Testing the Flow
rating: +28+x

He felt something pressing against his skin. Ever since they had him read the goddamn booklet, he felt something squeezing him, trying to find its way in. It was as if the air pressure had risen to an incredible degree and all the air in his lungs was forced out, replaced with whatever it was that surrounded him.

It should be painful, agonizing. Instead, it seemed almost pleasant and alluring. He felt like taking a deep breath to suck all that in, down to the very last bit. But he had learnt enough about this goddamn place to know it was not pleasant, and it never would be. He had heard stories about people who happily wrote with their own blood and bled out and died.

This seemed to him very much like that, and he wanted to resist the urge for his own sake. He tried to, and succeeded so far. Only he knew that this would not last. Every moment, the air pressed harder against his person, pushing his organs together and he felt like throwing up. And on the other hand, he also felt as if something breath-taking would happen if only he would just heed the flow of the air and let it in.

Only he knew it would not be marvelous. Only he knew he would give in.

“Anart is effectively reality bending,” Dale Fang announced as soon as he closed the chamber.

“What?” Yang blinked. “I’m not a reality bender, you know?”

“Oh, sorry, I mean, Flow is reality bending,” Fang said as he proceeded to turn on the equipment. “Anyways, at least that’s how my hypothesis goes: It is formed by, or at least draws from, the surplus of humanity’s collective reality-bending power.”

Yang nodded, but didn’t seem convinced. She looked around the tall bronze machines that filled the room, before settling her attention on a particular one. “Hold on, is that a reality anchor?”

“Yeah, the stabilizer,” Fang said, holding up a hand-held counter. “And this is a Hume reader.”

“I’m not gonna ask where you got those.”

Fang turned to look at the anartist as he waited for the machines to fully activate. “Hey, relax. They are definitely produced in the family. It would be useful to get other groups’ more… professional version of the devices; ours are rather out of date. But they should be enough for me to determine reality bending’s role here.”

“Don’t reality anchors affect like, magic as well?” Yang went up to take a closer look. “They’re used to banish gods, right? Can’t remember quite well.”

“Oh yeah, there are those weaponized designs. But in terms of just how it can affect reality benders and magic users, there are subtle differences. Usually not really effective towards thaumaturgy unless you’re targeting its links to the reality…” Dale pulled out of a tool box and began to set up a studio space. “But yeah, I’m straying from the topic. I’ll just set this up, and see how it can affect your creative process… and then I’ll be the one to analyze the data and worry about what it is.”

“Sure, sounds fine with me.”

As Yang helped set up the small art space, Fang went back to adjust the devices.

“I mean, I could potentially also monitor your brain activity when you’re… anarting,” he said, moving the measurement device closer to the art board. “But that’s not exactly my area of expertise.”

“Of course we tracked their brain activities.” Dr. Samuels rolled his eyes. “How do you suppose we do tests? Just sit on our asses and record how they die?”

“Actually, yeah, something like that,” Agent Green said as he looked around the storage room. Two rolls of anomalous artworks sat neatly on the two sides, separated by walls of enhanced glass. Their anomalous nature was glaringly visible under the strong illumination of the room, as many of them moved around erratically, defied Euclidian space, and emitted waves of colors. For a moment he felt like he was back in one of those anart exhibitions; in fact, the amount of anomalous artwork here was enough to fill an entire display. More than one, if being generous.

“How many D-Classes did you even use?”

“Not as many as you may think. Most were able to produce plenty of works before they… start to use themselves,” Samuels answered, pointing at one of the artworks.

Looking over, Green saw a floating cube composed of what was no doubt human flesh. A severed human head on the top (which was still moving, and breathed hungrily) and traces of orange jumpsuit gave that away. The air contorted around it, pressing on all six sides. The cube itself seemed to be constantly shrinking under the pressure, but it was a mere visual hallucination.

Green looked back at Samuels.

“Well… some reacted quite violently.”

“You sure this is a good idea? Those pamphlets caused some major incident, after all.” Green frowned in response. “Besides, Cobalt’s been handing in reports. And hell, is the containment here even safe?”

