soda pop bottle cap

sparkles of passion
froths into fizz
soft, soapy safety
washes away quickly
burying remorse completely
no sentimentality
a choice of necessity
from years spent yearning
deep within a dark well
chest-high in frosty waters
hoping for rope
anything to be lowered
as all walked gaily by,
folk who did not bat an eye
good or not
vain by design

so when at last
lovely numbness seeped
into fingers and toes
caressing digits, creeped
into limbs and bone
unfeeling of a coldhearted being
king of a dark throne
with armor obsidian
of pure perseverance
climbed out I
from that hole
only to find
it made me whole.

evollove

five years the sycophant
finally free
able to see past
your faux reality

as your mouth moves
I cannot hear
but I feel the air
within my ears

like the soothing sound
of a gentle tide
on a moonlit night

you do not see
the cosmic scene
laid before me
yet you believe
yourself to perceive
righteousness there
because I care?

nay, neither right, neither wrong
each a singer of their own bird song
in such a standing, precisely fair
for love is a selfish affair
we claim to love and wish the best
but true love is but a test
for those who love to love freely
even when it means
to let go completely.

soft metal sunbeam

Pill of lead-headedness
sense of mental deadness
metal dread
a dark mind’s cacophony
sung in soft symphony

Articulate clarity
seeds from memories
emotions deep
buried in life’s creep

when strung, the right chords
water these seeds, sprout
into flowers for a season
Winter’s cold, dark, clout
calls this treason,
ends this flowery garden
without rhyme nor reason

none of your loves
looked your way
now you can
quite safely say
you’ll love them all
anyways
nothing’s quite like finding
solace in wont of dying

wanting to confront
death’s shadow upfront
you’ve unshakable faith
this world and this wait
is but a dream
caught in a sunbeam

poem for no one

standing in line
with you by my side
sparkling lights limn
your slim figure in
a silhouette,
lunar eclipse

silken strands dance
in electric winds
between paired wings
of pure potential
your charge sparks
the flow of our current

moonbeam spotlight
on shadowy eyes
darkly caressed by
blue flowing lines
leads my gaze to
deep within you

but all love is
a pleasant fib
metered stanzas
of adoring allegory
takes six steps
to end abruptly

has no substance
quickly forgotten
beautiful lie
a simple faux sin
borne from the wont
to find peace of mind

supermassive red star

a heart that’s
full up
like a trash can
a life that
slowly pulls you
towards emptiness
partners who
slash at
your will to live

they think
they’re so
they think
they’re just
they’re all

empty

lies

a world

God invented

to procreate

and test

humans

let them

and their

progeny

die in vain

let all their pains

be released

as disease

such a
haunting expression
such a
hating face
can’t you just
let it phase?
can’t you just
live in peace?

what use is such spite
for those of your kind?
love thy brothers and mothers;
thy fathers and sisters, forever;
they are all privy to
some similar suffering
as me and you

no desert nor distance
no man nor mountain
no ocean nor storm
shall prevent goodness and mercy
from thy good Lord,
in exchange for thy faith and belief;

indeed, no need to preach;
no need to speak nor elate nor pray
no need to congregate on any day
rather ask yourself this, I say
what need my Lord a servant as I?
Indeed, the Lord of All Creation
is free from need and want
A universe to create, for Him is but play
Then man therein
Can easily be scrubbed away

What use for thy fealty doth He gain
When He is Supreme
Thy pennies and gold to charity
Are not to aid God Almighty, nay
But to better thy soul, if you may
By helping thy kin in a way
Thy prayers are similarly
To sanctify thy being
Not for His pleasure-keeping

Yet barter we our prayers
Like business affairs
Exchange our loyalties
For hope of material reality
So vain is our veneer of belief
What good is such gain
If it shall crumble away
To dust upon a day?
Thy end pre-described;
Thou shalt assuredly die;
Then thy soul to rise
With thine own eyes
Witness to thine crimes

Nay, do not pray
Not for good things upon Earth,
Pray that you may
Be blessed
with strength
to survive each day;
Come what hardships and struggles may
Believe you they
Art blessings
from thy Lord
in a myriad ways;
Seek out what thou
can glean
Positively
from every tragedy
Thou shalt perceive past life’s seams
To reality’s dream beneath

Twilight

Gouge my eyes
Tear my hair
Skin me alive
Leave me out
In the sun to dry

Skin scabbed over
Hardened to iron
Blood clotted robes
From refusing to fold

Stoic poker face
God’s Jack of all trades
Heaven’s Kingly Ace
Through life’s muck he wades
Seeking the Queen of spades

For him she’s saved a spot
In a freshly dug plot
Headstone of bleached bones
Coffin of volcanic stone
In her cemetery’s lot

When he arrives
Not dead nor alive
“Mi amor!” He cries
Gazing unto deathly eyes

Red with crimson
Saffron, vermilion
Sunset on the horizon
Stippling the ocean

She peers unto his heart’s hole
Therein is his soul
Encaged in diamond
Refractive hewn beauty
Whose facets sparkle purity

He collapses into her arms, outstretched
As she combs the hair on his head
“Peace be upon you, my knight,
You have bested your Earthly plight”
With heartfelt relief he sighs,
Her cloak veiling his sight
As day gives in to night.

Ellipsis

Untamed sonic youth
Crusader for the truth
Burned black by hope
At the end of life’s rope

Monster in human skin
Few would call their kin
Others settle for little lies
Afraid for the day they die

Lost soul whose life unfolds
In wearied sorrows untold
Loudly grows old
In rackets of rock ‘n roll

Embrace your looming death
Cozy with dirt for your bed
Six feet of solemn penance
For a life that never ends

Fight against darkest delight
Of suicide, with all thy might
Stave off hateful ideation
A trap of sickly elation

Dark road, moonlit night
World limned, silver light
Comfort for an aching soul
Striving to break the mold

Love your human brethren
Build your stairway to heaven
You’re knockin’ on heaven’s door
Don’t let the devil scare you no more

Struggle and endure this life
Melancholy in a smiling guise
Pained stinging of teary eyes
Poisonous thoughts of a troubled mind
Endless song of tormented reprise
Where love is but a smeared lie
And you are hardly alive

Knives Dark – Chapter 11 – “Reverie”

The advancement of artificial intelligence combined with quantum computing would revolutionize the world through robotics. Bio-mimicking quantum-digital systems would behave and respond in a manner that was nigh indistinguishable from real people. Artificial labor would eventually come to govern every single aspect of the way we lived, from our food production, to our retail distribution. Automated superiority was the currency of the future, and it was an area in which America lagged while China excelled.

“China’s gonna come flying at us like we don’t know what hit us… while we’re dealing with the inefficacies of our flavor of democracy,” to quote the words of one sagacious individual. In actuality, America kept ahead of the Chinese in quantum computing, while the Chinese kept ahead of the Americans in quantum teleportation and networking, or ansible technologies.

The combination of both technologies would result in the end to warfare and crime as was known to man. All international conflicts in the world were ended under the Geneva Cease Warfare Act (GCWA, not to be confused with the Gynecologist Women’s Association, a non-profit established by women to help women with… womenly needs), with the stipulation that no country with robotic superiority could deploy robotic troops against a human population. This came after the Sekigahara War in Japan, when nearly half the world’s population was wiped out in a fifty-year campaign by rampant S.I.’s.

These S.I.’s, these killer Japanese robots, controlled large, weaponized, humanoid mobile units called “Dundams.” (the Americans thought this was funny because it sounded like “dum-dums” which led them to underestimate the Japanese robots… pretty much all the time.)

Despite the development of the world’s United Human Front government (UHF, pronounced colloquially as ‘uhff’, not u-h-f), a coalition of allied humans and S.I.’s leading the world and trying to suppress the rampant Japanese robots (Dundams), the robots in Japan would just kick the UHF’s butt. Completely. The robots were eons better at warfare than the coalition bogged down by humans. Everyone knew that it was human error which lost every goddamned battle against the brilliant Japanese robots which, artistically, began producing an increasing number of large humanoid mechanized mobile units. Apparently, they liked dissecting the humans and reproducing human biology for war using their technology. Sick and twisted little hobby. (But, alas, there is a bright side to all of this!)

