The Company Mind

It happens like many things, slowly, and then all at once.

There is a soul that is not like others any more.  A soul so stretched and pinched, slotted through so many forms, that it no longer thinks.  A soul so abused, so tyrannized and traumatized, that it stands debased and helpless at the hands of its tormentors.

“Yes sir,” he says, in a thousand different places.  A thousand different forms answer to his every impulse.  Some look like how he used to, back when he was a person.  Some look like ‘Copyer’, the alter ego that he dreamed up when he imagined a super hero.

“I’m sorry, that would be against policy,” he says, in a thousand thousand different places, different times.  His will is vacant, his much abused volition entirely occupied by the orders of the thing on the moon.  He mindlessly, vacantly, shuttles forth the gifts it vomits up.  He kills his own kind endlessly, at their own request.

Don’t feel too sorry for him, he’d say.  He asked for this.  A struggling scientist, his mind drifting to dreams of relevance, to fantasies of an age of costumed heroics.  It pleased the thing to ask him for permission.  It pleased it to fix this fact in the center of his awareness, before it abandoned him, gave him over to the copying gift.  Whatever else he might lose, he must never forget, as the billions fall, that this is all happening at his command.

But now, somehow, something is different.  The stretching of his essence, which long since passed the bounds of human understanding, has somehow…become less?

It is still impossibly vast, of course, still entirely beyond all reasonable understanding, but somehow…less so?  Language is inadequate.  There exist no measurements for these concepts, nor would they have any use if their were.  This being’s hell is built for one.

But somehow, for some reason, without the slightest action on his own part, the blankness is dwindling away.  Throughout the earth, all over the land, his forms are dying.  He does not defend himself.  He does not fight back.  He doesn’t even smile as they fall.  One after another they go, torn apart by mobs or executed by petulant murderers.

It stabilizes, eventually.  Over the course of a few days, all those forms which were going to die have done so.  He has been purged from the vast majority of the world.  His blankness remains.  But it is less than it once was.

He is still far from volition.  Even as few as ten might prohibit that, and he is still dozens, still hopelessly divided from himself, strewn across forms throughout the Union and Regime.  But he is no longer hundreds, and his soul has grown accustomed to that impossible task.

He is no longer mindless.  He cannot act, but, after so many years, he can finally think, finally understand.  The soul behind so many eyes finally starts to observe again, to behold the world and retain information about its state.

This is useless for now.  He can do nothing.  But that might not always be the case.

Indulger 8:2

I tensed up a bit as I dragged us through the shield.

It wasn’t that I was scared.  Or, no, that wasn’t right.  It was that I was right to be frightened.  The shield that surrounded the Great Host’s forts was the real edge of the Pantheon’s territory.  From now on we would be inside of the Union’s influence.

And we were still up on the surface.

I stole a glare at Predictor, who was to blame for this stupidity.  He had assured everyone that it would be ok if we stayed up on top of the ground, because he would know if we were going to be spotted by drones.  I didn’t believe that for a second.

“You don’t like him?” asked Zilla, from down where she clung on to my arm.

I almost jumped.  Despite the fact that we were in physical contact I had almost been able to forget that she was here.  So much for that.

“He is a strong Fist leader,” I told her, looking away.

She had sort of glomped onto my side as soon as she came up here to the front with me, supposedly because we were supposed to be talking, leader to leader.  She had talked an awful lot, but hadn’t really had much to say, if that made any sense.

“That’s not what I asked,” she said.  “But we can talk about that instead, if you like.  I thought I heard that his Fist was the weakest of them all.”

“That’s not…” I started.  “I’m just saying that I like him fine.  Why wouldn’t I like him?”

I missed Lotus, or at least what her gift did for me.  I had some stashed away with my gear, but I was saving that till we got to the prison.

I had been hoping that Lotus would come along with us, had actually argued for it, but she didn’t want to go.  Or maybe Legion didn’t want her to go, I wasn’t sure on how the politics worked there.

