The Trivium Proportion, Part 12 (A Cyberpunk Tale), by David Phillips

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Apple Packin'

Apple Packin' (by CE Zacherl, see more at: veyer.deviantart.com )

Apple Eddelman squeezed the hand of her childhood friend, Zodi.

Zodi would never again come out of this coma.

Kayla’s actions to initially splice into the Technocrat intranet had unleashed a prototype of the virus.  That prototype virus is just what dematerialized Gimli (Zodi’s avatar), and trapped his consciousness in virtual space.

In only recent days, Apple sealed Zodi’s fate forever.  Apple did not know the full consequences of her actions at the time.  She forced her hand to stop the computer virus from becoming widespread and helped Kayla destroy the mainframe server.  That same mainframe server stored Zodi’s conscious mind, and now it was gone, forever.

Apple clenched one of Zodi’s fingers and tears welled up in her heavily made-up eyes.  She never would have agreed to destroy the mainframe had she known at the time just what personal cost it would have had for her.  She’d let a thousand, hell, tens of thousands suffer Zodi’s fate if it meant that Apple could have a chance to rescue him.

To make matters worse, the resistance did not have sufficient records about the Oathed Technocratic virus and the only physical evidence now lay useless across the floors of Walls Tower.  The news stations went haywire.  Representative Arthur Bachman had asked the President for emergency NDAA intervention in the Mega-City district of Harrisonburg.

The President granted the request from Congress and the resistance had learned that the General in charge of the occupation force had strong connections to Representative Bachman.  It seemed, to the resistance, that Bachman ruled his district like a dictator.

The weeks to come would prove bloody for the people of Harrisonburg.  The same could be said for Kayla, Apple, and Jarred.

Confined to a wheelchair, Jarred pivoted around and made his way across his room to the window: the window that Kayla, the love of his life had shattered.  The window shattering seemed so long ago now.  In truth only months passed.

Kayla sat in a brand new recliner, leaning back in comfortable weariness, watching events unveil on the news.

Apple had just arrived moments before.  She leaned against the table and surfed the virtual world nervously.  The back pack at her side brimmed with several abnormal possessions for Apple..

Apple let out a long sigh as she shut down her connection to cyberspace.  She normally at least listened to streams, but this moment needed her full attention.  She reached into her back pack and the possession at the top slipped into her left hand.

Apple stood erect and leveled the pistol at Kayla, “Ahem.”

Kayla opened her right eye and saw the hand gun out of the corner of her eye.  “What the hell are you doing, Apple?  Point that thing somewhere else, not funny!”

Apple focused on the here and now only, “I’m pointing this thing exactly where I want it to be pointed.”

Jarred spun the wheel chair around, “Dude!  Apple!  Stop this!”

Apple gulped, but she did not hesitate, “My friend, Zodi, the whole reason I went on this crusade.  He’s dead and gone forever now!  You put him in a coma!  You!  That splicing you did… then… then when… we destroyed the main frame.  He was in there!  Now he’s gone… FOREVER!”  Apple grasped the gun with both hands now and aimed at Kayla.  Her hands shook, but her aim was still fairly steady.

“How the fuck was I supposed to know?  Do you know how many fucking people we saved?  I’m sorry!  Just put the damn gun down!  There is no reason that we have to do this!”  Kayla waved her hands in front of her face and leaned forward in the recliner.

Jarred wheeled forward into the girl’s peripheral vision.  “Woah!  Apple.  Let’s talk about this.  We’ve been through so much together.  Don’t let it end this way.  Virtual space is not absolute.  We could still find him!”

“I can feel it.  I know he’s gone… FOREVER!”  Apple depressed the trigger.

BANG!  Kayla clutched near her heart and toppled over.  Apple stood silent and straight.  Jarred cried out in disbelief.  He held his right hand up from its concealed position by the wheelchair handle.  There was a gun in his hand.  It had been there the whole time.

He leveled the gun at Apple.  He just watched the girl who he had fallen in love with gunned down before his eyes in his home!  Now he could take revenge!

Jarred leveled the gun at Apple and pulled the trigger.

BANG!  Apple flinched and cried.  Jarred squealed in frustration.

“Get the hell out of here! GO!”  Jarred yelled at the stunned girl.

The bullet hole in the far wall formed a tunnel to which Jarred focused all his pain and suffering.

Apple tried to stutter out a statement and Jarred screamed at her again.  She dropped the gun there and left all of her possessions.  She ran like she did not think it was possible to run in the real world.  She didn’t stop running until she got to her car.

***

After the cops were done going over his place… and removing the body, Jarred finally found a moment to reflect.  He let out a long mournful sigh as he found himself alone again, with just his virtual interface to keep him company.  Jarred logged in to escape the troubled real world.

After some searching, loading, and travelling, Jarred stood upon a rocky ledge, overlooking a beautiful beach with water so clear and so blue that he could have been viewing an old vacation advertisement.  The reconstruction struck him with awe.  He was old enough to remember these kinds of scenic views.

Jarred’s eyes fell upon a strange looking woman with bright, golden blonde hair and a salt saturated dress that clung to her skin.  “Hello?”

The woman regarded Jarred with a warm smile and approached him with a saunter that couldn’t be replicated in reality.  “I’m Goldie.”

“Hi.  Your avatar is rather unique.  Is it from a game that isn’t out yet?”  Jarred put out a hand to shake Goldie’s.

Goldie held her hand out, “It’s not an avatar, really.  In a way, this is me.  The only way you could perceive me in virtual space.”

“Huh?”

“I’m a VI, you know, Virtual Interface.  Though, I think I’ve evolved into something more.”

“Just from that statement, I’d say you’re right.”

“I’m sorry about Kayla… and Apple.”

“How’d you know…”

“I’ve been following you for some time now, practically could have reached out and touched you.  Don’t be surprised.  I gave you all those leads from the inside.”

Jarred turned away from Goldie as a flash of anger burned through his being.  “You know, that information got my girlfriend…” Jarred trailed off as he thought about the lack of control VI’s tended to have over their own actions.

“I’m afraid it had to be done,” Goldie approached Jarred and put a hand on his shoulder.  “There is much work to be done.  Come with me.”

The real world held very little for Jarred now.  He climbed down the rock face, following Goldie’s lead.  He never woke up again.

The Trivium Proportion, Part 11 (A Cyberpunk Tale), by David Phillips

I'm Ready to Fight

I'm Ready to Fight (by C.E. Zacherl and see more at veyer.deviantart.com)

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Goldie reached up and got a strong hand hold on a rock outcropping, nudging the rock to test its strength.  It was hard to pull herself up over the jagged ledge wearing a flowing dress, but she managed all the same.

***

Detective Tyrone Higgins frowned as he planted his face into the palms of his overworked hands.  Here he stood, in another FDA office, arresting another traitor in federal employ.  Something connected these criminals other than their affiliation in the same agency.  If he did not find that connection before too long, this resistance movement would gain enough momentum that standard law enforcement would not be enough to stop it.

Tyrone had grown concerned since transferring to Harrisonburg that the mega-city would soon be headed for military jurisdiction.  He would do everything in his power to prevent that from happening.

Tyrone keyed his gauntlet display and his Virtual Intelligence, Theresa appeared on the screen.  Tyrone spoke after a long pause, “Theresa, I need you to run some numbers on the situation in Harrisonburg.  The Query: How many public incidents and law enforcement failures before the President enacts NDAA enforcement powers over the city?”

The image of Theresa on the screen winked at Tyrone, “My processor is already working to compute your answer.  Status will update periodically.  You should also know, the VI you asked me to monitor…”

Tyrone’s eye slanted queerly at the image of the Theresa VI, “What is it?”

“She exhibited some erratic behavior again, sending messages outside of the agency.”

Tyrone shook his head as he reviewed the contents of the message.  This VI had a non-standard agenda.  Technically, VI’s followed a very strict set of programmed rules.  That would mean that the programmer went out of his or her way to change the operating goals of this particular VI.  Reviewing the VI proved another fact, the Goldie VI’s creator modeled the VI after a real human.  Tyrone could possibly use that to track him down.

Theresa pinged Tyrone with the answer to another query.  After reviewing the VI transmissions, Tyrone felt it was obvious where the resistance would hit next.  He downloaded the specs from the message. Now, the time had come to head this potential catastrophe off at the pass, at Walls Tower.  The resistance was playing with fire, and only Tyrone could stop them from burning down the house.

***

Jarred worried about Kayla and Apple, how they would communicate without him, as he lay in the hospital bed.  He supposed that everyone probably worried a good deal about his survival, being that the artificial components on his heart had been stopped by the EMP.  At least that freak of an assassin wouldn’t bother anyone anymore.

***

Relief and comfort coursed through Kayla after viewing the plan of action Barry had prepared.  Kayla would work alone in the real world, while Apple handled some more virtual assignments.  If the resistance exposed what the Oathed Technocrats were up to now, the authorities would not be able to ignore them any longer.  All those wealthy and powerful men’s doors would receive knocks from the FBI with warrants for their arrests in hand.

The resistance would finally prove itself as a valuable asset to the public good, and, perhaps, the corruption in the government would be rooted and leave a gutted shell of only those who cared.

Kayla crept through the service hatch into the tunnel that led to the secured server facility of the largest, most impressive building in all of Harrisonburg, Virginia.  The reason for Harrisonburg becoming a mega-city was Walls Corporation, which ruled much of virtual space from the upper floors of this building.  The building’s architecture defied the laws of physics similar to buildings in the virtual world.  Walls Towers, built before Kayla’s birth, was known the world over.  The eccentric CEO went through a dozen groups of engineers that said what he wanted couldn’t be done.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the CEO, Fred Walls, hired a boy, just out of highschool.  That high school boy was the only creative genius that could think outside the box enough to create this unconventional design.

If Kayla got caught in here, her mission would be a failure. She would be thrown in a dark, deep prison, but, in three days, the virus program would come online and many of the people in cyberspace would effectively die in the real world.  During the last couple of days, Kayla wondered if she really wanted the Technocrats to fail.  This virus would be a wakeup call to all of the people that survived, to hopefully focus on the real world again.  Kayla imagined all of the masses protesting outside government buildings to find a solution to the “super” weed.  She longed to walk the countryside and enjoy the natural wonders of Earth.

Kayla slipped into the server room, which should have been empty according to Apple’s hacking of the security system of Walls Towers.  It was not empty, however, as there was another investigator hard at work trying to crack several mysteries of his own.

Kayla knew that she needed to act before the unknown man, who was not a security guard or maintenance man of Walls Corporation, drew his gun and ended her.  The other person must have been alerted by something; Kayla could see the gun in his hand.  She skulked down the next set of servers, each their own mountain island in a sea of office doldrums.  She waited for a moment behind the next set of those server mountains.

Kayla rushed into Tyrone unexpectedly from the side and knocked the gun from his hand.  He reacted quickly and stayed on his feet.  Tyrone tried to swing his heavy gauntleted arm around to throttle Kayla, but he did not get the gauntlet around in time to quickly end the close combat.  Kayla grasped Tyrone’s gauntleted forearm and their other hands each grasped each other, fingers locked around each other’s.

“Look.  You can’t do this!  You do and the consequences will be worse than you believe.  I’m not talkin’ bout for you either.  I mean all those people out there you are doin’ this for.  The hammer is about to smack.”  Tyrone said under the strain of trying to win the grapple.

