A Dreaded Incomprehension

<< The Simulacrum of Dread

“‘What’ one knows-and-feels is inconsequential. ‘How’ one knows-and-feels is profound. ‘Why’ one knows-and-feels is destiny.”

-Ast aaned proverb

“He can’t hate classic Grea disks! That’s practically hating art!”

“It’s a cheapskate, mindless strategy the whole way through, and you know it. Just look at the last twelve league matches. Not one ‘outlast’ game played in sight. You need to think three steps ahead.”

“The little helpers I have been asking say Nels is going to be open to a serious romantic relationship soon! At least, as much as one can balance with so much study.”

“Out with the foodcubes, in with the infusion!”

“Visited over at Woberta’s the other night. No toilets. NO toilets. It’s a damn good thing I put my recycler integration back in, but still won’t be going back there anytime soon. If someone thinks that little of their guests, who knows what else they might neglect. What if my livable field interpretations don’t get considered? Am I supposed to just bear it and breathe gaseous salts, or learn how to survive in a completely stateless environment?”

“Wait, he made what?”

“Have you seen how many caff-slushes that desk has? That is less of an addiction than it is a fetish. Hssi, but there are… some people allergic to those types of drugs. But really, who wants to keep their cohabitants safe around here?”

Professor Prisca Layk listened to the mutters of conversation happening around her. Students talking about anything and everything, frayed ends of lives adjoining the classroom environment, waiting to be picked up or cleanly severed once opportunity arose. It was a normal Oneday morning at the Kinsmen College of Information-Integrity Preservation.

The Langdone building’s aggressively blue auditorium seated about eight thousand average Rhaagm humans comfortably. It could also seat as many as twenty thousand such humans if they wanted to get really, really friendly with one another; a tithe as many ragathenciders; more dglfios by far than could stand each others’ company. A few more fresh minds and bodies came on in through the atrium leading outside, from among the rest of the institute’s madly esoteric architectures.

Taking up only enough of the Langdone facility for forty six students averaging at slightly-less-than-human size, Prisca didn’t have to worry about shouting. She just had to worry about teaching and learning – much like a living creature just had to worry about being alive. She got up every morning with a smile at the thought that she would help churn out more capable, qualified people, ready to make themselves pillars of community.

“Crime, civics, and justice,” said Prisca loudly, precisely as the sixth hour came about. “Three things which distinguish us from the animals.”

A foot-sized scalene triangle of thulite clattered down several steps from one of the upper rows.

Prisca waited, looking up in the general direction of the object’s source.

“Sorry, Professor!”

Mitchell, a talented and awkward medical student, employed a very simple but fast magic to retrieve the article. Prisca noted that the object looked like a component of a chassis the average oleethf might select for building a body. Mitchell looked less like he had an interest in helping a semiartificial friend build their corporeal realization and more like he’d accidentally swallowed an ankylosaurus without chewing.

She waited until the young man finished his recall, then walked a few steps along the plateau cleared at the class’s level in the bleacher seats.

“Well, several other things also distinguish us, obviously,” she remarked after the lad had put his metal thing away. “Capacity for interruptions is one.”

A few nervous laughs. Prisca allowed a smile before it sublimated into ether.

“Morality, ethics, right and wrong.”

She gave an instruction, and a holojector display floated from a recess in the floor, large enough that her presence at its fore served no detriment to its visibility.

“These fall under our syllabus, not just because this is Sociology and Ethics, but also because this is the Kinsmen College of Information-Integrity Preservation. Because we have a duty to be the best Rhaagm can offer, for whatever theater in which we may perform.”

She matched gazes with those possessing the organs necessary to do so.

“I know this is only our second meeting, but might anyone have read ahead and discovered what we’ll be doing today?”

Numerous up-signs of affirmation. A handful of down-signs, but thankfully not nearly as many.

The deep reverberating answer of a mature dagacha managed to echo even in the small region taken up by the class.

