Price Of Progress

Dr Johannes Behring sat in his study, tinted in a faint blue light from multiple computer monitors. The monotonous whirring-sound of the computer filled the room and audibly sped up as Behring typed in some commands and ran the simulations again. He just made a few adjustments, maybe that would do it. He let out a sigh and readjusted his glasses as the results began to show, even though his eyes were so tired he could barely read them. He didn’t really need to, anyway. It was exactly the same all week, something didn’t add up. The simulations didn’t match the data from the experiment. Ever since they had begun to operate the new particle accelerator, he was always on edge, unable to relax. He had this feeling that he was after something big, something ground-breaking: a complete paradigm shift. But no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t understand what it all meant. It didn’t make any sense. But that was exactly the point - maybe all he knew and believed in was false all along. He took a sip from the half-empty whiskey bottle on his desk.

His colleagues just dismissed it as a technical problem or said that the calculations were probably off, but Behring was sure… no, he knew that wasn’t the case. He checked the calculations all day and he couldn’t find a fault. Not to mention they insisted they were correct as well when he asked them directly. And - as Behring had to learn the hard way - mathematical calculations can be surprisingly convincing if they want to. There was also that thing in the fifth corner of the room, the one that wasn’t supposed to be there. It said it had spoken to the accelerator just before and was sure that it was in top condition and fully functional. It wasn’t as persuasive as the formula, but it had so many heads it just had to know what it was talking about.
Behring grabbed the half-empty bottle of whiskey again and just gulped it down to drown the annoying voice in his head that insisted that he was going insane. It said it knew how it was like. That it is nothing he had to be ashamed about, that everything could be alright again. There is this gate, it said. Somewhere in your heart there is a gate, flanked by dogs, and when you go through… but then the voice was silenced by the laughing of the alcohol beating his brain into submission. He had no time for those idle thoughts, there was much work to be done.

Then for a moment everything changed. The things in his study became things, living things. The bottle cheered him on to drink more and more. The computer said he was bored by the same old simulations and wanted to try something new. A game, maybe? The scribbled calculations on a piece of paper made clear that they definitely were correct and would arrange to get his family killed if he dared to question them any further. For a moment he almost believed he was just completely wasted or he really was going insane.

But then Izoldak’s gaze fell upon him for the first time.
And the world was torn asunder.

Something unhinged reality itself around his little study, tore it from the world, unraveled it into subatomic particles no one had ever heard of and, in the end, swallowed it whole. The bottle in his hand shattered, not into shards of glass but of despair and regret. He saw the results of the simulation torn from the computer screen frame by frame, chained together and drawn into the maelstrom of matter and minds and meanings and things he could not describe that devoured his house. As it began to unravel him into his basic building blocks he understood that it was Karoka, it was countless other things as well, but mainly it was Karoka. Or maybe it had just begun as Karoka, but had eaten and made part of itself so much more. He understood it was called Karoka-Cneph-Izoldak, for reciting all of the names it had devoured would take an age and a half at least. And while it was carefully pulling the particulars of his mind and matter and soul apart, it became a bit of himself as well.
There was one part, however, that refused to be broken down. His mind, or part of it, rose up against the force that pulled it from every side. It was the voice that warned him so often, the one he had tried to drown. It was the voice of his reason and it didn’t have a hard time separating itself from the rest of his being. Behring had lost his mind already, his reason had already died, this was just the last step taken by a ghost. It fled inside, deep inside, into the shabby, broken excuse for a heart in Behrings chest. It took some memories, some forgotten ambitions and a few bottles full of regret and barricaded itself inside. It did not know why, but it knew not even Karoka dared to touch a broken heart.

I am part of me. I must not fear myself.

As Behring was just a mess of particles and molecules and memories and thoughts and meanings and subtle things he didn’t even know existed, Karoka began to spin him back together. He heard Karokas hearts beat as their sound approached him.

I hear my many voices. I choose and I become me.

The first heartbeat crushed down on him, pounding him into submission with a glorious song of dominance and victory and taking things. It rejected him because he was not strong enough to wield it.
The second heartbeat creeped into him, filling him with the dissonant melody of hatred and punishing the wicked and hunting the one who wronged you. He rejected it because he could point it at no one but himself.
The third heartbeat comforted him with a soothing lullaby of caring about you and being there for you and unconditional trust. He let it go right through him because he knew he was not worthy of it.
The fourth heartbeat stung him like a poisonous insect and it sung a sorrowful elegy of pain and suffering and growing stronger for enduring it. He turned away from it because he could never endure it for more than the fraction of a second.
The fifth heartbeat rippled around the edge of his being and played a reassuring tune of living in a moment and washing things clean and falling in a steady rythm. He let it wash over him, because he was unable to fully appreciate it’s beauty.
Other heartbeats briefly touched him, but they were things just defined in themselves and not yet ready to be comprehended. Even he did not dare to try.
The last heartbeat however beat with an ever-changing sound of becoming something else and redefining everything and destiny beginning to move. He did embrace it, because he saw the only truth in it. It was the only thing he could really understand. Even when everything breaks apart, even when the world becomes a lie, everything still must change. It was the only constant in an ever-changing world, the only thing he could anchor his self in without getting lost in the whirling mass of Karoka-Cneph-Izoldak.

I can be again. As a whole.

Karoka recreated him, but it added the heart with an erratic beat, the heart of Change. Behring was less, in a way. He became more, in a way. He lost his mind, but gained understanding transcending logic or reason. That’s what getting a fundamental truth of reality spun into your being can do to you.

Behring found himself kneeling on the floor before a tall man wearing a crown. He didn’t question kneeling before him, it was supposed to work that way. As he looked up, the man reached his hand down to him. Without hesitation he grabbed it and was pulled up from the ground.
“Greetings, brother. You came exactly at the right moment. We were just about to start a raid.”, he said with an overconfident but warm smile. His voice was strong and welcoming, but there were hints of absolute authority and the storming of a stronghold and plundering all the treasures in it. The kind of things you don’t hear in normal people’s voices no matter how hard you listen.
But the two of them were no normal people.
Behring looked at him with a mischievous grin and a dangerous spark ignited in his eyes. A spark that signifies a mind just unhinged enough to do the wrong thing without breaking itself.
“Sure, why not?”, he answers. “I mean… what could possibly go wrong?”

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