CW: fascist ideology, manosphere ideology, heterosexual pornography, male nudity, sexual Orientalism, homophobia, reproductive sexism, guns, war orphans, mass destruction, ethnic violence, genocide, sexual harassment, identity horror, bullying, sociopathic impulses, murder, involuntary institutionalization, separation
They drove beneath arches of glass that rose like pillars from black craters. They were jagged and coarse, glistening; held within them were remnants of the past, captured in amber. Light shimmered, dancing from one shiny surface to another, 'cross the cracks of marble and wood... the world of glass has won, every single shambling corpse encased and made rigid. Blackened human forms held a singular pose... a permanent selfie, glimmering brilliantly in smooth coffin mountains. The world of glass has won. A violent beat fizzled beneath her, crackling along to every spat lyric. Chiseled figures stood on the horizon, morning dew dripping from their leaden limbs. Yelena rolled down the window, and a deep pungent smell quickly conquered the vape stench. "The air here is alive," Groypee groaned. "Alive," Yelena muttered to herself. The air must sap its vitality from everything else, which lies inert and solid. The entire city was crystallized; bus stops and houses shiny, storefronts filled only with glittering stone. They parked the van before a ministry building, on which a gigantic bronze emblem was adorned with stars and an eagle soaring over fields of corn. She could not read the top; the letters were foreign to her. The bottom read: "Ministerctva Kulturj," Ministry of Culture. The trees had turned to pillars of salt, and the soil was porous stone with curious little gems of light green and yellow. A tank had tipped onto its side, encased in glass before it could touch the rubble-littered ground, torn open like tissue; it hung permanently in the air, beneath a stoic wave of rock, as if Nay-toe had suspended the very properties of the Earth itself. Yelena felt her heart flutter; this could only be the holy land.
THE FOURTH THOUGHT OF KALI HICHI:
« Over time, 'druzhina' began to become curious about the world. They asked: 'Gaspod Hichi, what is the meaning of life?' 'Prakh,' he answered. 'To be the dust in which Nay-toe's dreams are free to roam, unburdened by the inconveniences of flesh.' »
Samuel approached Yelena, his face partially obscured by vapor clouds. "This is the based camp," he pointed towards the ministry building, its interior endowed with apocalypse-proof bunkers and weaponry storage. "We hang out here... chow, work out. You like organ meats, Lena?" Groypee and Paco unloaded their equipment and cleaned their guns, giving special attention to their AR-15s... softly rubbing down the receiver, polishing the barrel, adjusting the sights and zero-ing them in... the warmth of steel beneath their fingertips, burdensome blood drying 'neath the sun... yes, pull on the action and make yourself taut, bloodied and red like a beautiful wasp, riddled with recoil shudders, faces hot with the irradiated glow of the Zone, the taste of metal in your mouth growing louder... a perfect communion between man & steel. "Come on," Samuel stretched his back, studying the horizon with a hand above his eyes. "I'll give you the grand tour." Alec had a grin as he came up behind Yelena, squeezing the upper guard of his shortened AK-74. "I insist, my Queen." She thought of running, to hide in the hills; the hills were glass and concealed no secrets. In Nay-Toe's realm, we see right through each other. The world of glass has won.
In the courtyards, a platoon of boys had taken camp. Some of them slept on stone; others, on discarded plastic. Homes were fashioned out of old personnel carriers and vans, plane fuselages, tank chassis. Various trophies stood on posts made of rusted weaponry; sticky anime figurines, Japanese pornography, hair pilfered from influencers, tattered books. Underneath the canopy of a petrified tree, a few boys lifted weights made of old automobile parts, muscles sharp, veins swelling. Above them, a few boys were stretched on all fours, pointing their testicles to the sun in prostration or offering. "Maximizes T levels," Samuel narrated. "We need to stay fit to survive." In the middle of the encampment laid an altar on pale stone, stained with dried blood. Stuck to the altar were thousands of little pictures of women, some modest and others not, floating in a human sea. Yelena plucked one from the altar, the paper was warped and wrinkled, its edges frayed from being hastily cut. The girl looked like Christine; her thin brows and soft face, a distinct mole beneath her left eye. "Some of the boys enjoy brides of the Orient because they are submissive, but I think that's no fun. A high T male should take pride in the challenges of conquest." Yelena hid her disgust by biting her tongue; even in the holy land, thoughts were merely repetitions of another's fantasy. Are your thoughts not your own? When you close your eyes, do you only see what you'd been given? If the interconnected world revolved in patterns, in that which is likely and thus predictable, then she too must swallow the patterns; to be repeated is to be defeated. Nay-toe has made even flesh a pattern, fungible and replaceable. These women are merely pieces of a motif, freely interchangeable, of some value on the global pussy market depending on how slut futures go that day. And in that way alone, they cease to be anything more; every feature stripped 'till it's bare and shaven. Yelena tore the picture of the girl in half, into quarters, to free whoever she was from the bondage of utility.
Past the courtyard, the ministry building revealed its secure interior through a crater. The debris had been cleaned away, though pieces of the missile remained embedded into the walls. Bombing the Ministry of Culture seemed to Yelena a cruel joke; raining death was so meaningless to the perpetrators that even those far away from any battlefield who spent their days approving tapestries and censoring poetry collections turned to vapor in a Tochka's glow. Some of the offices had been preserved in glass too; beautiful carpets lined the walls, and a woman covering her eyes laid beneath the desk... her body was blackened, and her skin looked like chalk.
"The bunker is where Alphas live. We keep a tight hierarchy," Samuel yelled between tokes of his vape. The entrance to the bunker was guarded by two young boys, endowed with a sharp jaw and broad shoulders. They were dressed in old military clothes slightly too large for their bodies. They opened the large, scorched door to lead Yelena and her compatriots down a long corridor hot with steaming pipes. The stench of watermelon and nicotine hung on the walls, and there were print-outs of Augustus and Marcus Aurelius above dusty and pock-marked desks that filled many of the alcoves in the bunker. Yelena saw old communications equipment, antiquated computers; first aid kits strewn all over the floor beside rotting cots and trampled military rations. Two portraits were covered in broken glass from their unceremonious descent down the wall. "Were there survivors?" Yelena asked no-one in particular. Alec chewed on dried liver, while stamping his foot on a ration to watch its cold, greasy contents spurt forth. Samuel motioned at Alec, preferring to keep things moving, further down the corridor... Yelena felt her eyes burn; above them, chandeliers beamed brightly onto delicately-carved black and white stone, and long pillars guided the vision up towards blood-red carpets and marble statues. Nay-toe's will suddenly falls back into shape; the Ministry of Culture's bunker had been protecting human cargo of considerable importance. Did you save them, at the cost of the others? Nay-toe could be so cruel in its wisdom.
