Seventh sorrow

    I'm not sure that this text should be on Habré. I am dragging him here simply because I am not publishing anywhere else. If you think that this opus is inappropriate here, you know what to do.

    Anthony Block scratched his sharp chin and moved the piece on the board. The party was coming to an end, and its outcome was too obvious. Death smiled - scary, only lips. His eyes, without blinking, looked out from under the hanging superciliary arches. With his pale hand, Death took his queen and placed him close to the king of the knight. Mat.

    “They say that in the Saracen“ shah mate ”means“ the ruler is dead, ”said Antony impassively.
    “In Persian,” said Death.
    “I do not distinguish some non-Christians from others,” the knight spat. - Let the devil in the underworld understand, which of them should be thrown into which cauldron.
    - Do you believe in the devil? - asked Death, gazing at Antony with his unblinking gaze.
    “I don’t believe in anything,” Block chuckled bitterly. - Only in the fact that soon you want to take your winnings.
    “Sure,” Death smiled again, and the brave knight's heart stopped in fear. - Now you can go where you want. But I will be back soon, and then you will follow me.
    - I will go where ?! Exclaimed the knight in mental agony.

    Death straightened his cloak, brushing a dry blade of grass blown from it.

    “Nowhere,” he said softly. - It's just a metaphor.
    - So, I just cease to exist? - Anthony took control of himself, and the fear in his voice was barely audible. “There is no hell, no heaven, no Lord, no Satan.” You're trying to lead me to this thought all the way?

    The knight squinted at his sword, leaning against the trunk of an old elm tree. I’d have enough time to pull him out of the scabbard and ruin the terrible guest in half, thereby making a fierce blow that he rescued him more than once in Palestine ...

    - I didn’t try to lead you to any thought, - Death answered dryly. - This is not my responsibility. You met different people, each of them took a piece of your faith from you and gave a little bit of despair. Such is the logic of the plot.
    - What the hell is the plot? Do not fool me, - growled Antony. - You have already received my life, give me in return at least an honest answer. Where you lead me, waiting for emptiness or something else?
    “Your life has always been mine.” “Death said this without raising his voice, but it seemed that the light of day itself faded for a moment from the sound of these words. - You did not give it to me, having suffered defeat, and therefore you are not worthy of the gift in return. However, - Death listened to something inaccessible to the human ear - today is an unusual day. You will receive your gift, knight, even if you do not deserve it. But first do something for me. Do you know the tale of the wise Queen Dagmar? - Anthony nodded affirmatively. - Tell me about it.

    Anthony launched his short blond hair, trying to stir up the memory. This fairy tale he heard in distant childhood from a lame maid. For many years he did not have the right occasion to tell her to someone else. Some words were forgotten, but the overall outline of the plot about the cunning peasant princess remained in his head.

    “Once upon a time there was a prince,” Block began uncertainly. - From an early age they told him that no one in the world is wiser and more beautiful than him. And before that, he was proud that he himself believed that ...

    Death listened, without interrupting, the knight's story about Dagmar, that she conquered the prince first with her beauty, and afterwards with her mind. The tale ended with the peasant’s daughter becoming the ruling queen, whose decisions the king himself was forced to reckon with. No wonder that the maid liked this story so much.

    “Tell me, Anthony,” said Death, when the knight finished, “what happened to Dagmar after?”
    - After? - Anthony thought. “She must have given birth to many beautiful children.” Then she grew old and died on the same day as her beloved. Usually in fairy tales it happens.
    “But you don't know that for sure.”
    - I do not know.
    “So maybe the queen didn't have any“ after ”?
    - What do you mean? - surprised knight.
    “I mean,” Death leaned forward, “that Dagmar is the heroine of a fairy tale, and not a living person.” That she was born out of words, and not from the mother's womb. Because Dagmar begins to live at the moment when the prince hears her singing, and not a word before.

    The knight frowned.

    - wise your speech. I had a friend shkolyar, he also loved to talk wisely. I listened to him and left for ten years in God’s damned wilderness, where the sand is packed even in the ass. Since then, I prefer when I explain in a simple way.
    - Everything is very simple. The queen had no “later”. When you finished the story, it stopped being. You can even say that you killed her. And with her - her old parents, her husband-king ... Even the horses with which her carriage was harnessed. You're a terrible person, Anthony Block.

