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Re: a wretched wonder
« Reply #210 on: December 10, 2013, 07:32:35 pm »
Ned looked at her face to try and discern what the letter might be telling her. She had looked nervous when she received the envelope from him. He understood that. Getting something addressed to you in here was uncertain business at best. He understood now that she'd meant their best, when she suggested the letter over the other objects. This did not seem like a pleasant ordeal to her, not like someone fighting for something that and then achieving it. Not a victory, just another tool to move further with.

He thought he was going to loose it when he watched her read. They couldn't be reading it without her consent, and how could she give them that without knowing what it said, but he was curious. Now that they had decided this was the right object to choose, waiting to know more about it became unbearable. He wondered if she had felt this way during their entire discussion. Ned balled his hands into fists and let them go, as though squeezing something invisible.

He found himself sighing when she broke the silence, saying they were doing well. He'd not noticed that he'd been holding his breath. Just the sound had been liberating, only at the end of his breath did he discover what she had actually said. It was fortunate for him that it had been a good sentiment. What did it mean that they were doing well? Did this mean that he might be getting out soon, or that he'd advanced more lately then he had in the previous three months? Hope hit him painfully in the chest, and made the tips of his fingers cold. He'd tried to forget that way of thinking. He hadn't known how starved he was for it.

Fleeing from that kind of pondering, he concentrated on what she said about numbers. His mind ran through a couple of possibilities. Ned visibly stiffened at her mention of single digit numbers, which would tell Genevieve that he had drawn the same conclusion as her, that they were floors to be visited. He opened his mouth to speak, and then saw the blade slide out, into her grip. It was a thin weapon, looked very sharp, but not like it would be very useful in combat, due to its lack of thickness. "Sacrifice?" he said. "Well, that's disconcerting."

Garry had moved to stand beside Ned after the shelf had so miraculously disappeared. He listened to what Genevieve said, arms crossed, nodding along and Hmm-ing whenever there was pause. His blue eyes were directed down, empty as he took in and processed what was given. At least this seemed more conducive to their attempt at beating House than the other choices. If these were truly the floors they should visit, then this piece of paper had saved them a lot of time and unnecessary risk. Surely BOA hadn't meant to be so helpful. It would just be another experiment. Still, this was forward motion. He held out his hand to her. "Can I see?" and he could.

Ned looked at the letter, suddenly less interested in it than the thought that had popped up in his head at having seen the knife. "Sacrifice might refer to floor eighteen." He frowned deeply and noticed that even Garry lifted his head from the letter. He looked between his two comrades as he continued to speak. "Well, the reason one might not visit floor eighteen that often is partially because there is very little to gather there, unless you sacrifice." He sighed and rubbed his forehead, gathering strength behind his lids. The brown eyes opened again, weary. "Human sacrifice. It's not dangerous because the sacrifices themselves are taken on other floors, usually by a pod, and then killed on floor eighteen, for BOA." The hand not on his own head waved at Gen's knife. "So yeah, if I had to guess."

"Interesting." Garry said, dryly. Of course there'd be something like that. Not only was this House trying to kill them, BOA wanted them to kill themselves, too. "How come you didn't mention this big number ten, Gen?" He held the letter up, though his face suggested he already knew the answer. He was pointing to what Genevieve knew to be Angel's blue message. "I'm guessing it says something else for you?" He then held it out for Ned, who stole it. Garry had read it two times already, and let Ned have it. It was relevant to know what it said to all of them. "Mine says seven days now, on top, and ten on the bottom."

"Mine says three days on top and ten on the bottom." Ned said and looked up at Garry, and then Genevieve. "What did yours say, Gen?" He held the letter out for her to take, as though she wouldn't remember something so important. He seemed very eager to be rid of the arc, fingers shaking slightly. "I definitely think this is the order in which we should take the floors. Garry, did your blue say anything else?" Ned head dropped, eyes empty in another manner than Garry's had been. "M-mine did. But it also said I can't tell you guys." He lifted his head and blinked. "I-it's going to be alright though. It won't be any danger to either of you."

Garry looked at Ned with wide eyes and then furrowed his brows. Ned seemed to be telling the truth, though obviously omitting something that was causing him great stress.

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Re: a wretched wonder
« Reply #211 on: December 13, 2013, 02:02:50 pm »
Ned explained to them what he thought sacrifice might mean. The implications were exceptionally disturbing, and went completely against the grain of what she was built to do as a person. The thought also didn’t seem to mesh with what she knew of BOA. Even in the Complex, they presented the people there with tests—unless Irna got involved, it had appeared to Genevieve while she was still Channing that BOA did extend some kind of opportunity to those within to know what was coming. As Angel had told her, if you kept your eyes open, you could usually prepare with at least some measure of adequacy. And even short of that, BOA had allowed her to manipulate the environment to put the odds more in the favor of those being tested—particularly Oliver. After all, what was a little broken café glass to the almighty BOA?

Garry said it was interesting, and she didn’t answer, because she thought maybe that was the rub. If you performed this task, maybe you’d proven you could kidnap people no problem. She was questioning her ability to do so, if it turned out that Ned was right. She couldn’t imagine what one could possibly get on floor 18 for a sacrifice that would be worth it. She also couldn’t imagine what someone would have to do, how despicable a person they’d have to be, for her to have any desire to kill them. Did they even get a choice? Or did BOA somehow signal to them who it was they needed to sacrifice?

Both men stated after reading that where her portion of the letter had had a message from Angel, all that theirs read was 10. Whatever number of days they’d come in with, both of theirs now matched hers at seven. She was surprised to hear that they had the number 10 at the bottom and it had not been at the bottom of hers.

She accepted the letter back from Garry, and Garry asked her what hers had said. Fortunately, Ned answered Garry before she could. Ned was visibly shaken, visibly bothered. He said he couldn’t say what his had said.

She said, “Mine didn’t say anything else,” Because even if they knew what hers had actually said, it wasn’t anything of value to either of them. “There certainly wasn’t a ten,” She continued, shocked to even say so. “I can’t believe they’d have tens on yours, but not on mine. But there’s nothing stopping me from going on floor ten. Since it’s not on our list, maybe we can save it for the end.”

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Re: a wretched wonder
« Reply #212 on: December 14, 2013, 01:51:00 pm »
Ned felt a pang of hope when Garry asked Genevieve about what hers said. That was right, wasn't it? what if all of them said the same thing? Somehow that would have made all the difference to him. He wasn't malicious, especially not toward these two, but he didn't want to be alone. He wasn't supposing BOA would have leveled the playing field. Ned frowned at the thought about the same time Gen replied that she in fact did not have the same thing as them written. None of them did. Garry obviously only had the Ten and nothing else added, like Ned.

"Yeah, let's save it for last." he said with a bit of a wilting voice. He'd caught the descent of enthusiasm and then smiled. "At least we know that we're on the right track, right?" He sighed, as though trying to exhale all the tension and looked around. The room was empty. The purpose it had for the day had been fulfilled, as far far their trio was concerned. If no one else came in, this was how it was going to be until tonight. "So we just follow the numbers and we'll be alright." Simple, clean. Devastating.

Garry looked Ned over, but didn't make much of his tone before shrugging and laughing. "Yeah, you're right." he slapped Gen on her shoulder and pushed Ned, which had the smaller man stumble back. "Well, there's our game plan, friends." He was looking especially at Gen, since this had been her idea to begin with, to take House systematically. He expressed equal satisfaction and jest in his eyes. He wasn't coy about the fact that it was born from jealousy, and wanted her to see that as a compliment. He then clapped his hands together.

"Well, I don't know about you guys, but I'm glad BOA has given us something to work with. I mean, it's probably going to mess us up something fierce." He started walking toward the door, resting the blade he'd claimed as his on his shoulder. "Ned, you'll probably die, and Gen, you'll probably die trying to save him, but now we have a map for it all." He looked back over his free shoulder at Ned. It seemed to take a while for the insult to register, and Garry took the moment to wink at Gen about it.

