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generator [ volume four ]

ghosts of reality gregory zbitnew


Generator [ Volume Four ] Ghosts of Reality First eBook edition Š December 18, 2015 ISBN: 978-0-9878862-7-9

Published in Canada www.dreamlogiccorporation.com

Cover Design: Dream Logic Corporation

Knowledge is universal. Information integrated into this document has been derived from innumerable sources; both real and imaginary, then modified to suit the intentions of the narrative. The names, characters, places and incidents portrayed in this document, as well as data obtained from published scientific research, or references pertaining to works of literature, registered product trademarks, and so on... are not intended to infringe upon the proprietary rights of their author or manufacturer. Their inclusion is solely based on the fact that they are part of the reality which we all share.


Dedicated to the future!

... and always, for my son; Jaman Jules Orion Lloyd-Zbitnew


" ... Let him perceive a single truth, even though he be consumed by the sacred fire... " ~ Nikola Tesla 'On Electricity' (1897)


INTRODUCTION

This document concludes the 'generator' tetralogy. It should be noted that volumes comprising the ‘generator’ series may be read in any sequence; since each is intended to reveal a unique perspective on events which are currently manifesting themselves as forces of considerable importance in the world. If you have read any of the previous documents: ‘generator (volume one) floating-point’ ~ 'generator (volume two) eternal golden light' ~ or 'generator (volume three) the tower ~ You will recognize several familiar characters, as well as be introduced to new ones. Certainly you are aware from media reports about the plague which decimated the central core, and infected a large proportion of the surrounding residential population. The brutal resolution to this situation resulted in ro@ches rebelling against authorities. This is the definitive account of events which subsequently transpired; which some believe has resulted in the release of the mythological 'Beast'. You are assured this is the most authentic detail of these incidents and conversations which have occurred. This document is perhaps written from another perspective. Who truly is the author? [ The chameleon cannot be seen in the light of day. ] Although this document is presented in a narrative format, it is an account based upon extensive research, augmented with accurate information provided by the most reliable sources; the people named within the document. Now this story has been told, where do we go from here? I believe we can conquer our boundless appetite for greed and misery; we have much to overcome. Alas, until now, we must endure what has been chosen by the consensus of the masses... Consensual hallucination? The ghosts of reality may return when we least expect them...


part one

I.

Yuri coughs... A black street. He treads carefully; it is a nightmare after recent rains. Mud slips shimmering amongst shattered paving stones, writhing like thick brown serpents in the Valley of the Land of Shades; a place where the sun does not shine. At the bottom, there is perpetual darkness during the middle of the day. At night it is even darker. Light is obliterated by shadows cast beneath the dense vertical maze of concrete and glass in the central Core of the city. There is a seamless integrity; a sense of invincibility to the cylindrical walls of towers which taper as they rise skyward, interconnected horizontally by level-upon-level of branching platforms and passage‐ ways which support the tower-dweller’s existence ~ The organic shapes of architec‐ ture have grown in complexity during the past decade. Tightly packed clusters of towers have the appearance of a garden; broad stalks of plants emerge from fortress compounds securing their massive bases. They are deeply rooted within the earth. Spreading leaves of solar panels disappear into the gloom; obscured by the haze from perpetual smoke and dust swirling like a blanket of fog. High above the mists near the top of the structures, gigantic flowers constructed of circular arrays of communication dishes open to the sky to maintain contact with other people in orbit, under the sea, or anywhere upon land around the world. This is the city’s central processing unit. Each tower is owned by an individual corporation, and contains residences and offices of the administrators, staff, and workers which inhabit them. Within each self-sufficient, sealed environment, human inhabitants function as cells, communicating through the tower’s complex circuitry to distribute information which maintain its mechanisms ~ The networked-environment operates twenty-four hours per day. It's a large organism; its internal activities give it life. The elite live and work high above, protected by security. Success means moving to a higher floor; those whose efforts are dedicated to achievement, or more often, those who have been selectively designed through genetic engineering, are rewarded by being promoted to a higher level ~ ‘Karoshi’; death from overwork, is not uncom‐ mon. Internal activity is relentless; inhabitants of the towers never seem to sleep ~ The most powerful live in brilliant sunlight... Night is also less intense; a narrow focused sunbeam is sent down from one of the large reflecting mirrors stationed in geosyn‐ chronous orbit above the planet, distributed through an internal fibre-optic network. This immense concrete garden forms an island in the midst of a sea of sprawling desolation. There are always new towers under construction. Material is hoisted by


cranes mounted on adjacent towers, and cement is delivered from pipelines which run up alongside new towers, to pump a steady stream from transport vehicles that cycle in constant rotation. These new sprouts increase the island’s density within the boundary wall which encompass the perimeter of the 'garden'. The tall concrete wall, reinforced with brick and stone recycled from demolished buildings, was originally designed to act as its ‘front-line’ of defense; to protect the towers in the event of... what?: Invading armies of warriors from hostile nations, or teeming mobs of unruly peasants? It would be difficult now to determine the intentions of the architects of the plan. Ultimately, the wall did provide protection to citizens who lived in adjacent residential areas, from the denizens of the deep who have become inhabitants of the core. Sentries stationed in a series of outposts, located at regular intervals along the wall, are vigilant for any attempt to escape this prison. Guard-houses are positioned to face into the compound; since certainly, no-one would be foolish enough to willingly enter the wasteland from outside the wall without the protection of armed personnel... Yuri is watchful for patrols of armored-robot security vehicles. He is hidden from view by the constant haze and shadows cast by large solar panels. Dim lighting in the towers seem like faraway stars. In the distance a siren cries. This is the domain of the ro@ches [The ‘A’ in the name on graffiti tags has a circle around it; the symbol of anarchy ]. In the depths, it is a perpetual jungle of slime. This is ground-zero, terra firma, mother earth. Yuri appreciated being grounded. Beneath the surface of the core, are an intricate network of subterranean veins; conduits for the sewer and water systems, and deeper down, subterranean passage‐ ways for digital communication cables, connecting memory storage facilities through‐ out various locations under the city. The main computers are located at the bottom of deep shafts into bedrock for protection against any natural or man-made catastrophes. The underground facilities house workers who maintain operation of the most vital part of the city’s existence ~ Its brain. Tunnels carrying pipelines, and narrow access-ways for maintenance crews, were carved-out by nuclear-powered robotic earthworms. Larger species of these bionic machines have been employed to excavate deep shafts which plummet far into the earth’s core directly beneath the towers ~ Genetically engineered anti-material organisms turn petroleum and rubber products into incom‐ bustible jelly, others consume silicon computer products. Stalks are thick and deeply-rooted. Seamless. Integrity. Invincibility. No cracks in these walls. They occupy a small footprint, yet branch widely as they rise skyward. The branches contain living areas. At the top are corporate headquarters amongst clusters of flowers, or a single large flower, depending upon the structure of the organization, and on politics. The hierarchy is unmistakable. The reality is that the luxury of dwelling in towers is one afforded to only the privileged few. Magnificent view. The upper levels are self-sufficient. Shops, movie theaters, fitness clubs, bars, restaurants, you name it. Some people never go to ground. Why would they? Most are busy working. And when they do get a vacation they jet off to somewhere sunny. They can’t be away from the sun. Their skin looks like it too. Tough as tanned leather, but smooth from the regener‐ ation treatments. Mostly see it around the eyes. Some like the natural look, especially


older men. It really shows their character. Faces creased with cracks like a dry riverbed. The uniform makes their look radiate the power and respect they have come to expect. During daytime, towers hum with activity when the solar panels unfold. Seen from the vantage of the towers, Yuri knew that creatures in the garden below appeared as insignificant as insects crawling slowly across the rugged terrain amongst the bases of flowers in the concrete jungle. Yet, he was actually scrambling quite fast! He had to; distances between structures which provide cover are far apart. It is dangerous to stay very long in one place. No point in waiting to get eaten alive by predators. It’s not just a figure of speech; food is scarce. Yuri had seen cannibals go after fresh organs very quickly after some unfortunate creature had met its demise; they had to operate quickly before the beetles got to the corpse. Like wild animals they seemed to be irresistibly drawn to the scent of blood. Outfitted like manic surgeons with lethal razor-sharp scalpels attached to their appendages... No need for anesthetic at this point... They are capable of disembowling their victims with precision; slicing them to ribbons in a flurry of ugly brutality ~ Just slash and dash. I know it sounds pretty cruel to the flowerheads, although coincidently, they are the primary customers for organs, and they have the cash to buy healthy ones ~ Better class of surgeons up top; they follow the Hippocratic Oath a little more closely. The Core is a dangerous territory where there are no laws, other than the law of nature. In the strictest sense, it’s lawless anarchy. Down here, it’s survival of the fittest ~ We are insects in this garden. All of us are. Although the words are never spoken, Authorities consider the core to be an effective form of population control. Citizens who do not dwell within the towers, or have a place to call home in residential areas, are on their own. There is no welfare state to help, no social democracy to assist in difficult situations. All manner of outcasts are forced to seek refuge in the core as their final hope for maintaining their existence; those with mental or physical injuries which prevent them from performing a functioning role in society, mutants and rejects from failed genetic experiments; misshapen, scaly-skinned, half-animal / half-human creatures that roam the darkness searching for something to eat. Yuri knew some of them quite well; they would come to him when he offered them food. Yuri had seen plenty of strange things. He had become accustomed to these weird aberrations, he was a veteran reality-hacker, he was able to adapt. Night is for the crawlers. In the evening, the core came alive, with creatures venturing forth from their nocturnal hideaways to forage for sustenance amongst the rubble. Down here at ground-zero, existence is tentative. If you want something, you take it. You expect others to do the same. If someone gets killed, the beetles arrive to remove the body. The weird ones. Mutant things... a little too mutant. They only come out at night; they don’t like to be seen in public, or in the light of day ~ Sometime it’s just a skin condition or sensitive eyes; solar rays can be very harsh. Hard-shells and slimers are the ones you don’t want to be further down from in the food-chain ~ The stories of monsters were true; Yuri had often seen ‘vapirs’, and of course, he had sometime even seen ‘The Beast’. Realizing these hardcore creatures roamed the


