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    Granola allowed herself a few moments to bask in the glow of satisfaction. At least Lucinda had noticed the side bar suggestion she had implanted on the Face It web page, and had perused the ideas sufficiently to motivate her to try out one of the missions.

    “Invite a random stranger to join you,” it had said, “to join you for coffee in a nearby cafe, or invite them home for dinner, or to see a movie.” The page had included numerous other suggestions, but that was the gist. They did warn the reader that often, people were suspicious and expected a scam of some kind, and if the random stranger exhibited more that a token display of wary caution, to leave them with a cheery wave, and thank them for helping you to practice your confidence boosting exercises. Under normal circumstances, providing the level of fear and distrust wasn’t too high, this approach usually rendered the random stranger more amenable to an approach in future.

    In truth this wasn’t a difficult exercise for Lucinda, for she often spoke to random strangers and quite enjoyed it, although usually she didn’t extend that to personal invitations. But the Ask Aunt Idle Oracle had been droning on and on about interconnection being the primary factor in reducing signs of aging ~ yes, strange, but true: nothing to do with food or toxins or exercise after all ~ so the coincidence of Aunt Idle’s advice mirrored in the side bar suggestion registered sufficiently for Lucinda to actually remember it, and try it out on the bored looking fellow in the supermarket.

    Only hesitating slightly before extending his hand to grip hers in a surprisingly firm handshake, he responded: “I’m Jerk. Pleased to meet you.”

    Granola grinned from behind the pyramid of baked bean tins, and faded out of the scene. There was work to do on the side bar method for the next clue.

    Jerk’s eyes flickered over to the baked beans, registering the peripheral movement, just in time to see a disembodied foot wearing a red sandal vanish into the somewhat heavy air of the canned goods aisle.


      Shawn-Paul lived in a studio apartment, crammed with bookshelves full of books and trinkets that he gathered during his many walks around the city while looking for inspiration. He hadn’t read all of the books, but he always had the intention to do it one day. One day easily became two and three, and so many.
      Someone with OCD could dust date the different purchases by measuring the thickness of the layer of dust on the books.

      That day, Shawn-Paul was drinking a hot chocolate at his computer on the small desk where some books lied open or closed on top of each others. The top one’s cover claimed in bold red letters “NARRATIVE COACHING, The Definitive Guide to Bring New Stories to Life”. Shawn-Paul had bought it thinking it was a coaching book for writers but it apparently aimed at teaching coaches to tell good stories. The book had proved interesting and especially another occasion to enrich his knowledge about the world or in one word procrastinate.

      Shawn-Paul took a sip of the hot chocolate, which was now more lukewarm than hot and felt the impulsion to open his browser and watch a video about narrative coaching on U-stub. That’s when it all went wrong and myriads of ads popped up and covered the screen and his newly bought writer software were the first word of his novel still waited to appear.

      At first, he panicked and his sudden movements back and fro almost broke the fragile equilibrium of the desk clutter. But then he shrugged, took his phone to call his friend Jeremiad for help and remembered how that went last time when he had to listen to his friend’s imaginary problems, just like imaginary friends but worse. He put the phone back in the clutter and looked at the last ad. A girl with sensuous cherry red lips winking at him with a packet of granola cookies spinning around her head.

      Unaware of what was happening, Shawn-Paul felt hungry and considered his lukewarm chocolate. He smiled as he thought he could make another one and enjoy dipping some cookies in it.
      He went to the kitchen and foraged through the clutter of dirty dishes and empty cookie packets. There were none left. The effect of hunger on Shawn-Paul was square grumpiness. Not round, not rectangular. Square. And it didn’t fit the curves of his stomach.

      Shawn-Paul put his writer’s jacket and cap on, added a wool scarf because he had a sensitive throat, and it looked cool on him and he winked at his reflection on the mirror hanging on the main door.
      He left, unaware of the smile of the granola girl.


      The seven little spheres had each a different colour. Gorrash looked at them with envy in his heart. He’d rarely seen colours as his life was mostly at night, under the moonlight or under the yellow tint of candles and gas lamps. However, the spheres had their own light from inside. And Gorrash couldn’t touch them as Rainbow was very protective, and it made the stone dwarf restless. He had tried once to take one sphere and he got a warning slap on his hand. Rainbow looked soft and gentle, but a whip is always soft and supple before it struck.

      The whole week they had been on the hunt for all kind of potions from the shelves of the dragon woman. Glynis, she had called herself during one of her monologues in front of the mirror. Her sadness and frustration toward her appearance resonated more than once with his own condition. He had felt guilty about their little thefts, but he had soon realised that nothing would stop Rainbow.

      The randomness of the creature’s choice of potions appeared to be not so random. Gorrash tried several times to help, picking up potions for his friend, according to the colours he liked or to the shapes of the phials that intrigued him, but the creature refused many times the offering.

      The colours mattered to Rainbow, apparently. It would never take black, Gorrash discovered. Only colours from the rainbow spectrum, a voice said inside him. He had learned to recognised it as the voice of his creator’s memories infused into the core of his matter. One thing he wasn’t sure though was about the process of his birth. Has he been carved out from a stone ? Has he been assembled like clay ? That was not part of the memories trapped into his stone body.

      Gorrash then tried to bring the creature colours from the rainbow, always glowing, never dull or matte. But then he discovered it had to be in a certain order. Everyday was different. One day it was in the order of the colour spectrum from red to purple, as his master’s remembered. Another day it had to begin with green or indigo. But always following the order of the colour wheel. If a colour was missing, then they had to wait until Glynis would manufacture it.

