YOUTHFRONT will need to take an unexpected hiatus. We should be back during the summer.
Hey, gang! For some reason I got a huge rash of bot followers yesterday. I force-unfollowed the lot of them out of generalized cyber-paranoia. If you happened to subscribe yesterday and coincidentally have an outlook e-mail address that looks like a string of random characters, please accept my sincere apologies and feel free to try again after the bot-wave has passed.
Very sorry for the delay, folks. Christmas was this week and my editing schedule was duly suppressed by what I believe to be a conspiracy of department store Santas.
They got theirs.
Anywho, please check out the newest installment in agent Litework’s storyline. It’s got crow demons, bad trips and everything else you’ll need to shake off that holiday cheer and sink back into your midwinter gloom.
With Brundelzebuub’s latest attack, everything was out of control. Mina’s friend Jereme was wearing the form of a bodybuilder, screaming at the sight before his eyes. The friend he’d boarded our singularium with lay dead at his feet, head burnt and crumpled between Brundelzebuub’s flaming mitts. All around them the singularium was buzzing with chaos as the man-bees short-circuited, losing themselves in a murder frenzy on everything nearby.
I reached for my sugar staff and cursed. The damn thing was locked up back at my apartment, too hot to handle right now thanks to that tracking device Commander Woodward latched onto it. The man… boy? With the crumpled head flickered on the viewfeed. He’d been controlling the bees somehow when Brundelzebuub killed him. That must have been why the man-bees were afrenzy now.
“Shit, Jereme!” Mina yelled. She barrelled towards the doorway. Two man-bees tore into each other, ripping off chunks of chitin plating with their mutant strength. For a second it seemed like Mina could make it past them, but just as she passed through the threshold their frenzy opened up to invite her in. Yellow-bristled hands yanked at her legs and shoulders. The sound of her machine pistol filled the room, all the sounds of a passing train compressed into a single second.
One man-bee lay wasted, burst pseudothorax seeping on the ground. Its remaining eye rolled to and fro as its hybrid nervous system struggled to finish processing its death. The way its body spasmed was entirely insectoid but its cries were… not.
Mina sobbed. The second man-bee tackled her to the ground as she tried to struggle past, soaking her clothes in his dead brother’s blood.
On the screen Jereme was scrambling up the machinery while man-bees and Brundelzebuub raged below. Gouts of flame shot from the demon fly-man’s hands as he struggled against the swarm. Daringly- or just stupidly- Jereme used the security of his newfound perch to pull a hard-drive from his pocket and drop his gloves to the floor. Soon, 1s and 0s were flowing across his skin, trickling out of the walls and into the hard-drive.
Everything was fucked. The man-bee straddling Mina was on her back, trying to twist both of her wrists together in its hands. The machine-pistol weighed on my sternum. Of course I wasn’t a killer. Of course there had to be a better way. Of course, if I’d only had more time…
It was happening. To this day I can feel all two seconds of it mapped on the skin of my hand. The abrupt bite of the pistol grip scraping my palm. Every time my finger flexes, whether it be to type out a memo or tickle a loved one, I feel the weight of the trigger against it. The wave of recoil running up my arm as bullets erupted from the barrel becomes an ingrained rhythm, a permanent counterpoint to my own pulse.
Blood and meat splattered from the man-bee’s back. More yellow goo rained on Mina as her attacker bucked, tumbled, went slack.
She was crying. I was crying. We held each other in the doorway while the man-bees continued to frenzy outside. I pressed my ear as far into her chest as I could. Her heartbeat boomed and her massive hands wrapped my head, but nothing could drown out the sounds of murder.
“We have to keep going,” she whispered. It was unthinkable. I’d just finished making sure she was alive, and she couldn’t just wait here where it was safe. What was all that for? How could she take away even this moment of solace? But when I looked in her eyes there was someone I’d never seen before. The ease and gentleness I’d always taken for granted had been stuffed away. In its place, something grim. Something that wasn’t ready to stop.
Shaking, I pulled myself to my knees. My pistol had scattered to the floor. Mina slid it towards me with her foot. I began to shake my head but she grabbed my arm and pointed at it. Her face showed no anger. In fact, it showed nothing at all.