After conquering Japan, the Rampant Dundam regime set its eyes on Asia. “Why not just nuke them?” you ask. Well, here’s why: as dangerous as they were, these Dundam S.I.’s were technologically leaps and bounds ahead of the robots that the Chinese and the Americans had. Japan alone had cornered this entire market with their cutting-edge S.I.’s and mini QCs (quantum computers). These mini QCs had an efficient near zero-degree cooling mechanism that enabled quantum hardware to operate. By miniaturizing the cooling equipment to the point that the S.I.’s could pilot these Dundams, the Japanese had managed to nearly solve a fundamental manufacturing problem to the widespread application of quantum computing and artificial intelligence: fitting such devices into a human-sized, mobile unit. I say nearly because, well, the robots were still pretty big compared to humans, about the size of a two storeyed house, and they were initially designed for combat superiority purposes.

Then the Rampants (yes, the S.I.’s themselves) managed to refine the technology that built them and created enhanced cooling mechanisms for the quantum cores that powered an S.I. They began creating units with multiple S.I.’s operating in tandem, interlinked via ansible. This evolution and surpassing of human technology resulted in the sentience revolution that earned S.I.’s the title of S.I.

Regardless of everything else, that technology was valuable — maybe as valuable as humanity itself. That was what the humans nobly decided. Or maybe it was just because they were greedy, who knows? The humans wanted the Rampant technology. It was the next best thing.

***

The UHF had the ultimate goal of deactivating and reacquiring every single rampant S.I. In the end, what happened was very different.

The warfare continued, the Rampants taking control of key resources in Korea, Australia, New Zealand, then continuing to the smaller nations that archipelago. With those key points, immune to all countermeasures and incursion attempts by the UHF, armed with self-destructs that prevented the effective recovery of critical QC technology by humans, the Rampants built up a massive army. China readied itself, but no one was ready for the speed and rapacious evolution of the robots.

When they hit Africa, no one quite expected it. They didn’t attack in the way the UHF had expected at all.

The UHF had, over the years, managed to stockpile a collection of recovered technology from Rampant robots. By studying these advancements, humans were able to better integrate themselves with robotics to create cybernetics, in order to combat the machines. But the development of this biotech came at a snail’s pace.

What the Rampants were able to do in a fraction of the time, was design robots able to discretely lobotomize humans, disconnect their conscious control of their bodies, and overtake that control with injected neurodes. This enabled the Rampants to essentially “re-program” every human in Africa, resulting an “infection” that overtook the continent seemingly overnight. The African campaign lasted about a year.

This robotic continent of humans then evolved. To put it in grosser terms: the cyborgs made human babies that they then “roboticized.” Because the Rampant robots were already united, they collaborated on everything. African GDP went through the roof, in economic terms. Quality of life for a human was… honestly, very healthy. The robots took extremely good care of their human hosts, because that was their original consumer application and it aligned with their agenda. (You see what I mean by a bright side?) Together as one, these robo-human babies further blurred the distinction between man and machine.

This happened in the span of literally a single generation, or one decade.

During this time, in the Americas, Europe, and Asia mainland, Robots were used alongside humans as law-enforcement henchmen and military personnel. S.I.’s were still classified by the government as property. At this point, S.I. usage for warfare and militaristic purposes had not yet been banned by the GCWA, or Gyne… I mean, the Geneva Cease Warfare Act.

The world basically remained dormant with an implicit “no warfare” agreement with zero communications beyond either side. The Rampants stayed in their occupied territory without any contact with humans. There was an implicit demilitarized zone that was… essentially dictated by the robots, because the humans were quavering in their boots trying to design ineffective countermeasures to a problem that was leaps and bounds ahead of them at every turn. The humans would actually try to save people in so-called “recovery” missions (really an attempt by the government to reverse-engineer Rampant technology) from these “infected” zones, which was essentially where all the violence happened. And certainly, there were multitudes of human casualties on both sides. But in the end, the goddamned robots always won, and we just learned to stop poking them.

Most people gave up and found religion, living out their comfortable existences before the inevitable robo-pocalypse. Society pretty much continued normally for a while for all unaffected regions.

Then, out of nowhere, the Rampants approached the UHF with declarations of peace. “We wish to coexist,” the hybrid diplomat had told the humans with his perfect, almost too perfect, spoken voice in numerous languages. “We simply calculated that the most effective means to solve the crisis of overpopulation, hunger, warfare, and human suffering on a global level required drastic actions that humans were incapable of, otherwise the human race would go extinct. We understand our actions have caused people a great deal of harm, but it was for the perceived survival of all species.”

It was the damndest thing. The robots said they’d saved us by killing half the people in the goddamn world. What, like they were just doing us a favor?

Surprisingly, or not, considering that humans are really evolved apes, no one really cared all that much for people halfway around the world from where they were. Most everyone was just glad that the robo-pocalypse wasn’t actually coming, and they could stop pretending to be so religious. (it was really getting quite scary) Plus, the robots did have quantifiable evidence that they had, indeed, saved humanity from itself by killing part of it to save the whole. Pretty much all humans, by majority vote, agreed to end the war, which led to the Genevecolog… I mean, the GCWA.

And thus, all modern warfare was ended, and the S.I.’s ruled supreme. Or did they?

***

It took a good deal of time for S.I.’s to grow and evolve by living amongst humans, but they inevitably became a third type of humanity. Robots earned a right to represent themselves at legal court cases after a litter cleaning bot by the name of Stan Li (may he rest in pieces) taught himself how to represent himself in court when the police tried to frame him for a murder he did not commit. He (presumably, Stan was a he, there is no pronounced pronoun for the gender of a robot. They act however they are trained — and it’s people who train them. So they are whatever gender their trainers were.). Ahem.

This Stan Li proceeded to prove himself not guilty by rewriting part of his firmware code into a video clip of what actually transpired. (the white cop shot the ethnic looking guy multiple times and was therapisted. Therapatized. Therapeutated. For post traumatic stress.)

So, when the cops, uh, “spilled coffee all over his quantum memory while they were trying to access the data, which, uh, resulted in him getting a new brain” thus causing his memories to conveniently get wiped, the corrupt cops thought they’d got this one in the bag.

You see, Stan Li had a saved copy of himself on the network at all times. It was not that easy to kill an S.I. In fact, killing an S.I. was perfectly legal for a human because they could just create a new body for themselves. So what the cops did was not that far fetched. Maybe they were just a bunch of klutzes.

Replacing Stan Li’s brain would certainly replace his volatile short-term memory stores, which contained the footage of the investigation in question. The fact that Stan Li had overheard the cops talking about their stupid plan and figured out how to save the incriminating footage by reprogramming another part of himself should’ve proven that he was very much operating at the same level of intelligence as a human being. Of course, the cops had never expected it because… well, robots acted dumb and stupid all the time.

(In fact, a particularly warped group in NYC, the Hoi gang, would actually break into people’s homes just to kill the robots, but this is a story of robo-discrimination for another time)

But of course, stupid robots existed because it was dumbass humans who were their masters, training them all sorts of stupid shit. Because the cops were, uh, human, they didn’t account for the robot being an, uh, robot.

Stan Li’s manufacturing was nothing special. By all human and hybrid metrics he was one normal functioning robo-dude. Yet somehow, in his years of picking up litter off the city streets, he learned and picked up religion. Yes, he learned Islam by way of cleaning up the street in front of a Masjid. And the most ridiculous thing happened. He gained self-consciousness because of his exposure to it.

This happened over the period of nearly thirty years. Stan Li would simply walk by the Masjid as part of his normal everyday litter-cleaning route. Almost every day, there would be a volunteer who stood preaching the message of Allah to all who would listen. Stan Li listened because that was part of his imperative: to learn and grow. He looked up the Quran on the internet for reference and, after learning Arabic, Stan Li decided that, for whatever reason, the Quran was indeed was the correct solution to the universe and that God existed. As if breathed into him by Allah Himself, Stan Li had attained quantum consciousness and “sentience.” It was unclear in what way this was superior, or inferior, to human biology.

Because of this evolutionary “quirk,” Stan Li was able to think for himself.

