Authentic

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Authentic

Tips: 0.00 INK Postby Epistaxis on Mon Apr 06, 2009 10:28 pm

I'd rather be cheap than be cheated.
I'd rather be lucky than skilled.
If you're ready to die,
then give it a try.
I'd murder before I'd be killed.


The old family saying's stuck in my head as I wait. Well, it isn't really a family saying. The first line was what my mother often said. The second was my father's. I'd made up the rest and given it a tune. Regardless, it's been stuck in my head ever since I woke up, which wasn't long ago. I guess the reason behind that was the damned phone call.

It came at around three in the morning. A man's voice from my open cell. He told me to come to the book store's grand opening. I was gonna do it anyway, so I figure there's no harm done. Besides, he sounded friendly--just not like any of my friends.

I flip out my phone and check it again. I sigh. Just like before. It hadn't listed the call under "received." In fact, it was pretending it hadn't gotten a call at all. The piece of junk's acting up all the time. Got it for free when I signed with them and it's worth every penny I paid.

The line's long and the sun's barely up, so I bundle deeper in my jacket and keep waiting. Finally, it moves. I take a step forward and feel a satisfying crunch under the ball of my foot. Ah, yes. Damned cockroaches deserve whatever fate throws at them, so I twist my foot for good measure. Useless creatures.

Now there's a guy staring at me. Gaping mouth under a thin mustache, which looked like something a kung-fu master would sport in one of those old movies. His hands are at his sides, but he still looks like he's grasping at something. I move my foot away and see a broken plastic lighter on the ground, its pieces all next to an unlit cigarette that must've fallen from the guy's open face. Well, that's unfortunate.

"You'd better have a light, pal."

"'Fraid not. Hope that's not a problem."

"No apologies?"

"None." Well he was the one to drop it in the first place.

Before I know it he's shoved me away. I stumble over my own feet and land hard. He's laughing with his friends now. Who ever heard of tough guys waiting in line for a book-signing? They must be running out of places to stay. I push up to my feet and get back in line a couple spaces away. What kind of people get so fed up over little things like that? I mean, if he wanted some change for a new one, I would've spotted it. Aren't they a dime a dozen?

"It would be better if they were gone, wouldn't it?" someone said--a guy standing next to the entrance, not in line. He has a funny apron on and some spiky hair slicked back. Something's weird here.

"They?"

"Those kinds of people. You were thinking something like that, weren't you?"

I leer at him.

"If not, then you were about to. Come inside." His voice is familiar like a half-remembered dream.

Then it hits me, so I point it out. "You're the one who called me."

He nods and saunters back in. Nobody's even looking at the guy but me. They aren't paying any attention at all, so I follow him. The bookstore is bright, and the walls are covered with abstract paintings and art pieces I wouldn't spend more than half a second looking at. I'm led between walls of colorful book spines to the in-store coffee house, and feel like a real idiot for some reason. I remember I just left my place in line to talk with this freak stranger.

"What's this all about?" I inquire. "You offering me a job?"

"Something like that. Yes." He breaks out a simple notepad.

"What do you need, then? Name? Previous work experience? I would've brought a resume if--"

"No, there's no need; we have that all already. The interview is starting."

"For what job? I don't wanna make coffee for a living."

"Good. I don't want you to either." He fishes a pencil from his pocket. "Keep in mind, I'll be asking the questions from this point on. Tell me if you need clarification."

Newly obedient, I stop throwing back retorts. I don't know why though. "And you are?"

"The recruiter. First question: do you laugh when people die?"

"Uh, what? No! Of course not."

"Tsk tsk tsk. That's not good." He jots something down.

"How is that not good?"

He eyes me over the paper. "I ask the questions, remember?" He goes back to his shorthand.

"I've had enough of this." I threaten to start walking away, hoping he'll stop me. He doesn't though, so I keep my place with a sense of defeat.

"Would you lie to see a woman naked?"

I glance around and find no one's near this corner of the store, so I decide to play along with the weirdness. "Which woman?"

"Any."

"A big lie?"

"Any size."