"Hey, Garry, I think you drop some lunch back there, aren't you going to pick it up?" Ned said as he patted Gen once on her arm before jogging to catch up with Garry, leaving her alone with the letter to follow them at her leisure. He forgot about the added message on the blue Ten of his message for now. If he told them about it, he was sure they would have given the same advice. Garry didn't notice that the hand pushing him back from before was sweaty. Ned was grateful.

Garry was a little uneasy having to walk by the Dolls, and saw that Ned tensed also. The bunched up metal bodies didn't move, though the gleam followed the eye, and that alone was unsettling enough that the both men skipped lively across the patch of the corridor dominated by the Dolls. As they made it toward the elevator, all of them, they would have to wait for the iron cage to come and get them. It seemed it would be traveling from lower floors. Ned sat by the wall, looking at the gun, which couldn't remain in the back of his pants anyway in this position.

"What was the first floor again?" Garry asked Genevieve. Ned looked up at them, a kind of reassignment on his face. Garry assumed it was from having to face whatever it would be that BOA had prepared just for them. It was terrifying to know that what would come would be tailored to be hardships for them, that BOA had their eyes on them especially, but it was also somewhat encouraging to know that they had a real chance to show their worth. It was always better to get to try, than be stuck at the sidelines, watching the game play on without you.

As the elevator arrived, a pod of five poured out, stopping to look at the three. A black haired woman, gray eyes, helped Ned up and asked about his gun as Garry stepped in to the box and her pod members started through the corridor. She looked at Genevieve with a smile and wink before she padded him on the shoulder, apparently also noticing his dropped mood, said something in his ear and then moved along. Ned joined his friend in the elevator. "Friendly." he mumbled as he put the gun back in the hem of his pants.

Garry looked at Gen and rolled his eyes.

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Re: a wretched wonder
« Reply #213 on: December 19, 2013, 01:49:47 pm »
At least they were on the right track, Ned had said. This, more than anything, had calmed her rather than amped up her fear and frustration. The fact that they were given a specific number of days also seemed promising. But suspicion lingered. That Ned and Garry had been given the direction to go to floor ten, and she had not, seemed strange. She reminded herself then that she had been through a wholly different type of ordeal to place her here. Perhaps whatever would await the other men on floor ten, BOA thought she had already paid her dues. Would what they encountered be different for all three of them, as the letter?

And whatever Ned’s version of the letter had said bothered her as well. Her mind immediately jumped to the idea that the letter told him the sacrifice would indeed be him, brief panic shot through her. His zeal had been dampened by the contents of the letter. Surely, though, whatever it said couldn’t have doomed him to death—had hers, she would have ultimately decided the way she would be going out before whatever BOA insisted could come true. This had been her decision from moment one.

Garry gave them both a good-natured clap on the back. The gesture made it impossible not to smile, not to bring her up a little.

“Well, there’s our game plan, friends,” He said, looking at her in a manner that her exhausted mind could not quite place. It was partially congratulatory. She took the moment to be thankful that neither man had questioned what had been so important to her about the letter. Thankful that BOA had given the two men their own letters to read. It heightened the importance of the object, the desperation of her need to Pick That One. Garry clapped his hands together in a manner she imagined he had done at the conclusion of a number of meetings where he’d discussed with a contracting crew a building plan and laid out the schedule for how the work needed to be done.

Garry said he was happy for the direction from BOA. She shared this feeling. She had never been a directionless woman, someone who abandoned structure and planning in favor of spontaneous wandering. Garry said, “Ned, you’ll probably die, and Gen, you’ll probably die trying to save him, but now we have a map for it all.”

Garry winked at her, she smiled again, this time with a bit of a laugh. She was joyless underneath at his words. The realization that it could only be two who walked out of House seemed to underscore their plight and diminish the humor.

Ned teased Garry about his problems with the force field, moving toward him to start collecting the belongings that they were going to take with them. All had forgotten about the Dolls, lying in their pile, seeming useless to her, like discarded playthings. She hoped that they would stay that way.

Genevieve carefully folded the letter and tucked it into her pocket, feeling almost more grateful for the words of encouragement inside than for the almost-explicit instructions, as valuable as they were. The two men had not questioned what instinct drove her to the letter—she had not even been momentarily tempted by the gun, or by the food, as soon as she had seen it. Something told her that BOA would have made them regret picking any of those options, prolonging their stay in House.

She followed them to the elevator, where they had to wait. She supposed it was early afternoon, by then, and that any who were brave enough to venture about would be so doing.

“What was the first floor again?” Garry asked, breaking the silence after they’d been waiting about a minute. She thought he was trying to ease the last bit of remaining tension as the three resigned themselves to the plan BOA had laid out for them, had tacked on to Genevieve’s initial suggestion to tackle the floors with intentionality.

“Fourteen,” She said, “One we’ve never been on as a group.” She said so to again acknowledge that Ned may have been there before, may have some insight. Give him a chance to share more of what he knew. Whatever his version of the letter had said, she wanted to bring him out of it. She realized then that whatever it had said could come to pass as soon as they hit the first floor on their list. She wanted to press him about it, but wouldn’t. If BOA said he couldn’t tell, and he decided to, it could fuck them all over irreparably.

The elevator opened a small group spilled out, among them a woman with startlingly similar coloring to herself. Black hair. Grey eyes.  She whispered something in Ned’s ear, touched him gently before she was on her way. It was an odd moment of reinforcement. Garry rolled his eyes at Genevieve, she surprised herself by having to stop herself sharing the gesture.

She abruptly changed subjects, trying to force a more determined mood, “Have you been to 14 before, Ned? What’ve you seen there before?”

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Re: a wretched wonder
« Reply #214 on: December 19, 2013, 10:24:27 pm »
Ned had been looking at the woman, leaving. Her confidence was out of place in here, which could only lead him to the conclusion that she was pretending. He didn't like that, even if the act itself was charming. Nobody really adapted to house in a happy way. What was the point of doing anything here if you were going to be all happy about it? She'd seen mayhem before coming here, whether it be on a beach or in a dessert, she'd lived through a fast paced hell to qualify. One would have to be morbidly brave or lethally dumb not to let BOA's ordeals affect.

Still. It had been a convincing display. It had been good to feel like he'd been sitting on the street in his normal clothes, and she'd just been someone on her way back from lunch, helping a stranger up. 'This is all bullshit, don't worry about it.' she'd said. How would she know? Her clothes were appropriately worn and dirty, but if she had that kind of attitude, Ned had no choice than to think that she was a novice. She hadn't felt like a particularly dumb person, none of that glossy-eyed denial on her that was a trademark for crazies in here, or anywhere.

He turned away from her when Genevieve asked him about fourteen. A frown preceded his answer. "Yeah. A few times. First time it was filled with snakes with a fridge in each room. Last time I was there there was some kind of giant puzzle, you know, rings and cylinders and shit. The pod I was with didn't care to try and solve it for very long." Such was the ego of the leaders in here, when they had to be the perfect blend of asshole and violent. He'd seen them weighing between acting like human beings or continue their dominant persona many times. The puzzle had been one of those crossroads for that leader, David.

"It's a bit harsher than this floor." he said as he stepped in to the elevator, and watched Garry go as well. Ned leaned against the wall and was tempted to sit down again, but didn't feel as defeated as before. That thought made him smile. "It's why I like seventeen." He assumed they were all going back to yesterday, when the Dancing Doll had whopped them into, well, today. "Because seventeen is usually not as unreasonable as other floors." he said with look at Garry, to keep the giant from trying to be smart. "Fourteen has a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, the rewards haven't been great, it's not turned out well anytime I've been there, but it's not almost guaranteed badness, as with the single digits."

