Circle of Fate and Pain

by Elliot Bowers

Chapter 20—The End is The Beginning

1.

I know who we are now, said the distorted voice. Come to think of it, the distorted voice was a great deal like that of Jack Bent. Now, Sieben felt downright dumb for not having recognized Jack Bent's voice all of this time—all of this time running into Jack Bent and, every so often, the being in the bunny suit. Also true was how Jack Bent was six feet tall when he stood up straight. Yes, and the figure in the bunny suit—six feet tall. Jack Bent and the figure in the bunny suit: one and the same, though one was from the past and one was from the future. Things were beginning to make more and more sense to Sieben. Dumb… "I'm feel really dumb," she muttered.

"Yeah! Like, how could we have been so-o-o stupid!" exclaimed one of the twin gynoids. "Like, we couldn't see this before!"

"It's over! Like, it's totally over!" yelled the other twin. "It was a pattern all along… A big, stupid-headed pattern. We just walked right along with it and helped it along. And here we were, trying to keep all of this insane crap from happening."

Trying to stop it, we started it, thought Sieben. When we cashed in Jack Bent's head. They put it down a hole.

Whatever happened to Jack Bent's head in that dark hole in the Factory office-building, his head was now well-attached to his body—a body now ruined and lumpy with cancers and open sores caused by exposure to extensive radiation. Now the ruined figure of Jack Bent raised one of those arms lumpy with cancers, the left arm, left fist clenched in anger. His right eye-socket took on a deep and troubling glow of inner radiation.

Then came that now-familiar distorted voice—Jack Bent's distorted voice. It matters not where or when you go, we will find you and bring you to the truth. The glow from his right eye-socket glowed brighter than daylight. Satyagraha!

With that said, that was when the muscular midgets in gold coveralls began coming out from everywhere. Whamp! A section of sidewalk suddenly flipped open like the sinister lid of a dark, evil Jack-in-the-box toy—except the things that came out were not plastic friends of amusement. Some more of the short muscular midgets in gold coveralls started coming out from darkened windows of some abandoned buildings. They started dropping from above, landing thump-thump-p-p onto the sidewalk. Even more of them came hobbling out from the alleyway behind the darkened figure of Jack Bent. "Elkric!" they cheered. "Elkric-oblamah!"

This time, something was different about them all… Tools, they all had tools. Some of them had rusty metal pipes, greasy with strange oils. A few more of them had unusual red-colored power-tools that vaguely resembled drills and jack-hammers—yet had semi-circular attachments. Those power tools also had the radiation symbol on them: that symbol consisting of a circle with three yellow triangles inside. These men in gold coveralls began to systematically obliterate this neighborhood.

Whank…! Whank… Wwhank-whank-k-k! Rusty pipes and the jack-hammers went to work by striking the sides of buildings. Some of them were using rusty pipes to begin smashing buildings. Brak-kak-kak-kak-kak…! That was the high-powered sound of strange nuclear-powered street-breakers with the large chisels on the end. Sieben could tell they were nuclear-powered because she saw the radiation symbol on them. Chunk… Chunk… A few more of the short bastards had hammers so big that it took teams of four to swing up, over and down.

"Elkric…" Wham! "Oblamah!" they exclaimed as they worked. And to Sieben's ears, they also had voices sounding like distorted versions of Jack Bent's voice—though higher-pitched. "dooble-brink!" This was amidst the chaotic and mad sounds of destruction they continued wreaking havoc. Some of the muscular midgets then turned to look in this direction, where Sieben stood with Vicki and Vanessa.

Both twins backed off somewhat. Certainly, their bodies would repair themselves after almost anything that could be done to them. It was how they were able to remain "alive" for the past few hundred years. But programmed into both artificial girls was a drive for self-preservation—the idea of not getting into situations that would result in them being damaged. Injury and damage were exactly what those short freaks in the gold coveralls intended. While the rest of their fellow muscular comrades were at work in obliterating the local neighborhood, those six were now approaching… The obvious thing to do was run like Hell.

They did so. Vicki and Vanessa turned to run, as did Sieben. Came the call from behind them, "Elkric, oblamah!" Even more of them began hobbling as fast as they could in pursuit as they carried those massive tools that seemed to take all of their powerful musculature to carry. Either the short men in gold coveralls were exactly muscular because they hefted those massive metal tools, or they were created to be muscular for the sake of using the tools. And they knew how to use them well, radiation and all.