"Follow me, to the bedroom, my Queen;" Samuel pointed to the top of the stairs while sucking on his vape. Alec pressed up behind Yelena, not without some glee. Yelena followed Samuel up to a room decorated entirely with flowers; from the chiseled roses on the ceiling to the tulips and marigolds of the carpets. Beyond the window, where the world should have been, stood instead glossy paper printed with palm trees and ocean-y blues. They deny her the fantasy of another world; those realms lying beneath trees, hidden away from the sun. No; come play in the emerald shade. Run through rivers and fields. Trees are not boundaries, but suggestions of an infinitely green horizon. No; not anymore. In its place, a bed with yearning petals made of cloth & lace, threatening to envelop its prey in dead-still comfort. Above the headboard embossed with carved vines tightly binding flowers, a thought was etched into the wall:
THE FIFTH THOUGHT OF KALI HICHI:
« They asked: 'Gaspod Hichi, what is the role of children?' 'Boodooshee,' he answered. 'Children will create the future; by any means necessary. That is why the spirit of Nay-toe lies utmostly with the youth.' »
Though Alec's demeanor was always blunted, he had a knack for picking up on Yelena's thoughts; E.S.P. gifted mos def, she thot. "You're probably wonderin' who Kali Hichi is," Alec groaned. Samuel shot him a glare and adjusted his pants. "He's a local GOD; turned up after the Big Bang. People saw everything turned to glass and they probably wondered why... so they started talking 'bout NATO this, NATO that." A time before Nay-toe, she thot again. Truly, an age of ignorance. Samuel cleared his throat, then took another drag off his vape. "Slave morality, Lenochka. They look to GODs for aid because they believe themselves to be weak. The thoughts of a crushed people. They'd rather be underneath a GOD's shoes than in them." Yelena could muster no sympathy; it was merely Nay-toe's will, like a wave or a bolt of lightning. "Their men are flabby, feminized. Hounded by bitch-women. They'd rather eat beans than see the red of their enemy's eyes." Yelena wipes away some of the dust from an old portrait; thick eyebrows and long, dark hair. Living in the ruins of another woman's dream.
Samuel took them further up the bunker, through a few hallways that connected to a balcony. Many of the boys had gathered down on the courtyard beneath, their faces bruised, their bodies exposed and slick in the sun. Yelena had not seen a single not-boy; Alec stood in the shade, lost in his own thoughts. Samuel approached the balusters, his arms akimbo and his chin held taut and rigid. He extended his arm in a wave; the crowd of boys cheered, extending their own arms in a sea of colors-- the commandment to strength, to sheer will, seemed to be more important than the color of skin, even if only temporarily. She remembers seeing their socials, underneath shimmering pastel colors; "Seeking: physically-fit romantic men who love combat and are capable of marching twenty miles a day." She now understands the meaning of their name, these are the "Crystal Centaurs."
"What lays before us, in the stars?" Samuel pointed to the crystals on the horizon, occluding the sun. The crowd cheered. The balcony shimmered with reflected light. Samuel hushed the crowd with open hands. "What lays before us in the stars?" He cleared his throat and begun to speak.
"I'll begin with a story. I'll take you back to the age when men and GODs walked the same Gaia. Close your eyes. Imagine a sea in bloom; a sea that can bloom, and be so fertile it births a generation of GODs. Yes, they rose from the sea, and stormed Olympus, and through conquest conquered the Titans to take their rightful place as the greater GODs. And so they did... to sit on their throne up there in the sky. And so to become drunk with power; the GODs were arrogant... yes, they grew to be dour, old, ugly, sour and vain. Except for one; the son of Night herself. He looked into the face of Zeus himself and saw him for what he was: a blusterous fogey prone to a child's fits. And he mocked him for it. Yes, this son of Night mocked them all; Juno, the wife of Zeus, for her bickering and her jealousy. He mocked their children by showing the obvious deficiencies of their creations, and in doing so revealed the deficiencies of the creators themselves. Yes; the son of Night was the first prankster, and for that he was called Momus, and he shows us that the enemy always reveals themselves for who they are... one merely needs the bravery to let them. And yes my brothers, bravery, for Momus was rewarded for the stupidity of others by being shunned by his peers and expelled from Olympus... truly, very relatable."
"But don't be discouraged, my brothers. I'm merely speaking of those amongst civil society, who sit on their thrones, and judge those beneath them. Yes, these are those jealous of youth, of real human vitality; knowing neither, for they sit atop their mountain boring themselves with women and little games. Jealousy is the reason they send young, beautiful men in droves to die; not for honor, not for the camaraderie of battle, but merely to satisfy their social whims, their lust for property. Yes, jealousy, towards those who are about to die, who know of joys that remain foreign to the catamites and eunuchs atop the mountain. It is us who know glory, the glory of battle, who know the sweetness of peace, who know the pain of losing a fellow commando. This is reality, my brothers; it's the bit you take 'tween your teeth. It's the stench of blood in the night after a heated battle. It's seeing your fellow commando turn to meat and bone at the very instant of contact with an Mk. 153 SMAW."
A few men pushed each other in the front, wanting to start a pit.