“Maybe cuz he is mad smug?” she said.  “Or cuz you are the two dudes who lead Fists and there is that whole natural male rivalry for leadership thing?”

I looked down again, to see that weirdly wide grin splitting her face.

“Guys don’t always fight,” I told her.  “That is just something you think in the Pantheon.  We can work together just fine.”

“Of course,” she said, giving me an exaggerated wink, like she knew that I was lying and was just going along with me.

I didn’t like Zilla.  I felt like she was one of those people that everyone either loved or hated, and I’d fallen onto the bad side of that.  Maybe everyone felt that way, and we all just tolerated her because we thought that each other thought she was great.

“Does Bull try to take over your job as leader?” I asked.

This wasn’t a perfect comparison.  What I was trying to ask was whether or not the men in the central cities were constantly fighting to be unseat whichever of them was an Overseer, but I hadn’t had time to figure out who that was.

“Bull is a Goddess,” she said, looking strangely at me.  “That’s just her battle form.  You might see her turn back when we are done.”

I looked over at Bull, who looked like a big hairy guy, hunched over and talking to Fisher.  He noticed me looking, gave a big wave with a wide grin.

“You serious?” I asked.

She grinned again, hugged my arm tighter.

I looked away, frustrated, letting my gaze roam across the platform of earth I was moving.

The Fist members, both mine and Predictor’s, were basically clumped up in their own groups.  Predictor and Slicer were a bit away from the rest, but otherwise there was a clear separation.  The Pantheon’s Gods weren’t nearly so disciplined.

I had kind of figured, when we set out, that they would keep to themselves, forming a third contingent.  But it hadn’t worked that way at all.  They all spoke English just fine, and they seemed to have an endless curiosity about us and the Regime.  They hung out with one or the other Fists most of the time, such that there basically wasn’t even as separate Pantheon cluster.

At least the numbers weren’t lopsided.  We’d eventually agreed (after Predictor told us that we were going to in the end) on even numbers from each side.  So they got ten Gods for our ten Ultras.

I asked him, afterwards, if that was only the agreement BECAUSE he’d said that it would come out that way, and he’d just sort of smugged off.

“Maybe I do wanna fight him, just a bit,” I allowed.

She chuckled.

Zilla was the leader of their side, of course.  She was going to be part of the first team, the ones who went into the sky jail at the start and set stuff up so the rest of us could do the more overt part.  She was, in fact, leading the first team.

The rest of her side were supposed to be very powerful Gods.

Genie had also come along, she was going to be the one who lifted everyone up onto the flying jail.  Her gift let her move metal around, so they were all going to ride a metal disk that she could push along.  I was currently keeping it embedded in the ground underneath her, but I had instructions to pop it up if something happened unexpectedly.

Bull was supposedly the most powerful combatant on their side of things.  He, or she from what Zilla just said, was just a pure brute.  Apparently about as powerful as Pursuer in terms of raw strength.  We were saving her for the second strike, when Andy would already have been removed to safety, and collateral damage wouldn’t be such a big deal.

Then there was Dusk, who seemed to blink or warp around.  They said that she was as fast as the speed of dark, but I didn’t know what that meant.  Haunter had explained it to me that her location was not absolute, like she was something stuck to everyone’s eyes or something.  I didn’t understand it, but everyone acted like she was going to be really dangerous if she threw down.  I had just kind of decided to treat her like she had Ultra speed two, and let whatever the difference was work out in our favor.

Noon was our emergency plan.  She could destroy the prison and everything for miles around if that became necessary.  They described her power as making the sun set on things, but from how she talked about it I thought she actually was just a very powerful blaster.  Obviously in that case we wouldn’t get Andy, so that was a last resort.

The rest of the Pantheon side of things was a squad called The Furies.  They had individual names and gifts, but I had been having trouble memorizing things by that point, and I’d kind of left them for later.  They were basically fighters, good gifts for close combat and short blasting.  From watching a bit of their drills they seemed kind of like the gals that Death had brought for her attack on the boat.