“I assure you that the tests were all conducted in a very controlled environment with proper procedures; the containment here is only temporary, mostly for better observation,” Samuels said, adjusting his glasses. “And as for Agent Cobalt, I’ve had my assistant Mendez looking into the information she provided. It is indeed helpful, but the anartists themselves are relying more on vague feelings. I only want concrete science. For now, exposing test subjects to the pamphlet and having them access the ‘Flow’ forcefully is my best option.”

Green began to pace around the chamber, and examined the pieces one by one. An array of clay cubes that fused together, then spilt up again, with animated figures on each of them; a series of two dimensional shapes layered onto one another, making the whole object alter with every tiny change of perspective; a structure with impossible colors that he was sure was an actual hypercube.

He couldn’t exactly claim himself an expert on evaluating artistic merit, but it was obvious that most of these were good pieces, and would fit right at home in an anomalous exhibition. Not the most refined in skills, considering that the D-Classes were most likely not professional artists, but impressive enough nonetheless.

“Green,” Samuels called out behind him. “The analysis of these is over already, and if you don’t take them, they are scheduled to be neutralized the next month.”

“Yes, lucky me that there just happens to be this amount of anart when I’m in dire need of works that can’t be traced,” Green sighed. “I’ll take them.”

“Good, I’ll send their files your way.”

“Although, what’s with those?” he said, pointing to the left side. The works placed there were almost uniformly cubical, or contained some sort of square shapes.

“Oh, we exposed them to cubical-themed visual stimuli for two weeks. To see which part of the brain is responsible for outside influence in artwork.”

“You made quite some progress, then.”

“We certainly did,” Samuels grinned, showing visible enthusiasm. “The brain patterns still need a lot of analysis work, but once that’s done we’ll be able to move on to the next stage.”

“Next stage?”

“Oh yes, if we can find out exactly what parts of the brain participated in utilizing the ‘Flow’, figuring out the specific links… Eventually, we will be able to break this thing down.”

“I’m not exactly trying to crack the Flow here, you know. I just need to know where it fits in the grand scheme of things,” Fang said, activating the anchor. “Now I’ve recorded the data from your normal progress, let’s see if the stabilizer does anything.”

Yang felt as if the air in the room grew heavier. “I’m getting paid, so not complaining,” she shrugged. “But can I even do that with it on?”

“Well, that’s for us to find out!” Dale said as he put the newly finished work into a storage unit. The figure on the canvas stared at him in silent protest, as the painting morphed from one style to another.

“I suppose I should get to work, then?” Yang went and picked up one of the brushes.

“If you think you’re ready.”

Yang nodded and shifted her attention to the blank canvas. For a few moments, ideas bounced in her head, as she thought about the afternoon where she tossed old paintings to her painted cat, about the nostalgic trip to the abandoned buildings filled with faded graffiti, and finally, Fang’s wild theories of the workings of the universe he so enthusiastically talked about. As her thoughts wandered, she casually picked through colors, letting loose lines and pieces move around and rearrange in her head.

And suddenly, there was a spark. The image she wanted presented itself, emerging out of what seemed like nowhere, and then everything started linking together and flowing forward.

Colors were prepared and adjusted, and she set the brush against the canvas. She envisioned, projecting the all details that popped up and swirled in her head onto the blank space in front of her, blank space to be filled. But as she began to paint, setting lines and fitting colors, Yang frowned.

Ideas came together quickly as usual, and she commanded the tools with ease. Yet when the color reached the white background, when she put up the dark sky and the metallic ground, it felt somewhat plain and dull. It was as if there was something between her and the artwork, as if everything was where it should be, but she was outside of it, and couldn’t quite get through. A thin but invisible wall between the artist and the artwork.

It all felt very… sluggish.

The Flow slowed down, and then completely dried up.