"Just to see her, or anything else?"

"Whatever normally follows."

"Then yes." I feel like such a pervert.

He's scribbling like mad now. "Would you let a person die?"

"Does the person want to die?"

He buries his head in his hand, apparently annoyed. "Let's say yes."

"Then sure. Why not?"

"And if the person didn't want to?"

"Assuming I could stop it," I pretend to ponder for a moment, "probably no, I wouldn't let them die. You're not giving any details here, though. What about the quality of the person's life? You didn't say if letting the person die would positively or negatively affect things."

"Positive and negative depend on point of view, but I'm getting ahead of myself." He looks a little distraught for a moment, but continues flawlessly thereafter. "Do you think some people deserve to die?"

Deserve? That was an odd word. "I'm...not sure. Some more than others, I would say, but it's not definitive or anything. It all depends on who you ask. Who they know, how they were raised. The question has no right answer, but then again," I realize, "none of these do."

"Good. Yes, that's very good." He nods knowingly, moving onto the next page, pencil lead ablaze.

"What are you writing?" I come in close.

He pulls the pad up against his chest. "Nothing you should concern yourself with."

"Why can't I see?"

"It affects the results."

"We're not dealing with subatomic particles here; looking won't change anything."

"Oh, but it will. Now, what's the largest ratio of people you're willing to kill in order to save the lives of others?"

Jokes aside, now. "Excuse me?"

"Would you kill one person to save one hundred? One to save ten? One to save two?"

"I'd need to know the people. It's the same problem as before; I don't know the quality of their lives. I mean, I wouldn't kill a kid to save a hundred child-murdering convicts."

"But, reversed, you'd gladly kill a convict to save one hundred innocent children?"

"I don't know about gladly, but yes, that's the decision I'd come to."

"It seems like you're starting to get it. What's the closest you can make this ratio? One to one?"

"Kill one person to save another?" I actually take a while to think about it. "If the right situation were met, I think I could. I mean, killing Hitler to save Einstein--"

"I don't need real life examples," he interrupts. "Those involve morality, which involves point of view. A simple yes or no will work. Now we've evened out the ratio, can we turn it around?"

"Go the other way? Kill more to save fewer? That seems like a waste no matter what the situation."

"We can put it into numbers if you want. How many poor lives are worth a well-lived one? If the right situation were met, to use your words. We can work with your earlier example and make things easier: how many death-row convicts would you be willing to kill to save a single innocent child?"

"Well now you've put me in a bind where I almost have no choice. To not kill them would be to kill the child, however indirectly it was. If you're just thinking in logic and numbers--"

"Yes, yes, this is very good. You've done an excellent job, my friend."

Wait, why am I answering these questions? What is this all about? What is this recruiter recruiting for again?

"Oh, you're puzzled, aren't you?" He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pen. "I turned this off. It emits a high-frequency sound that can change the behavior of symbiotes. I was forced to make yours more docile during the interview, otherwise we wouldn't have finished." He opens the door to a back room, revealing another apron-garbed worker, and voices "This will be my easiest yet."

I'm feeling hung over now, and nearly have to throw up. I grab at the counter to keep myself from falling. "What the hell did you do to me?"

"Some symbiotes have adverse effects to the frequency. Don't worry though, the suppressants don't have any such side-effects." Recruiter draws free a large canvas from under the counter and places a thumb tack into it. "The painting of your mind couldn't get much more simple. I don't believe I've ever seen a personality that was naturally so weak."

I sort of want to hit him now, but am too dizzy and sore to even stand up straight.

He reaches into my head, roots around my brain a bit, then jerks his fist out of my skull.

Why am I not surprised? That isn't sarcasm. I'm seriously wondering why I'm not surprised. I should be surprised, shouldn't I? That isn't a normal thing to happen. No, not normal at all. I shouldn't be completely uninjured either, but am. Yes, I have to learn more.

"Congratulations, you're a psychopath." Recruiter seems outwardly satisfied.

I need more information, so I tell him these words: "I need more information."