Garry shrugged as the elevator started moving. "It's not uplifting, but it's a lot better than certain doom. I guess it'd be pretty embarrassing if we croaked on the first floor they gave us." He laughed at that shortly, it was both dry and honestly amused. "If nothing else, it wouldn't be entertaining to them if we weren't going to get further than their first test, right?" It was a dark thought, but why else were they here? The likeness to a pit for gladiators was flawed, but it was the first one that sprung to mind. They were to be ran around at BOA's whim. Hopefully their agony was more entertaining than their deaths. "I don't know, but I have to say, if I got to chose between watching those larger pods and ours, I'd pick us any day. Maybe that's why they're helping us, because they're curious to see what we'll do."

The ride would become longer than they expected, going down first to the last of the basement floors to retrieve a few people. The smells of course wafted out at them, warm, and still it was less than when a lot of people were gathered there for the night. "Home sweet home." Ned mumbled before someone from the new pod closed the doors and pushed floor seventeen. The all looked at each other then. Would they get a letter too, or would the items in their shelf be completely different? Would there be a shelf at all? Three pick-ups and as many drops later, their button still lit, their pod started to stir.

"I guess they want us alone on this quest." Garry said as the elevator finally was emptied. He had a good feeling about this trip up. "I gotta say I like it better this way." He watched the floors pass, hoping to catch something that would give away their nature, but they were just industrial and bleak colors to tell a story he already knew. The floors would loose their meaning if you knew what you were stepping in to every time. The elevator did stop at fourteen. Garry pulled the doors aside. "I'll take your guys watching my back over having to look over my shoulder any day." he continued.

There would be a corridor, eventually leading the trio to a wall instead of the opening to a room. Three holes, one for each, with a metal tunnel stretching beyond each entrance. Above each entrance there'd be a streak of paint. Brown to the left, gray in the middle, and blue to the left. The blue entrance incidentally was the largest, whereas the middle entrance was the smallest. "Oh," Ned would say, folding his arms. "I wonder what they want us to do now."

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Re: a wretched wonder
« Reply #215 on: December 20, 2013, 01:52:05 pm »
Ned’s response about seventeen, and how the group he had been with had little interest in trying to solve the puzzle of the room, stood as a stark example as to how people could languish in House for months upon months. Playing The Game was something her mother had taught her to do, something she had long railed against, feeling that she was sacrificing her personality and her beliefs to go along with things that others wanted her to do that she felt were stupid. But to get where you wanted to go, you had to Play The Game. Dress the part. Mute your true feelings. Make the effort to be what they wanted you to be—for a time. Then, re-introduce yourself when you’ve won.

This was more of the same, if this time life-or-death. When BOA presented you with an invitation to Play The Game, you did it or you could stay in House, what the hell did they care? Wherever they were farming their money for upkeep, it was enough that they didn’t mind the stragglers. Ned said he held only bitterness for fourteen, he’d only encountered badness there. She thought but did not say that it might have been because his mindset was all wrong. She thought of Cal as the perfect example. She was beginning to feel that they had won over Cal because of, not in spite of, their willingness to try to do so at all.

Garry half-joked, as all of their jokes in House seemed to be, about the fact that it would just be boring if they all died on the first floor they were expected to tackle.

“I don’t think BOA tests people with the intent of watching them fail,” She said. She agreed with his assessment of BOA. “If they wanted to watch us flounder, they wouldn’t have given us any direction at all.” It went back, again, to the Complex, the hints about upcoming tests and what might be needed. The fact that BOA didn’t stop Angel shooting her in the heart, when they so easily could have. It was mind-numbing when one considered the absolute hell that was House, the forceful breaking down that was the Complex. BOA didn’t seem to want people to fail.

But what, then, did they fucking want?

She was with Garry, too, on his thoughts that their small group was far better than a large one, perhaps a pod who stuck together—though not so much for the entertainment factor. “Lord of the Flies,” She said, again becoming The Editor, “The group led by the maniac got larger, and suddenly everybody’s acting like a fucking maniac. The small group managed to stay nearly sane. Proper decision-making, clear thought, was their driving force. Blood was the driving force of the other.

“And the idea showed itself in everyday life, as well,” She went on, staring at the wall, “Occupy Wall Street. Tea Parties. The larger a group becomes, the more muddled the message, the less any one person knows the goal or the reasons or the sane argument that started the thing. The world sees a giant bloc of fucking morons, the message is lost, suddenly people are spouting racist epithets and shitting on police cars and raping people in a fantasy tent city. And they lose the world’s attention, eventually, the crowd begins to disperse and nobody remembers what it was anybody gave a damn about in the first place. The group as a whole just loses its fucking mind.”

The elevator ride seemed unusually long, to her, they passed the floor they’d chosen a number of times as groups and individuals went on and came off. No one really spoke. No one eyed them with misgivings. There was only a dark, mutual understanding about what anybody was there to do. Some of the people she had seen might be stepping off the elevator and straight to an untimely death by refusal to play the game. Can You? or Will You?

When they were finally ushered to the floor they had chosen, the elevator was empty. Garry said, “I guess they want us alone on this quest. I gotta say, I like it better this way.”

“Me too,” She said, following his lead. As with so many floors, they followed a corridor to another opening that stopped short into a tall wall. Three tunnels. When she looked into them, she could just see that they were metal from the light in the main room, but they quickly grew dark as she tried to look down them. The tunnels were clearly marked for each of them, by eye color. Ned said with some sarcasm that he wondered what it was BOA wanted them to do.

“What we do,” She said, answering him whether he wanted the answer or not, “Is take our tunnels to wherever they end up. They're marked by eye color, and as if that wasn’t enough, size.”

The idea that they’d be split up was worrisome, but she said, before they could comment on the fact, “They have to see. They have to see if we’ll actually do it. The floors are going to be specific to us, now, you see? I bet if anybody tries to choose this floor on the elevator, the button won’t light up or the door won’t open. This is ours, now. We should see it as an accomplishment. We need to distribute among us the weapons we have on us, and then go forth.”


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Re: a wretched wonder
« Reply #216 on: December 21, 2013, 12:59:57 am »
Ned liked the assurance of BOA's intention coming from Garry, and then Genevieve. He attributed no power over the situation to neither of his comrades, but he believed in their analytical skills, and thought the if they believed something, it was bound to have a certain chance to be true, especially if both agreed on the same thing. It was good to know that there was some forces that might be in their corner, in this otherwise hopeless game. It was exactly that though, a test, which was fair, but ruthless. A test is just another failure if you're not good enough. He would be an even bigger idiot then he'd already been if he thought that his three months here meant anything but that he hadn't cut it, not yet. Maybe he wasn't made of the right stuff.

He breathed in the story of Lord of The Flies. Their little editor. To him it had been a chore, those pages. Something he had to read while not thinking on the freckles in Emily Watson's cleavage. There were many aspects of their current existence that could be described by that book. Genevieve chose to attach it to the workings of a group. He was all too familiar with how right she was. He had to remind himself that she hadn't seen it happen the way he had, at least he had to think she hadn't.

She stood on events, historical and closer past. The nature of the human race. Their genetic destiny. Proud rules of the earth, shitting on cop cars. Ned did smile, then. He liked to laugh at commentary, like to quote things that had cleaver ring to them to others - it helped when he wore a suit - but that had never been his kind of humor, he'd only pretended for his image, and to try and impress the surroundings. He knew that he was a simpleton at heart. Slapstick got to him, the punchline after two repetitive set ups had him bawling. But this darkness, now that he'd been soaked in other's deceit, greed and desperation to a point where he could identify it in larger bodies of people, this he could laugh at.