      And then, one day… one night, as Gorrash woke up from his rigid sleep, the seven spheres were there, and Rainbow was watching over them. Like a bird over its eggs, said the voice. Except they didn’t really look like eggs. Eggs don’t glow with different colours. Eggs have a shell. Those were translucent, glowing of some very attractive inner light, and looked like water spheres. Does that mean it’s a she? wondered Gorrash who had always thought his friend was a male. He gnawed at his lower lip. Anyway, it seemed that the hunting days were over as Rainbow didn’t show any motivation to leave her strange progeny, and Gorrash had no way to go past the walls on his own.

      Rainbow raised its eyebrows and looked at the dwarf who had come too close to the eggs for its taste. It gathered protectively the spheres which came as one in a big multicoloured moving spheroid. Gorrash could still see the individual light cores in it, they seemed to pulse like the growing desire in his heart. He swallowed. It tasted of dust.

      — I won’t take them, he said.

      His chest tightened as he saw suspicion in his friend’s eyes. Gorrash turned away feeling sadness and guilt. He needed to find some distraction from the attractive lights and the growing desire in his heart.


      Glynis could barely breathe when she thought about leaving the home she had created for herself here in the enchanted garden. Yes, for sure she was lonely and the months … or perhaps it was years … had done little to ease that pain; the birds and other creatures she interacted with on a daily basis were companionship but it was not the same as having friends of her own kind.

      But she had made a life for herself and it was bearable. At times, for example when she was engrossed in learning a new spell, she felt something akin to happiness.

      And she always held the hope that one day she would stumble upon the spell.

      And the alternative … to leave here … she felt ill. But she could not deny the restless pull she was feeling even though she did not as yet understand it.

      Glynis took a deep breath and pulled away the cover she had placed over the mirror in her room; it was actually an old drape she had found in the main house and made from the most beautiful blue velvet covered with little embossed hearts.

      It was a long time since she had looked at herself in a mirror.

      She took a deep breath and willed herself to see.

      Her hair was luscious. It reached to her waist now and was a deep auburn red colour. The rosemary and other herbs she used when washing her hair meant it was shiny and thick. She was tall and slender and the red gown with little pearl buttons down the bodice—she had discovered a whole wardrobe of wonderful dresses in the house—fitted her beautifully.

      Glynis resolutely forced her eyes to focus on her face though they seemed intent on disobeying her. She shook her head in an effort to clear the blurriness and realised she was crying.

      Dragon face.

      That’s what the Sorceror had called her. And certainly, it was an apt description. For Glynis’ face was covered in ugly green scales and a small horn protruded about an inch out on either side of her forehead.

      She’d broken his heart, he had said. And for that she must pay the price.


      Rukshan had hardly any time to think about the trees of his area of enchantment in the past days. Actually, he’d rushed to the Clock every morning at dawn, and was busy until dusk, after which he slept like a log, to start the cycle again.

      As he looked into the mirror in the morning, observing the hints of fatigue under his green eyes dulling the glow of his dark olive skin, he realized that there was only so much that his morning yoga could do to help rejuvenate.
      He sighed and tied his sleek dark hair into a top knot.

      The trees and the profound wisdom of their calm silence was still here, at his fingertips, in such contrast to the daily activities, that he wondered if the workings of the heart completely eluded him. After all, he couldn’t say he loathed his overseeing and mending job, not could he say that he didn’t pour his heart in it. But still, something about it felt artificial in some ways.

      When he arrived at the Clock Tower in the morning, the air was still fresh, and the stairs wouldn’t yet smell of the usual cat piss. The clock’s time was still a smidgen behind. Usually, he would just to the best he could, and just let things patch themselves up, but it seemed as though this time, the change of structure was more profound, requiring from him to go… for lack of better way to put it,… the heart of the matter.

      From the top of the tower, he would usually hardly go lower than the first level where the 12 mannequins were stored and revolved around the central axis to appear at each hour, until noon and midnight were they would all play an elaborate dance.

      Below that level laid the belly of the beast. An intricate assemblage of copper wires, brass mirrors, lanterns and scalipanders, accessible by simple steps coiled around the central axis, hiding below a round wooden hatch.


      In reply to: Coma Cameleon


        “Aaron!” his focus snapped. Was he day dreaming?

        As he came to the door, he looked at his suit in the mirror. It was keen, with straight lines and not a wave or wrinkle to be found. It was the epitome of structure and order.

        He hated it.

        He hated the way it felt. He hated the properness that came with it. He hated the lie.

        In the next moment, he began to shake off the prissiness. It felt as if he could wriggle out of it, loosen up a little. And as he stood there, shaking his hands and feet, trying to get the funk off him, the suit shook off, too. It fell to the floor in pieces as though it were the very manifestation of inhibition.

        As he stood there, in front of the mirror and half naked, a low murmur came up from his stomach. It was an uneasiness, a call to action, a desire to move…but he had no idea what for or why. It welled up in him and he became anxious without the slightest clue as to what he was going through. Frankly enough, it scared him.


        The voice was a part of him and there was nothing but himself staring at himself. Everything seemed to become more and more energized. It felt like he extended beyond the limit of his skin, like water in a balloon trying to push outward.

        Were it not for his containment, there was a very real possibility that he might just completely leap out of his skin and bones. He felt that, given a small slip in concentration, he’d be liable to explode headlong into the atmosphere with the vigor of a superhero on poorly made bath salts.

        His heart raced. He could feel it beating in his chest. He could feel it beating all over. What was happening? Where was he?

        He looked back at his surroundings and found himself sitting behind a tattered cloth spread with sunglasses and watches…and his suitcase?