shadows of permanent night was something Yuri always kept in mind ~ He peered around the corner, then scurried across open ground toward the next source of cover. Even more deadly, now that he was in range, were beetle-like armored robots which occasionally made their rounds on security patrols; programmed to ensure that the safety and integrity of the towers was not compromised. These compact units could seek out intruders; they would appear suddenly like ghostly apparitions in the dark‐ ness, guided by infrared sensors that detected body heat. Yuri was aware that if ever he got himself in danger within the core, he was on his own. No one was going to rescue him ~ Not even the voice of Bug Head in his ear... Security patrols are few and far between. Their vehicles are equipped with a variety of lethal weapons. If confronted by patrols, Yuri was expected to submit to data analysis; which consists of an identity card scan, a facial-recognition scan, a fingerprint scan and/or an iris scan. If something doesn’t check out, there are no questions, no arrests. Immediate termination is their only option. In other words, if you see a patrol coming, get away fast, because if you are in the core, chances are you shouldn’t be there ~ During the night, it is likely that beetles would hunt him down while he was asleep in an abandoned building ~ Dragonflies came out with the rising sun. Denizens of the core are tight among their kind. This is the new tribe. Many have learned to consume various forms of plant-life in the barrens; moss, lichens, weeds, and grass. Chewing bark of red willow eased their pain. They hunted insects, birds, and rodents. Most survived by forming tribal-units; sharing what they had, and most seemed willing to help each other out. It is actually kind of nice in the shade. Those solar rays are harsh on fair skin; they burn our eyes up without protection... Scav‐ engers survive by picking up any valuable resources they discover. Junk has been designed to be reused. It does reach its half-life fairly quickly in its original format, but it can be fired up, or recycled. The towers have shafts that collect stuff from above; that’s the best. Sometime something falls off up there. That’s random. A big solar panel, inverter block, engine, tail section, human body... Often damaged goods, or spoiled produce from greenhouses, are dumped outside bases of towers by sympathetic drivers of transports who take pity on the unfortunate creatures. These items are gathered and distributed equally amongst the tribe. All scavenged resources are valuable. Every bit of junk can acquire a useful purpose; crafted into shelters, clothing, or tools necessary for survival ~ It’s amazing what some people throw away! Maintenance workers dutifully perform specific tasks necessary for the preservation of the towers. They commute into the core for their shifts from surrounding residential areas. They pass security check-points at the perimeter, before being permitted access to the root system of roadways tunneled underground. Additional clearance is required for accredited technicians to enter the towers to service residences and offices of the corporate elite. Below ground, workers ensure that battery systems deep underground are standing-by to release their stored charge up stems to energize towers during the night, or in the event of emergency. Transport vehicles are loaded and unloaded in depots at the bases of towers; supplies are hauled up freight elevators, waste tumbles down large chutes. Bionic robots manage the disposal of organic material in under‐


ground facilities; vertical tunnels which have been created deep into the earth beneath the roots of towers, in which composting facilities convert this material into topsoil ~ Closer to the surface, similar to an intricate maze of veins, sewer and water systems are maintained by earthworm-like machines that operate on nuclear power. Raw materials that can be recycled are accumulated at depots inside highlysecured areas at the base of the towers. Large transporters are loaded to travel to incinerators in the Industrial Zone where metals and plastics are melted-down and repurposed. The Rplants are a major source for the economy. An occupation for many in the wasteland; working in factories to create new products from recycled metal and plastic ~ Technology cannibalized from original components; updated and reconstruct‐ ed with innovative enhancements into items sold on the lucrative black market to the residential population. Yuri slipped stealthily through phantom streets which still delineated a grid, creeping past the crumbled ruins of buildings long since demolished and scavenged of their material. A headlamp mounted on his light-weight helmet illuminated has way through the darkness. Sensors embedded in his rubberized survival suit scanned his surroundings to detect the presence of trip wires and land mines, broadcasting a warning message in the viewfinder of his heads-up display. He came upon a depres‐ sion filled with thick mud and crossed over on stepping-stones of broken concrete. Something rippled under the ooze. Negotiating this obstacle, Yuri paused, crouched, sheltered from view by a portion of a former interior wall. Its faded green paint had a strange bubbled texture caused by exposure to the elements. Perhaps this had once been the ‘drawing room’ of a wealthy home situated in the heart of a historic city noted for its cultural institutions and offices of government administration. Yuri considered that probably the biggest difference down below, was that the elderly have a shorter life-expectancy. There are a few prescriptions they can take as an exit strategy. Not really much point in living too long. It never gets easier down here. Exiting with grace is kind of a noble expression of departing with dignity. It’s the new way. People are used to it now ~ Exit surrounded by family and loved-ones while one still has a quantity of mental and physical capability... Walking into the wilderness... Yuri coughed... He quickly scanned his surroundings; it was all-clear... He bolted...


II.

At this hour past midnight the streets are empty, vacant, devoid of human life, but a dog or rat may crawl out of the darkness to scurry across shadows through a delta of trash washed into mounds by the oozing road river rain. Yuri made his way cautiously to avoid slipping on shining fragments of concrete and metal under the mire. The rain stung like acid on his steel grey eyes. The damp, rotten odor (was green) in his nostrils. A raft of matted newspapers ran aground mid-alley; an island of debris. Yuri made his way around it, now shin-deep wading through thick eddies, the remnants of his runners lashed to his feet were in danger of being torn free by the grip of the mud. A whirlpool marked the location of an open manhole. The rain came harder, pounding on the misshapen object that had once been his hat, but was now a soft grey mass, dripping water streaming under the collar of his lacerated black rubber suit ~ shivering like ice down his backbone. ~~~ The sun had risen burning through the purple haze of night. Dragonfly patrols police the sky; whizzing by at an incredible speed, sunlight glinting off their wings, the sound of their engines reflecting off the towers in shattered echo. These patrol units consist of genetically-adapted humans that function in a bionic relationship with the hydrogen-cell engines powering their wings. The units are manufactured by the Odonata Corporation, and are inspired by the katsumushi or the ‘invincible insect’; a favorite symbol of strength among Japanese Samurai warriors ~ The sleek black bodies of pilots are striped with green or yellow markings. Two pairs of elongated membranous wings are nearly invisible at high-speed, giving pilots the ability to maneuver and out-fly their prey. They have the ability to hover, as well as track through the narrowest of openings between the towers or along the garden floor. The pilot’s helmets are reflective gold with black and red markings. They have excellent eyesight; compound eyes, made up of thousands of six-sided units, give dragonflies the advantage of detecting even the slightest movement. Antennae mounted on their helmet permit communication with other units and the base stations. Six legs are located far forward on their body. The abdomen is relatively long, and contains a deadly laser cannon that can be fired with surprising accuracy in virtually any direction. Needless to say, these are one of the most feared creatures in the garden. The technical modifications give humans the capabilities of a creature that has existed relatively unchanged for 300 million years (since before the dinosaurs roamed the earth) ~ A highly-efficient functional design. It was a popular topic in the media; reports of various tribal groups of anarchists, environmental activists, and the subversive and sometime violent actions of poverty-


