⚠️ This episode contains an assault in anger.
— 30 TICKS TO ENDPOINT — FEBRUARY 20XA —
I woke up in the hospital with a start.
I barely remembered the rampage but flashes kept coming back to me, sudden and terrifying. Flashes of being reconstituted; talking to the Forms; and seeing the broken body of GOD before me. The cut that my ARMOR fit perfectly in.
I felt… obsessed, trying to capture as many of these moments as I could. I remembered being gone, just another vibration in non-Euclidean space. I remembered the ARMOR re-separating from GOD after ITS speech. I remembered it picking me up. I remembered emersion into Eu-space. I remembered…
I remembered the hunger. I remembered diving back just long enough to tear the body of the OBSIDIAN BEAST and force its core into Euclidean space, a perfect white sphere. I remembered seeing the ARMORs of the Blasphemy Unit and…
devouring the ARMOR’s torso, just below Alhambra’s cockpit
I woke up again, another start. Hours must’ve passed; I didn’t even realize I passed out again. Still in the hospital, still — I could see the ARMOR kneeling in the parking lot, out the window, almost as tall as the floor I was in right now, still holding the quietly pulsating core in its hand.
I looked up, still… frantic. Until a knock. Sa-keni. I flinched; I didn’t want them to see me… like this, I guess.
“Hera…”, they started. They… kept their distance? “… are you, awake?”
“Uh,” I stammered. “Kinda. Yes.”
Was that relief? They were still… wary in their body language, though. And… angry? They looked at me, straight in the eyes.
“Why did you do that, Hera? Why did you… eat… that ARMOR?”
my body as the new body of an invincible GOD
“I… I wasn’t in control, Sa-keni. I think.”
“You think?”, a voice bellowed from outside. Sa-keni turned, startled. The Hand. Walking into my room, angry, quick. Threatening. My training set in, even as I pulled the IV and oxygen tubes along. Something—anyting to defend myself—I saw an unopened sterile scalpel set on the cabinet near the sink in my room, and quickly scrambled to open it, get one, point it with trembling hands at the Hand—
“You have violated the sacred tenet. You have almost awakened IT.” They stopped, looking at me with a hatred I’ve never seen the equal of. “Awakened GOD.”
And they tackled me to the ground.
“Hhgghhh…”, I stammered. I managed to find some leverage with my elbows, pushed their face away. “Tenet?! How am I supposed to know I am violating anything if I don’t even know what you’re talking about!”
“You ignorant little shit,” they hissed in my ear as they reversed my precarious hold, pinning me down. “You don’t even deserve to—”, and then something pulled their weigh away from me. “LET THEM GO, you idiot!,” yelled Sa-keni as they held the Hand’s torso back in a hold; “We don’t utter that name!” I felt relieved for a moment, but just as I realized that Sa-keni was literally pulling them up and off of me, I started in deep cough fits and the body decided to let me feel all the pain that the adrenaline burst of the situation was hiding from me.
Sa-keni was in my room, but staring into the void, as if they couldn’t see me right in front of them. Two Temple soldiers were holding the Hand away from the room.
“They— the Hand isn’t right— right?,” I asked.
“About GOD? I—”
They flinched at the mention. “You didn’t awaken IT, right?”
“I don’t even know what IT is. It looks like everyone here knows more than I do.”
“I— it’s the mysteric initiation, Hera. You still weren’t ready.”
“Last of the class, huh?”
“Well, yes, but—”
“Sa-keni. We’re friends. Tell me what you know, please. And I’ll tell you what happened. Okay?”
They sighed. Looked into the middle distance again for a short moment. “Okay. It doesn’t leave this room, though. Okay?”
“You know how so many humans used to worship gods, right? Gods that weren’t ever human. Before the Temple took hold, before the Forms.”
“Well… all I know is, sometime before the war started, they found the place beyond pseudo-Euclidean space those gods were from. And, kinda, when they got there, there was this… thing that had taken control of them. So many of them were just… subjugated, I think? By…” She flinched as she said it: “… by GOD ITSELF. A machine built of…”
“So we’re fighting… gods. That half-dead thing above us, the OBSIDIAN BEAST—”
“How do you know that name?!”
“I— I think I was absorbed by it when I got struck by the dart? Like—”
Sa-keni gaped. I continued.
