us, trailing down from above, five centimetres per second. I wish it would last forever.

In that ideal world, I see him smile for me, and I know I am in paradise, for I know love – the acceptance of one soul, being touched by another soul.

It will never happen for me.

My soul only finds darkness..

I've decided I would put my soul to slumber, quietly and eternally. So even now, this forest presents an unyielding rampart of briars, continuing to deny entry from the outside. And it will probably do so until the time of my death.

When the wyvern screams, the green fire encroaches the unprepared faeries caught in its wake, disintegrating them and portions of the buildings behind, causing them to collapse into ruins.

"Evasive manoeuvres!" Flora commands, and all the remaining faeries fly off, up and away from Maleficent's front. They attempt to jolt away at her armour, trying out varying elements to see what can break through – spells of fire, ice, air, and energy.

It is a lightshow of colours and particles against the night's darkness – the aftereffects raining onto the ground, those sparks and embers, the snowflakes and black petals. If it wasn't so dangerous, the sight would be a spectacle worthy of an exquisite festival.

Down below, Raki's only desire is to run away from the chaos of it all, his arms sheltering his head, running as far away from the terrible being that she's turned into.

"How could you be so despicably cruel?" It's easy, you just give in to your hate and negativity. Why would one resist embracing it, when all you are left with is the pain you've felt from others, one way or another? If you're happy, you don't resist making others happy. If you're sad, resentful, miserable – all you can ever do is hide it.. or unleash it like a scream, once you can't bear it anymore.

This insight comes to Raki, about the nature of sadness which he sees underlying Maleficent. He looks behind, seeing the wyvern fluttering upward, its wings beating, the wind whooshing over the whole square, and the flashes of energy from the faeries.

I was sad too, when all I had was Zaki to live with. I couldn't tell anyone.. they wouldn't understand how I felt trapped by him, except for Maleficent. Because back then, I just felt she would be the one who could actually listen.

She isn't like anyone else. Which is why she is at odds with this world, who values only what is like them – the trustworthy, the all-too-familiar kinds of people.

And the wyvern gusts out more flames all over, bursting the faeries and the Notre-Dame's spire.

But she's making everyone suffer for it..

"Nothing we're doing is working!" Fauna yells, clinging onto the wyvern's wings, trying to burn the bark away. "It's like we're throwing sticks at an armoured knight!"

This gives Flora an idea. "Knight.. that's it! We're too scattered if everyone's attacking her individually – if we get together, and just pierce through her thick hide, we can defeat her!"

"Agreed!"

The 13 remaining faeries break off from Maleficent, regrouping at a safe distance over the Seine river. They're going to charge their energies together, firing the Lance of Longinus (the fabled spear which pierced through Christ during his crucifixion) straight into the wyvern's centre.

"Far in the distance is cast a Shadow
Symbol of our freedom will bring us
Salvation!

On the horizon our hope for Tomorrow
Sweeping across the land to give us
Unity!"

Shimmering light emerges from the faeries' formation, verging on being blinding.

"Make sure we don't miss," Flora tells them. "We only get one shot at summoning it."

Distances away, in St Peter's Basilica (Rome) – the lance awakens within the tomb of the historical apostle, and with a magnetic swiftness, it shoots out from the stone casket, shocking the priests who are going about their nightly walks.

"Mi vida!" they exclaim.

And like a shooting star, the lance streaks over the horizons, traversing miles with an absolute urgency.

Maleficent is soaring straight for the formation – it is the ideal way to kill them all. Just one breath, and she'll wipe their existances out.. forever. And then..

"She's coming!" Few of the faeries are nervous, afraid of holding their positions.

Flora clenches. Will their combined magick be enough to fend off even one attack?

The wyvern can discern the finer details of their forms, the way their robes are fluttering in the high altitude. She breathes in the air and her acidic heart catalyses it into high-temperature fires, whose fumes melt away whichever material is in proximity.

And in one word screamed out – D E A T H – she goes to ignite the faeries-

The faeries see the fires blooming in her open mouth, and they erect a golden shield around themselves, shining bright like a beacon – the flames colliding and spilling over the barrier, like water over an egg. Even though the flames are blocked, the immense heat still pours through (like an arid sauna) and it affects some of the faeries from the Arctic regions, their wings beginning to smoke.

After what seems like a long time, the fires dissipate, the violet smoke wafting away – revealing an exhausted Maleficent who is struggling to keep flying, as her wings beat erratically, her neck swivelling down, panting.

With perfect timing, the Lance of Longinus arrives – a magnificent torqued gleam which freezes in front of the faeries, charged with holy energy.

The faeries are too disoriented themselves to be able to aim the lance correctly at Maleficent's wavering position, and when they fire, the lance goes through one of Maleficent's wings instead, tearing a hole and sending her tumbling down onto land – while the lance itself plunges into the river, violently exploding the water and collapsing the nearby Pont Neuf bridge crossing.

Raki sees all this, his lungs huffing as his legs carry him to the scene where she's crashed. An array of homes, abandoned, in darkness from the smoke.

..

By the time he gets there, the sky is starting to brighten, and he is so light-headed. It is like vividly feeling a dream – a part of him wishes this is all merely a dream.. and that he'd wake up back with Vittoria.

His chest seems to drop, as he looks around the ruins of the homes for her. He doesn't find the massive body of a wyvern, while the faeries are floating overhead, combing through the area with the same desire as him. It smells of burnt stone, and his eyes are watering like from onions.

He has to find her first, but he can't call out her name – they'll hear him.

Doing his best to hide from the faeries, Raki eventually notices a trail of translucent ink, not readily noticable amidst the dark gravel and detruitus.

There, he follows it down a short distance, leading him down a narrow back alley behind a pub, the smoke seeping from the burnt-out lamps, and the ink turning into the redness of blood. The weeds grow from the cracks, and bits of garbage sends ripples in the water puddles. His heart is palpitating, thumping with tense anticipation – he hears the faeries talking in the distance, and finds the blood ending at a modest courtyard, surrounded by apartments.

The naked Maleficent is halfway slouched over a bench, lying on her side with still an arm. As if she's attempted to rest herself on it, to lie on her back, but gave up on her effort. Her other arm is a tatter, broken off near the shoulder. Her long, flowing white hair partially stained with her blood, covering her body.

A tear escapes Raki's eye. This is how she might have actually looked like, if she'd have lived this long as a normal person.

And she's so frail.

Trembling, he heads to her side, and finds her body as light as a child's, her skin leathery, as he lies her down on the wooden bench like she's wanted.

Her eyes look.. not really sad, so much as tired after a whole life's journey.

"Ra.. ki.." she moans out in a whisper, her hand rattling, trying to move. "Is that.. you? I can't see your face.."

He moves to hold her hand, twinging his fingers with hers. It's barely warm. "Yeah.." He's holding back sniffles, not wanting to show her his sadness. "I.. I'm so glad I ever got to know you," he says – his throat catches on itself. "I never got the chance to tell you that.."

And his tears drip down on her face, like a soothing rain that tastes salty on her lips.

Her eyes are wandering, slowly looking around – not at Raki, but searching through her own thoughts for something. What was it.. that feeling, that has so eluded her since?

Maybe it was when she danced with him in that field of dreams.. or when she kissed his lips, and found that it – in all its totality – it made her heart leap. When she saw the gleam of his eyes, under that sunset, and she just found it so perfect and resonant that she felt..

..

.. it would last forever..