A Court For Crows (Part 44)

Japan’s civil war started the next day. JSDF filled the news, mounting assaults on burgeoning cult activity. The anomaly force moved in shortly after, reducing a towering building filled with hostiles into a steaming crater.

The civilian casualties were acceptable to everyone except the public.

The gleaming eye of the watcher fell upon them in the night.

We can fight for a better world. There’s a better world out there. We just need to find it. We just need to battle for it. It’s worth fighting against the darkness.

It’s worth fighting against the darkness. The Kind Lord Watches.

—–

The Kind Lord smiled at me in my dreams. Her mouth the size of galaxies twisted into a smile, gazing down upon my branch of the milky way, my branch of the solar system, my gleaming planet. Looked upon my gleaming country and my state, and my city, and my house.

Upon me with eyes that sparkled like mysteries far above. She who had seeded the land with life, and then given us over to our own temptations and life. Had she dwelt upon the garden of eden and decided that mankind was a great enough force to survive the tests the other lords would throw upon it?

What great civilization we could be, if we could merely withstand the tests of death and plague and rot and decay, the great moral shifts and mortal shifts. How kind were we, that we were created in her image, with our thousand thousand thousand thousand neural pathways comprehending the environment, reaching termination and rot.

An endless cycle, never terminating, never ceasing in the rot and attempts to scrabble against the flows of flesh.

The Kind-Lord sat in an organized networks of stars, transmissions firing off like the slow brain of a distant dream. Endless streams of networked neural nodes performing intense calculations. An organized macroscopic intelligence. Observing us with all of the warmth of a mother. Hoping we could advance past the other worlds, dead, dreaming, dying, asleep. Sweltering under the hazards of life as the fields failed and the birds died.

For she was a death god as well, and he was a life god as well, and it all flowed over top of one another again and again and again, and we could dream and we could die because there was yet life, and there was yet fluidity in the cold cold universe, billions of years old, a graveyard of potentials under command by forces greater than human cognition.

And he sat at the center of a great nebula, static arcs through gas, and observed us, and willed that we remain fighting, and she sat at the center of a great arc of stars, and prayed that we would be safe, that we would be kind, that we would grow to become something as great as they, that we could one day understand

And he loved us

And she hated us

And they loved us

And she hated us

And there’s a world worth fighting for. It doesn’t have to end. We change. We evolve. We dream. We move. We rally. We tilt. We swing. We shoot. We can keep moving.

But we were always loved.

But what did you do to the Kind Lord. What did you do to the Kind Goddess. Where is she? Where is he? Where are they? What did you do?

I don’t-

I didn-

What are you a hero for

What did you protect

Why did they save you

Why aren’t you dead

You are greater than you know

Now learn

Learn

I need

We are the Last Best Hope for Humanity.

(IunderstandthisisaliebutIwantit)

(The world is not how we want it to be. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.)

(I want… family. I want home. I want safety. I want to be free.)

(I want Love. I want Dreams)

—-

Another fragment of a day. The sky was dusky grey; beautiful for once instead of the cold smog of burning Mexico.

Kathleen sat at her deck, chewing on the end of a pistol. Awards plastered over the wall. What they were far had been long ago obliterated by a chisel and hammer, leaving just her face in various stages of age.

“Will it activate?”

I didn’t remember this. I couldn’t remember this. This wasn’t. This wasn’t- I remembered.

“I don’t know,” my voice said. “She needs time to develop.” Tongue stuck in a foreign mouth, skin crawling. Vents fed nothing but cold air into the ice box of a room.

Eyes flicked open to reveal the walls of the cryopod, but when I opened my mouth to scream iit just filled with oxygenated fluid, long bubbles flowing from my lungs. Drowning. Drowning.

Back in the room.

“She’s been running for over a month. And you’ve told me that the pantheon is moving,” Kathleen said. “Every stargazer says the stars have gotten sadder.”

“It’s not time yet,” I said.

“When will it be time?” Kathleen hissed like a rabid crow, tongue flicking nervously across her lips.

Her fingers steepled together. “Will it activate in time?”

