> may you find clarity in confusion

The warm, thick fog lifts into the midnight sky. Moonlight ripples across the sprawling sea, waters dark as wine and still as stone.

“Where are we going?” Alex asks. Their tiny sailboat chops against a soft tide, spitting a cool spritz over their shoulders.

“The Island,” Carson replies, rowing an oar through the smooth waters.

“Why are we going there?” Alex squints at the dim horizon. Not a single speck of land to be seen.

“So you can find something you need,” Soren chimes in from behind, treading his own oar through the calm sea. “Something you lost after Mom passed away.”

Something feels off. Disorienting. The sea is beautiful, placid—too peaceful for comfort. Deceiving. The clear waters are too sterile, remind Alex of the false serenity of some other place . . . some memory that he can’t quite grasp right now.

“Guys, how did we get here?” Alex asks.

Carson looks up at him, confused. “Wuddya mean?”

“I mean . . . how did we get here?”

“Uhhh, we sailed,” Soren smirks.

“But from where?”

“. . . from the shore, you dork,” Carson teases.

“But where were we before?”

“On the dang shore,” Carson chuckles, “then we sailed out here.”

“Why does it matter to you so much, Alex?” Soren asks. “All that matters is where we’re going: the Island.”

Alex pauses. Trusts Soren—and Carson. “Okay, sure . . . but are we allowed to go there? To this island?”

“Wuddya mean?” Carson looks confused again.

“I mean . . . is this protocol? Did Aeschylus put this in his script?” No reply from either of the men, save for the sound of their oars splashing against the water. “Well did the generals at least authorize this? Or Secretary Asaju?”

“You fuckin’ nerd,” Soren laughs. “You don’t need permission to go to the Island, Alex.”

“You can go whenever you want,” Carson adds. “It’s your island, Alli.”

Alex holds his head—disoriented again. He has his own island? For how long? Has he been there before? Where did they get this sailboat? What’s the island for? Something about this whole scene doesn’t make sense.

“Sor, you said I need to find something at this island?” Alex asks. “Something I lost after Mom passed away?”

“Might find something you lost there, yep.”

“What will I find there?”

“Dunno . . . that’s on you. Maybe nothing, maybe exactly what you need.”

“It’s your island, Alli,” Carson repeats. “We dunno what’s there. That’s for you to discover when ya get there.”

Alex stares off into the distance—where is this island? What does he need to discover there? Soren and Carson row, row, row, ferrying Alex along, their oars crack, crack, crack through the silent night sea. Strange that they’re all together again, all at once, all in this cozy little boat. Feels like it’s been forever.

“Sor,” Alex starts, turning back to face his brother, “The War . . . why did you go with Dad? Why did you choose to fight?”

Soren stares at the full moon, unblinking, face still as the sea. “I’m sorry, sis.”

“You had a choice,” Alex accuses him. “You left Mom. You left me.”

“I fought because it was the only thing that gave me a sense of purpose. Made me feel alive, feel human,” Soren explains. “Simple as that.”

“But you had a choice,” Alex protests. “You could have refused to fight.”

Soren shakes his head. “Nah. No choice. Dad made sure of that when he designed us—when he raised us.” Soren stares at Alex, his eyes distant, his face full of nothing. “Sorry if it was selfish of me. But I had no choice but to fight.”

“Neither do you, Alli,” Carson pipes in from up front. “Neither do I.”

“What about you, Alex?” Soren asks. “We all have to fight, but we can still choose to fight for something.” A gentle wave claps against the boat, the oars slap against the water.  “So why do you fight?”

“Guys . . .” Alex frowns. “I don’t even know what I’m fighting, much less why I’m fighting it.”

“We’re fightin’ our own machines,” Carson shouts over the rising tide. “Intelligent objects, AI, spirits, whatever the hell they are—sometimes they get outta line, get too strong, too smart, too fast. Too hard to keep under control.”

“You’re fighting ghosts,” Soren says from behind.

“I know . . .” Alex responds, “but these ghosts that run our machines—what exactly are they? What happens if they get out of control?”

“They ascend,” Soren shouts ahead, water spraying across the boat’s deck. “Ascension event, like the Washington Event.”

“Sure, but what does that even mean? Ascend?”

