Layla Noir VII
So, I know I’m kind of going in circles here, but this is how he told me, I swear. I’m not leaving anything out. He gets to that emergency he mentioned, as well as some other stuff, but he wanted to talk about that gang first for some reason. I assume you want to hear that, too?
Uh huh. So he says to me…
“The Straight and Narrow. I believe they are part of the subgroup known as Neo-Nazis? Although they seemed to prefer the term “Alt Right”, which confused me to no end. I had multiple disagreements on the Internet about this. No matter the correct term, they are beings that assume, as so many humans mind-bogglingly do, that the colour of their shell somehow automatically earns them dominance over others at birth. How droll. Imagine if a ruler of beings were to say that his progeny deserved to rule, simply because it shared his blood!”
“Yeah… we had those for a long-ass time. In fact, I think we still do. They were called kings, emperors, and nowadays, dictators.” I chuckled, having gone far enough off the deep end at this point to find anything about my current situation amusing.
“Oh…”, said he, “… once again, my ignorance embarrasses me. I would have thought that it was obvious that merit must be earned, ergo, no one can be born into it. Fascinating. The Neo-Nazis make more sense to me now; is this type of thinking part of your culture?”
“Unfortunately”, I sighed, “it kind of is. I mean, those racist bastards are just crazy, but a lot of people who seem much more sane basically believe the same thing they do.”
“Crazy? As in, lacking sufficient mental capacity?”
“Uh, sure. Yeah. Crazy, all fucked up, dumb, wrong. Whatever term you want.”
“Fascinating…”, he paused, obviously trying to phrase something delicately for my sake, “Do you… do you think that everyone who disagrees with you is crazy? I spent much time interacting with members and would-be members of The Straight and Narrow and I can say, with conviction, that many of them had more than sufficient mental capacity. Further, they would call you crazy for even considering a partnership with one such as I. The things they say about those with darker shells… yes. You are crazy, they are not; this would be their position on the matter”.
“OK but… that’s bullshit though?”, I sputtered, frustrated, “obviously I’m right. You said it yourself, it doesn’t make sense to hate someone simply because of the colour of their skin or who gave birth to them, just like it doesn’t make sense to assume your superiority based on the same shit!”
“This is true… from my point of view. But I am not so arrogant as to assume that mine is a description of objective reality. While I haven’t been able to see any hard evidence for the innate superiority of the pale ones, I am still woefully ignorant of your ways in comparison to one of you. Maybe I am wrong… Does my saying this anger you? Consider this: I can only assume that you would claim to be superior to a bird, or a fish, yes? But are you not making the same argument, that the physical properties of your shell and the biological circumstances of your beginning determine this superiority?”
I didn’t know how to answer. Obviously, he was wrong. Racism makes no sense. Whether or not you believe it, I had friends on the force of all races and backgrounds, at least at various times. They were all different, with different pros and cons found in knowing them, but none of them were better or worse than anyone else because of their skin colour. But… I had never thought about his question. Why am I so sure that I’m better than animals? “Look…” I began, then trailed off…
“I see I have awoken a thought. Good”. This was his muttered response. “This philosophical discussion aside”, he continued, “I quickly understood the fear, repression and self-esteem issues that creates would-be members of a gang such as the one I was attempting to build, so I slowly began having more and more success finding recruits or even manipulating people into wanting to join. As the numbers swelled, so too did the difficulty of being their leader while wearing a mask on my mask. Eventually they would see my shell, and all would fall apart. Even still, at this point I had already succeeded, more or less. The Straight and Narrow were on their feet, they had taken over some territory previously possessed by the underground hegemony, and they were poised to create stories of conflict for years to come. This was where I brought about my own downfall. Maybe I was overzealous, maybe I was nervous, maybe I was just enjoying myself too much, I’m not sure, but I decided to elect a figurehead and then work from the shadows behind him.”
“I guess you were inspired by our government and dominant political ecosystems here, right?”, I joked, too far gone now to even pretend I wasn’t going crazy. At this point, I was sure of it…
“Yes”. This was spoken deadpan, without a hint of mirth. I guess he hadn’t been studying comedy for all that long… “Yes I was. It seems to work for your rulers, major banks and corporate entities. I figured, why not for me as well? I believe my mistake was that I chose too well. The fervor of the acolyte I raised up to leader was too vast. He quickly grew tired of me. You are likely unaware, but the faction that captured you, the one you stole my device from, that was actually a small cell that splintered off to defend me and my rule. Their loyalty is the reason my story continues. Many were ended in my defence. I do not take joy in this, but I do not grieve, either. Each being tells their own story. This is how it should be”.
“Enough of your philosophy bullshit. The fucking device, man, hurry this story up!” I was frustrated. I had finally managed to find some small bit of sanity from deep, deep inside my freshly mangled mind, and I was kind of done with story time.
“Ah. You float, motionless, with nowhere to go, and yet still you wish to rush along through life. How very human. Say that this conversation ends in your end. Shall I still rush?… or maybe I am too harsh. I am enjoying having someone to finally tell my true stories to. I apologize. I have been lonely. Briefly, that device was my way home. It allows one to travel between different narratives, although its power is weak. It can only make jumps to narratives that are… nearby… in ways that you likely could not understand. I myself have difficulty with advanced theory of this nature. As mentioned, it is my backup, for that very reason. I originally came here with a much stronger piece of technology that would have allowed me to visit any narrative that I could successfully direct it to, but my misfortune began immediately upon my arrival. You did not laugh earlier, but would you now if I told you that my landing, my point of impact if you will, was directly in the middle of an outer-space-themed music festival? We aim to arrive in empty fields but our reconnaissance was out of date. Consequently, I was accosted by what I believe you call “raver chicks” who, as I now understand, thought me to be one of the acts due to the spectacular nature of my arrival. One seemed very interested in removing my outer garments, and during the scuffle, my mode of transportation was taken from me.”
