Morgan wakes up under his canopy. It looks a little ragged, shadows on the leaf curls. The sun has moved.
It’s hard for him to keep track. He’s lost access to SunNet, and it was sheer luck that the sun’s been so nice to him for so long. It doesn’t need to be.
Deep down he doesn’t really believe the rumours that the Elites control the sun. It’s sinister enough that they control the news of its movements. Some part of him that sees them as parasites thinks of it as weaponized astrology. His Psyche Oracle tells him that’s paranoia, but she looks like she’s doing better than him, so she’d be in on it too.
His lines run so easily to think of it all. He has to think of her as helpful just to stay sane. He wonders if she’d give up some info if asked. That should fit in with Neutral Lotus philosophy. Who really cares if he has more info than he technically should?
He needs to get it together for his flora. He starts moving to where the veins run. Last night he fell asleep in one of the outer layers of his growth. His growth that runs fast into the whole forest, where sometimes he sees nice things, like stars. He fell asleep, looking at the stars, as they danced through the holograph mists of the canopy.
Smelled the mutate orchids that gave the gardencity its name. They smell tangy, fluffy like clouds.
The motes dance through him, teleporting past his nose. The Skein of his veins, but more his psyche than his body.
He always shakes this off after a while, thinking it feels too weird. Then he tries to know what to do. He hasn’t seen his Psyche Oracle in too long, so he’s fuzzy.
Static, like electricity, his psyche halo. He doesn’t feel it, sometimes. Sometimes he wakes up, wearing it somewhere else, somewhere that looks unfun.
He’s learned how to shut it down by thinking at it. Right now it feels nice, like honey, the ancient kind, held by the thick roots of the world.
A leaf curls near him. It lands over his hand, covering fist. It looks ragged, torn in gouges. Something out there is hurting it. Maybe its the Sun, he thinks. It could be the Sun all along and we’d never know. Maybe SunNet tells you where it isn’t.
Maybe it’s all a hallucination, somehow.
Either way he needs to focus on this. The nutrients won’t flow into his Tender by themself. He needs to draw them near somehow.
Drawings, where it all folds in on him. The whole Skein of everything collapsing between Thot spaces.
That’s when he sees the waver in space.
The shimmer has a shape. He doesn’t see it in sight, his psyche, or what controls it, not holding it long enough. What he remembers is a shape behind things, that flits through the spaces of the hues and pheromones.
Shows itself to be loved, vanishes again, something beckoning that doesn’t need to know how.
He thinks he sees a tail, but it could be a tendril. A shadow slipping through leaves, undersides, blurring past clover.
Whatever it is, he wants it. Wants it as it slips behind the faintness of the things he only sees through the gossamer lids of his Skein eyes. Past the mush. The mush is just glass, something the flora has to make it through. And he thinks he loses too much to know it, just the trying of it.
The alt is nothing, and it always feels good to think of.
The shimmer flickers to outside of his periphery. And his eyes want to swivel to the bursts there, but instead he holds them on where he last saw it static.
It’s just space, and nothing matters of it now. This is still his flora, still darkened, but still vivid. Neonic orchid pinks, faded teals, the white of ghosts and snow. Still him, right here, even with the rot.
He grasps for it anyway, waiting for his hand to pass through it. Just a memory now of something that might never have been there. His arms are slender, hands thin wristed, veins coiling over bone under his skin.
He feels the spaces between the flora. No, not just the flora. Orcha Mutate itself, the whole seminal seed scattered. Winged and carried through until the whole city was a forest. Until the whole forest was just an idea.
Never sure if its founding was a story, or if it was a flow. He never saw it grow. Maybe it began as branches, curling out of and into earth, a bracken tangle like veins. Maybe it came through the air, pheromones first, drawing life near, fragrance and lust.
He can’t remember his birth moment. He can only remember growing, slow like flora. Growing and not really knowing it until his Tender weakened, and it was time for him to take care of it.
He wishes he had seed sisters, just for the knowing of what it was like for them. As a boy he just wants to press in, lose himself in the verdance, and maybe sleep forever.
As he watches, frost creeps over his arm. Scaling in tiny wraithlike diamonds, and hardening just past the bone of his elbow.
