It was a grievous mistake, almost ironic in its execution. Still, despite how his gaze undressed her, she kept her fingers loosely wrapped around her wine glass, lifting it to her lips, poised, as she always was. Cherry red fingernail polish seemed to blend in with the wine that sloshed idly in its glass, matching the sinful red ribbon tied around her neck in a gaudy bow, along with the red tresses that fell down to her neck. Devil, she was. Demon, they would scream. Succubus, witch, yokai! And she had just given away her true intentions.
"Charla?" he repeated, a honeyed grin appearing on his hazel face. The ice cubes clinked uneasily in the mug that sat by his side, bobbing up from the scotch, gasping for air as they tried to warn him of the danger that lay ahead. The man folded his hands together, brown eyes dancing curiously towards her, as he let the words fall from his lips: "Charla, as in, charlatan?"
Those slender fingers three of them, all perfectly manicured went to the woman's lips, and she let out a soft giggle, her lips curling into an easy smile. As her laugh echoed across the dinner table, the man could not help but laugh as well, and soon the spinach and ricotta stuffed chicken lay forgotten on their delicate china, set up on white, pristine sheets. "As in, charlatan!" she managed to repeat between giggles, and the two of them continued to laugh and laugh, until the sun bled a ruby red across the dim grey sky.
"Give me the feed. I don't have time to waste with your dillydallying."
Slowly, the redhead removed the small silver stud from her ear, unclipping it with a deft movement of her hand, pressing the delicate device into her commander's hands. As the gadget was snatched away, the woman could not help but feel as if a part of her soul had been ripped out as well. Still, she stayed silent, her lips pressed together as her commander took the device and slipped behind the curtain, gesturing her to follow.
The computer room it seemed to shake, humbled from the overwhelming amount of technology that lurked within. The obscenely large computer that sat in the middle of this room buzzed, whirred, and flashed at the arrival of humans in its midst, clearing away all open windows and programs, to make preparations for the arrival of new data. Her commander took a seat in the swivel chair, pushing his glasses further up onto the bridge of his nose, letting a small smile brush across his otherwise hardened features as he took in the full keyboard spread in front of him. It spanned at least five feet in length and only he knew what each and every button controlled Just sitting in front of it made the blood pump through his veins.
Delicately, the silver device was inserted in the disk drive, and the computer sucked it up, grateful for the information. As it processed the data, the commander brushed jet black locks away from his face, grinning as binary code splashed across the screen this was his language, his calling, and now it was all his.
And suddenly, the man with the honeyed grin and hazel face was on the screen again. He was folding his hands together, as before, curious, as before, asking, as before, " as in, charlatan?" And then they laughed, a feeling of calm washing throughout them. But this time, it was not just their moment, but the commander's as well.
He was an intruder amongst happy times, despite how false and constructed they might be. But he was naturally a voyeur, a peeping tom of reality and situations that others would find boring, static, systematic. That was why he was sitting in the swivel chair, and she was holding her hands together, biting her lip.
The commander swiveled toward her, looking her up and down, and then some, before finally asking: "Does he trust you?"
Of course he does, she wanted to spit furiously, but despite her rage, the woman did not even let herself narrow her eyes. Instead, she did what she did best, and let a smile overtake her features. "He does," she assured silently, with a level nod of her head. "If he doesn't trust me, then he doesn't trust anyone."
"Good." He searched her eyes, as if looking for something more. But what could he be looking for? A lie? A crack of doubt? A trace of falsehood, hidden underneath her stoic tone? Just thinking about her being defiant was laughable in itself. So laughable, that the redhead let herself smirkher red lips curling into an almost maniacal grin, twisted enough to match Satan's crooked smiles.
At this, the commander did a double take, but by the time he checked her face again, the smirk was gone. It must've been a trick of the light.
"He's putty in your hands now. Malleable, sweet clay what will you do with it?" At this, the commander lifted a bobble-head off of his computer's desk it was a figurine of a prodigy of pop music back in ancient times, dead for about a hundred or so years, now. He held the figurine in his hands, let the doll's head bob back and forth, endlessly.