stricken urban youth, who according to Authorities, threatened the ‘integrity and safety of life in the core’. There had been a strong gradual increase in these types of ‘squatter’ activities during the summer; seeking any available abode to inhabit. One group, who called themselves ro@ches, were particularly active in broadcasting pirate television signals and infiltrating digital networks; revealing what they claimed to be top-secret information about government and corporate corruption. They manufactured their own propaganda campaigns which had a variety of targets, and were very professionally-produced. They took great care to disguise their messages as network content in the look and feel of the material, to seamlessly insert it during natural breaks in official broadcasting. These ‘programs’ were very strange and heavily-digitally manipulated. It was not uncommon to see the typical news host from an official broadcast gradually morph into a ranting red devil complete with horns and licks of digital fire rising up around him. The kids loved it! Cartoon characters appropriated from the past 50 years of television, particularly characters from commercials, were a typical MO of the group. These characters would be mutated with several heads and arms, or become hybrid animals; a blue elephant with the head of a snake that would sing and dance in a digital landscape. These songs, sung in a cartoon voice would become a commentary on current affairs. Another popular image, is of course, ‘The Chosen One’; who was given that name by the media from a line in one of his journals that had survived the explosion. Images from the video that was broadcast at the time were appropriated by the ro@ches and remanufactured into a christ-like pose appearing on citizen’s home monitors, along with various quotations from scriptures and manifestoes of the cults and followers that had come into existence over the years: ‘The ghost is good. The ghost is wise. The ghost is watching from inside.’ This is the entertainment branch of the ‘ad hoc’ group. Although it is impossible to estimate the number involved in this international ‘organization’, the ro@ches are certainly a multi-talented bunch. Not only are they able to produce some pretty slick programming, they are able to infiltrate secure facilities, gather intelligence, tap into computer networks, rewire various communication lines, and build sophisticated digital components and software, while carrying out their work essentially undetected. They do not seem to have a central headquarters; or at least not one that has been discovered. It is suspected to be a large network ~ An underground guerrilla operation. The Authorities try to down-play the situation. They attempt to ease citizen’s concerns; claiming these radicals will be tracked down and eliminated soon. They claim the messages are delusional nonsense; perpetrated by troubled anti-establish‐ ment types in an effort to disrupt social stability by creating a chaos of disinformation. The Authorities position is clear: this type of activity will not be tolerated. ~~~


“Papa, I’m so cold!” The little boy was huddled next to his father, his younger brother and sister, on a discarded mattress under a roof that was built to shelter 45 gallon-drums of animal protein. The mattress was squeezed into an opening where some of the drums had been removed for shipment. The rain was coming down hard ~ the eternal rain. The father said nothing. He just stared into the rain and watched drops ripple and splash in the puddles. The little boy snuggled closer to the man. The two other children were sleeping covered by a crumpled piece of cardboard. The stillness of the scene; a family portrait of despair, frozen in time, remained in his memory. ~~~ Candy was watering her flowers with a cute little plastic pail. The flowers hung in a box on her window sill. The juggler tried to catch her eye from the street below, but she did not seem to notice him. He was getting used to it. It had been over a week since he had last spoken to her when they met on the sidewalk. The balls floated in low parabolic arcs from hand to hand, kinetic energy vs. the pull of gravity in a constant repetitive cycle. Art stood in the meridian of the main street. He would come here early in the morning to warm up for his daily rounds of performances at hospitals, daycare or senior citizen’s centers, or busking during lunch hours in office courtyards and parks. For his performances he wore a clown costume ~ Art was more than just a clown, he was a talented entertainer that brought a little bit of joy into people’s lives. Yet Art was sad. He was infatuated with Candy. How sweet she was; she was beautiful, and she had a very attractive, healthy body, tanned and muscular from her field work. He didn’t know if it was lust or love. He thought about her constantly, he dreamed of her at night, but she appeared to be avoiding any advance. It was like he was invisible. It was hot, beads of sweat trickled down his long strands of hair, tied back in a pony tail. The sun was burning metal in the light grey sky, sucking moisture from the world and making it dry. There was no wind. ~~~ Darkness was the only relief. Ro@ches slept all day, roaming under the cover of darkness; walking the balance between terror and angst. Robot patrol cruisers prowling long streets of misery were night predators hunting their game. Ro@ches were ‘errors’ cast out by established social structures. They did not fit into the corpo‐ rate program. They wanted freedom, not servitude. Ro@ches were part of the Free International Social Alliance; young idealists searching for a lost paradise amongst the


ruins. Their mission was to facilitate freedom for people that desired it, by building a network of communication between autonomous groups around the world; exchang� ing information and ideas in order to create a functioning environment for people to take responsibility for their own destiny, and assist in developing local solutions for a positive global future ~ A return to humanity. It is an instinctive human characteristic, not yet exterminated from the human genetic structure in the laboratories; not yet permanently saturated into the minds of citizens through the propagation of media slogans and propaganda. Independence, individuality, identity; an instinctive human characteristic dating back to the dawn of time. Neolithic tribal groups, with a communal life based on a symbiotic relationship with the natural world, lived in societies which were not dominated by a repressive elite, but rather by working co-operatively each individual contributed their special skills or attributes to the collective goal of survival of the group. Destruction of the primitive tribal democracies occurred with the implementation of a class-based social form we call civilization. The structure of civilization is a result of the anxiety of humans facing their own mortality; the struggle to aggressively build immortal cultures, creating history in order to fight death ~ The struggles of civilization is to survive the natural forces of erosion and decay that attempt to return the world to the primordial balance. Ro@ches would remain long after civilization had collapsed, not by controlling chaos, but using it to their advantage. Chaos is order, according to complexity theory; if you take uncertainty for granted, you allow patterns to evolve, rather than rigidly trying to engineer them. It is a matter of survival. A dragonfly droned across the sky... The hush of a patrol vehicle lurking in the streets. Spray painted on the wall was a graffiti tag which read; ‘Freedom is Slavery’.

III.

Children in corporate daycare centers rarely saw their biological parents, who were working night and day. Children sat in rows at desks and were instructed in the theory and social values that would make them good adult citizens of the towers. They were taught skills from an early age which would enable them to enter the workforce, as a fully-functional component of the corporate hierarchy. As they grew, they would take on duties that familiarized them with the company; such as delivering material between offices, removing waste, and preparing meals for the workers lunch break.


They were tested thoroughly to determine their personality types, and reveal their special skills and abilities which would be useful to the corporation. After determining their aptitudes, they would begin a lengthy process of specialization training from about age 10 to 16, at which time they would receive their own workstation or office, and metamorphosize into a full employee. The process was very nurturing, and encouraged people to broaden their limits within an area of specialization. Failure was viewed as an opportunity to learn valuable lessons from exploring possibilities. It was hoped the student would make their mistakes during training and simulation exercises rather than in actual employment. Expert systems were used to manage databases of procedures. It was not necessary to memorize information, but it was vital to under‐ stand where and how to access this data when it was required. Computer-based simulations took the students through virtually every type of situation involved in their area of study, enabling the students to interact safely in dealing with varying degree of problems, as well as enjoy the pleasant camaraderie of a team’s interpersonal relationships during situations in which they played together in networked activity. Education included maintaining an understanding of the relationships between all components of the corporation. Everyone was made to feel they were an equal part of the full team; every person had a valuable skill to contribute in building the corporation’s success, each contributing in their own way to the common good. Appropriately each member of the corporation was rewarded equally with credits to obtain personal items and pleasures ~ Everyone was paid the same amount. Economics are not an important motivator for hard-working employees. All basic necessities are provided, including; accommodation, food, clothing, entertainment products, health and dental care, furnishings, exercise facilities, daycare, and social events. Striving for excellence in work is most often rewarded with a promotion onto a management team, with the subsequent benefit of moving up in the company, literally to new living quarters at a physically elevated level of the tower complex. Management levels were strictly off-limits for regular employees, except in certain rare and limited circumstances. The exclusiveness, and additional benefits of a higher standard of living, including more leisure and pleasure facilities, was a great incentive for employ‐ ees. At the top was the administration; the ultimate goal for any driven member of corporate society. On the flip-side, problem workers were often ‘sent down’. The move to lower levels, and intensive retraining sessions, were enough to remotivate many of this class. Some didn’t make it and were eventually expelled from the company, usually after a period of probation. Some left the company voluntarily; extreme cases left the company perma‐ nently by exiting an upper-floor window. Did they jump or were they pushed? These cases were never talked about, other than in the context of popular myth. These cases were removed from databanks as if they never existed. No record of these people could be found, and soon they were forgotten. Working at the corporation was a life-long commitment. And life for employees was made as pleasant as possible. All manner of resources were available to satisfy any