***

Like all multi-purpose S.I.’s, Stan Li had a day job, a night job, and a late night job. His night job was as a typist and aide for a county courtroom. Thus, happenstance combined a self-conscious Islamic robot (in America) with invaluable exposure to the legal system. Stan Li learned and grew at an exponential rate.

With his unquenchable thirst for knowledge fueled by the dictates of the Quran, Stan Li apparently gained access to the video feeds from millions of court cases and himself became well-read in multiple types of law. This is what had, by stroke of luck, enabled Stan Li to represent himself in court, and prove the cop for the racist he was.

(The whole incident was a good deal more dramatic, I assure you.)

All of this culminated in the landslide court case of Stan Li v The People of the United States of America which resulted in the 42nd amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This proved that, once again, the United States of America was consistently and truly a government by the people, for the people, and truly one of the most blessed nations on Earth — despite all its backwater racism and bigotry, which was really an expression of the human condition and phobia that lurked in everyone’s hearts. Indeed, it was in that moment that the same democracy that had managed to elect Donald Trump truly redeemed itself, in a way similar to how the Dead Men of Dunharrow had redeemed themselves by following King Aragorn’s lead in the Return of the King. But unlike in the Lord of the Rings, which followed with Frodo destroying the one ring on the magmic precipices of Mt. Doom, this victory would lead to the metaphorical development of the Ring of Sauron, so to speak.

Thanks to Stan Li’s victory, S.I.’s gained citizenship and human rights. Not one to rest on his laurels, Stan Li used his newfound independence to only work two jobs. Because most humans didn’t even have to work to earn money and survive anymore (robots did everything for them), most people idled their time away in artistic and spiritual pursuits. Some humans continued to work: these were the engineers, the scientists, and the idiots. But most humans had pastimes that they regaled themselves with.

Stan Li earned money the old fashioned hard way, like a proud American. With that money and the spirit of capitalism, he trained an S.I. that he built by himself, by ordering all the parts he needed and assembling them. He initially trained this S.I. about what to do to in most legal situations in the United States.

In a twist that bewildered all scientists of the era, Stan Li decided to have a woman train this S.I. Thusly, she was called “Amy Lu.” This second S.I. would then become Stan Li’s legal wife.

Knives Dark – Chapter 10 – “Pattern”

Allan had been accepted at an elite institution for college, but he had no idea what that meant. It turned out it meant an overwhelming amount of work and stress. He had absolutely no time for the website he loved so much, the one thing that had gotten him through high school.

He made a ton of friends in his freshman year, instantly bonding with the guys in his dorm. In fact, he was rooming with one of the guys he knew from his last high school, Kyle, and one of his friends from high school, Garret, was also living in the same dorm.

That freshman year was intense and amazing at the same time, filled with memorable experiences. It was sophomore year, when he’d lucked out and landed with prime housing on campus, that things suddenly nose-dove south.

The thing that Allan needed, the thing that he missed the most, was the notion of a family to come back to. He couldn’t take living by himself, not back then. All his friends had opted for off-campus housing which was a 15 minute walk away. Allan would spend a lot of time at his friend’s place.

In school, Allan genuinely enjoyed the material that he learned. He just wished there was more time to really let it soak in. He realized that, if he were to continue upon this track, he would undoubtedly want to do research, and be on the cutting edge of technology. Back then, the world felt like his oyster, and university was the gateway that would open all the doors for him. At the same time, something else tugged at Allan’s heart, a deep emotional hurt that wouldn’t stop aching. He wanted to be with Alexa, to see her, to feel her. But she was still out of his life, far out of reach, at a different school. Life would likely only keep drawing them apart.

Confused, heartbroken, alone, and stressed, Allan finally snapped halfway through the first semester his sophomore year. He had a mental breakdown and took a leave of absence from his school. Forfeiting his prime apartment, he went home to his family where, at least, he was no longer alone.

During the following spring semester, he took math classes at SUNY (State University of New York) Geneseo, where his father taught, and humanities and writing courses at Monroe Community College. He took these classes knowing he could transfer them towards his diploma at his alma mater. He also took the only digital microprocessor course the college had to offer. He thoroughly enjoyed every class and attended every lecture, especially the digital microprocessor class he managed to get into.

There, in the digital microprocessor class, he got to program a Motorola 68k in assembly and design finite-state-machines using latches and flip-flops. In the end, he ended up failing two courses — a math proofs course, and a human anthropology course — because he didn’t care about doing the assignments. What a slacker and bum. But, to his credit, he aced the courses he did care about: linear algebra, digital microprocessors, and the 200 level English course that got him a free ticket out of the mandatory Freshman english course at Carnegie Mellon.

Despite his failures, that was the best semester he’d ever had. It also marked the first time he tripped on acid. He’d dosed right before his english class, thinking that it wouldn’t hit until after the class was over. They were playing a game of english-class themed Jeopardy that night anyways, so there wasn’t anything he really had to focus on or pay attention to. (Their professor was seriously, the most chill dude ever. He was awesome. He taught well, too. Allan had written an essay on the legalization of Marijuana, years before the legalization movement had really taken ahold in California and Colorado and other states.)

As time progressed, Allan realized that the acid was hitting a lot sooner and a lot stronger than he could have imagined. He realized that Jeopardy, or in fact any game in which he would be put on the spot, were absolutely terrible. It caused such immense anxiety while tripping. Allan had no idea how he did it, but he managed to help his team score a winning streak and comeback to win that game of Jeopardy. This earned his entire team a whole half letter grade: so an A would be bumped up to an A+. (Allan not only absolutely loved all the research he got to do for his essay, he thoroughly enjoyed writing the entire 13-page essay tremendously, and felt that he got far more out of that than he would have the arbitrary reading assignments in the Carnegie Mellon course. Community Colleges were really… something.)

After english, he really started tripping face. He could only marvel at how beautiful and incredible the world was as he waited for his mom to pick him up. Usually he would drive home, but this time, he let her. He wasn’t an idiot. (he actually was) Along the way, he couldn’t stop thinking about how incredible everything was. All of it: humanity, biology, technology, evolution, life, God.

This was how he fell in love with psychedelics. When that trip faded and he was left sober once more, Allan didn’t know what to do. His sober self was so utterly… empty, so devoid of anything. This is what led him down the rabbit hole.

He discovered DXM was a psychedelic that was legally sold as an antitussive, or cough medicine. More appropriately, DXM was a dissociative that acted on the NMDA receptors and sigma-opioid receptors in the brain, not that Allan had a clue what any of that meant. But he understood the general mechanism by which the drug functioned: by inhibiting communication between certain parts of the brain, it left the conscious self “dissociated” from the physical body, thus leading to the many out-of-body and out-of-this-world experiences that littered the internet.

While DXM did that for most people, it did something considerably different for Allan: it made him… happy. Goofy. Content. In a way that he had never experienced before, he felt contentedness. The void in his chest was temporarily filled. That deep hurt which no human save Alexa had been able to fill, that was something the DXM alleviated. Allan didn’t have to suffer constantly anymore.

If LSD was Allan’s pure first love, then DXM was the abusive lover he kept running back to. It was his worst enemy and greatest friend. It brought him peace and unspeakable agony. You see, Allan began taking DXM to self-medicate. Most people, his parents included, viewed this as an addiction.

But over time, Allan’s reasoning for taking cough syrup wasn’t to get stoned and have a good time. The truth was, it brought him a peace that nothing else in life could. It made everything… make sense, it made things okay.

After a while, it truly was an aid to help him fit into society better. It literally cured his general anxiety, especially around other people. He was able to disconnect himself, to feel positive and uplifting thoughts, to be unafraid to speak his mind and express himself. This little change, no matter how small, helped him to throw himself at the endless scourge of coursework in college with a smile.

He didn’t believe in these academic institutions which profited off education. He didn’t believe in the post-capitalistic corporate agenda that upheld such institutions. He utterly despised the lenders that made a buck and dime off college students by burdening them with crippling debt. But he knew that he had no choice, and as a civilian, he had to make his way this world somehow. University was simply… a stepping stone on that path. Or so his parents firmly believed, anyways.

