Quia Sum, Cogito: Chapter 12

this is approximately a 43 minute read.

On the Rulership of CapDems

In 2039, like many other countries of the world, the US was verging on social collapse. Its identity was in flux, a quarter billion starving and without water due to crumbling supply lines, ⅓ of the citizens unhoused with no communal stability, and – with minimal product demand – the economy dissolved into silent corporate warfare. The people were desperate for hope.

Enter the charismatic demagogue, Joseph Relder, who unapologetically espoused a dictatorial philosophy, unprincipled populous appeal, and coined the familiar phrase “Integrity With Function”.

Among the multitude of myths surrounding Relder, one of the more substantiated is that his manifesto was manufactured specifically to narrativise the most uniting fear of the day which was superficially believed to be the cause of national instability: the hidden remnants of the recently discredited Republicans (due to their juvenile attempt at neo-fascism) were blending into and corrupting society. Regardless of this and all other claims of how he gained his massive public support, it doesn’t really matter. It may never be known if his was a persona created to vapidly appeal to a desperate populace or an authentic believer in the unfalsifiable conspiracies and conclusions espoused in his horrific rhetoric. What does matter is that he had a uniquely unparalleled skill when appealing to an audience for support while also ruthlessly removing those that he saw as an obstacle/traitor. His support at the beginning was overwhelming: for a ruined people, the commitment and unreasonable assurance that “we deserve more” won him the presidency through a democratic landslide. Even at the time, those stable enough to avoid the national fervor were warning that this was another attempt at the fascism which was attempted 10 years earlier, but this was easily – and problematically – discarded since the rhetoric was in direct alignment with the traditions of the United States.

Relder inherited an office that was on the brink of the climate war and was threatened by a public that was demanding salvation or revolution. Those that still are loyal to his vision claim that he had no choice in what happened next: partitioning the government through antagonism to ensure his singular control, the coordinated massacre of the those that prioritized and advocated for the virtue of democracy, the use of prisoners (still technical slaves) as unwilling live human test subjects and making it illegal to be “poor” which replenish the supply. The ruthless assault of weaker countries and total acquisition of resources brought the country prosperity while the rest of the world was driven into further desperation causing local unrest to explode globally. In 7 years there were undeniably more humanitarian atrocities performed than any other time in history (not to mention the non-human suffering further perpetuating the Climate Conundrum). In the dissolving United States; 1,329,967 were submitted to – by all accounts – indescribable horrors that were personally approved by Relder himself. But the result was undeniable: the R.E.L.I.E.F. (Respiratory and Endocrine Limiting Integrated ExoFrame) mk1.

In addition, to the superiority of military technology, R.E.L.I.E.F.’s implementation allowed soldiers to environmentally adapt for the remaining year and a half Relder was in power. The U.S. military easily dominated the globe with relatively no opposition and implemented puppet governments that were subservient to the Capitalist-Democrat Party’s cause. It has since come to light that the main method for ensuring that this new technology didn’t fall into enemy hands was to create a dead man’s code: if a randomly generated pin (which was only provided by the Pentagon) couldn’t be input daily or when the device was removed; the tech would weaponize the user’s energy, making them into an unwilling living demolition as a final forced sacrifice in the name of patriotism. It was mainly due to the Universalist Emancipation (2047) – in which a domestic insurgency led by the Consensus anarchists upturned the government – that the spread of Relder’s legacy was stopped. By all accounts we would now be living in a world with a permanent and self-sustaining governance reflective of the CapDem ideals if the week’s revolution hadn’t succeeded. It should be noted that in the aftermath, supporters of CapDems still remained, many attempts to replace or immortalize the leader continue to be fought against.

It was only after the execution of the Great President and the replacement of every person in leadership did it come to light: the solution to humanity’s existential demise had already been developed. Was the development of R.E.L.I.E.F. worth it? If we could change the past, would we? Is survival self justified at any cost? These questions haunt humanity. And our inability to answer it haunts us more.

Identifying the Bias of History – Gorner and Stipple – published June 15, 2063

Even behind closed eyes, the AugRel indicates that the trolley is approaching. Tuning back into the current world, I see the automated streetcar approaching along its regular path. Since the environment is more amenable to non-human inhabitants than that of the Neutral Territory, there is more of a chance that the random field mouse or squirrel will cross the trolley’s path causing it to temporarily jolt to a halt. For that reason along with the irregular terrain, the trolley travels slower in this region than it does in other areas.

The south route is consistently less busy than the east lines. Unless you are purposefully going to the southern edge of the township region, the other options are more efficient. The rest are more direct routes to the central hub which resides at the core of the metropolis. With exception of the southern edge, anyone wanting to venture anywhere in the city (including those that have been tasked to assist the capDems) will need access to that transportational epicenter. So it’s a bit surprising that a few others have gathered, waiting while the meandering metal streetcar approaches. I acknowledge them in turn, making an effort to look at them directly after I was prompted by a social cue.