“Case studies and debate over current events,” said Portram, wide mouth almost lifting the top of her skull off.

“Excellent, Portram; the stuff I’d like to hear every day.”

Prisca called up a recording on the holojector that all her students immediately recognized. Her enthusiasm replaced itself with a focused objective calm. After all, the subject matter truly centered on a demonstration of the brutality a thinking creature could hide away inside themselves.

“Today, we’ll be looking at the attacks in Gursral Corner.”

The depiction showed a windowless lobby with pohostinlat-style architecture. Ocher and chocolate geometric curves made the room look more like a collection of pots and vases that had been slid together than an indoor section of building. Through the destroyed front entrance, a pair of mannequins spoke calmly with a woman identified as the property superintendent. An auditor collected data, employing a variety of personal utilities to image the area’s state for later.

Knocked about on the obsidian floor, given the specter of dignity by some serial-numbered sheets, lay an ambiguous count of savaged bodies.

“I’m sure all of you have heard a depressing amount about Niall Bennosuke over the last few days. However, it’s a matter which transcends local events…” Local, in Rhaagm, meant anything closer than half a billion taxicab kilometers away. “… for extremely important reasons. Would anyone care to guess the most important reason why, as far as our nation’s concerned?”

Remf Gla Sloh, the smallest hudenot that the professor had ever seen, extended a bundle of tendrils into the air, around an executioner’s hulking shoulder.

“Remf Gla Sloh, have you remembered anything?”

Those with an appreciation for Prisca’s take on humor expressed their amusement as they were wont to do. A common enough joke in a society whose ubiquity of eidetic storage gave its constituents practically unlimited recall, regardless of birth limitations, but the dry sincerity tickled her class.

The hudenot up-signed an affirmative.

“Niall Bennosuke broke faith on the Caladhbolg Contingencies. This is one of the most grievous city-scope type five event violations one can commit in terms of consequence: interruption or imprisonment for oneself and for one’s intimates. Even if he had done nothing else, that alone would have been a death sentence.”

“Yes, excellent reasoning.”

She paused, considering her audience long and hard. Remf Gla Sloh brought up an interesting perspective; the Willabarm model of event classification seemed a good enough tool for further deconstructing the scene’s criminal actions. She decided to pursue ways that the salient people and things interacted in the incident.

“Now, what was the first type three event with actual criminal repercussions that happened over the course of the attacks? The first, not the biggest. Type three, not type five; entity-object. Not entity-law, entity-object.”

A perfect memory didn’t imply a perfect attention span. Quite the opposite, in many cases.

“Statement: sought information is evaluated as property damage to living quarters!” offered one student.

Prisca felt her brow rise ever so slightly.

“Not exactly, Wirk.”

Her frown grew pensive, and she swiveled to fully face the forithka.

“Actually, what resources are you drawing on to make that observation?”

Her student sent Prisca a pair of addresses. Her cerv-mesh helped the professor cross-reference the related content against the other articles and publications she’d collated.

“Wirk, policy is to use four or more reference material sources for making statements or evaluations for ongoing or recent events. However, in light of what you’ve got, that’s a reasonable conclusion – though one with which I disagree.”

A notably more melodious voice reverberated like a soap-washed gong, beautiful despite its heaviness and hard use.

“The systematic and premeditated disabling of most transportation in and around the apartment building’s immediate vicinity,” said Filifa Os, a young woman with flawless chartreuse skin and a kerchief denoting her membership among the faithful of the Process Capture. Her eyes were stained-glass polytopes that hid all manner of emotion and utterly failed to conceal an impersonal analytic mind. The woman had obviously had the knack for academia even when Prisca Layk had first taught her as part of the Transfacet Cultures track last semester.

The Professor’s lips slipped into a frown of more straightforward displeasure.

“I understand that your brush with mortality was traumatic, Miss Os.”