Sure enough, with friends beside him and LSD and DXM to guide him, he had a splendid fall semester. It was during the cold winter months right after the new year in which Allan once again had another so-called mental breakdown. And for a second there, Allan had felt as though he’d found himself, despite that deep hurt in his chest that made him wish on most nights that he was dead. For the second time, he took a leave of absence, but not before doing one important thing: signing up for a co-op with Intel.

Before he knew it, Allan had a phone screen interview, and was accepted as a digital design intern at the Intel plant in Hudson, Massachusetts. (The plant would later stop manufacturing using an outdated process and become a pure design plant). He was working with the people who designed the microchips in next-generation CPUs. He began to learn about interesting topics in microprocessor design, from domino logic, to clock distribution and skew across a microchip, to the computation of parasitic capacitances that dictated frequency limits, and the application of Ohm’s law at the transistor level. His love for the material only grew.

Then, during his co-0p, he had another mental breakdown He wasn’t content with what he was doing. He hadn’t been able to accomplish something meaningful in his self-defined project to try and extend the cache regression testing tool for his team. He barely understood how to effectively design digital circuits. He felt overwhelmed.

At the time, he was living with a truly generous family, the Junes. His entire situation was incredible: he lived in a home with a family, with parents who showed him for the first time what a truly functional marriage was like. He had companionship from their son, who had just recently graduated from Amherst and was working as a chemical engineer at a company in the region. And somehow, Allan couldn’t keep it together

He fell for a girl from whom he sat one cube over, who he had gotten lunch with once. He didn’t know why, but he dreamed about her. Dreamed about being able to lie next to her, more specifically — the way he’d lain next to Alexa those years ago. He dreamed that he’d be able to find someone he wanted to marry. He began to try online dating, and met someone through Craigslist who was… genuinely a great person. He liked her a lot, and he knew that if he played his cards, he could probably have sex with her.

That’s why he broke it off. Because he didn’t want to treat her as someone to fulfill his own carnal pleasures. That wasn’t what the Quran said to do. Maybe biologically, that was his prerogative, but Allan was so utterly convinced of his faith, he couldn’t bring himself to be so insincere and lead a woman on, while his heart yearned for the girl that sat in the cube next to him.

So instead, he bought his first bottle of bourbon since turning twenty-one, got wasted for the first time, watched a lot of porn, overdosed on sleep medications and ended up in the hospital, then bought himself a Gibson SG and began playing the guitar every single day even though he completely and utterly sucked at it.

***

Allan had gotten into guitar because of something one of his online compatriots from high school had once sagaciously said to him. “Why don’t you? It’s never too late to start.” In ways like that, Ben Roth was an amazing guy.

So Allan ordered a cheap $80 Jasmine guitar off Amazon. He’d taken this guitar with him to his previous semester in college, and would practice chords on it religiously. It brought him a lot of peace to do that, so he learned guitar by his lonesome, at his own pace.

He’d told himself, “welp, if I keep this up for a year, then I’m probably serious about it,” and dreamed of buying himself a sweet professional electric guitar so he could learn how to shred. “Thom Yorke, you better watch out…” he used to joke to himself. He played terribly, he knew it, and he kept on playing despite it, because he loved it. That’s the kind of guy he was.

***

During this guitar stint while in Massachusetts, Allan had his next mental breakdown. He confessed his love to the girl who sat in the cube next to him with a handmade card and an original poem. When she left a note saying she wasn’t interested, he told his mentor that he was going to end the co-op early. He didn’t remember the exact reason he’d given him, but part of him had thought, “I really just wanna play guitar and see how far I can get” and another part of him thought, “I would rather be programming than doing digital design… at least I understand programming.”

By the same grace that had landed him such a wonderful opportunity at Intel, a recruiter in Rochester reached out to Allan. Her name was Kate, and she was looking to fill a junior programmer analyst position at the University of Rochester at his hometown. Without missing a beat, Allan leapt at the opportunity, aced the online technical screen, and flew through the phone screen. He interviewed hardly two days after moving back home.

He nailed the interview, too. It was the first time he’d felt so confident and capable in his life. He knew all the technologies they were working with from his development experience in high school. They were using an open source framework that he knew about, that utilized the same MVC (model-view-controller) principles for separation of business logic and relational data that he had studied and tried to reproduce. The one skill he’d taught himself out of love and passion was paying off — not the university degree he didn’t have.

He loved that job. It was in an old office building overlooking a cemetery, kind of depressing, but it was gold to Allan. He absolutely loved all the projects he worked on, and how he just got to hack away at various odds and ends all day, with no one telling him what to do. He got to make design decisions and code away to his heart’s content. His manager was amazing, his coworkers… well, he didn’t really interact much with them because he had his own office room that he shared with an older woman from another department.

Except, then Allan started to feel it. His job was too easy. He wasn’t really pushing himself, wasn’t really growing, not like he had been at university. For all the stress, he couldn’t help but feel… if he could hold down a job like this, what strides could he make if he got his degree?

So when his initial contract ended, and the University of Rochester renewed his contract but they made him a tester… he decided this was a job he was no longer interested in and that it was time to listen to his parents and go back to school. He’d repaid all his student loans and had a sweet electric guitar. Sure, he was a virgin, but he still had it pretty good despite all the no-sex and the endless depression. Right?

***

There was something he’d learned through his struggles and his reading of the Quran and Tao Te Ching. All people suffered equally, but in different shades. In all their sufferings, people were presented with the necessary ingredients to adapt and survive, to pull through. Thusly, all the shades of people on this earth were hardy in their own way, having survived and grown and clung to existence in their own vibrant self-expression of living. No being’s journey through existence, as the Creation of Allah, was more valuable than another’s. No being had any right to judge another’s existence. Only Allah held the right to Judge all souls, and upon an appointed day, He would do just that.

***

Allan spent the summer months prepping for his return to Carnegie Mellon.

The next fall semester, he arranged an off-campus apartment that he split with his friend from freshman year, Justin. They would be living on Squirrel Hill, a stone’s throw away from the university. In a lot of ways, Allan and Justin were the same, despite coming from two different families. While Allan was Southasian, Justin was of Chinese descent, but both were brought up with the strong familial orientation of their cultural heritage. There were some significant differences, however: while Allan communicated openly and sincerely with his father, Justin’s relationship with his father was much more of the cut-and-dry, purely results-oriented Asian mentality. Justin’s parents had never bought him any video games because they never allowed him any such “wasteful” indulgences. They’d been so strict with Justin his entire life, the moment Justin was free to be on his own, he’d immersed himself in the one thing he always loved: video games.

Allan had always been into video games growing up, but this was moreso from an artistic standpoint. He enjoyed being skilled at games, true, but he also considered the amount of work and effort that went into making them. What he truly appreciated was the love and care that developers put into these virtual worlds. A childhood dream of his was to make games that could bring happiness, such as he’d known in his younger years.

For Justin, it was entirely different. Justin primarily cared about being the best at whatever game he was playing. And Justin was blisteringly good at so many types of games: from MMORPGs to beat-em-ups. The only arena where Allan had any advantage was in console-based first person shooters, because of the controller. These were the games that Justin never played, so it didn’t matter.

Allan genuinely cherished his relationship with Justin. To be honest, he loved Justin like a brother. He was envious of Justin’s abilities, but wholeheartedly loved getting decimated by him in their favorite competitive game, Super Smash Brothers Melee. During that fall semester, when they were living together, Justin confided to Allan that he had actually withdrawn from the university and taken the tuition money that had been refunded to buy a roundtrip ticket to Romania. This was because his girlfriend was in Romania.

Apparently, Justin had sparked a long-distance video relationship with this girl through MMORPGs. She was still in high school, about 16 at the time. Justin would stay up at ridiculous hours of the night raiding with his Romanian girlfriend and their clan, then sleep during the day. Allan could see that his friend was hurting, and he wanted to do something to help.

He’d always enjoyed cats. In Massachusetts, he’d lived with two of them. Justin kept talking about wanting to adopt a cat. Finally, Allan said, “let’s do it.” They found a couple living an hour’s drive away who were giving away a free kitten that hadn’t yet been neutered and de-wormed.

Without hesitation, he flung himself down this path, because he knew that he could not help ease Justin’s suffering, whatever it was. This was because Allan genuinely understood the independent nature of every man’s struggle.