"I'll tell you another story. After the fall of the age when men and GODs walked the same Gaia, and man aspired to surmount Olympus and become a GOD himself, Gaia descended into violence and war. Gone were the days of playing games and indulging in little thought experiments; now came the time for glory, now came the time for Sparta," a few cheers from a group of white boys; "yes, and none had the pleasure of glory more than General Brasidas; the original G.O.A.T. Look at their children today; obese, addicted to alcohol, ingesting G.M.O. garbage by the truck-load. No... if the kind General Brasidas was here today, he'd personally execute every single one of his progeny. No... let's remember the great General himself. After the ending of the truce between the Spartans and the feminized Athenians, the Spartans took it upon themselves to thrust forward for the attack. Brasidas, as the distinguished general, recognized an opportunity to defeat the superior force. You see, as a Spartan, Brasidas didn't believe in cunning or tricks; no, he had no need for the witty sayings of a certain Sun Tzu. His strategy was to be bold, to be aggressive; it was to earn his glory in blood. Yes, he led the charge himself, thrusting his body into the very eye of the Athenian army's left wing. It was a bloody battle; it was a bloody success, my brothers. Rather than sacrificing one of his men, or even one of his lesser allies, he took the very first hit himself. He died right there on the battlefield, surrounded by his men-- who would carry his corpse home and sing of their great victory, and their heroic general who gave his life for the glory of that victory."
A few men raised themselves on the shoulders of others, arms stretched out in cheers & cries, trying to climb the ruins of the Ministry to reach the balcony.
"Yes, and surely the Athenian aristocracy spurned Brasidas; they laughed, and called him a fool for wasting his life on glory-- a life that should have been wasted on acquiring property and molesting boys instead. My brothers, know that a spirit tied to the dead-air of politics and property is not a free spirit. No, the free spirit, the searching spirit isn't found amongst the orators, the preachers, the politician who takes it upon himself to represent 'the masses,' 'the proletariat,' the people;' no, it is the fool. The searching spirit is found amongst the masturbators of the marketplace, who seek for an honest man with a lantern and find none, who dines amongst the dogs. It is the fool, scorned by those atop the mountain, who holds close his open heart and makes use of his open mind. They must use this searching spirit to incite, to use the wilderness, the perverse; they must wear the disguise of the madman to bring shock and scandal amongst the masses-- and inspire true radical thought amongst the few. Yes; it is you and I, my brothers-- the very few who know the meaning of the provocations, the 'memes,' the banter, the vulgar commentary, and the truths they conceal from all those lacking the searching spirit. Yes; it is you and I, fools in arms, the very few, who are sensitive to the speaking of the heart... only a searching spirit has the sensitivity necessary to understand such things that those atop the mountains merely find amusing-- pity their disability of deafness! They are content in their world of plastic, in which lines are rigid and all contradictions resolved. No; we must be their negation: free, but disciplined. Spontaneously calculated. Inspired, and erudite. We defeat dogma, but with authority; we reject the choking hands of the external, and sharpen our own strict fists."
Many of the men raised their fists, in emulation of their heroes; anyone who displayed strength, regardless of the banner they marched under.
"But let me return to the original question: what lays before us, in the stars? Night had two children my brothers; Momus, the god of mockery, and Nemesis, the goddess of retribution for arrogance. Our enemy believes himself to be superior, believes himself to be superior to everything, even nature and its bright stars. So what lays before us? I already see the stars burning within you, gentlemen, burning so strong you worry that you might disintegrate yourself in its heat. But don't be scared; what burns within you is a great thing. Something that no money could buy, and no medical science could understand. It's a glimmer of a return; the return of a dormant force that today may only exist in the margins of the world. Yes, it's there. In the blood-soaked streets of a crime-riddled street. In the pirate ships of the African seas. In the warrior bands of the bush. In the brotherhood of men, who share only a fellow heart for romance. The enemies of beauty are watching us, shifting in the grass; they feel the heat of Nemesis just as we do. So what lays before us?"
The crowd suddenly fell into hushes and whispers.
"I'll tell you brothers. I'll tell you of the time beneath the stars, when Leviathan crumbles. Watch its pieces hurtle into the waters, in awe of how brittle its once impenetrable walls seem. They will free themselves from all cages; linguistic, biological. They will put down the chains. But freedom will not come, brothers. The Nations will flee like sheep, and tend to their flock. They will protect themselves with rockets and bloodless machinery; drones and computers. Fattened on their own excess and decadence, they will seek out others to fight for them."
Yelena saw the twinkling in their eyes; enraptured, and what did they imagine for themselves?
"And those brothers in arms? Those who have heard the call, who yearn to rise to one great occasion? We will find ourselves, and leave this world together. We will form fortresses on new frontiers, where civilizations slender fingers do not reach, and we will inhale the scent of primordial water. We will loot, plunder-- live like pirates on digital seas. We will hone our eyes, and sharpen our muscles... we will fashion ourselves into a sharp object with which to jab into Cathedral's eye. The Nations will come to us, bearing gifts in exchange for our service or our demagogues. And these men will watch atop their eagles' nests, their eyes trained to infinitely expanding horizons. They will cultivate arts and sciences, having no need for comfort or entertainment. Our fortresses will have a grand painting in every atrium, and a perfect dream-weapon in every vestibulum with which to hold the fearful Nations beneath our heal."
The crowds raised themselves, erect.
"Ah; the fear. Well, I sit here in my tiny room, surrounded by my weights and my childish games, smothered in the feminine grip of the Motherworld. When I die, they will pour me into a wooden box and leave it in the cold and lifeless soil. And through the many million ages, 'till the end of this planet's violent existence, I will never breathe, nor laugh, nor cry again."
They erupt into cheering; an excess of noise so loud it hurt Yelena's hearing.
"So come out and play with me in the milky night, and hold my hand as we paint our skies red. The universe has spared us this moment, and it's ours and only ours to take."
With Alec behind her, his hand on his Kalashnikov, two boys came and placed a thick woolen frock over Yelena's shoulders. It was frayed; red edges of yarn, and the hem fell past her knees. She felt Samuel's cool breath on her neck, and he placed a crown made of leaves and flowers on her head. It felt itchy on her chafing forehead, and heavy from the weight. The two boys took her on their backs and lowered her down towards the crowd of boys, who watched her with open mouths and twitchy eyes. Yelena felt the piercing looks penetrate deep into her body; feeling exposed, it was as if her blood was draining from her veins. Samuel took a hit from his vape, and stood beside her.
"Behold, my brothers. Our new Mahimata... the mother of the new race."