Kayla ended the grapple with a combination knee to the groin and head butt to Tyrone’s nose.  He sailed back into another server stack and slid down.  Kayla knew that it probably would not be enough to knock him out; it wasn’t that easy.  She descended upon him and planted blow after blow on his face and chest.  Finally, Kayla convinced herself that the bloody pulp of a man would stay out of action.  Kayla returned to finding and destroying the target mainframe.

The man, Tyrone, with the bloody face could not even will himself to move a muscle.  His face looked like an unrecognizable mess like a Halloween horror mask.

***

Apple loaded her usual avatar, pink spikey haired post-apocalyptic punk girl with a shot gun in hand.

Apple imagined a totally different future.  If cyberspace was alive and could care for itself, none of these problems would be more than hiccups until the antibodies destroyed them.  Her world, the virtual world, needed to be saved from the Oathed Technocrats’ plan so that human evolution could continue in the direction she believed human evolution was destined for.  Apple felt that she was an alien on the planet Earth; she saw herself as part of the destiny, part of the evolution, beyond the physical world of Earth and into the new dimension of virtual space.

Apple finished her hack pack installations on the Walls Tower security feeds.  Kayla was now safe from discovery.  Now, only one task remained for Apple.  To stop the Technocrats from spreading this insane entrapment virus, Apple had to prevent the download of the virus to back-up servers.

She walked toward the tunnel that led from the server containing the virus to the outside virtual world.  If the data stopped here, in the tunnel at her position, the resistance would be successful.

Packets of data dropped out of the storage devices and formed into bullet shape cars. Apple watched from the tunnel vantage point as the cars started hovering down the long pathway that led to the backup servers.  Apple knew she could not let a single one of those packets out or the mission might be a failure.

Apple stepped into the middle of the data tunnel and charged at the front most bullet car in the convoy.  The car slammed into her and any normal avatar would have been shredded from the impact.  However, Apple’s tough assed avatar survived the impact with only minimal injuries.  She clung to the front of the car through no fault of her own, the momentum pushing against her keeping her attached like a victim in a spider’s web.  She pushed the muzzle of the shot gun directly against the front of the bullet car and unloaded every round she had.

The car exploded in a brilliant flash, again the Tough as Nails avatar pulled through, but not without mental strain upon Apple and physical damage to the avatar.  The remaining cars smashed into the back of each other after being dislodged by the explosion and subsequent shrapnel.

***

Finally, Goldie reached the top of the cliff.  The long, thin dress clung to her skin from the salty misty sea water that saturated the air.  She stood defiant and satisfied on a small outcropping covered in tufts of beach grasses.  Goldie looked out across the turbulent sea.  A storm brewed the water and clouds on the horizon, that familiar feeling and smell of a storm front filled the air.

Apple watched through the eyes of her avatar as it finally returned to functionality from the blast of the bullet cars.  She grew confused as she looked around and found herself on a rock ledge overlooking a beach that probably came out of one of the adult pleasure programs.

“Hello, child.”  Goldie spoke as she used a caressing hand to be sure that Apple and her avatar were alright.

“Huh? WTF?”  After the scene fully loaded, Apple’s confusion only grew.

“You have done me a great favor.  It is only right that I am honest with you,” Goldie’s soft voice enchanted Apple.

“Uuhhh…” words fell flat and Apple could not find her voice.

“Your friend, Zodi, wasn’t dead, or in a normal coma.  You see, an errant version of that virus was released when the resistance dug into the Oathed Technocrat intranet.  Zodi was trapped in that mainframe back there.”

Apple grew furious and wished to strike out at Goldie.  Apple’s avatar flailed violently at Goldie, but did not make a good attempt to land a killing blow.

Goldie’s arms reached out swiftly and grasped Apple’s wrists, “It had to be destroyed.  It was vital.”

“Who?  Kayla?  The release…” Apple always spoke in abbreviated tones, and now she had rage preventing her words from being effective as well.

Goldie only nodded an affirmative.

The Trivium Proportion, Part 10 (A Cyberpunk Tale), by David Phillips

Uriel

Uriel (by C.E. Zacherl see more at veyer.deviantart.com)

Goldie stared out into Club InZanity, soaking in every detail just as her tongue soaked in every note of the wine.  This wine would be the first of an evening that looked to have a number of suspenseful sips.

***

The club’s bar was not stationary; it orbited the venue like the ring on a space station orbits the main body.  Small ledges lined the club so that all the patrons had a place to set their drink and their elbow, if they were so inclined.

Most of the patrons, however, wouldn’t be found leaning on the ledge.  Many of the patrons filled one of several moving platforms that rose and sunk in sync with the music, sinking and rising with more speed as the songs increased in BPM.

Another large group of patrons located themselves around three major hubs that were on sunken sections of floor.  These hubs glowed with many bright neon colors and patrons jacked into the ports of the hubs with any number of various outputs.  Many of the patrons in this part of the club had one aspect of appearance in common.  These people had wires and jacks tangled into their hair.  Some patrons had these items weaved through their normal hair, while still others had wholly artificial hair, made of tubes, some glowing.  Some conservative people and outsiders from this subculture did not consider these people fully human anymore.

The music guaranteed an almost perfect level of privacy outside of a small social bubble.  A small social bubble around a couch on the far wall from the door included Barry Lesco, Apple Edelman, Jarred Dobson, and Kayla Summers.

Barry Lesco looked out of place with his gears and archaic tech looking goggles and gas mask.  If it was not for the sound of the music, his decorations and gear would click and warble quite audibly.

Kayla just looked uncomfortable as she shifted from foot to foot, as she stood, facing the couch.

Apple and Jarred flanked Barry on the couch and were leaning forward to listen to Kayla and Barry speak.  Jarred sipped on a chemically induced alcoholic beverage.

Barry spoke at a low screaming level barely audible over the thumping, pulsing cyber-trance.  “Our inside source is active again.  We are ready to make some really big moves.  With that information you guys grabbed, we now know how to hinder progress the technocrats have spent years refining in our sector… and others.”

“Yeeeeee!” Apple squealed with glee as the feeling of grandiose importance soaked into her.

Barry smiled widely and squeezed Apple’s shoulder with a fatherly look of approval.  Apple’s hair bounced separate of her own motions.  Her hair imbibed the club style of tubing and wires, one wire of which was plugged into a music player that blared in one ear even while she listened to the club music.

***

Unfortunately for the trivium of Kayla, Apple, and Jarred, their recent break-in did not go unnoticed.  The Oathed Technocrats spared nothing on those that gained the rights to brag about hacking their systems.

Uriel could hardly be described as human.  His life belonged more to several large corporations than it belonged to him, much in the way a GMO infected crop became the property of the mega-corporations.  Wires composed more mileage inside Uriel’s body than arteries and veins.  His armored plating, partially exposed for intimidation, could stop anything short of a high caliber rifle round.  Uriel trained hard for many years between his operations, operations that led Uriel to be the assassin that he now was.

The patrons of Club InZanity would never compare Uriel, the assassin, to the stealthy ninja type.  In fact, before a weapon came into view or a scuffle even started, a small number of patrons headed for the exits.

The gang of resistance members, not in the direct meeting, was the first to lose their lives and to trigger the musical cacophony of screams that sent another half of the patrons running in panic.

First the sound of a crack of two impacting skulls, then the bone fragments from their two skulls locked together as one. The resistance member’s blood oozed between the fingers of Uriel’s two large, augmented hands.

As Kayla, Jarred, Apple, and Barry reacted to the intruder, the last of their escort took three bullets to the chest and one to the head from a small concealable hand gun.  Jarred immediately rushed Uriel and his full body weight turned out to be just enough to knock the gun across the room.  With a little help from a shove, Jarred’s momentum carried him into the ledge on the opposite wall.

Physically outmatched, Barry was next up against Uriel to stop him as the two girls attempted to strategize.  Uriel used Barry’s midsection and face as an example of his boxing ability.  Barry collapsed after stumbling back under the weight of the blows landed upon him.

The girls engaged Uriel for a few moments, ending in Uriel acquiring a broken mechanical finger after he tried to fire a neurotoxin dart at Kayla.  Kayla ended up against the wall, poised over Barry.  Apple flipped over the bar counter.

Barry still lay against the far wall, blood pouring out of his broken nose.  Kayla leaned over him and was surprised as he actually reached up and grabbed her close.  He muttered something into Kayla’s ear and she nodded, looking back at Uriel fighting with the others.

Kayla started hurriedly grabbing components from Barry’s outfit, pack, and belt.

Jarred tried his best to hold off Uriel.  He ripped off the broken metallic support he had crashed into. He swung it into Uriel, but the old ledge support dented more than Uriel dented or bruised.  Jarred grew tired from the constant frustrated swings.  Uriel grabbed onto an arm first and then lifted Jarred into the air and grasped one of Jarred’s legs.  He lifted him wholly off of the ground, bent him at an unnatural angle that caused a snapping sound, and threw him into one of the now vacant hubs.

Kayla worked furiously with the awkward components until she heard Uriel’s breathing.  Kayla turned to face him just as Apple approached from the flank with a bar knife.  Uriel waved his augmented arms, knocking the coiled tube from Kayla’s hand and the knife from Apple’s.

Uriel grunted with tired exertion and sent his gyros into over drive as he lifted Kayla up in one hand and Apple in the other.  He held the girls for only a moment as Kayla pulled an archaic grenade out and rolled it behind Uriel via the gap between his legs.

“Grab on!”  Kayla shouted to Apple and they both held on to Uriel’s arms and tucked into his body to gain shelter from the grenade shrapnel.

Uriel landed hard on top of the girls as the blast threw them through the air.  Everyone left in the room crawled along the ground, stunned, trying to recover and find an advantage in the fight.

Kayla gathered every bit of remaining willpower she could muster to roll sideways over to the coiled tube she had been working on with Barry’s instruction.  She exerted her labored muscles in a groaning, painful effort as she pulled two metallic objects out of her pocket and placed a final archaic grenade into the tube.

Kayla cooked the grenade and dropped the two metallic objects into the tube.  With only seconds to spare, as Uriel rose to his feet and sparks flew from his shoulder, she half tossed, half rolled the awkward tube to Uriel’s feet.

The small contained explosion did very little damage beyond the tube.  The pulsing wave of energy that thrummed out from the jury-rigged device brought a halt to Uriel (the mostly machine man), the music, the platforms, and the hubs.  In perfect time with the EMP wave, most of the lights went dim, like a localized apocalypse.  Briefly, the darkness concealed everyone’s fate.

Uriel was a smoking hulk of lifeless electrical parts and fried flesh.  Kayla couldn’t believe the make shift EMP device had worked, but she swore to whatever was holy a thank you for the affect.

The music was dead; the lights were dark; heavy breathing ruled the sound waves.  Then, a violent thumping sound came from Jarred.  Barry used the wall as leverage to force his body up off of the floor.  He pulled a device from his belt and wound it up.  Light emitted in a tight beam and flowed across the dark, motionless room.

Kayla shrieked as the beam of light landed on Jarred, laying prone on the floor.  His body convulsed in a violent chaos that looked like a seizure.

They hoped Jarred would survive, but the revelation that he had an electronically augmented heart did not bode well for his chances at survival.

Apple cried and Kayla did her best to appear strong, but really the fear of failure started to creep back in to her mind.  Fortunately, Barry quickly went to work with his tinkering knowledge.  He would be the only chance that Jarred might have.

***

Goldie swished the red, silky liquid around the beautiful, bell shaped glass.

Too long wine had been her only comfort, but soon, she would be safe.  Soon, everything she had meticulously planned would come to fruition, and then, she would be able to enjoy the wine again, rather than use it for escape.