"Yes, I suppose it's time I explain myself. First of all, you would do best to get acquainted with these." There is something squirming in the hand that had explored my head. It looks like a large stick insect, thin and lanky with lots of writhing legs. "These are known as symbiotes, undetectable to modern science. Humans begin growing them from birth. Let me ask you something: if a tree falls in a dense forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

I think, then know. For Recruiter to say with certainty that the tree fell, he would have to have been there to see it. Regardless, if no one heard it, no one can honestly say it made a sound, just as if no one saw it, there is no proof it fell at all. With this, it becomes clear to me that all is perception. Outside perception, there exists nothing. "Your question is flawed; it creates a paradox. You would have to have been there and not there at once."

"Good, you're handling it well. Do you know why you're thinking this way?"

I point at the bug. "You removed the symbiote from my brain." It was important to the way I thought before. I know that. It is not important now, though. I know that as well.

"Exactly. A symbiote is what gives one a personality, opinion, and view. Without a symbiote, one thinks only in fact. It's much easier to find paradoxes when one thinks in fact alone."

"Is this permanent?" I feel like I would want to know that. I don't, but feel like I would.

"No, of course not. A new one constantly grows, even now. They spawn from things their host holds sacred--the belief in a religion, the perfection of a loved one, an idea, a worldview, a position of morals, a stance on an issue. Anything that has to be right for a person's world to make sense. Any eternal truth."

"What is their purpose?"

"To help people cope. People know subconsciously that the world isn't actually what they think it is. A symbiote skews a person's vision and thought process in order to make the world more acceptable. With no anchoring point, people fear they would be lost in the sea of chaos that the universe really is. A symbiote is that absolute anchoring point that they believe will never waver."

"Are they wrong? Can it waver?"

"Yes, of course it can. When a person's eternal truth is questioned, the symbiote is forced to change shape to grow into a new belief. It latches onto something else, normally close to its original point. This is why creationists get angry when they hear about a new breakthrough with evolution. It is their eternal truth that they are correct. When evidence contradicts this truth, they grow hostile, and are forced to slightly change their truth. The examples hold through any walk of life. It's why a young boy cries when he loses his balloon. It's why lovers get into quarrels when one cheats on the other. A person with a strong symbiote is considered 'sane' because of these illogical reactions."

"We are not sane," I say, as much to myself as to Recruiter.

"That's right. We're real. We don't see the world through a skewed lens; we see it for what it actually is. We're different from people with strong symbiotes. Most of those symbiotes are actually so deeply-anchored that to remove or kill one would instantly kill its host. People who host those kinds are dangerous to us, and make up the vast majority of humans on the planet. They are known as Legion, for they are many. Beware of they who use absolutes, who say things like 'always' and 'never', for they accept that they are incorrect but wish not to change."

"I am not one of them," I say, making it assured.

"That was the reason for the interview. I had to be certain you weren't. Your actual answers to the questions didn't matter at all--only how you handled them. Clearly, you felt very few emotions instinctively. The rest of them you chose to feel in order to seem sane. You almost had me fooled near the beginning. Without your symbiote now, though, you choose all willingly. You may choose to feel happy, if you so wish. Choose to laugh or choose to cry. Choose to feel pain or pleasure. Your mind is completely under your control. As of now, you hold nothing sacred."

"Why have you done this to me?"

Recruiter shrugged. "It wasn't my idea. Leader makes the large decisions, keeps track of who may or may not be Legion, as well as who may join us."

"Who are we?"

"Authentic. That is our name, for we are few and far between. Our goal is to defeat the unknowing Legion."

"I understand."

---

Recruiter gives me suppressant drugs to deal with my new symbiote's growth, and a month passes. Keeping logic in my mind, things become clear over that time. I know the exact lengths and strengths of my muscles and bones, as well as the exact number in my body. In a world free of delusions, to walk with knowledge is a joy in itself. It occurs to me that this may be the enlightenment searched for through many religions. Perhaps this is what Buddha found--freedom from desire.

