Abstract Naught
rating: +17+x

An impossibility floated in the center of the decrepit room. Agent Danyal's eyes were fixed on it, ignoring the rusted paratech and concept-modifying devices around him. The sphere was colorless, if it could even be considered a sphere. Not white, not black, not transparent. It was the silhouette of a nonexistent color. His eyes turned to a wooden sign propped against a tangle of circuitry.

WARNING: DO NOT TOUCH!
DESCENDED

Drips of water from the pipes above had stained it, creating a stream of red paint that pooled on the floor. Luckily for the investigation it was still legible, though the many identical carvings and placards on the walls would've been good substitutes.

He scratched a small itch next to his right eye, his finger passing through a translucent doctor's eyepiece that rested on it.

"So Danyal, any idea on what this is?" Agent Chester strolled into the room, eyeing the enigma. His brown hair was tinged with gray and his face wrinkled.

"Working on it."

The eyepiece focused on the silhouette and Danyal waited. Ennoiatheama, he called it. The ability to comprehend conceptual details. Normal objects were far too detailed to be understood without the risk of seizure, but basic conceptual structures — such as the eyepiece — had the absolute minimum information required for existence. The eyepiece stared, yet no data was retrieved. He hadn't collapsed to the ground, confirming that it was conceptual, but there had to be some information. The eyepiece focused again. The spherical appearance had to be in the details, even if there was nothing else. No data was retrieved.

"Well, it… It doesn't have any concepts," Danyal said.

"Wait, so this is something like CNC?"

"No paradoxical concepts in this. This has no concepts at all. If my parts are working right, though."

"…But it still exists."

"Hm."

They both stood, thinking about the situation. If a concept was necessary for existence, things that were conceptually null shouldn't physically or informationally be in reality. Based on the basking shark incidents the most that should be present would be a thin outline, a sign of what was lacking in reality. Yet there was no outline. It was a colorless nothing.

"So, how dangerous could this be?"

"No idea." He noticed a thin informational glow around the nothing's edges. He focused, but it was too small to rationalize. Too small to rationalize without being centimeters away from the nothing. "The Associates didn't like it."

"Crazed cultists have picky tastes. Could just be the opposite of their ideal conceptual purity." Chester grabbed the rusted end of a broken lever, once used to open a now busted power box. "Danyal?"

Danyal looked away from the nothing. "What?"

Chester pointed to the lever, then to the nothing. "Shall I?"

"Throw it in?"

"Mhmm."

They both looked back at the signs. "Too risky," Danyal replied.

"Alright." He dropped the lever. "I'll look through this area and you can continue working in the main room. Testing and existential debates come later."

Danyal nodded.

The steel panels where Chester's sideburns should've been opened up and released a myriad of communication devices, small enough to fit in the skull with room to spare. "Agent Chester Romero reporting, Floor -1, Room 4…"

Danyal walked into a hallway and Chester's conversation faded out. He was preoccupied with the informational glow. If it was part of the nothing it would've appeared in the data on it, so it had to be caused by the nothing. He'd been taught that this was impossible, and that anything within a universe had to be conceptual. Was it wrong? If vacuums can exist in nature, can an ontological vacuum exist? A hole in the real?

The hallway almost felt stuffier than the room he'd left; perhaps the dim lighting and close walls were to blame. An unusual breeze blew by him and into that room. Something metallic rattled in the distance. He briefly adjusted his black suit and tie. As stylish as the uniform was, UIU investigations rarely left it unscathed. Danyal had the feeling that this would be one of those times. There was another metallic rattling.

"Agent Danyal Vahid," his intercom announced. "Report to Room 1, Floor- oh hey. Over."

Agent Valarie Dell, wearing an androgynous uniform with short red-dyed hair, waved from a bend in the hallway. Next to their feet was a bullet-ridden autoturret, leftover from the UIU raid on the building. They idly flicked their hand. The turret rattled and spun, the machine gun barrel clacking against the wall.