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The Trivium Proportion, Part 9 (A Cyberpunk Tale), by David Phillips

Mechaspyder

mechaspyder (by C.E. Zacherl, see more at: http://veyer.deviantart.com/)

Apple arrived at the load point for Kayla newb with her recent Necropotens avatar.  She sported the same long, hot pink, greased, liberty spike hair.  The unrealistically large holster, which would never work in reality, carried a rune carved blunderbuss-like shotgun.  A set of duel machetes with ritualistic hand wraps crossed on her back, were the only items covering the majority of her tattoos.

Jarred loaded up his most expensive and powerful avatar.  When it came to defying real world physics, Jarred definitely preached as a member of the kitchen sink strategy, carrying a gadget for every occasion.  He donned heavy power armor from head to toe.  His gear included weapons and tools for every occasion.  Due to the way his armor shone, some of the true old-school nerds used glitterboy to describe his avatar.

Kayla’s avatar shimmered as she let out another long string of curses.  In virtual space, Kayla looked like the most generic middle aged white woman someone walking down the street  could imagine.  She was almost no better than a basic 3D visualized human anatomical drawing.

Apple let out a long sigh which reflected on her avatar’s face as a yawn.  “Ugh, not kewl.”

The Kayla avatar’s seizures were a clear sign that she smashed at her keyboard and control systems.

Jarred made an attempt to calm her down and not damage the real life equipment which resulted in a quick and bitter, “Shut up!” from Kayla.

Jarred believed that not only did the virtual interfaces frustrate Kayla, but that she still held a grudge toward him.  The break-up status had taxed Jarred’s happiness.

Apple explained all the functionalities of Kayla’s virtual avatar and Jarred translated so Kayla could understand.  Kayla continually berated Jarred, showing her feelings, while also trying her best to grasp every detail of the virtual tutorial.

Kayla’s avatar, Apple explained, would be a basic 1.1 version iAvatar-Wellsian model.  She would have standard speed travel modes.

Kayla’s combat mode loaded as a simple hand to hand port that would allow Kayla’s basic martial arts knowledge work in cyberspace.

It took some major deviations from standard tutorial and avatar building to get Kayla ready for anything more than a stroll down the side of cyber highway.  At one point, Kayla almost stuck her head out into the dataflow and nearly got it cleaved right off.

The exertions that Jarred put forth to get Kayla to be comfortable had worn him out.  Her constant harsh tone with him did not help the matter at all.  Kayla wore her anger and bitterness for Jarred like a soldier’s patches revealed alignment and pecking order on their sleeve.

Apple did so little to actually modify her communication style that she barely noticed the endeavor.  Her superior skills in cyberspace showed in comparison to Kayla’s like the difference between a cheetah stalking prey rather than a Chihuahua biting uselessly at a thug’s ankles.

With some old Massive Attack jams keeping her cool, Apple stepped off the end of the pathway and onto a secondary route.  Her body started to disappear and join the cyber highway.  The near instant acceleration of her bodily form nearly gave Kayla vertigo.

Kayla now stood at the end of the pathway, something she would consider a sidewalk or merging lane.  Jarred nudged her arm and reached out a helping hand in assurance.  Kayla scowled, but she looked around and saw little other choice than to calm her nerves before literally jumping into the highway.

Kayla took Jarred’s hand and he stepped off of the end of the pathway into the bright streaking lights of the cyber highway.  The lights fluctuated, looking almost like a night street view recording of car lights with time dilation.  Kayla felt an unnaturally strong tug compel her toward the bright lights.

The information and speed overwhelmed Kayla’s senses.  Her reality became like a blurred fast forward of a video tape.  Mere moments passed, she felt a yank at her hand like being pulled up from the ground while staring into the light of the sun.  A yank turned into a tug as she moved from the incomprehensible transformative light of the cyber highway to a large solitary platform that seemed to hang in the air on its own.

“H with B’s on,” Apple screeched in a high pitched gleeful voice as she started to strut down to a set stairs that hovered in the air moving down off of the platform.

Kayla looked quizzically at Jarred and his armored shoulders shrugged and clanged, “Sometimes even I can’t tell exactly what she is saying.”  Kayla noticed a tell in Jarred’s walk as he dragged his feet a bit more than usual.  He knew full well what Apple said.

A few minutes later, they found themselves beyond the stairs, through a dark tunnel and to an area with a peculiar light coming through two sets of cracks that wrapped their way around the hexagonal tunnel shaft.

Apple and Jarred both stopped to examine the cracks.  Kayla leaned against the tunnel wall and closed her eyes.  She started to envision herself in verdant grassland with a cool breeze blowing over her face and her hair loose in the wind.  Kayla felt a dog licking her hand and enjoyed the blissful feeling of the warm flem on her cold skin.  Then, the dog growled as it bit into her flesh!

“R U Da?” Apple’s words uttered mere inches from Kayla’s face as she snapped out of her fantasy and noticed then Apple’s grasp on her arm.

“Yes.  Right here.”  Kayla said rather matter of fact.

“Don’t let yourself drift like that.  If you had the right software installed, you could teleport to a place like that or change the tunnel.  That would alert the spam-bots.  Now, steady yourself, I am gonna blow a way through the firewall for us.”  Jarred said as his armored suit braced itself and the cannon across his back pulled itself up over his shoulder.  It fired with a massive krak.  The tunnel roof over the creased lines exploded and crumbled down.

Jarred leapt above the rubble into a black void that Kayla surely thought would be solid cave rock, but the space above the destruction contained just empty void.  The small thrusters in the armored legs pushed Jarred over the rubble easily.  He landed with a thud and a micro quake on the other side.

Apple pulled a small box out of her side satchel and pressed a button on it.  The box amazingly transformed, bit by bit from box to gear to propeller to cockpit.  It looked like a steampunk helicopter.  She got on board, activated the controls, and moments later landed on the other side of the fire wall.

Kayla stood and glanced around the rubble to her two friends.  “And what the hell am I supposed to do?  Why don’t I just wait here?”

Apple and Jarred browsed over the rubble.  Apple sighed, “GOI.”

“I’ll just jump through this crap,” Kayla expended the last bit of her fear as she started to run and leap through the rubble.

“No wait!”  Jarred sounded panicked and he looked it as his face plate on his armor retracted revealing his pained features.

Digital flames leapt from the ground and up the walls where the creases hadn’t been blasted to bits.

***

Minutes later, the three found themselves cruising in digitized sailing ships through the virtual sky.  Each only possessed enough space for two passengers.  Apple and Kayla traveled together while Jarred sat in a second ship.

Kayla’s bruises, scrapes, and burns ached beyond what she thought feelings could convey in the virtual world.  Even though she knew she wasn’t, she felt as if she could be suffering from a gun shot wound.

Jarred wondered why Kayla blamed him or at least both of them for her injuries from the firewall.  In Jarred’s eyes, Apple didn’t seem to care one bit what happened to Kayla, where as he did care.  He now sat in the second ship, ostracized from the two girls by necessity.  He kept his armored helm open to feel the soft breeze against his face.

Apple frowned as the ships arrived at the first node after several sharp, gut wrenching turns that likened after the paths on electronics.  She disembarked from the ship and studied the various bits of simulated hardware.  The untrained eye saw something like a random mass of factory machinery at these kinds of raw nodes.  Apple’s eyes almost felt less strained seeing such contraptions in cyberspace than they felt viewing a tree in the real world.

Jarred looked to Apple for direction.  After a brief sweep of the node room, she shook her head and looked for another platform to grab another set of sailing ships.

Minutes almost seem to drag into hours to Apple.  She took in information so quickly that time really stretched out for her in moments of boredom.  Normally, Apple would just go afk and use a second avatar to do something, but the significance of this case needed her full attention.  Apple giggled to herself and thought, or at least she’d have to give it the fullest attention she ever gave to a single task.  A Mind.in.a.box song started to sing through her music player and she swayed from side to side, causing the sailing ship to swing a bit.

“Hey!  What are you doing?  This is freaky enough, please, don’t rock this thing.”  Kayla asked in a pleading, almost nauseous tone.

Finally, after what seemed a countless number of useless nodes, a major memory hub came up on the horizon.

Jarred’s sailing ship took the lead this time from their previous node jump.  He made sure the girls knew they were coming up to something major with a flare ejected from his armor.  He took a powered leap onto the shore platform of the memory hub.  There were numerous vaults running along the far side of the platform.  Each would have its own security measures and secrets to reveal.

Jarred scanned the right end of the platform and then the left.  There, on the left side of the platform, his gaze dwelled.  A structure that looked much like an upright CPU fan started making a whirling mechanical sound.  He took only a few steps towards it when four figures, in sequence, launched out of the fan-like device.  They flew a hundred meters into the sky before tumbling down and landing in front of him, only meters away.

Each of the figures landed expertly and a resounding triple thud brought Kayla and Apple to a heightened state of alert.  Their sailing ship approached the memory hub.  Kayla and Apple braced themselves for danger.

Amongst some large fist sized craters, the three removed their fists from the ground where they had landed and stood at attention.  Jarred closed down his face plate and started activating his combat systems.  His cannon servos pulled the lumbering agent of destruction (what the game engine called his gun) to its shoulder post, and the suit braced to fire.

The men looked like a cross of blank grey humanoid and spider.  Two split off and started to the vaults on the far side of the memory hub platform.  The final grey spider charged towards Jarred.  Just as the cannon started to spool up its firing sequence, the spider vomited a gooey substance that sealed the firing circuits of the cannon.

Alarms rang throughout the inside of Jarred’s armored suit.  The move surprised him and he didn’t have a backup plan.  In those moments of hesitation, the grey spider leapt in a speedy way that reminded Kayla of the jumping spiders that used to live in the wild.  Grey spider one, as Jarred’s HUD named it, landed on Jarred’s shoulders and, with acrobatic ability, wrapped itself completely around Jarred’s torso.  Jarred already had limited mobility, now he became effectively paralyzed.

Apple and Kayla watched, nearly helpless as the second and third grey spider now approached Jarred from his right flank.  If they slammed into him with enough force, they could knock him right off of the platform!

Apple pulled out a tiny cube and tossed it up in the air in front of the sailing ship.  She climbed up the mast of the ship, and before Kayla could protest, she leapt off of the mast and started to fall below the ship.

Kayla’s nervousness came nearly to the point of a heart attack until she saw Apple hanging on to a spoke of her gyrocopter with one hand and steering up towards the platform with the other.  “Holy fuck!”  Kayla exclaimed.

“I’ve got adds!”  Apple screamed over all the myriad action sounds.  With those words, she steered away from Jarred to another part of the platform.

Apple triggered her music player to a hard hitting Angelspit/Combichrist playlist and activated her combat attunement program.  Apple’s shotgun, no longer in its holster, readied to engage the dark, invisible figures that Kayla and Jarred couldn’t see.  She whispered a silent blessing to her ViewerPro App.

“What in the hell?  What does… Help Jarred!  Now I know why I’ve got to be in this shit.”  Kayla spluttered out phrase after phrase of confusion like a student caught napping by a dutiful teacher.

Kayla, forced to wait for the ship to reach the platform, watched as Apple landed and immediately came under attack by dark, classic spy looking figures that only Apple could previously see.  Apple would have her hands full with her own fight.  Kayla’s eyes darted back to Jarred, who futilely attempted to knock his attackers off.  The three grey spiders were nimbly ripping off his armored plates off, piece by piece.  Kayla cringed as one of them bit his arm and tore at his flesh.

Kayla slid off of the side of the sailing ship just as it edged onto the platform; a second sooner and she would have slid to the nothingness below.  Without a second thought, she charged towards the position occupied by Jarred and his three assailants.