Agent Alex Cobalt sighed as her hours of effort broke down in front of her. The pencil lines were still there, in exactly the same place she left them, but were now still and dull. For a few moments here and there, during the past three hours, she had felt that they were somehow moving, pushing each other. They were part of something big that was about to come to life. But now, the lines were just broken carbon pieces clinging onto a paper, perfectly normal and nothing alive about them.

She knew that it was not just in her head, as she had done it before. She had seen the lines dance on their own in that anart studio, and as clumsy as it was, she had made the rabbit jump out of paper in front of Green and Samuels. She had seen things come together, and even though they may not have been anything grand or even beautiful, they were good. They were things she felt proud of. Yet that same touch was now both so close to and so far away from her, hours of work producing failed works only.

Cobalt resisted the urge to crumple the failed piece into a ball. Instead she opted to just toss it aside, stacking it with five other perfectly ordinary art pieces she had produced. Foundation loves to keep records and archives, after all.

She turned to the researcher in the room. “Sorry, I just… I guess I just don’t feel it today.”

“It’s alright, Alex,” Researcher Jennifer Mendez smiled at her. Looking at her tablet, and then back at Cobalt, she added: “You know what, how about let’s just call it for the day?”

Cobalt nodded wearily and pulled the sensors off her head. She turned to Mendez, as the researcher began to get the equipment back in place.

“It’s just… it’s bad because I really managed it before. And I guess I’m hindering your progress like this.”

“Oh no, nothing like that. Dr. Samuels has actually gathered a lot of info lately,” Mendez pulled up a gentle smile. “Besides, I can see it’s hard and you can’t rush this sort of things. Just don’t worry about it, okay?”


“You have undercover work tomorrow, right?” Mendez had begun to pack the failed pieces, filing them one by one into plastic folders. “Guess we’ll meet again on Sunday?”

“Yeah. See you, Jenny.”

“See you too, Alex.”

As she left the room, Cobalt sighed once more, and thought about the anart class to come. Trying to keep tabs on everyone while listening to lectures wasn’t really the ideal way to learn. Yang had pulled her aside and told her to take things easy, and Cobalt was glad she thought it was just stress. Unlike the testing, she really couldn’t afford to mess up during an undercover job. As she thought about her plans, Legler’s smug face popped up in her head, and she cursed a bit under her breath.

“Shit,” Yang turned to look at the machine that just made a loud noise, and seemed to have shut off abruptly. “I didn’t break anything right?”

“Oh, no no, don’t even worry about that.” Dale reached his hand into the canvas, obviously amazed. “This is, in fact, incredible!”

Yang started at him, unsure what to make of that comment.

“First off, tell me how you felt.”

“Well,” Yang frowned, recalling the sluggishness she sensed, “I felt like there was something between me and the paint when I first started, and as I went on I kind of forgot about it. And in the end when I finished, aside from the normal click when finishing an anart piece, I also felt the heaviness was suddenly lifted from the air—shit I really broke it, right?”

“Well, yes and no. It’s more like… you pulled Flow in to do the job. And no worries, cost is all on me.” Dale started poking at the silver buildings inside the painting, and then reached another hand in and pressed it against the cold surface.

“Okay? But why would it be ‘incredible’, then?”

“Ah. The anchor may be out of date, but it’s supposed to be able to suppress one or two high-class reality benders without any problem.” Dale was now squatting in front of the picture, trying to get a better look at the painted night sky.

Seeing this, Yang started to chuckle. “Actually, you can go in if you want.”

“Wait what, the painting?”

“Yep, let me hold it for you.” Walking to the other side, she held the shelf and canvas. “Should be able to fit through.”

Hearing that, Dale immediately raised a foot and started to climb up. As he went deeper, the painted world in front of him shrunk, until he was standing on a solid metal sphere. The cityscape, once expanding all the way to the horizon, was like grass under his feet. He reached up, and found that he could really touch the stars in the sky. As he caught one, the others moved around gently, like leaves floating in a pond.

“I now see why so many people are into this,” he said as he held the star up towards to Yang, who had now moved back to the front of the picture. The star glowed a pleasant cold light.

“There’s more you can do,” Yang prompted. “Think about something, maybe like, the moon.”