          Corrie’s findings from elsewhere:

          “It was no coincidence that “Elikozoe”, his nom de plume (he was born Albert (Al) Yokoso, from a father of Japanese descent and a mother of Cajun descent) had been sent to the Pickled Pea Inn (formerly known as the Flying Fish Inn).”

          I thought about leaving that one out, as it seemed so nonsensical, this place has never been called the pickled pea, but I’m leaving it in for now. Might make some kind of sense somewhere down the line.

          “This morning was quiet, but his mind was not.
          There were always the nagging thoughts that something ought to be done, the restless fear of forgetting something of importance.
          But this morning was quiet.
          A bit too quiet in fact.
          No raucous cackling to stir the soft velvety dust from the wooden floorboard.

          Quentin was wondering whether the story makers had lost all interest in moving his story forward. Yet, he was more than willing to move it notwithstanding, his efforts seemed of little consequence however. Some piece was missing, some ever-present grace of illumination shrouded in scripting procrastination.

          His discussion with Aunt Idle had been brief. She’d told him with great intensity that she had a weird dream. That she looked into a mirror and saw herself. Or something like that,… she was not a very coherent woman, the ging wasn’t helping.

          Maybe his task was done. Time to leave the Pickled Pea Inn.
          His friend Eicnarf seemed eager to see him. Or maybe that had been a typo and she really meant to sew him, or saw him,… she could be gory like that…

          No matter, a trip out of the brine cloud of this sand coated place would do him good.”

          And good riddance, you cheeky bugger, I can’t help thinking.

          ““Did anybody see our last guest?” Mater couldn’t help but regularly count her herds (so to speak), and although she wasn’t as authoritative with her guests as she was with her family members, she couldn’t help but notice that her last count was one person short —enough to start worrying her.

          “Hmm lwwft thws hhmmmng” said Idle, her mouth full with cookies.

          Mater shrugged. It was still better than when she used to talk with sauerkraut.”

          I had better ask Clove to remind me how to do italics I suppose. This could get confusing.


            Miss Bossy Pants contemplated her pale and wan appearance in the bathroom mirror. She wondered if she was well enough to turn up at work today.

            Don’t want anyone else to catch anything off me…

            However, It was important they did not lose momentum with the competition out there chomping at their heels.

            “There is too much talking about writing and not enough actual writing,” Bossy grumbled to her reflection while she dealt to the under eye circles with some concealer.

            Of course, that was Hilda to a T; always yabbering on about some stupendous idea for a story but when it came to actually putting pen to paper … well that was quite another matter.

            Connie had started out with some potential but was becoming increasingly aggressive and alienating her leads.

            How many times must I tell her that clenching her fists and refusing to make eye contact makes her appear shifty and untrustworthy? Bossy slammed some lipstick on her mouth with unnecessary force.

            And that new staff member, what’s his name?

            Prout, that’s right.

            Bright enough but a bit of a moaner. Bad for morale all that moaning. As for sweet old Sophie, the temp, she seemed to be losing more and more marbles by the minute.


              This morning was quiet, but his mind was not.
              There were always the nagging thoughts that something ought to be done, the restless fear of forgetting something of importance.
              But this morning was quiet.
              A bit too quiet in fact.
              No raucous cackling to stir the soft velvety dust from the wooden floorboard.

              Quentin was wondering whether the story makers had lost all interest in moving his story forward. Yet, he was more than willing to move it notwithstanding, his efforts seemed of little consequence however. Some piece was missing, some ever-present grace of illumination shrouded in scripting procrastination.

              His discussion with Aunt Idle had been brief. She’d told him with great intensity that she had a weird dream. That she looked into a mirror and saw herself. Or something like that,… she was not a very coherent woman, the ging wasn’t helping.

              Maybe his task was done. Time to leave the Pickled Pea Inn.
              His friend Eicnarf seemed eager to see him. Or maybe that had been a typo and she really meant to sew him, or saw him,… she could be gory like that…

              No matter, a trip out of the brine cloud of this sand coated place would do him good.


              In reply to: Mandala of Ascensions

              Master Medlik, looked distractedly at the messages left on his aura during his last simulation. One in particular that looked uncalled for jumped at his attention for some reason. Everything was a message of the Universe in the eternal now, wasn’t it.

              The Top 10 Cloud Myths
              Don’t let myths like these slow you down:

              • Cloud is always about money
              • You have to be cloud to be good
              • Cloud should be used for everything
              • “The CEO said so” is a cloud strategy
              • We need one cloud strategy or vendor

              Lead your enterprise to a smarter cloud strategy.

              He could see some vague fractal pattern surrounding, a reflection of the vastness and wisdom of the Universe in shards and fragments of mirror-like substance.
              If only one thing, that was all the Cloud was supposed to be about, the purpose of its being created… Or so he was told.

              Maybe his views about the Cloud needed revising…


                Second Journey ~ August 24th, 2014

                Duration 24 minutes

                Directions : Meet with your power animal, ask them to lead you to the upper realm to meet with your guide. Ask the name of your guide and what they will be likely helping you with. Ask them for your personal symbol and how you can use it. Then follow your power animal into showing you the potential development for the stories.