    Anthony snorted.

    - This is just a silly children's fairy tale. Dagmar never really existed, and therefore I could not kill her.
    - Are you sure of your own existence?

    The knight gritted his teeth and glanced again at the sword.

    - Do you want to say I'm a fairytale hero too?
    - Actually, you're a movie hero. But at the moment you were borrowed.
    - Borrowed?
    - For the story. This is such a small literary form, like a fairy tale, but written, with a specific author and different in the structure of the plot.
    “You just hang noodles on my ears,” Anthony could hardly restrain the rage. - You are wasting time, which I have not so much left.
    - Borrowed, by the way, poor quality. “Death seemed not to have heard the words of a knight.” - Or maybe creative? In the original, you were not so aggressive.
    “I don't believe you, Reaper.”
    - I'll prove. It will be easy. - Death lay back again, leaning back against a tree. In those moments, his gaze was almost human. - From what words does the name Vladimir come from?
    “To own the world,” Anthony said through clenched teeth. He did not understand what his interlocutor was leading to, and he was already beginning to get tired of this strange conversation.
    - Good. What is the origin of the name Dagmar?
    - I have not the foggiest idea.
    - You're a Dane, Anthony Blok? - Knight nodded. - Tell me, how did it happen that you don’t know the origin of the Danish name Dagmar, but do you know the roots of the Russian name Vladimir?
    “The dog knows him,” Antony shrugged irritably. - About one name I heard somewhere, about another not. I am a warrior, a man of iron sword. I am not a copyist monk and do not have to know all the words in the world.
    - However, you know the Russian words "peace" and "own." You didn’t even notice that these words are not from your native language, are you?

    The knight was about to protest, but he had no objections, and he remained seated with his mouth open, waiting for the necessary phrase to come to mind.

    - How can you explain this? He asked finally.
    - It's simple. The author of this story writes it in Russian. And therefore you also speak Russian. Danish language, which you consider to be your mother tongue, is neither familiar to you nor to him.

    Death crossed his arms over his chest, enjoying the effect. Unhappy Anthony clutched at his head, clutching his fingers in flaxen eddies, as if trying to pull himself out of the Abyss for them. “From the depths I appeal to you, Lord,” he recalled a prayer appropriate to the occasion, but suddenly with terrifying clarity he realized that the Latin of this psalm is not Latin at all.

    They spent almost a quarter of an hour in silence. Death was not silence, he had nowhere to hurry. The knight was sitting, lost in thoughts as unhappy as they were insane.

    “You said that I was the hero of the film,” Antony finally decided to break the silence. - What is a movie?
    - A variety of art that people will invent in the future. Moving pictures with sound.

    In the eyes of Blok, it was clear that this explanation did not bring clarity.

    - However, in the current discourse it is too long to explain. Better do it, - Death snapped with pale fingers, and ...

    - Yes, now I know what a movie is, - said Slick Henry slowly and thoughtfully. And scratched his head with a wrench. - This is what people had fun when they didn’t have any sims.

    The judge was silent. Four-meter red-steel bulk, he hung over Slick. In those joints that were not artificially rusted, he glittered with an intolerable light, because the sun was rising over the Dog Wasteland right behind Slick.

    “Oh yes, you can't talk,” the designer remembered. - You have no dynamics. I did not think he would need it.

    Slick dived into the factory's iron box. Ptah disappeared somewhere, but Gentry probably sat in his attic. Well and good. Slick did not want to start a conversation with anyone now - just finish one. Having rummaged in a pile of junk, Slik found a broken police megaphone. The power button did not work for him, but the sound emitter itself was in order. Having uprooted it with a screwdriver, Slick Henry returned to the Judge.

    Fixing the speaker in place of the missing head, Slik brought to it the power from the battery, and the signal from the remote control module. However, it was as meaningless as to leave the audio line to hang in the air. There was no microphone on the console, and no one could still speak through the Judge.

    The judge spoke himself.

