A Dreaded Unkindness

<< The Simulacrum of Dread

“A man who builds an empire on vice is as far from happiness as Bequast is from the gem. Subjectively, he might deceive himself otherwise; objectively, it is inarguable.”

-Gerinaster Seventy-six-centimeters, The Mathematics of Unkindnesses and Ambition

Outside a little building of the complex, designed to look like a stone-brick cottage, Bequast’s local weather gave up a deluge. The resultant rain went nearly sideways, bringing life to those who required topical doses of dihydrogen monoxide. The town of Ealig had agreed to permit a bout of wet conditions, so as to make the dry that much nicer. Alternatively, those who resided in aqueous climes enjoyed a change from the sunny norms that permeated human-congruent living conditions.

To silkatel, the wet outside represented a morally foul tribulation, and the individual in the cottage felt synergistic laments composing themselves in his head.

The silkal named Ascheev had done some bad things in his life. He’d turned over a new leaf after he became a Follower-of-the-Way. Penance it was not, but he had a compulsion to better others and prevent the same mistakes he’d made from recurring. In his efforts to prevent the same mistakes he’d made, he’d instead seen a lot of different mistakes.

The majority of these let him relax easily, knowing that they were lesser than his own sins. The possibility of botching a corrective assessment only really made him feel dirty if the corrected party had a history of doing worse than himself. That was good; the Way had come into his life during one of the pivotal moments where he actually could listen without reservation, and It rewarded in ways previously unimagined. It had moved him into a place conducive to healing, and granted the sort of sleep which made for true beautiful art.

It was hard to find someone who had gone as awry as to head an organized criminal gang known as the Gunnery Sisters, control distribution for every dose of fidget or milk teeth within a hundred districts of the Parsed City-State of Rhaagm, or order and perform misdeeds like running tailored social quantification jobs without the appropriate army of licenses or playing the racket game.

Now… a student who created an illicit and completely unauthorized ex nihilo engine, gave it to a person of questionable character – a person on a facet much like that on which humans had almost certainly arisen, where such devices couldn’t be controlled within reason – and who had done so simply to prove a point in a petty academic debate… that was quite bad.

Thus his presence as a counsellor in an academic compound just within the North Ealig border: at the request of the town’s Dean and regional Naléli – Bequast’s circuit of legislative judges – he served to advocate or discourage discipline. By speaking with people caught up in controversies of a threatening nature, his role was that of an intermediary, reviewing involvement of accessories to the crimes whose irresolution yet clogged up the Bequastish justice system. He considered it one of the more ironic twists of his life; a once-mob-boss taking on a nearly monastic existence which was that of a cog in others’ trials and tribulations. The one in a hundred million who managed to divest himself of the business, and his response was one step up from charitable work.

The student benefitting from that charitable work (whose name Ascheev neither knew nor particularly cared to know) had been apprehended by the nice constables, shouting at the top of his lungs that “Information wants to be free!” as they took him away. Being a pohostinlat, it might have been predicted that the man tried to explain how stupidly overreactive the system was with regards to the spread of totally innocent knowledge. It obviously failed to register in the man’s mind that his introduction of totally innocent knowledge about immoderate scientific bootstrapping had led very quickly to the unconditional servitude of most of the facet’s population. Maybe it still hadn’t sunk in even now, at this late date when the law could justifiably take him to a quiet, aesthetically pleasing room and do to him things better left to the imagination. In any case, the student was well in hand, and Ascheev had only to measure the man who effectively received every lottery of mathematical advancement in a single stroke.

One complicating factor was that the man – a human who went by “Pol Pot” – held very strong opinions about the newfound demigodhood granted him by his academic beatnik benefactor. He and his scientific advisors had immediately followed the pohostinlat student’s directions to build a primitive framework for enacting numerous technological uplifts. The results encouraged him to erect statues of himself nearly a kilometer tall, all over the globe. Several hundred, made of rare metals and impossibly-sized jewels.

Apparently the statues caused some disgruntlement in Mr. Pot’s sympathizers, being against the spiritual equality and virtue of the working class he had endorsed on his rise to more mundane power.

The silkal sawed his vestigial wing casings together, pondering. The human stood across the room from him, encased in an Ullos container – a specialized tuning field that restricted his attempts to do the silkal or any other parties a mischief. In fact, the Ullos container basically served as that form of a multi-layer tuning field known as a skein, excepting three major features. First, it didn’t meet the express purpose of giving the human dictator a livable field interpretation in an otherwise inimical environment. Second, it anchored to a static location instead of forming a dynamic second skin of its primary target. Third – and most important – it allowed ingress, but egress was a very limited whitelist affair.

Pol Pot’s face glowed indigo, the man’s cosmetic taste leaning toward evocations of divine perfection and ethereal beauty.

Funny, thought Ascheev. I was like that in kind, if not depth, before losing four of my lads to Artaxerxes. I wonder what that boy would think if he saw me now?

“You will release me at once!”