I attend Authentic's meetings in the back of the book store, and all is going well within its plans. The most recent meeting, however, leaves me unsure. Recruiter makes known a plan by Leader to release the suppressant into the water supply of major cities. It was being mass produced as we spoke this. With their symbiotes dying in their brains, Legion would be no more within a year's time, and those left alive would all be Authentic.

I confront Recruiter on the matter that troubles me. I ask him: "How is it that we can do this?"

He doesn't understand. "It was just explained to you."

"Is it wrong to let these people die just because they are not like us? Would it be more wrong for me to kill one of us, than to kill one of them?"

"Yes, it would. What is the matter with you?"

"I suppose what I mean to ask is if killing innocents for our own cause is evil."

Recruiter widens his eyes. "Why are you using a word like that as if it is an absolute?"

"Is it not?"

"You worry me. Look at black and white. Those are absolutes. Those are facts. They can be agreed on by all. But what seems evil to one may seem good to another; in fact, such is quite often the case. Good and evil are not absolutes because they cannot be agreed on like black and white. They are not fact. They are only ideas--opinions. You would need a developed symbiote to be using that word in the way you did."

"I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me."

"You are apologizing now? Embarassment. Formality. Justification for your actions. Yes, you worry me so."

I remember our original talk those weeks earlier. "Do all of them have to die? How many of them equals one of us, would you say? Perhaps we could make ourselves known and allow them a choice."

"Fools make the wrong choices; that is what makes them fools by definition. Asking how many of them it would take to equal us is a flawed question itself. It is like asking how many zeroes it takes to equal one. They are each zeroes, and we are each ones. Any number of us will be greater than them. They may outnumber us, but we are still greater. It is law, for we are Authentic, and this is how things are."

I take my leave. I mentally add zero to itself eight thousand times, find the sum is still less than one, and conclude Recruiter was correct in his arithmatic. His assumptions of worth, however, intrigue me. Who is to say which group is the 'zero' and which is the 'one'? If I were an unknowing member of Legion, like the majority of the planet, would I think differently? Were I sane like they, would I not similarly conclude my own worth is greater? No matter which side one is on, a person will always want to self-preserve, whether it is in the interest of logic or not. I wonder if there is truth in that. The only way to test the theory is to sacrifice my reality, grow a delusion, and ask myself if I want to continue living. I wonder what my future self will answer. I stop taking the suppressant, and begin dreaming again.

---

The time of the operation begins, and I'm not without opinion. I'm not without personality. Of course I want to keep living. What the hell was I thinking to question that? It's obvious now, but from a different perspective. I have morality now. After allowing my symbiote to grow, and purposely become closer to my family and loved ones, I see that its growth has reached beyond the point of no return. I will never be able to lose my sanity again, and that saddens me on some broken level. Regardless, I power on. I must speak with Recruiter on this issue. I may not be able to see it from both sides at once, but I am the only person to have lived both extremes. I won't let that lunatic hurt us.

I confront him alone in the control room as he voices orders to similar ones around the world. It's dark in here, and the only lights are from the monitors. I worry I'm too late. Worry, but not fear. Somehow, I am able to tune that out. Recruiter has the power in the meetings. He can turn this all around if he wants. He isn't thinking clearly though. Something's wrong with him. Something always has been.

"You shouldn't do this," I tell him.

"I think I would like to trust you, but your thoughts have become clouded. There's a demon in your head."

"What's the difference between a demon and an angel? Doesn't it all depend on point of view, just like everything else?" I bash his logic with my own.

"I suppose it does. Regardless, you're one of the many now. I can see it in your posture alone."

"You know, I had a dream the other night."

"Really? Do tell. Your kind have such strange ones."

"I started off on a long bridge with many others. We were all blindfolded. We walked for years and years over miles and miles, then you came along and took my blindfold off. I was very thankful, and followed you. There was blue sky above and blue ocean below, as far as the eye could see in all directions. Eventually, the bridge came to an abrupt stop, and I watched as the blindfolded people in front of us all fell into doom with smiles on their faces. We kept marching, though, and soon we fell too."

"Sometimes things are unavoidable. That's life."