When the shuttle does finally pull up, the current passengers nearly completely unload. Being that this is the last stop on this branch and is the closest to the mall the exodus is unsurprising. Many of these people are from outside of the community, so the looks I receive of slight discomfort are a bit surprising until I remember that today I chose to make myself up to be aesthetically confrontational. It’s a bit of a reassurance that – in general – their auras are significantly dimmer than those that reside here.

Something that I perpetually notice when I compare the outsiders to those that appeal to the Consensus philosophy is how much the clothing is in contrast. While not obvious within the insular groups, when intermixing the contrast is clear: The increased radiance of the auras correlates almost directly with how durable, worn, and tarnished the clothing they wear is. It may not be completely accurate since there is so little I’ve seen concerning the link, but the belief that the aesthetic desire to look nice would link directly with a civil understanding of what “goodness” is makes sense to me. In short, they believe “cleanliness is next to godliness”. The inverse makes sense as well: if you value people by respecting who they are in spite of their appearance, the value of the aesthetic would be more practical; rejecting garb that is easily torn or are susceptible to destruction through common use. When looked at through a historic lens, this is further justified with how the nobles of the past prided themselves on a more vulnerable attire that was more expensive to upkeep, giving more credence to the parable of “the emperor’s new clothes”. The thought passes as the final rider departs and we begin to step on.

The AugRel indicates the different locations in the cab for optimal travel based on the different experiences I would prefer for the day. I move to a seat which intersects the “conversation” and “study” zones. For the majority of the trip, I take the opportunity to virtually look through the different avatars I captured during the morning announcements while others close to me socialize. Further away, there are some in the front that are focused on media and the back taking in the morning ambiance. 

Most of those that spoke up during the critique of CoDaS are simply critical about the way the AI operates. The majority of the small group could be quickly identified as those that are having a harder time with the water shortage and their critique was the voice of that general discomfort. The few that don’t have a public file default to being categorized as part of this group to be checked on with the rest. I push them to the general pool that will be responded to by members of the Empathy Squad which have had similar life matches.

Almost all of the others have been outspoken or borderline militant against the CapDems but aren’t a current concern to the community. As I review their correspondents, more than a few have suggested that CoDaS is a “covert fascist program used to ensure their institutions remain unopposed”. For these, they sympathize more with the call of “Decap the CapDems” than “from-to-forall”. This group of reactionaries is small, but growing. If the growth trend continues, they will threaten the social identity unless the community actively reigns them in. But for now they offer a necessary radical voice to ensure that we are always reminded that the opposing government is an ever present threat.

Then there is Beth and Kletus. Kletus was of course a known disrupter which we still have no answer for. His is a tragic dogmatic belief that the Consensus opinion is being manufactured by CoDaS. It causes the belief that no one can be trusted except his wife, Lina. Lina on the other hand seemed to be growing more adjusted to the culture by the day. Due to the traditional expectation of their marriage, he owns her and leaving would be society looting what is currently his. So leaving is not an option, and the increasing divide between them is seen as both betrayal and theft. There isn’t really a path to take but solitude and a self inflicted victimhood due to beliefs that construct part of his identity. So the conclusion is that of a trapped animal: he lashes out. I’ll need to check up on him tomorrow to help the couple find some type of resolution. The evaluation of their stress is approaching the Fracture Limit again.

Beth is new to me, but others have issued reports to build off of. The profile indicates a “philosopher king” tendency. While it’s a natural urge to indulge in our perception bias and believe that our conclusions are more correct than the wisdom of the crowd, the willingness to act on it shows a contrast to the social expectation. It makes sense that it would inspire an accusation of CoDaS as being nothing more than a program. If it is able to prioritize humans better than we can prioritize ourselves, it means that people like Beth couldn’t be benevolent dictators in a shared reality, so CoDaS is a threat. We will have to keep an eye out to see how this develops – and I categorize the profile so more will independently evaluate the case.

When I get done, the trolley has gotten slightly more crowded and the stop we just pulled up to has a few more people coming on. It’s still one stop to go until I need to get off so I take in my surroundings. Straight across from me are some familiar faces that I didn’t notice getting on: Taylor and his son. The father’s desire for identity reference still rubs me wrong, but it makes more sense in this situation. As I understand it the gender designation allows him to feel more sure of himself if thought of as a guy. Personally it just seems like lingering cultural dogma that “men are in a more comfortable position” that we could have long moved past, but it’s a better reason than most. The aura of them both tended to be toned down compared to the norm within the Equilibrium Zone, but higher than the Neutral where they reside currently.