requirement throughout their term of employment. From an early age the children were cared for in nurseries and classrooms, surrounded by pleasant virtual forests and gardens. Instructors had the role of surrogate parents, feeding and caring for the infants, and as a positive role model for the older children. The older children would report to school at a time that was appropriate to the schedules of their biological parents; whether day or night. As they grew older the children had freedom to move about between their apartments and the educational facilities as required. There were many events and activities organized to help the children interact socially. As children approached the dating stage (around 14 or 15 years old), a suitable partner was found by computer matchmaking, bringing together youngsters compati� ble genetically, emotionally, and more importantly, by the career specialty they were embarked upon. It was assumed these partnerships were lifelong and monogamous. They were expected to produce one healthy child during their adult years. All living quarters featured two bedrooms, so the youngsters could live together after their 16th year, as they entered the workforce. A typical pattern was thus; the two youngsters would live in a common apartment, then gradually learn to interact physically with each other. As the relationship progressed they most likely spent most of their time in their separate rooms, as it was common for one partner to work day, and the other night, often alternating after a period of one year. If a child was expected, the mother would stay home to care for the safe delivery of the child. After birth, the mother remained with the child as the primary caregiver during the first year of the child’s life. After the first year the parents would likely share the same bedroom, with the child occupying the other. This continued for the 15 years until their child entered the workforce, and started a family of their own. Interestingly, the parents often returned to separate bedrooms at this time, and maintained this living arrangement until advanced age or illness separated the couple. In their senior years, couples often separated and went to live in communal care residences, with visitation access if requested. Visitation from their children often tapered off to one or two visits per month, then per year. In these facilities, seniors found close friends and activities that were more in keeping with their own interests than available in their original partnership. These facilities were somewhat like clubs of the past, and quite enjoyable. Arranged lifetime partnerships are for the most part successful. The consequences of an unsuccessful arrangement are not pleasant; so couples made every effort to maintain a good working relationship, and family unit. If one partner was promoted or sent down, both partners would benefit or suffer the circumstances together. Should an arrangement end, due to illness, serious incompatibility, or expulsion of one spouse for some specific reason, then an effort is made to create a match for the remaining partner. This is on a case-by-case basis, and prime consideration is given to what is in the best interest of the corporation. Being single in the tower is rare, but could be accepted, as of the writing of this text.


Studying history lessons are difficult some days when children feel like playing. Art would make them happy. The antics of a juggler in his clown costume could always make them laugh. The satellite feed from the corporate-controlled broadcasting station is a regularly-scheduled event. Once each week, Art would go to the facility to record a series of five-minute segments that were in rotation on the entertainment channel. Through the digital network, his image was broadcast around the world. He developed quite a popular following; which made this gig his primary source of revenue. Perfor‐ mances in hospitals, schools and daycares in the residential zone were charitable endeavors that he did out of the goodness of his heart. He enjoyed the personal experience of creating smiles on the faces of people that had very little joy in their lives. Art made it his own personal challenge to make each broadcast more extravagant than the previous performance. After all, this was a world-class event, recorded for immortality in a database for future generations. He juggled everything from feathers to bowling balls. He juggled thirteen tiny light and sound-emitting diodes. He juggled live fish. He stood on his head, he set himself on fire. He used the studio’s digital techni‐ cians to assist in making himself appear in an endless variety of fun-filled, zany environments. Using technology he had even taken himself apart, and juggled the various portions of his own body while hovering slightly above the deep-frozen surface of planet Pluto. The kids loved it.

IV.

Yuri wandered up from the underground passageway into the high-vaulted dome of the terminal with nothing in mind but picking up a shipment of specialized gear; custom-made for him and freighted across the border. He stood by the tracks as the train pulled into the station; he could feel its raw power. The locomotive shook the ground. It was about twenty minutes behind sched‐ ule. Probably held up at the checkpoint. His long hair blew back over the shoulder of his black leather jacket. The large steel wheels reflected from his mirrored-sunglasses. He finished eating his chocolate bar. Steam from the cooling system escaped from the train as it squealed to a stop. He was in an area of the station that was off-limits; but he knew no limits. He walked along the row of cars on cool concrete. No-one seemed to notice him; he was invisible. Parcels were being tossed out of the train onto small green carts. He wanted to make sure that his stuff wasn’t tossed around too badly. Highly-sensitive gear. He stood nearby, and when he spotted the specially marked metallic boxes he moved in.


“Hey easy with ‘ese ones mate, can’t you see the fragile stickers?” he said in a fakeAustralian accent. He grabbed the boxes and placed them gently on the cart. The young guys in the train didn’t give a shit; one less box to toss. Yuri went back into the terminal to wait in line at the delivery desk. Protocol; he always followed procedure. It was the best way to ensure that everything arrived safe and secure ~ In addition to some well-placed bribes. Yuri stood in line with two claim tickets in his left hand. He cleared his mind and waited... Eventually he got to the counter and recovered his boxes. As he was turning to leave, he noticed a familiar face. It was Juliet! It had been a few years since he had last seen her. He registered the surprise in her very pale blue eyes, (that were almost white), when he intercepted her gliding as gracefully as a swan across the polished granite floor. Far above, the rain drummed a hard rhythm on the copper roof of the dome... It seemed like nothing could stop the machine-gun rain. In a quiet voice he told her why he was at the station, and asked her what she was doing back in town, and when she had gotten out ~ A businessman with a computer in his hand walked quickly past heading for a bank of videophones along the wall next to the newspaper vendor. The front page news reported about an attack on a transport truck that was hauling rocket parts. An ecological activist group claimed responsibility for the incident. The vendor sat ragged in an old acrylic sports jacket, a dirty grey toque on his head. Pinwheels of large black type tumbled down into the furious activity in the station, trampled beyond recognition by thousands of feet. As they talked, Yuri kept an eye on the bionic businessman, who dialed up a secret code, connected a cable into a receptacle inside his briefcase, then patched in a new stream of information from the main computer storage facilities. The information, Yuri noted, was recorded directly into a ‘brainbooster’ black box; a liquid-light crystal display that glowed phosphorescent green from the depths of the briefcase. The technical transfusion signals transformed him into Super Money Man. He leapt from the booth, then flew up and away to the Stock Exchange. ~~~ Yuri checked for signs of swelling from the rat bites on his thumb. They seemed to be healing, but burned like an invisible flame. He replaced his thick rubber glove and continued on. He had crawled a considerable distance up the disposal shaft of the tower in the darkness by pushing himself up on the inner walls with his hands and his feet. It was filthy, and the smell was obscene, but those were minor considerations compared to the dangers that lay ahead. This kind of activity could be fatal. The chemicals that were used to turn trash into a liquid slurry had the same effect on skin; dissolving flesh, digesting it. Rats and centipedes, and the like, were hazards at the first level around contain‐ ment bins at the bottom of the chute. These bins were used to collect liquid slurry for


pickup by sanitation crews, who hauled the material to fertilizer production facilities out in the Industrial Zone. ‘Sanitation for the Nation’ declared the slogan in large black type on the side of the big yellow trucks that roamed the streets at night. Coming to a junction, Yuri crawled almost horizontally, sliding up a slight incline like a snake in his black rubber suit. The diameter of the passageway constricted again to a size just slightly larger than his shoulders, still allowing the tank on his back to pass through. ‘I’m going to have to go on a diet,’ he laughed to himself. He was already as thin as the beams of high-intensity light from the two LED lamps mounted on his facemask shining into the darkness ahead. The tools on his utility belt scrapped against the side. He carried an inventory of everything that he would need for the next levels; to get past the grating-screens of the filters, the rotary grinder blades, and the laser beams of security systems. This was a physical hack; battling metal with metal, high-tech with high-tech, chemicals with protection, and gravity with inertia. He heard a distant rumble then endured a blast of toxic gas just before he got dumped on by another wave of sludge that forced him a few meters back down the tunnel. Yuri made it past the grating and the blades, and was moving up toward the next level, when a shard of broken metal ripped through his rubber suit and cut into his leg. The chemicals burned the wound like acid. The disposal chute was so tight that he could barely fit through, and the darkness was closing in. He started hallucinating or dreaming for some reason; he couldn’t tell if he was conscious or not in the plague of darkness. He felt like he was floating in the warm darkness of a universal and endless sea. He could hear the sound of his breathing in his air mask. He had no sensation of having a body, or sight. Gradually the sound of his breathing subsided. Maybe he had drowned at the bottom of the ocean. Blackness swirled around him like a whirlpool. Some time passed before he felt the walls of the chute surrounding him again. He felt compelled to move toward some unknown destination. He couldn’t quite remember where he was trying to go, he just had an awareness that it was important to keep advancing, to keep going. He felt nauseous from the chemicals that had entered his bloodstream. The ocean of his blood pounded hard in his veins. He again felt the floating sensation; he was drifting out to sea. A line seemed to be connecting him to the shore, connected to his abdomen like an umbilical cord... It unraveled from an infinite roll as he drifted further away from the shore... receding. Still further, yet there was no fear. There was security in the physical connection. The tunnel began to gradually close around his head and started to squeeze tight. He was trapped and could go no further. He began to realize that he was dying. Now the fear and panic began to creep in. Then everything stopped.


V.