Ned found some comfort in this stinging critique toward the race he was a part of. It made him stronger. Many things to gather, inside such critical introspection. His ego was fragile, he hadn't needed Dr. Farn to tell him that. This was why he'd tried his best to get to a managing position, to have people under him even if he hadn't really deserved it. Sometimes he'd just gone in and checked on people to remind them he was still the boss, even if they didn't need it. To him, wielding what little power he had in a lenient way out of what he thought was mercy had been the sole thing that gave flavor to his day. The rest, he knew now, were only fillers.

So he sucked in what Genevieve said and let it hurt him, took it as personally as he possibly could. It was him raping fellow rebels, lost from their group, it was him hurling bottles that splintered into useless fires on concrete walls. It was him that set up a rolling cart, selling images on useless articles for tourist in the aftermath of a great rally, in guise of capitalism, he would rather peddle his apathy and maybe slight perversion to stay close to great violence and held-down ideals.

And then, when the elevator stopped and they came out, he let all the filth drain from him. He wasn't his fellow man. Not only did he not carry all the sins and crimes of others, he couldn't claim their victories, either. He'd been given a task by the world, by House, by BOA, and he realized that he would have to make his own choice about it. He wasn't pathetic anymore. Thanks to Genevieve and Garry he was new. Which of course meant he had every chance to be pathetic again, but he could also be like them. This would suck either way, thanks to so few, blue words, but it didn't yet. He couldn't count himself out yet.

Garry had noticed a taller gait in Ned, he was sure Gen saw it too. That mattered very little now, when they were about to split up. They couldn't rely on each other anymore, not just for support, but for strength. He knew he performed better for others. Maybe that was why they had to be broken up. "BOA looks at the individual." he said. It was a criticism toward the Game Masters. He'd never mean it any kind of stake driven between them. "So I guess you both have owe me to get through this, for the team."

Ned nodded and went to his entrance, hands on either side of the hole. "Well, I'd stay and talk you guys out of it, but I actually think this will be fun." he was sure he was joking, but didn't know if he'd been able to convey that with his tone. He sighed and nodded to Garry, who nodded back. Ned looked longer at her than he had meant to. It was useless to try and pry himself away, he thought. What did whatever hell was waiting for him in there have on her? It had punishment. So he turned and stepped inside. He moved steady into his own test, reaching back for his gun.

When she had left Garry, who was weighing his own sword in his hand, she would be greeted by a metal tunnel, that they could have seen from standing outside their designated tunnels. The environment would be too small to swing her blade, if she brought it. It would be confusingly long, the space of it hard to explain, the bends improbable considering that there were three other tunnels beside it. At a set point of no return, she would hear the sharp sliding of a door behind her, to announce that there was no use in doing anything but going forward.

The tunnel would widen slowly, and then abruptly fan out into a room, clad in the same metal as the tunnel. At the far end another tunnel, like the one where she stood. At the farther half of the room, a stretch of water, the breadth of a man, running from one wall to the other. A line. Cross it, if you can. There'd be a faint scent of cinnamon to greet her. She'd be able to see little things floating in the water. When she came closer, the surface would erupt and suddenly the beast she would recognize from the beach would come up, barking. A handful, almost as numerous as the row she'd fought before, all of them of different sizes ranging from normal canine size to Cal's impressive build. They also had various degrees of scaling in bone.

The ran at her, furious. Echoing in the otherwise empty space, voices, not barks from their throats. Names, woman names. Anne, Lisa, Sara, Linda. They were all baring teeth and as ready as their dead kin to eat her.

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Re: a wretched wonder
« Reply #217 on: January 04, 2014, 02:07:55 pm »
“BOA looks at the individual,” Garry reminded them. A hint of reproach touched his words, reproach for BOA. She wondered how much of BOA’s insistence, as she saw it, on splitting them up was for her, and how much was for Garry and Ned. She realized then that this could be the last moment she ever saw either of them. Would either of them be waiting on the other side? How long should she wait if she got through first? What if one of them faced a challenge that was designed simply to be longer than the others, was the end of the test to see how long any of them would wait for the others to come out?

She had thought of none of these things when they first came upon this test, and something stopped her from speaking any of them before they all went on. Perhaps if they didn’t consider any of that, if they all just thought they’d make it to the end and all would be well, such would come true. After all, wasn’t it true that so many outcomes were dictated by an individual’s belief that they would be?

The last thing Ned said before disappearing into his tunnel was that he thought it would be fun. She hoped in some small sense that for him, it might be. He had seemed to walk much taller from the enclosed space of the elevator, seemed to have overcome whatever had been on his portion of the letter—the one neither she nor Garry could see. He reached for his gun in a way that suggested he was more prepared to use it than she had seen him.

Garry took one sword off to her right, and she took the remaining one to the center. She was the last to go in. Not for any fear for herself, but for fear for them. As she so often reminded herself, she had been prepared to sign her life away. She had a goal, certainly, and she had two partners to look after, now, but there were no guarantees about the end result if she made it through house. An old fictional man from Maine once said, “Sometimes, dead is better.” And she believed that.

She moved forward. The tunnel was only large enough for her, she couldn’t even totally stand upright, partially bent. She held the sword to her side, blade behind her, imagining what would she do if the tunnel started to fill with water, or if a space opened up and something came out to kill her. There was no swinging room, here—Ned had the best weapon for this particular job. She was listening for gunshots.

The tunnel bent and turned and went on in a manner that she tried not to consider—it was senseless with what she knew about the construction of House, the fact that there had been two tunnels on either side of her. She hated the sense of claustrophobia creeping up on her,  made all the worse by the sudden sound of a door sliding shut behind her. There was no turning back, no changing her mind.

As she pressed on, the tunnel began to widen, light began to filter in more strongly. When she came to the all-metal room, she could see what looked like a small creek, something floating on the top of it. And a scent. Cinnamon. She felt herself raising the sword in preparedness, only one thing did her mind’s eye see when she smelled that scent, and when she took yet another step closer, they rose from the water with rage, their almost mechanical, chafing voices screaming the names of women.

They were less uniform in their structure than those she’d encountered on the beach, and this time she had a more dangerous weapon. She recalled the dancing doll, its maneuvers, the way that it had slashed and jumped so artfully. She called on that memory, now. She was the doll. Only she would be uninhibited by the sound of music or the scent of cinnamon.

“Bring it on!” She found herself shouting, ridiculous, charging toward the animals to gain some ground toward the opposite tunnel.

All four of them were on her at once, but she had brought her sword up in such an extreme arc that she managed to knock the smallest one in the face. The heavy paw of the largest beast, claws and all, got her at her side and threw her down. She felt little pain from the wound, but blood gushed from four jagged edges. She rolled and pushed herself up, making the effort to position her back toward the new tunnel and the remaining dogs toward the one she’d come out of.

When one of the smaller dogs came at her this time, the others seemed more hesitant, their fallen smallest comrade twitching where she’d opened its head. She brought the sword down hard on the back of the one that charged her, the sword stuck a moment and between a yelp of pain the dog managed to reach its head up and clamp its teeth down on her left wrist.

She screamed and kicked it away, moving ever-backwards toward the new tunnel. Her feet went into the water, she tried to keep her balance at the edge—it was surprisingly deep—probably chest-high at its lowest point, but so simple to cross. She reached toward the things floating in the water. The jerky. The same old stupid jerky that had once hidden a trigger, a button, help me help me.

She held the sword with her right hand and dipped her left, trailing blood, into the water, grabbing madly at the cinnamon scented jerky. She lifted them as she grabbed them and threw them to the remaining two dogs. Even if they didn’t eat them, it might distract them long enough for her to get into the tunnel—and she could only hope a door would slide shut behind her again, like the last one. She was not in such a way this time to defeat four dogs—she would have died the last time if not for the ingenious healing properties of BOA’s carrier. She wouldn’t try her luck twice, if she could avoid it.