                My snake animal guide appears very fast, I see its eyes first. It shifts into a powerful cobra, and fans out its hood into multiple heads, like Ananta (Shesha Naga), and says I can call him Nagini (like in Harry Potter, that’s also the playful name I give to the plush snake at our doorsteps).
                It wraps its multiple heads around me like a ball, and we woosh into the ground to what I guess is the underworld, it seems like a long coiled path around a sort of vortex, after a few moments in a sort of crystal cave, I’m a bit skeptical what we’re doing there, I catch a glimpse of a white horse from the back, so I guess Jib’s Conan is checking on us, and restate my intent.
                I go though the light of one of the brightest glowing crystals, and the travel resumes, this time like the giant snake wraps ourselves in coils around a column of rocks, and we climb that high mountain very fast. It reminds me of Mt Meru in Buddhism or the Immortals palace in the Chinese Buddhist tales (like in the 2014 movie The Monkey King).
                The place is like a beautiful platform/palace of giant proportions, with a golden light. When we arrive, the snake becomes much smaller, and golden too, and wraps itself around my left arm. It guides me to explore different places, a temple, a place over the clouds where there are dances, etc. I decide to rest under a tree and meditate and be open to possibilities.
                The snake shifts around in various forms as if to reflect the nature of my mind, a giant parasol, or a stream of many paths at my feet. It connects me to a picture I saw of a Buddhist painting where the mind represented as an elephant is led by the monkey brain around a snake-like path. I realize the person I saw briefly earlier is the guide that helped Sunwukong (the monkey king) and seems to be the guide I’m looking for.
                (I find the name later is Puti or Subhuti).
                When I mentally ask for a name, the name Pachacamac comes strongly. He shows me many things related to my symbol. As a spinning cube with the floating feather in the middle and the arrow pointing towards the heart. The spin of the cube creates illusion within illusion, the arrow wobbles but stays towards the heart.
                He shows me a chasm and how to create a bridge over the clouds, by showing me the mirror image in my heart chakra. The bridge is built inside. At the same time, I was trying to focus on the music to deepen the trance, and realized outside (one storey below) was Jib’s music played on the speakers, aligned with the one playing in the headset, although a few seconds off, the rhythm was perfectly in synch…
                He also shows me another image, of a deep well deep inside the mountain that we can see from above the clouds. The image inside is dark and fluctuates with the water’s surface, and also reflecting quite a small portion of the beautiful landscape around.
                He explains that the well is the world we create, the mind and the perception is the water’s surface. It’s the external world, while the heart is all that we perceive as we discuss.
                There are other things shared at a subjective level.

                After I connected with my power animal, we went to the upper world. We went through water to get there until we came to land.
                I asked for my main guide.
                I think I took on the characteristics of my guide. by that I mean I felt myself become a different being, and then switched back and forwards between myself and the other. It was very clear. The other was masculine, strong, very alert, very watchful, powerful.
                I asked for the guide’s name and received the answer, Carlos.
                I asked for the area which the guide would work with me. I have had a sharp pain in my left abdomen under my rib for half an hour. I felt my guide reach in and do something energetically in that area. The pain left and has not returned.
                I asked for a symbol and saw what looked like a key-hole shape.
                There was a key too.
                It was a very particular shape.
                There was a door. And the key hole was up very high in the door.
                I had to reach up high to get to it. And I put the key in.
                I wasn’t sure if those were symbols.
                The key hole and the key were shapes.
                I was tracing them with my hand.

                I settle in myself and arrive directly in a kind of lava world. There are stalagmites and magma puddles, it’s very fiery and earthy. Then I call my horse who just nudge my left shoulder, he was already there.
                I ride him first and take time to bond with him. Then ask him to take me to the upper realm to Michel. Without much transition I am there, I feel a definite difference of feeling and texture. I say hi and ask Michel if he can show me the use of my personal symbol or particular aspects to it.
                The he focuses my attention to the octagon and the connection with the number eight. He shows me how it connects with the musical octave and sounds as a resonator. It can also be used like the shamanic drum. The coil inside is connected with the circle, the spiral and the labyrinth. My symbol is a kind of labyrinth with the diamond representing the central room where the graal is, so to speak.
                He shows me other stuff that I don’t recall at the moment.
                When I realize that it will be all, I ask my guide if he can introduce me to another guide that can help me with the use of my symbol. He sends me in a direction that goes up in a cave world. There are faceless figures, I don’t pay much attention to them. When I arrive, the guide sits me on the ground and a journey inside my symbol begins. With the octagon connecting quite strongly with the lava and earth again. I am in a lava world again, which is strange. I ask the guide what is his name and I suddenly understand it is Athumbra the Dreamwalker from whom I’m fragmented.
                He shows me the connection of my symbol to the fire and earth, and the depth of the world. He suggests me that instead of focusing on the shape of the symbol I connect with how the different parts connects together and to other aspects of consciousness, and how they are representative of my own energy personality. Not try to look outside for an answer in a way at the moment.
                So I begin to experience the shapes, and it turns like a clock, take different colors, etc.
                This will be something I’ll have to do again.
                Then I ask my power animal to show me what would be interesting to me to explore in the story now.
                He shows me a nest and I connect it with the stork nests I’ve been talking about in the last comment and that I used in the quote of the week picture. Without consciously connecting the two. I’ve written the comment before making the picture.
                It will have to do with how the nest is comfortable but don’t make you learn much about life and your potentials.
                Then he showed me something related to ants and colonies, that I connected with Mars, the colonies of Mars. There is something about community and social network for me to explore.
                Then I asked him to help me decipher the energy transmission Eric sent to me the other day, and it had something to do with networks again and how we create a space of something through our relationships, the space of love, the space of friendship, and we create fields and connective tissues that we nourish through experience and attention and involvement.
                At some point in the beginning I briefly wondered what was happening with you guys and felt propelled into something like water and impression of struggling with current, there were two moon crescents holding together by their “backs”, and purple or pink colors.

