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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Herman

Hearing himself laugh might have been enough to ease the excruciating pain caused by the twitching convulsions that tortured him worse than anything the ancient inquisition could've invented, but the broken sounds of a man who couldn't die were too sad to find comfort. Herman was further than a thousand years since any religion had been allowed to cut stone, somehow though, like a terrible song you memorized from the irritation caused by listening is still as memorable as the joyful sounds you dance to, Herman felt like he finally understood the Purgatory the ancient texts alluded to. Over several hundred times his vital signs had gone flat, but then his 'update' would fire up and Herman would be right back, like it never happened. Except now they were usually accompanied by convulsions that would leave him debilitated for days.
The walking dead. If only the pain would at least die, existence might have been tolerable, but as his primary surgeon was fond of saying, "It ain't done right till it's done thrice." Well, Herman had died twice, prompting both the Heart Facilitator transplant and his Neuro-Conduit implant most every other 'updated' human being received voluntarily. His own insurance policy, though it was the cheapest the government had to offer, had been changed to allow 'updates' should they be necessary, and the doctor had the discretion to decide. Herman felt as if his 'update' was as much of a sentence as the rare convict whom only a jury of his peers could unanimously sentence him to. At least they hadn't blocked off the part of his brain that was necessary for his research. Herman's curse was summed up in a word. Recessitate. His insurance policy mandated his recessitation, and as a government employee, he had priority over the non-governmental citizen. The doctor of course only recessitated him to inform him of the impending Heart-Transplant, then the subsequent recessitation when he was made aware of the necessity of the Neuro-Conduit to stabilize the Heart Transplant. Finally, Herman was recessitated when the success of the 'updates' were to be tested. They worked, and Herman was alive, at least, until he died.
His first automatic recessitation had been confusing, waking up to a room full of confused doctors, who gathered and looked as if they were witnessing a carnival act more than a medical emergency. By his second recessitation there was a general discussion in the hospital on the necessity of learning to remove the transplants, though it was a muted discussion that never made it to the ears of more than one at a time, Herman usually being the one. Funny how quickly they learned to implant without ever considering they might have to undo their work. Herman was subjected to test after test, but nothing changed in the doctor's tone of bewilderment. They had no idea what to do, and in the meantime, Hermes was stuck here, and there were no words any language on Earth that could be used to carry the weight of emotion that was living in this modern day Purgatory. Dante would have no inscription to warn him of this blighted existence, nor would he tread here if there were.
What was his sin to be cast so low? Herman was no saint, but nor was he a lush, and only under the knife had he taken the 'update' the superstitious claimed to be 'the mark of the beast', though to his embarrassment, he fit into this New World like a glove, and with a promethean passion had gone to the extreme to accumulate all forms of knowledge. First, it was History, then Biology, and so forth until his spinal 'update' suffered it's first short circuit while Herman was on a backpacking expedition in Chile. From the heights of the Andes he had to be carried on a litter back to an Embassy by the locals (whose respect had been gained by Herman's tireless efforts to teach the people the medicinal value of the local herbs). The Embassy treated him locally at first, having the basics of an 'update' clinic government employees had access to. However, it was soon apparent the short circuit Herman suffered from was far too complex for the mediocre facilities the specialist had access to. Herman had to give the poor surgeon credit, even in his complete bewilderment the man was still brave enough to try, and had taken his failure personally.
After sending Herman to the most advanced research facility in Neuro-Cybernetic-Enhancement, located in the salty desert of Utah, Herman was tested over and over by a team of the most gifted doctors in the world, all to no avail. He'd been subjected to tests before, but never so many, and the pain! Like an alarm clock he would wake to it every morning, though there was no snooze button to give him a few minutes relief, the alarm would just keep ringing. No medication helped either, and that was saying a lot, they tried everything, but with no method of retracting the thousands of microscopic tendrils the spinal 'update' was programmed to connect into the nerve network at the base of his skull, there was nothing left to do but wait and learn.