"What is it?" Danyal asked.

"Something's come up in the main room. They think you're qualified for it."

"Aren't there other metaphysics researchers here?"

"They're all smooching with that giant machine on Floor -4 and nobody wants to interrupt their fun," Val said, smirking.

Danyal sighed.

Both of them began walking down the hallway and toward the main room. The air gradually became fresher.

"Am I just a backup metaphysics researcher now?"

"What, you didn't get the memo? You're the new Metaphysics Department head researcher, all agent duties gone! All you'll do now is just stick your head in concepts and say what happens."

Danyal continued to blankly stare ahead, and it became clear that he was preoccupied. Val went quiet. The informational glow, the sole clue to the nothing puzzle, kept dancing around every possible explanation. The only certainty was the involvement of the Associates of Apotheosis. It was impossible that a conceptual abnormality could exist in this building without their involvement.

The two passed through a broken doorway and entered the main chamber of Floor -1, the first basement of the former Apotheosis HQ.

Rows of lights hung from the ceiling and illuminated the scuffed floor. Officers patrolled the area, rummaging through compartments hidden in walls, filled with illegal paratech, and pulling off fake concrete panels in search of more. A priest lined up a portable projector, preparing to exorcise the demon locking a vault. However, the center of attention was a large steel contraption that ran along the northern wall, resembling a particle accelerator that had been shrunken then partially lodged in the floor. Multiple computers jutted out of the sides, one of which had a police android's finger wires embedded in it — slowly breaking encryptions and cracking passwords. In the middle of the device was the all too familiar symbol of the Associates of Apotheosis — a dot in the middle of a line in a circle on the face of a cube — some metaphor for conceptual ascension. A golem stood nearby and waited for orders.

"Sooo, are you curious at all about why I called you?"

"Oh," His eyes snapped back to reality. "What is it?"

"I was over with some of the cops inspecting the machine and…"

The exorcist's chants filled the background like the ambient chatter of a radio.

"…and we saw this small dot that seemed to have no color."

Danyal froze. "Translucent, black, or?"

"Nothing that looked like color."

"Shit." He sprinted off towards a cluster of officers around the center of the machine. Val muttered under their breath and followed suit.

"Excuse me, agent coming through." The officers immediately dispersed. Danyal looked around the machine's surface for any details when he saw what Val had spoken of. A small dot on a metal panel. Same conceptless structure, same informational glow.

Val leaned in and stared. "Conceptual structure?"

"Well, no. Conceptless."

"Like CNC, or — "

"Completely conceptless."

"Shit." It was clear they didn't know what this exactly meant, but they had watched someone die from Conceptually Null Clearsolids. Anything with conceptless in the name was a bad sign, even if the specifics varied.

The dot changed into a small sphere, a fraction of an inch larger. A few officers stopped to watch the commotion. The priest finally stopped her shouting as several polygons sputtered out of the sphere and retracted.

"Vitae collapse rennen rennen." Danyal said.

Hearing the specialized activation phrase, the golem ceased idling and walked towards the sound's source. The spirit inside knew trouble was afoot, even if it couldn't comprehend the specifics. In seconds the spirit had pored through the minds of Danyal and the surrounding people, setting its mind on "peculiar spheroid" and "apprehend" — simple enough for a standard police golem to know. Danyal shivered as it tumbled through his thoughts.

The humanoid bulk of concrete pushed Val to the side and a dull, monotone voice scraped out. "Step aside citizen." Val grimaced.

As the golem leaned over, the dot suddenly stretched out into a set of long blobs. They expanded and phased through the golem's torso, which immediately began flashing and changing into many colors. From Danyal's view conceptual details were being rapidly modified and shredded into their basic components, ejecting and dissipating in a metaphysical light show. The golem was gaseous, translucent, shadowless, sound, a topology equation.