“Hey Taylor. It’s good to see you.” The eye contact social hint appears and the effort I make to focus on the person isn’t reciprocated as he continues to take in the morning outside. The presentation was that of more formal clothes (clearly and convincingly meant to disguise the feminine body) than typically, “Are you working at the CapDem campus today?” The question wasn’t meant to be hostile or negative, but it tends to be the default tone when referencing the self proclaimed “governing” institution this side of the river.

The response was unexpectedly terse, “Yes. But I have to get Samuel to the Academy first.” There is an annoyance that I’m not ready for. It seems directed – at least in part – at me, but there is no context.

Instead I shift the discussion and gaze to the child. “And how is Samuel today?”

After a slight side glance at their guardian, the preteen responds: “We were a bit rushed today, I caused us to be running late. Dad also has a worse migraine than usual,” his look is that of an apology for the guardian’s crass response which causes a shift from Taylor. “Other than that though, everything is good! I’m looking forward to school today… We are supposed to be talking about cultural analytics!” and he starts to bob in his seat, obviously excited about the topic.

Before the unneeded social hint of engagement appears, I give him a slight bit of a manufactured surprise to show how impressed I am with the topic. There is a fleeting sense of pride that I anticipated the expectation correctly. “Wow! I… I didn’t learn anything about that until I was… 18? How was that topic decided?”

“It happened yesterday when we were talking about history! About the Roman Empire and how religion and technology and how they built on each other,” the child started shaping the air with his hands and dividing it trying to capture what was being talked about, staring at it intently to focus on the memory, “how aqueducts, lead to stability, which lead to questions, which lead to demands, which lead to fighting and expansion. And then someone asked about why people can’t just get along. And then my friend Aki said that was a stupid question which broke the rule about being nice. So -” with a sudden halt, the child stopped and looked at me. There was an immediate look of embarrassment, before sitting on their hands and finishing, “it was the homework we were assigned.”

I would like to think that seeing my smile made the embarrassment less shameful, but I’ve begun to doubt my ability to communicate without explicitly telling people: “That sounds like it was a really eventful day.” The kid nodded without looking back at me. It was an attempt to hide from sight, so I turned my attention back to Taylor, who was fighting to be happy about the exchange. As I did I realized the stop for the neighborhood I was visiting was coming up.

Taylor engaged before I said anything, “I’m sorry for being snappy. Just loud sounds are a bit much today.”

I check a bit deeper into the profile, “Technologic dysphoria?” Taylor nodded obviously still in a bit of pain. The twofold conflict with their natural state and that of social expectations makes me wonder if there is a link. Could the realization that his female biology wasn’t naturally in line with how he saw himself socially also force the subconscious acknowledgement that the technology was also problematic? Or maybe it was the other way around… that inherent pain caused him to misidentify the source and attribute it to gender? Maybe there is no link, and he’s just unlucky. Assuming the final guess would lead to more validation and respect, so I’ll assume that, “Have you been checked out?”

“Yeah. They are going to exchange my BioWear today. Otherwise, taking Samuel would be out of my way and he could go alone. I’m hoping it will help.”

His demeanor shows obvious discomfort and nervousness which is completely understandable. There is a known phenomena in which people updating or downgrading their BioWear go through an unexpected and unforeseen shock. The stop is coming up so I start to stand, and as I do so I start to look up a study about people describing what they had gone through. Half way through the memory, the trolley started to shake and the AugRel came up with a warning message:

Earthquake. Please find stability.

So I sit back and finish remembering the article and briefly look through it to ensure it is right: “one person mentioned that it felt like ‘having part of your soul taken away. I didn’t know I had an attachment to it until it was gone. But now that I’ve adjusted to my new one, I’m happy I had the procedure done.'” With the shuttle still shaking underneath us, I look to Taylor who has braced his son to add some extra (and unneeded) safety.

“Taylor, I think this article may help you. I hope it goes ok today,” and with a flex of my neck I send him a request to share the article which is accepted and there is an indication that it’s sent. For a moment Taylor’s eyes focus on the void of space that now must be filled with the information.

Curiosity mixed with confusion gives way to appreciation as the earth stops trembling, and I get up. As I leave, I hear Taylor say, “Thank you Kyle.” And I look back as Taylor nudges his son which also says “It was nice talking to you,” accompanied by a – still slightly disgraced – smile. I turn fully around to throw up the Consensus hand tag while offering a smile back: first two fingers as if it was a peace sign, then almost immediately after four fingers on the other hand, and finally opening up both hands and spreading them out as if welcoming an embrace before slightly bowing. From-t[w]ofo[u]r[ ]all. Without getting up, Samuel does the same as a send off, and I turn again to exit the car. 

