“It’s really humming along.” Asher remarked, turning away from his bleating screen.
Even a full week after the burnings, “The Purging of Anacostia” was trending. Screens were pumped full of burning LLS’s, Anacostian’s fleeing to the stability and safety of the ruins of Georgetown, and red-faced talking-heads screaming about the government’s lack of efficacy in tracking down on the “SVC Master Cell.”
“It does seem rather incessant,” Chandra replied before consuming another mouthful of massaman curry, “Raymond, if you would not mind too terribly, I need a bit more bone-marrow.”
“Do you? I don’t know if I’ve got any left!”
“I know it’s an unfortunate situation, but you’re the only one who can do it. The rest of us can’t even break your skin.” Nico reminded him.
“I’m aware, but the extraction of vital parts of my person is more concerning to me than the pain.” His companions’ expressions remained unchanged, so Raymond accepted his fate, “Anything in the name of Science.”
He picked up a syringe from the nearby counter and plunged it with expert proficiency into his leg, carefully pulling up on the plunger to remove the requested biological material.
Handing a now-full needle to Chandra, he pleaded, “Please make this the last test.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it, bud,” Asher laughed.
“I believe I am nearing an answer,” Chandra replied as she placed the syringe containing Raymond’s bio-matter on the table to take another bite of curry, “I have already discovered so much. You are entirely unaffected by NFVS and remain completely normal by historical human standards. This has profound implications for Spirit of Violence theories.”
“Raymond is normal, therefore he’s special,” Asher glibly summarized.
“Precisely. This Spirit of Violence has exempted you. The reasoning for this oversight, or intentional choice, is unclear. My next round of tests may give us some insight.”
“I also think it’s rather unfortunate I’m still ageing while the rest of you get to enjoy the blossom of your youths indefinitely.”
“I wouldn’t be too envious, you do have an international monopoly on violence.” Asher said.
“And what exactly am I going to do with this monopoly on violence? You know I’m a pacifist.”
“Yes, I understand your stance,” Asher continued, “but we have a chance to accomplish everything we’ve ever dreamed…”
Nico burst in, “Asher, we’ve discussed this at extreme length. Using Raymond’s…state…to pursue national dominance and policy goals would go against everything we stand for. We can’t create a world where we’ve grabbed power through violence!”
“Nico, we have to play the cards we’re dealt. Have you looked at the world? Have you seen the horror we inflict on one another even without violence? Our species, left alone, is savage and brutal, incapable of the sophistications needed to craft a better global society. If we, as enlightened members of that species, need to compromise our vaunted moral code to steer our people towards a better life, don’t we have that obligation? It’s absurd to let personal morality stand in the way of the global good.”
“There must be another way. If we participate in the cycle of violence, we’re perpetuating the system we’re purportedly replacing. The method of creation matters to the long term mythos of a society. If we root our foundation in blood, as every human institution has done throughout history, we’ll harvest corruption.”
“Look, I understand we all want moral purity; I understand it feels good to remain untainted, but we aren’t dealing in absolutes here…”
“Asher! Stop!” Raymond cut him off, “I will not. At least not right now. Human society is already so far out of balance and extremist in its reactions, if I reveal myself it’ll do more harm than good. If, and I say this completely hypothetically, but if we ever needed to create the type of government we’ve always talked about, we must be certain we’re doing it at a time where the smallest possible amount of violence is necessary to overthrow the system.”
“I suppose that’s fair,” Asher conceded, content he’d moved his cause forward. “For now we’ll hammer away on MI.”
The group turned its attention back to their screens, which were displaying an exhibition match for the newly organized NFVS games.
“Raymond, I have to ask you something that’s been bothering me.”
“How did you not know you could use violence? I experimented with all sorts of weird things, like those guys jumping off the LLS roof.”
Nico nodded, “Yeah, me too. I’m guessing a huge chunk of our population would’ve died in really silly ways if violence started working again.”
“Yes, I thought on that as I experimented on myself,” Chandra added, “It would have been quite embarrassing.”
“Didn’t you try anything?” Nico asked.
“Well…once I saw those MBs jumping off the LLS…well…I felt like it was just too stereotypical. I…I didn’t want to be like one of…”
“Jesus Christ, Raymond!” Asher shouted as Nico and Chandra shook with laughter, “If you’d been a little less neurotic for once in your life and not worried about how you were perceived maybe the thing with DeMast…”
“Asher!” Nico stopped him.
The subject was dropped, but tensions continued.