She made four or five quick tosses of jerky to the dogs, one sheet hitting on of them square on the nose, and she then turned and quickly made her way across the water without looking back. If she could get to the tunnel, the smaller space might make it more difficult for both dogs to attack her at once if no relieving door slammed shut behind her. It seemed so close.

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Re: a wretched wonder
« Reply #218 on: January 09, 2014, 09:31:10 pm »
The beastly things reacted with what was natural inside them when they saw her, running at her, chasing her. And it was as natural to them to hesitate, when she called upon bravado, and met them in the sprint. A lot because of this moment, she was able to rattle them, and hurt one of them severely. They were barking mad at her, tearing holes in the air with their pearly teeth in their pursuit, the largest having a taste for her now that it had bleed her. They stood at the edge of the liquid which had birthed them. Dogs shouldn't be afraid of water, not swimming dogs, but they remained there, their paws away from any waves that she made as they bit and called at the pieces of jerky.

She would hear in her flight to the other side that their voices became more desperate, and increasingly human. The names would be called with better pronunciation, some surprise in their throats, at the morphing of pitched sounds to better discernible syllables. Anne, the largest dog, started throwing her own name repeatedly before choking on it, lurching to cough out little bolts of innards to land and spread in the water, as submerged organs might in clear liquid. She looked up at Channing - they weren't involved in her improvised lie - leaking blood between her fangs with vengeance in the large, black marbles with pupils as dark as the rest of the seeing, seething orbs. There was still a cacophony of the other names all around the largest canine, all in different stages of interruption because of the same ailment that had apparently struck Anne first.

As the legs of the others buckled to let them cough, Anne growled, teeth pushed together to display a wide and tall wall of enamel where blood was the mortar. There was more determination in her gaze, though soon it was halted when her brow and Anne had to curl herself downward again, with the others, coughing more curdled crimson onto the hard beach. The gunk that moved with the water, and the half that was still on land seemed to mesmerize her for a while. She soaked in the anger. and lifted her head.

When her offerings of dried, sickly sweet meat flew through the air, Anne stared at Channing again. A piece of jerky hit her dead on the forehead, but she didn't blink. She moved her paw high, folding her leg before dipping it into the water. The other names started flying around her, warnings, redirected aggression. Lisa attacked her, dug her teeth into Anne's waist. Anne twisted around and rewarded the act of aggression with the clasping of the formidable wall she'd shown Channing. A muffled crush, the conversation between those large jaws and Lisa's neck.

The smaller dog fell twitching to the floor, anger still alive in the body, even after the life had gone. Anne sucked in a breath as though to sample some of the blood, hers and Lisa's, still stuck on her muzzle. The other monsters were slowed, but still obsessed with restraining the largest. Anne's body fought the bend of itself, but her mind seemed stronger than to obey the impulse. She jumped into the water, after Channing. And the shallow pool roiled, as though the furry, muscular body had chemical, ballistic properties.

When she broke the sizzling liquid again, it would be a naked arm, followed by a bald head. As she swung her limbs to catch up to Channing, it could be made out that her skin was riddled with enlarged pores, where the thick pins of the fur had either retracted or fallen off. The now very much human creature hissed a cloud of pink water, remnants of Lisa the colorant, as she thrashed to gain some momentum as her legs kicked her forward from the bottom. Channing would be treated to see a rapid growth of rat colored hair on Anne's head, the kind destined to be colored if the owner had her say, or even if she spent a week in the summer sun, and the switch of dark eyes to a vivid, angry blue.

Channing would have hoisted herself up on tiled land by the time the dog-turned-person had covered half the distance of the pool. Then the other dogs would join her in this plunging metamorphosis. They were not as far as Anne in their rebirth, sinew still visible underneath translucent skin, when they started tearing her down. Like her dog-self, Anne was larger than all the others, but they had not trouble overwhelming her, and keeping her under. Her last gulp of air would be as a fully formed woman, reaching for Channing rather than fighting the pack. She said her own name, drowning. Her murderers stood in the water, unwilling to change as she did, as though she had performed something forbidden, and simply watched the woman in their never human forms. Channing seemed out of reach for them now, that she was no on their side of calming water. They would let her pass into the opening in the furthest wall.

The hole would take her away from the dogdeath room. There would be syringes on either side of her, in this new, spacious tunnel. Orange on her right side, spaced evenly, eight feet between eaqch, mirrored by the ones on her left side, but for the black liquid they held. Above her, lining either side of the single row of pipe lighting, metal net held up speakers into the ceiling. She would know Anthony's voice. At first he was smug, playful, a convinced fan of himself, saying "Can't you see I'm wearing black? Always bet on black."

Then, when the last word was broken before it had really been finished, he abruptly became sullen. She seemed to be joining him in the middle of a sentence. "...doesn't matter. She won't make it anyway. At least let me..." this repeated ten times, soon finding it's rhythm, an addictive chorus before the mischievous voice came back. "bet on black." The since long obvious recording started borrowing from itself. "Can't you" then "at least let". Silence, for three of her steps. "bet on black." Another two steps of silence. "Black."

The rest would would be heated tidbits of his voice and Irna's. Juvenile and sadistic decelerations of affection from them both. Grave playfulness. Intimacy in the face of violence. He was a casual murderer, she was as crazy as she'd made herself known to be. It was all to rattle Channing, so she would stop her pursuits as Genevieve. She would have realized this. A word would be spliced in often, "Betray". One question, probably spoken on top of sweaty pillows or some other unfortunate makeshift bedding, would stick out. Channing would know that it's purpose was the same as the rest of this montage of a fiery, destructive relationship, but that it might hold more meaning than BOA thought.

"What about girls from your past, Playboy, when you weren't all stitched up?"

"I died for one. You really think you can beat that, Red?"

"You're such a romantic."

"I am."

And then there would be a wall. The end of the tunnel. One syringe on either side.

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Re: a wretched wonder
« Reply #219 on: January 15, 2014, 02:26:26 pm »
She stopped moving toward the other tunnel, early out of the water, when she realized that she wasn’t being followed. Something willed her to turn around, to look back.

Gore. Blood. The dogs had uniformly leaned down at the water to void themselves of a disgusting blend of what appeared to be blood and their own guts. Still all screaming names, female names. Genevieve watched with fascination that ought to have been more toward horror—but what would it take, really, for her to be horrified at whatever she saw in fucking House?

The answer would come. The largest, screaming Anne, had its wet, rolling eyes locked on Genevieve. Slowly, it began to dip a paw in the water. Not hesitant. Willfully slow. Deliberate taunting. Dog screaming Lisa went to attack the Anne-dog, and Genevieve did not look away as the powerful jaws of Anne ended Lisa in a sickening crushing of bone.

And as the dog finally forced itself into the water, the surface seemed to roil and sizzle as though it were boiling hot. This was Genevieve’s cue to get the fuck out. She pushed herself out of the water, first throwing the sword up onto land to avoid dropping it foolishly. She picked it up. Again, she turned around, facing the dogs but inching back toward the tunnel.

The naked arm of a woman forced itself up out of the water. The pool was now a sludge of fur, pink grease. She emerged, hair seeming to sprout from her head in a slimy film, a grey-brown. The rolling black eyes rippled to a startling blue. This Anne-thing reached the opposite side of the pool. She was beginning to hoist herself up.

Genevieve’s eyes slipped back and forth between the disgusting mess in the water and this naked creature with limbs that seemed too elongated, flat breasts hanging weakly from its chest, water dripping from its too-thin body. Genevieve recognized it as female, but could not bring herself to see it as human.

The remaining dogs then attacked, all of them beginning to transform in the same manner, while trying to kill the Anne-thing. As the fur and dog skin sloughed off, the water began to turn a deeper red, churning with skin and fur and parts and blood. She had seen quite enough. She turned and went into the next tunnel, thankful when the same manner of door slid shut behind her. She leaned back against it, realizing then that her chest was tight, she was woefully out of breath, bleeding still. She tried to calm herself in effort to slow the bleeding from her side, her wrist.