As I step off, there is only one person waiting to get on. I don’t have to look to feel the radiation of palpable loathing emanating from the void of a human being standing just out of my path. The aura – which I’ve come to expect to some extent on everyone – is missing from the anthropomorphized object psychically trying to murder me. I try not to pay the emotive husk any mind as I walk past and move to the collection of houses behind, but I can’t help to think that this is an embodiment of everything we are fighting against. A personalized normality, a dogmatic appeal to civil passivity, an inheritance of institutional identity, a rejection of self critique and sympathy for your fellow man. This is a Descian through and through… a believer that they hold the truth of the world and would rather hate and fear that which causes any doubt. Tendis initially warned about these followers of Descartes, believing that their thought alone brought them free will and individualism, incapable of seeing that their hubris destroys the very aspect that allows them to be unique. He – which can be said with all the indoctrinated meaning that that holds – will die defending the systems that HE depends on, because HE is not separate from it.

Walking down the unusable broken road, I hear the trolley pull away behind me and I allow myself to act on the loathing and disdain to steal a glance at the departing vehicle; happy to have increased distance between me and the passerby. An ad (a remnant of the early efforts to increase social cohesion that brought about the Blanket Noria) draws my attention to one of the donation bins. This seems to be an exceptionally popular point of resources for the urban nomads, currently needing to be restocked. I access one of the deeper layers of the logistical expectations to see if the concern is being addressed by others in the Consensus (it is), but that leads me to consider the logistic dependencies we take for granted.

At the height of Capitalistic Governance when the corporations were the most stable, it coincided with the most dehumanizing period of history. In order for humans to prove their worth, they needed to outpace the automation that was quickly usurping all the jobs, and since the profit motive outweighed human lives, social safety nets that mitigated starvation allowed human resources to be siphoned to corporate pools which were lost to the community. The rich were ignorantly praised by those without self agency for their “willingness to save everyone from unwise governance with their kindness and economic benevolence”. The historical propaganda makes me sick thinking about how well it was used to enslave people. During the time artisanship was lost in favor of cheap, disregardable, replaceable products that were caked with aesthetics to offset their poor quality. It’s since come to be known as the Starbucks Effect named after a popular chain restaurant of the time. I sigh with relief, as I consider my luck that I don’t live in that world.

The neighborhood I enter into is an older one, and it is impressive how well it has persisted considering; most of the surrounding areas have succumbed to nature due to neglect but the repairs here are fairly new and robust. The streets and yards seem absent of people, a shame when you consider how much land is wasted just for a status symbol of “ownership”. Very few have gardens that could be used for the public stockpile. I reference some of the subdued data on the AugRel and realize that this community is known for their individualism, which frames the rest of the oddities and now it all makes a bit more sense.

While some of the houses are clearly in disrepair, the neighborhood seems to have taken the opportunity to create a local year round permaculture with some of the otherwise neglected spaces. While checking if there is any public food (it seems that the neighborhood creates excess likely to help provide for the urban nomads), I also check the history of this area to see why there would be such a seeming conflict between the local individualism and the community consideration. I realize my assumptions are completely wrong. The gardens and resource bins were set up by CoDaS and consensus activists as a strategic point of influence. At one point the local community went as far as trying to raze the community gardens which caused the urban nomads to stand in united opposition driving some of the local residents to more protected neighborhoods. I gather up some spinach leaves and add them to my bottle for later before looking at who I will be visiting first.

There are three in the area that need to be checked on: the first used to be part of the CapDem community before they were kicked out. The second is someone with a pretty severe but controlled case of dissociative identity disorder. The last is a regular checkup from someone that is recovering from an amputation. I pull up the data that we have for each one to see what is expected.

The first will likely be easiest, the family (Ralph and 3 kids) have been trying to find a place in the consensus for a while, but while there is still a potential kink based threat, that can’t happen. The safety score – which helps the urban nomads to identify safe shelters if need be – has been steadily increasing, but is still lower (6.27) than needed to be identified as a “safe” house. Last evaluation it seemed that there were still some control issues but – in general – it’s improving. There is a requisite for another therapist which needs to be evaluated.

I dread the second appointment. Even though there is a combination of an exceedingly high safety score (9.72) and never any specific issues with this system; it’s still disturbing to see the transitions happen in real time. For people like this, it really makes me wish these interactions didn’t require personal visits. Off and on, there is an attempt at virtual checks, but for various reasons they always seem to be less productive. A big one is the micro-responses that can be picked up on in person but lost for virtual avatars which ensure that subtle information isn’t being neglected. Regardless, I dread the conversation.