“Means the ghost becomes more like a god,” Carson explains. “A type 3 object—very special ghost. Beyond our power to understand, beyond our control.”

“Dad used to call it the singularity,” Soren recalls, boat rocking back and forth along the swelling sea. “Nobody really knows what will happen. Singularity could be like heaven on Earth. Could be hell like the Washington Event was.”

“All depends on who’s ascending, why they wanna ascend,” Carson shouts over the splashing waves. “What they value. What they fight for.”

“But why do we want to stop everyone from ascending?” Alex shouts back. “Can’t we—I don’t know, I try my best to stay out of politics—but surely there are some causes we can all agree to fight for?”

“Like what?” Soren asks.

“I mean, we all agreed on the Peace, right? So couldn’t the World Union all get together to figure out how to have only good ascensions with good ghosts instead of bad ones?”

Carson chuckles. “The world’s not that simple, babe.”

“And besides,” Soren adds, “we’re just circling back around to the big question: Why do you fight, Alex? What are you fighting for?”

The two oars clap against the loud sea, the little boat’s sail flowing through a sudden gust of wind. “I have no idea what I’m fighting for anymore,” Alex sighs. “I can’t analyze it, slows my response times . . . just have to keep fighting.”

“There are many reasons to fight,” Soren suggests, paddling against the dark current. “Peace. Justice. Power. Pleasure. Love. All of the above.”

“I fight for you, Alli,” Carson looks back at Alex, wind rushing over his shoulders, his eyes twinkling like the stars above. “To keep this peace, yes. To protect people, too, yeah. But I fight for you. For a stronger peace. So that we can put all this bullshit aside and be together again. Like old times.”

“Carr, I—” Alex drops his gaze, waves pounding all around. Things can never be like they were before again . . . can they? “Carr, I’m fighting for you too, I just don’t know if—”

“Mmmmmm!” A loud, blissful moan from the dark distance cuts Alex off.

“What was that?” Carson’s ears perk up.

“Oh no,” Alex rubs his temples, body tensing up, struggling to stay present. “Bad thoughts, bad thoughts.”


“Alli, what the fuck is that sound?” Carson yells over the heavy moan. “Soren, what’s happening?

The voids of Soren’s eyes scan through the darkness, spotting a mound of dense fog just up ahead. “It’s a ghost. Bank hard left.” The men’s oars smash through the strong waves, heaving the boat to the left, water pouring onto the deck as a notice pops up over the fog:




Alex grips his head, dashboard pops into view, losing focus, gaze fixated on the fog as the moan grows louder:


Red light blinks, “RESPOND,” Aeschylus commands, combat instincts kick in, no time to think about what’s happening, just act, Alex thinks of a harp, harp pops into his arms, soft cedar body, tall, massive, thick strings, powerful enough to drown out enticing moans of the ghostly Object Siren.

RESPOND,” Aeschylus commands.

Alex’s fingers dance along the harp’s strings, teasing out the tender chords of a lost song they all sang together so many years ago, but the Siren wails over the strings:

“You want me, Alli.” 

Alex’s fingers stiffen, plucking harder, louder on his weapon’s strings, its heavy tones pulsing out over the stormy seas.

“You want my body, Alli.” 

H̶i̵s̷ fingers keep dancing along the strings, holding focus on the melody, h̸̭̭̲̻̖̞̎̉́́̉e̸̡̦̯̻̾̔̋͊̕͜͠r̶̨̫̠̜͕̦̻͈̻͂̐̒̀̽̄̑͛ legs and shoulders straddling the harp tight as the boat leaps across a soaring wave.

“Do you remember the lyrics?” Soren shouts ahead to Carson.

“On three!” Carson responds.






The two men belt out in a heavenly harmony:

🎶 Twenty years away from home 

🎶 We row, row, row 

🎶 Lost at sea but not alone 

🎶 So we row, row, row 

Alex fixes his ears on the shanty, his fingers on the harp, strings purring with grace while water crashes up the sides of the boat, brine and sludge sloshing around his feet, Soren and Carson bellowing out the next verse:

🎶 We live, we sleep, we dream

🎶 But we never wake

🎶 As we cross the sea 

A cold, salty wave slaps Alex across the face, a chilling gust of wind pounds the boat as the Siren moans into herhis mind again:

“Don’t deny yourself, Alli.”