The juggler is watching tv alone in his apartment tonight. He sits in a chair with a bandage wrapped around his head. It was a tough day in the studio. During recording the third segment he had fallen off a four-meter-high unicycle when he collided with one of the low-hanging studio lights. His head hit the studio floor pretty hard. His balls bounced off into the darkness past the throw of the lighting-grid. He blacked-out for a few seconds, then regained consciousness in a nest of black cable snakes running along the floor into the control room. One of the camera operators; a rotund man named Tobe, was staring at him when he opened his eyes. From the perspective looking up from the floor, Tobe’s tiny head was eclipsed by the girth of his large belly. The tiny head was speaking from its orbit hovering above the gut-planet, repeating; “Hey, are you okay?” “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” Art said, trying to get up. He felt woozy. A drop of blood trickled down the side of his face. The studio patched him up and sent him home in a company car. That had been nearly eight hours ago... He had spent that entire time sitting at home in a chair watching tv. He clicked through the channels with a small keypad; a brightly-coloured collage of images sequenced on the screen in short staccato bursts. His head throbbed. He took a couple more pills that the studio had given him; washing them down with metallic-flavoured tap water. Randomly, a movie appeared on the screen. It was a movie about a city under a clear glass dome. A climate-controlled environment. A group of peasants in flowing white gowns, with unicorn symbols on their backs, were singing and dancing in a circle on a green field under a rainbow. Accompanied by a full orchestral score, they chanted in bright cheery voices; “Turn off the wind, and rain storm. Turn on the sun, Let’s smile again.” Art pressed the keypad on his remote. A clown with red hair and a yellow costume is driving a cartoon car past silhouette cutouts on a cardboard street... Keypad... 1950’s science-fiction movie; through the grain and scratches of black-and-white filmstock, a house comes into view from an aerial perspective. It is harshly lit in contrasting white highlights and dark shadows. The viewpoint tracks in, circles, then drops gradually in altitude approaching one side of the house. A constant gentle humming sound can be heard. In the distance other houses can be seen as small dark objects dotting the white void of an invisible horizon. The music on the soundtrack signals that something ominous is about to happen... Keypad... Close-up of the face of


an angry bald man. His head looks like a piece of pink pork squeezed out from the tight buttons on the collar of his shirt. He is shouting, “Isn’t justice inherent in all things? I hear people talking about co-incidence, chance, and fate. But that still doesn’t explain the way things happen in the world. What word would you give to an all-encompassing force at work in the world today? Every time I hear that word freedom it makes me shiver. We are not free; we all have to answer to a higher authority. Dante wrote that; “... in the middle of my journey through life, I awoke to find myself in a dark woods....” Keypad...

VI.

Because of the silence, Yuri becomes aware that the sound of his breathing is becoming louder behind his mask. He starts to move again; crawling through the blackness. He reaches a junction. His left leg stings like hell. He slithers along until he is able to push open a hatch. Inside, the room is dark; probably one of the industrial waste storage rooms, Yuri considers, judging by the size of the hatch. He pulls himself through so that his arms are hanging down. For a few moments he rests. He rips off his air-mask and drops his tank to the floor in the darkness. He must have been almost out of air. The empty tank makes a sharp ping as it bounces off the concrete floor. He caught his breath, then with a grunt pulled himself through the hatchway. He tried to jackknife into a tuck and roll. His legs were cramped from the narrow chute so he touched down a bit harder than he expected; his shoulder hit the floor, and he smashed his leg into a trash bin spilling the contents with a loud crash. Yuri lay on his back listening for approaching footsteps. He shone his flashlight around the room, finding the door, then the light switch. With effort, he got up to follow the beam of light. Stumbling to flip on the switch, some tubes of fluorescent light glowed from the ceiling. This was a shredding room; where hard-copy documents were ground-up beyond legibility before being transferred to one of the disposal chutes. Yuri peeled off his rubber suit. The gash on his leg looks pretty bad; it would need stitches. He could do that with his emergency kit on his utility belt. First he needed to find a wash area; the chemical that had gotten into his suit had begun to dissolve his flesh ~ A piece of paper on the floor bore the insignia of the Department of Justice. ~~~


“City of concrete, city of steel, city so cold, makes you lose all you feel”... Kaya cranks up the velocity of the music on her headphones. She sings along with the words to a song by the Ruggedy Annes. Her boyfriend Steven shoots her a glance to let her know that outside of her headphones her voice sounds like a loud bird that is getting its feathers plucked. She pulls off the headphones... “What the fuck is your problem?” The sound rattles like an angry buzz from the volume of the headphone speakers she is holding in her hand. “Let’s do something, I’m getting tired of hanging out.” “Whattaya wanna do?” “I dunno, whattaya wanna do?” “I asked you first.” ‘Typical. People are not really becoming more intelligent in the information age. Being inarticulate is sometime thought of as a sign of being cool’, thinks Gillian quietly to herself. “How about Cabaret Voltaire?” she suggests. Kaya replies, “We’re going to stay right here until Martia and Sanya show up.” She puts back on her headphones, then sings even louder to annoy Steven. This is the first time Gillian has been to the Entertainment Zone. She is a shy, quiet girl who lives in the same tenement as Kaya. She works at the TV station, so Art invited her to come along with them and offered to show her around. At the moment, she is sitting nearby on a bench in the little astroturf park just outside the public washroom. While she waits, Gillian studies a map of the site which is printed in dark blue ink on a 12 inch square piece of unbleached recycled paper. She reads quietly to herself: ‘Numerous nightclubs, casinos and arcades await along the avenues. Each based on a particular theme. Citizens out for excitement will enjoy ‘The Blender’ with its highspeed revolving dance floor called the ‘The Devil’s Disc’, or experience the virtuallyreal interactive ‘Nevermind Arcade’. Those with a taste for bloodsport will enjoy the intense action of gladiator matches at the Colosseum, or the spectacular finishes at the cheetah race track. These activities are sure to leave a lasting impression’... ‘If your pleasure tends toward the cerebral, may we tempt you with the digital mind candy of Kailand; where images change and transform according to the thoughts of the viewer. Perhaps we may dazzle you with death-defying live poetry performances inside the futuristic mechanical environment of Cabaret Voltaire. For physical sensa‐ tions, fun and thrills, take the Ghost Train to the Amusement Park where we are proud to feature such attractions as; the Fun House with its dark mazes and hallway of mirrors, The House of Mysteries, and of course, the extremely popular Tunnel of Love. These are just a few of the popular attractions that are sure to keep you returning to the


Entertainment Zone time and again. Happy Enjoyment!’ Electric bumper cars scurry around the grid like shiny mercury drops, sound pounding from their tiny speakers. The metallic silverfish are rented, scanned onto the smartcard at the gate when the citizens enter the Entertainment Zone. For the young, this is a place to unwind from the toil of the day shift. The Zone is a festival of infinite delights; a consensual hallucination. Here there is no curfew. Technoheads can roam the terrain of the smoothly-run amusement park in safety from dusk to dawn. Anyone causing trouble would be taken down by a highly-trained force of security officers who remain discretely out of sight. With the approach of night, the uniforms of work are shed, exchanged for the freedom of expressive individual fashion. The electronic tribe are decked out in the latest forms of wearable art: inflatable sculptural clothing festooned with ribbons, latex innertubetops stretched tight over three sets of breasts, fabrics woven from recycled tires or from the skin of various sea creatures, fashionable robotic appendages, animal skin grafts, full-out mutants. The street is a carnival. People move along narrow sidewalks past vendor’s carts and small shops offering a plethora of food, drugs, sex and religion; piracetam, sufism, falafels, lucidril, hinduism, bibim bab, satanism, choline, dilantin, tandoori vegetables, catholicism, taoism, satay beetles, inderal, fosterite, vodka, xanthinol nicotinate, cognac, L-phenylalanine, LSD, buddhism, corn-on-the-cob, and primitive shamanism, to name a few of the pleasures available. Vendors are persistent in persuasion to sample their wares; attracting attention with loud shouts to stand out amongst the competition. Citizen’s smart cards are active in portable scanners, when they are not dangling fashionably from a curled plastic cable from their hip ~ The colour of card flaunts the status of their credit limit. People with astonishingly large, or conversely, limited expense budgets, prefer to keep their cards tucked in their pocket; the former for protection, the later from embarrassment. Digital billboards run propaganda displayed on small viewscreens mounted along the street. They stream the same media content in synchronicity; like identical fractured fragments of a holographic plate. Fluid computer animation advertises the latest products from Golden Sun Corporation, Tyrell Corporation, and Dream Logic Corpora‐ tion. The colours are vivid. Techno-powered electronic noise generators play through partially destroyed systems resulting in clicks and glitches; a layered soundscape of environmental ambience, random voices, digital music, and audioloops from live microphones recording off the street in real-time and feeding back waves of sound into the avenue before recapturing them again. Graffiti tags cover nearly every available surface within reach of the street. The cryptic messages and images are a code to those who can read them; sometime they provide clues to identify the existence of underground organizations ~ DNeT satellite dishes span the rooftops. A group of kids wearing many layers of clothing smoke legal cannabis in front of the arcade, perpetrating the invasion of street culture. Three women with long claws and


small pointy breasts dance in heated ecstasy. They are dressed in body-tight leopardskin clothing. As they dance, they scratch at the walls and roll on the sidewalk in wild primitive abandon. Nearby, nonchalant, a group of men are posing; their aluminum codpieces curve fashionably toward the sky.

