Written by Chris (alcoholandaphorisms)
(Note: due to the demon characters having multiple cover identities they can wear, I will vary between referring to the demon and the covers they inhabit depending on circumstance, to try and keep clear who they are presenting as at the time. For clarity Mz Stone has the covers of Becca Stone and Gwil Short. Mx Blue has the cover of Ryan Winters. Sanjiv is still human)
It has been a bare handful of days since Gwil Short ceased to exist and Mz Stone took his place, wearing his face. A few days where Mz Stone has had to get a handle on being fallen, an unchained, in charge of her own destiny. Trying to piece together clues of her assumed identity – what was Gwil’s life before she took it?
She has to be discrete – the city of London is a nightmare in the God Machine’s control. The gears are visible everywhere, its touch can be heard in tube station announcement, in the rattling of the carriages of the London Overground. The patterns of tailback on the London Orbital Motorway spell out messages for the hunting angels. Rising her eyes to the horizon reveal patterns of lights that spell out encoded signals, indiscernible to her demon eyes. She can but see glimpses of the plan for the city, she is not connected any more. She is free. She is hunted.
The humans all around her, they do not see it. People from their number vanish every year into the mechanisms that control the city and they look away. They know it subconsciously, but they look away. Thinking that if they do not see then they will not be taken. Maybe sometimes it even works, but… every year people come to the city, come for money, celebrity and dreams, and end up as just meat for the gears of the machine.
The city is a monster. The city is a machine. The city is god.
It’s eyes are everywhere, so the unchained need to hide, to keep discrete until they can strike back.
It is time for Mz Stone to make contact with another of Gwil’s former friends, to see how well the cover holds up. The name Sanjiv seems important from the list in the phone, so she sends a text “We should meet. We need to talk”
“Sure. Let’s meet at the Japanese restaurant near Goodge Street” comes the reply.
Fifteen minutes before the meeting Gwil hangs around in the underground station’s toilets, waiting for one of the occupants who pass through to be alone. He gets his chance. A paunchy middle aged man in tan raincoat, suit and red tie. Gwil’s hand brushes against the mans, and the man collapses, caught in Gwil’s arms. Even as Gwil pushed the unconscious man into a toilet cubicle and locks the door reality is changing, the identifiers tagged to flesh and bone altered. By the time Mz Stone walks out of the door, she now wears not Gwil’s face, but the other mans. His wallet identifies him as Jonathan Saunders, and his Press pass identifies him as a journalist for the Daly Telegraph. What a convenient coincidence. Mz Stone distrusts coincidences.
And so, wearing Jonathan Saunders’ body, Mz Stone walks into the restaurant, to wait for Sanjiv. Sitting at the bar he orders some sushi, sashimi and nihonshuu, pulling out a journalist’s pad and writing some notes upon it as he does so. There are a mix of Chinese and Japanese clientele for the most part, with a mix of Caucasians as well, most in early to late twenties. None seem to be the Sanjiv he is looking for based on expectations, none seem to be looking for Gwil.
About ten minutes later Sanjiv enters, stressed and tired, glancing around to see if Gwil is there before him. Seeing no-one he makes his way to the bar and orders a soft drink. He pulls out his phone and texts Gwil, asking where he is.
Mz Stone feels Gwil’s phone vibrate silently, and notices Sanjiv having just sent a message. The target has been identified. Sanjiv looks worn down, his skin tone showing that he is malnourished, not getting correct vitamins, and not taking care of himself. Most likely not been in work for a while.
Looking over she says through Jonathan Saunders “Hey. You not eating? I’ve heard good things about this places food.”
“Certainly used to be “Sanjiv replies “I can’t really afford fine dining on my income these days”
Jonathan smiles “I’ll tell you a secret. No one really checks our expense accounts these days. I’m writing a piece on this place. You’ve eaten here before? Cool, tell me about it and I’ll put your meal on my tab”
Sanjiv accepts, talking about past times he has come here, people he has eaten with, other restaurants he would recommend, as Jonathan nods along.