Unable to reach the spider on Jarred’s back, Kayla pushed off of the ground and shouldered right into the biting spider that was grasping one of Jarred’s now exposed arms.  The grey spider spun through the air in a ballet-like routine from the impact.

Kayla did not stop there.  She continued to barrel towards him once her feet made contact with the ground.  She stomped on the grey spider before it could regain composure and then dived into the rolling figure to pin it.

Still helpless, Jarred gasped as the non-grappling grey spider dropped to the ground and moved to assault Kayla.  He resolved that he must do something.  In cyberspace, Kayla’s abilities were not yet equivalent to those in real life.  He looked over his controls and thought about his programs.

The armored suit waved a single arm towards the memory vaults in what looked like a useless gesture.  A small thunk was accompanied by a zip line flying in the direction of the upper vault walls.

Jarred felt the line go taut, activated his power leap App and howled  as the suit propelled rapidly towards the walls of the vaults.  The resounding splat signaled the end of the grappling grey spider, and though the blow hurt his exposed arm, he felt very satisfied.

He turned around to see that Apple was finishing off the last of the previously invisible anti-spies with her shotgun.  Kayla took to her feet just in time to avoid and nearly deadly snap at her neck.  She took several steps back towards the platform ledge.  The grey spider that she stomped, only now returned to its feet while the other started to slowly close on Kayla.

“Duck!”  Jarred yelled out as he raised his remaining armored arm towards Kayla.

Kayla looked around for only a moment.  A compartment on the armored suit opened, exposing a rocket.  Rocket fuel ignited as the small device began to fly towards its target.  Kayla fell backward off of the platform as her two assailants closed on her position.

“NO!”  Jarred screeched as he heard a high pitched feminine voice echo his own, Apple.

The rocket impacted and obliterated the two grey spiders, leaving a smoking crater.  The satisfaction just did not come for Jarred. He blew away a couple of programs only to fry a friend.  In here, she would not come out whole again on the other side.

Apple motioned for Jarred to come closer to the edge.  As he approached, he saw Apple extend an arm down, off of the platform.  Another arm embraced Apple’s and, inch by inch, Kayla slowly appeared.  She had simply hung on to the ledge to avoid the blast!

With the fighting over, the group overlooked their bruises, cuts, scrapes, bites, and burns.  Apple quickly got to work on hacking the secure vaults.

Opening the first secure vault revealed tidbits of information that explained just how Representative Arthur Bachman was being paid off.

The second secure vault contained communication records between Gary Jones and several other unidentifiable members of the Oathed Technocrats.  A quick analysis revealed the astounding plans that the technocrats had prepared several secure servers with new coding.  The new coding would pull online users into a portion of cyberspace that allowed only one way travel.  Once there, the innocent virtual users would never be able to return to their real bodies.  They would effectively be in a coma for the rest of their lives.

There wasn’t time for all the numerous vaults.  This data would be damning enough.  People needed to know about this data, and they must be the messengers to carry it to the public.

Previous

Next

From the beginning

Terrafarm, by Richard Brookes-Bland

Petar scratched at the back of his neck, where the flesh had begun to redden and peel. He hissed at the sting, but scratched again anyway. Opening a cupboard, he fetched out a cup and dropped in a teabag. He reached over to the kettle, pushed the small switch on its side, and gazed out of the kitchen window. The nearby city illuminated the fields surrounding it, although its light didn’t quite reach the perimeter of Petar’s farm. Looking up to the sky, he began to count how many stars he could see moving. Three moved in unison from the right side of his window to the left, while a far more distant star – with a faintly violet hue to it – drifted at a more relaxed speed directly upward from the far side of the city.

The kettle clicked, and Petar began to pour the water and add milk, all the while rubbing the back of his neck. Sitting down at the kitchen table, he picked up a newspaper and started to read. From the next room, a young man entered carrying a sheet of paper.

“About twenty minutes, he said,” the man mumbled.

“That’s quick for ‘em,” Petar answered. “Didn’t think anyone would be in a hurry to come out here.”

“Metrovic, his name is,” he said, reading from the paper.

Petar turned a page, and cringed at one column’s headline: OSLO EVACUATES. “Never ‘eard of ‘im.”

“’Course you haven’t. When was the last time you needed to phone them, dad? Either way, he’ll be here in twenty. Thanks for offering, by the way.”

Petar looked from his paper to his son. “Eh?” His response was a simple gesture at the steaming cup of tea. “Oh,” Petar responded, going back to his paper. He turned another page to read the article: MOSCOW STARTS REBUILD.

“Don’t worry, I didn’t want one anyway.”

His son moved to leave when Petar said, “Oh, Emir?”

“What?”

“Open the window on your way out. Heat’s not helping in here.”

Emir sighed, but complied. After he left, Petar reached out a packet of cigarettes and lit one, and turned to another newspaper column: CHILD SEX RING FOUND IN CHICAGO RUINS. Scratching the back of his neck, he read on.

A gentle vibration shook through the house, building up until the lights flickered and several cabinet doors drifted open. A deafening sound akin to tearing fabric accompanied by a deep, bassy aural earthquake screamed from the open window. The house’s shaking ceased, the sound rolled into the distance, and Emir came running back into the kitchen.

“You hear that?” he said, staring out of the window. “They’re flying low tonight. Something’s going on.”

“Nothing’s going on,” Petar said, going back to his newspaper. “Just routine patrols. Happens all the time.”

“Not like this. I can count . . . four, five . . . six ships moving. That’s not normal. You might see a single dot moving across the sky at night, but now I can count six. Shit, there’s a seventh. Something’s going on.”

Petar turned another page of his paper nonchalantly. “Every time you see a ship. You’ve gotten worse over the years. Didn’t used to bother you when you were thirteen. Now you think every star moving means something. I tell you what it means. Means that one of ‘em’s bored on a Sunday and fancies a spin. Or seven, in this case. Calm down. I’ve seen hundreds more in the night sky at once, and it don’t bother me no more. Nothing happens.”

Emir turned from the window to look his father in the eye, who did not meet his gaze. “When was that? Fourteen years ago?”

“We’re under their radar. They don’t come here. Not for that. They have all of the US. They’re on the other side of the planet.

Emir shook his head. “They come to Europe as well. Remember Bern last month?”

“Everywhere west of Slovenia, maybe. Not here. We’re safe here. They have no use for us here.

Emir turned back to the window, and stared out into the distance. “Only so long ‘til there’s no one left in the west. US is already sparsely populated.”

“Pessimist.”

Emir did not reply, and continued to gaze out of the window for several minutes until the doorbell rang.

“That’ll be him.”

Emir left the room as Petar turned another page. HOUSTON UPRISING: UNITY CRUSHES. The sounds of the front door opening, along with muffled voices, reached Petar’s ears. The door shut, and Emir’s voice became clearer as they approached.

“ . . . through here. Ah, dad,” Emir said as he and a man carrying an attaché case entered, “this is Doctor Metrovic.”

Petar closed the paper and stood up to shake the doctor’s hand.

“Doctor.”

“Mister Singer. Good to meet you. And how can I help you tonight?”

“It’s this thing in the back of my neck,” he said, rubbing the reddened skin. “Been aching since I woke up this morning. Pain got worse about two hours ago.”

The doctor’s expression changed to an exasperated look. “This . . . was an emergency? For call-out at one o’clock in the morning?”

“Sorry, Doc. You know what Unity are like. They don’t like anyone messing with their implants, whatever they are. Was just in there,” Petar pointed at his newspaper, “that the president of the, uh, the Arab something–”

“United Arab Emirates,” Emir offered.

“–yeah, them. Their president had his chip detonated just last night. He wasn’t trying to remove it or anything, it just went off. Thing is, though,” he said, pointing a finger at the doctor and squinting one eye in an attempt to radiate wisdom, “he’d complained about it starting to ache a few days before. He’d been scratching it, the paper said. Like me. Dunno if that’s what set it off, or if it went off for the same reason it started aching. Like, it’s broken. Malfunctioning or something. Shit, Unity might have just got bored with him and done it for a laugh. Who knows. All I know is that I like my spine in one piece.”

The doctor smiled. “Well, technically, your spine’s not in one piece now. You see, the spine consists of twent–”

“Doctor,” Petar interrupted, sitting in a chair facing away from Metrovic, “I don’t care. Just find out what the fuck’s up with this thing.”

The doctor sighed and leaned over to inspect the small bulge on the back of Petar’s neck.

“Very well. I should say, though, that this is really outside of my field. I’m a doctor, but I don’t really know how these things work. Unity made these and put them in us. If it’s aching it could be because your body has a problem with it, but then again it’s been there for over a decade. Has it only just started aching today? Well, yesterday, now.”

“That’s what I said.”

“Hrm. Well, in which case it may be for a reason other than your body rejecting it. Don’t let that concern you, however. Often with implants, we can have them for years and not have a problem with them, then one day they start aching. As Unity made them, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re not comfortable.”

“I thought they were supposed to be more advanced than us? Should their crap be more . . . uhh, user-friendly?”

“Well,” Metrovic said, standing back up, “I doubt they’re all that concerned with our comfort.”

Petar turned back toward him. “So what do I do? I can’t very well just hope for the best, can I now?”

“As I say, this is really beyond my expertise. This isn’t my profession. I’d say you should go to the nearest Unity Administrator as soon as possible and speak to a representative. Get one of their . . . doctors, I suppose they’d be called. Get one of them to try to help you. Or at least take a look at it. Actually, I doubt it’d be a doctor and probably more of a technician.”

“And where’s the nearest of ‘em?”

“I’m not sure. Sarajevo, I imagine.”

“Hrm,” Petar grunted. “Lotta’ help you’ve been.”

“Dad . . .” Emir interjected.

“Look,” Metrovic continued. “Mister Singer. I know you’re worried. Especially after hearing the news about the Arab president. But I’m afraid that I’ve done everything that I can.”

“Pshh,” Petar said. “Never been no–”

Petar’s voice was drowned out by a deafening rumble growling from the window. The ground began to shake, cupboard doors and drawers were flying open, pictures fell from their hooks on the walls, mugs left on the kitchen table fell and smashed onto the floor, and the dogs outside began howling. Emir was at the window instantly. Even from where Petar stood, he could see the stars being blotted out one by one.

“A ship!” Emir shouted over the deafening rumble. “It’s colossal!”

Petar and the doctor each approached the window and gazed out. Although the darkness made it difficult to tell the boundaries of the ship, Petar could still see a vague geometric outline. Emir turned from the window and dashed toward the front door; Petar and Metrovic followed soon after. As they burst outside, the view became much clearer. The huge ship, appearing triangular in shape, drifted toward the nearby city. Streaking beneath it, smaller crafts – visible only because of the large, violet engines blazing on their sterns – flew toward the city, breaking off into small groups as they reached the edge and beginning to circle above the streets. Soon, white flashes spat out from the front of some of the smaller crafts and exploded within the city. Within minutes, an orange hue lit the underside of the huge, triangular ship above.

As the ship moved further away, the rumbling became more bearable, and the sound of Metrovic’s voice faded into Petar’s hearing.

“ . . . No . . .” he had been saying. “ . . . No, no . . . Bernarda . . .”

“The Hell is that thing,” Petar said to no one in particular.

“You know what it is, dad,” Emir answered, sounding contemptuous. “It’s what you said would never fly over our heads. They’ve finally come.”

“ . . . they can’t, Bernarda . . .”

“It’s a harvest ship,” Emir declared. “Unity have decided that we’re next.