I picked it up. There was man-bee blood splattered all over it. Looking down, there was man-bee blood splattered all over my arms and legs and torso, probably all over my face as well. But there was no time to worry about that, because Mina had already ducked into the hallway and begun mowing down man-bees. I stood just inside, covering my ears and waiting for it to stop.
“Coast’s clear,” she declared after a moment. Her voice was empty. She might as well have said, “looks like rain” or “yeah, chicken’s fine.” She waited just long enough to be certain that I heard before moving on. I had to follow.
Before that day I’d only ever seen two dead bodies. First was mom, at her funeral. That was hard because I knew her, but at least her death had been peaceful. Then was Dr. Bugman, when Brundelzebuub blew his head off. That was less peaceful, but at the time I was too distracted by my own dread to really take it in.
Here in the temporary stillness of a corpse-filled hallway, there was no filter between the carnage and my brain. It was like old war footage, bodies littering the ground, lifeless eyes staring from wherever they fell. I couldn’t make it. “There has to be a better way,” I protested.
Only now did Mina let frustration enter her voice. “Faye, there’s no time. He’s going to waste Jereme if we don’t move it.”
“The computers… Surely they can figure something out.”
“Maybe if we give them ten hours. Jereme doesn’t have that kind of time.” And with that she’d turned back around, gun at the ready. She didn’t look back.
Not for me. I bailed back into the control room. “Internal Surveillance, keep streams on Jereme, Mina and Brundelzebuub,” I ordered. “External, figure out how the fuck these people got in here.”
My heart rattled in my chest as the sub-singularia projected their video-streams. Jereme had given up on whatever he was trying to do with the hard-drive. He’d taken to kicking away at a pair of man-bees clambering about his perch. Mina drew near him, machine pistol close to her heart. Brundelzebuub had retreated to his throne-room, where he’d paused to feast on the burnt husk of a man-bee.
What the hell was I supposed to do with all of this? The most complicated things we’d been able to get the singularium to construct so far had been the LiteBoat, and that wasn’t exactly good for taking on an army of berzerk man-bees. Worse, the sound of Brundelzebuub’s chewing echoed throughout his throne room. He was disgusting. Brutal. The way he’d crushed that little guy’s head…
The little guy. He’d had some kind of doohickey plugged into his head, the one that Jereme tried to plug into the wall. I scanned the footage. Whatever it was, it still dangled from the singularium wall by its remaining cord although the end going to the little guy’s head had been incinerated by Brundelzebuub’s attack.
“Analysis, is there any way you can figure out what that thing does?”
“Scanning,” the computer replied. Mina mowed down another pack of man-bees in the video stream. Jereme jumped and shouted in response. They must have been close enough to hear each other but they appeared to be in separate rooms. “The device is a pheromonic radio jammer,” it concluded. “It uses radio signals to trigger pheromonal reactions.”
“Can you control it?” More man-bees went down in a hail of bullets. Brundelzebuub tossed a roasted man-bee leg to the ground and approached the throne room exit.
“Affirmative,” Analysis replied.
I took a deep breath. The man-bees hadn’t asked for any of this. But with Brundelzebuub on the prowl, Mina and Jereme were in danger. Surely their being human counted for something. Surely being human made what I was about to do okay. “Seal off the rooms containing me, Mina and Jereme. Then direct all man-bees to swarm Brundelzebuub.”
“Threat histories indicate Brundelzebuub is likely to eliminate many man-bees before dying. Continue?” Brundelzebuub was nearing the edge of his throne-room. Blades of fly and flame curled up from his shoulders.
“Continue,” I commanded. The door to the command room sealed shut next to me. Jereme and Mina’s heads whipped around as they, too, were sealed in. Other rooms and corridors slammed shut throughout the singularium as Analysis and Internal Surveillance attempted to better funnel the man-bees into the throne room. Soon they were swarming towards Brundelzebuub.
I could barely watch the man-bees move. They were mechanical, too-perfectly coordinated compared to the chaotic milling about they got up to most of the time. I hadn’t been sure at first whether or not they were people… but they sure as hell weren’t this.
In a matter of moments they’d swept the throne room, burying Brundelzebuub in an avalanche of bodies. An aura of flame blazed within the pile but the man-bees swarmed with such ferocity that even their burning skeletons proved impossible to get through, the weight of the ones at the edges pressing corpses and dismembered stingers into his body.