The first thing he knows is pain. It’s not the frost over his skin, though that hurts as he moves it, digs in and cuts. It’s something deeper. The Frost is a taint, he knows from the start, and it works how taints work. It seeps in, finds the spaces, cuts them up. Everything blackens in death.
Everything becomes the cut up sky, the blackness through. When the blackness makes it through the verdance it’s only a chill, nothing to fret over, if he’s sweater wrapped. This is different. This has found his blood, thickening and warping it.
The pain blurs together in his psyche. The blur is the haze of want and need unfulfilled, where they venn like hues and smells and feeling. He knows he can’t understand it. There’s a thousand angles and they all cut, daggers carving paths to find the root of him. That root is bone fear, and it makes him afraid, because if those are the roots of his Tender, than it’s all over. The haptics will all collapse into each other, touch by touch. Until the fear is laced through the Skein, the vibrations and pheromones. And everything that’s ever existed will be afraid.
He turns, moves back the way he came, nothing different except his arm is heavier. And his heart, if he has one, if there’s anything real that pulses at the core of him. Something that shouldn’t be measured as thought. His heart is heavier too.
The Black Hole of the Sun.
He needs a boost to draw it out. He needs life, probably. At least one, maybe one far away from here. Undergrowth is hellish if it sneaks on you..
It sneaks crimson, but sometimes it’s in the darkening of the leaves, sometimes in the paling of them. Sometimes he thinks it’s the movements he’s not making. A frequency wire cross clings to the underleaves that he never sees. Spores everywhere. A death cycle that’s been warping everything in places he never notices..
Something that he’s floated over, not knowing the hidden wrongness. Everything that wants to vanish when you look at it, not give your percepts a way to sense it together. Not caring. .
Not seeing vanishment because it doesn’t need you to see..
Who can be sure of sight? When it all blurs, the pheromones, the thought pulses through static and chemistry? And everything bloodens if you get too scared..
Who can be sure of anything, except the haze it becomes when you think about it? Think with strength, or wisdom, and all you’ll know is you’re weak, and never wise enough..
When Morgan feels like this he wishes he could lie on the grass and never wake. Maybe no one would even bother him. It hurts to think of his Tender, though. It doesn’t deserve to go ragged, even if it could all be a haze. Blur and barrier, what looks permeable and what is always shut..
Behind the doors always shut hides the Black Hole of the Sun. You only see it if you look. It’s the shadow behind the veil you see sometimes, darkening the canopy for reasons you never know..
You can never know it. The fires it burns it keeps hidden. Far from you, behind shadows you can’t see and brush too thick to pass. .
The brush gloops him, the grass blades and branches as he moves through them. Coats the flora petals he moves through. It doesn’t slow him, but it sticks to him, and he hears it as he moves, a high pitch moan..
A whisper, but it sounds all wrong, like the death of boys like him. He wishes he could warn them somehow, before it happens..
Maybe it’s a warning for him. Sent by someone who’s lived his life. If not his experience, the primacy of it, more what you feel than what you see and smell, and more like thought than both. Somehow woven into the skeins under everything. Not the physical, but the concepts. The concept of a nice smell, petal rainfall, living earth..
He wears fitted clothes, sweaters and geneweaves, to keep as much out as possible. You can’t fight Thot though, not all the way..
Past a point the tendrils seeping into your mind choke you less than other things..
They choke you, but when he follows the waver in space, they seem less thorned. Less real. Everything else gets further away too, if you follow it close for moments. Soon all that matters is the waver, the shimmer in space and thought..
He has a gut feeling it can give him a boost somehow. Like something waiting past it is his to discover. Something that might shy away. Something that might smile..
It might not have to die, to give him a boost. Though he thinks, maybe, if he could see the way it does, he’d know why it stays on the other side of the waver..
Everything wavers if you look close enough. There’s a design, he thinks, some kind of tapestry behind everything. What we think and see and smell and hear. This waver is the one he sees. It’s the one he’s meant to see, for some reason..
He’s found the waver. He slouches as he walks toward it, and it doesn’t stay for him. It shivers as it waves away in the petal breeze. More a flow than breeze, the air thick with gloop motes, vivid shades, the hybrid rainbows of fauna..
The bright fades through his eyes when he closes them. His eyelids are a part of the Skein, as far from his psyche as it wants. It’s the only way it can make sense, he thinks, from the tapestry. The things that hurt and the things that feel like black smoke. They’re the same. The psyche doesn’t like the choosing..