                The Zebra walked towards me across a grassy plain then I circled him, floating, and we went down a slope through the trees, an old road paved with stones. We wound down and came to a great expanse of metallic pink water, like a wise (typo! wide) river.
                There was a guy in much heavy stone coloured rough clothes on with a very old face who didn’t look at me, he was on a raft with a long pole for steering. Asked his name and got Frudo. (was slightly skeptical that I got the name right) The symbol was like a clubs of cards, 3 circles interlocking with an in flow of the stem part. Domain was water, flow and fluidity (and dams, apparently).
                We went down with the raft on the wide pink river, and the pace increased and there were people of all kinds lining both banks, watching. The wide river came to an immensely steep and deep waterfall, but there were pools and much smaller waterfalls on either side of it. All the water was pink.
                We navigated from pool to pool on the right of the waterfall mostly, each pool had people, some of the pools were dammed, and some were more open and easily flowing to the next pool. Some dams were high and some pools had people looking over the edge at the waterfalls below their pools.
                In a pool on the right, a very fat pink baby was sitting in the middle, I picked him up and held him and asked his name and it was Ezekial.
                Then a fly landed on my right shoulder and I looked to the right and saw a scrunched up face of my mother, with a tight smile. My breathing started to get constricted and I saw mustard yellow mangle of tubes like intestines in that pool.
                Then there was a lot of fingers stroking and pulling threads out of the dam around that pool, like pulling soft pink wax. Breathing continued to be restricted, and some becoming vapour or mist stuff that wasn’t very clear or droplets leaping from pool to pool as an alternative route to surface pools and waterfalls….
                Then went down down down into a vast pool of pink water, faster and faster towards a narrow tube at the bottom, and then flipped over onto my back and saw the sun far above and rose slowly floating towards the surface.
                Several times I saw purple and light green.
                The breathing thing was interesting if not so pleasant.
                The personal symbol may be connected to the flow from pool to pool somehow.


                Even two weeks after the escape, she still woke up in cold sweats, haunted by nightmares of being chased down narrow lanes, or driving a vehicle that would only go at a snail’s pace as soon as she tried to drive it.

                “Are you alright, dear?”

                The comforting presence of Robert helped sooth her. He brought her a tray with some lemon and cucumber water, knowing it would help with her sore throat. The artificial air of the Mars colony tended to do that.

                “Thank you Robert,… but you shouldn’t have. You’re not a robot any longer.”

                She still couldn’t believe what had happened. Maybe that was the gift of retirement the Management had in store for her all alone. Unexpected gifts, unexpected islands of solitude —even at the closest to Earth in months, Mars was still 122 million miles from her Russian homeland.

                It was still night outside. There, the days were slightly longer than Earth’s by half an hour or so, but she’d adapted to it rather quickly. It was still much better than the torpor on the island where she would loop on her days sometimes without even noticing it.

                “Anything I can do for you dear?” Robert looked appropriately sorry for her, not too much to seem condescending, not to little to seem not caring.

                “Put on some light music will you. The one from Beethoven that puts me in a meditative relaxation…”

                When the deep notes started in the background, she started to relax. Her throat felt fresh and her lungs appreciative of the oxygen produced by the greenhouse plants.
                Although she resisted slightly, inexorably she felt drawn to revisit the memories of the last day on Abalone.

                It always started with the labyrinth, and finding herself alone.


                “Mr R? Mr R?” she called. “Gweenie?”

                The labyrinth looked strangely like the laboratory white walls of the Chinese Robot Incorporated Mission Eternal where she used to work as an intern first, then as a head of research for cybernetics advancements. She was quite brilliant for her age, and the prospect of bringing a golden age to mankind was, at the time, quite appealing to her young exalted mind.

                She knew where to go. She had to relive again that day where she’d thrown away all of that for a life in hiding. The mysterious benevolent messages of the Management had started a few weeks prior, leading her to question the motives of her employer, and realizing she’d become quite attached to her creation. The prototype robot from Project R had shown never seen before reactions to stimuli, and a learning curve that was exponential. “R” was meant as Retirement: retirement of the last class of labor workers, of those delicate works that still required a human touch.
                The Management had led her to uncover that under the Corporation’s vision, the prototype would lead humanity to its doom, becoming irrelevant, a flaw in the perfect design of profit they were looking for. So she’d taken the robot, and made a run for it.
                She wouldn’t destroy it. And it seemed the Management had no intention of her to do so. With the Management’s invisible hand, she’d disguised Mr R as a common robot for elites, and led a life posing as an elite with a secret life of a for-hire spy, heist-mastermind, or ghost executioner of similarly exciting prospects.

                So there she was again. The walls stretching to infinity in an endless stream of rooms nested one into the other, the fear of being caught creeping closer and closer.

                “Stop that. Breathe.” she told herself. She was no longer that young innocent scientist. As soon as her fear dissipated, the rooms stream stopped, and everything was back to focus. She walked to the room she remembered clear as day. Mr R was there, still plugged to the mainframe, with a strange black doctor in a white surgical gown and blue mask she didn’t remember was there.

                “Interesting situation you have here.” he greeted her, snapping his gloves to extend his hand to her. “You can call me René, I’m Tahitian.”

                She could feel her lucidity fluctuating and ready to explode in a multiplicity of scenarios, but managed to maintain her focus. She refrained to punch the guy in the face too, and simply took his extended hand with caution.

                “Congratulation.” he said, beaming. “You passed the test.”

                All of a sudden, she was no longer in the same room. She was in the comfortable B&B of 2222. René was in a sofa, comfortably seated, and they were sharing a drink.

                “What have you done with Mr R?” was her first thought.