"Some people like to sculpt things with clay they waste it away on sculptures and knickknacks that collect dust on fireplaces, that no one ever notices for but a second. But you you know better. We'll squeeze this putty dry, right?" His grip on the bobble-head tightened; the prodigy's head squished under his iron grip. "Collect every single bit of nourishing information and use that to let his empire fall beneath him. And then, in itself, we'll be the statues everyone can look up to. We'll be the ones, thoroughly in control!" He took a minute to lay out this future before him, his eyes twinkling, lost in a future he could hold in his hands
" Eh? Isn't that right, Wasp?"
The doll's head popped off, propelling straight towards the redhead, who sidestepped quickly, on instinct, as if this was an occurrence that happened all too many times. He was no longer looking at her now, but laughing, lost in a world that he held in the palm of his hands. This world spun, round and round and round, but in order for this world to spin, she had to push it, with her own two hands, she knew. She, and all the other flies beneath her fueled this world, flies she had never met, flies she only knew the faces of; all of them, anonymous under one cause: total control. And that control was enough to make them shed their names, identities change and shift appearances under the blink of an eye.
She recalled a time when she was called by her name, but knew better then to let the memory overtake her. After all, she had chosen this path; and she'd given up the luxury of being able to bask in easier days.
There was a time when she was called Raspberry, and she was sure this was her True Name. An old woman would call out to her from the garden, asking for a tall glass of water, and, if she wouldn't mind, slicing a lemon and placing a wedge delicately on the glass's edge? As usual, she was eager to follow orders: she did this vigilantly, with a vigor unbeknownst to the woman of today.
The water was delivered promptly, and the old woman would suck it all down, thanking her, before sticking the lemon wedge in her mouth, mouth puckering at its taste, twisted in a strange sense of discomfort and pleasure. Then she'd return: back to her garden, harvesting tomatoes and cucumbers and red peppers, and plucking raspberries off their bushes
"Raspberries, raspberries, pick them while they're plump~ Hey, hey, Raspberry, are you going to help your Grandmother harvest these beauties? If you don't, the ravens will come they'll pluck them off the bushes and eat them all up: they're greedy creatures, you know! We have to protect the berries, otherwise, they'll think they have control over this garden of mine "
She'd yell that she was coming, but not before looking in the mirror. A grotesque figure stared back at her: overweight, with chubby cheeks and breasts that sagged, raggedy black hair that came out in clumps if you ran your hand through it, a face covered in bumpy, undignified zits, too thin lips, a great black mole that hugged the side of her face
A scream pierced through the house, and somewhere, her grandmother came running, asking ever so innocently, "My beautiful Raspberry, what's wrong?"
But that was all behind her now.
"You are good at keeping secrets, just like you said."
All dressed in red, she was poised to kill. While she was not exactly a cheetah, who sprang relentlessly after her pray, she was more like a fox, who would rather trick the pigeon to jump into her mouth, rather than strike it dead. The stars waltzed up overhead, they seemed to cry for the man with the honeyed smile and hazel face; but the moon knew better, and stared stoically down at their rendezvous. The moon also knew how to keep a good secret, or so it liked to think.
"Other girls, they'd be quick to brag. After all, there are not many men in this world more powerful than I, are there?" He stretched his hand out, towards the ocean that lay before them, both of their feet planted in the calm sands, the smell of the sea tickling their noses. Instinctively, she laced her arms around his own, latching onto him tightly, feeling him tense up at the sudden gesture of affection. She was careful in her movements too much, and he'd be quick to throw her away, too little, and he'd be quick to claim that she was boring. But thankfully, no one ever called her boring. That was why she was the fly for this job.
No, better than a fly. What had the commander called her? A wasp.
"There are none," she guaranteed quietly, and her muddy brown eyes flickered towards the ocean waves, bringing in seaweed and small shells as the tide rolled in. "There is only you, I know. And yet, no one knows anything about you." Her eyes caught the sight of a hermit crab, turning over shell after shell, looking for a new home. "It must be lonely."
"It is a price I must pay." But as she clung tighter onto him, he loosened away from her grasp, stepped away from her slightly. Her mind ran a mile a minute did she fail? Had he seen through her? but they came to a slow stop as she saw him pick up a spiral conch shell, pressing it into her hands. He smiled at her, that same, honeyed smile that seemed to hold no traces of sin in its depth, and whispered, "Listen to the ocean."
