Kendall had sealed us in. Upon entering my enclosure, the fourth wall had appeared, blocking me off from leaving.
I could only wonder if it was real. Or, if it was a construct.
I’d summoned up a lamp and stacks of books from Aku. I had information I needed to catch up on. It’d been a number of hours already, and I’d devoured several of the texts. My eyes danced over the page of an encyclopedia, studying up on Utopian history.
The Utopian civ formed of the late twenty-first century with a grass roots change in perception. There were one or two early proponents, great thinkers which led the change. In time, the obvious superiority of Utopian thinking subsumed all the religious and irreligious. Wars were short-lived, led mostly by civilian forces against ‘tyrants’.
Difficult times followed. Segregation, cultures died off, hard bargains were struck… birth control or starve in some cases. The poor, the volatile, and the broken were allowed to die, denied anything more than a solemn burial. Socialism ensued. Scientific thought expanded, turned inward instead of outward into the stars. Walls were broken down, big thinking leads to bigger paths. Que the open Omniverse, then the Eidolons.
The year is now twenty-three, eighty-four.
Knock, knock, knock.
It didn’t say that.
There was a faint knocking coming from my bathroom.
I went in and closed the door behind me. I slid in between the toilet and the sink, pressing my ear against the wall.
Knock! Knock! Knock!
Bad timing on my part, I jerked back and pressed a hand to my ear. I knocked twice in return. The wall was unexpectedly thin, I found.
“Hello?” A quiet voice came through.
“Doran here, to whom am I speaking?” I asked.
“It’s Anna. Sorry to disturb you… I just…” She trailed off.
“It’s no disturbance. I can only take so much reading.”
“Oh, good. So what’re you… oh. Reading?”
“Getting a better grasp on the situation. Did you know the Guilds are exclusively allowed to give out Immortality, which is withheld from the masses?”
“Uh, yeah. I-” her sarcasm made her voice drop a little and I lost it through the wall. Wasn’t super important, I was guessing.
“Right,” I said. “Well, it’s all so very practical. Focused on abstract values and concrete logic. Minimizing everything bad, maximizing everything good. Ninety percent of the population is happy, which is actually a statistic they religiously track, here.”
“Again, I was born here.” Ah.
“Well then. What are you doing?”
“Pacing. Looking out my window. Which I don’t even think is connected to a camera. I think it’s a program… Yeah. Heh. God, I’m going out of my mind.”
“Mm. Well, stop.”
“Yeah, I’ll just do that.”
“You will. You’ll gain control, or you’ll remain out of control.”
“That’s… I don’t even know.”
“You just have to stop caring so much. Free yourself, let go of what you don’t truly love. Identify your goals, even if they seem impossible, and then identify a path. Follow the path, and your confidence will help your ability. If your nature requires freedom, I’m thinking, you could always try astral… Anna?” I knocked twice. “You left.”
Well. That was informative… but… my head.
I couldn’t go back to reading, after that. I leaned back onto the soft white floor and let out my dreads. I rubbed my face and closed my eyes.
You’re off track, I voice in the recesses of my mind said. Collect yourself.
I needed to keep my bearings and formulate a path to more control. This situation wasn’t ideal, what with Kendall in charge and all. I could only do so much with subtlety.
All good and evil are dictated by values, a plan by its end goal. What is your want?
I didn’t know. Only a knot in the pit of my stomach replied.
Then you’re small and will remain small.
Somehow, I just didn’t care. I was alive, that was all that mattered.
I slept and was awoken by the rush of air as my cell opened.
Sitting up, I collected myself by binding my hair back and fixing where my pants had tried to ride up in my sleep. As I did so, Odessa passed my enclosure, her sword screeching along the tile as she went. She continued to ignore me, as she’d done since we’d met.
I hopped up and went into the common area, where Odessa was getting something out of a metal box, and Ashmedai was sitting on the furthermost couch in nothing but stained bedsheets. He nodded at me.
“Mornin’ mah nigga,” he called, not taking his eyes off the tv as he did.
I grunted in reply, coming to sit on the opposite end of his couch, in front of the tv. There was porn playing on it. I turned to look at Ash, who smiled without unsticking his eyes. In the corner of my vision, Odessa was coming out of the kitchen, I looked to see her eyes widen for a fraction of a second as she neared us. Ash had changed the video the instant she had turned, giving her an uncomprehending glimpse of a screen filled with flesh. She was left baffled.
There was a Utopian Council meeting on the tv now.
Odessa had a bowl of something soupy, in her unoccupied hand, which was steaming. Kendall was coming out of his room looking groomed, unlike the rest of us. He went to the kitchen and fiddled with the metal box as well. He came over and sat down with cereal. I knew what was happening here.
I got up and went over to the box. There was a display on one side, and a door handle next to it, like a microwave. I punched in ‘oatmeal’. A dozen different descriptives came up on the screen, and options about how it was prepared. Made with milk, very sweet, medium texture. ‘Done’, it said.
I found myself getting really excited. Food. Food was amazing. I hadn’t eaten up til now. There was something special about my first pleasure, like that. Like I’d been living in abnegation until now.
Opening the door, I withdrew a warm bowl filled with perfect oatmeal. Even with a spoon in it. I outfitted a mouthful onto the utensil but had to stop as Kendall snapped his fingers and forced my attention.
Irritating as it was the last time.
He had his phone in hand. “Porter’s not doing a schedule.”
“What?” Anna said, just now coming into the room.