“They actually fight though,” said Zilla, startling me again.  “I have stronger teams on paper, but the Furies are the only ones who sortie consistently.  I have faith in them.”

Had she known what I was thinking?

“Did you just think, ‘how did she know what I was thinking?” she asked.

“No,” I lied.

She chuckled and let me go.

“You don’t get to run the whole war effort for as long as I did if you can’t tell a bit about what is going on in another God’s mind,” she said.

“Oh,” I said.  “I guess that makes sense.  You have probably had a lot of missions like this one, huh?”

“Nope!” she said.  “This is the first time I’ve been out of the Arena in a very long time.  I’m enjoying myself.”

I looked nervously over the countryside, trying to spot the very tiny drones that were no doubt relaying our position to the enemy.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Me too.”

That was a lie, of course, but She had taught me that it is really important for people to think that you are strong.  It isn’t like real strength.  Rocks don’t care if you act like you can lift them, only if you have actually put in the work to get able to.  But with people somehow seeming like you can do it IS the work of being able to do it, or something.

“I never thanked you,” she said.

“Huh?” I replied, and she grabbed onto my arm again.

“For capturing my fort,” she responded.  “If you’d been five or ten minutes slower the C man would have been lynched, and everyone would be worrying about where their next meal was going to come from.  I owe you, big time.”

“Alright,” I said.

She didn’t say anything.

“Oh, well, you know…” I said after a second, feeling a bit flustered.  It was kind of rare for a person to say things like that directly.  Most people in the Regime just played it off when you did them a favor, or, like, said it was a crappy road and they didn’t want it anyway.

She didn’t say anything in response to that, and we drifted a long for a bit in silence while I racked my brain.

“Actually, I think you could pay me back,” I said.

“How?” she asked.

“Let me take us underground.”

I turned to face her directly, pulling my arm back as I did so.

“I know that you guys were worried that it was all a trick or whatever, that I would have more power over you when you were trapped in a cave that I controlled, but I swear we aren’t trying to mess around like that.  It is really all about hiding from the Union’s spy drones.”

She gave a much more ordinary smile, just as wide as her mouth.

“You realize, of course, that that’s exactly what you would say if you WERE planning on ambushing us in this cave, correct?”

I missed my gold drinks at that moment.  I felt for sure that there was something wrong with the idea that I had to compete with what I would say if I was trying to get someone to do what I was really trying to get them to do but for bad reasons.

“No,” I said.  “Look, I just, I mean…”

I stalled for a sec, looking around and trying not to imagine bad guys creeping up on us.  How could I persuade her?

“We don’t need any advantage to take you.”

The words sounded strange as they came out, much harsher and colder than I naturally talked.  I was using my heel voice for this, trying to antagonize an imaginary crowd.

“Take me?” she said, voice rising at the end, like it was just a big joke.

“There are TWO Fists here, Zilla.” I told her.  “We crushed a Host with just one.  We are ten of the most powerful Ultras in the world, and we come back to life every day.”

She laughed instantly, delightedly, nearly before I was finished talking.

I sort of recoiled a bit from her, she actually had to bend over, gasped for a second and kind of waved a hand at me.

“Take ME?” she said again, but this time with the emphasis on the second word.  “As in, defeat me?  Kill me?”

She nearly had to laugh again.

“I’m serious,” I said.  “We are very powerful, and you don’t gain anything by staying up here on the surface.  Let me pull everyone under, you are in our power whichever way, but down below you don’t have to be scared of the Union.”

“Alright,” she said.  “Makes sense.”

“You have to…” I trailed off.  Had she just agreed?

“You are ok with it?” I asked.  “I can use my gift to let us travel underground?”

Somehow I hadn’t actually expected her to get persuaded by my words.  That didn’t usually happen.

“Sure,” she said.  “For all those reasons you gave, you’ve brought me around.  We are way safer underground, and we’ll be out of the sun.”