    “For thirteenth century warriors, you're damn good at electronics.” - The voice that came from the former megaphone was so deafening that Slick almost made his pants. Cursing, he turned up the volume control.
    “I don’t know who I am anymore,” answered Slick-Anthony, wincing at the pain in the webbing. - In theory, I should go crazy with this. But for some reason I do not go.
    - This character has a stronger psyche, - the voice of Death, although it has acquired a metallic ringtone, still remained eerily recognizable. - He has his own problems with his head, but at least he doesn’t whine all day about the transience of earthly life.
    - How come he is me? I mean, ”Anthony-Slik made an indefinite gesture with a screwdriver in the air,“ he has a different body, different knowledge, different character. Then why did I become them, and not just ... stop being?
    “Have you heard of Theseus’s ship?” - cried Death-Judge.
    - Did not hear. And what happened to him?
    - Theseus is the hero of the ancient Greek myths. According to legend, the ship on which he was returning from Crete to Athens was a relic of the Athenians for a long time. Every year they sent on him a sacred embassy to Delos. Soon this ancient piece of shit began to fall apart. It replaced one board, then another, then the mast ... In the end, there was not a single chip from the old ship. And then the Greeks thought: is this the same ship or is it another?
    - And what conclusion did you come to?
    “Nothing,” smiled Death-Judge with an iron laugh. - But they argued a lot.
    “In any case, this story has nothing to do with me.” You just replaced one ship with another. Completely, not by parts.
    - You're wrong. One piece of old vessels still preserved.
    - What is this?
    - Unfinished conversation.

    Slick looked around and, not finding a more suitable object, sat down on a piece of reinforced concrete, which, like a burdock, clung to the dusty ground of the Wasteland with bars of reinforcement.

    - How did you even do it? Here it is, Slick made a click with his fingers. - Unlike the work of Death. You yourself said, you have a certain remit. Stop life, walk in a black raincoat with a hood, terrify eyes. Well, you know what I mean. Since when do these duties include the transfer of an honest knight for a thousand years ahead and stuffing him into the body of some wicked blacksmith, just with the devilish help of reviving the metal?

    It was not clear whether the mechanic is ironic about the knight’s manner of speaking, or whether the knight is above the mechanic’s lifestyle.

    “I didn’t do that,” Death answered indifferently. - It was the intervention of a higher power.
    - God, what? - grinned Slick. Anthony jarred from that smirk.
    - Take it higher. Author
    - Author above God?
    - In your creation? Of course. Can the almighty Lord create a stone that he cannot lift?

    Slick squinted at the concrete block under his seat.

    - If I could, a paradox would arise, wouldn’t it?
    - Right. And the author can absolutely everything. Even if it violates the laws of logic.
    - I do not believe.

    The servos buzzed shrilly: the steel colossus of the Judge began to move. It was so unexpected and scary that Slick tilted back, tumbling over his head and scooping up a full collar of dust. The mechanic immediately jumped up, getting ready to set the strekach from his distraught creation. But the judge was not going to attack. Instead, he kicked an iron limb and sent a small object under Slick's feet. Anthony picked it up. It turned out to be a gray metal cube. On the edges of his acid-green paint numbers were inflicted.

    - Be kind, read out loud what is inscribed on each face. “Death Judge didn't move anymore, but now Slick knew that he was capable.”

    Slick began to turn the cube, calling the numbers.

    - Two. Seven. Three. One. Six. Four. Five. - Antony twirled the cube a little more, making sure that not a single Saracen symbol had escaped his attention.
    - How many numbers did you give?
    “Seven ... it seems,” Slick answered uncertainly.
    - And how many faces at the cube?
    “Your bony mother ...” the mechanic whispered and began to twist the artifact frantically in her hands. He moved his lips, memorizing, checking and rechecking.
    “I know the trick,” he said happily at last. - when I turn the cube, the number on the opposite side of me changes.
    - Do you really think so? - the speaker rustled, as if Death had suppressed a chuckle. - We can conduct an experiment. Bring a mirror. Place the cube between yourself and the mirror, just below the level of the eyes, with the top towards you. Then you can see all seven faces at the same time. But in your place I would not do that.
    - Why?
    - You're going crazy.

    Slick cursed foully and, swinging, threw the hexahedron far into the Wasteland.

    “It’s strange that you didn’t consider another opportunity,” the Judge didn’t have a face, but Anthony didn’t leave the impression that Death was gazing at him. “Strange, considering your story.”
    - What is the story?
    - Not yours, crusader. History of mechanics. Why was the judge created? Did you forget, Slick Henry?