The three females were well-away from the place where the darkened figure of Jack Bent stood. For Sieben, things were now becoming a chaotic blur. They were moving so fast that the building and pavement resembled a blur. Left and right, the short men were bumbling and amassing after them. Some of them stopped wrecking this neighborhood just long enough to turn and start stepping onto the sidewalk. Sieben had to dodge swung jack-hammers, leap over holes in concrete—and more. Vicki and Vanessa were dodging and moving as well, still going blur-fast. Then… Somewhere in the blurry craziness, Sieben saw Kyrie walking towards an alley up ahead.

"Kyrie!" shouted Sieben. "Wa-a-a-ait!" But even as fast as Sieben ran, she still saw Kyrie slowly stepping into a darkened alleyway. Here Sieben was, running over a hundred miles per hour—according to sub-systems within her mind. Still, it seemed as if Kyrie was walking way up ahead and moving calmly. It looked as if Kyrie was sleepwalking, still moving faster than Sieben's machine-fast legs.

Sieben leaned backwards as she scraped to a halt—the synthetic rubber soles of her boots becoming heated. In fact, she had to turn around and run back to the alley and turn right, going into it. In the depths of the darkened alley was pretty and petite Kyrie. The girl was like a pale-haired living doll, dressed in white silk-like shorts and blouse—her long moonsilk-colored hair fluttering in alleyway wind, slender right arm reaching, her fingers touching to open a metal door. If she goes into that door, I'll maybe never see her again, thought Sieben.

So thinking, Sieben dashed madly into the darkness of the alleyway—both eyes locked on Kyrie. Vicki and Vanessa were somewhere behind maybe—or maybe not. The replicate-girl then dashed alone into the door left open by Kyrie, a door opening into darkness. She realized her mistake just as the darkness swallowed her in. It was that darkness darker than the universe…

Sieben was in the darkened night-club. It was that particular place. There was the band set up on the slightly raised stage to the right, light shining down on it. A spotlight was also shining down on Sieben herself. There was a third spotlight shining in the darkness—shining on Kyrie sitting at the table. Something was atop the table--a round object, red in color.

Don't do it, thought Sieben. A radiation warning symbol appeared in the lower-left corner of her electronic vision. Please don't pick up the ball. "Don't do it!" screamed Sieben. Except…Kyrie did anyway, the look on her face the look of someone sleepwalking with a slight smile. The radiation intensified. It finally intensified to the point where everything…was finally overcome with a final glare of neon whiteness—everything being glared out. It was like being in the presence of a nuclear blast, only this blast seemed to burn open the fabric of reality…

Hmmph… Hmmph! This is quite a delicious bowl! I most certainly need it! Jack, did you successfully obtain all of the data? I truly mean that, for all of the data shall be of use. All of the data from this experiment is as precious as each and every drop of this wonderful flan. Mmm… Gulp!

"What the Hell…"mumbled Jack Bent, sitting at a computer terminal in this computer laboratory. "Yes, Dr. Nova. All of the possible extractable data is stored in the corresponding data-tape receptacles. Summary data is being printed up in hard-copy form right now."

Keyboard in front of him, Jack Bent was also dressed in clean slacks and buttoned shirt. Unlike a few other scientists in this laboratory, he was not wearing a white laboratory coat. If he wore that, that would be the end of his tolerance for stress. It was bad enough they cut a hole in the back of his head as so they could connect machinery directly to his brain. And it was bad enough that he was risking his own brain for the sake of operating the prototype machinery at all!

It was prototype machinery, new machinery with big components the sizes of vehicle engines—put together in the middle of this laboratory, wires everywhere. In fact, one of those wires terminated in a six-prong part that matched the part that went into the back of Jack Bent's skull. His brain helped run the huge machinery.

This was a very typical laboratory of Zalem. Like most all facilities of Zalem, this particular laboratory was all hard and shiny. The floor was hard and shiny--made of hard and shiny square tiles. All the walls--where they were not covered with machinery--were painted a metal gray, also slightly on the shiny side. To the left and right of the central machine were computer terminals. Jack Bent was the only other person sitting at a computer terminal. The other person was a typical laboratory flunkie--some guy named Smith. Dr. Nova was standing up and having himself yet another big bowl of flan. Man…! He must have a bottomless digestive tract or something, thought Jack Bent.

No, he would not wear a white lab-coat for the sake of crazy ol' Dr. Nova--even if there was the notion that such a thing was the uniform of this laboratory. After all of the Hell he had been through by way of the Ouroboros prototype computer program, he deserved to at least be free of that requirement. There would be no white coats for him!

