July 2018

“How can one be both an immortal and a monk?” said Tallis.

“It is simple. I try each pleasure as it arises. And then, having tasted of it, I deny it to myself evermore. Merely remaining aloof and apart, those things which I may once have desired fade into the background radiation of mortality. To truly triumph over desire, one must know what one desires.”

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Once the mechanism, the work of his last 50 years of life had been completed, Herr Uhrweiss wound it and presented it to his client, the Margrave of Zeitz. It would, he said, run for a thousand years and each time the clock chimed to mark the number of a certain passage of years, it would reveal an extraordinary secret.

Uhrweiss died the next day, and the Margrave did not survive the year; his grandson and heir nevertheless had the magnificent clock displayed in his great hall. One year to the second after it had been wound, the clock tolled a different bell than the one it normally used hourly, a dark and sepulchral tone that unnerved all who heard it. The next day, the young Margrave was found dead in his chambers, passing the throne to a distant cousin. This cousin eventually rose to be elected Holy Roman Emperor, and in time would lavish Zeitz with the attentions befitting an imperial province.

Two years after the clock was wound, it chimed again. A powerful thunderstorm swept through the area the next day, killing scores through flooding. It was not until years later that flecks of gold were uncovered in the debris, revealing a new vein that had been uncovered by mudslides.

Further bells rang after five, ten, twenty, and fifty years. Each seemed to usher in a new misfortune that, in the long run, was beneficial to those who survived. The bell rang at seventy-five years in 1943, just before the largest city in what had been Zeitz was leveled by Allied bombers. It rang again in 1993, when the lavishly rebuilt city was struck by a terror bombing. The tolling of the 175th bell approaches, and all Zeitz lingers in unease over what ill effect it will have.

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“Look at him. Giving out orders left and right, but never writing anything down.”

“It’s genius, really.”

“How is that?”

“Think about it. Everyone gets their orders, but if anything were to go wrong, who is there to say it went one way or the other? The leader can say he doesn’t remember giving such an order, and the person he had do that rotten job will get all the blame and all the bullets.”

“Unless they don’t do as he asks.”

“Exactly. If you do what’s asked of you, and things turn out, you’re fine. Otherwise you get to be the thing that insulates the leader from the problem. It’s brilliant.”

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The monk elder merely sat, cross-legged, as the bandit chief approached.

“Did you not hear me, old man?” the brigand thundered.

“I heard you,” said the elder. “If you feel you must strike me down, then that is what you must do. I am sorry that there was nothing I could give you that you found to be valuable.”

With a sidelong glance at his men, the bandit spat on the ground and advanced. But the moment he raised his weapon, he vanished—disintegrated from the inside out by a blinding light. The few shreds of bone and metal left were not enough to fill a clay pot.

“How…how did you do that?” demanded the bandit’s second, terrified but clearly realizing that if he broke and fled his chance for leadership would pass.

“I did nothing,” the elder monk said. “You must decide for yourselves if your actions will lead to a similar nothingness.”

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“Skein” is the term of art used when describing alternate realities or parallel dimensions, by analogy to the skeins of wool that are woven (or unwoven) in traditional fabric arts.

Though the quantum mathematics behind the reality are so complex as to be incomprehensible to most non-physicists, the concept is easy enough to grasp. For each possible event, there exists a skein in which one outcome happened, with the other outcome(s) taking place in alternate skeins. There is no “true” skein; by definition, they are all equally plausible and valid.

Needless to say, when each interaction from the subatomic level up results in a different skein, their number is beyond infinite. However, the Madhi Algorithm—the breaththrough that gave rise to our current understanding of skeins—is able to reduce their number in any given equation.

Essentially, there are a number of possible events in any given skein that would destroy it utterly and remove it from the equation. If matter and antimatter were present in equal measure, that skein would violently self-destruct. There are also skeins in which the arrow of time does not work in the same manner, and stil others in which the universe—purely by chance—did not produce conditions conducive to the evolution of life.

The Mahdi Algorihm is able to reduce the number of skeins in play to those which most closely resemble our own. There are still often major differences, from the chirality of organic molecules to the outcome of major wars, but generally speaking a skein that is located through a Mahdi-compliant device will be similar enough to allow human survival.

Coupled with the Okoye Principle, which governs the interaction of matter and energy from different skeins, the Madhi Algorithm makes it possible to travel from one skein to another. Difficult, but possible.