    Slick went cold. That is what he could never forget. Jail. Damned shrinking rights did something to his neurons. Korsakov syndrome, they said. Purposeful violation of short-term memory. Three years flew like five minutes. It was considered humane.

    “I created you to hate,” Slick said softly. - To hate something specific. The material. Not elusive memories. Not people who are long gone ...
    “And not myself,” Death finished for him. - But I'm talking about something else. The author does not need to glue the seventh edge to the cube. It is enough for him to get into your brain. Connect the necessary neurons in it, and you will think that the cube has seven faces, or five, or even three and a half. Or that you were a crusader, who had returned from a campaign just in time for the beginning of the plague, and death itself had infused itself into the “living sculpture” created by you. Stupid idea, eh, Henry?

    Slick licked his lips, trying to stop the nausea. The head was spinning, as if the ground had been knocked out from under it; as if he was on the Spindle, where there is no real gravity, only the centrifugal force pressing the inhabitants of the satellite into its steel walls.

    - How then to understand what is real and what is not? The mechanic said hoarsely.
    - Why did you have this question just now? - Death laughed. “Even before our conversation, you had every reason to doubt the nature of your existence.” Prison doctors played with your brain. You have been in simstim, which differ from reality only in that you KNOW that they are not real. It is quite possible that in fact you are a very large and intelligent mollusk. Mutant snail. You swim in a cool slush, and electrodes that transmit thoughts, knowledge, sensations are stuck into your slimy body. Electrodes that make you think that you are Henry Slick, a man, a mechanic, a former criminal ...
    - In that case, I would prefer to think that I am a lawsuit. Like Wintermute. I do not like snails. - Slick mastered himself enough to try to joke.
    - Of course, you would prefer. Artificial intelligence is capable of making choices. Seek a solution, break within the walls of your dungeon. And if this is a cunning and lucky IskIn, like Wintermute, he will find this flaw. And you have no choice. You are just a few lines of text, and what will be in the last paragraph is already known. You're locked in a handful of letters. This is an ideal prison, there is no escape from it.

    Slick sat with an absent expression, picking at the dust with his toe. This was too much for his mind, whatever nature he would have.

    “If the author is omnipotent,” he finally spoke, “then he could make me happy?” Is everyone happy? Arrange a paradise on earth. So that everyone lived in a huge villa with a whole pool of drinking water. For everyone to get high without drugs, fuck endlessly, and no one needed to die.
    - Could. But he did not want to.
    - Why?
    - Happiness is boring. No one likes stories in which everyone plays and has fun.
    - And the author does not feel sorry for us?
    - Of course, not a pity. You are not real.

    Even in the open space in front of the Factory, these words seemed to give rise to an echo.

    - But I feel quite real! - outraged Slick. - I live, I breathe. If I cut myself, it hurts and bleeds. I think the author is all the same. Then why does he consider himself taller than me? What are his reasons to consider himself real?
    “None,” Death answered indifferently. “But he has reasons to consider you unreal.” It's enough.
    - So why…
    - Enough! - Death has thundered, and his metallic voice has spread, it seemed, across the wasteland. “I told you that you can go wherever you want, knight.” But you did not want to go, you wanted answers. And you got them. Now I will take my prize.

    Screaming servos, the Judge raised a rusty arm, instead of a hand ending in a sharply sharpened circular saw. Slick rushed to run, but ...

    - Muu? - Antonius moaned in surprise.

    They stood on a high cliff. Below, the lead waves frantically beat against a stone, turning into foam. The sun hid behind the blue pre-storm clouds, and its light, passing through, acquired a deadly, other-worldly shade. It was the light of the last day.

    Death regained his cloak and his pallor. He stood next to Anthony unnaturally straight, as if crowning a cliff. Death looked huge, although Anthony was much more massive, and at the withers reached his shoulder. Death had a long whip in his hands.