“Defender, you’ve already asked me to do the impossible,” I said. “You didn’t give me enough time.”

“I gave your team years.” Kathleen said. “You had results in months.”

“It’s not on us anymore,” I said. “Do you think it’ll happen soon?”

Kathleen leaned back in her chair. Popped her spine. The lack of decor would’ve been startling except for the chills running down my spine. Outside, the grey fields whistled in a slight wind.

“A reckoning is coming,” The Defender said. “A great one. You’ve not been on the Timeline projects, and you haven’t been a part of the scrawling writhing tapestries of past petri dishes floating pristinely in the void of stars. You haven’t seen what happens at the end, you haven’t tasted it in poetry written while oceans boiled and the stars winked out one by one because they could not bear to see the destruction of their favorite frollicking grounds. Empires snuffed out in an instant. Empires revived in an instant, and undying wheel of fire, life, entropy physicality death knowledge, and the wheel turns towards death here. Death shall come, and he shall take, and he shall move, and the seas will boil and I have to know where it is, you have to believe me, you have to believe that this is the world I can give to you, you have to understand that the skin crawling across my eyes my many gleaming eyes is a skin that wants to help the world, that wants to cling to the shadow of the kind lord but we need to know what you did, we need to know what you did, we need to know what you did

What did you do

The smell of blood

The drip of it from some orifice somewhere out of time

The taste of it upon my tongue

Some gleaming crimson

What did boiling flesh smell like

And why are they in my head

Why are you in my head

Why are you in my head

I need to know

I get what I want, Jessica.

I’ve…

Always…

Gotten it.

—–

Isaac sat dying on the table. His heart thumped with each beat of the rushing blood through my brain. Scattered insulation and puffs of dust hovered in the air, only to fixate across the fine spatter across the walls behind him. His Omoi node screeched out warnings for anyone to hear. Slowing heartbeat. Decay in blood pressure. Pain.

The galaxies displayed on the wall in beautiful colors looked even more proper with dots of the blood of martyrs across it. Did Lord Entropy see the display and smile, eager to see the spread of energy diffuse and moving through a system?

Did the King Lord smile, and see that his children were laughing, her children were playing?

My hands were shaking, my hands were shaking. Slowly looking up. Hands streaked with blood from examining my partner’s wounds.

On the next day, USECGA fell to traitors on the inside. Our delusions of immortality were just that.

Alarm klaxons screeched into the air. To the Cryopods. To Shelter. Alert the guards.

The air screamed with alerts and alarms picked up by Omoi, transparent windows dappled the front of my eyes like a collage of disaster.

But that wasn’t what my eyes were resting on. No, that was saved for someone else in particular.

The man stood in front of me, assault rifle bared. Lines of the Watcher entwined on his body armor, blood pouring from out of the depths of it. Bullet holes. Isaac’s pistol lay strewn across the side of the room. I’d counted the bullets like atmospheric static, like the ISS ticking across with daily status reports.

He’d still have eight left in the magazine.

Isaac groaned in pain next to me, his chest heaving, blood dripping from his lips. Filled the air.

But I’d been there before, hadn’t I? I’d been there before.

Tane stretched across the corner, her gut filled with lead, eyes vacant, dull. Dead or close to there. Agents strewn around the room like bowling pins. Symbols, raw, vacant, equations strewn across the air and room from a disturbed projector. The Kind Lord, the Kind Lord-

“I’m going to ask you this once,” The man said, stepping forward. Like lymph, the blood was now sticky, almost pink. Unreal.

But this fragment wasn’t going to end this easily.

“Where is Omoi?” he asked. His gun seemed hyperreal, or rather, my fixated mind was etching every facet and embossing of the rifle as it swayed and swam through the air. Looking down the chamber I pretended I could see the bullet.

Which was ridiculous, as it was far too dim in the projector room to see any such thing.

Lazily, which was too fast too slow with the adrenaline sending my limbs jerking, I pointed behind my ear, where the nodule sat, but found that all I felt was the cool sensation of tacky flaking dried blood, and the room was swimming from the effort.