Oh, come on. Kendall had started toward the hall. “The guy’s insane, he’s posted that today’s lesson is at six. We’re forty minutes late.”
Kendall strode past Anna who confusedly turned around and followed. Ash begrudgingly got up and had somehow gotten dressed when I hadn’t been looking. Odessa, who looked like she’d slept in her day clothes like me, followed as well. I went with, and we all marched out into the pitch black cold.
The doors swung open and we found Porter down in the amphitheater. There was one of his other Disciples present. The Samurai.
“Good morning,” Kendall said before Porter could berate him for being late. The Siblings, and most other students for that matter weren’t here, though.
“The day’s practically half over,” Porter joked. He was in a good mood. “You should get up earlier, like… what did you say your name was again?”
“I am called Hasami, Sensei,” the Samurai said. Scissor.
Porter grinned. “Sounds promising.” Strong Attunement, he could sense meanings behind words. A makeshift translative ability. I knew that. “Come sit, Kendall.”
We all took our seats in a spaced out cluster, off to one side.
“You probably noticed that Aku didn’t wake you up for class,” Porter said.
“My orders. First thing everyone does when they get up is check their messages. I wanted to get to know my Disciples, starting with how lazy they are. You didn’t do too bad, I’m still waiting on Miss Beaulieu and her brothers. But in the meantime, I’m sharing wisdom.”
“Can I ask a question then?” Kendall said.
“Right. Um, what’s your teaching philosophy?”
“At this level, I won’t be teaching you. I believe that for someone to truly learn, they have to want to enough to teach themselves. Sort of the Utopian school code. The material is out there, it’s the twenty-fourth century. My job is not to teach, it’s to test.”
“What exactly does that mean?”
“It means many will knock, but few will enter into the doors of greatness by their own power,” I said, jumping in.
“Ooo,” Ash cooed.
Porter pointed at me, then to Kendall. “It’s your job, in the end, to become great. You know why that is?”
He didn’t answer.
“Because men can kill gods. It’s our versatility, our mind, that we conquer truth by,” I said. “Aku is a machine, we are men. You want us to be able to hold our own against gods.”
“Mm,” Porter said. “So your main exercises will be functional.”
Hasami had his hand raised, Porter gestured for him to go.
“When do we begin?”
“We’ve got two disciples present, Hasami and Kendall, so we can start now actually. One meant I’d’ve had to explain again, maybe. Now one of you gets to fill in the Beaulieu’s.” He headed up the steps. “The point of this place is wisdom. That’s true magic’s fuel. So I expect you two can figure out what comes next. Practical training. Today we’re doing nothing but combat calibration.” He grimaced. At me. “And talent assessment, I suppose.”
Things were falling into place for me, I could see the path Porter wanted to take. Why he wanted it. Ultimately this was about him, and he could have taught, but he didn’t want to. He was a fiery crucible, intentionally unhelpful.
There was interconnectedness, though. Everything was entangled, causally, and that meant that morally, there were some terrifying implications to grapple with. I could see the point of the Eidolons as I’d been reading about them the night prior. It was conflicting, though, the whole Peace or Die thing.
I was digressing.
God’s tapestry is not straightly woven. It’s never so simple.
Porter, despite what he conveyed, was part of the bigger picture. There was undue weight to the world around me. Bigger things were brewing.
We all stood and went up to the platform, where Porter had gone. Hasami asked if he might go first, and Porter said yes. Once on the platform, a shimmering distortion crashed down a force field and locked away the platform.
A wireframe man manifested, the barest minimum of a physical simulation opponent.
The wireframe man had a wireframe sword, and he got into a stance with computer-like accuracy. It occurred to me that if Aku wanted, the opponent could be unbeatable, with the kind of mind behind it.
Hasami charged forward and so did the wireframe man. At the moment, they clashed blades, something confusing happened. Several things simultaneously, actually. And when the weirdness had subsided, in the blink of an eye, the Wireman was in pieces. Hasami had made multiple strikes at once, and the results had compounded.
Powerful. I had to wonder if there was a ceiling to what he could do with that.
He gracefully sheathed his katana and turned back to face everyone.
It was too specific an ability to be done with Attunement. Ceremony, complexity rather, had to be involved. I had looked for a rune on the blade but failed to see one. Maybe a very specific meditation, or metaphysical focus. Choice? That’d be interesting.
Porter spoke and pulled me from my wonderment. “The circle is equipped with a protection seal, nothing can die inside it. I expect you to find a challenge in the future, using this ring.”
“Right. Blackthorn, are you at all planning to develop your own offensive abilities?”
“I use a deck of runes, pretty highly developed. Prefab spells.”
“Use the range then to practice. Pick a gun. I can’t tell you how many magus I’ve seen die because the thing trying to kill them simply resorts to brute force. Protection spells almost always falter when things get physical. Put your game face on! I want you to try, and you better fail, to find their limits.” Porter swiveled and then walked off, waving a hand behind him as he went. “Have fun with it.”
“Oh, he’s leaving,” Anna observed.
“Heiya!” Hasami yelled as he obliterated a larger, more defined, simulation while we’d been watching Porter walk off.
The Siblings came through the doors and were looking around.
“Where’s Porter?” The dark haired girl asked.
“You just missed him,” Ashes snidely said.
“Fuck!” She swore.
“And hey, nice ass,” Ashes added. I was surprised that he was this willing to cause problems, this destructive. Predictably, all four of them started towards us, intent to vent their frustration.
And here we go.