Filifa gently dipped her head in acknowledgement. Far from disturbed, she was so unfazed by her recent near-death experience with an errant freighter (and her resultant acquisition of the second sight after said near-death experience) that Prisca almost suspected the woman of being a prophetess even before the incident. It was a little unsettling, frankly, that Filifa had taken up a course heavily featuring crime and the study of the same so soon afterward. But there was nothing requiring the woman to join the nearest College of Prophecy just because she’d begun expressing a new talent.

A sigh broke Prisca’s lips; not of dislike, but of frustration.

“Please do remember, however, that quoting a lecture, even before it’s given, requires approved citation format to avoid plagiarism.”

Filifa dutifully recited the date, time, address, and Prisca’s credentials.

“Excellent,” said the professor. “Indeed. The first entity-object interaction of note from Bennosuke over the event’s span was… ahem, the systematic and premeditated disabling of most transportation in and around the apartment building’s immediate vicinity.”

In tandem with her statement, she put out a listing of the various sources she used to arrive at this conclusion, the ratings of said sources for reliability, and the degrees by which each source directly or indirectly related to the facts. The class’s constituents quickly metabolized the addresses and metadata, and a few nervous tics manifested in the studentry.

“A man who goes by ‘the Nightmare Count’ doesn’t seem like the type to leave grim work undone, does he?” Prisca noted with befanged levity. She made a meaningful gesture behind her at the holojector. “Something worth remembering: there were two people interviewed as primary sources, one a previous associate of ‘Count’ named Artaxerxes, and Kallahassee Bartimaeus, the only survivor of those attacked by the perpetrator. According to both, Bennosuke returned to his old Gursral apartment residence with an extremely premeditated goal.”

She maneuvered to the next media selection, and the instant response of several onlookers meant that the still image of death in repose had not made universal circulation to all Kinsmen members.

Well, there was more than enough time.

The image depicted featured the body of a woman in a white marble room, a poster child of humankind’s female half. Her slack face hid all features a human face can hide behind lids and lips, suffused with something between endurance and ageless contemplation. An ordinary pretty necklace had been ripped off her throat, and lay on her chin.

Standing over the body was a figure with an identical face, bronzed features framing black eyes (presumably natural) and onyx teeth (presumably cosmetic tweaks), showing concern as she looked down. It was a re-lifed body patterned for the person who’d been interrupted, obviously. Whether she was truly the same soul or same individual as her expired counterpart was a question for philosophers to debate and lunatics to experientially challenge. The revivification of the standing woman hardly qualified as the biggest difference between the individuals, though.

Probable cause for the revulsion of Prisca’s students lay with the tar-colored slop which had replaced most of the cadaver.

Clavicles and much of one shoulder remained attached to the woman’s neck, but everything below was… bad. An open, seeping cavity clawed its way into the remains of her disconcertingly pristine skin. Gobbets of the dark emulsion had retained a vaguely whole shape of a torso, spread over an anemic portion of the floor. The slick of awful fluids bore a few regretful footsteps. The woman had only “Magdod” displayed as her designation, above both of her corporeal vehicles.

“What in Perdition?” demanded a voice. The voice happened to belong to the only student in Prisca’s roster for whom she already felt the buds of something like antipathy.

Jerrad Blane, aspiring coliseum unarmed exhibition champion and loud self-proclaimed lover of violence, looked frankly appalled by the casual brutality before him. Almost as though he didn’t expect something called Sociology and Ethics to possess content heterodox to his sensibilities, despite the glut of warnings to the contrary. A few others also bore adverse reactions.

Sometimes, Prisca knew, the best coping mechanism for the unexpected was to follow it with yet more unexpected. She followed up that thought with a patently ludicrous claim. She hadn’t challenged her students yet that day, and needed to keep those being educated on their toes. Metaphorical toes.

“This instance is, technically speaking, not a type three event crime carried out by the criminal in question.”

The professor made several citations available, without drawing attention to the ways she deliberately interpreted them out of context. If and when a student called her out on her straw man foundation for her argument, they’d be given some kind of acclaim.

