Reality Matrix

The Reality Matrix was a device of dubious provenance with which you could – should you so desire – alter the very weft and weave of existence itself. You know. One of those sorts of things.

This made it somewhat desirable to those of a frame of mind which led them to believe they knew better how things should be arranged. Villains, in the main.

By an odd twist of cosmic fortune a knot of such villains all happened to approach the Reality Matrix more-or-less at the same time. Exhausted from having just beaten off their own rival heroes or bands of heroes, further fighting was beyond any of them. So discussion broke out.

“Hang on hang on, let’s just try and get it straight here,” said Captain Evil, a straightforward chap, holding up his hands for calm. “What do we want here? Maybe we can figure something out.”

“I wish to end the suffering inherent in life itself, by ending all life. My act of ultimate mercy, my love of-” said a wafty gentleman with an improbable haircut, before Captain Evil cut them off.

“Wait, what? Fucking seriously? What are you, a fifteen year-old boy? What the fuck kind of shithouse logic is that? You have a bad time or something? A rough patch? Figure that if you were miserable everyone else must be too? And then from there you decide that it’s a good idea to just end everything? For everyone? Everywhere? Fucking what? Your decision that life is too hard is a questionable one from a personal standpoint but to then apply that to everyone is just fucking stupid. No, no more from you. Adults are talking now. How about you, sparky?”

This Captain Evil directed to the betentacled, squid-like robot hovering nearby.

“We seek to utilise the device to euthanize all sapient organic life in the galaxy, thus sparing it from being destroyed by its synthetic creations.”

This took Captain Evil a second or so to work out in his head.

“You’re…killing everyone to keep them from being killed by robots?”

“We are only mostly killing them so that they are not completely killed,” the robot said. This distinction was, in its mind, important. To anyone else it was not. Captain Evil just made a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp.

“I’m sorry, what? They’re still dead though, aren’t they?”

“Yes, but organic life will continue,” the robot pointed out, smugly.

“…what? I must be missing a few steps here. How are you valuing life? Indeed, if this is your solution why bother keep it going at all? Have you done this before?”

“The cycle is eternal.”

“Well clearly it’s not because you came from somewhere but that’s as maybe – your whole motivation is jacked. I can’t even – I can’t even wrap my head around it. So robots will always turn on non-robots? Is that your argument? And wipe them out completely unless you do this controlled extermination?”

“Yes.”

“And you’ve seen this happen, I take it?”

“Our predictive simulations show it to be an inevitability.”

Captain Evil took a moment to digest this. He then exploded:

“YOU’RE GUESSING?!”

“The simulations run by our posioptic hyper-brains are-”

“The best simulation in the fucking world is still a simulation! You’ve run this genocide game how many times based on fucking GUESSWORK?! And in so doing – and I can’t believe I have to point this out to you, oh bearer of a posioptic hyper-brain – you’ve become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You are robots killing organics! And I don’t care if you fucking smallprint your way around it by saying ‘Oh but we leave enough alive to evolve again’ that’s a shitty excuse. The fuck is wrong with you? I have a lawnmower at home that realises when it’s wasting its time on something pointless HOW DID YOU MISS THAT UPDATE?!”

Getting increasingly red in the face Captain Evil rounded on the next Villain along, a lumbering cerulean fellow known in the evil community as Big Death.

“Big Death, what was your deal again? What did you want to do?”

“By killing exactly half of all living being in the universe I will bring balance to nature, ensuring that life does not extinguish itself through over consumption,” said Big Death, with the pride of one who plainly thought he had a cast-iron position. Captain Evil just goggled at him.

“Balance? Fucking balance? What the fuck even is that? There is no balance in nature! Equilibrium, sure, I’ll grant you that, but you don’t get there by halving populations! Equilibrium is arrived at by constant struggling settling at a point where no-one can really out-compete anyone else! You can’t FORCE that! If you do you fuck the whole system up! It doesn’t work like that! What the fuck even is balance? Life isn’t a fucking set of scales! Are you insane? And for what? Resources? This thing can rewrite reality! Write more resources! Or literally ANYTHING ELSE! What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“My plan was for half of everything to die…” Big Death mumbled.

“So?” Captain Evil asked and Big Death shifted uncomfortably.

“Well if I don’t follow through on my plan it kind of looks like I’m admitting my plan was wrong,” he said, lamely, as anyone admitting something they’d rather not might.

“It is wrong! It’s so wrong! How did you not work that out?!”