Both agents leapt back and people looked on in shock. The not-concepts drifted out towards the ceiling, showing a hole with rubber edges and a steel panel beneath it. The torso was deleted, and the legs stumbled before becoming a liquid that fell to the ceiling. The variable construct emesis ended.

"Great going, cannon fodder," Val muttered as they looked up.

"Step back everyone!" Danyal ordered.

Tendrils lashed out at the air and conceptually broke the atoms it composed, leaving a white glowing trail of informational destruction and a breeze of air, moving to replace the vacuums it created. Several officers ushered people towards the stairwell as they shouted over their intercoms.

Ideatic text hovered inches above the steel panel, glowing and flickering.

FOR THOSE WHO DETEST HUMAN DESTINY

"Self-sabotage," Val remarked.

"Hm." Interrogation of the captured cultists to find the culprit could come later, assuming they were captured.

"That or a pre-programmed feature."

Val popped the lid of their flask open and took a long swig. They claimed the liquor helped them concentrate to the suspicion of many, though Danyal wondered more about whether the cyan fluid inside could even be classified as alcohol. "Think you can handle this?" they asked.

"Probably."

"Sweet. I'll keep the area covered."

"Covered from what?" Danyal looked at the many police officers and specialists behind him, and remembered the many more agents in the building above and below him.

"Whatever is… heading for your booty, I guess."

Danyal chuckled, and began inspecting the machine. "Uh, some help opening this?"

Val closed their eyes and clenched their fists. A second later chunks of metal ejected off and flew past Danyal, tailed by the pink message. It landed next to Val, who took a deep breath. A researcher gasped, either from the spontaneous destruction or from the horror of potential damage to the device.

"Try not to ask that too much, okay?"

He looked into the machine's interior, a long tunnel that held massive amounts of conceptual structures: translucent gold tubing and gears in the shape of a roughly cylindrical shape. Through a combination of ennoiatheama, willpower, and a chunk of conceptual wiring lodged in his skull, he could comprehend the entire structure by seeing a single portion of it. The full details refused to stay in his head though the summary did.

The machine was essentially a large computer, operated with the terminals and conceptual abilities. An object would be assigned to a pointer as an input, and its properties would be modified, becoming the output. Without an input the device shouldn't be active, but it was producing a constant stream of junk outputs. Several broken spheres lining the conceptual structure would be reason why.

Despite his experience with metaphysics, it was impossible for him to repair concepts. This left two options: attempt to find the machine's power source and shut it down — risking more not-concept production — or to break it, dismaying the UIU Metaphysics Department. Hopefully they'll understand.

He mentally pushed and extended translucent blue conceptual projections of his arms — a metabody — out of his body, with the metabody's hands floating into the machine. The hands grabbed onto the structures and prepared to snap a central tube off. A second after a shadowy blur flew past one of his metahands and sliced it.

Three bulges appeared on the surface of the structures, dark-gray in color. A second later they burst into not-concepts that shot out of the machine and went through the floor and walls, spraying shimmering metal fragments from behind them.

"Everybody leave!" Val shouted.

Nobody hesitated to run.

Val tapped their mic on. "This is Agent Valarie Dell communicating on all channels, several metaphysical hazards are now present on Floor -1…" They kept a watchful eye on Danyal's motionless body.

A sliver of Danyal's metahand was now nonexistent. The blur, a pitch-black metaphysical katydid, landed at the structure's opposite end. It lunged again and he dodged. It was the machine's defense mechanism and was trying to eat his metabody, which would take days to regenerate. Though it wasn't guaranteed death, he couldn't let it reach his real body. Body property and perception damage wasn't worth gambling on.

Leap, dodge, leap, dodge. The battle swiftly fell into a pattern that left him in a weak disadvantage. As it passed under his metahands again he went for a swift punch. He pulled back when two fingers were sheared off as he touched the insect's body. It was a conceptuvorous hole, impenetrable to the metaphysical combat he relied on. It may tire out after a while, but he didn't have a while.