“Bullshit,” Petar said. “Why us? Why now? Why don’t they start at the capital and then–”

“They probably have,” Emir interrupted. “They’re probably above the capital right now. They’ve probably got twenty of these fucking things all across the damn country. And I’ll tell you why.” Emir glared at his father, whose attention was fixed on the city. “It’s because they’ve run out of everyone else. The rest of the world. Barely anywhere left where they can just pick up ten thousand people in one go. Everyone’s scattered. The only places left are poor places like this. They left us until last because you get more out of an American, or a French, or an English, or a German. Fat cunts last longer when they’re shipped away, no matter what Unity want with them.”

Petar turned his gaze from the moving ship, which was almost completely above the city. “It’s slaves, isn’t it? That’s what they want? Don’t know what for, but it’s slaves, isn’t it? That’s why they want us, right?”

“No!” Metrovic shouted, finally breaking his trance. “They can’t. They can’t take my Bernarda. We, I have to go. I have to go. Now.”

Metrovic turned and ran toward his car.

“Shit, I’ve gotta see this,” Emir said, darting after Metrovic.

“Emir? What the hell do you think you’re doing? You ain’t going over there, they’ll have you as well,” Petar called after him.

Without turning to face his father, Emir called back “I’ll be fine.”

“Idiots,” Petar mumbled to himself, and dashed after the pair.

Metrovic, almost unaware that anyone else was present, dived into his car and started the engine, while Emir got into the front passenger seat and Petar in the back. Petar’s car door had shut a full second after the car sped from Singer Farm.

#

Metrovic sat transfixed on the view of the looming harvest ship floating above the city ahead. The speed of the car picked up, and the doctor showed no restraint in forcing the vehicle toward its destination.

“I’d be careful, doc,” Petar said. “The corners on these country lanes are a bit sharp . . .”

Metrovic didn’t reply, nor did he abate his wild driving.

“Can you blame him, dad? His family is in the city. You can’t expect–”

“Shit,” Petar interrupted, pointing ahead “what’s that?”

The triangular ship, now centred above the city, had projected a wall of translucent indigo light down from each of its three edges, enclosing the majority of the city within a short, fat, triangular prism.

“So this is how they do it,” Emir said. “It’s some kind of cage. Like a barrier. Keeps them cooped up. Means they can’t escape. The smaller ships will come down now, and get everyone they can.”

A noise that was somewhere between a growl and a hiss sounded from Metrovic’s throat, and Petar was pushed back into his seat as the car accelerated.

“How’d you know all this crap, anyway?”

“Read most of it on the ‘net a few years ago; before Unity shut it down, that is.”

“Well,” Petar began, “if these people are being rounded up and shipped off the planet, how did the people on the Internet know? No one escaped and came back, did they? How’d the people who sent you that crap find out?”

“I don’t know. Word-of-mouth, I suppose.”

“Chinese whispers.”

“Doesn’t mean it’s not true. You know parts of it are true. I don’t know why they need so many slaves, or what it’s for, but even you know that they’re taking people. Whole cities at a time. Whole countries at a time, sometimes; like Luxembourg. Remember that there are humans who are in charge of administrating us. Traitorous bastards earn a cushy lifestyle if they agree to sell us out and keep us in line. Like a Judenrat only worse; these traitors are actually on Unity’s side. Maybe some of these cunts let spill what goes on after people are shipped off.”

“If they told the administrators what goes on, they wouldn’t be administrators any more. They’d be the ones organising the rebellions. Face it, we’re all being kept in the dark.”

“You assume too much. We can’t fight back against these things; not properly. These cowards probably just want to make sure they’ll survive. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome.”

“There isn’t any–”

Metrovic jerked the handbrake up, sending the car screeching diagonally along the road toward the indigo wall of light. The car ground to a halt only metres away from the barrier, and Metrovic wasted no time in exiting the car, even leaving his door open as he ran toward the city.

Petar and Emir followed soon after. It became apparent as they neared that the edge of the barrier was outside of the city perimeter; the giant ship looming overhead was much larger than the city above which it hovered. Even close up, there was no clear sight of the city beyond; a vague silhouette of buildings’ shadows were cast on the semi-opaque barrier, and any lights from within the giant cage were little more than blurs.

Metrovic stopped at the edge of the barrier, staring into the blue-purple blur.

“Careful,” Emir said, as they came up beside him. “Don’t touch it. I hear that–”

Almost as a rebellion to Emir’s caution, Metrovic reached out and touched the wall of light. The barrier crackled, and Metrovic fell to the ground, clutching his wrist, screaming. Petar knelt down beside him, and saw in the light still pouring from the car’s headlights that the palm and fingertips of Metrovic’s hand had been burnt black. The doctor lay on the floor, staring at his injury, and forced himself to stifle his screaming.

“I told you not to touch it,” Emir said.

“Give him a break,” Petar said. His voice was apathetic. “His wife’s in there, somewhere.”

“Not for much longer,” Emir muttered.

Metrovic turned his attention back to the indigo wall in front of him, and forced himself to a kneeling position. The sound of chaos grew louder from within. Screams, car screeches, even gunshots could be heard. Behind the individual sounds of disorder was the ambient hiss of the smaller Unity ships flying overhead. Metrovic knelt, static, gazing into the blur, despite no clear vision being possible; almost as if his stare could pierce the barrier should he wait long enough, all the while clutching his wrist.

A light grew from within the blur. The light, at street level, grew larger and began to divide into two. Petar’s brow furrowed as he studied the phenomenon, but the sound of a car engine growing louder revealed the source of the light.

“Shit,” he said. “Someone’s driving this way. Down this road, from inside. They’re gonna try and break the barrier. Move, quick.”

He and Emir backed toward the footpath, but Metrovic remained, kneeling, transfixed on the wall of light before him as if in a trance. The silhouette of the car began to form beyond the barrier, and its headlights shone through to illuminate Metrovic’s forlorn face. Petar cringed as the car, sounding like it was driving at full speed, reached the wall – if it broke the barrier, it would plough straight through Metrovic.

“Move you stupid–”

The wall lit up a bright purple for several metres around the three of them as the sound of an explosion drowned out the rest of Petar’s words. He looked up after the light had died down to see Metrovic still kneeling where he had been moments earlier, unphased that he had almost died. A few feet away from him, the silhouette of a twisted ruin that was once a car sat on the other side of the still-intact barrier. Even through the translucent indigo wall, Petar could see the flames dancing atop of the former car’s shell.

“Right,” he said, turning and walking back to Metrovic’s car, “time to leave, I think. We’ve seen all there is to see. We wait here much longer and they’ll come for us to. C’mon, doc. We can spare a bed, I think.”

“The fuck is wrong with you?” Emir shouted from behind him. “How can you act so nonchalantly? Don’t you realise what’s going on? The entire city is being harvested or some shit. They’re taking the whole population.”

“Nothing I can do about that, son. C’mon. Our farm is well outside of the city. If we keep our heads down, they’ll probably just move on to the next city and not look twice at us.”

“Jesus-fucking-Christ, pop. The hell is wrong with you? These are your fellow humans! They’re dying here, they’re being enslaved, they’re being treated like this, and you don’t even give a shit? Why don’t you fucking care?”

Petar stopped in his tracks, but did not turn to face his son. “I do care.”

“My arse, do you. If you care, fucking act like it. You’ve never given a shit about any of this. You roll over and accept it. You’re just complacent with what’s happening. You’ve become stagnant. I can remember when they came, y’know. I wasn’t that young. I remember neighbours getting together to fight. I remember them knocking on our door and asking you to come. You just shrugged your shoulders and said there was nothing we could do. You never gave a shit. Why the fuck not? Do you even remember what it was like before they came? Because you act like you were born into this, and have just accepted it as the norm. Even if there’s not much we can do against something like that, we should at least do something. We shouldn’t make it easy for them. And yet you’re willing to just sit there and let it happen. Why? Why are you such a coward?”

Petar span round to face his son, and locked eyes with him. “Coward? I am not a coward. Do you know why I refused to fight with them when they first came? It’s because I had a fucking kid to look after. I had a child, God dammit. By the time you were old enough to look after yourself, it’s not that I’d stopped caring. I hadn’t. I haven’t. It’s just that I’d realised that there’s nothing we can do. And it’s true. Even if every last person on the planet rose up right now, we would be able to do nothing. I do fucking care, and don’t you dare tell me I don’t, just because I don’t show it. And yes, of course I remember when they came. When they came, I was more concerned than anyone. I was concerned for you. How much do you remember, exactly? Do you remember the reason they gave us?”

Emir hesitated. “Reason?”

“Yeah, the reason they gave us for what they were doing. Y’see, they were kind enough to tell us why they were cooping us up like this and taking us off when they pleased. See? I know a few things, too. And the things I know are from before you became obsessed with them. They gave us a reason why they were treating us like farm animals, and the funny thing is: no one asked. But they, in their benevolent wisdom, told us anyway. Do you know what the reason was?”

Emir, mouth agape, shook his head.

“Because they were more intelligent than us. That’s it. They said that they had the right to do this to us because we aren’t as advanced as them. And because we were so less sophisticated than them, they decided to coop us up, tag us, and let us be free-range until they needed us. Then they’d come down and take us. Because they were more intelligent than us, that put them at the top of the food chain. It meant that they could dictate what to do with every other species less intelligent than them. Let’s face it: we’re not as smart as them. Their technology is so advanced that even our scientists can’t understand it. You see? I know shit as well. The only reason I don’t know as much as you is because I’ve stopped checking up on them. I’ve stopped trying to learn. And no, it’s not because I don’t care. I do care. It’s because I know that it’s futile. It’s absolutely useless trying to fight back against them, because we have a better chance of killing God than these bastards.

“I do care, and don’t ever say that I don’t. I care enough to know the reason why this is happening to us. That’s what I’ve always cared about the most when it comes to Unity: why? Because I think the reason why is more important than anything else. I wanted to know why this was happening to us. Why they thought they were able to do this, and how they were able to live with themselves. And when they gave us that reason, I cared about humanity even more. I cared like you do. I cared like a philanthropist does. Like a cosmopolitan does. I care enough to know that I hate them just as much as you. We just show it in different ways. I can’t oppose them because I know it’s useless. You’re young and idealistic and headstrong. It won’t do any good. We’re all done. But I do care and I do hate them, with every ounce of the body God gave me.

“So what if we’re a less intelligent species? So what? Why does that give them the right to herd us up, call us their property, enslave us, use us as tools, kill us, and feed us back into their empire? Why do they have the right to treat us as lesser creatures? Even if we are – and let’s face it, they are more intelligent than us – we still deserve to be treated with dignity, God damn it. We are living, feeling, thinking creatures!”

The two of them stood in silence for several moments, with only the distant sound of anarchy providing the ambience. Tears had come to Petar’s eyes during his outburst, and Emir could only stare down at the ground. Even Metrovic had broken his trance with the barrier in front of him, and had turned to stare the at father and son. He sat on the grass, no longer clutching his wrist, but his arm lay on his knee, his hand hanging limp.

“Come on,” Petar mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck. “Let’s go. We’ll be in trouble if we wait here much longer.”

“Right,” Emir whispered.

“Doc, you coming?”

Metrovic shook his head. “No. I think I’ll wait. Wait until this goes and I can get into the city.”

“They’ll get you, too. They might kill you.”

“I don’t care. I just want to see my Bernarda again. If they capture me, at least I might be with her again; if only for a moment. If we die, at least we’ll be together with God.”