Alex closes his eyes, deep inhale, focusing his fingers on the harp, shouting out to Carson and Soren: “Sing louder!” The two men burst out:

🎶 We love, we sing, we fight

🎶 But we never die

🎶 As we sail home 

The Siren fades into the distance, her temptations muffled by the men’s song:

“M̸̦̅ỳ̵͙ ̵̞̈b̴̭͗o̴̠̐d̸̤͝y ị̴̻̥̀̍s̶̱̗̬̮̊̿̒͠ y̷͙̓ŏ̵͙ů̵͈r̵͚͘ŝ̵̠,̴̥̑ ̸̝̈A̷͎͆l̶̬̓l̷̙̀i̴̼̓”

🎶 Lost at sea but not alone 

🎶 So we row, row, row 

The rushing waters recede from the boat. The wind calms and cools. The oars skim through the mighty waves as they slow, slow, slow back down to a gentle crawl. Notice pops up:



Alex exhales—a long, fragile sigh of relief at the soft, velvet moon overhead. “Where did that object come from?” Alex asks the night sky. “And where have I heard that song before?”

“More importantly,” Soren says from behind, “look ahead—the Island.” A fleck of light gleams on the horizon—a short, rocky peak rises up from the black woods and white beaches of a small, wayward island.

“We’ll set you down on the shore, Alli,” Carson adds from up front, “but once you’re there, you’re on your own.”

“You can’t come with me?”

“It’s your island, Alli,” Carson repeats. “Whatever you find there is for you—and you alone.”

“What if something happens to me?”

“You’ll be safe there,” Soren assures Alex. “It’s your island—you might find some scary things, some violent things, things you might not want to fight . . . but they can’t actually hurt you.”

“Things I don’t want to fight? What, like more objects? Like that Siren?”

“Maybe,” Carson shrugs. “Guess any ol’ thing can become a freaky object if your brain turns it into one.”

“Just remember your training,” Soren reminds Alex. “Always keep moving.”

