#CODENAMEKANSAS: Origin Stories, “South”

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 As a working stage director in a large arts town Jan had the opportunity to work with most, if not all, of the local talent pool. Jan loved, LOVED, all of her actors, even if they all drove her fucking crazy. Personal drama, in fighting, back seat directing, there was an entire spectrum of obnoxious behaviors.  She once worked with a man who insisted on demonstrating his ability to project from the diaphragm by letting loose devastatingly loud belches. NO LESS THAN THREE TIMES DURING A REHEARSAL! But…Jan still loved all of their goofy faces. She loved it when they committed to a scene, and when they actually took direction.  Those two things, they made it all worth it. But two days into tech week on her most recent production, Jan had just about had enough.

Ten minutes after rehearsal had officially started, the actors were finally gathered on stage. They’d managed to arrange themselves prettily (actors tend to be good at that), sitting in various positions; some of them cross legged on the floor, others on chairs and stools. One silly ass thespian insisted on perching on a stool like Spider-Man.

Jan had notes, oh boy did she have notes. This was her second time directing a production of Much Ado About Nothing and in a desperate attempt to put a “fresh” spin on the Shakespeare classic, she hired a cast comprised of people with more comedic experience rather than a group of Elizabethan regulars. This turned out to be a TERRIBLE mistake. Unfocused, apathetic, and constantly sarcastic, it was like directing a herd of cats all hopped up on the nip. This is what happens when you make decisions while ass deep in a First Folio and three bottles of wine, she supposed.

Jan sighed. Fifteen minutes past. Where is the stage manager? Dammit. “Okay guys. Guys? GUYS? Hello? Rehearsal now? Okay. Hi. Yes. So, let’s try to bring it in. DAMMIT STUART STOP CLIMBING ON THE SUPPORT BEAMS AND SIT YOUR ASS DOWN.” Deep breath, Jan. “Now, we have a lot to go over before we get started. Yesterday was a bit of a trial, and while I really want everyone here to have fun, we do need to focus, so-“

A burst of laughter from the corner interrupted her tenuous hold on her cast’s already fragile attention spans. It was Ascot, the leading man. That wasn’t his real name, it’s what she called him in her head when she blocked scenes. Ascot she named because of his penchant for elaborate neckwear. Mustache and Smoker’s Voice had gathered around him, tittering at the screen of his smart phone.

“Holy shit!” said Ascot, the insolent piece of shit, “This is the best thing I’ve ever seen, you gotta look at this!”

Everyone’s phones buzzed and whistled in their pockets (they hadn’t even bothered to turn off their ringers!), Ascot had shared it with the entire group. How he had managed to do that when he had, just three rehearsals ago, claimed he couldn’t recieve emails was beyond Jan. She decided to kick his shins for it later.

Jan’s phone vibrated in her pocket.

She wearily looked around at her cast. Smoker’s Voice and Raptor were snickering, Bearded Baldy exclaimed, “Hi-fucking-larious, brah!” while Oral-B and Eating Disorder were already sharing it on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter… all the social medias Jan didn’t have time to peruse since she was constantly herding actors.

Fine. She’d look. Until she did, she would not be able to get her ADHD riddled cast in line. She brought up the image.

Patrick Stewart…astride an armored unicorn… riding through a field of marijuana leaves…doing battle with a Hello Kitty Darth Vader.

That’s when it happened. Something shifted. The atmosphere changed.

The spark started off small. So small that it could not be seen by the naked eye. It traveled along the light from Jan’s phone directly into her visual cortex. It gained purchase, and grew louder, hotter, bigger (that’s what she said), travelling through her brain and makes a series of fundamental changes. Rewriting what was and making something the world had never seen before. Taking the mind of what used to be a typical, mostly functioning, substance dependent, artistic human and replacing it with the mind of a technomancer.

Jan looked up from her phone and the lights went out.

“What the fuck?” Moaned Ascot.

“Dude my phone!” Whined Moper.

“Jan,” squeaked Low Self Esteem, “are your…eyes glowing?”

The lights flashed back on, brighter and brighter and finally exploded in a shower of angry sparks that fell upon the terrified, and surprisingly silent, acting troupe.

“You worthless, pathetic, plebian dogs!

You dare to tempt the wrath of theat’r gods

The word of god in theater is mine

Thou hast tested my wrath too many times!

and you, blasphemers that defile the page

of greatest text that wer’ver put to stage,

with thousand scorn my mighty will hath turn’d

for this and so much more, thou all shalt BURN!”

Every smart phone within a 25 foot radius liquefied and coalesced into slithering, mechanical serpents. The morons screamed in despair, their cries falling upon the Witch-formally-known-as-Jan’s ears and played like a wonderfully entrancing symphony.

In her own hand, the Witch cast a wand from the ruins of her own smart phone. She weilded it as a powerful conduit, maneuvering the tech snakes down the throats of her former cast. Pushing her powers forward, she cast a high frequency out of her snakes, finding just the right pitch to make her ears buzz with dischord. With agnonizing pleasure, she conducted her beautiful orchestra of screams. Like the song sung to Hero’s funeral, it was music fit to raise the dead.

Then, she directed them to run through the play. Every scene. Every act. They did so perfectly, even if their expressions were twisted in despair.

“I knew thou had it in thee, but you see,

I’m sick to death by all your fuckery.

This in exchange for all your wrongs give I,

My great’st performance here is ending nigh.

For actors who that screw around, for shame!

Live on in death, this ain’t no fucking game!”

Rivulets of green energy shot into their brains, instantly draining them for bandwidth.

Accessing the cerebral network of the technomancers, it all became clear to her. A war was coming; there could be only one victor. She knew that if she wanted, she could keep these fool actors alive as slaves, drained of their sentience. An army of faithful direction takers to call her own. But… they would be useless sacks of meat without her direction, and she couldn’t very well be on call ALL the time. She had no stage manager. Typical.

Fine. She had already gotten all she could out of them, anyway.

She raised her wand and screamed, “EXEUNT!”

Raw power burst forth from her wand, setting them, and the theater house ablaze. She walked away, never turning to look back at the rising flames… and headed down, stage right, into the apocalypse.

The end.

By Dick Phillips, co-written by Jennifer Noel Klouse 
Art by Stevie VanBronkhorst

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