“— like I went in it, and through it, and saw through… its strings? All the way to GOD itself. And then the Forms—”
“The Forms?! The human gods?”
“Yes! They were there. I talked to Subtle and Fine. They said something, something about—”
“How could they have been there?”
“There is a secret in the non-Eu matter, Sa-keni. I saw it! The ARMOR…”
“You don’t understand. I’ve talked to the Forms. I’ve been chosen. I can be invincible, destroy anything that threatens us. I can be the DEMIGOD!”
I fell silent, suddenly. Why was I so… giddy? Eager about it? Why…
“It’s a trick, alright? The Forms ascended Elsewhere using technology to take all the power as far away from GO— from IT as possible once IT was destroyed, so IT could sleep forever. They can’t be in non-Euclidean space. They’re on the side of humanity! They don’t make new GODs or DEMIGODs or whatever! It doesn’t make sense!”
“It’s a trick, alright? Nothing good can come of it.”
“I used that power to rip the BEAST’s heart off, Sa-keni.”
“And that made you eat Alhambra?”
I blanched. Yeah, something didn’t make sense. Why would I need to
It was then that the alarm blared across the city and our net patches came alive.
Temple Control was housed in a room just below the ARMOR bay, a room made of marble carefully infected with neural machine pathways, dark circuit paths streaking the white all over, growing out of the stone and into monitoring terminals and communication stations and a large, central display. The center seat, above the stations, was occupied by Tkan Karoj, Superior of the Temple of Humanity, Protector of the Mysteries. He had been surveying the damage to Alhambra’s ARMOR, the one they called EMBERSHADE, whose non-Eu matter looked like a deep-red ruby, and whose torso was missing, and whose pilot was gone.
“I’m not happy to have to ask you, Hera. But you and Sa-keni are the only ones who can respond right now.”
Status displays projected the status of the pilots in Blasphemy Unit. Alhambra was MIA. Tana was… offline, as if her net patch just had stopped working. (She probably had hacked it to power it down.) The Hand was still arguing with their captors in the live feed. Sa-keni was ahead of me on the stairs. And I was doing the best I could — despite the pain, despite the fact that something felt off in this body, moreso than usual — getting up all the way to the hospital’s roof as my ARMOR rose and its outer matter bent into steps to let me slip into the cockpit again. Without the suit to mediate, the exotic matter felt electric, shocking me a couple times before I could successfully navigate the restraints and slip in.
The briefing had already started by the time the net patch had synchronized in. A video was downloaded into my brain of the OBSIDIAN BEAST opening — not gracefully as it did when it made the dart-shuttles, but like a giant egg suddenly cracking under its own weigh, taken to account by the laws of physics. But it had birthed… something, a humanoid shape made of what appeared to be white mother-of-pearl. “We think it’s trying to imitate humanity still, but this time, it’s trying to imitate us driving ARMORs, which complicates the picture,” said the voice of Tkan Karoj whispering in my head, “and it is dying without its core, and it’s coming to get it back.” I looked down at my ARMOR’s hand, and the large pearlescent core I had stolen, still here after days.
“It’s closing in fast.”
I took flight. Sa-keni was on my three, in close formation. “Let’s make sure we get out of civilian lines?”
Temple Control drove us over an evacuated quarter. When I scanned, I could finally feel it
and a shiver went through my spine. It was… whispering to me, somehow, in a language that I briefly
I shook my head, landed on one of several open-air tennis courts. It must’ve been bustling around here, not a week ago; emptied, the city felt eerie around us. Training kicked in, and Sa-keni’s back was there when I offered mine, scanning wildly to figure out where—
I crashed through the net of the neighboring field and into the audience stands as I vaulted away from the spot where we were standing. In our place, the armor of the OBSIDIAN BEAST had left a small crater, coming in like a cannonball from right above. As I struggled to rise again, I saw Sa-keni quickly dodging its attacks, landing a few punches of their own and trying a grapple with little success — the skin of the armor was oily and slippery, and the moment they grabbed their arms by the wrist it shifted form, less corporeal once more, enveloping them as it extended to reform past toward my position.