The crowd raised their fists, and with smiles pledged their allegiance to Yelena; how quickly they put aside their suspicions for her. A few men removed their shirts and begun posing; their fresh muscles bulging, perched like cranes. She could now see their faces more intimately; some damaged from the sun, some hot and blue. Some were marked with scars, others were fresh and soft. Some still could not grow anything beyond a layer of fine bristles. This was truly a brotherhood of man; united by nothing but a shared conviction in undomesticated youth. None of them seemed old enough for credit cards, bills, loans; any of the mundane indignities that slowly rob men of their volatility. I knew you, Mason. I knew you, Vic, with the purple eggplant emojis. I knew you, once, I know nothing now; your empty stares at your phone, waiting in your car. You are stained with the stench of locker rooms. I knew you, Joey, and Jesse, and Eric. You walk in a daze from one vape cloud to another. Your mouths agape for a procession of screens. You are bare-chested, standing shoulder-to-shoulder; you are a waiting room. You are empty cans of Monster and cardboard boxes filled with grease. You are long nights spent swearing at strangers. You are bottles thrown at the windows of an after-hours Walmart. You are pitch-black nights without stars. Stubble, itching forearms at the cash register. You are wet clay, fashioned out of dried mud and shit. She saw Groypee and Paco; unencumbered by their gear, smiling genuinely. A few of the boys held portraits clutched snugly in their arms; of other women they'd never meet. They were mere icons... an empty canvas onto which one could project his desires; truly, woman was Nay-toe's vessel. Little King Samuel ascended on a stone platform beside a decimated statue.
"Behold, Mahimata Yelena. She will give birth to this new race, the native, indigenous race of the Zone. This new race of men will overcome the primitive apes of the non-Zone; this new race of man will conquer them and destroy their ideologies. He will take the women of the non-Zone, and show them a life in enlightenment, not ignorance. He will show her that in the openness of the Zone, the only rule is the rule of commerce; they live not as domestic cattle, but freely in the open space of his desires. Are you with me, my brothers?"
Yelena saw the men had raised their fists even higher, faces wet with the tears spilling from their eyes. Whatever it was, they truly believed in it; they truly believed a radical spirit was superior to anything lesser, and dared always to take more. To them, the Sun was not a horizon but a window into a world of infinite energy, a world of chaotic energy vital enough to light up the sky, to force the hand of mere chance. Beyond the Zone, there were no alternatives, no choices; blood coursing through her vein was its own delirious intoxicant. She felt drunk; Yelena ascended onto the balusters, a sea of chattering faces beneath her agape with glee and envy and rapture. The wood groaned beneath her sneakers, and she spread her arms as if the sea of boys may swallow her whole. Swallow her whole; in the arms of the crowd, she's mere flesh, shedding the terrible baggage of history and names. To become anonymous, like these boys, is to truly feel one's heartbeat, to truly feel the sensual joy of ripping apart something with your bare hands. Words melt, becoming merely the lubricant of sheer action, the gasoline that helps set flame to the past. This is how Yelena liberates herself;
Feeling upstaged, Little King Samuel came up behind Yelena and forced her onto his shoulders, eliciting a grunt as her body weighed down on him. He extended his arm; "save yourselves for the grand ceremony, my brothers. There will be displays, organ meats, feats of strength." Samuel walked away with Yelena on his shoulders, hiding her from the glow of the sun. "She should know her place," he thot... "icons lose their power when they begin to speak." He understood the Mahimata's raw power; merely to exist is to take control. "Take Lena to Based Camp's best bunker. The 'long house.' You know what I mean." Yelena felt Samuel's demeanor shift, his accommodating smile replaced by a stern, utilitarian gaze. His face disappeared in a haze of heavy vape smoke. She felt the crown itch at her skin, and she turned her back away from the crowd, which devolved into boorish chanting: "Yeah-len-ah! Yeah-len-ah!"
Alec held onto his Kalashnikov as he walked behind Yelena, guiding her in the shadows safely away from the intense heat of the crystals. In these streets, she saw the instances that were captured; a bicycle still stood upright, and a few cars were stuck solid in the rock like fragments of an amber beach. A food stand had tipped onto the ground; cheburek, shashlik, and a few packages of ice cream were frozen in the glass. A few suitcases sat strewn around an empty balcony. Some of the buildings were bleached, with shadows of figments playing on the walls. This place was like nothing else in the Zone-- most of the Zone had been repurposed, new life springing from the broken soil of ruins. Here in Glass City however, everything remained in a zombie state of permanent half-life. Nothing could rot away, thus nothing new could be born. The words stayed petrified and meaningless-- apteka, magazin, portnoy, remont. Yelena brushed away the crystalline dust off the glass windows and peaked into the shop, which was a cellular store filled with blackened statues covering their eyes. On the racks, she spied a few chargers with the appropriate connector and called to Alec. "Alec, come bust this open." Once Alec had broken apart the door with a few Kalashnikov jabs, a sudden rush of wind swept through the store, causing the blackened statues to collapse into dust and fill the store with silvery-black smoke. A terrible burning filled Yelena's lungs; she ran back out onto the street and coughed 'til she threw up what little had been in her stomach. Alec laughed, then took a drag off his vape, and his face was bloody red.
They followed the railway tracks down towards the center of the city, which was congested with sandbag emplacements and artillery. Yelena understood the stratagem-- a few BM-21 Grad in the peripheries, 152mm howitzers along key strategic positions; make the cost of assault too great and thereby force a diplomatic solution. An armored personnel carrier parked beneath a bridge was encased in glass; she imagined its occupants nervous but optimistic, mute like sleeping turtles. Past the pillboxes and military emplacements, a few bunkers sat built into the metro stations and shopping complexes. Nay-toe's will was total, absolute; the dream of commerce unrestrained by flesh & blood gave way to the nightmare of defending commerce with flesh & blood. "So?" Alec felt bored by Yelena's narration. She pointed up towards the tower that loomed over the railways, aching with red stars; above and below the broken arms of the clock, it read: dlya tex kto bestrashnije lyubov budet krovju-- "to the fearless, love becomes blood." Up the stairs between two railway tracks sat another bunker, this one decorated with pink roses and crystallized animals. A few young boys stood at the front entrance of the bunker, their H&K G3s looking like oversized toys in their delicate grasps. They stood at attention as Alec and Yelena passed, whispering about what precisely the frock and crown on Yelena's head could possibly represent. Yelena saw a few of them arguing over a checkered board, on which bullets were set like game pieces. One of them saluted Yelena, his voice squeaking and seeming too large for his compact throat-- "privjet, gospoza." He goose-stepped down into the corridors, which still bore the blue, red, yellow arrows of a once-vast network of trains. An escalator still operating on battery power took them down into the deep dark chasm of forgotten Earth, boring itself deeper and deeper for twenty minutes. Alec suddenly seemed nervous; he sucked on his vape as he watched the light of the outside world grow dim.