She held the conch to her ear heard the ocean cry its tumultuous wail, a sickened sound that made her stomach churn, but yet, she could not turn away. He gripped her shoulders, brought his lips towards her ear. "That's the sound of my heart," he muttered, and she wondered if he was a magnificent liar, like she was. But there was something pure in the confession she almost wished it didn't fall on her tainted ears.
"Why is your heart in so much pain?" she allowed herself to wonder aloud.
"Because it holds many secrets. But I think I think I can tell you, Charla just a few "
What seemed to be a million years ago, there was only one world humans were confined to, and that was what everyone called the Melancholy (a million more years later than this, and they would've called it 'Earth'). It was a world ruled by a god called luck, because that's what everything chalked up to in the end. It was luck whether you were born with white skin or dark, luck whether you were born with a disease that would forever confine you to a wheelchair, or whether you had to working feet to walk your ways about the planet. Some debated it was luck whether you were pretty or beautiful as well was it fair that models were born from the womb naturally, without having to work a day at it? Life, as a whole, dealt the Melancholy too many unfair cards. So eventually, majority ruled, and demanded an escape.
So they created another world. Granted, they were not so smart as to sculpt this world out of dirt and water, no, but out of pixels and binary code a little paradise only accessible by computers. It was a world that pandered to the majority one where you left your old identity behind, took on an anonymous mask and presented yourself to the this world in any way you want. Finally, the people were allowed to mold themselves into anything they wished to be to do anything they wished to do without the fear of repercussions, because this world was not tied to the Melancholy, their reality.
Perhaps its only flaw was that one could not fully "live" in this world. At the end of the day, you realized you had groceries to buy, dinner to cook, laundry to wash and fold Having to log out brought people wondering, 'why can't I stay here forever?' And what was the Melancholy turning to, when they preferred a dream over reality? When they preferred skies of dim greys to sky blues?
So eventually, they made it possible to live forever in this imaginary world without ever needing to return to the Melancholy. Wires and cables were strapped to your body as you perched at your computer table, your senses connected with your avatar's everything you ate, drank, felt, touched in this world suddenly felt ten times more real, because it was. There was no need to return. People built themselves up and redefined their reality, shedding skins and never looking back.
They appropriately dubbed this new world the "Unreality." Never was a title so fitting.
"You should've told him your name was Delilah!" the commander cackled, watching the binary scroll down the screen once more. As usual, the redhead stood behind him, her hands clasped together, the perfect image of obedience. "After all, what was his name? Come on, say it for me just say it one more time."
"Samson," the wasp replied, her tone curt. The words felt like a blade on her tongue sharp and painful, to the point where she wanted to choke after uttering them. "His name is Samson." She wanted to ask, Why are you so easily amused by everything? but did not bother she knew better.
At sound of his name, the commander snorted with laughter, spinning his swivel chair round and round as he roared in his own perverse delight. "Delilah!" he called to her, suddenly pleased with this new name for his wasp. "Delilah, this news this data, it's made my day. What did you do, to make him spill his soul so easily?"
She didn't answer, because he didn't really care. On the monitor flashed the man with the honeyed smile Samson and his redheaded squeeze, the commander's wasp. He pulled her close, his lips brushing on her ear, and foolishly, unlocked his bleeding heart to her.
Perhaps the redhead would've felt sorry for him if he hadn't done it with such arrogance. As if there was absolutely no chance that this information would fall onto the wrong ears, as if absolutely nothing could go wrong. The moment he first spilled himself to her was the moment he became the Unreality's biggest fool.
"You have his weakness," the commander drawled. "He practically told you his life story, didn't he? Fucking idiot. You would think that the creator of the Unreality would play by it's own rules, right?" He swiveled back towards his keyboard, fingers quickly typing away, bringing up folders and opening new windows.
"I can't believe he told you it, his True Name. Samson Samson Ettore Stone."
His voice was suddenly serious, but even so, that childish grin was still plastered on his features as he seemed to be searching for something on his never-ending database. He breathed the name under his breath repeatedly, as if he'd loose it. Samson, Samson, Samson it was almost a little tune. It harmonized with beats of his keystrokes, the deep breaths he took, the pinging noises of windows opening and closing at his demand.