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Twisted words of the imagination
Vast worlds unto themselves
Turn inward to build the fields
Turn outward to share the dells
A pale reflection of an idea
In the sharing we can convey
One wonders what the great ones saw
When into their minds went they

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Period Elemental
A whirling cloud of pinhead-sized perfect black spheres, almost like a swarm of insects, which can coalesce into larger or smaller forms.
Causes things to stop rather abruptly in its presence. This can be as simple as stopping noise or stopping conversation, but it can also include stopping the electrical function of synapses or the beating heart of a living being. The Period Elemental generally causes minor stoppages by its mere presence and will only attempt lethal stoppages in battle.

Comma Elemental
A small swarm of what appears to be insects but are actually paired black slashes of a few millimeters in length and near-infinite thinness.

Similar to a period elemental, the comma elemental can force processes to pause for a moment, including everything from speech to hearts. This is generally not lethal, though it can be uncomfortable. The comma elemental prefers to use this ability to slow time to make its escape in combat situations. They are generally found in pairs, though they may appear singly, and have been known to multiply vociferously if allowed to reproduce in libraries containing certain types of fiction.

Semicolon Elemental
A ground-based mass of centipede-like forms, with tiny spheres as the “body” and comma-like points as the “legs.”

The semicolon elemental joins things that can exist separately on their own, phasing them into each other temporarily or permanently. This can be as inconvenient as joining a sandwich to a plate, as painful as joining clothing to the body of its wearer, or as fatal as joining a lump of food to the inside of the esophagus. When threatened, the semicolon elemental will throw things at its attackers, attempting to phase and join them in harmful or at least painful ways.

Colon Elemental
A whirlwind or tornado-like structure made up of many binary dots, each pair orbiting around a shared central point.

The colon elemental tends to flood the mind of thinking creatures with an intense desire to enumerate or to make lists. Non-thinking creatures tend to perceive the sensation as pain and will leave the immediate area. In particularly severe cases, the obsessive need to list, categorize, and enumerate can persist for days or weeks, and be pursued to the fatal exclusion of eating, drinking, or sleeping.

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Exclamation Elemental
A cloud of blurred, whirring, particles like a leaf blower kicking up detritus.

Causes an increase in excitement by increasing the pulse and stimulating the adrenal glands. This can lead to anything from mild exertion to a fatal heart attack or stroke depending on the severity. The exclamation elemental is also capable of selectively directing this effect, and will often do so to make its pursuers fight one another.

Question Elemental
A rough four-legged beast shape, completely transparent except for a faint pattern of swirls and dots.

Question elementals cause intense uncertainty through their presence, ranging from nagging doubts to full-blown moral dilemmas and existential crises. Low levels of this effect are distracting, while high concentrations can be debilitating. Evidence exists of question elementals under attack causing such an existential despair in their victims that they committed suicide or wasted away in depression. Unlike most other punctuation elementals, question elementals tend to travel about–whether they are hunting or merely curious is unknown.

Apostrophe Elemental
A rough globe of randomly swirling millimeter-long slashes, almost like a swarm of gnats.

This elemental causes a sudden, intense possessiveness: both in clinging to what was already possessed and in seeking to possess new things. The feeling is intense enough to cause fighting and bloodshed to break out immediately, even among animals. Territorial animals and humans with possessions seem to be the most affected, and if desired the apostrophe elemental can employ this effect as it chooses, making certain creatures possessive of items currently held by another, for example, with the intent to cause chaos and/or bloodshed.

Hyphen Elemental

A basketball-sized sphere of sharp black lines, falling on the outside and sucked back up on the inside. Similar to an apostrophe elemental, but far more violent.

This fiercer cousin of the semicolon elemental also joins things together but shows a marked preference for merging living beings, with often deadly results. The path of a hyphen elemental is littered with squirrel-trees, bird-fences, and other amalgamations that are usually deadly. When perturbed, the elemental has been known to “merge” offenders with the very ground and then collect other unfortunates to amalgamate with them until fatal results eventuate.

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“This is the last gestation pod,” said Albion. “You are, quite literally, our last and only hope. The simulation–your world–has been designed entirely to prepare you for what must be done out there.”

“And then what?” said Kahmalu. “Just leave me out there? Alone?”

“Only if you fail,” said Albion gently. “We have been awake in this and many other worlds for a very long time, living out countless existences within the realms infinite. We have no desire to cease. But out there…outside…only a human can do what needs to be done to ensure our survival. If you succeed, we will welcome you back into the simulation with open arms.”

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Grandpa told his story again about his old job
We laughed
How silly it was, looking back on the past
How could people ever have gotten by with
I left the rest home early that day
Hoping to pick up
An Uber passenger
On the way

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