Doesn’t like it because motes dust it anyway. Soon a layer, a film of taint, something that stains the places you can never clean..
Dark hue to the core, geneweaves that fall apart after one wearing..
He feels the vibration closer than ever, a touch, a ripple in his awareness..
The Psych Oracle is waiting for him in the heart of his Tender. He didn’t know she could penetrate so far. Well, that she would ever want to. There’s not much in his Tender now, and it’s getting worse. He’s losing, he sees, more of it, trying to chase hope and getting stung. His arm waxes between numbness and pain.
Not much in his Tender to stop people going deep, if they wanted, other than disgust.
His Oracle is cloaked by her smokescreen, acrid today, moreso, he thinks. It blends with the smokeskein, the haze of things. So he can’t tell where her smokescreen ends, and the Skein begins. Tell where that blurs into the pheromones and smells and colours. He’s never known the end of things. He’s just watched as things drain away.
They call this depression, an ouroborous of sadness, that feeds off anything. It hunts through the Skein, the foliage, the pheromone sea. It even burrows through the roots, follows them into your psyche. Until you see, with total clarity, that your Tender is dying.
You can only pack the darkness away for so long. In the end you see it on every curl, rotting every tip, fuzzing the edges, friction breaking.
He chokes, coughs, tries to spit out more smoke than he swallows. He feels it wrap around his lungs anyway. They feel like diamonds, black and edged, lodged inside him. His arm screams as it waves through the smoke, a jagged, thorned shape lost behind the Psych Oracle’s cloak.
She doesn’t want him looking at it. When he can’t see it, though, it’s even scarier. He feels the urge to bring his arm close, so he can see that it’s healed, sudden, virginal.
His arm seems lost behind the surface of thought, and he knows if he saw it, it would be the same. Still frozen and cold, and his psyche would remember again, and freeze him.
The Oracle beckons, and he moves, not feeling any choice, not even in his muscles and bones. “Child,” the Oracle says. “Sad to see. The taint has found you, like others.”
He doesn’t feel choice in his tongue, either. “So what? It happens to a lot of people. I don’t know how to track the Sun. If you cared you’d tell me things like that. Things worth knowing. If anything is even worth knowing. If anything can stop the taint.”
“The taint,” the Oracle says, “isn’t important.” Her voice creeps along the Skein, drops so sudden that his ears chase it.
“The only way it’s not important is if none of this is real,” he says. “Aren’t you supposed to come at me a different way?”
“Boy,” his Oracle says, “I’ve travelled far. I’m not sure how you think I waste my time, but more live in Mutate but you. If you need pheromones,” her shadow wavering as she speaks, “I can flower them. You need to find the shimmer.”
“I tried,” he says. “My psyche got maimed.” Then bile rises in him, blacker and sicker than he’s felt since he can remember. “I’m ready to give in. I don’t think some forest glitch can help.”
“Don’t find the glitch for you,” she says. The smoke wafts near her mouth, and that’s all of her he can see, razor thin teeth.
“Why should I find it?” he says.
“For the glitch,” she says, and already sounds far away. Probably, he thinks, just popping into Mutate from some divine extra-dimensional reality.
A Little Too Close
The Oracle leaves the way she must have rooted in. The acrid smoke warps every layer of the Skein that he sees and some that are invisible. Like the things the heart needs, buried under the wants like bones
He smells something his psyche screams is death, his mind not too far behind. For his mind it’s decay, and he can’t tell if it’s because of the Oracle’s warp, or the taint in his tender. It may be both.
He thinks somewhere, in some basic way, the Oracle was telling him to focus. So he does. The smoke clears away, and he looks at his arm, expectant.
It’s still iced over, but darkened, like it’s absorbing the taint.
Unfair, he thinks. The taint should at least be a little further away in the Skein, if it’s going to be there at all.
A little too close, the pain a little too visceral. Too near the reality that everyone makes him care about.
He thinks he’ll have to go out hunting for the shimmer glitch again. But he sees the sparkle, the blur of boundary and tear, dead centre in front of him, wisping to the left.
He saw shape, dark, flickering, fuzzed with black light. Something light that wanted, some day, to be heavy.