"How do you know that was his True Name?" the wasp found herself asking, narrowing her brows ever so slightly. Despite her probing question, her hands were still clasped at her front, her eyes still blank, as if she had no feelings or emotions of her own. "What if he's"
"Because unlike like you, my little wasp," the commander interjected, his eyes still glued to the computer monitor. "I live with one foot in the Melancholy and one foot in the Unreality. I'm not afraid to dig a little deeper and find the ugliness that people hide under their transparent, computer-generated skin."
The commander, unlike everyone else walking in the Unreality, was not a liar. He was a relic of olden times, holding onto the purist belief that, with truth and facts, you could accomplish just about anything but what was scariest about this creed was that it always worked. As a wasp, she had seen 'respectable' men fall, had farmed up the dirty truth hidden amongst pretty gardens of lies. And as a commander, he held every speck of dust close to his computer's heart, saving it for a rainy day, when he'd need it the most.
As if on cue, the computer whirred and hummed, as the man with the honeyed grin finally appeared on it's large monitor. The commander smirked it was a twisted sort of grin that overtook the whole length of his face, like that of a cartoon character's, stretched and distorted.
"Let's see what you're hiding," he breathed, his voice raspy and dry, "under that papier-mâché mask of yours."
A few clicks was all it took to reveal Samson's True Face the face he was born with in the Melancholy, the face that no one here ever saw. There, on the computer's obscenely large monitor was an image that no one in the Unreality had ever been treated to see classified information at it's finest, but it was right here, in his lap. To see an uncensored face others would turn away, out of respect, or out of fear of what horrors they would see (so accustomed they were to beautiful aesthetic, they were) but the commander he reveled in it.
He laughed, a loud obnoxious laugh, like that of a child's, his hand clamped over the mouse tightly, as if he was afraid that he would burst in delight. "Wasp! My little wasp! Look here!" he cried, but she was already looking, although she wished to hell that she wasn't. Where was the man with the honeyed smile? Where was the man who moved with elegant strides, whose body was as lithe as a ballerina's? Gone, was he and she knew now that she could never look at him again without seeing his true face.
The face he hid under his transparent, computer-generated skin.
But it was horrible to judge him, she knew. Because underneath her own mask lay a much more gruesome person, one that no one would dare to look at, except for those close to her, long since dead by now
"What will you do," she asked silently, looking up at Samson's face with lifeless eyes, "now that you know?"
Her question brought the commander's shrill laugh to a halt, and instantly, he seemed to sober in expression. His grip on the mouse loosened, and that grin plastered on his face was a little more tame, but that did little to hide the scheming devil trapped inside him.
"Blackmail," he muttered simply, minimizing Samson's face, going back to the safety of his binary and code. Still searching, the redhead realized, for the commander was never satisfied until all of the facts were safe in his hands.
"A True Name is the key to any and all information the Unreality has stored on him. It matters not if he is in control of this pixilated paradise it was be his serve as both his power and his poison, at the end of the day. And when he realizes who is really in control of the information flow around here he will succumb. And he will hand the keys to the Unreality over to me."
She should've expected something like this. It made sense for the commander to have ultimate control over his one love in this universe. How would it feel, to sit on this computer and know that he was literally the center of this world? That feeling of total control
"What will you do," she found herself asking, "when the Unreality becomes yours?"
His fingers froze, and the comforting sounds of his fingers stroking the keyboard was muted, causing the room to go eerily silent. Slowly, he spun towards his wasp, cocking his head to the side.
"I'll shut it down," the commander laughed, his voice shaky with excitement. "And force everyone to live in the Melancholy forever. There will be no more pretending no more lies and masks From that day onward, I'll have everyone drown themselves in the truth."
And he smiled again, but this time, for once in her life, the wasp was truly scared.
In the course of her short life, the wasp had been many things. A charlatan. An informant. A slave. An anonymous. But one thing she had never been was a deal-maker. Since the beginning of time, way before her days in the Unreality, she had always been the type to watch from the sidelines, keep her head down and follow orders, because it was much easier to be an obedient dog than a courageous lion.
Somehow, she had ended up here, standing across from the man with the honeyed smile in the highest tower in the Unreality his office. It was a plain, inelegant room with little furnishings spread about it. A small, wooden analog clock sat above his swivel chair, while a long aquarium was perched to their right. Koi fish swam lazily in the tank, while a hermit crab scuttled about the graveled floor, looking for it's shell.