The last will be nice. I believe this is the same one scheduled to help in the potluck tonight. I’ll have to verify that the calendar is accurate. It also seems that it’s a member of a traditional family (the wife being the one that I’ll be checking on). They seem to have been having issues since the husband was found to be infertile. I’ve never appreciated the marital dynamic that she has with her husband. It is an institution that references the old myths of Christianity, slavery, ownership, and coercion; and it is hard to move past for those that accept the lifestyle. It may serve to help though since both are scheduled to take part and it seems he works on the CapDem satellite office currently. Considering everything it’s unsurprising that the couple’s safety score is near non-existent (2.10).

As I start moving to the house of the first location across the street: a two story home with obvious ongoing projects, all seemingly intended to address the obvious decay. Before I’m able to remember the history of the house and the previous residence, I notice that it’s temporarily vacant. A note has been pinned specifically to me (the “ambassador”): Will be out for 20 minutes. Be back soon. Apologies. This should have been anticipated by CoDaS. “Hey. Why isn’t anyone here?”

“Ralph had a momentary panic attack and needed to settle himself before your visit. His kids have been relocated in anticipation of the discussion. I would suggest coming back to him.” When CoDaS makes errors like this, it undermines the confidence that it is accurately managing everything. I consider saying something, but – in the end – society keeps spinning so I let it go.

I look down the lane to the next house and start walking towards it. Relative to the rest of the scenery, it has a decent presentation: the house is the standard one story and has been insulated from the foliage. Any degradation from age has been blended with the rest of the structure so it doesn’t look dilapidated. The surrounding space has a fair amount of personal grade wind turbines and solar cells to feed back into the power network – more than the other houses. Those are set apart from the other shaded regions which surround the rest of the residence. All in all very welcoming, which I can’t help to see as a facade from the altered reality and potential existential horror I expect to encounter within. I spend the approach stealing myself for what’s to come.

I read through the synthesized previous encounters entered into the Help Network to prep for the confrontation:

The main identity of the system inside is Charline which has endured sexual trauma decades ago leading to a split of personalities. As such the prime personality tends to take a suppressed role until strangers are thoroughly vetted. The other identities take their duty as protector very seriously. How they respond depends on the needs of the moment, all with their own strengths and very much with their own unique personalities. Disrespecting that separation will generally lead to the system disrespecting you. The main two expected to be encountered are Lilith and Franklin. Lilith (like Charline) both are heavily into Christian mythology gaining much of their identity through it, believing to take on different roles (the first wife of Adam and the general “spirit of humanity” respectfully). They both try to pull Franklin into the narrative as well, believing him to be the Devil – the spirit of rebellion and freedom. In the belief they’ve all lived multiple lives and have killed Yaldabaoth (the false God of Christianity – also known as Yahwey) in the process. Franklin, being that of disorder, is believed to have committed atrocities that the rest of the system blames him for, but Franklin – being a materialist – rejects the atrocities putting him in conflict with the others.

Note: in spite of their protectionist roles – none have ever been physically violent.

 The description only causes more angst, especially being that the reason for the visit is to help address an additional personality. One that may possibly be considered threatening.

I knock at the door and a friendly higher voice welcomes me in, “It’s open”. I open the door and cross the threshold.

“Hi, I was told you wanted to talk to someone about… er…” I don’t even know how to start talking about the situation. The inside of the house is very welcoming: the flow of space is well constructed and ordered, the shelves are accommodated with ornaments and books which are kept clean. While not wild, there are potted plants that accent the corners where no one has any reason to walk, giving it an earthy and natural feel. The only indication of any of the underlying delusional mythos is rare and beautiful pictures of the Christian Creation story framing an androgynously attractive creature (typically identified as Lucifer) empowering a darkened womanly figure (typically identified as Eve or Lilith). The ArgRel identifies that these were used to usurp the Christian Nationalist’s myth and convert it to femininity in the early and mid 2000s.

The first room (the typical living space) is adjacent to a kitchen directly in front of me. The portal between the two rooms is an opening in the wall with the only indication of separate rooms being the floor (wood on my side and tile in the kitchen). To the left is a hallway leading to other rooms. From the other side of the wall, the voice responds: “Oh! You’re the analyst? I didn’t expect you until later! Come in!” The person which moves into my line of sight for a moment wears loose casual clothes that are generally unisex, but clearly cut to fit the feminine presentation.

I would have been set a bit more at ease considering what I was primed to encounter except for the aura surrounding the form: darker than neutral, causing the surrounding area to be cast in shade. Trying to suppress the caution I felt, “Is now a bad time? I could come back.”

“NO! Of course not! This is fine. Thanks for coming! I’m Lilith.” I am waved in, as the form retreats back behind the wall to where the food preparation is taking place.

I followed, introducing myself, “Kyle. How are you doing today?” As I move into the new room, I’m met by the person wielding a knife, cutting a tomato into slices, with cheese and bread already prepared.

“Doing well today. It’s been a bit of an adjustment to find how Joshua will fit in with everyone. I’m sure that’s why you’re mainly here?” Thinking back on the Christian lore, there have been a few Joshuas. None seem to fit as one of the “main characters” though as the rest seem to be.