I took off to the sky, but the mother-of-pearl stream latched hard onto the outside of my ARMOR, and I felt the familiar vibrations I was immersed in wherever it touched
I shook my head as I noticed it gaining on my arm toward the core that I still held fast to. If I couldn’t soar, I would reverse course, trying to impact as hard as possible — and I did, making it recoil, punching a hole through its nonsolid form and crashing through the fencing around the tennis court and into a small incline down to the street beside it. As I looked up, I saw the mother-of-pearl reforming into an armor—and slowly getting toward me.
I flinched and moved the core away from it with my right hand, and something caught my eye: the body was becoming fluid on the right side, maybe to get ready to fling another adhesive tentacle and take it. And when I moved the core to my left hand, it followed suit, fluidifying its body on the left flank. “Sa-keni?,” I called.
“I have a plan. Trust me?”
“Very well then. Catch!”
And I threw the core at them, a perfect overhead pass. They sprinted — they’d catch it. I knew they would — just as the beast realized it could never turn around to grab it as fast as it needed to as long as it remained solid, and started making its entire form fluid into non-Eu space to charge at Sa-keni without having to deal with gravity and rotation and joints. And it was there — at that point of most fluidity — that I would strike with the Knife and take it out. I charged forward, putting all of me into summoning the Knife again as I rose my hand to stab and, and—
it didn’t come.
The motion, made awkward by the Knife that was supposed to be and wasn’t, was still several tens of feet of non-Eu-matter robot impacting with a running start on a non-Euclidean spot, inflicting severe harm. The armor screamed, its vibrations actually audible in the air as a shrill tone. But it wasn’t lethal, and it was still reaching at Sa-keni, sticking to their feet to make them flinch and fall backwards, as they held fast to the core, as they pushed it away as far from it as possible, as I vaulted over it, one fluid precise motion, landing on the strands that were trapping Sa-keni and severing them from sheer weigh, and then—
—feeling myself faint, helpless, out of breath—
I saw it focusing its body over me, returning it as solid as possible, raising it above, and raining down on me, right where the cockpit lies, to destroy me once and for all.
I mouthed, I love you, Sa-keni, I’m so sorry, and summoned the power of the DEMIGOD.
END OF EPISODE 3:
DESPERATION IS THE ALL-MOTHER. ONTOLOGICAL IMPERATIVE: THE PLIGHT OF PILOTING, AND THE LIES ADULTS TELL TO THEIR CHILDREN.
Episode roll: 4 — the next episode is (episode 3 + 4): Episode 7.
Protagonist roll: 6 — the protagonist came back from the dead.
ARMOR roll: 2 — the ARMOR was temporarily transformed.
IN THE NEXT EPISODE OF PLOT:
(shot: Hera screaming in her cockpit.)
Hera: “I will not use the GODFORM again. You can’t! Please don’t ever make me…”
(shot: an axe that looks like it’s made of solid fire lies at the feet of the Hand’s ARMOR in the hangar bay. Cut to: the Hand looks away, angry, as their spiritual advisor, the Eye of the Severe and Mysteric, is scolding them; cut to the statue of the Fair and Glorious in the temple, holding a human-sized version of that same axe.)
Hand: “I have seen what Hera found in the BEAST. This must be the axe of my god! You were lying to us!”
Eye: “You understand nothing, entitled brat! Not least that some of the Mysteries aren’t for you yet!”
(shot: In the middle part of the Temple tower, floors flood with crystal matter, clearly non-Euclidean, flowing like water would. We get an interior shot of the families of the monks and soldiers screaming as the flood reaches them, and an exterior shot of the matter crashing through the windows and congealing.)
Tana: “I love you. And if the only way to help you is to get myself into an ARMOR again… you better help me make it good. Because I really do not know if I will have that in me again after I do.”
(shot: Tana from the back, on the swing in a children’s playground, at dawn. We don’t see her face, but a dark cloud reminds us that the OBSIDIAN BEAST still hovers the city. Cut to Hera talking behind her:)
Hera: “I— Tana, I—”
(shot: Hera and Sa-keni in their ARMORs enter a large hangar — one filled with now-encased-in-crystal shuttle fighters — that is mostly covered in crystal. The crystal parts on the floor turn into a passage, a frozen whirlpool deeper than what the room actually can hold, and within the path.)
All together: “In the next episode of PLOT: SEVEN: THE BITTEN HAND.”
Sa-keni: “Will it save us?”
(shot: Sa-keni’s ARMOR’s hand reaches for Hera’s and takes it.)
Sa-keni: “Then please take me.”