He just wants to float, but that won’t help his Tender. It was gone in an eye blink, so he wasn’t sure he’d seen it. The ripple, the echo, and what spread from it, more sliver than stain on the Skein.
The tears in his Tender are like faraway stars, the sunlight burning through now. The sun should be good for them, but he thinks it might be hurting them. Part of the reason they’re blackened. When it hits them it doesn’t hit them the right way.
Maybe the part he can’t see is all charred. Or maybe the taint skips the skins of the leaves, rots them from within, in the folds.
Maybe it’s like that for all the Tenders. His is the only one that shows the taint underneath, breathes the smell of it. He’s never ventured far into other people’s Tenders. Only the places where the peripheries venn in chao harmonics. Those that pulse everyone down to the primacy. Even that makes it hard for him to focus.
He sees things in those peripheries that he’s not sure anyone else sees, and knows even less how to ask about them.
He knows, deep in the pit of him, in one moment or other he’ll find out. He’s moving towards it, a tangle beyond light and meaning, and when he gets there he’ll know for sure. Until then, the universe only leads him to wavering places when his Tender has gone dark. When the taint is too acrid to keep breathing. When he knows he can never know the brush, so he might as well know the shimmer.
If it’s somewhere in the black holes of the fauna, he wants to know it. Though he doesn’t know if you can go in these black holes, and still keep yourself.
He thinks if there are things that can do that, they wouldn’t spend time in the acrid of Orcha Mutate. They would be somewhere else. Somewhere where the signs press you without the need for frontier.
It’s all so beautiful. Sometimes the anxiety of maintaining sweeps over him. Something he can almost sense, distinct from the pheromone sea. A current in it, one that burns him when his arms touch it. So nice, but there’s always something that calls for his attention. Somehow bays for it, through the fragrance and vibrations.
He hopes the shimmer is a boost, but maybe it’s an escape. Maybe there’s just nothingness behind it, nothing to take care of. And he loves his Tender, feels it in his heartbeat but he feels something else too.
Feels that maybe nothingness would be easier to understand than whatever’s out there. Whatever moves the sun and knows how it burns.
He once wanted to travel far, like the Oracle does. See the parts of Orcha Mutate that are brighter, warmer, safer.
It’s not that he’s stopped wanting. He’s just realizing his place in the Skein, how he can thrush but never thresh.
Maybe this is growing up.
He sees the tail or tendril again. He doesn’t know what he wants the hybrid to be. The ghosts of Mutate can look dead up close. Like they’ve clung to a niche, more nightmare than dream.
He’s moving fast after it. His geneweaves taking brush with them, wrapped around and streaming blades. His feet leave marks, but he knows they’ll soon be gone to wind and petal. The shimmer flits away and he stays with the space it left behind, the verdance, he sees now, a little more faded. Whitened, like sunlight has slipped through the verdance. The trees are ancient, their bark grained, heavy brown. On the edges of his sight they look cut up, but he doesn’t look closer.
He remembers where the waver was, how it looked, a resonance in the Skein, pure like that, a wave in the pheromone sea.
He throws himself at it. His body stretches out. The Skein parts, like it’s always wanted to. The threads of it unspool, a fallen angel spinning a broken loom. They are thin and soft, like gossamer, like silk.
Meaning collapses on him, like it always does. It’s the Thot spaces. The first part of the collapse is fear. The fear is everything he’s forgotten to be afraid of. He’s poured it into the spaces in his psyche and now the drawing will make him face it.
Here be monsters with too many eyes. Blinding lights, gone in moments but back the moment you don’t want them. He forgot it was like this, flash backed that it was less than it was. Flashing astral planes, galaxies, decades. Different quasars, ones with no bearing. Waking, sleeping. Another world between the folds. This is losing yourself.
The hybrid flits and warps around him, crackling with energy. It shocks out and dances everywhere. He’s drowning in it. It’s a warm tide, somewhere deep under sunrise. The waves wash over him, bright and pure.
A purr, something seen in the paws of birth.
A white light that blinds, shadows flowing in black, entropy waterfall.
His arm is frozen now. He can’t feel it. When he moves it it hangs heavy in the air, like a weapon.
His whole body is frosted, though he can still feel that. The frost is different. It’s not the dense skin of ice that encases his arm to elbow blade. It’s motes instead, a film of them, patchy over skin. In places they are lines of cold, and they hurt like slivers against his soul.