“Is Joshua, the…” I took a second to try to find the right wording, “newcomer?”

“Oh… he’s always been here,” they used the knife as a pointer waving it at some abstract mind in the sky, “Up until now he’s been lost in the chaos between worlds, so he’s still getting his bearings. But yes: he just recently found how to express himself.”

“Part of the evaluation is trying to ensure that no one has issues that are being overlooked. We have a census that we like people to fill out if you wouldn’t mind.” The census is the main method used by the Consensus to ensure people aren’t being neglected. It has a series of questions to identify if anyone has known issues, most of which are basic: perpetual hunger, physical safety, heat anxiety, safe living conditions, etc; others more emotional: unidentifiable angst, lack of hope, or general loneliness. Then there is also a free response question for all the other issues that are unaccounted for. These are all processed to see if any demographics can be established regarding common plights so a representative can be given a voice with influence regarding their problem area.

She stopped cutting for a moment and tapped the blade against the cutting board in thought. “Would you want each of us to fill one out? Or is this just for Charline?”

It was an odd question that I’d not encountered before. I know for a while there was an issue with people trying to weigh the system by submitting multiple reports which made their concerns seem more numerous, but there have been normalization practices for a while to offset that. “It’s whatever you feel more comfortable with. If each personality wants to add to the discussion, I don’t see an issue with it.” I’ll have to ask at some point if the Aggregate Program has accounted for this, and I twitch some muscles to add a reminder for myself while I pull up the form and send it to Lilith.

She takes a moment to look it over and then goes back to cutting. “We can do that. Speaking of… I believe Franklin may want to talk to you a bit about some problems that have been bothering him. He’s having a hard time adapting to Joshua. Are you up for talking with him as well?”

“I can talk to both of them. Do you have a preference of who I talk to first?”

The welcoming smile and dark ambiance took about two seconds to shift. The face hardened becoming more serious, and the shadows casually got more bright until the body started to radiate slightly with a brighter aura. The host shifted into someone less welcoming and more solemn giving the air of gritty authenticity. As the new personality resumed cutting, the previous care and precision of the small cuts were abandoned for skillfully efficient and purposeful thrusts. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk to someone about what’s going on.” The voice dropped almost an octave.

I knew what just happened, but it was still hard to comprehend the sudden shift. “You aren’t Lilith anymore, are you?”

The same feminine features looked up and started to consume me with a stoick and almost scientific stair. It was looking past my appearance, drinking in every twitch of muscle, trying to understand the core of who I was. It couldn’t have lasted more than 5 seconds before the cutting resumed with the same efficient slices that made quick work of the rest of the fruit. “No, I’m Franklin.”

Feeling a bit more on guard, I asked CoDaS via message (so not to say it out loud), should I be worried? while continuing to engage. “What did you want to talk about?” The automated reply was almost instantaneous: No.

“I’m starting to find my place in the psychosis that everyone else believes. It makes sense and I’m starting to see where I fit in.” The worry that is in Franklin’s voice is set in contrast to the calm manner in which it is said. These types of beliefs are so rare that there is very little advice on how to address them, and even less when there is a compiling of mental illness in this way. One of the core beliefs that society adopted from Tendis is that we must have faith that everyone operates in the same reality just with different presentation, but at times like this I’m reminded of the old adage: theory always falls short of reality.

“Can you explain to me how you fit in? If I understand right, the belief is that you’re the devil right?” I notice that I’ve been looking down for most of this conversation when the social cue eye contact appears. I look up to see an effort to present the slices in a layered display. There are glances stolen in my direction as the person moves the cheese bread and tomato from the cutting board to the platter.

“Charline and the rest have it in their mind that I’ve lived multiple lives. First and foremost, I was the one that rebelled against the authority of God and then freed humanity from its enslavement in the Garden. What is never talked about is that all of us killed him and left him there, but his influence has been with humanity and we’ve been on a mission to extract the dogma ever since.” The recitation is that of someone who had long since accepted the telling is both necessary to relitigate and will be odd to hear. But as they bring the platter to the table behind me, the tone shifts from informative to personal, “They think that we are just a vessel for many of the different archetypes in the story and I’m starting to come around. It scares me since that’s at odds with the current existence that I feel has kept me grounded.” As the character begins to sit, a chair is offered to me via an open hand indicating that the snack is intended for both of us.

I sit down on the opposite side of the table, take some cheese, and ask; “well I don’t think adopting others’ psychosis is healthy. You know you haven’t lived past lives, right?” before nibbling on the treat.