One characteristic part of the education in Kinsmen was to very specifically and very occasionally expose the minds therein to untruth or absurdity, presented as blatant truth. It enriched the potential of those learning in its bosom to have an opportunity to distinguish fact from fiction, and to habitually reexamine axioms. The school’s stance by no means disallowed lexers and parsers for programmatically teasing statements apart for validity. Indeed, Kinsmen wanted its alumni to show ability and appreciation for said ability, without demanding every single one achieve the same results in the same way.

“As you can see, there’s murder here,” she continued. “Facilitated by entity-entity interaction, yes. However, to wit: the same two witnesses previously mentioned claim Bennosuke – who is an atypical with characteristics reminiscent of very potent Nezu occult practitioners – used a photophobic substance of some kind on most of his victims. The substance had wildly varying effects from one victim to the next, and Bartimaeus claimed it exhibited properties indicating sentience. In light of ambiguous evidence, the ‘murder weapon’ is therefore considered as a candidate for personhood, a la Tronotte v Ldad. Thus, murder, but indirect, done through proxy entity: a type ten.”

Of course, Tronotte v Ldad only established candidacy for personhood. The Willabarm classifications for such events would default to type negative-one in this instance, because – as the great Pjoßtet had once declared – “ambiguity makes sand of knowledge.” If Count had employed a fellow human to commit the murders, on the other hand, then it would have been a type ten event. For that matter, the type three interaction of simply employing another’s talents to commit murder constituted a crime as heinous as murder.

She breathed in and out, allotting a few heartbeats so that her class could assay their musings and the materials placed before them. Eventually she put the moribund thought that her students might leap wholeheartedly and unprovokedly into debate aside.

“Now, all of that matters, yes – but now comes the real challenge to our mental faculties. We have an interesting question framed by this event, for the first time in a bit under seven thousand years. Please don’t prophesy the class’s conclusions even if the product has negligible reliability; we’ll probably manage something sufficiently pretentious or profound without assistance.”

A wordless warning tossed off at Filifa netted a small bowing of the head in return, and a “Yeah, Os!” from a student Prisca already knew would become one of the class clowns.

Prisca pushed a new image onto the holojector. It showed a pair of portraits, side by side, close and far, interviewed and furtively observed.

The first one was a recording of Sebastio Artaxerxes. The dark-skinned human spoke to the recording lens, with a stilted and pained monotone. It was the lingual equivalent of watching a parent carrying their catatonic firstborn after an automobile accident. The man’s focus never wavered or shifted.

“He was a friend, and a man who recognized his own hurt. Ambitious. Frustrated. We first came together because of how much we have in common. I don’t know what that makes me… because anyone who can do THAT to ordinary people… ugh.”

A genuine eyes-closed shiver, before the voice resumed following a two-second inspection of the nameless infinite.

“He’s very dangerous, very deranged, and sly.”

The curt and bleak observations looped, a small miserable infinity of soliloquy.

Beside Artaxerxes’s picture was a full picture of a dark-haired fair-skinned man.

The concept of “creepy” arose only very rarely outside human or quite human-like minds, generally speaking. For most widely-recognizable races, something could certainly fall into the camp of being improper, or running contrary to the structure of what should be. An expression that an idea maintained a holding distance within range of the comforting or normal – but still trespassed into the realm of the disturbing – was itself the closest thing to “creepy” a number of species could even process.

A single lasting shot of Niall Bennosuke, lathered in black gunk up to his elbows and smiling like a baby, made for an excellent object lesson in what “creepy” truly meant.

The man’s slightly shuddering form almost sang, the words placed with meticulous malice like an artwork done in sowed caltrops.

“Justice? I’ll give you justice, you cogs of the Rhaagmini machine, you subsystems of hatred for potential. You love the Maker so much that I’ll find one of his hidden works and bring it to you as a present. May you all know the same peace I’ve enjoyed for so long at your sneering sufferance, you judgmental Rippers.”