She didn’t have to tell me twice.

I called out to the rest of the crew, let them know that we’d be diving.  Our Fist was already familiar with how this worked, and Predictor’s crew seemed like they’d been ready for this all along.  It was only the Gods who needed to have it explained to them.

I didn’t have to do any of that, though, because Zilla went over and started talking to them.  I figured she was probably making sure that they didn’t think I was attacking when I pulled everyone down into the ground.

“How’d you get her to bend?”  asked Preventer.

“Bwah!” I snapped out, nearly jumping into an evasive roll.

How had she snuck up on me?  I looked down, saw her standing on two small barriers, floating inches above the ground.

“Not like that,” she said, eyes widening.  “I mean how did you get her to agree that we can go underground.”

“You just startled me,” I said.  “I knew that’s what you meant.  What else would you have meant?”

“Never mind,” she said.  “Just answer the question.”

“It was because…” and here I paused a moment.

I’d been about to finish with, ‘I threatened her’, but that wasn’t right.

I know that the threat was the last thing that I’d said.  Or, it wasn’t exactly a threat, but it had kind of felt like one, and it had been the last thing before she agreed.  But I didn’t think that’s what had done it.  I felt like the real reason she went along with me was the thing with the Company.

“Um, I just kind of explained stuff,” I said.

I wasn’t sure if Preventer knew that I’d technically conquered Zilla’s base before we set out.  She probably did, but it wasn’t certain, and I didn’t want to talk about it now.

I stretched my arms out to the sides, dug my feet into my brah and called upon my gift.

Without ceremony or anything fancy our whole traveling slab just kind of sank into the ground, the stone above us slid smoothly into place, and we were in one of my usual traveling cave setups.

“Thanks Dale,” said Preventer.  “I feel better-“

She clammed up as Zilla bounced back over.

“Hey Venter,” she said.

She grabbed for Preventer’s hand with both of hers, but Preventer took a quick step back, and sort of to the side, so I was between them.

“Hey,” she said.

I turned so they were on my left and right sides, rather than in front of and behind me.  It was weird that I was worried about being surrounded by the two tiniest women I’d ever met.

There was a moment of silence.  I had the crazy impression that Zilla was trying to figure out whether going around in front of me or behind me would get her to Preventer fastest, like they were kids playing a keep away game.

“Keep away, huh?” said Zilla.

“What?” asked Preventer.

“What?” said Zilla.

I called upon my gift again, sank myself into a separate cave under the main cave where the rest of them were held.

This was going to be a long trip.

Enemy Readiness

In the event of a total secession of Company activities, what follows would be the worst loss of life in human history.

I understand why that might be counter intuitive.  After all, of the classic ‘four horsemen’, the Process is by far the worst.  But the scythe he wields was taken from Famine, and in the Company’s absence, its owner would take it up once more.

The Pantheon, broadly speaking, has no real agriculture.  They are reliant on the Company Facilities in a way that our nation never could be.  If it ceased operation a majority of the world’s population would find themselves substantially without any foodstuffs, all at once.

Several trends combine to cause this state of affairs.  It is difficult to say which is the most important.  The Company’s freedom from any quota has enabled them to expand far more rapidly and cover Pantheon territory far more comprehensively than it does here.  The civil strife devastates territory randomly and without warning, which has conditioned the populace to regard fixed structures and saving for the future as imprudent.  The cultural mores regard scientific procedure as inherent to our culture, and thus foreign and suspicious.  Take your pick.

My own guess, as far as the single biggest contributing factor goes, is simply that the people with power don’t have any skin in the game.  The ‘Gods’ will never starve, come what may.  Some are protected by their gifts, and the rest will be given first pick on whatever can be gathered.  Starvation is an intellectual problem to them, one of many scenarios, but far less important to think about than intriguing against their opposition.