“I don’t know. I remember some of them, and especially after hearing Joshua’s experiences, it all sounds much more reasonable. It also doesn’t help that many of the others blame me for past -” there is a pause as the right wording is considered “- well, they think I’ve murdered people in past lives.” I don’t hide my concern as the feminine figure looks away ashamed.

“Have you murdered anyone?” I realize the wording is ambiguous so I amend the question with clarification: “in this life?”

The quick reaction shows that Franklin understands the accusation all too well. The response is an earnest attempt to set the record straight, “NO! Absolutely not! I don’t even like remembering the past lives when it happened!”

It’s a delusion then. One that I cannot let sink in. I try to remain compassionate through the fear, “Then all that isn’t real. All this is just them trying to make you into a monster and you have to remain anchored in reality.”

There is a nod of acknowledgement. In consideration of the claim, Franklin’s nose rests against the fingers in thought, and the voice is muffled as spoken through the one hand, “That’s true. Even if all of what they say is right, this existence is one that we need to embrace.” There is a sigh of frustration as the head shakes, “it’s becoming a conflict amongst us. I don’t know how it’s going to resolve. Especially now that Joshua is here.” All of this is said reflectively, a means of sorting out internal ideas, but now the attention is drawn to me. “Kyle is it? I understand you’re afraid of me… of us… and I know you need to talk to Joshua to evaluate him, but I have to warn you of who he is.”

My fear must be obvious. The bluntness of the announcement and accuracy of my – what I had hoped was – hidden reservation sets me on edge more than anything else had. There is a social clue which prompts me to give an inquisitive look (likely a moment too late, but that is overlooked): response expected.

Franklin takes on a serious tone to fully impose the gravity of the conversation, “Joshua is what many people know as the Son of God… he’s my brother in all ways. He was the one that was crucified.” Oh! Right! Joshua is a rare alternative to the name Jesus. “But they got the story wrong. When he died, he didn’t rise again… not as people understand it. He is the last remaining remnant of the Creator and was lost between existences, in the heart of chaos. He experiences – and has experienced – everything and nothing. He’s still trying to get a handle on this reality and doesn’t have a firm sense of morality. Talking to him will be -” he stops again considering his wording “- unsettling. We aren’t quite sure yet what he… is.”

I message CoDaS again SHOULD I BE WORRIED?! as I ask Franklin directly the same thing, “should I be worried?”

The two responses come back at the same time. No. “Possibly. Just tread lightly.”

I shift uncomfortably in my seat, clearly trusting Franklin more than CoDaS. “Well,” I look at Franklin, realizing that I’m worrying more about me than the personality sitting in front of me who was looking for help, “unless there is anything else you want to discuss?” Franklin’s head shakes with a look of slight discouragement, “then I guess now is as good a time to talk with Joshua as any.”

An appreciative smile of kindness and thanks spreads on Franklin’s face before it and the body’s aura morphs into something new, different, and terrifying. The most obvious change is the surrounding air asymmetrically pulses both brighter and darker at the same time until the AugRel app simply glitches and breaks, leaving a static emanating from the form; disrupting and corrupting everything else in close proximity. In parallel with the diffusion of the surrounding environment, the smile shifts from one of kindness to that of playful consideration. The subdued and self conscious poise readjusts into that of supreme self confidence to the point of hubris that only the worst of the CapDem leadership has been known to adorn. Joshua folds the arms in an air of superiority, with a cocked head of judgment.

In the 8 years I have been visiting with people, I have encountered a vast span of psyches, outbursts, and dangers. You get a second sense for when something is wrong or when something seems off. The situation I currently found myself in was something new. There is an absence of intent behind the eyes, neither malicious nor empathetic. I feel like one of the art pieces being discussed, torn apart by sheer observation and reformed in a different way to be comprehended both exactly how I intended and to be something else completely. In lieu of having some previous experience to know the personality through, I focus instead on the snacks. I take a small piece of bread and put some tomato on it, waiting in silence not wanting to make the first move in the conversation.

Joshua watches me go through the actions for a few moments before doing the same while also adding some cheese. Before taking a bite, the person sitting across from me, in a higher pitch than before, demands to know, “Why would you appeal to Azathoth?” and then rips the small open-face sandwich in half with a single bite. I couldn’t tell if it was just my imagination or not, but there seemed to be a small degree of betrayal behind the question.

The question is an odd one given the context, but it could be a way to unravel the enigma sitting across from me. “It’s less of an actual religion and more of a reminder that all knowledge or objective facts are ultimately unknowable. Only by admitting there is always more to be known can we challenge the truths we depend on today. It’s easy to say this through a secular, atheistic, or secular view; but all those are susceptible to indoctrination. Only by having actual faith that our knowledge is incomplete can we dogmatically reject dogma.”

The worldview is considered before the standard accusation is presented, “so you created a fake god to avoid admitting god is real?”