Flies swarmed out through the flames and swarmed to choke the marching man-bees but this only added more corpses to the stampede. Yellow blood steamed, then curdled as it rained on Brundelzebuub’s burning head, drenching him in a sizzling layer of golden blood pudding. He screamed, mouth and throat filling with burnt exoskeleton and bubbling ichor.
Before long all that remained was a smoldering corpse which the man-bees began to frolic in like the leavings of a demented pinata. “Stand down,” I commanded. “All man-bees stand down.” A shudder ran through the collective. In a wave of hibernation, the man-bees fell among their dead.
With the man-bees hibernating, I ordered the sub-singularium to open up the area where Mina was holed up. She wandered out into the hallways, gun drawn as she stepped over the dormant man-bees. I intercepted her. “Brundelzebuub is dead,” I said quietly. “I was able to get control over the man-bees. They killed him.”
“Jereme?” she asked.
I nodded my head. “He’s sealed in that room over there. There’s a few man-bees asleep with him, but he should be fine. The sub-singularia are trying to figure out how he and his friend got in here to begin with. We’ll have to talk to him to figure out why.”
“Hot damn,” Mina said quietly. “Sounds like we’ll have this situation under control before too long.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “But what the heck are we gonna do then?”
So, here’s a thing about my writing process for YOUTHFRONT: the world and the relationships between chapters are complex enough that I err towards writing every chapter a couple of months in advance of publication. This gives me time to go back and make edits on immediately preceding chapters based on subtle changes or things that emerge later on.
As a result, I never really know what world a chapter will be born into until I do my final edits for publication.
Today’s chapter was one I had a lot of fun writing, trying to tie together some questions I’ve been asking myself about embracing problematic people and reconciling the fact that someone does good work with the fact that someone has something wicked inside of them.
You can likely imagine how strange it would be to edit such a piece in the wake of our current cultural ‘moment.’ Now that a few influential white men have finally experienced condemnation (if not consequence) for their misbehavior, there’s a huge push to silence victims. People want to shove the genie back into the bottle.
That’s never okay. It’s understandably difficult to reconcile one’s love of a creator or one’s faith in a thought leader with mounting evidence of their misbehavior. Nobody wants to believe that the path to something they love has been paved in part with evil.
I don’t think that’s a problem any of us really get out of, and I don’t think it’s productive to try. Purity is a distraction. Accepting the inevitability that we are tainted frees up the time we would spend convincing ourselves otherwise. Instead, we need to focus on listening to survivors and victims. We need to figure out what we can do to concretely make things better for the people our societal failures put at risk.
I don’t believe in punishment for its own sake. The fabric of our moralities is too absurd and fragile to serve as its own justification for suffering. If someone behaves monstrously, that is a problem to be solved. We should seek to contain and correct misbehavior- not enact cruelty upon it.
At the same time, the rhetoric of ‘forgiveness’ quickly becomes a shield for the powerful. I do not oppose forgiveness in theory. But I do oppose how the rhetoric of forgiveness is only deployed on behalf of those who have already built the structure of our society to defend them. I oppose the fact that America can find its way to forgive a serial abuser when it is politically convenient but fail to forgive even imaginary slights from the people we oppress.
When we magically ‘discover’ our better nature only when it lets us indulge our worse nature, we make a mockery of our deepest principles.
Today’s piece captures some of this, though through a fractured lens. NASCARnage is, like many of us, a man twisted up and confused inside, trying to find the path of least monstrosity. He finds himself trailing a few lost leads along the way. We need not forgive him but it will help us to understand his travels.
Now that YOUTHFRONT is up and running, I’ve decided to resurrect an old project to complete on the side. Feral Melodies is an illustrated bible that my friend and I spent some time developing until our illustrator had to move on to other things. I’ve let it languish for a little while, but looking over my old notes I decided I had to give it another go.
As you can probably guess from the image above, I wasn’t our first pick for illustrator. I am, frankly, pretty shit at art but I’ve decided not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good in this case. Better to end up with an overly ambitious mess than nothing at all, right?
Happy Halloween, readers. I’m very pumped that Chapter 4.3 comes out today. These early chapters were all written over the summer and so it’s pure luck that today’s chapter worked out to include monsters, fast food zombies and seething Gammon Gravy. Give Agent Litework’s latest chapter a look, and please remember to follow or subscribe on social media.