Fiction Friday: M20 How Do You DO That?

Mage: The Ascension

This week we turn to more opening fiction from a game book. This time we look at Long Division, from How Do You DO That? for Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition.

I am here, there, and everywhere.

My wings beat a blur in the humid air, my heart pumping a blastbeat under tiny hollow bones. The nectar slides through my sucking mouth, and though I cannot taste it, it can tell it’s good.

My roots draw endless sustenance from fertile ground, glacial-slow, a timeless symphony of arboreal endurance. Woven through soil, winding past stones, drinking vitality from the earth.

My legs pick their way across the bark, all eight appendages pin-sharp with questing hairs. The web plays out behind me, and the glistening trap not yet built spans in my mind’s eye, a sticky source of struggling food.

I am the sun. I am the air. I am the memory of a song split to infnities of being, time, and space.

I would not trade this feeling for the world.

Drawing a deeper breath, we slide our consciousness from the multitude and settle it back into my tiny human frame. The sun warms my shoulders. The grass tickles my skin. The hummingbird’s wings whirl like an endless pack of cards being shuf?ed by a tireless machine. The spider disappears against the bark of the tree as my perspective settles back to its fnite human view. “We” becomes “I.” All becomes Me.

Open my eyes and release the air within. Feel the breath uncoil as I sink into myself.

I am infnite. I contain multitudes.

As do we all.

Damn…

If only everyone could see what I see. Feel what I feel. Climb the miracle and taste its life.

Yeah, babe. Good luck with that.

I try not to sigh with frustration, but lose that particular war.

War. Why is it always about war? Why must the defning verb of human existence be boiled down to eternal con?ict? I mean, it’s not like nature herself isn’t eternally in con?ict, but that’s about balance and ?ow and life. Flies don’t look for spiders to battle. Trees don’t kill so that the soil may live. I’m not naïve enough to think that nature exists in perfect harmony with itself, but what is it about the human condition – Awakened and otherwise – that drives us to fght for everything and view everything as a fght?

I wish I had the luxury of answers, but luxuries are in short supply.

• • •

NAME: CAESARA JOHNSON WHITE,
AKA JONATHAN EDGAR WHITE,
AKA WHITE JOHNNY,
AKA JOHNNY CAESAR
DOB: 6/25/1992
AG: 23.46
HT: 176.829
WT: 97.7272727273
ENGAGE WITH CAUTION – COC

COC: Capture or Cancel.

The VDAS spews a list of capabilities and affliations. I plan my strikes accordingly. The heavyset “Caesar” shifts into a posture familiar to anyone who fghts with knives.

I am quite familiar with knives. And with fghting.

Knife-fghting may be the most brutal form of combat known to man. A fghter must be willing to deal with the physical and psychological traumas involved in close-in killing: the bone, the meat, the gush of ?uids, the smell of blood and feces. And the noise a wounded animal makes in very close proximity. Mr. Johnny White is well acquainted with those sensations. I do not need the VDAS feed to tell me he enjoys them.

I do not care to waste time on lower forms of life.

I could end this confrontation with a stare. I could have avoided it altogether. But Johnny White, this “Caesar,” is the type of man I enjoy killing. It does me no great honor to realize that I still enjoy it, but I left delusions about myself behind a long time ago. I do not enjoy murder. I do enjoy pest control.

Johnny White is less than a cockroach. Cockroaches serve an honest role within a healthy ecosystem. Men like Johnny White do not.

He does not even see me move.

Unless restrained by an external force, a knife and a body fall at the same rate of speed. I do not permit Mister White to fall. Not yet.

Observations indicate compound fractures of the right clavicle, upper sternum, and ribs 1-4. Multiple fractures of right radius, ulna, carpals, metacarpals. Fractured right humerus. Substantial tissue damage. Muscular integrity significantly compromised. Collapsed right lung. Grade 6 liver laceration. External blood loss minimal, limited to compound fractures of clavicle, sternum, and ribs. Aortic arch rupture; internal blood loss significant. Traumatic shock imminent. Immediate medical procedures advised.

“Mister White,” I inform him, “the only reason you are not dying on the pavement at this moment is because I am curious about something.”

“The fuck, dude?” Eloquent. Then again, if I truly wished for information, I could have had it far more easily than this.

“Is this the nature of the last words of a Caesar?”

“What the fuck you talkin’ about, man?” Shock has begun to set in. Then again, I do not imagine Mr. White would be much more coherent under better circumstances.

“From your response, I presume that you do not yet feel the true extent of your injuries. It is entirely possible that your pain receptors have temporarily shut down. That is, in common terminology, a small mercy. It will not last long. Nor will you.”

I learned long ago that an absurdly clinical demeanor can be extremely unsettling.

“As I said,” I tell him, “I am curious. Did you ever think about who else you might have been?”

“What?”

“Your life, Mr. White. The choices you have made that brought you to this moment. Did you ever stop to consider the other choices you might have made, and how things would be different otherwise?”

His eyes, dulled with shock, open slightly. His pupils expand, as if in recognition. I have always found this to be the most intriguing moment of human consciousness: the moment when comprehension of mortality dawns and the awareness of circumstances becomes most acute. Even with my training and experience, it is almost impossible to track and decipher the chaotic ?ood of sensations and memories held in those few microseconds of consciousness.

“I think,” he says, “I wanted to be an astronaut.”

“Why weren’t you?”

He tries to laugh. His body will not permit it. “You kidding me?”

“I know astronauts, Mister White.” I let a trace of compassion color my voice. “If you had truly wanted it, you could have been one too.”

At that terminus of consciousness, I focus on a vision of him as an astronaut, tip my glasses until he sees my eyes, and then concentrate on that vision until he sees it too.

It is the last thing he sees.

Thus fall, Caesar.

Terrible joke. I do not permit myself to smile at it.

Studies indicate that sentience persists after physical death. In addition to the Post-Life Entities generated by unsettled manifestations of sentience, evidence suggests that consciousness reintegrates with physical stimuli in future incarnations. One does not have to be a mystic to accept such conclusions. The evidence supports them. All things are connected and have consequences.

Though some may say it is useless

To accept responsibility

For the calamities and toxicities of the world,

Taking such responsibility

Might put us on the road to the Great Integrity.

Just remember that truth often masquerades as falsity

And falsity as truth.

If Jonathan Edgar White’s consciousness respawns, as it were, perhaps he will make better choices next time.

That is not, I think, too much to hope for.

How Do You DO That? is now available in PDF and print from DriveThruRPG.