"This is unlike you, Charla, to seek me out like this. Usually, I'm the one calling you."
He smiled a little, offering her the seat across from her, which she took, but not before hesitating. Her face was lifeless, as it was when she was with the commander try as she may, the redheaded woman could not find the temptress within her, the one that made him so relaxed, so calm the one he had spilled all of his secrets to.
She folded her hands and set them on the table, her gaze stern and serious. "I need the keys to the Unreality."
His brows furrowed, no longer amused. It was almost strange, to see him turn from giddy and relaxed to tense and poised. Like a jaguar, he came out with all of his claws unleashed. "What's the meaning of this?"
"If you do not give the keys to me, you will have to surrender them to someone who threatens the very livelihood of the Unreality itself. Someone who has all of your information. Someone who knows your face."
"Your True Face."
A pregnant pause overcame them as he realized just what she meant. Slowly, all of the puzzle pieces came clicking together as he worked out all the information she was shoving in his direction someone who knew his True Face, someone who wanted the keys to the Unreality and this mysterious woman, who was able to sit in front of him without an expression riddling her face at all.
" You're a wasp."
To hear him say that almost hurt almost. But she remembered that any memories they might've shared together were not real if anything was truly real underneath this dim grey sky. She clenched her hands together a little more tightly, as if trying to anchor herself onto the task at hand, rather than focus on the words coming out of his mouth. It was true anyway she was a wasp.
But she was the only wasp to ever fly away from the hive.
"The person who threatens you and the Unreality would shut it down permanently. He means to remove everyone's masks. And for people like you the masks that the Unreality have given us is something we cannot live without."
Samson bit his lip, furrowing his brows. "And what would you do?" he wondered with a small, delirious laugh. "If I give the keys to you, won't he just blackmail you? Won't he just take the keys from you and stop our masquerade?"
Oh, she had thought of this thought of it as she had taken the tram down here, looking up at their pixilated grey sky. She liked to think she knew the commander better than anyone else, and vice versa, all things considered. While she was anonymous under his control, such invisibility was only possible because he held all of her information.
Easily, he could reveal her True Face to the world. Nothing would stop him, except getting the keys and holding them in his hands. And if she did that, then everyone would be in the same boat. Lost, faceless, in the world that they had long abandoned
And she remembered her grandmother, asking her every so innocently,
"My beautiful Raspberry, what's wrong?"
"He will try," the wasp muttered in such a small voice, "But he will not succeed."
In the highest tower of the Unreality, it is rumored that a small redheaded woman sits in front of the largest computer monitor in all of this world. She sits, and she watches, consumed by rows of binary and code, blocking out all ailments to their nirvana, striking out those who wish to unravel the secrets of the Unreality, and send their fragile city spiraling down in a puff of code and hacks. She sits there, and she protects them all not because she loves them, but because she knows what it's like to be part of them.
They say that she used to be a terrible hag with horrible moles, zits, body order, and fat hanging off of all her limbs. But like many of them, she traded away her ugliness for beauty, and her popularity for anonymity. She worked under the shadows, digging up gems of truth in their world based of lies, but when she learned a truth too horrendous to stomach, she gave her life to save them all, to protect each and every dirty secret they brushed under the Unreality's rug. Nobody can remember her name, despite it being leaked by a hacker many years ago, as if such knowledge was not meant to be retained by human ears.
Dissenters, they wonder if it's healthy, to live this way. Does this life, shrouded in lies, deserve to be protected by anyone? Is this life, where it is, everyday, a masquerade, one that deserves a martyr for their crimes? As they stew in their sin, it is a question they ponder from time to time, but despite the answer they supply for themselves, nothing is ever done about the girl who sits up in her tall tower. If she is thought of, she is a saint to the regulars, those who take their freedom for granted. She is a queen to the anonymous, those who were freed from servitude to the hackers, free to live their life in the light, or in the shadows, their information strictly their own once more.
But to those hackers those who sought to free the world from the lies its bound itself in, that woman is naught but a plague to the cause. She is the only one obstacle in the way of freedom. The sole barrier that allows the civilians to live in their stifling web of deceit. Solely, she allows them to destroy themselves. And she smiles, because this is what they want.
Because this is what she also wanted, once upon a time