                “Oh, nothing to worry about, I borrowed it for a while, there is someone else that needed passing through my maze, and he kindly obliged to help. I will show you in a minute. We had a little conversation earlier on, while you were stranded in your past.”
                “How long was I out?” she asked.
                “Oh, time is inconsequential here, but in your terms, a day or two.”
                “Didn’t seem that long…” she mused. “Where have you done with the others?”
                “Don’t worry about them, they are on their own path. Only one should concern you now. A certain Chinese and very persistent man.”
                “Oh, fuck.” was all she said. “I should have guessed, you’re with the Corporation.”
                “Not at all my dear, you can relax. So as I said, we had a little conversation, and you can be proud of you. This robot has broken through, congratulations. You can be very proud of your work.”
                “What do you mean?”
                “He has developed a personality and a consciousness of its own. It’s still budding, but it’s very strong, and he’s quite concerned over your well-being I might add.” he said with a wink.

                Irina was perplexed at the thought, but although it made some sense at a level, her conscious brain was struggling with the implications.

                “Show me what you have to, and release us.” she said to René, getting up from the hypnotizing warmth of the sofa.

                “In a minute” he’d say, “just have a look at the screen, will you.”

                Then, she’d understood. The guy pursuing her, Cheung Lok was there, trapped in his own labyrinth, trying to catch the robot that always eluded him.

                “He would rather die than let the robot go.” she said to René “we could be here for a while”.
                “Not to worry ma chère, his timing has no impact on ours. All of this happens in the now.”
                “So how this plays out usually?”
                “It depends. In this case, all that matters is what happens when he gets the robot.”
                STOP THAT! You can’t let him take it!”
                “Calm down, the robot will be safe.”

                In the next scene, Cheung Lok was securing the robot, who was pleading with him. “Please! I don’t want to become a hairdresser, let go of me!”
                The appeal seemed to have struck a chord, and some memories of Cheung Lok flashed through the screen, and it looked like as if the robot’s struggle mirrored his own to be his own man, free from the expectations of demanding parents, society, Corporation… Their love had been nothing but control, and had put him in chains. He sobbed, wishing for a new life free of these responsibilities.


                Irina awoke from the dream again. The last memories were a bit blurry, but still fresh in her mind. René had granted Cheung Lok’s wish. He was sent back to the Island, losing some years in the process, becoming back again a young adult full of unfulfilled desires, and no memory of his previous mission. Before the process happened, he wished for those who were still alive of his platoon to be given the choice to be sent back home with only memories of the robot and himself being destroyed, or to join him on the island, with a fresh future and memories. Surprisingly, most of them chose the first option. Not everyone was ready for a brave choice of facing one’s own desires and power.

                As for her, René had been kind to offer Mr R a humanoid body before sending them through the teleportation boxes to the destination of their choices.
                Mr R had chosen Роберт (Robert) as a name for his new self (she’d been more than relieved he’d avoided René), and they’d agreed to let the boxes find the most beneficial location for them to go to. That’s how they landed in the middle of the central greenhouse of the main colony, in 2121.

                It was fifteen days ago, but still felt like yesterday.


                  “Why haven’t these windows been cleaned?” snapped the bossy dwarf. “And these mirrors? The mirrors are disgusting, and I can smell unwashed hair everywhere.”
                  “I’m not surprised, with all this housework, we haven’t had time to wash our hair, what do you expect?” retorted Consuela, almost at the end of her tether with the demanding interloper.
                  Anna Purrna glared at her. “How dare you speak to me like that!”
                  Consuela glared back. “Just what gives you the right to come here and start bossing us all around anyway? Where have you come from, who sent you?” Conseula was starting to warm up for a heated exchange. “What gives you the authority to boss us around?”
                  “I am” replied the monstrous diminutive gargoyle, “Your inner dictator, made physical. For your own benefit.”
                  Consuela was at a loss for words.


                  Singing Marlborough s’en va-t-en guerre in the shower, Adeline reached for the bottle of hair conditioner, a special concoction to combat brittleness and to boost strength and durability, according to the label. After liberally covering her long dry hair with the product, she noticed that something wasn’t quite right when she came to drying it with the hair dryer.
                  “Oh no!” she exclaimed, dismayed. “I have accidentally used the resin from my 3D plastic printer.”
                  One look in the mirror and she burst into tears.
                  “I can’t teleport looking like this!”


                    At first, Sadie did not realise she was invisible.

                    It was only when she looked in the bathroom mirror she realised something was missing, and even then it took a moment to register. Thinking about it later, it seemed strange to her that something as monumental as being invisible could have gone unnoticed for at least 5 minutes. Yet she had risen that morning with her usual feeling of happiness that everything was right with the world—it was a feeling she had worked hard to cultivate after many hours of selective brainwashing and meditation practice at the Academy.

                    After the initial shock, Sadie realised what must have happened. Before bed the evening before, she had finally plucked up courage to do the set of exercises given to her by the Techromancer in 2222. He said it would assist her in her attempts to leave her body and explore other dimensions. Clearly, something had gone very askew.

                    ”Right then”, said Sadie, trying to remain calm and rather relieved she could still hear her voice, ”I am going to have to message Linda Pol and explain the situation. I will request to be returned to 2222 so that I can have another chat with that Techno weirdo.”


                    Linda Pol was delighted to get Sadie’s timely message on her e-zapper. But she had no intention of returning her to 2222.

                    Not just yet, anyway.


                      Terry used to arrive early. She was always the first at the bar. She found stability and reassurance in the simple acts of opening the door, turning on the lights, preparing and organizing the tables and the little snacks for the customers.

                      That day, after she opened the door, imagining daylight pouring inside, cleansing the darkest corners with the Love of the Universe, she found an envelope on the counter near the cashier. It was sealed with red wax.