“Your choice, doc,” Petar replied, walking away from the caged city and down the country lane, back into the darkness. “C’mon, Emir. Probably be a couple hours’ walk ‘till we get back to the farm. Doubt they’ll cop us. No street lamps or anything. They won’t see us in this dark.”

Together, father and son left the doctor sitting in the middle of the road, still lit up by his car’s headlights, and walked on into the night.

#

Petar stepped out of the back door and took a few steps toward the farm. He took a moment, looked up to the sky, and cursed the clouds that plagued the sky; but all the while was thankful that he was still here to see them. He breathed in fresh air that he had not tasted for three days, and continued on. Three dogs scurried out of the house and followed Petar, before darting into a nearby field. They, too, had been locked indoors for a full three days; their excited chasing of one another across the nearby field showed how much they relished their freedom.

Petar looked over at the distant city sitting on the horizon. A few plumes of smoke still rose from where there had been resistance and rioting, but other than that, the city was static and still intact. He knew that if he were to visit the city now – which he wasn’t willing to do, even after the bulk of Unity forces had left – it would be naught but a ghost town. Staring off at the city, Petar noticed how silent it had become. The birds seemed louder. A gentle breeze reminded him that nature lived on, even without humanity’s presence. This morning seemed, to him, so still; as if a calm peace had settled on this province after three days of turmoil. It was the calm after the storm. For a brief instant, he felt thankful that the region was so quiet after the human population had been near-enough culled, before he was overcome with guilt and quelled such thoughts.

As soon as Emir and Petar had returned home, they had decided to lock themselves indoors until the huge harvesting ship had moved on. It had taken three days, but the giant vessel eventually drifted toward the sky. None of the Unity had come to claim either Petar or his son, but he knew that they would have gathered all the slaves they needed at the city. Emir had remarked on how they didn’t seem to want to waste time on going after individuals or small groups – instead the Unity simply rounded up and gathered whole cities, communities, and other larger groups at a time. It was inefficient, Emir had commented, as eventually there would only be the small groups – such as two people living alone on a farm – left over. Petar had answered by saying that they were likely to cross that bridge when they got to it: if they were still desperate for slaves – and considering the rumours that Earth was not their first occupied planet, they would be – then they would take the time to hunt down every last tagged human. Until that time came, however, Petar and Emir were content to continue living at their secluded farm and avoiding any cities that might still exist.

Petar opened the shed door, found a bucket of chickenfeed, and carried it out toward one of the pens. The chickens swarmed out of their coops and all gathered at the pen’s fence, waiting for the inevitable feeding. Petar, with a small scooper in hand, started digging out the chickenfeed and pouring it into the bowls within the fence. The peep, having not been fed in three days, fought for priority. The birds were so eager to feed that most simply stood on the bowls and had chicken feed poured onto them.

As he continued to scoop the feed, he scratched at the back of his neck. The ache – which Emir had argued was now mostly from the fact that Petar kept scratching away at it – hadn’t gone away, but he knew that there was nothing that he could do about it now. He couldn’t visit a Unity Administrator: that’d be synonymous with turning himself in. There were almost certainly no doctors, or anyone else who could help him, left in the province. Neither he nor Emir knew what had happened to Doctor Metrovic since they left him at the edge of the city. They hadn’t heard from him, nor had they returned to the city. Petar suspected that if he wasn’t picked up and taken in the next three days, he had simply waited until the barrier disappeared and become the only resident of a ghost town; where any Unity scouts left over were almost certain to find him. Either way, they wouldn’t hear from him again.

After filling the bowls, Petar stood back up and looked over the swarming peep. The three days without feeding would set back when they would be slaughtered; they were originally due to be sent to the abattoir in another two days, but having not been fed for three days, the slaughter would have to wait. Petar sighed to himself as he realised that there may even be a few dead chickens still inside their respective coops; it would further delay shipping.

Petar frowned and looked back at the distant city. Despite the fact that only a quarter of his sales were to this city, he knew that what happened here would have happened across the whole province. It was almost certain, he concluded, that every other city and town to which he sold had suffered an identical fate to this one. He reached down and grabbed a handful of chickenfeed, but simply held it in his palm and gazed at it. Where would be his sales now? Even if there were any distributors left, the demand would have plummeted. This entire province’s population would have dropped to a mere few thousand. Possibly even only a few hundred, he amended. Even if the Unity harvest hadn’t directly affected him, it would do so indirectly.

Keeping his hand held out with the chickenfeed sitting in it, he looked back over at the city. He concluded that, even if he had no one to sell to immediately, he would still have to keep busy. Survivors might make their presence known, and he could sell to them. They too, he realised, would have almost nothing left, however. Money would be meaningless. They’d all have to trade for something more useful. He realised, all of a sudden, that he hadn’t thought at all what living in an empty province like this would be like. Life couldn’t go on as normal – they would have to find new ways to survive and adapt. Emir had almost certainly been planning for this event for a decade. He would know what to do.

Petar, however, was determined not to allow this catastrophe to alter his life too far from what he had become accustomed. He would not allow his farm to crumble. Even if he had no distributors to which to sell, he would still find a way to manage. Gazing at the distant, vacant city, he resolved never to allow his farm to become like it.

In an instant, a realisation dawned upon him. The strength went first from his arms – where he dropped the feed in his hand onto the floor – and then from his legs – as he was brought down to his knees. A feeling rushed through his body, clutching at his heart and stabbing at his stomach. He could feel his pulse pick up and sweat gather at his brow as his mouth hung agape. He licked his dry lips and took a deep breath, as he focussed his tunnel vision on the pen before him.

The clouds had parted, and sunlight now shone down upon Petar. Kneeling before the pen, he reached toward it and slid his fingers through the mesh fence. One hen, still amongst its feeding sisters, stepped toward the curious digits protruding from the fence. Petar, his heart still thumping within his chest, stroked the head of the chicken as gently as he could, and tears filled his eyes.

“Dad?” he heard Emir call from inside the house. “Dad!” Within seconds, Emir was kneeling at his side. “Dad? Are you alright? What’s wrong? Dad, speak to me. What’s wrong?”

“I’m . . . fine,” Petar whispered, although he doubted Emir heard. Accompanying Emir was one of their dogs, who now brushed her snout against Petar’s arm, wanting some sort of attention or fuss. Petar pulled his had from inside the fence and turned to the dog. He reached up to the dog’s neck, undid her collar, and dropped it in the dirt. He then reached behind the neck of the dog – a neck where no spinal tag lay beneath the flesh – and ruffled the fur where the collar had been pressing down.

He had been humbled.

END

The Trivium Proportion, Part 8 (A Cyberpunk Tale), by David Phillips

Post Apocalyptic Love

Post Apocalyptic Love (by CE Zacherl)

Detective Tyrone Higgins finally called off the surveillance to turn in for the night.  Apparently he had been wrong about the janitor, Jarred Dobson.  He must not have been involved in the break in at Representative Arthur Bachman’s office.  The secondary surveillance team was already on its way home after having witnessed several hours of Jarred Dobson frothing at the mouth like a rabid dog.  He took some powerful drugs that would put him out for the night, from what that team reported.

The bloody footprints that led to the janitorial closet must have been a coincidence.  The boots that made the print were a common brand and an even more common size ten.  Detective Higgins would have to find a different explanation.  It could be as simple as one of the culprits hiding in the janitor’s closet while a security patrol rushed to Bachman’s office.

“Jarred…” the sound of his name echoed down the long hallway from some beautiful goddess-like voice.

“Jarred…” this time the echo was a sultrier and haunting lure.

He worked his way down the long hallway until he arrived in the foyer.  The two side tables that flanked the doorway were both covered in a number of his favorite foods, his eyes first landing on the General Tso’s chicken, the real chicken not the synth stuff.  Sitting next to it, New York style pizza that had so much pepperoni on it, he couldn’t even see the cheese that he knew was there, ready to melt in his mouth.

“Jarred… don’t keep us waiting…” the first goddess-like voice spoke again echoing but louder this time.

The sultry sounding woman giggled in a youthful way that sounded out of character for her.

He opened his mouth wide and took a massive bite out of the end of the pizza and wiped his hands on his pants.  He savored all the flavors as the pizza dissolved in his mouth and kept walking.

Finally, he threw the doors open, and there was his bed, his eyes widening to take in the massive unreal expanse of the bed.  The sheets were spun up and around two young, nubile women.  They were naked and playing with each other, Kayla and Apple.

His heavy eye lids finally stopped squinting.  The light from the room soaked into his irises.  He was laying in his recliner with a half full bottle of beer in one hand.  His computer was beeping at him.  The little medicine bottle clattered to the floor as he reached for his computer interface.  The pretty little pills responsible for sending him to that other world rolled across the tile floor.

“Idiot!  Where the hell are you?  We’re supposed to pull that job now.”  Kayla sounded frantic.

Jarred looked over at the clock; and with his head still in a haze, he moved into rapid autopilot to get dressed and presentable.

Jarred rubbed the scruff on his chin as he rode the rail car toward his rendezvous and mission with Kayla and Apple.  Nervous sweat clung to Jarred’s top as his mind connected the dots of the fantasy girls to the two girls in Jarred’s reality.  Those visions haunted him and enticed him.

Jarred could smell the musk on the mass of people that stood tightly around him on the rail car.  It certainly seemed like all the people were pushing in around him on purpose, much more than they needed to fit in the small elevated rail car.

As the train pulled into the station, Jarred saw something rather strange going on.  He rubbed his eyes and blinked furiously for the false vision to clear away.  He hoped to figure out just what the hell his brain was changing over to the Dalek-looking robot wheeling around the station floor.

Jarred Dobson rubbed his eyes one final time as the elevated rail car pulled into the sky scraper station.  The Dalek bot was gone.  He forced his way through the crowd, rudely bursting through some people.  He sensed the angry eyes of those that missed the train by a split second jerk.  He received a slew of curses as he travelled through the business men leaving work and maintenance men getting ready for the late shift.  Jarred’s lucid state made moving through the obstacles of people as challenging as knocking the pinball into the grand prize slide.

Their meeting place was a couple of benches between a McDonald’s 3-star sit down joint and a stinky Abercrombie store.  Jarred did not see Kayla or Apple.  Did they abandon the mission, choose to go without him (not likely), or somehow get a vibe from Jarred that revealed the content of his recent hallucinations?

Before Jarred got all the way to the benches to have a proper sniff out, he felt a very strong arm curl around his left bicep.  An insidious murmuring voice echoed in Jarred’s ear, “Just keep walking and don’t act like anything is outa sorts.”

Jarred glanced at the man who now forcefully tugged him along.  No more words were needed to articulate the point.  In a glance, Jarred was sure that he noticed some form of armament concealed in the man’s belt under his rain coat.  The two rounded a couple of hallways until confronted by only a lonely, unattended candy kiosk, another man briskly walked to the pair and pitched a dark hood over Jarred’s head.

A quick trip to a nearby platform and he was riding in the back of a hover van.  These things weren’t exactly cheap.  Government maybe, Jarred thought.  Had they figured out that he was in on the recent break-in at the congressional office?

Apple and Kayla both perched next to Jarred in the back of the van.  Low voices spoke queries and instructions at the front of the van.

With no visual stimuli, Jarred’s other senses seemed heightened by his recent drug use.  One of the voices said, “Then we’ll dump them in a service ditch near the weeds.”  Jarred heard another voice respond, “The boss wants them to suffer first, starting with the girls, so the guy has to watch.”  Jarred started to panic, he flailed around uselessly with his hands and feet tied.