    - Muu! - Anthony moaned again, with a hint of understanding. And then he shouted heart-rendingly, hooves about a stone. - Mu! Moo! Muuuuuu!
    “I told you,” Death, without a shadow of fear, watched as a huge animal rage a step away from it. “An author can do whatever he wants with you.”
    - Muuuuu! - Anthony roared, turning his bloodshot eyes. - Muuu?
    “No, he will not give you the ability to speak,” Death snapped. - To tell you a secret, it was unimportant from the very beginning. You, your words, your personality. He could immediately make you a bull, so that you would not speak all your lines, but moan. Small loss for the plot.
    - Muuu? - Antony moaned sadly and inquiringly.
    - You really thought you were the main character? - Death burst out laughing. “You are simply the embodiment of the author’s sufferings.” Punching bag. Your role is to moan piteously and not understand what is happening. And having reached some kind of understanding, moaning is even more complaining.
    - Muuuuu?
    - Well, since there are only two of us here, it is obvious that the main character is me. Everyone loves to write about Death. Humanize me, display as a character.
    - Muuuu?
    - So they pacify their fear. Any incarnation of death, even the most terrible, is not as scary as she herself. If you can talk to someone, it means you can try to negotiate with him. To outwit Beat chess Even if this attempt is unsuccessful, hope still remains. Speaking of death ... - Death pretended to be recollected. - You know, you have to go.

    Only now Anthony noticed a long board, one end hanging over the precipice. The other end was crushed by a huge boulder.

    - Muu? Muuuu?
    - There, buddy, there.

    Anthony glanced at the board, then at the shepherd's whip in the hands of Death. He snarled menacingly and began to dig the ground with his hoof, indicating that he would not surrender without a fight. Death laughed and, swinging wide, threw the whip into the sea. Anthony was waiting for a splash, but he was not heard behind the roar of the surf.

    - You didn’t really understand, did you? - Anthony suddenly felt how all four legs no longer obey him. - You can not resist the will of the author. You are the author's will.

    The hooves that had become strangers carried the young bull to the blackboard. Tsok-Tsok. Tsok-Tsok. Knock Knock. Anthony stepped from stone to tree. He walked along the board, swaying from gusts of wind. Waves raged below, and dark clouds floated above and in front of the lines. The bull no longer moaned, only sighed heavily, submitting to his fate, but not reconciling himself to it.

    Death walked right through the air. The law that he did was above the law of the law. With the indifferent caress of a butcher, he laid a bloodless hand on Anthony's withers.

    - Tell me, do you hate him?

    Anthony slightly tilted horned head.

    - In vain. He does it not from evil. He just brings his own pain out of himself. In the same way as Slick built the Judge, the author builds this narration. Because it cannot be otherwise. Because he, like you, has to follow the logic of the plot. Similarly, he goes on his board, to his fall. And, unlike you, he goes alone.

    Anthony snorted. The sufferings of the author did not comfort him at all.

    “Okay, I’ll give you another argument ... Oh, oh, we must hurry,” Death cried, seeing that the end of the board was near. - The fact is that the author is innocent of your impending doom.
    - Muh?
    - The author simply wrote letters, a long chain of letters. But in themselves they mean nothing. They just exist all at once. The first sentence, the last sentence, this sentence - everything is close by. They do not form a sequence; there is no flow of time in them. If you give them to a person who cannot read, he will see only thousands of squiggles. Hypothetically, one can even imagine a person who speaks in an outlandish language, quite different from ours, but with the same letters. He will read this story backwards and read the roast recipe.
    “Mu,” Antony chuckled skeptically.
    - Letters are added to the story only when they are read, and it is very important how they are read. Therefore, the reader, not the author, gives you life. It makes you exist, and soon will force you to cease to exist.

    The bull sighed, then quietly asked:

    - For fun, Anthony. I think the reader finds you funny. This text is just a postmodern experiment for him. He does not empathize with you. Does not feel your suffering. You're just ...

    The bull's front hooves have stepped into the void. Hurting his chest against the edge of the board, he flew down, tumbling in the air. He didn’t mumble and roar, only in sad, cow-eyed eyes human despair froze.

    The sound of a blow to the water was deafening, it almost lost the crack of bones. The body, still recently poured with life and ferocious force, went to the bottom, like a simple leather bag. From the wide nostrils of the bull, a crimson cloud slowly emerged. Attracted by the smell of blood, brisk silver fish began to curl around him. With their small but sharp teeth, they tried to bite through a thick skin. And the bull plunged deeper. Soon only eyes could be seen through the water column. Wide open, they did not look into the depths and not up, not on the rocky shore and not in the open sea. They looked at you.

    Yes, yes, to you.

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