“No. Azathoth references an actual thing. There is a Truth out there. One that is vast and inconceivable; beyond our comprehension. It dictates reality and every day we strive to get closer to understanding it both for practical purposes and because we want common ground that we can share with others. The name was originally introduced in direct acknowledgement that it is a fictional idea from a weird horror that we can’t fully describe.” Then I add with an attempt to relate to Joshua, “It could be considered the heart of chaos, existing only between the worlds we acknowledge with our experiential understanding.”

The idea is litigated considerately, nodding with approval, “Chaos incarnate. I can understand that. It would mean that it has no morality and doesn’t value life though, correct?”

The immediate jump to that acknowledgement is a bit concerning, so I start to pry a bit, “Yes. Franklin mentioned you were lost in the heart of chaos for a while, can you describe that to me?”

“I can’t. It’s beyond our language. But it does put a new perspective on all this.” There is a flourishing of hands, indicating that all of reality is being referenced. “The mask of reality that we all engage with that was created by the fake god of the old testament which we collectively killed.”

The conversation has shifted from someone telling about themselves and more into the realm of story creation which I wasn’t the least bit interested in. I changed the topic to something more practical which I was hoping would be addressed without pressing it explicitly: “You mentioned that living in chaos will cause you to respect life less. People need each other and depend on each other for cooperative survival. While the world may be chaotic, our society depends on order, on trust. Without that it all falls apart. You understand that right?”

The response was no longer one of thoughtful curiosity, but demeaning mockery. The laugh could have come from either a child or a teacher, both with the same reasoning: a basic understanding was being ignored. “What? No. I expected more from you than that. This world is a fiction and everyone that depends on it will be corrupted by survival and superficial goodness that holds us back from achieving a higher state.” The statement was said with a drawl indicating the intent wasn’t to convince me but simply to explain the way it is. “Empathy is only the past lives of weaker people wanting to be acknowledged. There is no reason to engage in any of that.” My discomfort must have been increasingly apparent as the explanation was given and the question was answered before I asked. “The CapDem philosophy had it right, you know. When you kill god, the only thing left of morality is sociopathy. I’m the manifestation of that separation. I’ve surpassed my father.”

“You are alive though. You have needs which you cannot gather completely on your own.” I said it as more of a desperate plea to see reason than an intelligent rebuttal.

There was an attempt to retort with another self justified claim, but stopped a moment before the sound came out. The righteousness of the face dropped the shield of superiority and for the first time actually considered what was being said. “True. I do depend on this system. I’m not in the heart of chaos anymore. That may cause some problems with remaining enlightened.”

I relaxed slightly knowing that it was possible to find some common ground. “So it follows then that others are just as worthy of respect. Right? They have their own experiences that you can’t know, so they deserve to be considered?”

The audacious air returned and the questions were brushed aside as if swatting an annoying fly. “What? No. I’ve lived their lives. I’ve got nothing to learn from them.”

I was worried that addressing the delusion head on may cause a violent reaction, but I decided to risk it. “You’ve lived my life too I assume?” There was a nod of recognition. “Then tell me about myself.”

“Kyle de NC91. You value the Consensus ideology above all, thinking that it will lead to a world of peace and prosperity if only you can get everyone on the same page. The only child of Gene and Linda Schmidt who dedicated their lives and fortune into stabilizing the region which gained them respect and admiration. You don’t want to disrupt that legacy or bring shame to it so you willingly follow in their footsteps without any consideration for an alternative.” My challenge was starting to fall apart and the accuracy scared me more than any fiction could have. “You have trouble with understanding the nuances of culture and interpersonal relationships so you actively try to mitigate your disability with personal apps that help you to promote the respect that you so crave to see universally applied. A noble goal, but you fear that it is a fruitless effort because there will always be a degree of self preservation in every relationship, much less all of society. So you make an effort to impose yourself onto others exactly who you are such that you will not be misunderstood. You try to do the same to others. That is with the exception of people like me that you cannot fully understand.”

The conversation isn’t done yet, but this is too surreal and my doubt in the psychosis starts to waver. I was starting to understand why Franklin was having such a hard time with keeping hold of what reality actually meant. I stand up as Joshua continues to talk, relaxed, unmoving, watching me flee. “It… it was nice meeting you.”

But the slightly high pitched voice persists as I move to the door, “You have an utter disdain of the CapDems and are starting to wonder if your dependable ally CoDaS has your best interest in mind.” I look back at the feminine form and – in spite of the toned down clothes and the house that would look like a place of peace and serenity – I feel nothing but debilitating fear. I open the door as Joshua says the final words. “You should know – if you are afraid of me, then CoDaS should terrify you.” And the mouth spreads into a simple smile as the diabolic mortal sits back at the table, waves goodbye, and returns for more snacks.

I calmly and desperately make my escape.