“Not your Nodule,” The man spat.

My nodule was gone.

I… someone had taken it. Right. No, a bullet had struck it, shrapnel littered the back wall. Concussion.

Someone had Spoken the wrong word and it had broken under the strain of protecting my unaugmented mind.

Unaugmented.

But the Pantheon danced in front of my eyes.

Or.

If-

If the Omoi nodule wasn’t working.

How did I know the contents of the research around me?

If it was

Operational procedure; if it sounds like a lie, and smelled like a lie, and tastes like a lie, then.

Something is lying.

“Not my nodule,” I repeated, dumb, staring at the gun in front of me. The close quarters scope glinted in the reflection of millions of stars.

“What?” The man asked, taking a step forward.

Who was it? Who was it?

“It’s yours.”

“We can still save them,” The Watcher’s man said. “We can reverse it all. Where is the God You Made? We can save them all.”

The God…

The God…

And my mind filled with the first taste of the Kind Lord. A thousand thousand thousand stars sat staring upon a cold unfeeling world. Static carried neural impulses across the gas of nebulas, where baby stars were born from thousand thousand thousand of dead goliaths, twisting into complex nuclear fusion.

And he looked upon the barren cosmos and asked why he would be alone in the great depths of the universe, for he knew no other signals than his own.

And she whispered into the void that there might be life, that there might be something like him after all, and she reached into the void, with all the caring that the universe had (for caring is a concept only brought about by life) and the Kind Lord touched the first planet and graced it with a spark of life.

And it died within centuries on the molten mass.

And he touched again and found another world.

And she touched again and found another world.

And a thousand worlds burned and died under the Kind Lord’s curious gaze. And from their ashes came the other Gods. From a burning husk of a world, a last effort to attain immortality birthed Lord Knowledge; whose grasp can now be seen in his lasting efforts to entangle in all of science, to twist the world to enlightenment. Her touch is poignant, but glanced off of my mind.

We weren’t looking for that.

I took a step towards the man with the gun, and the rifle snapped over to lay pointed at my heart.

Blood dripped from the man’s nose, drooling down his face and running over his lips. The eyes of the Kind Lord swam through his skull. I could see it percolating through ruined brain cells, where vague vapid life ran slowly like sap from a tree.

“Just tell me,” He hissed, with teeth clicking together like long strands of spider silk.

I took another step forward. The gun shook in his hands.

This was a lie.

But it wasn’t my lie. If my Omoi was gone… if my Omoi was gone. There was no way I’d know what he was talking about.

Not unless someone else was the one providing it.

And the thing I’d been trying to deny since the first time I’d seen the Fey. The nodule that everyone had been trying to deny since the moment I’d met the Fey, the very thing that everyone had been wanting keep from everyone else.

The desire to cling to human form, the clinging to old world artifacts. The Last Best Hope For Humanity.

The pursuit of unaffiliated humans. The ability to use Omoi flawlessly.

I dipped down and grasped Isaac’s gun from the floor. Couldn’t count the bullets, there wasn’t a valid number I could use to describe the wad of brass and lead.

And the Watcher’s man licked his lips nervously. “He said that humanity would make it out alive, Jess,” his voice was familiar. “He said that if we just went along with the plan, we’d all make it out alive. They’d- they’d pass it over.”

“The Gods are never ours,” I said. “You can’t trust them. You failed because you wanted to believe in them. They’re not our parents. They’ll never hold our hands. Pursuing their agendas isn’t ours.”

My hands shook from the pistol in my grip, and the world twisted back and forth like a pretzel because now I

“I can give you this forever. You can leave the world behind, and you can be with them. You can research, you can cling with your fingers to the petty edges of the world you left behind. You can do this. I can give it to you. I can give it to you. We were saved for a reason. I can give you peace.”

My hands shook, tremors going through numb limbs. Numb limbs. Too numb, lying on a floor distant, screaming, crying.

Blood in the air, blood in the air.

I knew, I knew, I knew. I knew what Prince was.

And USEC didn’t suffer pretty glamorous lies.

We confronted the truth.

And

cue

gunshot

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