The interior of the bunker was filled with delicate furniture, rescued from the homes that did not become encased in amber. Wooden chairs with fine lace, bright colorful carpets on the walls, little figurines and statues of animals, children; in the center of the bunker stood a decrepit statue of a woman carrying a hammer and a sickle, defaced with lipstick and rouge. The only light came from sporadic lamps hanging from the walls, 'round which little insects jittered. Each hallway seemed to lead down into another bigger bunker, which itself led to a thousand more bunkers, and a thousand more deeper within the crust of the Earth, such that the whole of Earth's innards was one massive defensive complex, each one of them carefully and diligently guarded by interlopers. The boy saluted once more, and motioned towards one of the hallways. Yelena followed the motion, with Alec twitching behind her. A few women were peering from the doorways; the sight of Yelena, adorned by the crown, struck them pale and they retired in a rush, slamming the doors behind them. A few slams deeper within the bunker rattled and resonated through the pipes, like a nervous system contracting in pain. Yelena walked down the corridor, unsure of what she sought; "somebody oughta talk, 'bout something," Alec murmured.
Yelena heard a door open behind them. From a gap in the door, a woman with deep, dark eyebrows and a sharp face studied Yelena. "Privjet," the woman with deep, dark eyebrows said. Alec could not understand, but surmised its meaning: "what's up." Yelena answered back in Russian. The woman asked if Yelena understood Russian and Yelena answered in affirmative. The woman smiled, shut the door to undo the chains and open it wide, and said her name was Tahmineh, and embraced Yelena with a surprising warmth before taking off the crown from Yelena's head. Tahmineh said that most of the "brothers" did not understand Russian, so they could speak privately. Yelena asked about the young boy, who stood on guard by the door. Tamineh approached the young boy and tousled his hair; she added that the young boys were orphans, left behind by previous Nay-toe forces. "These must be Nay-toe's children," Yelena thought to herself. Tahmineh's warm smile turned to concern; why was Yelena here? She told Tahmineh that she was looking for her friend Christine, who had left for the Zone and went radio silent. Tahmineh's concern turned to tightly-wound irritation; it was Christine's fault for thinking a civil war was an opportunity for making stupid videos. Yelena lowered her head; she sheepishly asked what had happened to the city, to deflect her rage. Tahmineh cursed Yelena for knowing nothing about the Zone and deciding to come anyway. Tahmineh told Yelena that the city was the capital and the largest city, and functioned as the stronghold for the largest faction in the civil war. Nay-toe intervened to stop the violence, evacuating most of the civilians to camps around the Zone, but the faction would not acquiesce and continued its raids and military campaigns against the other factions. The city, Tahmineh explained, was the center of life before the civil war, but the most powerful tribe took control during the mass upheaval and violence and got most of the materiel and factories. Most people fled if they could, or perished in the ethnic cleansing. Eventually the city became a gigantic military base, the leadership took control of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, and nothing Nay-toe could do would stop the violence from destabilizing the entire Zone and spreading beyond into Europe... so Nay-toe went with an extremely costly solution-- an experimental weapon of light so powerful it could turn everything into glass. So they destroyed the city and annihilated one of the factions completely. Now, Nay-toe can maintain the peace and prevent the conflict from spreading beyond the Zone; they figured the loss of one ethnic group was better than the loss of all of them. Yelena didn't know what to say, so she merely apologized.
Tahmineh apologized. She explained that the stress of living in the bunker had robbed her of some of her humanity, and her civilized nature. She had been in class at university when the alert sirens went off and all the men forced the children and women into the main bunker at the city center. Most women didn't make it, but those who went to school or worked in the center had enough time. Tahmineh's rage gave way to a stiff-lipped sorrow; she hasn't been out of the bunker since, as she does not wish to see what the city has become. I want to keep it a memory, a good memory; she smiled as she wrung her hands. She looked at Alec, with disgust, with revulsion. Tahmineh asked if he understood, and Yelena answered no. "Xuilo," she muttered. "Zasranets," she spat. "Skatina," she cursed. Alec felt her anger; he smiled and chewed on some dried liver.
Yelena followed Tahmineh down the corridors of the bunker, filled with many rooms, each of them filled with women. Tahmineh knocked on the door, and shouted that everything was safe and okay. A woman wearing a black veil opened the door, and let out a gasp when she saw Yelena standing there. Who is this Cossack, the woman yelled. Yelena smiled, unsure of what else she could do. Tahmineh touched the woman on her shoulders and told her that Yelena was a prisoner like them. The woman's gaze violently shook from Tahmineh to Yelena and back. She pointed to Alec and said to the other women that the barbarians even take their own as whores. A few flashes of brilliant light. Yelena lunged forward, pushing aside Tahmineh and grasping the woman's neck in her hands. The women jump up and shout, some words incomprehensible, and Tahmineh tries to pull Yelena away from the woman. Yelena sees the woman's face turning pale, her eyes twitching in fear, her face sinking... every cell in her body is aching, screaming in her ear to go further, force the hand of chance, see where this all might lead further down a river of red. Yelena lets go, and apologizes, and tells them that she doesn't know where that came from. The woman rubbed the part of her neck still red and raw, and told Yelena that there was a great and violent brutality inside her, and if she could, she'd smash Yelena's head to pieces with a rock. She says she'd do that for her country. Yelena looked at Alec, who had been staring at his phone, and told him she'd like to go to her room now to be alone.
Yelena's room stood at the center of the bunker; two young boys were sleeping at the table beside a few lockers. The iron door of the room was painted with a luminous sun, orange and red. Alec took out a bundle of keys and opened the door, which revealed ornate carpets, glittering wooden desks, a soft and comfortable mattress decorated with goats and cows-- on the bed laid a woolen frock, orange and frayed. She understood; she was merely a costume now. A small price to pay for a shower, she thot. Alec tried to follow her into the room, his footsteps leaden, but Yelena shut the door on his foot, looking at him from the gap of the door just as Tahmineh had. Alec played along with a surprised smile; "damn, shanti, not trying to catch a feel?" Yelena smiled diplomatically, but only as long as necessary. "Catch a feel on the others. Maybe go see Tahmineh again." Alec's smile deadened; his foot stepped back like a defeated weasel.