                      On it was written : “Terry Amar Bubble, from the Management”.
                      She felt her heart sank. Her mind went blank, certainly a way for her not to put words on the unthinkable.

                      When Cedric arrived later, he found Amar still in a trance, holding an envelop. He’d always been taught not to wake someone who was sleepwalking, but he’d also always had difficulties to not break rules. So he simply did what came first to his mind.

                      “Time to Wake up! Bitch!” He said, slapping Amar on the face with a queen’s grace. Cedric felt deeply satisfied with the sound of his slap. He’d been practicing on his own face in front of a mirror when he was younger.

                      “I received a letter”, muttered Amar. He handed the envelop over to Consuela.
                      “Hey! That’s for me too.” Her pronunciation of the last word hanging around in the air.
                      She showed the words to Terry who felt confused because it was now written “Terry Amar Bubble & Consuela Cedric Winnie, from the Management”.
                      “Let’s open it”, said Cedric, “I don’t want Maurana’s name on the envelope”. He tittered and broke the seal. It made a popping sound and released a golden powder.

                      “Wow, did you see that, Terry ? It’s like fairy dust.”

                      The message let them both confused. It simply said : “Your new intendant,Anna Purrna, arrives today. Be ready.”


                        The bellboy, whose name was Kevinlol, as Linda Pol had found out thanks to her e-zapper, had led the Queen of drags to the fifth floor.

                        The short trip down with the main elevator had been most interesting. It was designed to look like a richly decorated wooden door opening to the temple of games. The usual mirror on the walls of the cabin had been replaced by a huge screen which showed hosts or hostesses in sumptuous attires welcoming you like Ulysses sirens. Nobody coming out of the elevator, you were fully submerged by promising images of luxury and endless pleasures, endless wins. Looking at the blush on the customers faces and their fidgeting, it seemed to work well.
                        The use of Feng Shui seems to have evolved through time, she thought amused, from simple well being philosophy to overt mental and emotional manipulation.

                        A particular scent, she had already smelled in Las Vegas, made her realized that there were also chemicals released to create in anticipation that fleeting euphoria people would desperately try to recreate through the excitement of the games. Knowing it, could help you stay centered, but her heartbeat became faster and she felt the compulsion to get more, she realized it was hard to resist the temptation.

                        When the doors actually opened to the second floor below earth, more than half the contingent of people got out towards the casino. The sirens were here to drag you down with their smiles. Linda Pol looked at the customers, they were more than willingly sucked into the gaming world of cards and chips, ready to open their pockets and their souls to the conniving croupier.
                        Beware of the number you choose, she thought, the bank may not like them.

                        A quick look at Kevinlol showed he was totally oblivious to the sirens. His poker face was as smooth and young as ever, his pupils looked normal, and his skin tone hadn’t changed despite the chemicals.
                        Robot? She couldn’t help the thought.
                        The third floor was restaurants and bars, huge spiraling automatic stairs seemed to connect it directly with the casino, certainly to help people find their way up when they were finished refueling. The dozing effect of digestion was certainly good for business.

                        Then they arrived at the fifth floor. She wondered briefly what had happened to the first and fourth floors. But the doors opened to another kind of sirens, her attention shifted completely, more surely than any substance could have done. It was the kind of butts she couldn’t resist, promising firmness and endurance, set into a Imperio Dareme pair of jeans. Linda Pol had always thought that braces had the same effect on a man’s butt as a wonderbra on a woman’s breast. She blushed like a young girl discovering boys were interested in her mythical virginity.

                        The butt turned around and, mother f*ck*r, the face was gorgeous. Two days beard on a square jaw, the adventurer.


                        With years of intense Happiness training, and being herself a certified Happiness Coach™ in Rainbow Unified Bliss®, Lisa was reasonably adept at dispelling the occasional bouts of frustration that the six time travelers were experiencing while familiarizing themselves with the new time frame. Learning the new languages, both the local Spanish and the common language of the village tribe, English, was of paramount importance, and Mirabelle in particular was having difficulties. A basic vocabulary was easy enough, but when it came to grammar, Mirabelle was hopeless. Thus her communications were of a very basic and rudimentary nature, and she often felt unable to express her feelings, or her thoughtful observations on the many nuances, similarities and differences and overlaps of the current time and 18th century France. Not only was she obliged to learn two new languages, but was also learning to read and write. Often it seemed like all work and no play, too much pressure to perform, to learn, to do well at her studies, and yet play breaks were always frustrated in some manner because of her difficulties in communicating clearly. The fact that the others were progressing better with the languages made her feel alone, adrift in a sea of her own unexpressed thoughts.
                        Adeline had a more relaxed approach to the language difficulties, less inclined to struggle with it and more likely to chatter endlessly to Boris instead, and ask him to translate when she needed some help. She had discovered an interest, and some considerable talent, in the art room, experimenting with the paints and materials, and spent many happy hours engrossed in her paintings and playful collages of mundane (but to her, bizarre) objects. She was like a magpie, collecting items that caught her eye. The bright colours and smoothness of plastic appealed to her, especially when transformed in shape by one of those odd little plastic fire making gadgets. Sunglasses were another favourite, especially the different shades of lens. It was not unusual to hear one of the villagers complaining that the lids to the tupperware containers were missing, or all the bottle tops had been removed, to find they had all been glued together, with the flyswatter, a few odd flipflop beach shoes and the mirror lenses out of someones shades. But the villagers were on the whole amused, generously indulgent, and good naturedley rolled their eyes at her creative curiosity.
                        Boris was practical and capable, and true to form, was learning rapidly. He had no particular desire to express vague rambling thoughts (indeed, he was not a vague and rambling man by nature) and turned his attention to more practical matters. When he wasn’t chatting to Adeline, he was watching Jack tinkering inside car engines, or playing with Pierre’s camera and had quickly learned how to upload and play with the images on the computer. Often in the evenings Adeline would sit beside him and watch drowsily as the images changed in front of her eyes on the screen.
                        Ivan and Igor were learning what they needed to learn while doing it ~ tending the goats and chickens, working outside on the land, or helping with various building projects. They had taken to the local bars like ducks to water, and spent the evenings downing copious amounts of beer and wine with the locals, all of them babbling and shouting incoherently, but seeming to understand each other in the camaraderie of inebriation.