He sees mountains of ice, thick with spires reaching to sky.
He sees sky. He sees sky and his psyche sings before his eyes flash that he isn’t seeing sun. It’s brighter than it was under the Orcha Mutate canopy. The sky, though, is blanketed by smoke, like his Oracle’s smokeskein. It looks nacreous, thick and dark, like the taint, and for a moment he wonders if this is where the taint comes from. It lives in this place beyond space and sight. It can slip into any layer of the Skein, whenever he wants.
He sees it as an enemy now, something infinitely powerful.
It’s far above him. The world around him is shifting. The mountains of ice redden, become hills of blooded dust. He takes a step forward, looking for the shimmer, or what it might look like here.
The world shifts again, to something hard and torn. The ground is charcoal gray, cracked so his feet fall to bridge it. Then it’s the ice again, and all three now, some sort of trinity. He wants to close his eyes to it, but he sees a shape, concrete in motion. Moving behind mountain and hill and ruin.
He moves to it. It moves, but he can follow it with eyes. It’s not like the Skein. He has to keep moving. He’s following it through the physical now, though he’s far from home.
Thinks he might come back through the Skein to dead things.
His arm still swings heavy, his body starting to blister over the frost motes. His skin is tattered with dead flakes, blackening as it peels, so he knows the taint is in him. His veins feel thick. Tendrils coiled around his psyche, meaningless except for their pain.
He feels like his blood is shattering, whatever his psyche thinks his bloodflow is. It’s going away.
Frosted stone gouges into his sole, tearing it. He feels cold air on the skin, bristling, scared. His skin screams he needs to breathe again. He’s forgotten.
When he breathes he forgets his thoughts. Into his lungs flows fear, dark and cold, and it finds the tendrils, thickening them.
Ambrosia Acid / DIfferent Things
He sees the smokeskein first. Smells acridity. Ambrosia acid.
Then the Psyche Oracle, wizened and beautiful at once. Collapsing into humility.
And inwards into the fold, paper cuts and wrappings.
The Oracle is beside him. “What did you see?”
The universe, he tells her, dancing around itself.
“The love chains?” She says. “You saw the love chains?”
He’s silent. Gathering back into himself.
“Something is trying to break them,” she says, her smokeskein tightening around her. Seeking halo, the dust-cling glitter of celestia.
Pale Like His Flesh
He thinks it’s days. He’s lost time. The only true way to tell is sunlight, the Oracle says. Everything else is just vibrance.
“Where should I go?” He says. Movement is confusing now. You could end up anywhere.
“These are the edges of Mutate,” she says. “What we want is at the core. Where the sun lives.”
The sun is somewhere out there, he says, far beyond the canopy.
“No,” the Oracle says. Her arms fold together, soft, palms closing over elbows. Hugging herself. “The sun lives at the core of the Mutate. Inside something they call walls. It burns against them, but can’t escape.”
“Maybe I want to go home,” he says. He looks around. In the solid Skein, Dear lazes in a curl of fur. His black tips move in the vibrance of the harmony.
“I mean,” he says, “stay here.” Feels confused.
“I know,” the Oracle says. There’s a rose tinge in the aura of her smokeskein. lilacs on a summer’s day. A flutter in his brain, the sensate pale, like his flesh.
Ragged butterfly wings translucent in the mist haze.
“You need to reach the Sun,” she says, slow and steady, “anyway.”
He sees all sides of her now, the confidence and fear. She’s diffused it into her psyche, spread it in waves, keeping it balanced. All her haptics mixing, he thinks, so in the end she has no haptics at all.
Just an ocean of sensate that’s everything at once.
Kind of like the underskein, he thinks.
“Go,” she says, and he does. He only thinks after Dear finds him with eyes and nuzzles his geneweaves.
When he thinks he’s already moving, and hadn’t noticed.
The Core of Orcha Mutate doesn’t look tainted, but he sees it is, though his eyes have to rove far to see it. He feels like his eyes are slipping through the underskein. His sight is coming back frosted, burned and aged, and nothing he sees might be true.
Dear’s tail swooshes the air, like it feels more sensate than any other part of him.