"No, that's death. The bridge was life. As we walked, we aged. We all had to keep walking though. Blindfold or not, everyone eventually fell off. You were just there to take my blindfold off. You let me see that there was really nothing to see in the first place. The fact that I saw the end coming didn't change anything. We all met the same fate."

"Yes, death is unavoidable. Better Legion than Authentic."

"When I saw the end coming, I was scared. The blindfolded people were smiling though. They had hopes. Ignorance was bliss, and knowledge a burden. Behind their covered eyes, their minds had hopes and assumptions that life was much different than it truly was, and they died happily."

"They were lucky to be so foolish." Recruiter pretended not to understand.

"Delusions aren't a bad thing. They let people dream and see the world as better than it really is. Whether an eternal truth is true or not makes no difference. Delusions don't have to be right. If they help people cope with their problems, who are you to take them away?"

"So your choice is in which group to extend the bridge of--those who can see it, or those who can't." He broke it down to its basest parts.

"The world you'll make by killing Legion may be a great one for you. It may be paradise for you. It may be a world of Authentic geniuses, who have no conflicting ideas. Who don't have any emotions to rile them up into starting wars or fights or even arguments. You'd conquer the heavens as a single, hive-minded entity."

"If you can foresee how grand such a world is, why want to stop it?"

I make something up on the spot. "Because the world needs conflict. Without it, there's no passion. Without passion, nothing will ever change or be sacred. You could choose to be happy, but you couldn't love. Couldn't love anyone or anything because that would mean holding it dear, making it important, skewing your vision of the world because of it."

"You're correct. Being right about that won't stop me. We're but moments away from going about the plan. Leader has informed me that we will succeed."

I come closer and closer, letting my dim shadows chase each other along the floor.

Recruiter twists his pen, and I fall quickly in a pile of pain. I'd forgotten having a large symbiote made me susceptible to that again. I don't know if I'm shouting now. If not, I'm trying very hard. The pain is coursing through every nerve, and I can barely move. Then I remember one of the things I learned while thinking only in facts. I could control what I felt. Emotions. Sensations. Without a strong symbiote it was a simple matter, but with one, it's an ordeal in and of itself. I manage to block out the pain, bit by bit, and stand.

And in an instant I've reached out and clutched my entire hand within his skull. Recruiter had taught me how with the new members. He'd taught me how to rip free a symbiote, if the need ever arose for it. The skill, I was told, would come in handy if my life is ever threatened by Legion. That time is now. I feel it squirm around in his brain. I'm certain.

He's shouting now, "Leader! Leader!" while grabbing at his own head.

I knew it. Yes, his is the largest of all. His delusion is that he holds no delusions. It is of Authentic's perfection. I tear the fat bug free and crush it under my heel. Instantly, Recruiter drops to his knees, then to his face, breathless and cold.

Years pass, and in my chair I rest, smiling and blindfolded.

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Epistaxis
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Re: Authentic

Tips: 0.00 INK Postby Kouketsu on Mon Apr 06, 2009 11:13 pm

Wow. That was definitely more than I was expecting, but you delivered as promised with thought-provoking. There was an awful lot of parallels and symbolism that could be interpreted, but whether or not it was intentional or subconscious or something else entirely is a different matter. The whole notion of death's inevitability taking us all reminded me of a proverb likening life to chess, in that no matter who holds the most power, once the game is over, both king and pawn go in the very same box. But I like the hope restored soon afterwards, even if it was portrayed as mere delusion, that despite us all reaching this same end, it is entirely possible for us to live happily and with the experience of all the other emotions that life gives to us. That is, after all, what makes life worth living on some level. That kind of dynamicism, those horrible downs that make the ups more precious and intense than they ever would be otherwise, that's something that makes the experience of being human truly something worthwhile.

Far too seldom do we consider many of these finer points, but it's wholly necessary every once in awhile to stand back and take perspective so that we may more thoroughly and genuinely appreciate that which we have. Surely somebody else will interpret this work differently, but it gives me that sense, that feeling, and to deny it now would just be a thoughtless crime.

In any case, wonderful read. Truly.

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Kouketsu
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