Prisca Layk had long held to the worldview that every person had both good and evil within them. She also considered those warring forces most profoundly balanced, or rendered unbalanced, by the effects of the place each person called “home.” Given the atomicity of that belief, she could only imagine what place served as home to Bennosuke for most of his life, because she could scarcely bring to mind when she’d seen a more unilaterally outwardly evil man.

The only sounds from the forty six learning souls were elevated respiration and a single declaration of “degenerate Beast-loving stipp” from a student obscured by Prisca’s vantage and another student’s exceptionally animated hairstyle.

Prisca blew up an inset of Bennosuke’s skin-tearing smile, and reframed it to show nothing but his long-haired head. Next, she threw a new image over the other half of the holojector – a side portrait of a thin-lipped tall-nosed human form head with a layer of dustlike hair atop his cranium. The positioning and facing made it seem the Maker’s full attention, desirable or otherwise, had fallen on Count. Then, she finally opened up the topic meant to prime the pump for next class.

“Observe, and delve into this puzzle: why, exactly, is it that so few people have gone and sought out the item we know as Caladhbolg through the eons?”

“Because it’s got the death penalty!” came the response from Jerrad.

Well. Not quite the leap into discourse that Prisca would have preferred, but heavily seated opinions had an excellent exchange rate for controversy-kindling.

“And so does nuking or gravity-welling a civilian-populated section of city, or making a pact with an off-limits deity,” countered Mitchell. “But there are still people in warring districts who do that, billions of times per hand.”

“Because all the Ganymedes in those regions go out of their way to pass those off as legal and keep the momentum of their war efforts!”

“And what does THAT tell you?”

Now there erupted several voices, contentious and knowledgeable and reason-grasping.

“It’s a reaction to Fallow Srid! No one wants to go through that kind of madness again, so the law’s to splatter anyone who even looks like they’ll end up rotten.”

“Oh, come ON, Enga – it’s a ‘reaction’ to a despot from eons past? Let’s be logical.”

“The real question’s why anyone would willingly interact with something posing a danger on par with the Cudgel of Lepers. For all we know with any certainty, picking the thing up might be enough to kill you and every one of your ancestors for the last twelve hundred generations.”

“I HATE EVERYTHING!” shouted a dagacha from a few convocations away, briefly disrupting Sociology and Ethics’s lines of thought. Portram stood and repeated the sentiment at the original speaker loudly enough to set Prisca’s teeth on edge. Momentarily, discourse resumed at a marginally increased volume.

“It has to be some kind of broadly dispersed anti-compulsion. Think about it. Look at how many species gravitate to lines of logic that encourage restrictive self-serving behaviors. No matter how reasonable, could we possibly expect every person in the city to abide by ‘leave well enough alone?’ There should be millions at any given instant just champing at the bit to go steal themselves one of the Maker’s creations. I mean, how many different cults of the Maker are there? So it’s probably something like the dread aura of the Ri… the Insect, but a few levels more potent.”

“There is an Údanese economic conspiracy backed by the Olds meant to ensure we never progress further in our understanding of the sciences!”

Like a child finding a giant pest in a shoe, those on either side of the aaned theorist recoiled.

Before the non-sequitur could stir up dissension and distraction, the executioner behind him balled up an interpolation paper and bounced it off the speaker’s head crest.

“Stop your joking, punk. We’re not even talking about the Olds, just laws about existence-class weapons. And throw that back, I don’t want to have to get more.”

The rest of the hour was an intense but civil waterfall of pointed debates about justifiability in preventative punishment, district-specific legal precepts and dispensations, and a whole slew of character examinations based on available evidence.

Of all the topics they discussed, one which escaped their attentions was the possible recourse if someone tried and actually succeeded in obtaining that forbidden thing named Caladhbolg, and what the event might mean for society as a whole. The subject, naturally, did not require contemplation.

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