Jack Bent was now feeling especially on the grumpy side of things. He was still groggy from being immersed in the test subject's simulated reality. In fact, the man was especially groggy especially since a significant percentage of his own brain went into generating that virtual reality. That was why part of the back of his head was shaved away. There was a neural interface back there, through which his brain was connected to a computer.

If old boy Nova is so smart, he thought, then why didn't he connect his brain to the Ouroboros ptotype? My brain's just about had it with this whacked-out experiment. For this particular experiment in karma, it took an actual human brain to help run the virtual-reality program--the prototype Ouroboros program. Sure… Use my brain to simulate a faked-up reality for antoher brain, he thought. Who the Hell had the idea of keeping a criminal's brain entertained?

The brain-in-question was actually in the center of this laboratory's computer equipment: the focus of this particular "brain in a vat" setup. A cylindrical glass case was filled with a saline solution, in which a criminal's brain was suspended. Some hundreds of wires connected the bottom of the brain to outside machinery, this machinery out here. Even more wires went to the hemispherical metal fittings that went over the eyeballs. Two thin cables connected the sides of the brain where the ears were supposed to be.

That was how the brain was fooled into thinking that there was actually a reality around it. The fittings over the eyeballs gave the illusion of seeing the virtual world. Those wires attached to the sides went to generating sound-signals going into the brain. As for the wires attached to the spinal cord, that made for the signals that fooled the brain into thinking it was connected to a body: a body inside of the virtual world generated by the machine. Sight, hearing, everything else--it was all just an illusion. Such was the prototype Ouroboros program.

But this was a prototype. Meaning, not everything was perfected. Zalem's computer technology was not quite powerful enough to produce as deep a simulation of reality that Dr. Nova wanted. He wanted a specifically detailed simulation of reality as possible . Hence, there was a connection to a real brain; Jack's brain.

Doctor Nova finally set down his half-consumed bowl of flan just long enough to pick up reams of paper being printed out from the machinery that housed the prototype Ouroboros program. "This is very interesting!" he said aloud. "I only weakly hypothesized a yield within the context of a virtual environment. This...is in fact residual readouts from actual fluctuations in karmic levels. The data strongly suggests fluctuation of true karmic levels—especially considering this is the fourth cycle."

Damned right, Jack Bent had run the simulation not twice, not three times... He had to run the thing four times—his brain being put to severe strain. Did he even know what this crazy machine was doing to his think-meat, the cable connected right into the glob of nerve-tissue responsible for him being a thinking person? This machinery was prototype. Meaning, this was maybe the second test. He never was told what happened to the first guy whose noggin was hooked up to these contraptions. Maybe they went psycho and had their think-meat taken out. Maybe those rumors of having a brain replaced with a fancy computer-chip wasn't a rumor after all.

2.

Ah, who the Hell cares? Hell, Hell, and more Hell to this all. His eyes tiredly blurred a bit out of focus as his attention vaguely wandered up to the fluid-filled glass cylinder at the center of this room. He maybe ought to be glad that at least his brain was in his head and not hooked up to all kinds of freaky gadgetry. Or maybe the gadgetry part wasn't too far off from truth? The sore circular metal thing put into the back of his head was a direct feed to the organ of human thought. And when this was over, Jack Bent was thinking of telling Doc Nova to suck a certain part of the human anatomy.

Yeah, suck it... As Jack Bent relaxed his tired and pain-worried brain, the thoughts within sort of wandered here and there—wandering about. He was far too tired to maintain any sort of respect or appearance of respect for the gray-haired scientist who had too much fun by hooking brains to machines. Of course, Doctor Nova claimed that the experiment was a test for determining the worth of karma in virtual environments versus karma in reality, whatever the Hell "reality"is supposed to be. The reality could be that crazy Doc Nova just got his rocks off of screwing around with karma and human brains.

Funny thing... What if this wasn't reality? "Heh-heh..." darkly chuckled the curly haired man in buttoned shirt and dress-pants. When the prototype Ouroboros program ran its course—with the assistance of his brain, of course—his brain made the events seem as more real and believable as the believability of a dream. Well, so he had to throw in some cyber-tomfoolery in the form of a few mutants? But those short bastards in coveralls, they seemed just as real as any other joker of Scrap Iron City.