“You mentioned hard times?” Jonathan interjects “Mind if I ask, problems with the economic downturn? it’s hit a lot of people”
“Kind of a mix of that, long term health, and few people hiring”
“So, what do you do?” Jonathan asks, Mz Stone trying to pry out more information “If it is in journalism I can put in a good word”
“Not journalism. I used to work down at Waterloo, Jubilee line. Emergency planning. health and safety, incident response – things like that. Any kind of major event I handled”
“So is that what happened, an accident?” Jonathan raises his hands apologetically “Sorry, sorry, journalist – curse of the job”
“Some sort of blackouts. I had missing time periods, it took a while to get a handle on it. I managed to stumble onto some new medication that is working well”
“That’s good to hear. Jonathan says “I have to admit though – I wasn’t being entirely altruistic when I offered to get your meal. You don’t see many good looking guys in here, and I was wondering if I could ask for your number?”
Sanjiv pauses, then pulls out his phone, looking apologetic as he glances at it “Oh, I’m sorry – this is from the person I should be meeting here. I should take it”
Mz Stone watches from within Jonathan, well aware that the person that Sanjiv is due to meet is Gwil, her other identity. Which means Sanjiv is lying, but remarkably well. There are few tells though, which means it is unlikely he is another demon. Unlikely but not impossible. Mz Stone lets Jonathan’s shoulders slump is resignation, paying the bill and walking out as Sanjiv gives another apologetic glance.
Things seem safe, Mz Stone concludes, releasing Jonathan and switching back to Gwil Short. Before entering Mz Stone pushes Gwil’s sweat glands, perspiring and putting a sheen on his face as if he has been running, before entering the restaurant once more, looking tired and out of breath.
Looking over Sanjiv says “Hey. I was just trying to call you”
“Hey” Gwil replies, flopping down at the bar. “How have you been doing?”
“I’m getting by…you seen Ryan recently?”
“She’s been talking with Milosh. I caught up with her recently. How are you?”
“Job hunting mainly. No one wants to take on someone with long term health issues, especially when you have long term health issues”
“Aye” Gwil says, grabbing some of the water from a nearby jug and swigging it down “you see Dave recently?”
Sanjiv pauses at the oddity of that question. Dave is gone, trapped by the god machine, used as a base for clones that do its deeds. “You have seen a Dave?” he says, obviously uneasy “Where?”
The moment freezes as Mz Stone racks through the quantum memory. This is not an expected response. The use of “A Dave” is odd. Dave was one of the people Ryan referred to, it should be safe…unless. Cautious she frames Gwil’s response “I haven’t. I was wondering if you had”
“Not since before, I hope they have finished with… I mean. I don’t think I can hack another.” Sanjiv struggles through, trying to finish the sentence
“Forget it. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have mentioned it” Gwil says. Inside Mz Stone curses. There is something odd about Dave. The demon that she identified using Ryan as a cover must have used it to test her, and Mz Stone must have given the wrong response. Which means she is suspicious. Things will have to be handled very carefully from here on in.
“It’s all right” Sanjiv says “It was kind of harder back when we didn’t know what was going on. Now I can see through, I can see this stuff. I can keep my head down and keep away from the hot spots.”
Gwil pauses, something occurring to Mz Stone “You know the…place where all the mechanics are?” Sensing an odd look on Sanjiv’s face he adds “You can still do that?”
This seems to mollify Sanjiv “Pretty much all the time, not sure quite how accurate it is. Not sure if it is working a hundred percent. I see enough to know where to steer clear of – when to keep my head down and walk away.”
Inside Gwil Mz Stone can hardly believe her luck. By all accounts it sounds like Sanjiv is a stigmatic, one who can see the angels. Another distrusted coincidence, but if it is so … Sanjiv is possibly the most useful weapon she could have found.
Taking a gamble Gwil says “I don’t see them anymore. Can you help me, can you help me when you see them. Let me know. Please.” He shakes, fear showing at the thought of the things.
