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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Empty Ones

A Novel

The Vicious Circuit (Volume 2)

Robert Brockway

Tor Books



1984. Lima, Peru. Meryll.

I messed up this poor girl’s code, and now she’s got teeth where her eyes should be.

I looked inside of her, and I saw hunger. Simple as that. You look inside some folks and you see this dense web of needs, desires, secrets, and regrets. It’s all laid out like neurons. Maybe train stations is a better analogy. There’s always a Grand Central. You just gotta find it.

You take a strand of somebody’s personality—like, the way they always say “naturally” instead of “of course”—and you start feeding it back, through moments, through years, through whole lifetimes even, and you’ll eventually find the source. They were watching The Avengers as a little kid, they saw Emma Peel say that, and they thought it was so sophisticated.

“Naturally,” she said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. And she laughed.

This person tried it on for themselves, and they liked it. It stuck. So much hinges on that moment. So many experiences, so many connecting points where if they’d said “yes,” instead of “naturally,” the ensuing sequence of events would’ve gone in a totally different direction. Because they start using this silly, meaningless little word, they develop an affection for what they perceive to be sophistication. They listen to classical music, not because they like it, but because they want to be perceived as the type of person who likes it. They go to the ballet when they’re seventeen. They stay up all night reading about it first, so they can tell their mother “that’s a pas de deux,” and she would nudge her husband as if to say “See? See how refined our child is?” All of these little strings, hanging on other strings, wrapped around hubs, providing supports for the whole network. So you find them there, cross-legged on the orange shag in their living room, biscuits all over their face, watching The Avengers with eyes like glass, and you pull that out.

You show them that moment. They see that so much of who they thought they were was arbitrary—it all comes from here. And half their lifetime just goes away. You find another hub, getting felt up by Jaime in the locker room, and another, the spider crawling across their ear as a baby. You pluck out a few more of those, and pretty soon there’s not much left to a person at all. They just … go away. And all that energy they were wasting by existing, it becomes yours. You can do whatever you want with it.

You can use it to knock an asteroid out of orbit. You can use it to blow up a city. You can shove it deep down inside of you and store it, like a battery. It decays some over time, but there’s so much, and it’s so easy to get.

But we’re talking about a different girl: this girl here, in the wind-blown shack with the corrugated metal roof just outside of Lima.

Some folks need dozens of hubs plucked out of them before they’re solved. Most just need three or four. This girl has only one main concern: hunger. She’s always been hungry, and she’s never had enough to eat. There were other elements to her personality, other things that made her who she was, but in one way or another, all of those strings led back to hunger. You can’t pull just a single moment. You wouldn’t even get any energy that way—there’d be nothing left to simplify.

So I plucked out all the other, smaller hubs around hunger. Getting beaten by the policeman behind the supermarket. Kissing her little brother on the head before a soccer game in an overgrown lot. And here she is, teeth where her eyes should be. Belly twice the size of her body. Huge hands, fingers curling into canines. Her tongue is six feet long and flailing about like a live wire.

Dang it. Three years, and I’m still making these mistakes.

Ah, well. I’ll find a use for her.

Hi, my name is Meryll. And this is the story of how I became God.

Copyright © 2016 by Robert Brockway