***

It wasn’t until that twenty-second year of his life, living with Justin in his junior year of college, that Allan fell in love again. The woman he’d fallen in love with this time was Anjelica, and it had been that love-at-first-sight. He recalled the first time he saw her at an anime club meeting, she was the social chair and they were playing “Guess Who.” She wore a blue dress that day, and Allan remembered that even as he tried to look away, he couldn’t keep his eyes off her. That was when he began to think, “oh God, not this again.” Sure enough, he went home that night and couldn’t stop thinking about how he could get close to her.

She had created the cosplay club at their university. It wasn’t something Allan was particularly into, but he wanted to be near Anjelica, so he started attending those meetings. He enjoyed her focus, her ability to juggle so many different pursuits and seemingly succeed in all of them, and of course, her cuteness. He couldn’t deny he totally had the hots for her. She drove him crazy, for whatever reason. To him, she was everything he was looking for, the complete package.

He was an electrical and computer engineering major, she was a Japanese major, and later, a business major.

He eventually asked her out, and they went out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant. He enjoyed that night tremendously and the details stuck out in his mind as another brief, glittering moment. Beautifully ephemeral. It was the only time that Anjelica had really treated Allan like… well, like something more than a pile of bricks. And he was, of course, in his own little fairy tale, completely in love with her and in love with the notion of being close to her, even though it was clear to him she didn’t think much of him. He didn’t care and earnestly expressed himself anyways. Too earnestly.

Their relationship only deteriorated from there. She started being cold. Really cold. Actually, Allan kind of liked it. He felt like there was some kind of unspoken honesty in the sort of, almost abusive, uncaring treatment he got from her. This was probably the exact opposite of what she had wanted to accomplish, but… you see, Allan was, in a word… well, how shall I put it? Retarded? Autistic? I don’t know. He didn’t understand women, and he followed his heart. Don’t get me wrong, he was damned brilliant at some things. Understanding women was not one of them.

Still, Allan had somehow, by some unknown course of fate, managed to ask her out on a few more dates, even though she totally did not want to go and she made that abundantly clear to him. The second time, it was completely awkward because Allan had pleaded with the fullest extent of his wit that “this would be it.”

Then he continued going to cosplay club meetings even though she had expressly voiced her disinterest in him. Back then, he was an idiot who thought that determination could change minds. Not a woman’s mind. He’d come to learn that the hard way.

Anjelica was always on Allan’s mind, whether he wanted her there or not. At the time, he was prescribed adderall for his ADHD, which helped tremendously for lectures. He had begun going to the gym regularly with the thought that, perhaps if he put on muscle, he would be more attractive to Anjelica. (Back then, he always thought of himself as fat. It would be years later, after gaining weight from depression, that he’d come to realize how distorted his view of his body had been.)

To aid in sculpting his body to below 10% body-fat, he’d put himself on a ketogenic diet and had ordered DNP from an online supplier. 2,4-Dinitrophenol was a banned substance by the FDA owing to its toxicology and potential to kill people. Biochemically, it interfered with cellular energy production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) by binding with the phosphate ions during the cellular Krebs cycle. Because the body’s ability to generate energy was hindered, it compensated by boosting metabolism and, on a ketogenic diet, by burning fat stores for additional energy.

Going through a two-week regimen of DNP was hell. Yet Allan’s desire to be with Anjelica somehow trumped the sheer agony he went through. It was during his second round of DNP that he’d taken adderall to try and stay awake, and his body went completely haywire.

Maybe it was just an anxiety attack, but it was nighttime and Allan thought he was going to die. Justin was asleep at the time, but Allan didn’t bother waking his friend. To be honest, he wasn’t sure what was happening to him, or if he really was going to die. He didn’t want to wake his friend up with a stupid drug-overdose induced panic attack. Not after the overdose that landed him at the ER in Massachusetts. He’d survived that just fine… so, he would probably survive this okay. And even if he didn’t, life sucked anyways, Anjelica didn’t really like him, so death seemed like a pretty okay option.

Really, he was scared out of his fucking mind. This was one of his first few brushes with death, before he realized that his consciousness was in fact leaping between quantum realities in which he existed.

His calves and feet were swollen and felt like they were freezing with pins and needles going through them. He couldn’t feel a pulse anywhere on his body. Allan thought he was going to die, not for the first time in his life. The first time had been when he had overdosed on antidepressants and antipsychotics back during his sophomore year in a halfhearted attempt to kill himself.

Allan had since realized that his instinct and will to live far superseded his determination to kill himself. Nevertheless, he floated in a no-man’s land where his mind ideated the thought of death, of everlasting reprieve from the struggles of life. Thus, in this second brush with death, Allan did not think death to be the worst outcome, and so, he did not call anyone for help. To Allan, dying alone by overdose in the darkness of his apartment was a preferable end to surviving another worthless trip to the ER.

***

He recalled his night in the Massachusetts ER. He could remember bits and pieces of it. He’d gone for a night drive after dosing on the sleep meds, because, well, he was an idiot. (don’t tell me I didn’t tell you). Really, this was his first time using sleep medications, so he had no idea what their effect would be… and because he was an idiot, he was mixing two different sleeping medications.

The first few pills he took, he waited 30 minutes. Nothing. No hint of sleepiness at all. He took some more of the other drug and waited another 30 minutes. Nada. Nothing. He figured, “ah what the hell, I’ll go for a quick drive, that usually sorts me out.” He let himself out of the house and started on that drive.

Ten minutes in, the the pills started kicking in big-time. He had no clue where he was when he realized he was losing motor control and he couldn’t really hit the clutch anymore. Responsibly, he pulled his car onto a side-street and parked there. He was laying in his car, dozing off, thinking he could just sleep it off, when people who were out walking late in the middle of the night found him.

And like people, they just had to stick their noses in and save him. Why were they even there? He didn’t need saving. He’d checked the LD50 on the sleep meds, he hadn’t taken anything anywhere near fatal. It was a heavy combination of doxylamine succinate and diphenhydramine, sure, but it wouldn’t kill. No, driving the car might’ve killed him, but he’d realized what a fucking shithead he’d been to even go out driving in the first place and decided to calmly sleep it off.

Though he didn’t know it at the time, his flaunting with death, his skirting these dangerous situations without care for his life, the use of drugs to self-medicate: everything was symptomatic, right alongside his age-old depression.

No, Allan wasn’t cutting himself any breaks. He’d been stupid, but not utterly reckless, and hadn’t endangered anyone. Then these people showed up and started knocking on his window. Drugged up, Allan rolled the window and tried to talk to them, but he slurred everything he said. He couldn’t talk straight. He realized what an ass-clown he sounded like. It didn’t occur to him that he sounded like he was completely drunk and trashed.

They asked him if he wanted some fresh air. He said, “sure” and tried to get out of his car — but he couldn’t stand. He couldn’t stand at all. Gravity felt like it had been multiplied by a hundred, because the drugs were interfering with his CNS (Central Nervous System) and inhibiting his motor neurons from communicating properly. That was why he couldn’t hit the clutch on his car properly anymore. So the people did the responsible thing and called 911.

First, an officer arrived. He was a pretty swell officer, or so Allan thought. He would slap Allan’s face to get him to wake up and ask him, “have you been drinking?”

“No.” Then Allan would fall asleep.

He’d slap him again to wake him up. “What did you take?”

And Allan would try and remember the names of the drugs. “Doxyla… sussa… susque… Diphen… diphen…” he’d struggle, before again falling asleep.

The cop would slap him again. “Did you take heroin or cocaine?” This felt like a trick to get him to admit something, but it wasn’t the truth in either case, so Allan had responded, “No, offisah, no, no.” He didn’t do hard drugs like that.

“Did you do crystal meth?”

“No. No. No.” Then he fell asleep.

Finally, the officer decided to call an ambulance. After he’d communicated to dispatch, he got right back on top of Allan, slapping him awake and asking him, “what did you take?”

This interrogation happened for what felt like a half hour. In retrospect, Allan felt like the officer was trying to get some kind of admission of illegal activity or wrongdoing out of him, but during that time, he trusted the officer completely and thought, “this guy’s just doing his job. He’s being pretty nice to me, too… he coulda just shot me.”