All she could see was the innards. The water turned soupy with gore. Somehow that was what it had taken for her to feel the BOA had crossed a line. In spite of the knowledge that they could likely read her every though, in spite of her desperation to keep a shield up in her mind at all times, she said aloud, “That’s fucked up,” then, louder, “That’s FUCKED up!” The scene replayed before her over and over. Nothing before had made her formless thoughts of BOA as an enemy to be defeated more solid.

no. you didn’t see that and that didn’t happen. it’s a trick like so many others. they want to see it change you.

Yes. That was it. They were trying to draw her rebellion out of her, trying to make her prove her intentions, shake her up. Fuck her up. If she let them, they would simply end it. The one thing everyone in House, in the Complex, agreed on was that BOA was full of tricks. Could she even prove she had experienced any of this? How? The simple fact that the series of rooms was impossible to exist within the confines of House should have been enough. How much of anything they had seen or experienced was real?

Fact or fiction, it was another part of the story, of Can You? BOA said they Could. Now, Can She?

yes. yes, always yes.

When she opened her eyes, she took in the new room. Black-filled syringes on her left, orange on her right. Her gaze drifted toward the ceiling. No sooner did her eyes meet speakers than did Anthony’s voice lilt from above.

“Always bet on black.”

A sudden shift, and a phrase that repeated ten times exactly, “—doesn’t matter, she won’t make it, anyway. At least let me—”

Words played on. Black, black, repeated as she moved down the hall. And then things changed. The lilt returned to her voice, and his voice joined by Irna’s. Genevieve could almost feel the intended heat between them, the sweat, the air electric with passion. Genevieve felt her face grow hot as the voices did what she knew they were intended to do. This was a mental shakedown. Whether the scene she imagined was real or false, it was being presented to her to rearrange her priorities.

i died for one, you think you can beat that, Red

A pet name. BOA went above and beyond, didn’t they. And why not? They had well understood her reaction to the letter, the way she had worked Ned over to get it. She had felt rewarded when the letter had said something for her comrades, too. It had proved the choice, and BOA had allowed it.

black. black. bet on black

The end of the tunnel before her abruptly, a table with the same two syringes that had lined her procession. She knew the task. In spite of the recorded voice of Anthony, she did not know the choice. BOA had designed these voices to play in such a specific way. Was she supposed to trust the insistence on black, trust the other phrases and words tossed about? Trust that Anthony had said of her that she wouldn’t make it, anyway?

If she could not bring herself to trust the rest of it, why then would it make any sense for her to trust that she should select black because she heard it from his own voice?

It was a mind game she was sore to play. She could finally feel herself beginning to wear down from the exploits of the past 48 hours. Should she take Anthony’s word, black, at face value? Should she go for orange because BOA was using Anthony to try to select black? Or, did BOA realize that she wouldn’t trust them for using Anthony’s voice, and expect her to select orange simply to be contrary?

bet on black

In the end she reached for the black, deciding that even if the entire thing ended right here at this wall, at this table, that that was fine. If BOA defeated her here, with Anthony’s voice, she laughed hoarsely at the thought that at least she had gotten to hear it once more.

“Fuck you,” She said to BOA. She plunged the black syringe into her right thigh through her pants.

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Re: a wretched wonder
« Reply #220 on: January 17, 2014, 07:43:50 pm »
Somewhere Anthony suffered a surge of weight in an inexplicable depth between his right side chest and his middle-to-upper spine. He looked up, miserable and torn, at Poet.

It couldn't be a simple push that held her from receiving the liquid, this oil of truth, whether it lead her to more riddles or to some final answer. When the pressure was applied, and the contents of it descended into her leg through the fabric of her uniform pants, it changed in color. When it had received enough incentive from her thumb to be delivered, it turned that lazy sunset, reddish gold before it turned the same maniacal orange that she'd been inclined to avoid. Some new clue for her, before her veins drank it down. In that moment, it could have looked like reflexes would have saved her, that if she pulled the needle out fast enough it wouldn't be able to mix with her blood. She had learned BOA liked those illusions, that they could devote a lot of resources to crate such a mirage.

A heat took her leg, presenting to her the divide of her muscle fibers, burning between every detail of her machinated components. Submersion in hot liquid, as though she hadn't any protective skin, and the space between her muscles were hollows to be filled. It carried over to the rest of her, of course, as it became a pleasant temperature - that of another human - before it became a little too hot again. A humming scorch that fluctuated. Bengay on open wound, and a little kinder.

It left her with time to fight, if she wished. The light above would shine on her face and deceptively steal some thunder for the sometimes sizzling, sometimes bearable fire. Ultimately it wouldn't relent until it had eaten away at her strength with increasing insistence. You can go for a mile, no problem, but you can't do anything forever. Obstacles that become more formidable with passing time are designed against you. Channing had been right in either choice of vial. Her suspicions being correct had very little sway in BOA's decisions in executing her tests or not.

And then, when her mind would do what the mind does upon overwhelming sensory input, she would be treated to an haphazardly sewn quilt of memories she'd traded. No coherence of course, but they were still very much teeming with emotions. Her feelings toward something so small as a nickname shouted or a milestone in her tobacco romance would take their rightful place, where they had been missed. The dreams tried to marry the hurts of the currently acrid, hostile outer world with her inner self, and make it work. It didn't mean she got to keep those sold and now borrowed images when she woke up in the room where she'd started, the entrance designed for her closed. She'd hadn't had worse hangovers, but this one would fall off like a blanket.

With his cheek wrinkled under his eye, as that skin would be pressed thoughtlessly to the ground by the weight of his head, Ned stared back at her. It was an uncomfortable way to lay. His body was relaxed, without resistance, and his eyes were wide and full of resignation in the brown. He breathed because it was the last reflex. His spirit was gone someplace else because of whatever he had seen. Genvieve would know that he hadn't seen something as titillating as canines turned into humanoid meat. But he had seen a lot. It had stained the sclera that used to be shot with blood over the white into a slight yellow. Aged paper.

And when she was done seeing the small details that made Ned alive but not fully spared by his own ordeal, she discovered the crude but clear letters of blue drawn on his face. Through her headache and misery she would be able to make out the message. Bulbous writ, innocent, like a young girl trying to please her teacher. Or an older girl, stunted because of her abuse of abusive substances. Maybe Genevieve could borrow Channing's memory of a certain someone who shouted Bang when she read

He knows.

The first word was small, above his right eyebrow, as thought the line of hair had been used to support the writer. The last word was large, splayed across his eyelids and nose. The word was tilted. If the first had been proper and withheld, the second was insane, malicious to her, and degrading to Ned. He was looking at her though his film of mental sleep, waking up but not quickening. "Well, that was helpful." he said and made to become upright. He settled for a sitting position. "I gotta say I missed you." he said within a sigh that was more exhale than his body should have been able to produce. She would know his dry humor. This was not it.

With his head raised, and looking from her to something laying beside her, her blind side - most probably Garry - she would be able to see the round, smiling caricature with its tongue out at her, on the cheek he'd laid on. Ned was unaware of the message he was carrying. It was a sentiment written in blue, after all. If Channing would like to tell him, then perhaps Genevieve would recognize the weakness of his spirit, and perhaps not let him know of the mockery out of mercy. He did know, like the two words said, the answer to the lesson that BOA was trying to teach the subjects of House. It did not make him happy.

"You're pretty, Gen." he said. It was as cold as a fact could have been. Ned had gotten courage from the emptiness left in him. It made the confession less of a compliment. Even he was puzzled, somewhere between the slumping shoulders and the barely moving lips, over what he expected her to answer. He was not too shy to show that conflict, anymore. "I think you're great." Gray notes on a flat song. Didn't mean much, but that in turn didn't mean that he didn't mean it.

