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It is time. Kel is 20 years old and it is time for judgement. The Master Algorithms have the power to grant freedom but they must be sated. Sara is already free. Can Kel give the performance of his life and be reunited with her? Or will the Theatre of Death claim another token for the Chair?
Theatre of Death is a short story about a world where our freedom is dictated by the will of the machines.
"I highly recommend it as a must read."
"A wildly imaginative foundation builds to a surprising coda."
"Beautiful, brutal, haunting."
"Engaging read that you won't want or be able to put down."
Craig Lea Gordon - Theatre of Death
Music and light burst from Kel’s fingertips. Fluorescing ribbons streamed blue along the floor then shot upwards, robbing the amphitheatre of its darkness. The sound built into a flourish, matching the streamers’ ascent.
As the fanfare reached its zenith, he flicked his wrists. The ribbons traced out PHANTOM KISS in the air. He clapped his hands and the sound and light ended abruptly, the amphitheatre returned once more to dark quiet.
Red lenses twinkled in a semi-circle of judgement as the Master Algorithms processed his introduction. He bowed towards his audience, turned to the stone dais behind him, and bowed again. The blue lenses of the three adjudicating algorithms sparkled in the darkness. With a snap of his fingers, a new word hung in the air for a moment before bursting into stardust. Glowing particles bounced off the floor and faded away.
He was alone. Isolated from his void-kin following their Day of Selection. He focussed on his twentieth birthday and his Day of Judgement. Practised and practised until his arms ached, the ringing in his ears cycled on a continuous loop. All he could do was lie in the darkness of his cell and wait until it subsided. At least then he couldn’t torture himself by staring at the door, waiting for the lock indicator to turn green so he could begin again.
With a sweep of his arms, the twinkling lenses of the algorithms were erased as he painted a cloud of darkness inside the amphitheatre. With a heavy sigh, his shoulders slumped as the blackness enveloped him. He was exhausted, and it took all his concentration to manipulate his fingers into the correct pattern. Sharp noises sliced the silence, and although he was their architect, their ferocity made him jump. Frigid air surrounded him, deepening with each pass of the high frequencies, causing his entire body to shiver and his hands to struggle against the tremors.
The day he finally noticed her. Sara. How had he never seen her before? Lingering looks across the classroom. Averting his gaze before she noticed. Then, at their first lesson of The Truth, asking the same question in unison. “What did the sun feel like?” Their eyes meeting through the hologram.
Following her to practice. Awestruck as she deftly carved a bas-relief from the glass. Arms a blur as her laser cutters sliced into its surface. A sunlit seascape leaping to life. And she glanced over her shoulder, her eyes locking onto his, her smile reflecting the warmth of the imagined sun.
Composing himself for morning practice, movement drew his gaze. His heart raced as he watched her sit.
He raised his arms slowly, fingers dancing almost imperceptibly. An orange stripe spread along the floor, splitting apart the unnatural gloom. The slicing vibrations softened and became less erratic. The warmth returned to his body, the cold slowly dissipating like escaping vapour. His shoulders raised and a smile crept to his lips.
They talked for hours about what waited for them after judgement. It was their favourite subject. Made all the more tantalising by the abrupt ending of the picture feeds for those that escaped death. They tried not to talk about the ones who failed. When the chair took its token.
Some of their friends said utopia was what awaited them. That’s why they had to endure twenty years of hardship, why they could only prove their worth through their art. Paying for humanity's past transgressions.
More than anything, he and Sara longed to feel the warm sun on their sallow skin.
He dropped his arms and hugged his body. Tiny strands were snatched from the orange rift bisecting the amphitheatre floor, yanked upwards with sudden force, converging in a huge swirling sphere of fire that hung in the air. He clenched his fists and the stabs of music gradually lengthened until they became one constant note. As the sound flowed at him, he felt his face glowing. The cold was gone. He closed his eyes and basked in the radiance, a grin spreading over his face.
With a flick of his fingers, a new word arose before bursting into stardust.
Courting retribution, their fingertips almost touched as they passed in the corridor. Feigning a collision near the food replicators, her hair brushed against his face. Their stares fused. He squeezed her hand as he helped her up. The first touch. A klaxon attacked, loud and sudden. They dropped to their knees from the pain.
He threw his arms outwards, and the luminous orb cleaved in two. The hemispheres unravelled into two threads of brilliance that lilted in opposite directions. They swung pendulum-like, leaving trails of rainbow colours. He clicked his fingers and a note sounded from the arcing strands of light. As they reached the mid-point of their swing, their proximity created a new, brief and fleeting harmony that made his heart falter as if it were a syncopated beat. He brought his palms together, and as the bands of colour got closer and closer, a fluttering sensation built in his chest, the air stolen from his lungs. The ribbons, just as they were about to connect, were snatched away from each other. The warm harmony created by their proximity turned into an ear-piercing screech that made him flinch.
The klaxon sounded directly in their heads. Their bodies lifted up and were stretched out of the foetal position. Their index fingers almost connected. Their skin started to age and sag. The dermal layer broke down, their skin crumbling away to reveal the skeleton underneath. The bone white and vibrant under the harsh lights of the food hall.
The luminous fibres descended to the floor of the amphitheatre and interwove to create a solid, tapered column. His hands locked, claw-like. The harsh screech crushed into distorted noise. Revulsion surged through him. He gagged. Sickness in the pit of his stomach tracked up his throat. The bile burned as he coughed.
The last of their friends was called for judgement. All the others failed and died on the chair. They always attended his readings together and tried to help him with his masterpiece. But it wasn’t enough. He finished his performance. The results were damning. He tried to leap to his freedom but the stasis field held him. His hands caught fire. His eyes popped. Vitreous fluid flowed down his cheeks to stain his robes. The unnatural flames consumed his flesh an instant later. The stasis field released all but a solitary bone. Another token for the Chair of Judgement.
Kel flung down his arms. Hundreds of shining pillars descended to the ground. With a pinch of his fingers, a vivid red pinprick appeared in the centre of the amphitheatre. It pulsed once, sending a quake of bass through the columns. The pillars were ripped apart, and with that, the pinprick swelled into a red sphere. As the noise hit him, it jostled his organs and the sickness in his stomach grew. The bass repeated, and with each cadence, more light-columns were ripped apart. The bass was a staccato assault of the senses. It battered him. But he stood his ground. His fists started shaking. A growl turned into a roar and then a scream. With a snarl, he lunged sideways, flinging his arms toward the Chair of Judgement...
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