Herman still had his studies, in between the attacks of course, and luckily the facility where he was being treated had a library. A good one too, filled with every medical journal written since DaVinci, and with his 'updates' still operational, his total recall memory absorbed the knowledge at his command. Herman took full advantage of the precious time between his all too consuming attacks and poured himself into research, first having books brought to his bed, then with too much time between request and it's fulfillment, began spending his time in the library itself. Despite the inconvenience of being dragged out unconscious occasionally, the staff didn't mind. Within a year, Herman had the entire library on call within his 'updated' memory. No sooner had he completed the last text (one of the older ones that still considered the brain a gift of God), he went back to the laboratory, though not alone. He'd been assigned several assistants that together gave him a twenty-four hour companionship should an attack seize him at an inconvenient time, and his assistants were quickly sworn to secrecy. At first their presence was in case of medical emergency, however their curiosity and loyalty was won over behind the locked doors of what had now become Herman's laboratory. They watched, day after day as Herman gave his passion over to something they could only guess at, and occasionally, Herman would make a request only they could fill, though their curiosity was made stronger than ever when they were sent for supplies with a sealed envelope, and returned with a sealed package. Months passed this way, with over a dozen deaths in-between. The doctors and surgeons frequented Herman's tortured existence less and less as time went by, whether it was the reflection of their failure they avoided, or their unwillingness to cure something so fascinating, Herman became indifferent. He no longer needed the check the Government still sent him, and usually tore it up when it was received. The Government in their turn began ignoring him as well, and at one point even sent him a dismissal letter, giving Herman a seizure when the laugh he attempted shorted a circuit. Herman had given up a long time ago, but his assistant's noticed a faint glimmer in his eyes that he finally admitted existed when he was close to completion of his secret project. Their excitement was much more visible as he unveiled the object that had been his obsession over the last several months. His Savior was a theory based only on his own research, and today was to be it's first experiment.
Slipping the boots on his feet, Herman's heart was pounding, frightening him with the possibility of having an attack when he was so close to being free from the pain forever, and forever was a strong word in Herman's lexicon.
The answer had been so simple Herman knew that secrecy was required, fearing the bureaucracy that would likely hinder his work, and if this experiment was successful, Herman was sure they would claim it as their own medical breakthrough, and he cringed at what would happen to the world with this power in the governments possession. The boots were lined with a gelatin that on the quantum level, did it's own computations, adjusting to external stimulus. Herman alone knew the secret formula to this substance, and this experiment, if successful, would change everything the world knew, as much as the battery and anti-bacterial soap put together.
Herman designed the boots to mimic the neuro network of the brain, but he had to admit the cool feel of the semi-sentient substance that encompassed his feet was rather comfortable. Moving his toes around to test the boots internal flexibility, Herman was pleased. All seemed in place, and it was time to turn it on.
Being a new substance required a new source of power, and Herman had built it into the old walking staff he'd taken with him on his previous backpack excursions. A simple theory that one had been, though gathering the materials and maintaining secrecy had been all the difficulty the building of the power source had not. Tuning into the living energy that surrounded all things only required a vibrational frequency that could pull it in like a vacuum pulled in dirt. The question that Herman had a difficult time answering was what would happen when he connected the walking staff's self sustaining energy source to an invention that was in the grey area of Artificial Intelligence.
Nothing left to do now but turn it on.
Holding the staff reverently, he passed his hand over the wooden shaft slowly, to the cool metal that was the Frequency Generator. He'd realised it's recipe during one of his dreams, and remarkably, the dreams recipe had proven accurate when he re-created it in the lab. His shock had been immense, but was soon changed to hope, and hope is the greatest energy source of all, eternally burning and inspiring creation.
Herman had truly become a man possessed, never truly at rest with the convulsions threatening his concentration worse than the pain itself, always close. This dread filled anticipation had been part of his psyche so long, he felt as if he was that victim psychology books discussed, who became sympathetic to their victimizer. Until now of course, Herman thought to himself, running a finger over the serpent's head, that adjacent to it's twin, topped Herman's staff. The jewel that was the serpents eye was another addition to Herman's inventions, though it wasn't the rock that mattered as much as it's quantum coating. Again, it was so simple that Herman knew it was not time for humans to know of it's existence.
Not yet at least.
Pushing his thumb into each of the four eyes the serpents held, the fourth and final eye gave way to a humming sound as it was pushed in. making a dull noise and an effect that was instantaneous.
It worked.
The pain was gone. Not only gone, but the difference in Herman's body and mind was dramatic enough to be a subtle promise the pain would never return while Herman wore the invention that was his. The convulsions were gone for good, He felt it like a new instinct settling on his mind, and holding the humming staff in his hands, suddenly Herman had an epiphany.
It was so simple.
Standing was never easier, and walking was pure pleasure as Herman made his way across the room to where his very confused assistant was standing, seemingly immobilized with shock at this physical display of Herman's new self.
"I need you to find me a hammer and chisel,"
It took his assistant a moment to absorb the request, and before she could reply with the million unspoken questions, Herman gave her a half smile as the only answer she knew she would get from him.
Swallowing, she left. As the sliding door closed behind her, Herman suddenly winked out of existence. There one second, gone the next. The room itself sat in silent anticipation in the seconds it had to itself before Herman winked back into existence in the exact spot he'd left, exactly the same, save for the gravestone size green stone he was holding in his arms.