Garry laughed behind her. His voice was intact, which meant his test had probably been physical for most part. The giant man pushed himself up, with his new clothes on, still standard issue, and his clean face in a smile. Maybe cleanliness had been his reward. Garry must not have interpreted the old, moth eaten threads that bound Ned's words together for what they were. The happiest of them produced a slight clap when he sat, grabbing her shoulder and shaking it slightly. "Next floor? You can both tell me your stories in the elevator."

Garry could not read the blue taunt on Ned's face.

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Re: a wretched wonder
« Reply #221 on: February 05, 2014, 02:08:59 pm »
In spite of her quick and deep thrust of the plunger on the syringe, the liquid seemed to move slowly as it bled to new color from black. For a heartbeat, she thought that she could pull it out if she wanted, stop all this nonsense—but to what end?

Then the heat, as though her thigh were splitting, the liquid oozing over sinew and vein and bone. The heat spread like wildfire, in one moment nearly unbearable, in the next like an embrace beside a fireplace in the dark.

Her knees began to weaken. She half-heartedly steeled herself against the fire, soothing and tearing at the same time, in the end allowing it to fully overtake her. this is the end, she thought stupidly, wanting to laugh but unable to put forth the energy or effort. She barely felt her knees making contact with the floor, could not sense its coldness through her pants. She was on air. We all float down here, Georgie, damn right we do.

And in the midst of pain that wasn’t really pain, heat that poured from within, the images flashed before her as though they were recorded on withering old film. She could feel her hand in her former husband’s, feel the wrapped organza of her gown, feel the tears. She could feel her feet pounding pavement, rain. And yet, these moments that pierced her heart still somehow did not feel like hers, as though they had been willfully given up and they were now being forcibly reunited with their owner. It was another life, someone else’s, a different woman who reminded her of herself but who would never have been shot in the heart, stabbed repeatedly, bled from the eyes by invisible forces. The memories she saw were of a real life, it had been so good. How could she have fucked it up so badly?

She closed her eyes and willed it all away.

Of course, nothing went away. When she opened her eyes she was sprawled on the floor, her head and body one single repetitive throbbing ache, as though it had only just now decided to register all that she had put it through in—what, three days? Four? 100 years, now, for fuck’s sake?

Ned, beside her. He opened his eyes, half-dead. But she didn’t look into his eyes. On his face, in that tattle-tale blue indicating secrets or lies, two simple words that held all of the significance of the world.

He Knows.

She sat up too quickly, looked away from him, trusting that the desperation on her face would be attributed only to their prior tests. He was speaking but she wasn’t listening. He knows, he knows, he knows—and there was so much to know, now, wasn’t there? Where all this would end up. Perhaps the answer to whatever had been written privately to Ned on the note. Or, worse. Worse would be that he knew how she had come to be there, what she was doing. Worse would be that he knew how far beyond them this all reached. It could have broken him, that knowledge—could have broken them. Because even in spite of or because of her own personal tests, her beginning, so different from the two of theirs, might seem to say that her fate had already been decided. That type of thinking could do her in.

He could snap and kill her at any moment, based on what He Knows.

Gary’s laughter further confused the pieces of her scattered thoughts. He was in good spirits. She focused on his energy, took it in, made it a part of her. Thrived on it. Found herself able to stand.

“Come on, Ned,” She said, holding out her hand to help him up, her eyes unable to avoid the shrieking blue on his face. “We have to move on.”



 

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Re: a wretched wonder
« Reply #222 on: February 09, 2014, 12:03:35 pm »
Ned looked at her hand with some suspicion. It was new life to his faded, painted face. The doubt was not toward her, but rather a small squint, an attempt at enough focus to see through her offered help. He was wondering about the object itself, not its intentions, should it be actual. All the while that sharpness of scrutiny was pulsed through, blurred in rhythm, by desperation. Whatever he had learned, he was fighting it with either an attempt at apathy, or apathy's presence through the magnitude of his new knowledge.

His posture gave off no shame of his physical appearance. As far as Ned knew, there was no message on him that could lead anyone to think that he knew more than he did before. There was only wisdom through suffering, though a large amount of it, on his countenance. The kind of wisdom they were prone to get in house. Ned's life had changed, and progressed since he met with his new friends, Pod Isle, but it had not become easier. Bags of a deeper color underneath his watered out brown eyes said this.

He took her hand with a nod. He took some strength from the touch, squeezing that he may be squeezed back as he pulled himself up. Had to move on. What he'd seen made him wonder if that was true. In that moment he realized that he wanted to, though, and that was a strong enough impulse to jolt him into life, if not motion. "Are you alright?" he asked, holding on to her for a few more seconds before releasing her hand. When he rubbed his face with both his palms the message didn't smear.

Garry walked with heavier feet, but with his head high. A well kept spirit couldn't entirely lift the body, but his journey to the elevator door was without doubt more pleasant than that of his companions despite what he must have suffered in his own test. He turned his head back to look at them, probably aware through Ned's thin show of strength and Genevieve's own attempt that they weren't very elated, but still he smiled widely. He stopped and pushed the button to call for their ride, resting his sword against the wall to leave his hands free to seek out his pockets.

Ned stayed close to Gen as they walked, only lifting his head to acknowledge Garry's generous mood projected. His steps were eventually in sync with her footfall and he did it effortlessly. Every now and then he'd check on the gun to make sure it was still tucked by his lower back, a sense of comfort and a reflex he hadn't discovered he had yet. There was no real tension in the silence, as whatever sour or bitter existed wasn't directed at anything outward.

"There's a lot of new blue." he said when they traveled in the elevator. Even Garry stopped in his own task to cheer them up and looked at the smaller man. Ned looked back at him and nodded. He didn't know how else to put it. Saying that alone could have been saying too much. He didn't know about Genevieve's message on his face, written atop his skin, so he was talking about the knowledge he had, not about the gravity of it toward a specific one of them. He looked to her and shrugged at them both.

"I think there's always going to be blue until we get out of here." Garry said. Ned couldn't help but scoff. Garry ignored it. "I'm not a big man in that sense, I think, but until it's relevant that we address it, let's just say its all forgiven." He nodded as his eyes disappeared into the concept he was drawing. They came back, focusing on Gen first, and then the gloomy other. "We're stretched thin. We're in the trenches." The elevator stopped. It was only to take them one floor, after all. "We might die when we step out of this box and Cal will grow up without a family." Ned scoffed at that too, but amused this time. "I say things are as bad as they can get, which means all that other shit, that blue shit, is just imaginary. You don't worry about clean underwear in war. You just want to make it to your next ration." He pulled the door aside to a new, barely finished corridor turning to the right.

Ned was still leaned to his wall when Garry finished, and chortled as he pushed himself off it. "Thanks General. Good pep, there." His smile wrinkled the words on him a little when he sought Genevieve's eyes. There was some strength in his misery now, it seemed, like the hurt in a hard drink. He'd be fine if any of them would be, at least from whatever bothered him, at least for a little while. He moved out and rolled a shoulder, as though stepping out of the locker room and into the walkway toward some arena or roped ring.

Garry saw it, had been waiting for it. "There you go. There's my lovable pessimist chickenshit." his words were a little less happy now, some of the lift which had spent his own energy gone now that Ned had lightened up. He indulged in this drop of guard since his cheerfulness wasn't as needed anymore. This was all they were, accurately embodied by Ned's trajectory of mood. In and out of battles, licking their wounds in between. He slapped the other guy on the shoulder, passing some of his own frustrations at having had to be the ray of sunshine this time. He'd do it a thousand times for these two. "And what about my smartass bookworm?" he said, nodding at Genevieve.