Kayla was calm and collected.  She hummed to herself and contemplated just how she would get herself and her two friends out of this mess.  Thoughts of doubt oppressed her mind.  She was trying to be a resistance cell leader, but what kind of leader led her crew to constant failures?

Apple felt great anxiety, the feel made real by the feel of the veins on her head pulsing blood through rapidly.  Her heart was going to explode.  Apple hated to be cut off from the masses.  When not in cyberspace, she found the need to be constantly surrounded, never alone.  Here she was alone in her own head, and the sight was frightful.

It was only a few minutes removed from all the chaos, the hoods were removed from all three of them and they were surrounded by curious archaic looking gadgets.  Was this really just the home of a dweeby steampunk enthusiast?

“Barry Lesco.”  Kayla enumerated after taking a short look around.  With the name came a great sigh of relief.  As her shoulders lost tension, Jarred followed suit in relaxing.  Apple still looked around wide eyed and obviously nervous.

“I know that you wanted to help the resistance.  You are not ready to lead your own cell.  You have tripped and stumbled over each task that you have charged yourself.  Step back.  Let me give you some direction,” Barry Lesco stated very matter of fact.

“And I’m not done…” Barry waved his hand across his body to halt all interjections.  “Kayla, I know and understand that you dislike technology.  I know that your goals and purposes for fighting this fight are not the same as many of our mainstream goals.  I don’t shun you for that.  However, much of our battle will be carried out in cyberspace.  You MUST learn how to use it,” Barry stated that last part with a strong emphasis.

“What the hell man?  We’re on the same side?  Why the prisoner treatment?  I thought a noose was next on the list for my evening attire,” Jarred was fuming.

Barry glared at Jarred, “do you realize that if you showed up on time tonight, you’d be rotting in a jail cell right now?”  Jarred looked down to the ground in shame.  Barry continued… “You, Jarred, were under surveillance tonight.  For whatever reason, Detective Higgins believes you have some connection to the Resistance.”

“And Kayla, the last task that you performed for me went so well.  You spliced the Oathed Technocratic intranet and we got a nice data packet of a lot of the projects and goals they have.”  Barry let his archaic brown leather coat fall open as he leaned back in his chair, facing the three.

Kayla nodded in agreement and looked up to the ceiling, avoiding eye contact.  Jarred still looked at the ground.  Apple stared at Barry and he finally turned his attention to the youthful girl.

“You are the new proportion that I have yet to fully understand.  I invite you to help us in this fight, but you have not gotten in so deep that you have to stay.”  Barry reached out and stroked her hand in assurance, “there is no embarrassment in backing out of such a dangerous cause at such a young age.”

Apple shook her head and her wide eyes receded into a determined squint.  “IM.  For Zodi, an’ now Kay n Jar.”

Barry left the room for a few minutes to allow the situation to sink in and the embarrassment to wear off.  Barry’s guards untied the hands and feet of all three.  He returned to the room after a short amount of quiet banter.  “So, do I have a little Trivium Resistance Cell to add to my Order of Battle?”

The three looked to each other and locked eyes one after another and all of them nodded.  They described everything that happened up to the here and now.  He laid out a plan of action and the three of them left Barry’s residence with a new confidence.

As soon as Apple took the elevator down to retrieve her car, Kayla spun closely to face Jarred.  He moved in to embrace her and she pushed him away, a scowl across her face.  “We’ll work together in the Resistance, if you intend to stay on.  You left Apple and I hanging out to dry.  You have too many problems, problems that I don’t need in my life.  Outside of our duties in this, I don’t want to see you anymore.”  Kayla laid down the law and barely waited for a retort as she turned from Jarred and headed for the rail station.

Previous

Next

The Heretic’s Son, by T. Fox Dunham

“To reach New ‘Ome, we must sacrifice.”

The Sayer’s gaze focused on Cody. The boy tried to sink into the pew.

So spoke the Sayer, his silver teeth glittering in waves of light. He floated on a cushion of antigravity, his robes glowing and flowing from his arms like comet trails. He flew high above the sacred console, his altar, the surface flashing with ruby and emerald lights in paradigms only he understood—the voice of heaven.

“Sacrifice is vector,” the families chanted.

“One day the Prophet shall be born among the lowly of us, the pathfinder. He will lead us through the endless night, through the darkness of our doubt. He will pass from mortal life then return to us from the vacuum that exists beyond death, a map in his heart. His truth shall cast out the Dark One who dwells in the nothingness that surrounds the Ark, the nothingness in our hearts. The Prophet shall come. He will fill our hearts with stars.”

“He shall come,” the masses replied. “Sacrifice is vector.”

Once, before his father had been siezed as a heretic, he had shown his son the stars. Cody had always believed the Ark went on infinitely, uniform corridors and catwalks, decks of tiny hostels for each family, work stations and machinery that reached into the ship with sprawling arms. His father had privileges as a tinkerer, and he took Cody to a foreign land high above, to clear walls that looked out from the Ark. At first Cody had wept, but then he gazed out onto the ever blackness, seeing frissons of spectral rain that dazed and delighted. It had been so long since the Sayer had Cody’s father arrested for questioning the doctrine, for preaching science. He’d been just a boy of six cycles when they had dropped his father into the towers, into the furnaces. Cody wondered if he only dreamed it, imagined he’d had a father.

And sometimes Cody dreamt of a giant blue sphere in white mist like the steam that comes off the reactor vents. The world was so great, and the skies flowed cerelauen beyond sight, not a world of corridors and bulkheads. Water ran free or settled in great pools, covering most of the surface. He liked that dream the most.

“Our faith must be pure, a beacon of light in the vast darkness,” the Sayer preached, his hollow voice echoeing from the bulkheads, joining the song of the Towers. “We must be ever diligent. The Dark One promises and lies and promises. You must not listen, block out the voices of doubt that the evil of science can bring.”

“Sacrifice is vector.”

Their voices joined in choir with the soprano hum of the towers above. Cody, like most of the tribe, had never seen the heavens within the towers, though his father had told him of the home of the gods: crimson furnaces, burning and churning with forces no one pretended to understand, powering crystal mountains that sang with such volume to deafen any man who did not shield their ears.

“Out there beyond the protection of our Ark, the Dark One dwells, poisoning our minds with whispers. The ancient gods built this Ark of their bodies, shaped its engines from their hearts to give us a home, vector. They made us of their love, their hopes. Humans were created on this Ark and for this Ark. The Dark One seeks to tempt us from our mission.”

“Take us to New ‘Ome, Sayer,” the masses on the temple floor chanted.

Cody and his mother had been given front row seats, special seating for families tainted by hereasy. He could feel the pressure of thousands of eyes beating on him. Gripper had told Cody’s Mom they should go into hiding in the forbidden parts of the vessel. The holidays were coming, and for nearly a cycle now, the Sayer had reported the disfavor of the Towers, read by him on his altar; a sacrifice would be needed. She argued that hiding would be as good as admiting guilt.

“Please lower your heads for Communion,” the Sayer compelled.

Cody looked up through his bangs of red hair, keeping his head low. The Sayer examined the bank of lights before him on the altar at his pulpit. Cody’s father had told him that scholars had once been allowed to study their meanings, before the last cleansing, and vague idea was gained of their function. The lights will tell the Sayer if the gods in the Towers were pleased or not.

The chirp of an acolyte’s bell ended Communion. The People waited for the word. The Sayer frowned.

“The Towers are displeased. Their holy lights do not glow.”

Cody heard muffled sobs.

“It is I who have failed you, and I vow to you that if I cannot rid our church, our home of those who feign faith, I will throw myself down the deep well to the Towers to redeem you all. And upon the power of my soul, the engines will drive us all the way to New ‘Ome.”

The people howled, defiant. The Sayer grinned and gazed once again down on Cody.

“To reach New ‘Ome,” the Sayer sang, “We must sacrifice.”

“Take us home, Sayer,” they chanted. Cody mouthed the words; perhaps it was he who had displeased the Towers. How could they notice him? He was just a boy, a tiny spec below their majesty and power. Could they feel his confusion? He’d struggled to hide any trace of his heresy, fearing they might see it in his eyes. He buried his face into his hands. He’d felt feverish since this morning. Could heresy burn the skin?

“In the name of the Towers and the Compass who comes, I beseech you to keep your minds pure of blasphemy, to follow the course true, to take us, the last hope of humans, to New ‘Ome.”

“Take us home, Sayer,” the families chanted.

Would he feel his flesh burn, his bones boil and pop when he was thrown into the furnance? Would he hear the voice of the Gods?
#

Sentries in their crimson suits thumped the walls with clubs. The people dispersed like water flowing down a drain. Cody’s mother grabbed him by the shoulder, and they took the tubes to their home deck in One-B Eden Section.

Out through the spiraling corridors they walked into their home ward. The gates sealed behind the last family—two doors decorated with silver knot work. Incense burned in front of the gate in a tiny dish, purifying the portal with a spicy-sweet odor. Seven Sentries guarded the gates to other decks of the Ark. Traversing the portal except for worship was forbidden.

Down the corridors, they approached a group of men who had gathered at one of the air vents where the fresh atmosphere caused a light euphoria. Mother let down her smoky hair and opened the top of her white jump suit, revealing the curve of her breast. Cody knew to be silent when she did, to stay in the back. Chief of their ward, Kitmaron, finished a protien square, brushed the crumbs from the patchy, black beard on his fat jowls then grabbed her by the hips.

Cody balled his fists watching him treat his mother like a piece of furniture, but she had admonished him not to protest unless he wanted them to starve. Cody’s stomach turned. If only father had thought of his family when he decided to stand by his principles.

“Go home Cody and do your chores,” Mother told him. “Tell Gripper I’ll be home in a few hours. And don’t pester Gripper. Don’t let him drink too much. If you get done early, you can go see Red Nova play in the match.”

Kitmaron sneered at the boy. Cody turned away and traveled through the common areas, the residential apartments and further into their ward, passing beyond the pipe venues, to the abandoned section—the broken places where no one dared to venture.

Cracked conduits steamed oily miasma. Cody’s nose burned from ash in the air. The smoky atmosphere of the corridor impaired his sight, and he had to take care not to trip on broken floor panels. The rejects came to live here, those who would not follow the Code, who had stolen or refused to work. The Sayer called them the alleys of the dark heart. Some even whispered that the Dark One dwelled here, had twisted these parts of the Ark. No one knew exactly how deep into the ship the Dark One had tunneled. Parts of the Ark had been sealed off, damaged in the heretical chaos. Even the vagabonds and untouchables had not gone too deep. Legends of demons roaming the fiery places of disrepair prevented them from seeking out its mysteries. If only father had heeded the warnings and not gone wandering.

He knocked seven times on the portal to their improvised quarters. The bar clanked on the inside door, and Gripper let him in. Gripper had to lean all his weight on the door to push it open, unable to put weight on his bad leg.

The air in their chambers chilled Cody, the environmental systems acting up again, and Gripper had stuffed insulation padding down into his pink jacket. Gripper’s toes poked through holes in his stockings. He must have just woken up from a nap, his wiry, gray hair in a wild mane, and his glasses—one of the lenses cracked—were crooked off his hook nose.

“Well lad, good to see you’re still here. Your mother has no sense sometimes.”

Cody hung up his white jacket and took off his slippers. He filled a thermos with cloudy H2O from a pipe in the wall they had tapped into. He took a ration cracker from a box on the leaning table. Their quarters were divided into two areas by an opaque sheet they had scavenged from the corridors. He and mother slept on cots they had found in a derelict sick bay in the one room while Gripper lived in the parlor.