After Yelena shut the door, she felt the intense loneliness collapse onto her head. It felt like flames in her belly. She searched the locker, the drawers, the toilet tank... the desk had a letter opener, a paperweight, a useless calender, and the drawers were filled with childish little dresses and skirts... she looked at herself in the mirror; her matted hair, her sunken face, pale and burnt. Her nose seemed even sharper, her cheeks even more severe. She pulled the mirror apart from the wall, and found a small cavity in which there were cans of fish and hard bread. The pain in her belly travelled down. She pulled the tab off the fish and drank the oil, tasting of port sewage. She then took the greasy little fish and ate them, with gentle chewing, one crackling little spawn after another, 'till the pain became a dull murmur. She drank the water from the sink, which tasted of chlorine, and felt a few leaden burps escape from her innards-- reeking of death. She collapsed onto the floor, then writhed to slowly expose herself, shed her jacket and jeans and sneakers; she turned on the shower, felt the water cover every inch of her skin, then surrendered herself to the warm emptiness.
Yelena heard a knock at the door. It woke her up. Another knock, impatient. She threw the frock over her shoulders and covered her wet hair; she wished he had clean clothes. The wool of the frock felt itchy on her body. She opened the door, and saw Alec standing there in the darkness of the bunker's corridor. He said nothing, he merely had a static smirk on his face as he studied Yelena's wet hair. "Would you like to come in?" Yelena heard herself say. Alec stepped in, but he didn't shut the door behind him. She heard screaming further down the corridor. Yelena went to the sink and pretended to wash her face; she took a letter opener and hid it in her frock. Alec approached her; his smirk slowly melted away. "I don't know why I'm here," he mumbled. "Ya know, detka?" Yelena felt her heart race as she set her back up against the cold concrete wall; she thought of where she would pierce him-- in the neck? She studied his body for throbbing real estate. "Why are you here?" She asked. Alec suddenly remembered where he was, his face relaxed. "I'm not gonna do nothing all maz;" his voice suddenly clear. He took his Kalashnikov off his body and placed it on the dresser, then sat down on the bed. "I just thought you'd wanna talk." Yelena stepped away from the wall. "Talk about what?" Alec smiled; he took some dessicated liver from his poach and chewed on it. "Want some?" Yelena felt her composure cracked; she ran to grab the dried meat and the letter opener clattered onto the floor. Alec laughed, choking on a few; "hah, you're so cool." Yelena chewed on the liver, swallowed it, asked for more; perhaps they preferred her to be starving, and desperate? "I was ready to kill you," she said between chews, "ready to make you bleed." Alec smiled, and he took another bite. "I don't blame ya, detka." He took out something else from his pouch; a large energy drink, filled with sugar and stimulants. "Here, a pre-sen-to." He set it down on the dresser, beside the Kalashnikov. Yelena grabbed the drink, cracked it open with a refreshing snap, and sucked down half of the nuclear-green liquid. "If you wanna give me a pre-sen-to; davai, give me your gun." Alec stood up and took a phone charger from his pocket, placing it all enticing-like on the palm of his hand. "Think you'd want this more," he said. Yelena took the phone charger, cautiously, like a cat above a deep body of water. "Why, Alec?" She whispered. He laughed and sat back down on the bed. "I know it's the wrong move, shanti;" he took out a vape and sucked on it 'tween words. "But you're a pretty batshit, hot-ass girl. Probably something cool will happen if you had access to a phone." Yelena smiled suddenly, almost instinctively; it felt like an alien feeling. "Why are you here, with these bros, Alec? What happened to TayGeneration?"
Alec's smile faded away to something else; he took another hit off the vape. "Wiped out in a napalm strike. Nay-toe policy is going towards liquidation. The free market experiment is ending. They goin' for just cleaning the whole thing out. No plan for where all the Muhammads are gonna go. Everyone else is headed for jail. Time running out, shanti." Yelena felt for the first time a sense of remorse from Alec-- he suddenly seemed so human, somehow. She sat beside him on the bed, sipping on her drink. "What are you gonna do, then?" Yelena asked. Alec's expression hardened back to a stiff smirk, and he stood up to reach for his Kalashnikov. "I'll be fine, detka. It's kismet. Sud-baa. Like the Little King say, we're gonna be future aristocrats; all top-suited-up in intelligence agencies and paramilitaries. They'll be making streaming-shit 'bout all of us. 'Bout our glories. Those of us that make it back home. Those of us that are strong." Yelena took another swig, then looked at Alec's shaggy hair; his rotting teeth; his sunburnt forehead... he looked like a statue rotting from within. Yelena laughed, covering her mouth. "Do you really believe all that shit, Alec?" His smile remained stiff, as if it were etched into his skull-- a permanent smile. "Belief don't matter, shanti. Only desires do; that's the Zone." He put the strap of his Kalashnikov 'round his neck, and quoted a thought of Kali Hichi:
THE FIFTH THOUGHT OF KALI HICHI:
« After a great tragedy took their children, 'druzhina' grew angry about the world as they felt their prayers unanswered. They asked: 'Gaspod Hichi, why did Nay-toe create the other GODs?' Kali Hichi thought the question was terrifically difficult to answer, so he took for the mountains, where he sat atop a peak and thought long about the answer. After a long time had passed, 'druzhina' visited him in the mountains, and asked if he'd come to an answer. 'Yes,' he answered. 'Nay-toe knew that someday, someone would have to take the blame.' »
Once Alec had left, Yelena plugged in the phone she'd bought from the bazaar; her skull lit up white above the glowing screen. After a few moments of holding down the home button, the phone flickered into action... the lock screen wallpaper was Christine and Yelena, their heads stuck together, forming one devious grin. She wondered what the password might be, thinking of birthdays, license plates, names expressed in numbers-- she placed her finger on the home button, and the phone swiftly unlocked without protest. "A bug, a mistake..." she mutters. A strange feeling floods her arms, an agitated weakness; beneath the thumb, unable to escape. She locks the phone, then presses her finger onto the home button. Again, it swiftly unlocks, as if reunited with its long-lost master, as if a long-repressed memory resurfaced again. She scrolled through the apps, unsure of what she's looking for; recognition, or private apocalypse. She taps on one of the socials, heaving red with notifications, waiting for the content to load G-by-G. Christine was gone, but her social media remained a strong presence, haunting imaginations. The comments were full of hearts and daggers, and each private message was its own humiliation. She tapped on the first notification: the screen came alive with a Korean girl dressed in a plastic schoolgirl getup, holding a submachine gun up beside her face.