“I tend to see machinery now more than anything else, it’s rare I see those things. I’ve learned to stay away from them”
Sanjiv suddenly sways, something imposing in from without. A high pitched buzzing fills his world, images burning straight into his minds eye. He sees a kiosk, Jagjit’s kiosk, where his friend is selling newspapers. He sees CCTV cameras watching, CCTV cameras all over the city. The moment freezing in snapshot on a camera, a human eye staring out of it where the lenses should be. Every CCTV has a human eye, staring out, white noise fills his head, the cables reaching back from the thousands of eyes, all converging at an amphitheatre, filled with hundreds of people, the cables feeding into the back of their skulls. Their eyes have been removed, instead fibre optics feed back into their brain, all connected to the CCTV, their lungs scream as one in binary static.
A colossal clockwork entity spreads its wings over the entire vast structure, hundreds of human eyes looking out from across its wings. It regulates the entirety of movement around London, around the financial district – at a set of screams the lights shift from green to red, traffic rerouted at the entity’s whims. Finally, spiralling through the financial district, the vision ends on a building, splashed with the logo “Panopticon Industries”
Incredibly pale Sanjiv catches the side of the table as he falls back, his sight blurred as the vision ends. When his sight clears he sees his drink, spilt across the table and Gwil looking at him, worried.
“Oh god” Sanjiv says “CCTV. Traffic control. It’s all machinery and people. We didn’t know … we haven’t even seen the tip of the iceberg”
“You saw it” Gwil says “What was it?”
“Does Panopticon Industries mean anything to you?”
Gwil shakes his head
“It sees far more than it should” Sanjiv says, then goes quiet.
“So” Gwil prompts “”What are you thinking? Are you going to go look for it?”
“I honestly don’t know. I’ve kept my head down long enough and that has worked so far. I thought I had fallen off its radar but…”
“We never will” Says Gwil
“It sees too much”
“Then we poke its fucking eyes out”
Sanjiv just shakes his head, disbelieving “How do we do that. How do we even start?”
“First we need to know what Panopticon Industries is” Gwil lets out a nasty private laugh “Maybe some of my friends can look into it” His odd laugh continues on “Friends. heh.”
“Maybe.” Sanjiv says “I’m supposed to be job hunting – I could search for them, see what I can find out. It wouldn’t raise too much suspicion.”
“You can see them as well” Gwil says, smiling evilly “Maybe get an interview, see if they have of their big clockwork wings there”
“Clockwork wings with eyes”
Mz Stone notes that down in her mind, eyes suggest a Psychopomp, similar to what she was before she fell. “Take care Sanjiv. Don’t go vanishing. Don’t go taking any risks you don’t have to” Another unsettling laugh comes from Gwil as he says that. “In fact, why don’t you ask Ryan. She can help…she can help, can’t she?” and it will be interesting to see which way the demon that is pretending to be Ryan jumps, Mz Stone thinks.
“How is Ryan these days?” Sanjiv asks
“We talked about Nate. Ok” Gwil says, scowling, thinking that will shut down the conversation.
“Say no more” Sanjiv says, understanding “Have you heard that Nate’s back at the university. Or something wearing his face. I don’t know
Gwil looks up, Mz Stone forcing his face to look confused and worried. Nate is dead. or at least as far as Gwil would know. “Have you seen him?”
“Only from a distance, I tried to not get too close. The Nate that we saw die. I don’t even know if that was a real Nate or if that was a copy. I just don’t know anymore”
“You can see them now, what did he look like?”
“It looked like Nate. I, I didn’t get close enough – Nate never tried to contact me, I assumed it was a copy”
“If you didn’t see anything odd, maybe it is the real deal” Gwil says with a look of hope that Mz Stone forces on his face.
“Maybe. Maybe we were dealing with a copy that day in Romford. I don’t know anymore. I’ve been living with this for months – it doesn’t get any easier or less confusing. It’s like the normal rules don’t apply”
“Well” Gwil says, pushing gently “Some of the answers are going to be at Panopticon. I don’t know about you, but after everything that happened – I want to hurt it”
“Guess I can sneak a job search in – I’ll use a public machine, see what I can find” Sanjiv looks at his watch “Guess I should call it a night. Keep in touch”
“Aye, keep in touch, Don’t go doing anything on your own. Don’t need to lose another one” and a stigmata and that Mz Stone adds silently.