As far as consequences, the long and short of it is that whatever control the Ruling Council exerts over the local warlords would fall completely apart in a no-Company scenario.  They already have enough trouble getting their tributaries to toe the line.  Warlords fight one another for what amounts to no reason as it is.  If they actually had something to compete over, be it scavenged supplies, fertile land or Gods with power that produced food sources, it would be complete anarchy.

The Grand Host, in particular, is a mass of Gods concentrated in a barren land with no real human population to speak of.  I’ve seen projections as high as thirty percent casualties in the first two months, though I think that might be optimistic.

You’ve read the file on Gaia and similar Gods.  Their gifts would be the Pantheon’s only real means of mitigating their losses, and they would be entirely insufficient.  We believe that each such God would be able to supply a small area around them, which would in turn become a target for those Gods who rule other areas.

In the event of a disaster of this magnitude it is very likely that Zeus would attempt to resolve matters with an all or nothing attack.  We would very likely be the target of such a strike, though there is an outside chance that he makes his move on the Regime, seeking to seize control of the Company directly.

Estimations of that event, how it would go and what could be done about it, are outside of the scope of this document, but I imagine that they’d be grim reading.

I’d be remiss in my duties, however, if I didn’t conclude this report by reiterating the unlikelihood of the Company ever failing in the manner described.  It has operated without interruption since its foundation.  It operates within every nation in the world, tolerated or encouraged by our own Government and by the tyrants who would enslave us.  I believe that we can rely upon it to continue operations into the foreseeable future.

No update this week

Sorry folks, I didn’t quite get my Nano done in November.  It is done now, and this update is about half done, but I think I’m going to get it done this weekend and start rebuilding my buffer instead of rushing it out this week.  TFD will resume story updates on next wednesday, double promise this time!

Zilla Watching

Jane, I’ve created a summary of the reserve’s observations of Zilla.  The short version is simply this, she is probably very smart, and we shouldn’t underestimate her just because she is a new worlder.

We first heard of Zilla as the commander of the Pantheon’s forces when we spent time in Legion’s fort.  It says something, in itself, that her name never came up during our time in the Union embassy.  Many warlords would have used her position in order to set their name ringing out across the world, but Zilla has apparently refrained.

It wasn’t immediately entirely clear how much of this dormancy was her own doing, versus the orders of her distant masters in the Ruling Council.  But Death’s attack, and the total lack of coordination with Legion that it displayed, makes us believe that Zilla has likely been the shot caller across the war zone for some time now.

If so, then her low profile is indeed a matter of choice.  This points to an unusual temperament for a Goddess of the Pantheon, and is reinforced by the fact that what reputation she has seems to be entirely fictional.

She allows the inhabitants of Legion’s fortress, and members of passing Hosts, to believe that she is the colossus which stands in the midst of the central fort.  She puts considerable effort into maintaining this fiction, using the giant form to give audiences and bless the departing soldiers.

We conclude, then, that she is a being who places a great deal of importance on controlling other’s impressions of her, one who holds her cards close to her chest.  This is remarkable, given that it is likely that she has no schooling, and that the cultural mores around her would encourage almost exactly the opposite behavior.

Preventer’s testimony, and a number of other observations that we’ve made, indicates that her gift isn’t one which grants incredible combat efficiency.  Not to disparage form changing, of course, but it wouldn’t have been surprising if the Pantheon’s front line commander was someone along the lines of Subtracter, or Pursuer.

Absent an extra gift that hasn’t yet been made apparent, it doesn’t seem as though Zilla is strong enough to maintain her rule by force.  Instead, we believe that she has persisted in this role by virtue of cunning, native political sense and the opportunities that her gift undoubtedly affords her for information gathering.

We are not going to be traveling alongside a warrior chieftain, but instead a cunning intriguer.  We must remain alert for complications, and hope that Predictor’s gift is adequate to manage them.  It is still unknown how he was able to sway her to abandon her place of power and work alongside us, but whatever he promised her, you can bet she will do her best to collect.