VII.

The test-pattern is on. Art, the juggler, is asleep in an armchair in his livingroom; a bandage wrapped around his head. He is oblivious to the 1 kHz tone generated by the television speaker. He is dreaming; in his dream he is in a forest with Candy and a blue canvas tent. The scene is a rugged northern mountain valley, between towering snow-capped peaks. The tent is nestled in trees, perched above a rock outcropping that overlooks a small pond that beavers have dammed. The pond contains fish of every variety; the sun reflects off their shining bodies as they fly out of the water or frolic amongst the lily pads. Sometimes a moose, a martin, a muskrat, or a mink saunters by. Wildflowers dot the rich green moss carpeting the ground. In his dream he has to prove to Candy that he is worthy as a suitor if he wants to claim her heart. So armed with nothing more than a small chainsaw and a few packages of dehydrated soup, he embarks upon a quest to bring back the one thing that can please her. The first day he constructs a log bridge above a precipitous waterfall, then crosses over to pick gigantic blackberries which grow on the opposite side. He returns in the evening to offer her the sweet fruit which she accepts ~ Yet, she wants something more to please her before she can give him her heart... He sleeps under a tree. The second day he skins the bark off a tall birch tree, and makes her a beautiful hat, boots and dress which he decorates with patterned-markings he has made with his teeth. He returns to the tent in the evening with the clothing he has made, which she accepts. Yet, this is not enough. He sleeps on the beaver dam. The third day he hikes far into the mountains; above the treeline where glaciers are melting. There at the headwaters of a stream, he pans for gold with an old tin cup. He builds a fire and forges a beautiful necklace with the nuggets he has plucked from the stream. He returns stiff and tired, his feet numb from standing in the ice-cold water. Still she rejects him. Yet, her resolve is beginning to be swayed by his devotion... and the beautiful necklace. She has also noticed the bulge down the leg of his pants. He sleeps in a cave.


On the fourth day he awakens miserable and frustrated, and is forced into combat with a bear that has awaken in the cave next to him. After wrestling the bear, and in exchange for sparing the bear’s life, the bear offers his warm fur coat. The juggler is scratched and bleeding, but he makes his way back to the blue canvas tent, with the hide and a ten foot pole of solid blue mountain ash. He throws the hide onto the floor, then picks Candy up and carries her across the threshold; laying her down in soft fur. She quickly removes her clothing in anticipation, but he wants to savor the moment. Slowly he massages her feet, rains kisses down on her firm legs, then caresses the soft skin behind her knees with his tongue. He looks up from between her thighs to see that her nipples are firm in the cool mountain air ~ Suddenly the first television program of the morning comes on the airwaves quite loudly; jarring Art back into the harsh light of reality. ~~~ The deserted warehouse is a rat’s maze of passageways and derelict rooms. Plaster holes reveal skeleton ribs of lathe. Broken windows covered with boards. Mattresses and an odd collection of found furniture. Nocturnal clandestine meetings; a cockroach black nest of eggs, hatching plots. An ancient printing press is in one room. Another secret underground room contains the latest technology softwired into the network, and operated by hackers. The number of the group is increasing all the time, yet the location of central headquarters is known only to select elite members who have passed the initiation, and who have been accepted into the ranks by proving themselves to be loyal, trustworthy and dedicated to the cause. Ro@ches have begun to venture out during daylight hours; which belong to the realm of the Golden Sun Corporate empire. Both groups keep the other under surveillance as best they can. The ro@ches love the spy-versus-spy scenario which has developed as a result of their increased activity. They have waged virtual warfare on Golden Sun Corporation by gaining unauthorized access to their internal networks and launching various digital search agents to track and capture specific data. Members of the group have conducted physical subversion on Golden Sun’s equip‐ ment by infiltrating many of the towers, tampering with data, destroying components, or connecting their memory fields into wireless transmitters to read data remotely. The ro@ches savor the challenge of infiltrating any system at every opportunity; risking life and limb to discover the real truth behind media lies. Their goal is to uncover documentation of suspected corruption by searching through document files in memory storage fields. They even collect the jumbled fragments of shredded documents in waste disposal areas and meticulously piece them together like a jigsaw puzzle; all night long with glue gummed onto their fingers ~ Peeled away with the morning sunshine like a second skin. Yuri is a veteran with many missions behind enemy lines. He is built like a sewer snake; tall and thin. There isn’t a disposal system invented that he hasn’t been able to penetrate. He has the scars to prove it; badges of courage.


Ro@ches are kept under surveillance by the scrutinizing eye of Special Forces working for the Authority in the Department of Secret Deception. It is their mandate to curtail any subversive activity wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head(s). It is their sworn duty to eliminate any threat, primarily to the government, the Authority, and naturally extends to protection of large corporations which finance the economy. Special Forces operate in much the same manner as ro@ches, except they have a greater operating budget, and the law is on their side. They are authorized to enter homes and businesses, seize computer files and equipment, place cameras or listening devices in rooms, record videophone conversations, monitor all network activity, and search or detain any citizen they suspect of potentially engaging in illicit activity. Fortunately, most of the population is comprised of law-abiding citizens who never encounter Special Forces, and are only aware of them from news broadcasts. Gener‐ ally, there is minimal police-presence in the Residential Sectors. Although occasional‐ ly, Special Forces, to make their presence felt, would occasionally engage with a sudden and brutal show of strength ~ And they rarely took prisoners. Prisoners they did apprehend were never seen again. Strategic operations, like a bolt of lightning blasting from a clear sky, annihilated every target locked onto; swiftly and effectively. It was a proven tactic to keep the population in line. In addition to Special Forces, ro@ches had to contend with Golden Sun Corpora‐ tion, which upon acquiring Flex Global for digital security, had recruited a highlytrained paramilitary force familiar with a wide-variety of deadly countermeasures. They considered ro@ches to be nothing more than unwanted pests constantly underfoot. They prepared to take action, and began announcing an extermination program through their media channels. In an effort to clean-up cities where the infestation was most troublesome, they planned a campaign to spray entire city cores with cyanide gas during late-night hours. It was outrageous! Thousands of homeless people were taking shelter wherever they could; in abandoned vehicles, in broken remnants of buildings being demolished for recycled steel and cement, in sewers, and who knows where... The ro@ches were aware that it was essentially a blackmail tactic; it was implied that if their rag-tag little band of digital ‘hackers’ didn’t cease operation, many innocent people would die. They knew Authorities would welcome any opportunity to exterminate all denizens attempting to exist within the core. To clear the slate. If they could put a positive spin in the media; that they were doing it for society’s benefit, they would come out in the clear, and the ro@ches would suffer the consequences ~ This was the reason for their emergency meeting tonight, and the only item on the agenda. No-one wanted to sit next to Yuri, so he sat on a crate in the corner. He summarized the situation; “Certainly, there are mutants and freaks down there. Some of the stuff i’ve seen is scary. I swear i saw a guy with two heads out there, man. And i’ve seen people with fur and scales and tails... Escapees from genetic laboratories, weird offspring of


depraved zoophiliacs. I’ve seen cannibals chewing on human remains. Perhaps the situation should be cleaned up. Maybe the Forces should send in a few robotic surveillance droids on patrol, to check out the activity. There is no law down there; it’s a no-mans land ~ survival of the fittest. Homeless people don’t deserve to be extermi‐ nated, they need protection. They have a precarious existence as it is, with all those predators creeping around. Who knows whether the gas would even have any effect on those mutant freaks; they probably have built up an immunity to almost every known form of toxin.” “So what are you suggesting we do?” Bug Head asked. “I say we go out there during the day with cameras to gather documentary footage,” Mrs. Zero interjected. “Then we hack into the news broadcast and run a little bit of pirate television.” “Sounds pretty entertaining all right. I have a little surprise i devised for such an occasion,” said Yuri. “I don’t want to reveal what it’s all about until I carry out my master plan. Stay tuned. Stay focused. Keep the channel clear.”

VIII.

Juliette had just arrived at the station from the opposite side of the country. Yuri was waiting to pick up a shipment. By fate, co-incidence, or random chance they were both in the same place at the same time. He approached her, and caught her by surprise, but she greeted him warmly. They embraced, holding each other tightly for a few moments. The station, enormous as it was, vanished around them. They kissed with a passion that time and distance had kindled to an unbearable intensity ~ The station slowly materialized as they drew apart, gazing into each other’s eyes; her’s a pale glacier blue, his a steel grey cloud. They walked hand in hand in silence for a few moments; they would talk about it later. First he had a shipment to pick up. “Wait here.” Yuri presented his claim tickets to the elderly attendant at the baggage counter. The old man shuffled to a cart. In obvious discomfort, he retrieved a small metallic box; groaning as he lifted it to the counter. Sympathy glowed with soft intensity from Yuri’s eyes; the muscles in his face tightened as the old man repeated his ordeal in fetching the second identical box. “You must be careful with these,” instructed the old man; noticing the biohazard stickers and laboratory seals securing the box.