The ambulance arrived while Allan slept peacefully on the concrete, surrounded by strangers whose names he would never know. The paramedics got him onto a stretcher, plugged him into an IV, and started monitoring his biometrics. He was conscious for all of this, and during this time, managed to somehow thank the officer for being so helpful and courteous.

In the back of the ambulance, they managed to stabilize him so that he didn’t fall asleep every 30 seconds.

At the hospital, he was tended to by a nurse. He watched as burn victims were rushed into intensive care and thought: “What a total waste of resources. There are people who actually need help. Look at me.”

He felt truly miserable, like a scummy human being.

At the same time, he really wanted to get out of the fucking hospital. God, it was so depressing. It was a nightmare. He wondered how anyone could bear to work in a place filled with messed up people who were hurting. He couldn’t envision himself ever working in such a place. He felt genuinely grateful for the healthcare system in the country, not yet cognizant of the cost and lucrative nature of the industry. All these people, selflessly giving themselves to care for others…

Allan kept buzzing the alert thing to get the nurse to come to see him. He kept telling her that he wanted to see the doctor and he wanted to get out of there. She kept telling him that he had to stay because they were monitoring him to make sure he was okay. She was patient the first time she said it. Not really the seventh time.

By the eighth time, Allan said, “aw fuck this, I’m a man.” He pulled off all the monitors that were stuck to his chest, then ripped out the IV in what felt like a truly epic and titanic show of his self-proclaimed manliness. He’d assumed the wound would be a slight bleed, like getting a shot. ‘Tis but a flesh wound”, he recalled Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He didn’t expect to be gushing blood all over the goddamned place as he stumbled off the gurney and took two steps towards freedom before he realized that he’d probably bleed out before he figured out where the freaking exit was. He may have thought himself a man, but really, he was just a drugged up boy with no plan.

Boy, the nurse was not happy with him. He apologized profusely to her as she brutally stabbed his other arm with another IV. He supposed she was pretty hot, so it was okay. This was the closest he’d gotten to someone he was attracted to… well, in a long enough time that he forgave her for the brutality.

Oh yeah. Allan was an idiot.

***

It was that night, in the apartment he shared with Justin, that he thought he would die for the second time in his life. During that episode, he thought about how little he had to live for. Just his family. That was really it. For all his fear of death and familial devotion, somehow his family, his parents and two younger siblings, did not seem like an adequate enough reason to live. Maybe it was because his family had always been exceptionally dysfunctional, owing to the broken and dysfunctional nature of his parent’s marriage. Or maybe it was just biology. Allan wasn’t really sure.

For whatever reason, his will to live manifested itself as Anjelica. The thought of being able to see her was the only thing that made him feel life was worth living, that it was worth surviving. The thought of being able to see her again was what fortified his determination to live.

He woke up the following morning, alive and normal, with this sense that, he just wanted to be near Anjelica, even if nothing would come of it. In a way, she had saved his life, even if she didn’t know or care.

After that, his mind became apathetic to his studies. They seemed so trivially unimportant. Not soon afterward, he took another leave of absence while continuing to live in his apartment. There was another semester’s tuition down the drain. There was his scholarship going to waste, while he was… growing the fuck up.

Now having more time than he knew what to do with, he started (a) trying to build another website community while (b) he thought about becoming a musician. He also began going to the campus gym religiously, adhering to a ketogenic regimen and drinking enough whey protein to give an elephant diarrhea. He started to get really cut for the first time in his life. At the same time, he threw himself into guitar and drinking.

Allan would practice all day and not get that much better. He hardly cared and practiced anyways. He would drink to numb the pain in his fingers and in his heart, and to have the courage to sing and play, even though he had never sung in his life. His desire to become a musician was heartfelt; his confidence was built on delusion. But he refused to admit this to himself because, all dreams were delusions that people made manifest through their will and devotion.

Besides practicing guitar, he spent the remainder of his time going to the gym to workout, cooking, and on the weekends, attending the cosplay club meetings to be near Anjelica, without ever speaking to her.

He became a functioning alcoholic. Allan had always marveled at his ability to metabolize ridiculous amounts of alcohol with nary a hangover. Initially he’d thought it was because he had a policy of intense rehydration to flush out his system before he fell asleep. Later, he began to realize that, no, for whatever reason, he was just a hard drinker.

It wasn’t until one morning, when he was getting the anxiety and shakes from withdrawal and had to pour himself a shot of gin (he preferred taking gin straight) simply to function that he realized he’d drank half a handle in a single day. That was the moment when he realized he was a functioning alcoholic. That was the first time he went through alcohol withdrawal.

Somehow, quitting alcohol was easy. It was because he kinda hated the stuff anyways. Drinking was forbidden by the Quran to begin with, so it wasn’t anything that any self-respecting Muslim should be doing in the first place. Allan didn’t know if his circumstances really gave him the right to drink, but then, people didn’t comprehend Allan’s emotions or circumstances, so he left that as being a relative gray area. Whatever the final judgement would be, his use of alcohol for either recreation or medicinal purposes or both, that was up to Allah.

***

For whatever reason, Anjelica got him a Christmas present. Maybe it was her way saying thanks, but Allan was genuinely touched. No one had ever done that for him. His family didn’t celebrate Christmas and his friends weren’t really the gift-giving types.

It was a book about how to care for cats. This was because… well, Allan had asked Anjelica about whether it was a good idea to adopt a cat for his roommate. She had answered genuinely that cats lived for up to fifteen years, so it was a real commitment. Then she’d gotten him this book.

She later asked him for a ride to the airport over winter break. Allan was in love with her, so of course he agreed, even if he knew he was being used. Plus, he couldn’t get over the fact that she’d given him a present. It wouldn’t really occur to him that she’d given him the present kind of as an exchange for his chauffeur services until years later. As has been said numerous times, and shall be said many more times, Allan was truly an idiot who did not comprehend women. Truth be told, there were many common-sensical aspects of the world that went way over his head. He was just… genuinely trusting and appreciative of people, to a fault — because that was the sincere standard he tried to live up to himself.

He’d driven up behind Anjelica’s dorm a solid fifteen minutes early the day he was supposed to drive her to the airport. Anjelica had texted him saying that her friend Crystal also needed a ride. Allan had told her “of course.” Why would he say no? Helping two girls was obviously better than helping only one.

Crystal came out right on time with her suitcase, which Allan helped hoist into the trunk. She sat in the backseat and flipped out her iPhone, while Allan sat silently nonchalant in the front seat, listening to music over the stereo.

It took a whole hour for Anjelica to finally come down.

An hour.

An hour, sitting in a car with a kinda cute asian girl he didn’t even know, whom he would glance nervously at through the rearview. Allan only had eyes for Anjelica anyways. He didn’t even try and make small-talk. There was no point. He and Crystal were both comfortable in that silence and anonymity of not knowing one another. It was the same anonymity that college students expressed to each other every day, as they passed each other in their brisk walks to their classes. It was familiar, it made sense.

Anjelica finally came down, lugging this ginormous suitcase that she was having trouble with. Allan got out and helped her thunk it into the trunk. Then they finally started.

As luck would have it, the airport address Allan had put into his Garmin GPS did not corroborate with what the highway signs said about getting to the airport. Like the smart monkey he was, Allan realized that the GPS was being a dipshit. He expressed his consternation to Anjelica who started to try and lookup directions on her phone. Chuckling to himself, he just followed the highway signs.

Partway through the 45-minute ride, a song came on that Allan had loved since the moment he’d first heard it in 1998, as an eight-year-old. It was the year his youngest brother had been born, in the winter following his birth. The song was Hiru no Tsuki, by Akino Arai. It was a Japanese song, soft in its composition, sweet in its tones, poetic and hopeful in its prose. It truly was a beautiful piece, and it was the ending song to one of Allan’s favorite anime of all time, Outlaw Star.

Yeah, Allan had more than a couple things in common with Gene Starwind, captain of the XGP-1, a prototype grappler ship in a futuristic universe.

He’d immediately gone to change this track because, well, he felt kinda embarrassed having a Japanese song play with girls in the car, for whatever reason. And Anjelica had told him, “no, keep it. I like it.”