I did laugh. I laughed very, very hard. The thought of some drugged-out chick desperate to fuck this alien being just because she thought he might be famous was too much. I couldn’t stop. First I was chuckling, then laughing, then I graduated to a bit of a guffaw before falling into what most would call maniacal cackling. My new partner seemed unnerved. For minutes on end, I just couldn’t stop. Finally, I managed to calm down a bit…
“Understanding of comedy still eludes me, it seems”, he said, with what I swear was a hint of a real smile on his face, “I had no idea it would be that funny. Laughter aside, you may have guessed that my major mode of transportation resembled what you call a belt, and this female took it from me. Luckily, I did manage to clutch my bag with enough strength and stamina to retain it and all the items within, such as that device, as I made my escape”.
He paused, gazing almost reverently at The Device, which still pulsed its magical colours on the bed. This time, I let him pause. I wouldn’t have admitted it, but I was kind of starting to like the guy. Hence my earlier rebellion to you… which I won’t repeat! Just saying. This feels kind of scummy, you know?
Ah fuck, what do you care? That pause of his lasted almost longer than I wanted to allow, then, “I guess I was arrogant. I should have hidden it away somewhere. Instead, I thought that by impressing my Narrow Zealots further, I would avoid future betrayal. I was wrong. One of my followers, the oldest one, began to covet… oh, I guess your language has no word for this thing. My backup, uhm…”
“If I understand things even a little, I’d call it your…”, I stopped for a moment, thinking, “…lifeboat? Escape pod? Ace in the hole? Uhm…”
“Escape pod seems fitting. My zealot began to covet The Escape Pod. It seems that the beauty of its design and production materials are unparalleled in this narrative. I had no idea. To shorten my tale, as already I worry I may be boring you, I attempted to assert my ownership of The Escape Pod, and he did not like this. That is how I found myself, lightly injured but determined to continue my story, watching from across the street as you drove off in your vehicle with my Escape Pod and the blood of my attacker on your hands. I followed you to your apartment, and I sought to gain entry. Now I realize what I already suspected: this was when you bonded with my Escape Pod and made it yours. As it was not designed to recognize your genetic material, my theory is that it simply brought all organic matter within a certain radius of itself with you as you travelled. I am no master of data by the standards of my people, so I can only guess, but I would assume that the vast differences between our Narratives would mean that your internal coding is more similar to that of any other living thing in this Narrative than it is to mine. Therefore, sensing one thing it did recognize nearby and hundreds it did not, and having ownership of it granted to a being that resembled the confusing multitude instead of the singular entity it did recognize, my theory would be that it prioritized a certain kind of safety over accuracy and brought all organic matter that was at least within the circle formed by you and I along for the trip that you accidentally embarked upon. I have only travelled once, with my main device, but I was warned that The Escape Pod would be a more turbulent ride. I did not expect it to be that turbulent. I was thrown away somehow during the landing, thankfully without serious injury, but I was no longer conscious. I assume that you left your apartment during this time, for I awoke to the sounds of authority figures and their vehicles, the smell of flesh beginning to rot, and a distinct lack of what I was so desperately searching for. Now, I believe, you are finally aware of who I am and how our Narratives connect. I apologize if I waxed on in areas that could have been condensed…”
I couldn’t speak for a minute or two. There was too much in my head, all tumbling around, wrestling, fighting to be the one outrageous thing that I would finally accept and react to, but there was just too much. Finally, I managed to take control of my vocal chords once again, but barely, and asked, “so, what… I’m in an alternate reality now? Another Narrative? And that thing can get me home?”
“Maybe…” he quietly allowed, a worried look on his face.
“So what the fuck are we waiting for?!”, I yelled, suddenly madly furious. My calm broke apart like a poorly constructed dam and I was screaming, “fucking go already! Show me how to use it! I just want to go home!!! You fucking asshole, stop staring at me, unfreeze me and…”
He let me go on for a while. Eventually, the tide receded, and I realized it had gotten me nowhere. Quietly, sadly, he sighed, and then he spoke, “there is one thing I have not told you. Remember the emergency I mentioned earlier? It is now relevant. The reason I left in a hurry is the same reason that we cannot simply go home… as far as I know, The Editors have fallen, and their technology now belongs The Overarching Chancellor. Every day, I try to believe that I am not the last, but I have found no evidence of others in the nearby Narratives. When you took The Escape Pod, you removed a small cord from it. Had you not left with such haste, you would have seen it wither and melt away. This cord served two functions: firstly, it held what we could call the coordinates of my home, my Narrative, within it. No human machine has the capacity of memory to retain such a large amount of data, therefore, without it, I can only guess or maybe hope that The Escape Pod itself can help me to recover what was lost. The second purpose was somewhat like the heavy devices you use to keep the tide from moving a boat. An anchor, I believe? This held it in your Narrative while allowing me to observe others. Bereft of this cord, neither of us have our home address. Neither of us can go home, if we even have a home to go to”.
Author’s Note: Confused? Find part VI of this sci-fi noir novel that I am writing and releasing live, at least one chapter every two weeks, right here. Enjoy! I really am excited for people to read upcoming chapters and I hope to hear back from people soon :) Leave a comment if you have anything to say about this story so far, where you think it is going, where you want it to go… whatever you like. Thank you for reading!