Mr. Pot’s eyes widened, going red and sparkly and giving off crackles of flame like magus-fire. 

His interjection utterly ruined Ascheev’s reminiscing. The silkal’s eyes shifted, compound lenses taking in the man one trivial detail at a time.

“No, I won’t.”

The speakers installed with Ascheev’s cerv-mesh allowed reproduction of the human’s language, in defiance of absence of lips, glottal utensils, or indeed a mandible. His proboscis twitched, then he steadied himself. He quickly retook the hallowed melancholic ground of peace.

“You have no right! You, you are less than human, and I am the unequivocal ruler of the world! I embody the rise of the common to the seat of true governance! Who are you, creature, to slow my spread of equality to all people everywhere?”

Pol Pot obviously meant to deny him his peace.

{Everything alright over here?} asked a voice in Ascheev’s head.

{I can name numerous subpar features of this interview,} the silkal replied to Mabrddso, the eidolon who had agreed to render her assistance for the investigation. The hum of the digital person’s bytevoice calmed him, as did his own bytevoice. There was something about the freedom from many of one’s normal speech characteristics, when “speaking” with one’s direct communication facilities.

{It happens that we have a temporal savepoint on-site; the facet in question holds a couple of interesting topological characteristics to some researchers. However, tampering by our village idiot philosopher means the most recent milestone is about three hundred local years back.}

Ascheev made disgusted noises inside.

{Presumably, the Naléli would prefer to avoid rescinding that length of time?}

Mabrddso gave the silkal equivalent of a laugh, to Ascheev’s surprise – he’d taken her to be either a human-patterned or an aaned-patterned intelligence, based on her name and other behaviors.

{The Naléli have removed the possibility of rolling back that far from the table. Too many side effects. Either you convince your friend to undergo memory modification or personality change, or he goes into custody permanently. Too dangerous to the gentry to take any other option.}

The flesh-and-blood silkal scratched the place where his cerv-mesh penetrated his exoskeleton. A straightforward ultimatum. The Naléli of Bequast could seem heartless to some folk at times, expelling such decrees, but amongst the collateral damages of power came terribly difficult decisions when seeing to the maintenance of rule-of-law.

Oh well. Onward and upward.

To Pol Pot, Ascheev would have no discernable delay between the human’s verbal gauntlet and the silkal’s response. His spiracles drew in air and equalized outer and inner pressure, and he replied with carefully chosen words.

“I’m many things, Mr. Pot. However, your jailer is not one of them. That falls to others whose authority I don’t question any longer. They’ll decide when and how your freedom occurs, but based on your misdeeds that freedom must have certain qualifiers.”

The human began raging, assuming a form like a vengeful god of thunder, howling a river of obscenities meant to sound supernatural. In reality he wrestled with an on-the-spot composed language which turned thirty or forty of his Earth’s languages into a tangled amalgam. It was the kind of parlor trick which might have impressed at one time, but a long enough life eventually bred contempt for such things.

“Mr. Pot, I have a story for you.”

More apoplectic fury, with miniaturized fission explosions thrown in for good measure. The fission reactions made a thoroughly annoying fizzing where the border of the tuning field converted them to harmless electrochemical phenomena. Harmless, that was, except for where a large supply cabinet proved too close. An arpeggio of miniature bangs indicated some batteries surpassing storage capacity as they exploited the environmental changes, then releasing excess in the form of concentrated thermal output. The cabinet doors’ new internal burn wounds would require fixing.

“Human, shut up. I’m not your jailer, but the wrong word from me will make your freedom far more improbable.”

A cessation in the man’s tantrum indicated he was hearing his interviewer, at least. The amenities of his isolation zone, those which had remained since his first rant anyway, were so much free-floating energy. One final battery gave a flinty belch from the cabinet’s direction.

“Conversely, a recommendation from myself could prove instrumental in getting you home.”

Pol Pot regarded Ascheev with the fondness of one gryke-rusher watching another moments from stealing its prey.

“I,” he eventually declared with the rigidity of a petrified woodglass board, “answer to no man, no thing besides the moral imperative of reforging society into a perfect commune, and am certainly not going to bow to some beast with the pretense of having equal worth to a true being!”

The interview went downhill from there. One solid hour, an entire sixteenth of a day, was spent purely listening to the man rave about… something to do with the necessity of “farmers reaching their purest utilitarian potential.” If Pol Pot had not been wearing a halo of fire the whole time, Ascheev might have been coaxed into at least humoring the idea – assuming the glow became less than distracting.

{He has completely jettisoned the idea of retreat,} opined the physical silkal later. The human, relocated to a holding pen, frothed at the mouth far more unnaturally than the light foaming which indicated a healthy diet and moderate exertion in Ascheev’s own kind. {For that matter, Mr. Pot bears scarce resemblance to a reasoning entity at all. I might call him an idiot, but then I would have to lower the definition of idiot to exclusively bracket those creatures in the neighborhood of “people who would attack a Beast by bleeding at it.”}

{The way of things,} replied Mabrddso in a serene vacuum of worry.