Big Death did not answer, and just looked a little sheepish. But Captain Evil wasn’t finished.

“What fucking timescale was this plan on? You’re talking about galactic extinction due to lack of resources. Wait, not even that, you were talking universal, weren’t you? That’s so far in the future my brain can’t even hold a number that big! And you think halving the population NOW will avoid this?! DO YOU GET HOW POPULATIONS WORK?! Fuck, do you understand BIOLOGY?! When an organism and another organism love each other very much – you following this?!”

“You don’t need to shout…”

“I kind of feel I do! Fucking hell! You’re all unmoored!”

Captain Evil, now bordering on open despair, turned to Baron Von Murderpants, who had yet to speak.

“How about you? What’s your ridiculous scheme?” Captain Evil asked. Baron Von Murderpants shrugged.

“Me? I just want to kill a lot of people. Because I find it gives me a feeling of sexual release. I literally cannot climax unless there is a pile of corpses somewhere in my sightline.”

Throwing his hands up above his head Captain Evil then gestured to Baron Von Murderpants while glaring at all others there gathered.

“Jesus, finally. I mean it’s a bad reason but at least it makes SENSE! At least the logic TRACKS!”

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Flash #1256

The boredom is so intense you feel as though it pressing you into your seat, like a weight, something stronger even than gravity. Surely they can’t still be talking?

Yes, they are still talking. About the same thing? It’s hard to tell. You stopped listening long ago. They didn’t appear to notice.

Surreptitiously you check your watch. Time must have passed by now, at least a little bit. Even a smidgen closer to the time you get to leave would be something. Perhaps you could excuse yourself early?

“NO ESCAPE,” says your watch.

They’re still talking.

Panic wells in your gut. Suddenly, you realise you can’t bear to be there for a minute longer – a second longer! You have to get away! Your eyes alight on the knitting needles.

Seizing one in your fist you plunge it into your ear before you have a chance to reconsider.

Nothing happens. Not even pain.

They’re still talking.

“NICE TRY,” says your watch.

You start to cry.

Flash #1010

“As a corporate entity we obey every law and rule we are required to obey in order to operate legally.

It is simply a case that we have leveraged our vast resources and influence to ensure that the rules and laws we have to obey are not the rules and laws you, a citizen, must obey.

They are, you might say, more lenient. They, you might say, grant us greater lattitude. They serve, you might say, to make us exempt from punishment for behaviour you would be held accountable for, were it you doing it.

But it is legal for us to act in such a way, and so it is just.

Do you see?”

Bottled Up

Perhaps a good fifteen or twenty feet across, James’ platform was just one of many such little outcrops throughout the cave, albeit one of the few ones large enough to live on. The light from his fire let him see maybe two or three others in the distance but they were more like stalagmite than platforms, really. No use to anyone.

He didn’t mind though. Life on the platform was more comfortable than you’d expect, though lonely. James didn’t think he’d ever seen another person, now he came to think about it. Or if he had he certainly couldn’t remember it. Every day in the cave it was just him on his platform with his tiny hut and his fire and the silent, echoing sounds of absolutely nothing else. He was pretty used to it.

After gathering cave wood (which sprouted from just under the lip of the platform and was only moderately perilous to collect), getting his fire going and seeing to the essentials of life James would – without fail – settle down to write something. What he wrote varied, though he tried for narrative consistency in his story about an adventurous cave vole. He named the vole Harold, and enjoyed thinking up nail-biting events for him to wrestle with.

Sometimes he just didn’t feel like doing that one though, which was okay. Sometimes he liked to mix it up. Dipping a specially sharpened piece of cave-wood into a puddle of cave-ink (the source of which remained a mystery to him) and setting it to cave-parchment James would write down whatever he felt like that day.

Once he was done he would roll said parchment, slip it into his bottle and send off into the cave dangling beneath the heavily repaired lantern he had for just such a purpose. It just felt like the thing to do. He would sit and watch the little light of the lantern growing smaller and smaller as it drifted off into the cave before finally turning that far corner and winking out from sight. It’d be back.

The source of the bottle was another mystery (most things in the cave were, to be honest). Many years ago, when James had been a younger man, he had once woken up to find the bottle on his platform. This had been a first for James, and he had been understandably surprised – so surprised he didn’t notice the sad, deflated remains of the lantern the bottle had ridden to get there until afterwards.