“You know me” Sanjiv says with a hollow laugh “I keep out of this as much as I can, make the best of a bad situation, like the rest of us, Goodnight Gwil”
As Sanjiv leaves Mz Stone contemplates what she has just been told. Sounds like a major piece of infrastructure, backed by a Psychopomp or possibly a Guardian. A good target.
The next day, tired from a restless night filled with dreams of watching eyes, Sanjiv drags his bones into the job centre. He tries to struggle through the job interview but from the first faces distrust, his odd work record and memory issues speaking before he even arrived. Bone tired he can barely remember his story about what happened in his missing year. Seeing he is failing to make a good impact, he tries harder and harder, until at the end, as they say “We will be in touch in due course. Thanks for applying” He knows already they will not be in touch.
Dispirited he wanders out to look over the river Thames, listing to the gentle sound of the water lapping on the banks. The day is bright, but cold, even for a September morning. His breath frosting in the air as he watches a ferry slowly move up the river. He cannot get the vision out of his mind. He can see the gears, can see the London eye, turning gears as it moves. Sighing he heads back to the job centre, to look for jobs, but he throws in some searching for CCTV, jobs related to that, hiding his search for Panopticon Industries within seemingly innocent job hunting. It seems Panopticon is a young company, a merger of a private security and consultation company. As Sanjiv looks at the photo of their original base headquarters his blood goes cold. It is the warehouse that was the front for where Dave disappeared, for where all the jobseekers vanished. They have signed high profile contracts for CCTV around London, and are in the bidding to be allowed control of all the traffic cameras in the ventral and north east London.
Sanjivs heart jumps again as he sees their ties to Hermes transport. the coaches that he had seen, delivering the people to and from the god machines factory. To where they were rendered down to meat. It is all tied together. They have bought up a Taxi Company now. they are spreading. Printing out what he has found out, amongst innocent documents, Sanjiv heads out, shaking.
Mz Stone is heading across to the docks , across Greenwich, about to shift to the Becca Stone cover, when a call comes in for Gwil From Lucy Brent, the head of the cult. Cursing internally he answers
“Where are you?” Lucy demands
“Communing with nature, preparing for the next world. The time is coming, I can feel it I..”
Lucy cuts off his rambling, which has managed to keep them distracted the last few times “Lisa has returned to us. I’m sending a car to pick you up”
Playing for time Mz Stone shifts Gwil’s voice, echoing the imitation of the Child spirit she used before “No. We know, you are not pure yet, you still have feelings for Mark Daniels. you are not ready” Gwil glances around, seeing the O2 arena in the distance, no one is near enough to overhear this exchange.
“The thing that speaks through you is not the child” Lucy says “It is the Demiurge. The Child is with Lisa now”
“No” Gwil growls “You are trying to take over again. You are trying to take control. I saw this when you didn’t believe. I will not let you take it away”
Glancing around again, Gwil feels someone watching. Cold fingers run down the back of his neck and seagulls cry overhead. There is a young black woman, about eighteen years of age, watching him with recognition in her eyes. By her side are two skinheads, with military demeanour in loosely tailored suit, pulling their way out of a black range rover with tinted windows. Even as the men step towards him, Gwil is entranced by mist billowing from the girl’s eyes, cold mist filling the air.
Gwil runs, ignoring the shout of his name that follows.
“Gwil, come back”
Sprinting, Gwil takes the stairs down to the riverside, two at a time, leaping onto the wheelchair ramp and rushing down it at full tilt. Leaping straight from the top of the stairs, the first skinhead lands in front of Gwil, while the second bundles behind him, spreading their arms and blocking his movement. “That wasn’t a smart move mate” the first says “Why are you running?”
“Because you were chasing” Gwil growls
“You were being chased because you ran. You are meant to come with us. We work for the church”
“I don’t believe you”
The woman’s voice rings out as she catches up “Believe me Gwil. These people are with me”
“Who are you?”
The woman looks confused and annoyed “You know perfectly well who I am. Come with us”
Gwil drops the line of enquiry, realising that Gwil should know whoever this person is and not being willing to risk his cover “I can’t do that Lucy’s been tricked. She’s being controlled or she’s trying to take over”
“No. It is with me now. You are the one who told me about it in the first place Gwil. You aren’t with the Child, you are under the control of the Demiurge.”