Nico intended to broach the subject on a number of occasions, but she held back. Initially she believed her hesitance was out of concern for Raymond’s well-being; that any discussion of the horrifying act would trigger spasms of depression, regret, and revulsion. But as time passed and Raymond seemed both stable and relaxed, Nico dismissed this idea and the source of her concern remained a mystery.
Two weeks after the incident, she found the answer to her question.
The thought assaulted her one night as the couple rested in bed. The weather was unusually warm for mid-September and Nico felt stifled and sweaty under her blankets. She kicked out a leg to let it breathe, but found the air slightly too cold for full exposure. She decided to peel back a layer of sub-par cotton to achieve a temperate equilibrium. As she tested the state of relative comfort achieved as each layer was removed, she was seized by a powerful urge to throw off the restrictive coverings and abandon the bed, house, city, state, and country entirely.
Nico wondered at its origin. She glanced over at Raymond, who had his back turned towards her so that she could only make out the slow, peaceful rise and fall of his body in rhythm with each soft breath. The frenzy within her rose to a panic. Her own breathing became short and labored. She trembled with unmistakable dread.
Nico turned to the ceiling for support, clung to the sheets beneath her, and imagined that letting go would unleash actions outside her conscious control. She feared the genetic legacy of her primordial ancestors, who required instantaneous and unquestioning biological mechanisms to flee the great and vicious beasts populating their primitive environments. But she was an enlightened homo sapien who could make the choice to never allow herself to be controlled by internal impulses she could describe, quantify, and understand. So she embraced her sheets with both hands and analyzed her mind.
Nico spent the next day waiting for a quiet moment with Chandra. She eventually found the doctor at work alone in the makeshift laboratory they’d constructed in the basement of the safe-house. Each of their sanctuaries had a hodge-podge basement lab, however the house on Old Dominion was Chandra’s favorite, and she saved her most delicate experiments for its slightly-less primeval equipment.
Nico descended the rickety wooden stairs into the warmly lit stone cellar. Chandra was bent over a DIY molecular-microscope of her own design.
“Chandra, umm, Chandra.”
Chandra looked up, curious to see Nico waiting for her.
“I need to talk to you about something.”
“Please come join me here, and let us sit,” Chandra suggested, motioning towards the small wooden table flanked by two plastic stools in the center of the room.
“Of course, of course I’m sorry for interrupting.”
“Please do not trouble yourself.”
The two women took seats at the cheap table perpendicular to one another. Nico shivered.
“Are you cold? I did not think the environment to be such, but I apologize if you are feeling a chill.”
“No, it’s not the temperature.”
“Of course not.”
“It’s my mind.”
“Why does your mind bother you?”
“Because I’m having trouble controlling and understanding my impulses.”
“That’s the human challenge, to create personal infrastructure that assists in self-control where reason and willpower alone are not enough.”
“This irrational fear currently feels beyond my ability to cope alone.”
“Why do you label your fear irrational? What is the source of your fear? Perhaps it is well founded.”
“Raymond is the source.”
“Then it is not irrational at all. You are romantically involved with the only force we know of that can inflict harm upon you. This is terrifying.”
“It is irrational! This’s been the power dynamic between women and men forever. I am not unique.”
“You are not unique in the context of the past, but you are unique in the context of the present.”
“I suppose that’s technically accurate.”
“The technicality makes all the difference.”
“Last night I had a panic attack and realized I feel real fear around him.”
“Of course you do. Who would feel any different? He is the only threat to you.”
“That’s the hard part. I’m understanding and acknowledging my fear, and working with it to find the right equilibrium of awareness and comfort. But I don’t think fear is what’s troubling me the most.”
“Where else could your panic originate?”
“I’m a bit embarrassed by this. I don’t know if I should be, but I feel some sort of embarrassment because I don’t think it’s alright to feel this or be driven by this…”
“What embarrassment? You are in a safe environment without judgment.”
“I think I’m finally in love with Raymond.”
“You are embarrassed for being in love?”
“No, no, it’s not the state of being in love that’s embarrassing, but the reasons. I’m terrified because he’s the only danger to me in the entire world. And that idea made me see him in a new light.”
“That could be a self-destructive impulse”
“I know! At first I was disgusted with myself, hence the embarrassment. I’m not attracted to violence or danger or anything like that. I’m repulsed by it. And I know, absolutely, that Raymond would never inflict harm on me or anything else intentionally. He’s talked to me, often, in that well-rehearsed-story way of his, about his inability to kill even insects in his own home because he imagines their living conditions and family and creates elaborate and completely nonsensical scenarios where if he kills an insect that’s slightly inconveniencing him, he’s dooming its children to a life of orphaned hardship and grief for their dead parents while also contributing to the cycle of violence and hatred between man and insect that’s been perpetuated…etc etc.”