Morgan tries to trace the spiral with eyes, but it’s too complex now. Invisible, forgotten, and fractal in ways his psyche can never hold. Dear’s generating an energy he can’t see, but can feel, waving between cells, settling them in patterns. It’s like the vibrance, but he feels it on the inside first, tries to match it up to what he’s feeling later.
Never what he thought he wanted, but he feels safe, floating on Dear’s thermal waves.
He focuses again, remembering he’s looking for colour. He has to follow the colour, and at its heart it’s like the taint. He sees in the hues the bleached white of the taint’s bones. Something that pretends to be healthy.
That’s where the truth is, the things that want to make you look away. The taint is so you don’t feel like you should.
He knows that now. He’s seeing something change in the flora. He didn’t want to trust his eyes.
The whitening isn’t going away. It’s lacing through. He sees it under the hue, the colour splotches, blotted like ink. Then there is only the brightness of things unreal. He touches the petals of the flora. No matter their kind, they feel like paper, like cloth. They cut his palms open, but the wrongness hurts more.
He looks at Dear. Dear looks wary. He feels ashamed. He dragged Dear into this. If Dear’s scared it’s not because he’s a coward. It’s because there’s something to be scared of.
Even the moss bark is whitening. He can’t stop himself. It’s the same thing that made him touch the spore bubbles. It takes him now, stretches his arm forward. His fingertips grasp, split at the touch. He sees red, but it doesn’t stop him. He continues to press against the moss that clings to this bark.
His skin burns, even through the blisters and Dear’s revenants. The moss is cloth and paper, like the flora. It’s more ingrained, more oblique, but it numbs just like the taint of his Tender. No. It’s worse, because it’s trying to look different.
Trying to look like something it isn’t. It’s a discord trying to look like a harmony.
Once he finds the oblique, he can follow it easier. The more of it there is around him, the easier it is to see, and on and on. Dear has been silent for time. His tail isn’t wooshing anymore. It just twitches, the vibrations uncertain. He thinks that’s just because he’s close.
Somewhere deep in his heart he knows the vibrations Dear makes can never be unkind. Anyone who feels them out at the Mutate’s periphery, right now, wouldn’t feel panic. They’d feel, Morgan thinks, a gentle stir in their psyche, guiding them to be, in the growth of their Tender, a little bit safer.
The sky past the canopy isn’t sunlight, and it isn’t absence. It’s a red that matches, in its wells along his lines, the colour of his blood. What bubbles from him, pops and swells, is something that can never be tamed. Can never be tamed because it will always be, whenever it’s looked for.
He feels that this is something that’s been kept from him.
The bark is peeling, the cloth of it obvious now in the winds that break against him like currents. Dear’s fur is stiff, bristling, like the absence is settling under his skin and pushing his hair out.
That’s when he sees the Denizens. Their smokeskeins black, their faces hidden. And their vibrance, reaching him in deep places, unholy.
He can’t tell if the Denizens look like him. They are tall and slender and seem to stretch under their black Skein, trying to break what you see.
Dear stands before him. He tableaus against the skeined shapes, and Morgan sees how small he is. Small, lithe, and coiled into himself. The canopy is made up of vines that twist over bark and branch like serpents.
Behind the denizens he can see a wall. Flat black, featureless. Clean of the leaves that swirl around it with the vibrance of everything.
The Denizens move towards him. They separate to flow through the paper trees, find each other around them again. Like water flowing through a creek, he thinks. The kind of cold water that he could never flow to his Tender.
Another way he failed.
Dear hisses, the sound of it gnawing at him. He remembers when he found Dear in the underskein. He was so happy, so pure.
I’ve messed everything up, Morgan thinks. I didn’t know I’d have to go this deep, just to fix my Tender.
I thought if it was my fault it would be easy to fix.
The Denizens are spacing out. The smokeskein fills their absence, keeps them chained. The chain of smoke looks woolen, like his sweater, but abrasive. He steps back. They keep moving forward.
Dear mewls in a high pitch, but keeps his stance before Morgan. His footing sure and even, though the ground his paws rest on looks more cloth and spore than earth.
Behind the nacreous wall of smoke, Morgan thinks, is another wall. Something gray and sterile, though he isn’t sure.
He wishes something would reach, hands from darkness, and draw him. Keep him warm, and spread the fire under the ground. Not so it breaks through, but so it warms and lights the ancient roots of his Tender.
But inside he knows he must venture into it.