Just another simulation, he thought to himself. "Hee-hee-hee...! Don't mind this, folks! It's all part of the show," he muttered. "The joke's on her. Then it'll be on us in the end! Elkric, oblamah...!"

"Did you say something at all?" asked Dr. Nova. Jack Bent just stared. "Nothing it was, then. Then we shall continue."

They'll continue, alright, thought Jack Bent to himself. Then came an oh-so-familiar feeling. It was...a distant pain in his head. "Mmph..." he grunted. Accompanying it was something that felt like a blow to his skull. He'd felt this feeling before, also heard it before—that high-pitched ringing a person heard when in a dark and quiet place. And then...it passed. "Uh oh," he did say aloud.

It was as if he could feel them coming—just as his headache was really getting into his head. That ke-e-e-e-e sound of ringing, it wasn't just in his ears. It was a sort of feeling and sound that was actually pressing into his head. Now reality was…beginning to take on a weak and blurred sort of look to Jack Bent. This shiny and sleek computer-laboratory was…getting out of focus. It was as if the hard lines of reality were…getting soft. Those little bastards, they're pressing their way into reality, he thought. But how…? They're…not…real!

"What is this?" asked Dr. Nova. "How can this at all be correct?" he asked aloud. "There is a severe deviation from the previous dataset." He looked to Jack Bent. "We must run an inspection on the prototype hardware to find out if there are any errors. After all, it is a prototype creation."

Indeed, there was a sharp break in the numbers of of printed data coming out of the printer, the printer connected to the machines around the brain in the case. First came numbers showing karmatronic data. The numbers were nothing but zeroes for the space of six intervals… Then the numbers resumed typical values again. Could these seemingly impossible numbers be the result of error?

But now, Jack Bent had to run a diagnostics on the machinery. When Dr. Nova wanted scientifically accurate results, he wanted them thoroughly. It meant that Jack Bent would have to pick up the cable—and hook it up to his brain. Dang-nabbit…he thought, picking up the cable from where it was currently coiled within the machine to his right. With a sigh, he bent his head to put the end of the cable into the coin-sized connector at the back of his head.

Here they come, he thought… Some of them came crawling out from underneath some of the square computer terminals. There was sleek and clean air circulation vent set in the upper part of the right-side wall. They popped open the shiny metal grating and dropped down to the floor. It was as if some more were hiding behind some of the equipment on wheels—because a few more stepped out from behind there.

About those short guys in coveralls… Of course they had overwhelmed this laboratory. They overrode any sort of security measures there could have been. (In fact, there were security-oriented multi-legged robots outside of this very same laboratory. Yet it seemed as if the security robots failed to get in here in time. They did not arrive at all. What was the freakin' use for walking mech-security if it was just going to sit out there and not do anything? They may as well have been wasted chunks of metal. And the short guys in coveralls kept coming until…

"This is an especially irritating development!" dceclared Dr. Nova. "There is almost no place to set down my bowl of off such devantsThere was almost no room to set town his bowl of wonderful, delicious flan…." said the scientist. "Oh, but my bowl shall surely be removed. Shall I save my life? Yet what of the wonderful, delicious flan?"

"Oh no you don't!" shouted Jack Bent. He said this…though he himself was being dragged down to be consumed by this crowd of short muscular men in gold coveralls. "You don't know where the Hell they're gonna take your ass! For all you know, you'll end up in some kind of poisonous place all full of contonaminated and radiation…"

Bw-e-e-e-ez-z-z-z…! There was the awful sound of a strange and awful nuclear-powered tool from another world. Squ-unch! That was the strange and awful sound of the tool doing something terrible to Jack Bent. And the awful tool kept doing something terrible. Some of the short muscular men in coveralls giggled in drooling, grotesque glee. "Oblamah, elkric…!"

"Gyach…" exclaimed the curly haired man. It was so terrible that it was all he could exclaim. All that he knew was the tool had three rotating parts that sort of drilled into his abdomen and began injecting something. There was not a great deal of blood, believably enough. Funny thing, he didn't feel much pain. By the way, if these short freaks were here, then why the Hell didn't the God-damned radiation detection equipment go off?

Bee-e-ep… Be-e-e-e-p… Be-e-e-ep…went an alarm in the laboratory—the radiation alarm. I figured as much, thought Jack Bent. The radiation figures into all of this.

It was a touch bit too late for that, though! At least it sort of blocked out the sound of the muscular midgets' tool drilling into human flesh. He blacked out when the pain was far too much for his already computer-modified brain to take. They took Jack Bent away—somehow working together to drag Jack Bent up into the air circulation vent.