Yet, the boxes did not contain any biological material. The seals were applied to the cases at the time of shipment to help ensure safe transport through checkpoints enroute from Bulgaria. The boxes contained components of a digital device known as a ‘destruction engine’; inert when disconnected from a power source, but deadly when wired into a computer system. It was essentially a voracious tape worm code that when inserted into an operating shell would execute only two instruction sets driving it to replicate and consume. The only way to stop it was to efficiently seal any living pieces of its code within an entirely-enclosed environment. Even then, it was difficult to eradicate, since once it had consumed all available resources within a system, it would start to consume itself; creating the space it needed to replicate again. It was the proverbial snake swallowing its own tail. It was a drastic measure... yet, drastic times... “I’ll be careful with them,” Yuri replied to the old man, showing a toothy smile and a twinkle in his eye. He grabbed the handles, then strolled back to Juliette who was waiting patiently for him. “Where are you staying?” Yuri asked, his canine fangs protruding. “At Holiday Inn. I’m in town for a conference.” “Can I give you a lift? My car is outside.” Juliette opened the heavy brass station door, and they were outside in a dust storm. A tornado swept along the horizon. A dark blue Pontiac suburban wagon was parked in the ‘No Parking Zone’. “Ah yes, here we go,” Yuri said. He opened the rusty back door and slid his cases up next to the spare tire. He nervously glanced around, then climbed behind the wheel. He reached over to open the door for Juliette. “Nice car, getting a little rusty though. How long have you had it?” Yuri pulled a scanner from his jacket and attached it to his ignition security lock. In moments a ‘code-request’ appeared on his display. “I can’t remember,” he said punching in the code. The car started at once. He wheeled out of the parking lot and into the light evening traffic. He could see the tornado heading straight for the trailer park in his rear-view mirror. “So, how’s our daughter doing?”...


IX.

They were headed toward a hashish bar called ‘Wasted Time’ to meet Sanya. Wasted Time is small and dark. It took a few moments for their eyes to adjust to illumination entirely from candles. The room faded into existence as they sat on soft carpeting, gathered around a small wooden table with an inlaid pattern of tiles. Plenty of cushions are everywhere to nestle comfortably. The walls are covered from floor to ceiling with a collection of paintings in a wide-variety of sizes and styles; and painted directly onto the walls like surrealistic cave art. Nearby groups of patrons relax on the floor in conversation. Others have their eyes closed and are enjoying some dreamtime. The soundscape is an endless collage of audio samples generated from a digital drive somewhere. The volume made it possible to converse easily. The sound sequenced and segued from dub-influenced house to headbashing techno, now overlaid with a bluesy-soulful chorus of piano and female gospel singers. Ambient samples occur spontaneously in breathy-textures of sound: movie screams, aborigines chanting, birds calling, evangelists shouting, and children laughing. It seemed this is one of the meeting-huts where electronic tribes gather in the global village to share the pipe of peace. Nomadic gatherers of knowledge and experience; dressed in the traditional ‘nolo’ costumes of batik drawstring pants, jerseys with fractal patches, dreadlocks, yin-yang T-shirts, and colourful ski caps ~ The young and the restless. From behind beaded curtains, a swarthy man casually approaches the table carrying a brass Turkish metal pipe. Choices are selected from a menu taped to the surface of the table. Art doesn’t pay much attention to the ordering procedure; he is involved in a conversation with Gillian. She is telling him that she is studying acting at a Theater School in the city ~ Art confesses that it has been a lifelong dream of his to act in a theater play, whereupon she invites him to try out for one; they are always searching for ‘extras’ in their productions, she assures him. As they continue, Sanya fires up the pipe. The hookah has five tentacles, so Art asks Gillian if they could share one. She complies. Art felt like he was totally-stoned while inhaling his first toke. This was a potent blend; like everything else these days, no doubt genetically-enhanced. He notices his entire perception has changed after several more blasts of the hashish pipe inhaled deeply into his lungs; under the watchful gaze of Ganeesha ~ The elephant-headed deity of Hinduism on a shelf above them.


Art seemed to be in a better frame of mind; especially talking and laughing with Gillian, who seemed to enjoy being with him. “Lets do something, I’m too high to just sit here. I get too paranoid when I’m ripped,” declared Gillian. Art passed Sanya a wad of currency under the table. Sanya responded: “Okay, see you space-trekkers later!” They were blasted. Kaya had given them each a hit of xtasy as they left Wasteland ~ Or whatever it was called. Images were coming in furious fragments. Neural networks were powered with energy overload. They wandered amongst tribal units that migrat‐ ed under the light of a full moon. The discontent of youth; the hope of finding consola‐ tion in a world of illusion. Street culture as an alternative form of mass media. Fads are shockwaves triggered by the detonation of new ideas. Initially someone has taken the risk to encode a personal vision. With replication, the message becomes apparent, and gradually original concepts begin to be accepted by the general public. Further waves and styles are propagated, replacing and merging with the outflow of previous ideas ~ A current fashion trend is wearing clothing which accurately simulates the texture of animal patterns and markings; snakeskin dress, jaguar pants, and the porcupine quill shirt. The power of spirit-animals are transferred to humans, like the tribes of old; their clothing represents the attributes of a creature which is significant to their personal distinguishing characteristics. “How about Cabaret Voltaire?” Gillian suggests. Art suddenly notices Gillian is wearing a dress treated with temperature-sensitive dyes. The colour of her dress is changing yellow to green from body heat. A graphic representation of her firm young figure is printed onto material pressed against her flesh. Art applies a hand-print which quickly fades with the passage of time. Gillian loves it; she tosses back strands of sleek raven-black hair over her shoulder in the moonlight. Her teeth are white; perfect, canine incisors slightly prominent. She appears for an instant as a powerful carnivore. A delicious smile exuding confidence and sexual seduction ~ She always eats what she kills; burgers, caffeine and alcohol. Predators and prey. Maybe he is just picking up the frequency of a group of guys hanging-out by the casino. Gangstas; sharp-dressed sharks in expensive suits, they sense the scent of money, looking smooth and dangerous. These guys are part of the business community offering security and protection to their employers, not like the nightcrawlers that scavenge dark streets. It’s not safe to be in the neibourhoods at night; unless you are prepared to defend yourself. Out here individual survival is based on natural law and strata within the food chain. The presence of Special Forces are not common; other than sporadic patrols. There is not really much to steal; shops are locked-up tight and no-one carries valuables ~ Yet, one could never tell when they might come upon a roving band of desperadoes... Pirates.


In a sense, gangs are the police of the zone. They enforce curfew, they clean up the streets of even-less desirables, and keep their own numbers in check through gang warfare, and territorial disputes. They are quiet loyal to the citizens within their district, and will often protect lives and property within their zone if a rival gang moves in. Many gang members unknowingly have been tagged when they have been brought in for routine questioning ~ During the required physical examination, a miniature computer tracking chip is secretly slipped under the skin through a small knick made with a tiny blade. This is usually carried out in blood testing, or when electrodes to measure vital signs are placed on the body. The offender management software enables administra‐ tors to use computers to track their movement, their prison system record, their medical condition, and known gang affiliations. “Hardcore organized gangs usually go after targets in the Industrial Zone where manufactured products can be acquired for black market distribution. Checkpoints at the gates are very secure; warehouses are like armed encampments with heavy security,” Art explained. “Authority Admission Officials [AAO] scan credit cards of everyone entering or leaving; tracking citizen’s activity by recording their access into the data bank. This is for the citizen’s security, Authorities always say.” A crazy prophet is shouting on the street; “Only true believers will enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The message is meaningless in the midst of the digital madness. The smell of excrement drifts from side alleyways, blending with the high-speed distorted sounds of calliope music as the carousel spins wildly around ~ People cling tightly to the back of strange animal figures moving up and down at full-gallop. Sophisticated mainstream pop-culture media signals emerge from multinational corporations. They beam down from earth-orbit satellites illuminating displays mounted on posts along the street. In the dark edges; large rats forage through coloured shadows cast by the displays. Art and Gillian walk quickly along the sidewalk. Faces of people in the street are international; a blending and morphing of cultures, customs and languages ~ Expres‐ sions and slang from around the world. Some carry translation devices that contain the entire working vocabulary of nearly all of the most-populated countries on the planet. Although voice-activated, people are still forced to listen carefully, or read the transla‐ tion on their small display. Accessing the database can be distracting during conversa‐ tions, yet, it is very useful in many situations. Art used to own one, but he lost it, or left it somewhere... it is difficult to remember anything at the moment. Near the end of the boulevard is a place called ZOOLu. The kinetic sound of drumming; the rhythm of primal intensity attracts them like a magnet. This is a popular nightclub, built in the shape of gigantic circular thatched hut. It is densely crowded, as it is every night. Tables surround a railing on a higher level, built on a kind of a verandah. Customers enjoy food and refreshments while watching the action below on the dirt floor by the bonfire. Sparks and burning embers float down on dancers who frantically move at high-velocity to the sound of drummers pounding on hollow logs