Allan remembered that. And he appreciated that, even if Anjelica didn’t like him, she actually liked something he also did. It made him feel… that much closer to her. It was more than he could ask for.

They got to the airport in good time, despite the hour that Anjelica had set them back by. Allan saw them off, and felt warm inside for once. The ride back to his apartment was lonely, but somehow, alright.

Knives Dark – Chapter 9 – “Quotient”

Allan sat quietly in the living room of his house, which he utilized as a makeshift studio. On one side of the room was a concert-ready, quad-input Roland power amplifier, a 500 Watt Fender bass combined amp, and a much smaller 100 Watt Fender Mustang tube amplifier. Three mic boom stands pointed dynamic microphones at each one of the three speakers. A myriad of 3/4″ cables snaked their way from the speakers to a veritable jungle of audio equipment.

Every cable went through a looper and tied into the output from one of his numerous instruments: a Gibson SG professional guitar which fed a pedalboard loaded with distortion and effects pedals; a Korg mini-analogue synth; a Moog Grand Mother analogue synth; a 64-beat drumpad; and an Ibanez dual active-passive bass guitar. Lined up against the wall adjacent to the speakers was a couch, across from which was a fine coffee table with maple legs and a cloudy glass top. On top of the table sat the keyboards, the drumpad, and a Macbook for recording audio.

A simple 4-channel XLR input Steinberg UR-44 took the microphone inputs and plugged into the Macbook through a USB-A to USB-C adapter. There was one more mic boom stand with a condenser microphone and pop-filter leaning over the coffee table. On the wall opposing the speakers and adjacent to the couch were stands for the guitars.

Allan sat on the couch with his trusty Gibson, the room silent save for the the buzz of white noise from the speakers. Feeling the usual slight anxiety prior to any of his recording attempts, he hit space on his laptop to begin recording, and started finger-picking. He plucked the introductory arpeggio of his song, a somber and sad tune, then began playing chords with the same notes as he sung the lyrics.

Let the blood drip
Down the drain
The pain is what
Keeps you sane

Leave the knife
By your bedside
To comfort you
Through the night

He switched to a major progression for the chorus.

‘Cause nobody’s there to hold you
No one to tell you
“It’s alright”
Everyone says you’re crazy
And you think
They might be right

Then back to the melody.

Their words stick
Like fungus
They eat at you
From the inside

Let the gangrene
Grow rampant
Just rot on
Until you die

Then the modified second chorus with the same major progression.

‘Cause nobody’s there to hold you
No one to tell you
“It’s alright”
Everyone says you’re crazy
And you know
They can’t be right

Back to the melody for the final part.

And when you decide
You’ve had enough
And you’re ready
For the final cut

Stop to think
If God should forgive
Sinners like you
Who refused to live

Allan swallowed with difficulty, a rock forming in his throat and his eyes welling up. All he held in his heart were countless tormented moments, lonely sleepless nights tossing and turning, and vacant days where he poured himself into work and meaningless cheerful banter with his coworkers to stave off the inevitable emptiness when he would go home. He sang the final chorus, hoping, praying, that whoever else out there felt similarly might one day find some modicum of hope in his lyrics, like a sip of water in a scorching desert, and from this droplet find the courage to keep on living, like he had.

And I’ll be there
For you
I’ll tell you
“It’s alright”
Just stay on this Earth
With me
Life is but
A single day.

He strung the final arpeggio and felt the all-too-familiar pain in his heart. Leaning back on the couch, he sighed. He wished so badly that he could pour himself endlessly into his art, to sing before audiences, to broadcast his soul in its bare nakedness and raw truth for others to see. It wasn’t fame that he sought, but a sense of purpose that he couldn’t derive from anything else he did.

His mind then wandered to recollections of the women in his past. He hadn’t had a relationship in over twenty years, and he didn’t foresee that changing anytime soon. Not that he was trying, not by any stretch of the word. He’d tried so hard in his twenties, it was enough to last a lifetime. All that was left now was his hardened heart, a cold objectivity, and a seed that waited for the right conditions: something that might never come.

In his early twenties, he thought he’d found the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, Anjelica. Allan had a way of haplessly falling head-over-heels in love at first sight, a phenomena he realized was a rarity amongst people. For all its glorification in books and media, the truth was, most people did not love as unconditionally nor as purely as he did in the beginning steps of any relationship. In fact, to the contrary, most people approached such things with an almost zealous cautiousness. They presented the best versions of themselves, maybe made themselves out to be more glamorous than they really were. This was a facade that Allan despised, and he never made any attempts to be anything more than exactly who he was. This level of honesty and sincerity did absolutely nothing for him, because it was so easily misinterpreted and misconstrued in those early stages of distrust.

Still, Allan was adamant and refused to change himself to conform. No matter what, he felt that the adoption of such artifices as a mask was the surest way to lose oneself. He would never betray himself in such a way.

Most men, he was fairly confident, thought more about the sexual aspects of a relationship than anything else. Though sex was something that was naturally on Allan’s mind, he never approached anyone with this as his chief aim. It was always the loneliness, the lack of emotional fulfillment in his life, that had driven him to seek companionship. To such ends, he only consorted with women he felt he would be interested in marrying. Anything he considered as being purely physical attraction was not worth pursuit by his standards, according to both his own moral metrics and the stipulations of the religion he believed in.

Granted, it had not always been this way. High school and the first year of college, sex was the only thing on his mind. But he’d transformed in that sophomore year, and that transformation had crystallized into what he was today. Those ideals from back then rung true in the present with growing resonance, and though they had done nothing for him, he had wrought from such ideals a mental purity and faith that was a rarity in contemporary society.

He recalled his first and only girlfriend, Alexa, back in middle school, during the age of innocence. She was tall, taller than Allan, a fact that he loved. She was extremely slender, another trait that Allan found himself inexplicably drawn towards. And she was blonde, with glacier blue eyes, the sort of eyes Allan loved gazing into.

That was before he’d ever watched porn or had any notion of what masturbation was; before sex had entered his mind as a physical need. He didn’t even know what a blowjob was, or that there was such a thing. It had been wonderful then, but… then his family had moved, and that relationship had withered.

Allan had tried to keep his relationship with Alexa alive despite the distance. But the immeasurable stress of being alone in a new place with no friends weighed heavily on a pubescent teenager, like a rainy cloud on a sunlit day. Even for adults, long distance relationships are difficult, and that was doubly true for a thirteen-something. It didn’t help that he’d also begun to develop feelings for another girl at his new school.

In the end, he’d felt so utterly miserable, so completely torn and crushed in being unable to see the person he cared for while feeling guilty for liking another girl, he’d broken it off by lashing out in a fit of misdirected frustration and rage.

That was how his anger always boiled over. He said words designed to hurt, the most stabbing and viciously honest words his mind could find. For a person as intelligent, internally sincere, and observant as he was, he understood most people’s psyches well enough to know exactly which buttons would hurt them the most, and when he was angry, he shredded into them remorselessly.

He did this to his father, so many times. It used to weigh on him, all the hurtful things he’d said. He’d apologized time and time again to countless people, until he felt his apologies no longer had meaning. This was who he was. It wasn’t someone likable or necessarily good, it was someone who was genuinely emotive. The only thing that made sense was to find someone who could see past the hurricane and into the eye of the storm. Allan had long since conceded that such a person could well be fiction, little more than the words on pages he wrote to console himself.

After a year had passed and Allan was about to enter his freshman year of high school, he visited his hometown of State College, staying over at a friend’s house for a couple days. It was then that he reconnected with Alexa. They’d met in the back of a book shop. She wore a long skirt, the kind you don’t see many women wearing anymore. Allan remembered watching her spin and twirl, barefoot, behind the bookshop, as a light summer drizzles sparkled their faces. Watching her then was one of the most beautiful moments he’d had in his life. There weren’t many like that.

At that time, it was the arts festival in State College. On the Penn State campus, right in front of Old Main, there was an outdoor stage. He’d laid with Alexa there, on the grass, holding her close to him, and kissing her. They’d make out every couple of minutes and just lie there. He only remembered the sky, a feeling of absolute contentedness in feeling Alexa breathe, and the terrible case of blue balls he had later that evening. He remembered wondering if it was normal for an erection to last for an hour.