Minutes later, when the assistant returned holding the chisel and hammer as one would a possibly poisonous snake, she heard Herman muttering to himself as she approached.
"That which is True-"
"Here you go sir," Loathe to interrupt, but under orders she handed Herman his requested material and silently left the room, only to be halted at the door by Herman's quiet voice.
"Thank you dear, and please.."
She turned around and waited as He did the same, sensing something important.
He smiled in a way she hadn't seen before as he finished.
"Call me Hermes."

The Emperor's Game

It was a strange world when the fate of thousands could be decided by a few moves on a board game. 'Chess' the Emperor (may the sun illuminate him eternally) had called it, though 'Fate' would be a better name, at least that's what William thought.
It was difficult to pinpoint the crux of the dilemna Chess (or Fate) had brought him to, but the real tragedy was in the game itself, or rather his lack of ability to comprehend it's strategic subtleties. Only a year passed since the Royal Decree, which the Emperor (may the sun illuminate him eternally) himself had toured the lengths of his Empire to declare as the new method of settling local disputes between bordering rulers. In that year William's ability to play the game had changed much less than his borders had, by a longshot. He was a soldier, not a gentleman educated in the social sciences of leadership on a board game, and with no dice the element of Chance was gone. A soldier naturally gains respect for and even love for the maiden Chance over the years, and the game of chess had stolen her and locked her away in the proverbial tower that was one of it's pieces. Yes, over the last year, the game of Chess had become a tyrant in his life worse than anything the Emperor (may the sun illuminate him eternally) could inflict with any size army. Always at the mercy of any challenge, which multiplied like rabbits when word of his ignorance spread. He was losing every defensible hill and engage-able valley, not to the honorable art he was accustomed to, but metaphorical maneuvering he was completely unprepared for, and there was nothing in his life that taught him that could do a thing about it.
The smug grin on his opponents face, which somehow had made it's way around the teacup the man was holding to his powdered face, was a testament to his predicament. William had seen the look before, from this man even, as the coward of a ruler waited for William to make his first move. Being the host of the game made it custom, and the challenged ruler was obliged to host, making this his third experience playing Frederick, who now held over a third of Williams previous territory without ever meeting him on an actual battlefield. Frederick had been given the land of a previous ruler who'd been exiled when the Emperor (may the sun illuminate him eternally) ascended the throne. William hadn't liked the previous ruler, but now in hindsight almost missed the predictable nature of the man, who'd been more than willing to settle whatever dispute they had on the battlefield. Frederick had quickly take to the Royal Decree and in a single year managed to amass a kingdom with the luck of having a wealthy childhood and an Emperor (may the sun illuminate him eternally) as a friend. William had to admit that Frederick played an unparalleled Chess game, and he knew he was not the only victim of Frederick's rise to power. Many hills and castles had been dodged by the movement of these little stone pieces. William had learned enough to see when one of his pieces was threatened, but this manipulator would make moves that only made sense after he was caught in the unavoidable trap. Every time he lost, he was confused how or why until it was explained to him, and Frederick was always quick to fulfill the need with a tone that was too full of itself to even be insulted. Even after the conceit filled explanation, or afterwards when William was alone and playing it out again, the methodology eluded him.
This game was to decide the fate of a part of his land that had been his first conquest, and having been raised since a child in its field, he was loathe to let it go, especially to somebody like this groveling coward of a man. If not for the overriding fear of being persecuted by the Church, William would have sent the man to the underworld long ago, hands happily wrapped around his egotistical throat. A lifetime of traditional field combat and bitterly earned victory about to be turned over to a whelp who'd never earned a blister, let alone marched to battle. The man actually had servants carry him in a litter! It was difficult to condemn a man who seemed so oblivious, and William had to wonder what the Emperor (may the sun illuminate him eternally) saw in him to allow him such unchallenged authority.
All these thoughts meant nothing, and only avoided the ugly truth. William was about to lose his last piece of land, after a lifetime of conquest and bloodshed, to a newcomer who fortuitously came to the scene with an eagle's sight where everyone else was blind as a mole. Like playing dice loaded against you and being told its your fault for not having your own loaded dice.
Oh well, William thought to himself, resigned to fate (or chess), time to go back to sailing if he lost this one. If.
The flash of excitement in Frederick's eye was as unmistakable as the clatter of his teacup, both betraying his non-emotional aura. The game was on, and as Frederick knew, the victor was as certain as the messiah's date with destiny.
"Kings Pawn I see.." so few words yet full of contempt. Much less energy was spent as Frederick casually moved his horse on the queens side. "I guess it went well enough last time, and the time before.." With a chuckle hidden by the teacup, Frederick settled back into the cushioned seat, knowing would be a while.