{The way of things,} repeated Ascheev, looking out the cottage’s little amber-paned windows at the squall over Ealig. {The way of things for me went not too differently from our megalomaniacal tyrant, in some ways. I had a little less to lose. I made a far better bargain. And I was blessed for receiving wisdom, even if it masqueraded as misfortune for a little while.}


Mabrddso had a doubtful note in her bytevoice. I don’t think you’re the sort to kill off millions out of hand, it said.

{I had a broad streak of arrogant self-interest. A self-interest primarily focused on maintaining a new status quo in a little corner of Rhaagm, Ganymedes and bribed Minutemen and all, controlled with an Ichabod’s Alloy fist. Then… Sebastio Artaxerxes and his friend Pickering became entangled with my affairs, when a particularly big celebration went sour. Told the celebrants to stay in Twelvebishop, but fidget makes most who take it do unwise things. I lost four crew that day to the justice system outside of my influence, and in exchange gained the realization that my peace could be taken away just as easily.}

The digital person which was Mabrddso had no inherently tangible substance outside of that which she produced circumstantially. She could be seen in whatever form she chose if she elected to maintain an image on the Monolith’s naked-eye layer, or condescended to use a Toothskin refractor as a medium. Even so, Ascheev clearly perceived her taking his measure, even as she evaluated his melodramatic monologuing.

{Have you learned from your experiences, then?}

Ascheev mulled over the best way to reply.

{I learned that the Way is forgiving, and a source of more peace than I could have known. Its most powerful tools are not the most ambitious, but those rooted in that form of self-sacrifice called “love.” That past part… that took me a long time to fully realize.}

The eidolon didn’t seem to know how to respond to that.

{I am not proselytizing,} claimed Ascheev. {But those are the conclusions foisted upon me, still true long after twenty nine years of being a honcho, by the combined efforts of a single Cambrian human and one of his colleagues and providence.}

There followed a lengthy silence, eventually broken when the Dean’s representatives came along to thank the ex-Rhaagm citizen for his volunteering, and his genuine interest in seeing both justice and mercy done. The silkal left the secure facilities, journeying home through the rain and dim, and whispered a silent prayer all along the way.

Ascheev later felt relief upon discovering, as he rested in his purely functional quarters, that the constabulary had delivered the recalcitrant Pol Pot to a special reserve. His new home essentially resembled a Mercator projection of a one-eighth scale model of his original planet, devoid of sentient creatures besides himself. While he still had most of his new toys, the man was also leashed to the geography of Bequast for the indefinite future. Meanwhile, the once-dictator’s home facet had gotten a visit from specialists trained to make clean-up operations look like anything – natural disasters, in this case. No more titanic sculptural self-portraits, and no more facilities to study and exploit ill-gotten Bequastish discoveries. The inhabitants’ memories and tokens of surviving Pol Pot’s regime remained, of course, but that by itself formed an entirely separate quandary.

The silkal’s delicious peace became a scalloped bloody mess that evening when he read a certain headline. Actually, numerous headlines, coming out of every corner from Rhaagm’s lowest aspiring self-made reporters to the industry giants whose every word carried a weight of trillions of dats. Numerous headlines about a spree of killings.

Numerous headlines concerning Sebastio Artaxerxes.

Ascheev meditated on the news, eventually rising and fetching himself a large mug of naptha. He mused, turning to this angle and that the matter of a man he’d never personally met, but who’d been both an impersonal enemy and an unwitting friend. He couldn’t simply… what? Offer advice? Garner a less-severe sentence for his crimes? Sebastio’s involvement fell in the category of innocent bystander by his own reckoning. Ascheev could only further the cause of chaos if he jumped into the equation, and – in perfect bluntness – the Cambrian human’s experiences would more than likely cause any direct interaction to reopen old scars.

The silkal’s claws scurried over his small home’s thick carpeting, the only luxury in which he now indulged besides a bed-pad fit for the Jon himself. So different from the indulgences he’d once enjoyed: the best eidolon services, the top tier of media control, the most respected and feared reputation, a future of prosperity he could reach out and take when he pleased. None of those things had been fabricated, simulated, or begged. He was Rhaagmini to the core even now, and that meant he’d earned everything he had.

Everything but what he now considered the most important part of himself.

He stopped before a small hexagonally-paned window. He thought of his old crew for no more than the eighth or ninth time that hand. The Gunnery Sisters weren’t a good thing, he’d come to realize over the years, yet he couldn’t just jettison the kinship they’d held either. He’d done the nearly impossible and broken from a life and culture which effectively consumed its adherents body and soul. And so he upheld his daily custom, and prayed for them – that they would find peace and release from the shackles into which he’d unknowingly delivered them with his own clandestine ambitions.

Ascheev felt a strangely-shaped sleep carry him artfully from one end of the night to the other, after he begged the Way to keep the man who had changed his life for the better safe and well.

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