"Em-pee fivah," she growled. Her name was Jeon-ghui, or Jay Jay to the Baby Girls fan club; per Yelena, fan number #13221. She slammed the charging handle, went crouch just to show off her perfect marble legs, and fired a salvo down towards a few cardboard targets. The camera approached the targets; they were fashioned into human shapes, with the faces of well-known men stuck to them with glue. Jay Jay smiled, and shone a victory sign to the camera. A few swipes to the left; all of BabyGirl 6 were represented-- Jang-nyeol with the Steyr Aug, dressed in desert camo booty shorts and a halter top; Myeong-Seong, or Mimi, giving a toothy smile and a thumbs up from the seat of a large ZPU anti-air platform; Jessica, her face cool and detached, reloading an AK-12 with a violent jab at the magazine; at the final swipe, Soo-ah and Haneul dressed in black leather jackets and miniskirts, wielding Chinese QBZ-95s mounted with QLG-91B grenade launchers. In the description, she sees a mention of Christine, at 'LilGauuMonster.' She taps the mention-- the screen flickers, and renders Christine standing behind a M134 Minigun... Sunglasses hide her face, and a dark brown parka hides the rest... the video loads, and Christine pulls apart the parka to reveal a long and flowing camouflage dress. From a holster, she pulls a can... "A mouthful of PHOSPHOR in every gulp! My dear little bears, get your own PHOSPHOR energy drink drop-box in the link below." She puts the can up to her mouth, and the camera drinks in every little drop of green-blue liquid falling 'tween Christine's candy lips. She wipes away the run off with her hand, then smiles to reveal a set of grills on her teeth; they spell 'PHOSPHOR.'
Yelena locked the phone, and felt herself sink onto the floor, cold and inert. She rubbed her face, rubbing it raw and red, then pressed on the lock button again. Yelena and Christine's head molten together, of one mind; it was a message she'd left to herself. She remembers it now; the sticky feeling of the parka underneath the hot sun clashing so violently with the skin-like softness of the camouflage dress. The heavy feeling in her jaw, the way her flesh stuck to the grills. The apps did the rest-- a Chinese face tuning app to morph her mouth, make it smaller, more delicate; color-grading to fix the skin-tone. It's not like Christine's face looked anything like Yelena's face. Nah, it grew to become Yelena's face; the nose reshaped, the lips made fuller, the eyes pulled back by the cheeks, and contacts to fix the eye color. To become one mind, the body must be manipulated, and the minds of the world had created the tools to bring the body in line-- manipulate the inert pixels of a raw body, deaden the skin, and make genetics a mere inconvenience. "Everyone does it;" it is a sisterhood of sorts, a nation bound not by history nor common cause... no, this is the nation of thin waists, delicate porcelain skin, and the faces of rootless exoticism. Her homeland was the air-conditioned mall that stood defiantly on the sandy ruins of those old, weak, forgotten generations. She is Nay-toe's daughter; the whole world lays at her feet in the DMs, eager to touch transcendental beauty.
Yelena had finally reunited with Christine-- the Christine which still existed, the Christine she could hold in her hands. They were once again a single mind uniting two bodies; one inert and silicon, the other pulsating with burdensome blood. She held the phone up to her chest, as if to squeeze it into her heart, feeling its vibrations resonate throughout her skeleton. Her fleeting happiness soon turned to grief; for what she'd lost, for what she will lose. Christine's body may survive out there on the socials as a reproducible representation, but she could neither age nor be injured; she was a flat canvas on which Yelena projects, so thin she would disappear if seen at another angle. She felt tears well up in her face, willing to admit an emotion to herself for the first time-- a feeling denied to Christine, who had the burden of always appearing 'cunted' and 'snatched.' Tears gave way to guilt; guilt for robbing Christine of her totality, reducing her down to the 'ruff-riding' li'l Asian war-influencer and cutting away anything else. "I'm sorry," she whispered to herself. She had to find Christine in order to finally lay her to rest.
Amongst the wall of interchangeable apps, one aging app stood out with its singular notification. The notice brought about a flood of memories in Yelena's little projector; it was the app Yelena and Christine used to communicate, believing the app's intensive security and clandestine aesthetic to be a reflection of their relationship. It had been dead 'n dormant, abandoned after Yelena and Christine had grown to see mysteries as something to be hunted down and squashed. A red-hot '1' hung over the pictogram, begging for release. Yelena tapped on the app, which unfolded into a black slate filled with ancient messages. She sinks into herself, and scrolls through the many messages of the past, weaving together to become one continuous thought. There were videos, pictures, little song recommendations, gossip, expressions of fear, of evil. How much of it was Yelena and how much of it was Christine? The usernames had faded away, their minds had been sharpened to form one sharp point, stabbing into the abdomen of the fuck-boys, the boomers, the suits, the patriarchy, neo-libs, capitalism, and everyone else... it's only in these little empty gestures of rebellion where a privacy of the mind momentarily exists.
After a long wait, the message had finally been downloaded. It was the last entry of Christine's diary, dated "7/3/2017:"
“Hi mom, dad. You’re probably gonna read this, looking for answers or something. You’re gonna pretend you never saw it coming. You’re gonna have closed eyes, pretending your tears are some kind of glue and that blindness was something other than every single terrible choice you’ve made. You might think I did this out of hatred, that I had a heart so heavy with revenge I’d gladly crater onto the concrete and splash myself on all the downtown windows just to drive a dagger thru your ugly black hearts. You are mistaken. You are so so so mistaken. Believe it, even though you are vain-- none of the choices I’ve made had anything to do with either of you.”