More dark-gray bulges appeared near the right end of the construct.

"Wait, Val. Is the android still there?" Danyal shouted over the chaotic metaphysical noise only he heard.

"Uh-"

Officer ARO43 was still connected to the computer, their processing power dedicated entirely to data retrieval. The only safety measure they took was crouching down. Val clenched their hand and the android was ripped from the conceptually flashing terminal.

"Get out of here!"

ARO43 briefly looked around and sprinted to Floor -2, ignoring their severed hand laying by the superconducting computer remains.

Danyal pinched the surface of the conceptual structures and extruded a barrier from it in front of his metahand. The katydid dodged around and collided into another wall that was transforming into protective semi-spheres around each metahand. If the creature was tasked with protecting the device, it wouldn't eat through parts of it. The hands swung around the structure's sides and repeatedly slammed into the creature, sending it careening. Both fists gathered enough material and broke off the surface into the air, fully encapsulated in spheres. They rocketed towards the bug and crushed it into the structure, blasting a crater on its surface. Before the bug could react the spheres broke off the hands and wrapped over the crater, sealing it in.

The hands shed the spheres and moved to a thin conceptual pipe next to a mass of translucent gears. If this was broken it would split the machine in half, rendering it inoperable. He grabbed on, noticing dark gray bulges on the other side of it. He had to move quickly. The hand pushed and gradually dented it, extruding more walls from it and shrinking its size. The bulges were growing, expanding, twisting, and bending. Suddenly a rapid series of modifications to the machine were detected by Danyal. The bug was tunneling through the machine towards his hands. In an instant it burst out and the right metahand was eviscerated into particulate debris. It reached the opposite side of the machine and propelled itself towards the last hand.

He snapped the pipe as the bulges grew and pushed them out towards the bug, letting go to avoid the chaos that would ensue. A colorless jet shot out as the conceptual structures buckled and collapsed, piercing through the insect. The katydid split into red and blue afterimages of itself which ricocheted through the interior, smashing apart electronics. After a second they vanished in a haze of ampersands, fading out of ennoiatheama's range. Danyal's metabody began retracting into himself.

Chester pushed Danyal to the ground as a row of not-concept spikes came out of the machine, barely missing his head. Val swung their hand back and they flew away from another spike that went along the floor. The remnants of the machine crumpled, and with a long electric whine it deactivated. A translucent ring rolled out of the debris and melted into his remaining metahand, which phased back into his body. His mind made an attempt to keep going, grasping at and hanging onto disparate thoughts. He fainted.


Chester dragged himself off the ground and inspected himself. Only a few scrapes on his clothes, and after pulling back his sleeves he saw that his cybernetics were intact. He looked around. Metal shards, broken pipes spilling water onto the ground, thaumic circuitry spitting out arcane symbols in electrical arcs. Columns of light spilled through as the not-concepts disintegrated and unplugged the holes they left in the ceiling.

"He really did a number on this place," Val said between pants. They raised their flask and took another swig.

"It happens."

Val nodded. They could faintly hear the sounds of panicked pedestrians and the officers trying to calm them, both groups disturbed by the spikes that had stretched far out of the building. The floors above and below were lit with the chatter of agents, all calling back to command in confusion. Countless materials with tampered properties were sprinkled through the air.

"Anyways, I'm checking the outside. Have to make sure the police can handle the situation."

"Roger that."

He dashed up the stairwell. "Oh, and I'll call for med support," he said, pointing at Danyal's unconscious body. He rushed up and out of site.

Val admired the wreckage and crouched down.

"Agent Valarie, status report," their mic sputtered to life.

"Metaphysical hazards suspected to be neutralized. One golem down, one 3P police android damaged, Agent Danyal unconscious. Over."

They laid a hand on his chest. Still breathing.

"Copy that. Agent Chester has called for medical units, stay where you are and check for additional hazards. Over."

"Copy. Over."

The investigation was far from over.


STATE OF BEING
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