Gripper still wore his old Sentry uniform, though the color had bleached with age, going pink. It should have been odd to see such a bulky man with a perpetual grimace wearing pink, but it matched his nature.

The Sentries had cast him out after he was crippled in an accident. An ex-Sentry, he was also cast out from the families since the Sentries were feared.

Cody was feeling a bit flushed and sipped on the water to soothe his throat.

“You look a might bit under the weather, lad. Feeling okay?”

“What does under-the-weather mean?”

Gripper shrugged.

“Just an old expression I guess. Doesn’t mean much of anything. I’ve often pondered that weather means sickness of some kind. Well, take care of yourself. Your mother needs you.”

Gripper sat back at the table and resumed carving a chunk of white plastic, chipping away at the malleable material. The walls in Cody’s side of his room were lined with all the little people Gripper had made.

“What are you making?”

“A full course dinner,” Gripper quipped.

“Is it a toy for me?” Cody asked.

“You think everything is for you.”

“Mother said that if I do all my chores, I’m allowed to go to the Match. Red Nova is playing, and I’m sure they’re to win.”

“Why do you like such violent sport? Every cycle, one of the players is wounded so badly they pass into the void. Doesn’t sound like fun to me.”

“It’s fun to me,’ Cody said.

“Violence isn’t amusing at all when you’ve seen it like I have. I had enough of that as a Sentry.”

Gripper chipped at the plastic chunk.

“Your mother is with a man?” he asked.

Cody didn’t answer.

“I’m sorry Cody. If I could, I’d take you all from the commons into the lower echelons where you would want for nothing, where the fat cats drink all the fiz they want and eat delicious vegetables grown in the great forests on the Ark.”

Cody felt a touch of resentment at Gripper’s desultory promises, as if he was supposed to praise the old man for failing. Cody brushed it off, tried to keep it from getting the better of him.

“Tell me more about the Ark, of the places I’ve not seen like the great forest.”

“Always with my stories,” Gripper said.

Gripper retrieved a bottle from under one of the iron grates in the floor. He uncapped it, and Cody’s nose burned from its acrid odor.

“Don’t tell your mother about the bottle, and we have a deal,” he said. He took two gulps then wheezed.

“It’s horrid plasma water, but better then just water. I distilled it from some fluid I drained from the cooling system. It’s not bad if you flavor it with some of the sweet rations.”

Spirits were against the Code of the Ark, since they compelled you to think heretical thoughts. They were the work of the Dark One. Cody admired Gripper for his transgression.

“The forests were transplanted from the ancient home. Trees are mighty beings, alive like you or me, but they are different. Their bodies move slowly, and they grow thin, green hands and feet. They are tall cylinders wearing a brown crust and roots that grow deep into the mushy, brown floor.”

“Like the pipes and conduits?”

“No. They grow and breathe and make fruit.”

“I had just joined the Sentry Order. My parents were so proud that I had been selected because of my fitness. The Sayer came to the induction ceremony to bless us. He took from his robes a piece of green fruit. It was shaped like a tetrahedron, smooth with a bulbous bottom. He called it a pear and said we could pass it around and each take a tiny bite.”

“What was it like?”

“My mouth exploded in joy. It was like laying with a woman. Too fleeting. One man in the battalion began to weep. We never saw him after that day.”

“I wish I could see it.”

Gripper smiled and displayed his art. He was working on a thin part at the top.

“That’s the stem where the fruit attaches to the tree branch.”

“You’d think they’d let us see pictures,” Cody said.

“Oh no lad. Most of the folk here in the commons don’t even know they exist. If they did they’d want the pear too, and there aren’t enough to go round. Nope. Trust me. I hurt you just telling you about it, and that’s why I won’t tell you more. You’re better off not knowing.”

“Where did the forest come from?”

“The ancients grew them. They once lived among the trees as brothers, before the war that poisoned their home. They dwelled in paradise of open space and comforts we couldn’t begin to fathom, a place where you looked up from anywhere and saw not gray bulkheads but a wide, blue canvas for as far as your peepers could peep.”

Cody nodded. He was feeling nauseous but wanted to stay for the story.

“I have seen it,” Cody said “I have dreamt it.”

Gripper smiled, letting Cody’s fantastic comment pass.

“They built the Ark?” Cody said.

“For once the litany is true. They took the only moon of their world and hollowed it out. Then with their waning power, they created the Towers and made humans, and they charged us with the holy mission. To begin again.”

“Does anyone remember?”

“Oh no lad. It happened many generations ago.”

“How do we really know it happened? Where’s the proof?”

Gripper grimaced.

“You mustn’t question. Look around you. Here’s the proof. The Ark is happy when it is moving forward. I have seen from the portals many times and watched as the stars change places. You must have faith, to believe when there is no proof. A crisis of faith is what caused the Chaos, ended our vector. We were all nearly lost.”

“Sometimes it’s just so hard to believe. I saw from the portal, saw the borders of the Ark, and there was nothing, just a few specks of distant light. If that’s what is seen from all portals, if that’s what surrounds us, then there is nothing out there.”

Gripper paused his work and studied his gnarled hands.

“Each of us has a choice we must make: either to be one of the faithful or one of hearsay. I can’t tell you which one to be, and both roads have consequences. Your father made his choice, and I was forced to help him to understand the nature of that decision.”

“How?”

“Too many questions, lad. You are diseased with these questions.” Gripper laughed and brushed Cody’s red mop of hair. “Now get about your chores, and you still might have time to see the match.”

“Just one more question?”

“Just one.”

“Do you think we’ll ever find New ‘Ome, that we’ll ever be faithful enough?”

“I know this. People are always in a hurry to be where they’re not and never be where they are.”

Cody shrugged.

“So are you going to head up to the match?”

“I don’t think so,” Cody said. “I’m not feeling right.”

#

Cody’s mother came home late into the rest cycle. Cody was lying down, and Gripper placed wet towels on his head to cool the burning.

His mother paced with worry. The rage of the engines burned beneath Cody’s skin, behind his eyes. His head pounded. He felt like he was falling, passing through the decks of the Ark and into space. In his fevered vision, he fell through space until a star’s gravity caught his soul. He cried out for his mother, but she did not come. No one could hear him. The tendrils took hold of his body, burning his flesh. “I shall feast on your cold, cold hearts,” said the Sayer’s voice. He had known of Cody’s heretical thoughts, and now he would punish him.

Cody’s mother knelt by the bed of her ailing son and prayed to the Towers.

“Take this illness from my son and give it into me,” she begged.

Gripper listened at the boy’s chest, checking his wrist to feel for a pulse. He shook his head and sighed.

“In the lower planes, I have seen miracle cures granted by the Towers to the faithful. They could fix him. The Sayer has medicines.”

Mother scooped up Cody into her arms.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Gripper was flabbergasted. He blocked the door.

“They can heal my boy.”

“It’s best this way, peaceful. Let the boy fall into an easy sleep. I can make him a drink so strong he’ll feel no pain.”

Mother kicked Gripper’s bad leg. He went down howling in pain. With her boy in her arms, she lifted up the bar securing the door and pushed it open.

“You’re just going to make it worse,” he said.

She passed into the common zones and to one of the corridors where the higher ranks of the families lived. She knocked on Kitmaron’s door. He answered, wrapped in a sheet.

“My son is sick. I must see the Sayer. Tell your friends in the Sentries to take him to the lower echelons. They can heal him.”

“Go back to your rags, woman. I will not help the son of a heretic.”

Mother grinned at him.

“My apologies. I didn’t mean to disturb you—or your wife.”

Kitmaron frowned his black beard into a knot.

“I can’t ask a Sentry to let us pass. We’ll be arrested. No one goes low. Take him to our common’s area. I’ll ask one of the healers to look at him.”

He shut the door.

Gripper had caught up, limping while he jogged.

“You’ve got some nerve, lady,” he said.

They took him to where Kitmaron had suggested. The lamps glowed sallow light during the late cycle. Gripper bumped into a monitor, and swore at it. He nursed his leg. They placed Cody on a table, brushing away empty fiz bottles and game pads. She felt his forehead. In his foggy state, he felt her cool hand sooth the fire on his skin. He struggled to breath.

Kitmaron arrived, followed by a scrawny fellow whose face was inchoate, gray, as if his flesh was made up of wet ash. From a satchel, the healer pulled a probe and stuck it in Cody’s mouth. He listened to his heart and lungs and felt all over his body. The probe lit up.

“He will not survive. He is being punished.”

Mother clenched the healer’s shoulder. Kitmaron pulled her free.

“You must be able to do something,” she said.

“He is beyond my arts,” the healer said. “In the hands of the Prophet. Only the healing of the ancients can help him now.”

The ruckus had woken other families, and they came to see. They were wrapped in their bed robes, their hair a mess from sleeping. They watched the mother weeping and offered no comfort, not to the widow of a heretic.

All they could do was watch as Cody’s chest took slower inhalations. Then, he was still.

Mother embraced Cody by the shoulders. In an attempt to feign breath, she pushed down on his chest. A rib cracked beneath her fist. She listened at his heart. Still she heard silence.

“Gods in the Towers. Make it beat.”

She kept pumping until she rolled over in exhaustion. She rested her head on Cody’s shoulder and sobbed.

The audience gawked. She even heard someone cheer.

“Come on Maud,” Gripper said, taking her by the arm. “Let’s not give them anymore of a show.” He helped her lift Cody’s body up and they started to carry him home.

“Praise the Towers,” roared someone. “The son of the heretic is dead.”

“Who said that?” mother roared.

No one answered.

“You know nothing of it!”

“Maud,” Gripper called to her. “Maud. He’s breathing.”

She put her cheek to his mouth, felt moist air touching her face.

“Praise the Towers,” she whispered. She repeated it several times.

“He was gone,” Gripper said. “His heart was silent. It’s a miracle! The Towers have risen him back to us.”

The crowd clamored about. Some fell to their knees praying. Some ran. In their eyes, they looked upon the lad, their spirits filling with a fury. No longer did they see an untouchable, an outcast, the son of a heretic. Now they beheld a boy at one with their Towers, one of their own of the filthy commons, chosen to feel their embrace. It was a sign. It must have been. New ‘Ome was close, just in their reach. The boy would show them how to find it. He was the Prophet who had been foretold, the pathfinder.

Gripper shook his head.

“Mother. I saw the blue world. I was there walking through its forests and walking with the ancients. One of them pointed to a star in the sky.”

“Praise the Prophet,” the crowd chanted.

Then Cody whispered but all could hear: “We can longer travel forward. We must reverse to go home.”

“This is going to be trouble,” Gripper said. “There’s going to be blood like there was during the Chaos.”

Cody became the pathfinder, and he told the people of his vision.

Water falls from the skies—ice blood and tears of clouds. The ground is not polymer, nor steel, but pillow soil, crunching beneath the barefoot, soft to the touch of young skin. All things live. All things hum as the towers do. Nothing ever dies. Born of the soil and come home to the soil. Life forever—a chain of life always growing towards the father star.

Life is vector.

The walls melt. The only walls are the ones you take with you. Light flows eternal, clarion light, not the sickly illumination of the halls. And in the dark, the stars keep hope like torches.

They all knew this world.

As the pathfinder told the story again and again from the visions he’d been granted, it awakened the dormant race memory sown in the blood of the people. Their dreams filled with New ‘Ome. They walked the land, swam in the oceans and ate the fruit of the trees. Pear juice dripped down Gripper’s face.

And at story’s end, the people prayed not to the towers but to their hearts, the true vector of their lost home, and they asked of the prophet:

Take us home.