                          The next morning, Linda Paul consulted her mailbox. Seventy three messages. She had a nervous laugh. ‘Incredible’, she thought as she sifted through the mails. More and more incompetence, that was all there was in the mails. The maintenance team had been unable to unclog the time sewers. They were writing mails after mails to show that they were working. Linda Paul felt an urge to answer back ‘Stop writing mail and work!’ But instead she remembered the Love and Shine training she went with Sadie last month. “Breath in, deeply, blink three times slowly, and exhale”, she said inwardly. Already she felt better.

                          They didn’t have much time, which was a bit of a paradox considering that they had a time sewer at their disposal, but the more it stayed clogged, the more difficult it would be to find the precise way out.

                          She put on her blue and silver work suit. It really fitted her. Doubled with artificial mouse fur, very warm and good for qi circulation. She had silvery stripes added to make it more queen-like. She chose her platform boots carefully, she didn’t want to get too muddy nor stay stuck in the time muck.

                          The time sewer central hub was not at the bar. This was merely one of the numerous available entry points. It was hidden in the calanques near Aubagne. She had to drive her Subaru SUV to go there. Which was not an easy task with platform boots. When she arrived on site, she realized the work team was not there. She squinted her eyes. That was suspicious. Who was sending the mails if nobody was doing anything ?

                          She went to the hub and almost puked before she could get close enough to see what was inside. The smell was terrible, all the scum of the ages seemed to have disgorged here. She found a gas mask, which fit perfectly once she had gotten rid of her Darco Barbane meringue wig. She saw her face in the side mirror of a truck. She looked a bit like Bobba Fet. She pushed away the irritation to have to go to such length with her pride to have the work done.

                          It was much better with the mask, she realized. So it was a small price to pay to the drag-style. When she arrived to the hub, it looked worse than she had imagined. The edge of the sewer hub was covered in white moss, which seemed to be pulsating slowly. She thanked her Love and Shine training once again, it helped her keep her smile on as she went on. What she saw next alarmed her. A few people were lying there, unconscious. Yet, some of them were wearing masks. Not a good idea to go further.

                          She’d always been proud of her quick wit. It had helped her a lot when guys were mocking her wigs at school. Now she needed it for another kind of life threatening situation. She looked around, trucks, barracks, more people on the floor, a ginger cat licking its balls… she laughed nervously. Strange that the cat didn’t seem affected. She noted that somewhere in her mind, she might need it later. Then she saw exactly what she needed. The dildo truck. She never remembered the real name, but it sure looked like a giant dildo in the front of a truck. She didn’t know what was its real use of course, but years of gauging the size of men’s attributes allowed her to see that it fitted perfectly the sewer hub.

                          “Hard on, ladies”, she thought as she climbed in the front seat, saying a silent prayer to all the Queens of all ages. She started the truck and began to move. She had the weirdest impression to understand what it mean to think with your dick. She stopped the truck, facing the sewer hole with her dildo. She noticed a small red button on the dashboard, it had a tag on it which read “lubricant”. She pushed it several times and nothing happened. Go to hell, she thought.
                          Then the queen revved up the truck. “Love and Shine, biiiitches”, she said as a mantra, and let it all go.

                          The mind has a tendency to forget unpleasant things. All she could remember was that she had to get in and out several times. And that nasty suction noise. But in the end, she could clean wash the white moss with the water jet incorporated in the truck. She turned the sewer back on and threw the gas mask in the hole to check it. As good as new, and the smell was gone too. Her incredible memory allowed her to register that the cat as well was gone.


                            Jean-Pierre Duroy, the Grand Intendant of the Palace of Versailles woke up every morning an hour before dawn, when everything was still calm, the last fêteurs of the guest nobility were, at last, fast asleep and the stars’ lights were beginning to fade on the dark sky. The Palace was never sleeping really, but this was as close a moment of peace as he could get.
                            His wife Annie, the Head of the Royal Pastries Chefs, would usually sleep contentedly an hour more, waiting for the chantecler’s sonorous hail to the rising sun.

                            When he realized he had overslept for the first time in many years of services, he knew there was something not quite right about this particular day.
                            As usual, and especially during winter, there was much to be done. Preparing the routine menus for the noble tables, getting his army of little people bustling around to stock the fires with wood for the cold-fearing ladies, clean up, wash clothes, drapes and the darn mirrors. Receive the fresh foods from the local markets, clean up the latrines, which tended to get clogged with the dreaded cold… When that was done, he had to make sure the servants were doing their job properly, not abusing the generosity of His Majesty, taking good care of the Gardens, which was an horror when the snow started to melt, ensuring the guards reported to their duties, etc. etc.
                            And after all that, no matter what, do a meticulous accounting in the Royal Ledger.
                            Jean-Pierre was but a cog in that enormous machine, but a cog which could make a vital difference between a day gone right, and a day gone awfully wrong.

                            He had to turn that day around quickly lest it would be the latter, he thought while putting his white starched breaches. A last look at his wife who was starting to move her weight around and yawn, and he was out.

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