“You will grab Yelena, you will box her ears like you did to me; you will beat the blood out of her little face and tell yourself they’re answers. Believe me she is not to blame for anything, she’s only taught me how to sharpen my little dagger with which I chisel & carve a piece out of rotting earthly wood. I’d like to share something with you, something I hope you could read if it turns out I’m having a funeral soon.”
“Like others, I’ve always felt deeply that I was somewhat different. Unlike others, I’ve always been treated different. Where others failed, I’ve always succeeded; I’ve never not gotten what I wanted, either through stealth or sheer force. Where others are flabby, sloppy I am poised, my hair up like an angry little wasp. I’ve never felt weak; even when my bones break, as I feel deep hot red blood coarse course through my veins. I remember the very very very first time I realized that the rest of the world was merely fragile glass aching for a fist: a bully, her fat pale face stinging crimson as she pulled her eyes with her fingers to mimic mine, thought I was just another narcissist little bitch with her stinking lunch-box and ripe pussy for the taking. Right before that very moment, I believed myself to be a fragile flower, who’d wilt away in the heat of the sun if I’d exposed myself to her powerful heat. Then; for only an instant, I looked down at my two hands, I held them fast and cut their shaking. They formed into fists of rock, made of sentiment sediment so hard it could shatter even Jackie’s face. I felt my entire body tense up like a spring, and my entire body twisted, then released in a big aching exertion... the bully’s face turned into an empty hunk of meaningless flesh, and her teeth seemed no more genuine than plastic Halloween shit. She fell backwards and cry, cried, cried for sympathy. I felt so much disgust for her that all humanly feeling fled my body, and I landed another blow on her head, and I took a chair, and a metal water bottle, and I crushed her face, the way you’d crush a stupid shitty little bug with your foot. A teacher pulled me away, down ‘twards the exits; I looked around and noticed that the riotous screaming had turned to stunned silence. She'd stopped crying, and laid there limp, still, in a pool of her own flesh. As the police officer and the principal ran down the hallway towards me, I looked down at my still, bloody fists and felt nothing stir in my heart of hearts. I felt no fear. I haven’t felt it since. Every single moment since then has felt fake like reality TV.”
At the bottom, there’s a bleeding heart with a dagger through it, flanked by two little smiling kitten faces.
There were a few blocks of space, but the message went on; beneath a vast sea of emptiness, "to Yelena" was rendered in a tender font.
"Dear Yelena. I'm sorry for what I did. Not because of the stupid bitch that I killed, but because it cost me my friendship with you. They're gonna take me away somewhere, and try to fix what's wrong with my brain. Maybe we'll talk after that. XOXO forever, Lena. Love, Christine." The message had laid unsent, until now. Christine had never made it to the Zone, and her final parting words to Yelena had been lost in the haze of the cloud. The 'stupid bitch' had survived, but this didn't make much of a difference to Christine, who now spent her life in limbo 'tween different psychiatric care providers. Daddy paid for the many procedures and institutions just to keep Christine off his mind, and Mommy indulged in whatever she could-- and in time, they would forget. Yelena wrote back a response.
This was my little act of rebellion. Against the plastic figures, against the mannequins and their vacant planets. A little ball of light. Of pure action. Against the absurd, against the cheap; trapped in glass. The world of glass has won, Christine. It feels sharp in my throat. And it was all in your name because I was a pussy. I cannot put it into words. I'm not there. You are, but I'm not there. The world of glass has won. The message goes unread.
Yelena went through the photos, the videos; both on socials and on local storage, and deleted every trace of Christine's ghostly undead presence. Gone were the bikini pics, the gun-barrelled close-ups, the energy drink endorsements and make-up promotions, the rock-star yoga posing beside tank shells and artillery, the victory signs 'neath helicopters taking the air, the pressing of teeth into cooked or raw meat, candidly dead animals, bombed-out roadside picnics, bottles of vodka 'neath amber alarm lights, the Orthodox cathedrals, the mass graves, the busts of Stalin and Lenin, the ships stuck in teenage harbors, the cardboard houses, the skies of July given way to September, the first drop of snow falling on a child's cheek, the bleeding finger strumming a guitar, light reflected in a glass eye, antennas trembling in strong winds, muddy footsteps from the front door, the stench of salt water after swimming in the ocean, the vomit after a night of drinking, the morning after, disappointed and sore, and plates of tomatoes, cherries, strawberries hanging on the vine, and the fruit so sweet it brings you tender tears, and the buttons lined with salt, and the stillness of the early morning after the violence of the late afternoon, his breath, his stench, her eyes, the horizon collapsing, every embarrassing moment that just makes you want to kill yourself, the dagger that finds its finger, the bullets that find their targets, shiny and angry, and the bodies trampled beneath the horses, the jokes we share with friends and carry with us and share again after tearful reunions, the last kiss to a loved one, the final embrace of those we never see again, those we leave behind, the steam rising from a cup of tea and dancing like a serpent in the light of a window overlooking a garden, balconies overlooking little fields of light where cars dance like fireflies, and the cigarette smoke takes a violent flight, gone gone... gone, gone they are all gone.
Yelena starts the video, with a beautiful blood red carpet on the wall behind her, and smiles to the camera. The app transforms her face... first the eyebrows are slimmed down, then the nose is shortened, flattened, then the lips made smaller, and the jaw smoothened and chiseled, with the ears drawn backwards, and the color grading to darken her skin... she pulls her throat into her head; "hey little bears. This is Christine, with what will probably be my last video ever. If you're watching this, it means I've been killed in some kind of ambush and surprise attack. I want to thank all my wonderful sponsors, who've been supporting me and my journey. And I want to thank all the great people I've met along the way; honestly, been touched by their generosity and kindness. It's been a blast, y'all. And lastly, of course, I want to thank all my little bears out there, for being with me along every step of the way, right 'till the very end. You've made this journey of life worth it, and I hope everything good that can happen in this life happens to you." Yelena blows a kiss to the camera. "Forever... love, Christine."
Yelena stopped the video and waited for the rendering to finish before posting it to all the socials. Then she takes her last picture of Christine... she sticks out her tongue, and raises her middle finger to the camera. And with that last post, she killed Christine forever. That was her defense.