This is the woman called Lisa, Mz Stone realises. The host of the Child now. Gwil looks around, and sees no options, kicking at the ground he says “So… What happens now?”
“You come back with me Gwil. Or, we can do it here, but it won’t be pretty”
“Sure. I’ll come back “Gwil spits “I’m going to help sort out whatever the fuck has got its tendrils into you”
As Gwil walks back to the Land Rover the men walk by his side, not touching him. They all sit in the front, no one entering the back, no one sitting to control him. Unusual. As the car pulls away Lisa turns to look at him “What the fuck happened to you Gwil? Where have you been?”
“I’ve been hunting down the demiurge in its own home to slit its throat. What the fuck have you done?”
“Fucks sake Gwil. You fucking left me. You let them take me away, and then…it all happened. You don’t know what it was like for me at that school. you don’t know what it was like… Then my uncle, fucks sake Gwil – I heard he died. Father couldn’t forgive himself an then … then Nate came back”
“You can’t know” Gwil moans “No. What I went through as well. You can’t know. no one should know.
“What happened Gwil. What happened to the friend who left me in the restaurant. Who bought me sushi and said he would help me? You used me. You used me because of what they wanted, what Steve wanted, and now he is dead. and you know what…? – So was I.”
“and I fucking blame you for everything” as she continues Lisa pulls up her sleeves, revealing pale white lines across her wrists “When I found out my Uncle had died. I tried to get in contact with him, I didn’t know. My dad told me everything. he blamed you, and this fucking religion. This fucking church. I’ve seen it, I’ve seen what you people think you worship. You know how? because it found me when I was in the dorm room bleeding to death because I’d slit my wrists, and now it won’t let me die. All this bullshit about you eating sin, you have no idea what that means. there are a lot of pissed off people out there Gwil, you promised them, the church promised them that they could move on to some .. fucking union with a goddess. Well fuck that, I’ve seen what is down there, because it is in here” She taps her skull “The child is in me Gwil and it thinks you forsook it. It wants to know why you turned your back, why you walked away. We need to talk or everything will go to hell”
Gwil snorts” Hell, heh. We need to talk. Now. Just you and me. Right now. I’m not talking shit for once and you know it. We need to talk. Now”
“You are so broken” Lisa says, then looks to the others “Right. Pull over.”
The two men exchange sceptical glances, before pulling over into an old terraced street. The street is empty, the smell of smoke in the air, shattered glass coving the floor and long abandoned skips full of dilapidated mattresses by the sides.
Gwil walks out, heading way, out of earshot of the two men who stand, guarding the car, as Lisa watches him from the corner of her eye. Gwil stands waiting until she approaches closer.
“Let’s put this simply” Gwil says as she closes, Mz Stone letting confusion reach his eyes “I have no idea who you are. I don’t know. I’ve been faking it, everything. Everyone expects me to know what to do and I don’t. I’m afraid they will find out. I’m afraid of what the expect of me I lost a year. I don’t know what to do”
Lisa looks sceptical “No, How the fuck did you persuade them? How did you persuade them you were still in contact with the child? How did you convince them to let you roam the streets”
“I’ve had help”
Gwil shakes his head “Giving away a bit much for first contact. We need to be a bit paranoid here”
“First contact? Who are they? Gwil, do you know what is the worst part of having this thing in my head? I have to do what it says. It’s in me, and everywhere around me. It shows me things…and tells me to do things. Sometimes I can bargain with it, I can stop it from hurting people. Right now I’m making a bargain with it not to hurt you, you have to tell me the truth, or I can’t stop it for much longer” Sweat drips form her forehead, her teeth gritted as she speaks.
“I can, but not here” Gwil says. Already Mz Stone can feel the ripples of bubble sort algorithms through the fabric of reality. The god machine. Trying to lock her down, shivering running through her quantum consciousness. She is close to her cover breaking already, and then it is all over.