Not this time. William suddenly had an idea, and with a sigh of satisfaction implying his epiphany, moved his horse. "I see you've realised the benefit of a knight.." Frederick said as he moved his own Kings pawn to the square next to William's. Does he know? Of course not William thought to himself, this man could not read minds, he was good at the game, not life.
"Perhaps." William replied as he moved his knight further down the board.
"Or maybe I think you're willing to sacrifice anything to acquire one."
"Maybe I am." Frederick moved his other knight out in direct line of William's knight attack. William took it.
"Let's see what happens without a couple of them." William said as Frederick took William's knight with his queen.
"See what I mean? must be important to bring 'Her Majesty' out."
"The queen always tends to the King's business best, so why waste time with underlings?" This guy was smug. William moved his queen out to meet her.
"Indeed, why waste time?" Frederick knew something different was happening, and he didn't know what to do. At least, anybody with a decent ability at cards would come to that conclusion. Subtle, but it was there. Fear. For the first time in a year, William smiled, then after Frederick moved his knight, William ignored the threat and moved his queen to take Frederick's queen, saying goodbye as he did. Of course it had to be a pawn that took his queen, but more important was the lack of smugness hanging in the air. It was William that finally broke the silence. As he moved his bishop to guard the pawn Frederick's knight was threatening, he had humor in his voice, "Time for the pious to do their duty, wouldn't you say Frederick?" Frederick moved one of his towers, but William had no idea why. Time to play a different game. William had read few books in his lifetime, and his favorite was 'The Art of War', which said to project strength when one was weak, and weakness when one was strong.
Time to be strong.
Moving a pawn to threaten the knight Frederick had entrenched, he obligingly retreated, though so too had the air of defeat that had been so pungent before. This was a new game and Frederick didn't like it. The next few moves were disorganized on both sides of the board, then, when William castled (a move he never dared use before), the sigh of satisfaction Frederick released made William instantly regret his recklessness. It was time to push forward, no matter what happened. This surprise approach had certainly won him back some confidence at least. Frederick had the sense that something was different about William's attitude. He must be suspicious, wasn't he? No, Frederick simply saw something only he could see. Pushing forward with a pawn, William was dismayed what the look of victory he had seen several times by now crept back onto Frederick's visage and back into his tone as he said,
"So we're both missing our knight and queen.. A bit like Camelot, wouldn't you say?" Something in his tone and subsequent laugh at his own wit convinced William the game was already over, at least, from Frederick's all knowing perspective. At least he stopped laughing when William took one of his pawns with a pawn of his own.
"I thought you'd be more considerate of your own little people William.."
Frederick took the pawn with another.
"My bishop will redeem them." William's bishop took the pawn in revenge.
"Of course, but without a tower-" William's bishop was replaced by a tower he'd forgotten about.
Moving his own tower to buy time, William sensed there was a trap coming, and he couldn't see it. Another pawn taken. Damn. Moving his bishop out of harm's way he could almost hear the heartbeat of his opponent it was so quiet. Or was that his own? William was doomed, he knew it, so he started plan B.
Sacrifice. Seemed fitting enough as he lost his second knight, even his experience at card playing couldn't have let him hide his dismay. Only two towers left, and William had no idea what to do with them against his opponents mostly intact force. With Five, no, make that four pawns left William was quickly running out of options.
Time for plan C. Suicide.
He made the move that signaled defeat, and the air instantly retained that pungent reek that had permeated before. Gone was the fear that William had been able to put into the cowardly man, and he reveled in the sight of it, knowing that it would live with him forever as a memory, even if it had only existed for such a short time.
"It is finished." Frederick's tone had all the pompousness returned. William sighed in resignation as he tipped his King over in submission to the unavoidable.
"Yes, it is."
There was a click behind William that Frederick barely had time to hear before his chair was pushed backwards with the force of the impact from the bolt fired. William had placed the man there with orders to fire when William said those words of resignation, and his fear had been profound while he waited for the fated moment. The genuine surprise covering Frederick's features gave William reason to smile as he stood over the dying man.
"I sent the Emperor, may the sun illuminate him eternally, a bird just before you arrived explaining my regret and responsibility of losing you to such an unlikely and dramatic fall as you made." The entire western wall of William's castle overlooked a cliff that boasted a death by old age before meeting the ground, and Frederick would not be the first to make the journey.
"I also petitioned the Church for the renegotiation of the borders, and with a caravan full of generous contributions to the church and state, as well an extra garrison for the Emperors, may the sun illuminate him eternally, conquest, I expect my petition should pass."
Stepping over the dying ruler, William walked out of the room, thinking about the lack of a good archer in the game. It was a shame Chess didn't have a Crossbowmen. Fate did, and a well place bolt could change the outcome of any war.

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