Thirteen would be mostly swimming, a room outfitted with an infinity pool where various things would await them in the water. They would see leeches and a version of creature turned people, not entirely unlike the transformation Genevieve had seen in her personal adventure on floor fourteen. She would do the best here, of course. Ned was the first to drown, his face was riddled with some kind of relief when he kicked his way from he hold. Garry shortly followed. The current would become inhuman just after a swarm of sharks would circle the lonely Channing, which might have reminded her of her first encounter with Oliver. They would all wake up, dry, their weapons beside them.

Ned was the one to try to pick up their moods after that ordeal, and Garry seemed glad to be relieved of the task. The cheerfulness only really faltered when Garry suggest they should go to Eighteen. The blue writ folded to a mask of refusal and anger. In the end Ned was so insistent that Garry punched the button 27, which was next on their list. Their clothes and whatever they had inside them, seemed to be returned to them the same as it had been before every test, which was to say dirty and torn, but no more so, no matter what they might go through.

"Never told me you were such a good swimmer." Ned said to Gen, happy again, waiting for the elevator to rise. He was seated comfortably with his back to the wall bellow the panel of buttons. It seemed this too would be a private ride for the three of them. "Hopefully 27 will be something I'm good at. Not sure they make tests involving bossing people around and delegating." He coughed into his hand, the rustle in his lungs resulting in a wet palm, most likely left over water from having breathed it in during his critical and last moments in the infinity pool. He wiped it on his pants.

This corridor would lead to another room, of course. At the far end, two tunnels. Ned was upset visibly when the room wouldn't be accessible due to the glass wall that couldn't obscure, but well protected the next test. Garry tried to calm him down but had to back away when Ned's punches and kicks left way for a drawn gun directed at the barrier.

"For fuck's sake, Ned! Let's just go to eighteen like they said. You can't be..." but he could. The bullet shook the glass without leaving a mark. The projectile would bounce off the surface and stick in something. Garry, who had curled up on one leg, straightened himself to check for marks. Neither he nor Ned himself would have suffered for Ned's desperation to avoid the chronological choice on the list. "Fuck, man!" Garry roared and tore the gun out of Ned's hand. "You're loosing it!"

"I'm not going to the Eighteenth floor, Garry!" Ned snarled and shook his head, rabid.

"Well, you're outvoted, you crazy fuck! Let just ask..." they both seemed to realize at the same time that while the bullet hadn't found either of them, they were a team of three. "...Genevieve?" His voice had a bit of a pitch to it when the two of them turned to look at her.

paris

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Re: a wretched wonder
« Reply #223 on: May 22, 2014, 02:40:14 pm »
He did not know what his face betrayed, she realized immediately. His hand didn’t leave hers quickly enough, and he asked her if she was all right. She said yes. She said yes and she looked to Garry—could Garry see that Ned Knew?

Garry moved toward the elevator, with his token positivity, and she drew from it. The grin on his face as he looked at her and at Ned told her that Garry couldn’t see. It was just for her, like so many things. She and Ned followed Garry. She noted that Ned kept touching the gun like a child might seek a security blanket. She wondered how often it had been fired in the last test. If it had been at all.

“There’s a lot of new blue,” Ned said.

She didn’t know what to make of it. Garry’s smile this time even seemed to have a touch of being forced onto his face. He certainly didn’t mean the blue vials, as not one of them had carried anything out of the tunnels. Did she and Garry have writing on their own faces? She wasn’t going to ask, and neither was Garry.

“I think there’s always going to be blue until we get out of here,” He said. Ned didn’t like that. “I’m not a big man in that sense, I think, but until it’s relevant that we address it, let’s just say it’s all forgiven.”

Silence, a moment. She thought that might be the best strategy. She thought that perhaps she had been wrong, that Garry could in fact see that Ned Knew, and he was putting on the same false face as hers, as though she could see nothing. But, to say something, to tell Ned what was written on his face—what good could come of it?

Garry went on as the elevator reached their destination, “We’re stretched thin. We’re in the trenches. We might die when we step out of this box and Cal will grow up without a family.” Ned scoffed again, less in disbelief and more in humor, this time. Genevieve, for her own part, snorted a laugh.

“I say things are as bad as they can get, which means all that other shit, that blue shit, is just imaginary,” Garry said. “You don’t worry about clean underwear in war. You just want to make it to your next ration.”

And of course, he was right, perhaps more right than he’d been at any point in his life until now. And he had unintentionally confirmed it for her. He could see that Ned Knows, if perhaps not what Ned Knew. She noticed too that Garry’s eyes didn’t tend to focus too long on one of them or the other. She wondered if she was blue. She wondered what was scrawled across her bloody, dirty face, whether it was the same to both Ned and Garry. Whether it extended to her arms, over her torso, streaked with red.

The men stepped off of the elevator lightened, somewhat. She again stole from their light to smother her darkness, unknown to either of them. Garry asked, what about her. What about her, indeed. Whatever about her, she couldn’t and wouldn’t say. Instead she said,

“As ever.”

And as ever they moved on to the next test. A test that required swimming. In spite of the horrors that befell them repeatedly, she was able to unsee it all, to spend focus and energy on her own rapid stroke, the burn in her arms and thighs, imagining herself in a race rather than another violent test of—whatever the hell it was being tested. And again, as before, they woke up at the end, weapons and all. They performed the familiar trudge to the elevator, but each of them was different, this time. Less consumed. The swimming test had perhaps been a drag on the other two, but for the most part it had been entirely physical, a relief from BOA’s constant mindfuck.

Ned’s mood was markedly improved from the task, in spite of his lack of capability. “Never told me you were such a good swimmer. Hopefully 27 will be something I’m good at. Not sure they make tests involving bossing people around and delegating.”

Genevieve stole a look at Garry. Ned had said 27, but 18 was next on the list. She said nothing. They had agreed before to simply go in order. Ned’s choice of 27 over 18 spoke to what it was Ned Knew. Garry’s eyes were not on her, her exhausted mind could not read his thoughts.

And when they got off on 27, at the end of the corridor, the answer to her thoughts. Two tunnels. Two. Protected by a wall of impenetrable glass, meant to reveal the answer but not to allow them to pass.

And Ned changed in an instant. Suddenly violent. Kicking, punching at the glass. She watched this with stoicism, unsurprised. Garry moved to calm him, but the storm in Ned raged. And suddenly, the gun.

“Garry!” She shouted, her coldness shattered by fear. “Ned, what the fuck!”

And Garry tried, too—“For fuck’s sake, Ned! Let’s just go to eighteen like they said. You can’t be—”

But Garry was wrong, because Ned could and he did. He fired at the glass, the bullet ricocheted. Genevieve and Garry shrank away from the sound, but she had been too slow to react. Her right shoulder exploded. Her hand by instinct moved to grasp it, but the touch overwhelmed her with pain.

“You crazy fuck!” She heard Garry say through a fog, and she laughed agreement, or thought she did, forcing herself to blink through the white-hot pain. The two of them turned to look at her, and she continued right on laughing. Forced herself to stand somehow while blood poured through the fingers of her left hand, her right arm hanging uselessly. It felt like a weight, unmovable.

“Yes, Ned,” She said, her vision still blurred, “You fucking crazy fuck.” As the pain sharpened, her vision began to return, she could see that thankfully Garry had taken the gun. “You fucking shot me,” She said, wry.

She realized then what those in the Complex refused to. Yes, everything was a fucking test, and every test was pass or fail, but there were no right answers and no wrong ones. Everyone bought the oxygen tank when it suddenly went on sale and waited for the water to rise and recede, and yes, they passed the test. But so had she. Whatever direction Ned had been given could have been followed or not followed, and the test could still be passed. But he was too fucking self-absorbed to realized it, just like the rest of the ghosts in the Complex who wasted away, and of course because of that he had

“—fucking shot me, bleeding Christ. We’re going to fucking Eighteen.”