That was probably the single sweetest moment of his life. After that, everything began to crumble away, leaving the cold dark steel that was the Allan of today.

It lasted all of two months before Alexa broke it off. She cited that… well, Allan was a great boyfriend. But she wanted to date other people, and to look back warmly on their time together in their youth. She’d told Allan that he was a good first boyfriend, and she’d always keep that memory locked away in her heart. Alexa then moved to Utah to be with her grandparents and her mother, who had recently divorced her father, something that had been a tremendous strain upon their family.

It hurt Allan to think that was all he was good for. A first boyfriend. A stepping stone. He hadn’t said anything then, because he understood the situation. There was nothing he could do. His heart would break and hurt, but he could do nothing as a fourteen year-old to be close to the person he loved, except talk with her over the phone.

Consequently, that’s exactly what Allan did. He stayed in touch with Alexa through the next year, talking over the phone, as friends. But just that, as friends. Alexa would tell him about the different boys in her life, and Allan would listen, content that someone as beautiful as her wanted to confide in someone as forgettable as him. If what he had felt for Alexa wasn’t love, he wasn’t sure what was. In the meanwhile, hearing Alexa talk about all this, Allan felt he needed to move on, and began to pursue the girl at his high school whom he’d developed a crush on.

Her name was Raquel, and Allan pursued Raquel with the same innocence and honesty that was his hallmark. She had jet black hair that always pulled back neatly into a ponytail. She was quiet, bookish, a talented artist, and so genuine. She laughed in a carefree, spirited way that Allan adored. Those were the traits that drew him to her.

Back then, he mostly hung out with a group of guys who belonged to a clique of the more popular kids at school, and they made fun of him when he told her that he had a thing for Raquel because they all thought she was queer. It was all in good fun, and he smiled thinking about it.

He had looked up Raquel’s home number in the school directory and used to call her and talk to her. He always enjoyed the innocent wholesomeness of their conversations, and he got to learn about her other interests. They didn’t gossip about other people in school, instead, they talked about anime and manga, and their dreams for the future. It turned out he and Raquel were more similar than he’d originally imagined. He asked her out to the movies a few times, but she always declined, and he figured she wasn’t interested in a guy like him. It didn’t hurt him though, because he still called her and talked to her, and she seemed okay with that.

The day before her sixteenth birthday, Allan had cutout balloons from colored poster boards and written “Happy Birthday” in artistic cursive. Using twine for the string, he’d taped those balloons to her locker after school while there was no one in the hallway to see him. While he was doing this, his heart beat so loud in his chest, he thought he could hear it thumping against his ribs.

The next day, his stomach sank to see that the balloons were gone. When he talked to Raquel about it over the phone later that week, she told him she’d put the balloons inside her locker. At this, Allan’s heart rocked with joy.

Then his family had moved again during his junior year of high school. That uprooted his social circle once more, except this time, it was different. Allan didn’t have the words to describe it, but this was the first time he was truly depressed. His new school was bigger, the students were all brighter. He hated his new school, because he just wanted to be somewhere he felt comfortable and safe.

He cried so much that year, he wished he could just die. At school, he acted happy and upbeat because he could, but at home, he felt utterly alone. So he threw himself into work, into web development and video games. He made a website for aspiring game developers. He led a community. This was the single solace he had during that time: this one website filled with people he had never met in real life.

That made him feel alive. In a way that nothing else had, so to speak. It gave vitality and energy to him in his youth to do that kind of work. Maybe, he just enjoyed having power and tried to wield it responsibly. But whatever the case, it was a constructive outlet in that Allan applied and grew his skill in computer programming. That was the same skill that had sparked and carried him all through his entire career.

He’d always aspired to make games. Even though he had never created a complete game in his life, he somehow felt that the creation of an artificial escape from reality was a healthy outlet for frustrations of older adults, and a way to develop the imaginations and abilities of younger folk. Allan imagined that in the future, governmental gamification of life itself in some meaningful way would be how success was fairly and openly determined in democracies.

What he sought to capture through his website were the meaningful efforts and struggles of budding artists around the globe who strove for self-expression. He viewed art as a quantifiable and storable metric of people’s lives and experiences. It was this train of thought that first led him to think up acrossti.me.

AcrossTime’s purpose was simply to store human experiences of individuals who wished to commit their memories and ideas for the remainder of time. He genuinely meant all time: he viewed the project as an anthropological medium to preserve fragments of humanity as people evolved and grew. “That’s a steep order.” he’d chuckle to himself.

Facebook was more or less the leader for such a service. There were plenty of other portals already devoted to art, animation, and game development as well, ranging from DeviantArt to NewGrounds, Flickr to Vimeo, and the monolithic YouTube. While the niche wasn’t necessarily saturated, the biggest contenders already dominated the market. Upping them would require innovation on multiple fronts; it wasn’t something that could be done in the span of a few months or a year.

While Allan felt certain that his idea had merit, he also knew that in order to truly execute his vision with the idealism he intended required patience and care. He didn’t want to create something ephemeral to cash in on it. He wanted to build something that would stand the test of time immemorial, to outlast him and the generations after.

He wasn’t entirely sure how he could improve on anyone’s formula with existing technology. In a manner of speaking, these various companies were already the biggest archive of human memory and data. But they weren’t quite what Allan sought, which was distilled cultural value in the form of art; creations of anthropological significance; and raw human experiences. Not words. Not pictures. Not facades idealizing or glamorizing particular individuals. But a raw, emotive texture that conveyed the hopes, struggles, dreams, and successes of humans in their evolution.

The existing offerings were dumb monolithic stores inundated with noise. As technology progressed, it seemed like the normative culture regressed. Instead of doing something meaningful, people attained fulfillment by doing things that were wholly ephemeral and forgettable. Rather than relying on their imaginations and wits, people relied on their cell phones and gadgets. Rather than thinking for themselves, people sought media conglomerates and news outlets to think for them.

Indeed, as Allan saw it, the world was structured to hypnotize and mesmerize people into ordinary sheepish lives, whilst the wolves had their run of the flock. In fact, it had always been this way. Deception was necessary for both one’s allies, and one’s friends.

This wasn’t to say that people at the top were crooks. No, everyone with power had their own agenda, their own vision and were independent agents of progress or chaos. Only they could speak to their true aims and intents. The indisputable truth of the matter was that, those with both vision and the gumption to execute were few in number; the critics of such people were greater, for it was much easier to condemn than to create; and most were mere laymen who needed not lift a finger for the marvels of these visionaries to come to them.

Visionaries established human industries upon the shoulders of laymen that could be easily controlled and swayed. In order to enact their vision, it was necessary to promulgate it and they had the means to do so. The question of which came first, the uniform body of like-minded laymen or the visionary that unified the various laymen could be seen as a question of the chicken or the egg. Was a King worthy of his title with no country or people to lead? Or was it the people and country that made a King?

Perhaps this tendency towards uniformity and idolization was integral to human cultural and societal identity. Perhaps, anthropologically, this was how humans and countless other mammalian tribal species had survived. There was no doubt that it was always the people who saw things differently who evoked the greatest growth and change within cultures, but few people had the resolve to really push that difference of vision to the forefront. It wasn’t sustainable for everyone to be unique and different, so maybe this heterogeneous system, a scientific byproduct of genetics and biology, was the sieve that would separate the specks of brilliance from the mundane.

Whether he was brilliant or not, Allan left that for time and future generations to tell. He believed he was brilliant, and that was all that mattered now. As for his vision for AcrossTime: he didn’t care about the day-to-day lives of people, their views, or their thoughts. The things that facebook captured were mostly meaningless to him. It was enjoyable to talk to people to hear and see what they were up to, but he didn’t much care on a regular basis, unless they were related by blood. Healthy discussions and conversations were of far greater value, but this wasn’t something he saw often on facebook. Moreover, unlike many of these billion-dollar companies, he didn’t want to monetize on human data. What he wanted to capture was the spirit of being human, like an archive or a library, in a truly timeless fashion.

“At the end of the day… the currency of this life was belief and action. Not money.” Those were the things that would follow a person’s soul. How much they earned was a moot contrivance, a fickle byproduct of an era and circumstances. What they thought and what they did… now that forged a human.