“Yes, that sounds like a thought that originated with Raymond. No one could confuse him with a violent or physically intimidating individual.”
“That realization was the initial stimuli, I think. But the real fear, and this is what I’m getting at, my real fear is that he’s the only force in the universe that can hurt me in non-physical ways as well. And that’s why I don’t think it’s the physical violence aspect of him that really triggered my love, just seeing him differently, in this case as a threatening force.”
“That is very possible.”
“But because I love him he has power over me and can destroy me if he chooses. He’s non-violent by choice, but I’m worried about his mental and emotional state. So that’s the real existential dread for me. That’s what I’m struggling with now and I want to know how you manage to be in love without this panic-inducing sensation crying to you, ‘You fool! You’ve given your emotional sovereignty over to a monster!?’”
“I feel it as well. We are all potential monsters towards one another, physically and emotionally. There is nothing binding us other than our own decision-making. And yet we all know of our mind’s flaws and how our reason is subject to the whims of our alchemically-brewed state of consciousness. When we fall in love, we grant the power to injure and even destroy to an independent creature as permeable and malleable as we know we are ourselves. So we hope this other entity, out of luck, or empathy, or just the right combination of chemicals, does not decide to exercise their power.”
“Why take that gamble?”
“At the risk of sounding trite or overly sentimental, do you want to be in love?”
“I want to learn about love and then decide.”
“To collect empirical data you have to experience it for yourself.”
“Is it possible to collect this data without exposing yourself?”
“There is no rationalization or preparation or mental construct that can prevent the person we give that power to from hurting us if they choose. You decide to be in love or decide to eschew love in favor of relative safety.”
“That’s an unfortunate choice.”
“At least it is a choice. However, we are too often distracted by the negative aspects inherent in every choice we make. It leaves us blind to the other side of love.”
“The love side of love?”
“Yes. We also imbue our partners with the power to make us happy and greater than we are capable of becoming alone. The synthesis of two beings in love.”
“We give them power over who we become.”
“The power to influence.”
“And to control?”
“Mutual love is mutual control, is it not?”
“Yes. Or mutual destruction. And I’ve already worn this mask for so many years, it’s comfortable and familiar.”
“But our skepticism has left us worse off. For all our vaunted ‘enlightenment’, what do we have? Knowledge of our superiority? That we are facing existence alone?”
“Chandra, I won’t embrace a fictional existence where I ignore reality to create my own narrative.”
“That is the point though, Nico. It is all fictional.”
“We have reality, the reality we perceive, our mutual reality we agree on.”
“We have our observations, and then we have our narratives.”
“The narratives we create to link our observations to future actions.”
“Our narratives are what lead us and drive us, and they are, without exception, all fictions.”
“Humans need stories to follow.”
“And the stories they follow matter.”
“There’re a hell of a lot of shitty stories out there.”
“A hell of a lot,” Chandra agreed.
The two women contemplated in one another’s presence. Finally Nico asked, “What story should we be following?”
“One we write and follow intentionally, I think.”
“And is that story about love?”
“Love, but more importantly I believe it’s about vulnerability.”
“Yes. Vulnerability with full knowledge of both love and horror. We continually gird ourselves for the assault we face each day from other humans who carelessly use the power of their words and actions. We are steeled and prepared to resist; however this incessant preparation leaves us taught and rigid with anticipatory trauma. Our armor becomes our weakness.”
“That’s my life.”
“And mine. But the route of vulnerability, the conscious decision to rid ourselves of both the protection and the shackles of our emotional armor, recognizes and embraces the risks of love and peace. Knowing of danger and possible destruction and leaving yourself vulnerable to it is one of the highest expression of sentience.”
“As well as being naïve and foolish.”
“It can be that as well. But it is your choice to make, and you cannot walk both routes. You are terrified because you are suddenly vulnerable. That is your risk and no one can help you or shield you. The only person with any power over this besides you, as long as you remain open to love, is Raymond. And you maintain the powers of happiness and destruction over him should he reciprocate. Do you have trust, hope, and faith in him?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t know.” Nico replied.
“I suppose that what you need to know to decide.”
“You trust Asher? You have faith in him?”
Chandra looked unsure of herself for the first time, “I…I have faith in myself. I have faith that no matter what devastation is brought upon me, my being will endure.”
“Isn’t that hedging your bets? You’re not ‘opening yourself up entirely’ if you maintain the idea that you need to keep a small reserve just in case the worst happens.”