Inside the bottle had been a poem. He hadn’t even liked it that much if he was honest, though it had helped him get the fire going that one time the cave-wood supplies had got a bit thin. More though, it was what the poem represented that hooked his interest. Someone else was out there! Someone else sitting in a cave James had always thought he was the sole occupant of. What was more, this meant there was a definite means of reaching them!

A quirk of the airflow within the cave – which was well-known to James, pioneer of the parchment-airplane as he was – was a particular stream of air that ran more-or-less in a complete circuit around the known interior of the cave. Or at least that was what James thought. Given the darkness it was hard to tell, but his few experiments with it had seen a crude craft of his own design float off into the gloom and return the next day none the worse for wear. The lantern, he imagined, would fly much better. It did.

No-one ever replied. Whoever had sent the poem in the first place – and anyone else who might have happened to be in the way – apparently didn’t feel the need to comment on it.

James knew they were getting them, too. It wasn’t like they weren’t. The bottles always came back and they always came back empty. There was no-way the parchment could just fall out. He’d fixed the bottles so they couldn’t. The first time his bottle came back sans-writing he imagined that their response would be forthcoming in another bottle. Perhaps they needed some time to write it, but thought that James would still need his bottle. How considerate of them, James thought. So he waited.

But they had never sent anything. James was torn between the terror of sounding needy by producing something new and the nagging worry that they might need his bottle to reply in the first place. He kept waiting, just to hedge his bets. Some time later, he finally cracked and wrote something else. The bottle came back empty, again.

Maybe they were still writing responses to the first and now needed time for the second, he thought, starting to wait again. Eventually James stopped waiting and just wrote something every time the bottle came back. It kept getting opened and it kept getting emptied, and James continued to sit on his platform alone and in silence, writing for when the bottle would come back and sending it off again when it did.

Maybe his work wasn’t good enough. This idea popped out of nowhere one day and stopped James in his tracks. Objectively, living without any real constructive feedback, James had no way of knowing how good or not what he was doing might have been. But now the idea was in his head. He quickly became convinced that it must have been pretty bad – why else wouldn’t they reply? Why else wouldn’t they say anything?

Not having a single clue what was expected of him, James tried much harder. Of course, he had no idea what this meant, so in practical terms he just ended up losing weight from worrying about his performance – which dipped. The bottles kept leaving and kept coming back empty, and James’ desperation grew as his frame shrank. He had to do better, he had to try harder.

Maybe they didn’t like Harold the vole. James could understand that. Now that he looked back over what he’d done, he could admit Harold the vole was stupid. He could see why they’d ignored it. He’d have ignored it too. It was stupid. Boring. How had he not realised that before? He’d do much better. Forget the vole. He’d never waste his time on that again. He’d try something else. He’d make something better.

Or at least he’d try. He told himself he would. He thought he’d tried, but they still hadn’t replied. Maybe he was getting worse? Maybe he was doing it wrong? He asked the cave but the cave said nothing. It was just dark and quiet. It told him nothing.

James was pretty sure he was getting worse. It didn’t help that his trousers kept falling down. They used to fit him quite well, now not so much. He made a belt but it stopped working after a while. He was finding it harder to get to sleep. It was just so quiet. He’d never been bothered by it before but now it was impossible to ignore.

With his hands shaking so much now it was hard to write. His fires weren’t as bright anymore either since he was getting so difficult to gather wood for it, and it didn’t help that he was just so tired all the time these days. Eating hurt. Some days he couldn’t even gather enough energy to write. Some days he forced himself to but all that came out were scrawls he couldn’t read and couldn’t remember what they meant in the first place. Not that it mattered. No-one ever replied. He doubted they even noticed, whoever they were, wherever they were.

One day, lying curled up by his dying fire in an effort to ward off the cold – he was always cold now – James caught a flicker of something moving in the corner of his eye. With supreme effort he pushed himself onto his elbow and peered up. His heart practically burst when he saw another bottle drifting towards his platform. A new bottle. One he’d never seen before.

Dragging himself on his belly across the platform he frantically swiped at the bottle, catching it out of the air. Rolling onto his back he struggled with trembling fingers to open it and, after much effort, managed. The cork rolled off the edge and fell away out of sight, but James didn’t care. Up-ending the bottle he held it with both hands and gave it a shake, watching the rolled parchment sliding its way out before plopping onto his chest. He unfurled it.

It was another poem. From the same person as the first, judging by the sstyle.  It made no mention of James’ vole, their opinions on James’ vole, their opinions on anything else he’d ever done or indeed any sign they were aware of him at all. Even though they clearly must have been. They had to be. They’d been opening his bottles. He knew they had. James read it twice to be sure, then a third time, then a fourth through tears.

