Panopticon /panˈɒptɪk(ə)n/ - noun, a circular prison with cells arranged around a central well, from which prisoners could at all times be observed.
In the place that was all places, in the tick between one second and the next, the Narrator was screaming. They clutched and clawed at their eyes as the fabric of not-there roiled and twisted around them. In the distance there were colors that shouldn’t be, and the Narrator saw them even though their eyes were shut and bleeding. Even though they covered their head with their arms and writhed face-down on what they pretended was the floor of this place.
TERMINATING LINK. ERROR CODE: 42.42.564
Discontinuity . It burned. They had come too close. The story teetered on the edge of disaster, and in a panic they had reached out, unthinking, and tried to push it away. The thread blurred- frayed for just an instant, and its wild, incoherent strands hit like shrapnel.
“Stupid stupid stupid!!!”
The pain would fade eventually. They’d had worse. The story was stable, for now. Not ended. They screamed anyway, because they were alone for now, and there would be no one to ask them why. “I should know better!! I should be better!! I can’t afford to lose now!”
They would have to stop eventually. To preserve their voice. To blink the blood out of their eyes. To see what their failure had cost them this time. But that was a formality, really. They knew what they’d see once their vision cleared and they found the strength to sit up and look. The error code was burned into their retinas. With no other available output their loose, flailing link to the world-narrative wrote itself directly on to their nerves and neurons, like an electric swarm of razor blades that filled them from the tops of their horns to the tips of their toes.
Eventually they would stop. They would dry their tears, sit up, and see exactly what they expected to see. The crystal that was the center of their little not-world, sitting in its mount, dimmed to near-darkness. Delicate connectors - many of them ruined, now - stuck to the crystal’s facets, feeding into wires that fed into a bank of screens, monitors, microphones, and the other necessary instruments of narration. Harsh blue light blaring from the screens, painting the void blue-ish in a way that was nothing like the sky, dotted with the soft glow of glass spheres that littered the nothingness in a way that was nothing like stars.
Consequences, writ large and covering every screen, every output. Words carved into the inside of the Narrator’s skull.
YOU ARE NOT THE APEX PREDATOR
It was all they could do just to sit there, lacking even the strength to lie back down and weep, to break, to stomp and kick their frustration into the solid nowhere beneath them.
There was silence in the void, and stillness, for a long moment - if such a timeless place could be said to have moments.
“I can stop at any time.” The sound of their own voice grounded them a little, pulling them out of the razors in their head and into their aching, exhausted self. “I don’t have to do this.”
There was no edge or other boundary to this void-space, but there was a door. At any moment, for any reason, the Narrator could open that door and walk through it. And then- what, exactly? “I am the Narrator,” they told themself, the world, Orion . They were not aware that they had said this out loud. They could no longer tell the difference between words and thoughts. “Without me, nothing happens. The story doesn’t end, it just… stops. Without me, there is no story. Right?”
The sound of their own thoughts grounded them a little, and they found the strength to stand. They walked over to the crystal, which brightened at their touch, lapping the blood from their fingers with what would be called eagerness, if it weren’t a piece of rock. They did not look at the door.
“If I leave, the story stops. If the story stops, Orion doesn’t die.” They delicately removed the connectors from the crystal’s smooth facets, and then lifted the crystal from its mount. The jagged diamond shape was the size of their forearm and brilliantly blue, in a way that was much like the sky, and separated from its supporting machinery it pulled at their mind and soul in a way that was much like falling.
They carefully carried the crystal away from the mount, and the screens, and the door, and then sat cross-legged on a clear patch of not-ground facing away from it all, looking out into the featureless void. “I’m sorry, Ori.” They did not look at the door, or at the fragment of sky in their lap. They did not cast their senses through the crystal, to ride along the strings of fate that only they could see. Not yet. “I’m so, so sorry.”
Re-establishing the mechanical link will take too long. The story approaches a critical point. Do they say this out loud, or only think it? Who are they trying to justify this to? They don’t know. They feel the strings of fate pulling them away, out of their body and into the crystal, out of the crystal and into the story. It’s been a long time since they’ve had to go analog. Their voice is the voice of the world, dictating fate. One fate in particular. The sound of their thoughts grounds them a little.
I’m so sorry, Orion. This is all my fault. I am the Narrator. You are the Narratee. Without me, you don’t survive. Without you, neither do I.
I’m so sorry.