Chandra smiled, “You are right, however just because I am not able to accomplish the fullness of the love I am discussing does not mean I am wrong.”
“We’re blessed with the reasoning to answer our questions and cursed with the knowledge of how complex our Sisyphean task remains.”
“And so we, unlike Sisyphus, plan ahead and spend energy building infrastructure.”
“What do you mean?”
“We must build personal happiness infrastructure. You can intentionally construct a narrative with positive feedback mechanisms using whatever power you have. These life-improvement projects add reinforcing layers of happiness resiliency and help perpetuate the positive feedback loops you create for yourself.”
Nico was still confused, “One more time. What projects?”
Chandra grinned, “Well, besides identifying your mentally healthiest self and the passions you’ve always had and unabashedly improving yourself in pursuit that healthy version of yourself and those passions, there are certain things you need the assistance of an incredibly genetically gifted lab assistant to create…”
“Oh! Oh! Really? You and Asher…?”
“Yes, though I agreed not to reveal this to either Raymond or yourself for the time being.”
“Why? This is wonderful!”
“I believe he thinks if we reveal ourselves to Raymond now, with everything else going on, it might cause undue stress.”
“Undue stress? He really does believe Raymond is made of glass, doesn’t he?”
“I think they spent so long together under a certain dynamic that it is hard for him to take any action he feels might upset what he views as Raymond’s fragile psyche. I believe he also feels fear.”
“He’d be amazed what Raymond can handle.”
“Well we know that, but Asher is more fragile than he considers himself, so his concern for Raymond is a bit of a projection. How we indulge them! They are both fortunate individuals to have such understanding partners, are they not?”
“They should count their blessings.”
The two friends continued their discussion for hours. Eventually ascending for dinner, Nico and Chandra embraced their partners with all the love, terror, happiness, and sorrow they allowed.
That evening during their meal, they overheard the television news use the phrase, “Spirit of Violence Believers,” and Asher hushed the group.
“…a dramatic display of belief and bravery, Mr. Tampala spoke with us at a press conference he held directly following his martyrdom near the Reflecting Pool…”
Raymond, convinced Jake Tampla’s immolation was the catalyst they’d been waiting for, played thirty seconds of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” before feeling too self-conscious about the racial dynamic of his selection in light of his relative privilege and changed the music to a more palatable-though-unfortunately-stereotypical-but-there-just-wasn’t-enough-time-to-make-a-thoughtful-choice “Times They Are a Changing” by Bob Dylan.
 As Chandra, Nico, Asher, Raymond, and Bill the driver were popularly known on social media. Feeling fairly guilty for dragging faithful Bill the driver into her mess, Nico bought him an island and set him to live like a king with his family for the rest of their lives. Bill the driver agreed to this arrangement.
 An instantly viral decathlon event hosted by Pink Bull Mobility Oil and Shale LLC. (PBMOS +17.34%). Events: 1. Shotgun Sumo Surprise – In this event participants are given a double-barreled shotgun and attempt to blast one another out of an arena. 2. Wicked Witch Crawl – In this event a house is dropped on participants, who race to crawl out of the rubble. 3. Tiger Terror – In this event participants must retrieve the remains of a goat from inside a packed tiger cage. 4. Wind Tunnel Trouble – In this event participants attempt to ring a bell hanging from a pole in front of an industrial-strength wind turbine. 5. Base Jump Bonanza – In this event participants jump off a 100-meter platform and race to the ground. 6. Peer Spear Mayhem – In this event participants attempt to spear one another with repurposed javelins. 7. Aqua Polo – In this event participants are sealed in a 50m x 50m glass box filled with water and attempt to escape. 8. Poison Eating – In this event participants compete to create and consume the most poisonous concoction. 9. American Football – In this event participants form teams where one side tries to transport an object to the end of a field while the other beats them into giving up the object. 10. Dodgeball, but with real guns – In this event participants play dodgeball, but with real guns.
 Harmology literature written at the time speculates 15% of the human population would have perished via falling off tall buildings/objects/planes, 10% trying to catch bullets in their teeth like those TV magicians, 6% by working up the gumption to try out one of those homemade fireworks recipes as seen on the Internet, 3% as victims of violent video game enthusiasts acting out their fantasies, and 1% from the broad category of “Sexually Related Mishaps.” At least 60% of humanity fit into a large “Other” category that ranged from bored housewives boldly working up the courage to drop a toaster into the bathtub for the electric thrill to investment bankers studiously experimented with various ratios of pure, uncut cocaine.