“Sure.” And as Dale’s thoughts went to picture a moon in the night sky, surely enough, a sliver of moon appeared in the picture.

Dale stared at the crescent-shaped object. “Wow, but that’s not what the real moon looks like.”

In the next instant, the crescent turned into a sphere, with mountains and valleys, just as Dale remembered from the satellite photos.

“It’s kind of like a little world with your own rules. Just figured it’s what you may want,” Yang explained. “Standing on the ground and reaching for the stars and all that. Actually, now that I've started to talk about this, I have no idea where I was going.”

“Haha, but it’s great, I love it!” Dale said, climbing back out, with the cold star still in hand. As he went from the little world back to his testing chamber, the star slowly dissipated into the air.

“Aw, I wish I could keep that.” He looked at the disappearing light and then turned to Yang. “But back to the topic, I trust that you still want to know what just happened?”

“Very interested.”

“So,” Dale went back to the now broken stabilizer, and proceeded to check it. “You know why reality anchors don’t work on magic users well? I mean, in theory, they’re supposed to enforce baseline reality no matter what.”

Yang nodded.

“The thing is, the anchors only work within a certain range. With reality benders, their abilities all come from themselves, so once in the range, they’re done. But thaumaturgy is different. Magic users use their own EVE, yes, but they are also part of this larger system that they tap into and draw from. So enforcing reality in a certain area is not enough; you’d have to sever the links. It also works a bit differently for higher class thaumaturgic entities, as they are providers and sometimes destroyers of those systems…”

“…I’m really not familiar with the magic systems,” Yang cut in before Dale went on rambling more about thaumaturgy.

“Haha, yes, right.” Dale laughed awkwardly. “What I mean is, what you just did, is breaking the enforced reality by directly pulling a large influx of humes, or reality bending powers, out of… somewhere outside the range, I can only guess. There was this slow build up, but by the time you finish, the readings just peaked all of a sudden. And there goes the stabilizer.”

“Are you saying that Flow is… magic?”

“Oh no, I mean, there’s no fixed ritual or gestures and symbols as far as I can see. And if it’s magic… okay I really wish I have one of those EVE sensors, those will make the explanation so much easier. But if it’s magic, your readings would have showed up differently. There’s no… consuming of your energy… I’d say you tapped into something, or resonated with it, bypassing the stabilizer…”

“Well, that part does sound like Flow to me. Good to know,” Yang said, silently noting to herself that other anartists probably weren’t going to like this “categorization” very much.

“This just gave me so much to work on. Rawer than magic, and not quite reality-bending.” With all the data gathered and sorted, Fang sat down and started poking at the painting again. The city inside blinked and was abruptly replaced with an ocean. “I need to look up some historical documents, but yeah, this could mean a lot of things. And I can’t wait to explore further.”

Proposal: Project Fountain

Proposed by: Dr. Samuel Samuels, Anart Specialist

Project Goal: Study the alleged source of anartists’ anomalous capabilities, also known as “the Flow”, in a more controlled environment.

Overview: Previous testing with D-Class personnel has established a basic connection between certain brain areas and the creation process of anomalous anart. The next step is to further decode the process, and produce more quantifiable and precise results. To do this, isolating certain aspects is needed, and the current method has been proved limited.

This project aims to study the anart creation more efficiently by eliminating irrelevant factors. A special procedure may be performed on D-Class personnel to tune their minds for testing. The procedure includes the removal of their personality and ego; the deactivation of brain areas unrelated to anart creation process.

Through this, a deeper understanding may be gained regarding the parts of human brain involved in anart process. Ultimately, this may be a gateway to controlling or limiting Persons of Interest’s access to “the Flow”.

Update: This proposal has been approved by Site Board and the Ethics Committee. A D-Class quota of ten (10) has been granted.

Note: Dr. Samuels, while there is enough ground and solid evidence for your proposal to be passed, I must advise you to use your quota sparingly. The Committee will pay close attention. — Dr. Jeremiah Cimmerian

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