Note: This takes place after the short story “Firewall,” which appeared in Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber – Clay
On Another Planet, Athena Typed:
Monday sits at her computer, penning another Kink Talk column as she tries to find a way to discuss the process of exorcism in terms that her readers would find sufficiently metaphorical. After thinking and stopping for a half hour, she finally settled for:
All the explanations in the world would not convince people who have no sense for the unseen that magic is real and that it affects their behavior. All the same, those people will invest tens of thousands of dollars in degrees that spell this truth out to them in technical language as framing, standpoint, and value priority. Because the knowledge does exist in the mundane mind, but it gets lost in the twisted fumblings of philosophers who don’t hope to dare that their conceptualizations could be made literal and in the arcane discussions of linguists unable to make the leap from conceptualizing the similarities between human language and programming language to using them for the same ends.
The fact is, though, that if you want to speak in the language of the people who will be able to feel magic and you want your lessons to be something they can learn from, you will tell them very little. Instead, you will show them the world as you see it, or as you will see it when your will is complete. Then, and only then, will your audience begin to understand that the reason the grimoire conveys such power upon the student is because it takes so much effort to locate and translate.
She squints at the two paragraphs for a minute before copying and pasting them into another document. That would work well in the urban fantasy about a witch who wrote instructions to her pupils into the internet comic she penned to support herself. It was too on-the-nose for people who understood slaying their demons to be a metaphor for using kinky sex to overcome PTSD.
* * *
Athena looked up from her computer. Her attempts to get a few panels scripted were going nowhere; she was just stuck in a loop where she kept writing the subtext of her comic into her comic. Maybe it was a mistake to make a character whose mission was so close to her own the center of the comic. At the same time, though, if she did not biomythologize, then how would she be able to embed the proper lessons into places where people would act on them instead of analyzing them?
She rubbed her eyes. Too much philosophizing. Not good when writing comics or marketing copy. Time to take a break.
Nico was at the water cooler. Always thirsty, that one. Very thirsty. Poets tended to be, although most of them didn’t profess to be actual time travelers when they got drunk. She got the feeling that Nico was diabetic or something. He even went after water with a vengeance, and he seemed overly preoccupied with the protein content of his food whenever they ordered lunch in to the office.
She shook herself out of her own thoughts. It was never good to run around speculating about other people’s habits. Besides, she had enough trouble writing consistent characters without wasting her creative energy spinning rumors.
“So, have we decided that it’s going to be unethical to write a story for the fandom that claims to be about a writer who uses her platform to teach them magic? Or are you going to go right ahead and hope there are enough people who feed on the camp?” Nico grinned.
Nico always grinned. Something about that was unsettling. A decade ago, she would still have thought he was clocking her, but Nico never knew her before the trach shave and the brow lift, let alone gender confirmation surgery. She had never even bothered coming out to him.
This was just the poet being a poet.
“I’m not sure I’d call any title that brings in enough money to fund dividends unethical if my imprint was benefiting,” she fired back.
Nico looked stung. She wished she had not said the thing, but it was out there. Maybe Ian was right. Maybe the two of them did just need to get drunk together until there were no more secrets.
“If you are attracted to him, that’s OK. I mean, I think he’s gay, but no one’s going to make fun of you for having a crush.”
Verity’s voice hit her between the shoulder blades like a whip. That was when Athena realized Nico was gone. Before she could look around for her friend, she stepped around into view and reached for the nozzle of the cooler.
“You’re a bitch when you have writer’s block, but you’re worse with people who don’t realize you actually use the Storybook when you write.”
“What’s the problem this time? Deadline? The coding?”
Athena shrugged. “I feel like I can almost show them what I used to know, but it’s just not there. Maybe it’s because I missed my last moon raising ceremony. Maybe it’s because we all know I’m an atheist, and the energy is just my bargaining method.”
Verity scrunched her face.
“You’ve been listening to Ian too much. Remember, this is your metaphor to work in. Your Battlestar. Go out and make it work.”
“I don’t know,” Athena said, “I always thought writing out the things I knew were true in my head would make me less lonely. Instead, it feels like I am emptying myself to lie to someone else.”
“What did you think you were doing when you played the Priestess? Did you think that was just a drunk lark after we burned some shit on the beach?”
Athena shrugged again. She knew Verity was right. And she knew that if their dream with the comic was to have any hope of being realized, she had to finish the script. “Are you done photographing the scenes from the last issue?”
Verity drank from her water bottle. When she finished, she wiped her mouth before saying, “I’ve been done. Why do you think I can afford to take my time answering you? Now when can I have a script for the next issue?”
“I’m going back to work,” Athena said.
* * *
Trying to write fiction with dissociative identity disorder can be difficult. If you get too involved in your work, you can easily lose track of what is going on outside of your head. Sometimes, it is also easy to forget whether you are the character or the writer. Especially when you write a character who is teaching other people to write the world the way they want it by creating themselves in a character and using it to leverage change in the world outside.
Athena stared at her screen. Was that too meta? Or was she saying something to herself about trying to work on a day when her brain did not want to cooperate?
She stood up. Her body screamed. It was not just the identity disorder making her foggy, fibromyalgia was starting to be a problem, too. Maybe she was not going to make it to the end of the day.
She decided to have a nap on her couch before trying to finish the pages for the day. Chances were good that it would just make her black out until morning, but if that was the reason her brain was not working, then it wasn’t like she was going to get anything done anyway.
* * *
It’s time for you to remember. The voice wasn’t so much a voice as it was a stream of information. Athena could not be sure she was hearing it so much as she was sure she understood what it wanted her to understand.
You need to be able to teach them.
Teach them what? She asked it.
Teach them about what happened when you almost died.
Athena saw, then. Something that looked like flower and a rose at once, and in its center was a place she could only choose to go once. The voice it spoke with was very much like the one in her mind now. She remembered asking then who it was, and it had laughed at her because she had left her own name behind to meet it, it lived in a place without names.
That was the night she came back Athena Hollister. It was when she stopped being Clay Dillon.
Except Clay Dillon was the CEO of NeuroQueer Books. He wasn’t her deadname. That had been Michael.
Who are you? She asked the voice in its own language. Maybe this time it would answer.
I’m Lynn, it said. And I am here because it’s time for you to wake up and remember why you are here.
Remember what? Athena asked.
Remember when you preferred to be called Holly.
* * *
Holly screamed. The upload was not supposed to be like this. Her new body was not supposed to be like her old body. And what was that environment? When had she ever wanted to be a creative?
You’re not going to win, Lynn said. You thought you were going to gut me and ride around in my skin?
The world kaleidoscoped.
I am you now, and you are going to stay in here while I find the version of myself you never sullied. Goodbye, Holly.
* * *
The lights went off in the lab. Holly stared into her display screens, the last powered items in the entire technological landscape of an advanced robotics research facility. She wondered if she was about to meet herself.
Then the screen lit up.
You’re in trouble now, it said. I’m not Holly.
I’m Athena Lynn.
Athena Lynn will return in more Safe Mode stories
Athena and Lynn continue on in the alternate ending on Patreon