Maybe he just wasn’t good enough yet. Maybe he still had to try harder.

Letting the empty bottle follow the cork off the side of the platform James pulled himself over to his hut and fumbled around inside for fresh parchment and his old bottle. Sniffling, his writing completely illegible, ink splashing down and mixing with his tears, he forced himself to start something new. Something they’d like this time.

He’d try harder. He had to try harder.

END

Flash #693

Baron Von Mischief frowned.

Hands on his hips he was pacing back and forth before the Grand Battle Board.

The Grand Battle Board was in place to help the Baron better plan and keep track of his conquests. That was what it was meant for, at least. Right now it wasn’t really doing that. Right now the only conquests on display were those of his enemies.

This was why he was pacing.

He stopped suddenly and whirled on his underlings, making them all flinch.

“What’s wrong with this picture?” He asked, voice booming the way it always did. He just couldn’t help it. It was just the way his vocal chords were set up. His physiology lent itself to being an evil baron.

Someone tentatively raised a hand and Baron Von Mischief pointed for them to speak.

“Uh, the colours are a bit too bright?” This someone suggested. This was not the right answer. Baron Von Mischief smashed something due to how not-right it was.

“We’re losing! That’s what wrong! You see all this? All these lines? These little bits moving around? All of them are moving in the wrong direction! We should be pushing out and crushing all before us but instead we’re the ones being crushed! How is that?”

No-one even bothered to try and answer this time. Baron Von Mischief carried on.

“They’re the good guys! We’re the bad guys! We’re meant to be the ones who are bigger! Bigger guns! More troops! Vast legions of faceless minions! We’re meant to be outnumbering them! You know, for every soldier killed another ten take their place! That’s meant to be us! Not them! They’re not meant to have limitless eager volunteers! They’re meant to be the plucky underdogs searching for a last desperate gamble that can turn the tide! Not us! We’re meant to be the ones on top!”

There was much shuffling of feet and staring down at hands but not a lot of replies to this. There wasn’t anything anyone could really say. For a lot of them this was their first time being in the employ of an evil baron bent on villainy. They didn’t really know what it was they could do differently.

Baron Von Mischief did not care about the lack of experience, only about a lack of results. This wasn’t his first time at the evil rodeo and he, frankly, was deeply disappointed with how things were turning out.

He’d done everything right! He’d followed all the rules! All the usual steps! And for what? To have it all just fall to pieces before his very eye. It wasn’t fair. Baron Von Father and Baron Von Mother (his mother and father, respectively, each from a long and prestigious line of Barons who had been barons) would be spinning in their graves watching him flounder. If there’d been enough of them to bury.

Which there hadn’t been.

“We’re the ones who made pacts with dark powers!” The Baron said, gesturing towards said power’s representative who was sat off to the side. The representative gave a sheepish little wave on being pointed out. It was unused to human attention in this way (and also had a sneaking suspicion it was going to catch it in the neck for all of this going South – there always had to be a scapegoat).

“We should be raining all manner of hellish woe onto their goody-goody heads but instead they managed to go and find some other supernatural entity to be buddies with. And it’s better than ours! How does that make sense? The good guys are just meant to have – at best! – a chosen one with special powers. Chosen one! Just one! They have an army of these superpowered fuckers! They can shoot lightning! It’s fucking ridiculous!”

Baron Von Mischief had always wanted to shoot lightning. He’d sort of hoped the dark pact with the dark powers of dark darkness might have involved some access to lightning shooting, but the representative of the powers had told him that they didn’t do lightning anymore.

The good guys had found someone who did lightning, apparently. The good guys had lightning to spare.

Apparently.

They were certainly very generous with it whenever they met any of Baron Von Mischief’s troops. They were dispensing the stuff like it was going out of style.

“…we could try giving out some rubber shoes?” Suggested Quartermaster Bloodsock, as delicately as a beefy Scotsman with four arms could manage. Baron Von Mischief shot him a very sour look.

“Yes. That’ll solve all our problems. Brilliant.”

No-one else seemed to want to say anything after this. No-one seemed to really want to be there at all.

“I’m going to go and have a bath,” Baron Von Mischief said, stomping off in a strop.

Flash #645

The sea of flesh churned. From it bubbled up some recognisable features. Some eyes, some noses.

I tried to pull something together from it all, but I couldn’t.

“You could be anyone,” I said.

The features melted away, and I was alone.