After that, the short men in coveralls surrounded Dr. Nova. The flan-eating scientist looked around. And he continued looking around. He really was surrounded. "Mmm… Gulp!" Some of those short muscular men in coveralls fidgeted on hearing his voice. "Did you know that you are in violation of Factory law? Do you understand anything?"

They answered by going straight for him. Thick muscular midget-arms pulled Dr. Nova to the ground, bowl and all. There was the sound of power tools going to work on living flesh. Old boy Nova didn't even scream when they slaughtered him.

Yet Jack Bent didn't scream at all when they got him. He was gotten in the same way that older children tell younger children that monsters will get them if they misbehave. Yet Jack Bent was sure that he had not been misbehaving. They simply pulled him down. As soon as they did, those power tools and muscular arms went to work in getting him.

The nuclear-powered drills easily punctured his abdomen. That, while the jack-hammers—designed to punch through concrete—easily punched through the wall of his abdomen. Those power-tools must have hit one of his more important organs…because he now began to feel himself blacking out.

Jack Bent had the idea…that he was dying. But somehow that didn't matter. At least it didn't hurt too much. Maybe it was better for him to die than for him to be involved with the destruction of the universe. Or maybe he wouldn't be around for when the universe was destroyed. You know, Nova… You've finally gone ahead and pissed off the wrong sort of people this time, came the thought. As the little bastards kept working at his internal organs with those strange power tools, digging deeper into his guts, he was able to look over their heads at the brain trapped in the cylindrical tank.

Bwe-e-ep! One of their power tools finally hit another major blood vessel, and…Jack Bent finally went unconscious. He saw some of the short, muscular midgets going to work on the cylindrical glass case, using those power tools. His sight blurred and faded out in a cascade of darkness…

There was darkness all around. In the distance was the excited chittering sound of all kinds of strong-looking midgets in coveralls. With them were their power tools. They were somewhere, maybe hiding. Hiding, hidden, the short muscular beings were always ready. And somehow was the idea that the muscular midgets were seeking to do something terrible to her. So thinking, the girl's body was full of panic…as she pushed herself into awakening. I do not want them to take my brain!

"Ai-i-igh!" came her shriek. Then she sort of quickly rolled over and lightly dropped to the hard floor. Kyrie was so petite and slender a girl that her movements were almost reptilian in speed. There was the quick impression of something gray trying to grab for her. Her quick dodging movement brought her close to a table, which she leapt over—before dashing over to a corner. There, Kyrie stooped down in the corner and hugged her knees close to herself. "You monsters! You shall not have my brain!"

Before the dollish pale-haired girl could move again, Sieben had already moved in a hurry. She had her arms wrapped around Kyrie—hugging her. "No-o-o!" shrieked Kyrie, her voice scraping right into Sieben's right ear.

"Kyrie! Like, stop this craziness!" insisted Sieben. "If you don't, you'll hurt yourself again and..." There was a hesitancy in her words. Kyrie was suffering from one of her nightmares again that woke her up—one problem. There was the slight and terrible idea that just maybe Kyrie was right. That led to the distant idea that something else was wrong. A slight and distant whim, it tugged at her. When Kyrie suddenly squirmed, Sieben snapped out of her contemplation just in time to make for enough grip.

"Release me, demon!"came Kyrie's shriek. "I shall not have my brain go to the serving of your master!" Somehow, Kyrie's voice was enough to get through to Sieben's audio receptors and hurt. Who would ever think that such a petite female could have such an insanely loud and intense voice? Then there was how Kyrie called her a demon.

"Hey, I'm not a demon... Like, if they ever exist," said Sieben—somewhat lacking conviction in her voice. "The demon is someone else. I'm not the one to look out for. You're safe here. Please make the most of it... Look around!"

Kyrie stopped squirming just long enough to do so, just because she wanted to look out for more trouble. There was none, though. There was instead just a view of a typical living-room—even if this place was had the occasional odd contrivance. Kyrie actually fixed up those machines herself. Of course this was her living room. This was her living room in her house-building. Memories came back with the strength of strong winds. Also true was how that very same inspirational breeze seemed to have blown away other memories.

And in that moment, Kyrie began to relax in Sieben's hold. She indeed was safe from the threats and troubles. Whatever could have been wrong with the world? Nothing was wrong at all now. It was just a nightmare. "It was merely a nightmare," she said, Sieben standing by. "A nightmare with no relation to reality."