“Please, for the friendship it once had. It wants answers”
Mz Stone lengthens the moment, running simulations and risk assessment through her mind. The safest thing is to kill them and leave, but apparently this woman mattered to Gwil. Mz Stone was someone who would have killed her without second thought, is she still? Is Gwil? A risk then, far end of the probability curve.
“Here’s the honest answer. Gwil is dead. He couldn’t handle it any more”
“Then what are you?”
“Gwil’s best chance of hurting the demiurge. He couldn’t. I can. His last wish was that I could take the cult and use it to make the demiurge bleed. We can work together. We can make the demiurge hurt”
Lisa recoils “You’re fucking crazy” Her face warps, a mask pushing through her skin. Tattered skin over wood bark, the image of stylised insects and corruption etched upon it.
Gwil sags, a pain like a vice in his chest, his entire body feeling heavy, pain flares as he drops to his knees. Lisa’s hand deep in his chest, turning, blood pouring loose from his nose and mouth and he gags on the rising tide. Lisa’s lips move in mutterings “I believed in you. I believed in Gwil. You betrayed everything, everything I stood for. It wants to make you hurt. It will make you bleed”
Pulling loose Gwil staggers, running best he can for the side streets, blood still rushing across his face ,blinding him. Lisa hisses behind, stood stock still. From the meagre trees that surround the street comes a deluge of shadows and crows, pecking and tearing at Gwil as he runs in their darkness.
“Come back. Face me” Lisa hisses
Gwil staggers and turns, standing in the midst of the black cloud. He cannot run. therefore….
Pneumatic arms reach out eightfold to the sky, nanofilament wires spinning out and hooking onto hidden access ports of reality, blue electric arcs fire down from a contained EMP core.
A human cannot face this creature inside Lisa, so now a demon walks the earth. Mz Stone stands read to fight.
Elsewhere, Sanjiv walks, dejected from the mornings failures, his stomach growling. Jadgit’s kiosk is not far now, a chance to eat, and to have some sane human conversation. As Sanjiv approaches, Jagjit smiles wearily. “Sanjiv. How are you? Have you been taking care of yourself, you look pale my friend” he says in Hindi.
“Doing the best I can under the situation”
Jagjit’s wife, Lakshmishree steps out from the kiosk, born down under a large bundle of newspapers, which she slips down onto the freezer with a grunt. She looks tired as she turns to spy Sanjiv. With a smile she greets him kissing his cheeks. “Sanjiv!”
“How are you?” Sanjiv asks
Pulling back, Lakshmishree’s eyes go slightly distant as she replies “I can’t complain. Can’t complain. Life is a gift, and we all have our karma to bear”
“I know the feeling. It is increasingly difficult to find a place to work these days. particularly when you have a history of mental health issues.”
Lakshmishree looks away as Sanjiv mentions mental health issues, but when she looks back she smiles “Ah, but these things have a way of working out. How awful people are these days “She claps her hands ” Jagjit, have you not offered the boy a job yet?”
“Well” Jagjit says “We could use an extra pair of hands at the moment. It is long hours and I may not be around as much as I was hoping, but I could certainly use another person around the place. Have you ever worked in a shop before? It is not glamorous – not like the responsibility of working for the Transport of London”
His wife cuts in “He is not proud, he would be happy. Please Sanjiv, say yes”
Sanjiv pauses, hands out, trying to not push himself forward “If you are certain you need someone, then I would be quite happy to fill in wherever you need me. My last role had me interacting with many people, I’m used to long hours and stress- all part of the package. What do you need me to do?”
“Well, for starts you could move the papers off the refrigerator and get them up front, and maybe get yourself something to eat. You look very thin”
“Well, a bite to eat was what I was passing through here in the first place. Give me a moment, I’ll move the papers through here first, then you can talk me through how things work here.”
“Get food first” Jagjit says, and he and Lakshmishree exchange smiles.
“And not a sandwich” Lakshmishree says “have something proper to eat, it is good to see you will be here”
“Thank you” Sanjic says
“Didn’t I say things have a way of working themselves out?”
“Karma. been a while since karma way on my side”
Jagjit shakes his head “It is always there my boy” he says as Sanjiv collects up the papers “Always there come what may”