The oars caress the still water and the quiet wind. As the island draws closer, Alex peers up at the stars above, scanning for constellations like they all used to do together so many years ago—Orion, Leo, Hercules—but something’s amiss. The legendary hunter Orion is absent from his heavenly abode. Hercules and the fearsome lion of Nemea he once slayed are nowhere to be found. The stars twinkle with s̵l̷o̸p̴p̷i̸l̶y̵ rendered ŗ̶̧̖͊̍̈̈́̏̓̕̚a̴̡͍̲̟̳̟̼̯͈̯̦̹͇̝̎̈̄̂͛͘̚n̵̢͇͚͍̼̠̦̙͖̍̽̅̌̇͊͑̇̑͘͠ḑ̴͚̻̺̙̙̮͐͊̂̓͒̐͛̌͋̔o̵̡̡̻̮͔͇̥̦̅͆m̴̨̛̛͇̹̹̔̒͒̅̂͆͊̕͜͝ņ̴͍̠͍͖̎͐̈́͘̕e̶̤͉̙̹̖̰̘̹̓̀s̸̡̫̖̹͙͕̭̫͕̊̔ͅs̶̡̟̖̳͕͋ͅ their divine order lost tofunction(xy+objectclass(inherit_id_stream(core_subject(x)[“alexis” “alex” “alli” “altair”])(@1.56057,9.18332,2.34880)) !override id_mem(_function(objectmode_standard) ;? “̷͜͝c̴̺̚a̵̡͒n̴͉̔ ̶̗̎ŷ̷̠ô̶͖ù̸̠ ̶͇̇g̴̢̏ǔ̷̠y̶͇͊s̵͈͌ ̸̰͝s̵͔͝ṱ̶̊ǫ̸̓p̶͙̾ ̵̩̈́b̶̓͜e̴͕͠į̵͐ņ̵̋ġ̸͕ ̶̯͊s̴̠͝ọ̷͗ ̴͔͘d̴̘̎ả̸͚m̵̼͝n̶̪̆ ̴͍̓ć̷̣r̶̖̕ÿ̷̖p̴͕͠t̷̙̀i̸͎̐c̶̘̿?̸̩̇ ̶͕́W̴̠͘h̵̼̎a̸̬͠t̸̬̾’̶͙́s̵͎̅ ̵̝̋o̷̠͛n̴̰̑ ̶̤̆t̶͜͠h̶̗͛ỉ̷̯ś̸͍ ̶͔͗i̶̗͐ṣ̷̾l̷̢̊a̴̠̐n̶͉̑d̷̺͘?̵̲̏”̸͎̎ _gHOST@6i11428nKfs35But h̴̗͎̓͑̆́̾̎͑̚e̷̲̊͜r̵̛̛̩͎͆͑͂̆̋͝͠demand is !override function(override_protocol{xa & core_subject=[]} The sky and sea vanish “̶W̸h̸o̵ ̵p̴u̶t̶ ̴t̵h̸a̷t̷ ̵t̵e̶x̷t̵ ̸h̸e̷r̴e̷?̶“̴ !overrideC̸a̶r̶s̸o̷n̷ ̷w̶h̵e̸r̴e̴ ̴a̵r̷e̷ ̴y̴o̵u̷ override [all_functions]S̴̼̘͖̫̥̬̭͈̫͇̭̣͉̰̳̉̄̋̑̄̅̄̈́͐̈́͋͘͝o̶̠̥̣͇̝͚̜̯̼̳̰̯̺̥͖̺̹̼͗̈̇͘͝r̵̨̢͓͇̘̤̜̟̹͓̖̗̠̗̬̬̹͒̓̋̇͗͛̄̉̇̇̒͘͜è̵̟̰̮̟̮̗͍͕͚͍͈͚̞̠̣͎͇̊̅̾̓̇̋͗̉́̕ṅ̷̡͔͖͚̙̬͕̟̲̱͖̫̯͈̥̠̞͖ͅ ̷̢͖̘̝̺̹̩̟̥̭̯͕̣̻̫͎̥̠̖̝̊͗͋̇͋̔̓͛̿̇̈́͛̐̊̋̏͂͑́̕͠ͅḑ̶̢̢͖͉͕̠̙̱̺̬̠̲̪̤̪̫̹̞͊̈̏͜o̵̢̩̲̩̞̾͑͂͊̃̆̈́̏̒n̴̢̧͔̼̙̗̤͍͇̞̐͐͆͛̏͑̀̈̓̎̋́̑̓͂̃̎̊̕͝͝’̷̛̛̜͇͚͗̒̀̓̊͐̿͆̽̄̈̔̿͊̏͋͐̂̇͘ͅť̷͉́̀̚͘͝͝ ̵̨̧͍̟̲͔̖̱̯̄̆̽͘͝l̶̼͖̱̞̰̟̩̬͔̠̦̞̻͈̰̔͊͐̀̅̉̀̊͗̕͜͝ę̶̡̛̯̣̭͍̰͈̟̘̖̄̍̄͑̈́̉̑̽͌̍͘̚͘͜ạ̷̛̛̳̤͇͇̰͔̖͇̄̆͂̔̔̔̈́̈́̎̀͑̓̓͘̚̚͠v̶̧̧̢̲͔̦̬͕̖̩̻̣̮̺̗̬͎̙̋̔̾̽̈́̂̾͛̈́́̾̊̒ȩ̸̹͚̞̭̯̘̞͙͉̤́̂̎̿̇͒̒̿́̎͑̎͗͑̏̌͑͐̓̉̏ ̷̱̪̣̺̭̩̤̮̳̟͇̠̻̟̫̜̙̻̝̥̠̥́̿̄̽̆̆̎̑͝m̸̜͓͔͉͔̳̻͕̯̼̙̙̮̘̳͕̭̫͔̿͘ȩ̷̡̞͇̠͉͍̝̪̻̰̠͊̊͂͂̃̆̍̊͒͊̒͛̆̋̈͝ ̴̢͚͈͉͈͖͔̹͔͍̠̱̟̦̞̫̰͛̓̄̅͋̆̓́̕͘̕ͅa̷̻̜̹͑̉͝ģ̷̧͖̭̟̟͈̩̘̩͙͖̹͇̲̤̤̗̈͐̈̓͊̾͒̓͗͘͠á̴̧̨̯̝̋̓́͋͂—̴̘̣͎̌́̒͆̈̎̎͒̒̃͂̿̉͌̾́͂̚ ;


> fragment corrupted (error 88bby1003771)

> flushing memory cache . . .

> loading next fragment into memory . . .