Content Warning:

Blood, injury, mind control, manipulation, being part of the surveillance state, Empire-typical fuckery.

napkin drawings

[Long description: Many many sketches of Frey and the Oracle of Caeres.

The first few doodles show a very different Oracle than we’re used to. Row 1 depicts the Oracle in digital ink washes. She’s a black silhouette, hanging from the ceiling by a great mass of wires and threads. They fan out from her head like hair, chaining her to her surroundings. She’s posed differently in each vignette: hanging upright, bound with her hands behind her back, and reversed, like the ‘hanged man’ tarot card.

The next drawings show an Oracle who has seen better days. He looks more like a shambling wraith than his typical well-groomed self, with singed robes, cracked glasses, and a grisly gash across the chest that exposes his ribcage. His face is gaunt, cheeks hollowed out like a mechanical mask. Most striking is his hair, which fans out in all directions like a maze of red arteries, reaching beyond the borders of the page.

The Oracle is a little more put-together in the next doodle, although her hair is still an unruly web of threads and wires. Frey charges bravely into the mess, brandishing a brush. Kairos looks uncharacteristically concerned about this as her hair envelopes her.

Following shortly is a drawing of Frey with a fistful of the Oracle’s hair, which she diligently brushes. The Oracle buries his face in a pillow, looking nervous. He says “You’re taking out the entire CIN-38 annex… My surveillance arrays will take weeks to recalibrate…”

A nearby sketch shows Frey with a flathead screwdriver, negotiating with some exposed machinery in the Oracle’s stomach. The Oracle glances away and fingercombs her hair tersely.

The last bit of tomfoolery shows a more typical Oracle of Caeres, who is cracking an amused smile at Frey. Frey seems to have weaseled her way out of prison, but not the binds on her wrists. The Oracle comments “My, my, all tied up by the strings of fate.” Without warning, Frey whips around and tries to headbutt the Oracle. He steps out of the way, unfazed.

Finally, there are some sharp, graphical drawings of Frey and the Oracle. They’re rendered in black and white, with splashes of red and yellow.

The first drawing shows Frey breaking free of a birdcage, while the scar over her eye is still fresh and bleeding. She’s composed so that she fits neatly into the negative space of the broken cage. Behind her, yellow canary wings are drawn on tangents with her outstretched arms, and two geometric feathers lie under the cage.

The second drawing shows the Oracle, hovering in the center of the page. She is a black silhouette with no expression behind her circular glasses lenses. Her hair fans out around her in blood red, neatly snaking around the contorted silhouettes of several Archivists. They’re in agony, limbs locked at unnatural angles as they cry out. Each one is speared through the chest by a single, red hair. ]

napkin drawings

April 30, 2023

(fart noises) thinking about those girls. Essays below.

Was playing around with the idea of the Oracle being a secutor in disguise, but then I went back and forth on it for a while, because it ruins the fun of her being unknowable. But also it's whatever, it literally does not matter and I’m having fun thinking about it. Maybe the Oracle of Caeres should submit to the Mortifying Ordeal of Being Known. Maybe that would fix her.

I’m not 100% sold on who he is or where he came from. I think it would be funny if he was some warlord’s court wizard advisor who failed upwards by making the most outlandish predictions that somehow came true, and now everyone expects him to know things, but his deep dark secret is that he has zero predicative power and is just making shit up as he goes. Orrrr maybe even he can’t explain why this gift came to him, or how he got here.

Either way, the Empire eventually became unhappy with the idea that their puppet might someday die, or retire, or try to run away. So they did back-alley surgery on him and entombed him in an estate-sized prison-computer for 4763654837573 years.

To improve her intuition, she was hooked up to the most sophisticated surveillance array known to man, i.e. the red strings of fate, i.e. bad cable management, i.e. her ‘hair.’ Each thread is an individual sampling instrument so sensitive she can feel a pin drop on the other side of the known universe. Thousands of them are trained in every direction, on just about everything worth knowing. With these, she collects the massive amounts of data needed to run her complicated models and make predictions.

The threads are also tools of manipulation. They can slip unnoticed through skin and bone, and join with nerve tissue to send false signals or intercept neural impulses. This augments her foresight with an uncanny sense for what’s going on inside the heads of those around her. That said, it’s tricky to take readings without alerting the victim that something is wrong. Incoming signals can rarely be parsed in detail, beyond flickering images or vague emotional impressions. This kind of surveillance is often unnecessary, anyway, when the Oracle’s methods of indirect sampling are more accurate and reliable.

It’s also much easier to “read” someone's biomechanical augmentations than their nervous system. Convenient that these modifications are so popular in the Archive, because the Oracle needs to watch his back around other Archivists the most. On the flip side, this means that unmodified individuals are like black boxes to him—not worth the trouble of such invasive sampling.

Outgoing signals are even less precise. The Oracle’s power of suggestion is real, but it’s not accomplished by pulling strings. It is very difficult to mask these signals as normal impulses, and on the whole it feels Very bad and Very wrong to be puppeted around by them. Really, the most he does with them is change his appearance (a honed skill; virtually nobody notices that anything is different) or make people go away (no need to practice, because the discomfort is the point.)

Incidentally, there’s nobody left who remembers what she did before she dabbled in soothsaying. What happened to them? Don’t worry about it.

…She’s kind of subsuming the ghost at this rate LOL

Have also been rotating Frey in my brain. She’s a little weird because, like Reyes, she’s one of the few Imperials with no biomechanical augmentations. Initially I was like “well, that’s a fun coincidence.” But then I extrapolated, because of course I did.

Normally you accumulate modifications over time, in her line of work. The ceaseless, grinding machines inevitably claim bits and pieces of the engineers who work on them, what with the famously ethical labor practices of the Empire. Even without some kind of grisly workplace accident, it’s desirable to get rid of your squishy bits, because it makes you more useful.

For this reason, I think Frey started out as a proverbial canary in the coal mine. Without any biomechanics to protect her, she would have served as an early warning system for gas leaks, radiation, and other environmental hazards.

It’s morbid work, but there’s tradeoffs that make it appealing to some. For one, it was in everyone’s best interest that she didn’t die. She also received better healthcare than probably everyone on the factory floor, and the chop docs were even discouraged from doing any ‘experimental operations’ when nobody was looking. On the flip side, the foreman won’t wait for you just because you don’t have the PPE your peers do. Frey would have to do 10x the work, 10x faster, 10x riskier just to keep up.

How does she feel about all that?

… Eh.