and digital drums on a stage inside an opening that appeared to be carved out of a very large tree. A thick column of smoke rose up through a large opening high in the conical ceiling. As the singers joined in again, the dancers, almost naked; their bodies glistening with sweat and covered in yellow dust, flailed their arms in the air. Art noticed that a number of dancers were wearing battery-powered headbands which cool the head in order to improve mental acuity; the Zulu’s were getting wired. Art and Gillian dived into the pit. Within moments he could feel the tribal energy surging through his body. He began to feel that he was transcending the physical world ~When suddenly a full body blow knocked him to the ground. He struggled to pull himself out of the dust as he was literally trampled underfoot. After being kicked in the head, and stepped on several times, he surfaced coughing out dry clouds of dust. In the pit it was survival of the fittest; wild, untamed, brutal and savage. Gillian hadn’t seemed to notice; she removes her shirt and her long reddish-brown hair, matted with sweat, clings like vines to her small white breasts. Art wipes off the grit of dust, and a trace of blood from around his mouth, then plunges back into the rhythm. The power-electroniks of the digital drums have been treated with some complex programming, and the output is a tempo that increases incrementally; faster and faster. Moving figures of the dancers are becoming blurred like motion-captured video frames. He feels faint; flashes of light appear on the back of his retinas like tiny electronic traces. Others are having difficulty maintaining the frequency of the rhythm, and are dropping around him with overheated exhaustion. Gillian is moving at light speed, from Art’s perception. She is reaching toward a platform that has slowly lowered from above. Perhaps it is levitating somehow. As the platform hovers just above the dancers, Art can discern the figure of a large dark-skinned man. He is dressed in animal skins that barely cover his powerful naked body. Rivulets of sweat stream along the contoured ripples of muscles along his arms and legs. He seems to move slowly compared with the frantic rhythm that has in‐ creased to a frenetic intensity of speed, as well as volume. He holds torches in each hand that he swings in a circular motion leaving a persistent trail of illumination behind them. He moves the flames along his body, but the flames do not seem to burn him; or if they did, he had not seemed to notice. Pacing back and forth across the platform that is just out of reach of outstretched fingertips, his eyes search the crowd on the dance floor below. A deep voice appears over the driving sound: “Thank you for coming to ZOOLu tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we hope you are having a good time.” A scream of appreciation goes up throughout the crowd. “We would like to conclude our show tonight with...” There is a long pause, then very dramatically a demon voice screams enthusiastically, “ The Sacrifice!” Apparently, this is a customary part of the floor show; the traditional way to cap off an evening at


the club. The audience is primed, young women push forward to the stage, fighting with each other to get closer, pushing aside the men who were already in the process of getting out of their way. “May I direct your attention to the shaman on the platform above you. He is wearing the Mask of Eternity. The mask is seeking a willing victim to perform the sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice. The sacrifice of purity, the sacrifice that will cleanse our souls, and forgive us all our sins during this night of debauchery.” The platform has swung over the bonfire in the center of the dance floor. The shaman lifts his torches high above him. Art notices that his leopard skin loin-cloth seems to be draped over a large object extended in front of him. He holds the pose for several seconds as the drumming reaches a climax, then suddenly he plunges his torches to the platform; casting the entire room into darkness as the drumming becomes silent. Art could hear the crowd around him gasp with surprise, and during the next few moments the only sounds were screaming women who had seen the show before, and knew what was about to happen. The shaman knelt on one knee, illuminated by the bonfire below. His body is shaking as though he were going into a trance. Women are still pushing toward the platform, wrestling for position. Art looks around but he can not see Gillian anywhere; the room is so dark. Now the shaman arose. In his hand is a large wriggling snake. Women are scream‐ ing. Men are pumping their fists in the air as a slow, heavy drumming rhythm began again. They are shouting for blood. The snake has twisted itself around the shaman’s arm, upon which is a tattoo of a satyr glistening with sweat. The snake is now face to face with the mask, licking it with its small quick tongue. The shaman’s loin-cloth appears to be pointing up at the snake, and now the audience can see what has been under the cloth; a very large set of human male reproductive organs. The end of his penis is hard, black and shiny. The shaman reaches up, and tilts his mask so that it is now on top of his head. The snake approaches his unprotected face, when suddenly the shaman quickly opens his mouth to bite down hard on the snake ~ The crowd screams with excitement. The shaman withdraws the body of the snake from his mouth, then spits the head into the crowd. The body of the snake is spraying blood, which the shaman splatters on the women below, who emit shrieks of delight. Then raising the lifeless body like a glass, the shaman drinks heartily. Drops of blood stream down his chin and chest. The crowd is cheering; “Drink, drink,” and the sound of drumming increases in intensity. The demonic voice appears again, “It is now time for the sacrifice. Do we have any volunteers from the audience? Do we have any virgins out there? The sacrifice will only work if the victim is a virgin. Any virgins willing to make the supreme sacrifice?” The women are screaming, trying to climb onto the platform, but it is just beyond their reach. Most are naked, or almost naked, screaming and crying. The cry is now guttural


in the audience, “unh, unh, ugh.” In time with the rhythm of the drum, pounding slow and hard. Art felt dizzy, he could feel the pulse of energy in the chant, and the rever‐ beration of stomping of feet on the ground rippled up through his body. The shaman has his mask on again, but now high-intensity beams of pure white light stream from both eye holes, as he scans the women below, making his choice for the sacrifice. The room is still dark, the fire growing dim. The shaman’s searchlighteyes scan expectant excited faces, contorted into screams, tears rolling down cheeks, captured like digital photographs as the light scans across them. After deliberation, while women scratch and claw and wrestle each other to the ground, the shaman has made his decision. He reaches down to choose a woman, then raises her to the platform by her hair. The woman is naked. Her body is thin and pale. As the shaman places her on the platform, she alights as gently as a ballerina, then gracefully turns to wave at the audience. Art is shocked to recognize Gillian. His knees turn to gelatin; he feels the room beginning to swim about him. Is he hallucinating this? She stands for some moments like a finalist in a competition waving at the crowd; a smile of electronic xtasy on her face. Her tiny frame appears athletic and compact. The only thing covering her nakedness is a small reddish triangular patch of pubic hair. The platform slowly begins to rise higher; the crowd screams frantically, the rhythmic drumming increases in tempo once again. Art is on his knees now, hands planted in the dust. He feels drained. He looks up to observe the shaman remove his loin cloth; which then drifts down toward the fire. For an instant, Gillian and the shaman face each other in profile, then quickly the shaman picks her up by her bottom and lifts her to his chest. After a few moments, he slowly turns to lower her out of sight onto the surface of the platform. It continues to rise until it is engulfed by darkness ~ Art no longer has the strength to support himself with his arms. He falls face forward into the dust... Blackness...


part two

I.

Nighttime. In a tower overlooking the city, two corporate executives sit across a corner of the boardroom table. There are a dozen chairs positioned around the lustrous metallic surface, yet, they are alone in the room. They sit comfortably in luxurious chairs covered with a synthetic snakeskin pattern. A number of buttons line the armrests. High-intensity lighting mounted in tracks along the ceiling make the surface of the table shine, and cast the edges of the room into darkness. Scarcely visible in that darkness are a number of grapefruit trees. The carpet is dense and brown like soil. Eyes are also watching from shadows between the grapefruit trees. Along the wall are portraits of the founders hanging on simulated redwood paneling. Only their eyes are visible; reflected from the luminous oil paint they have been rendered with ~ Shining with dull intensity, they appear to be glowing with their own internal source of light. It is quiet. The two men can hear the room breathing from the air circulation system. One looks nervous, in contrast to the other who appears serenely calm. They bear a striking resemblance to each other; both have perfectly white hair and rugged mascu‐ line features. The strength of their square jaws and angular noses are softened by the paleness of their skin. They have their notebook computers open in front of them as though playing a children’s game of ‘battleship’ ~ They both lean forward intently to stare into their screens. “This is crazy,” says the nervous guy, “I don’t think she is going to come.” “Did you push her button?” “She knows... she knows. This is crazy.” “Quit saying that, something has to be done... and you know it.” “But it’s dangerous!” “It’s only dangerous for the ones who are not prepared. That’s the whole idea. We have the vaccines ready to go into production with one call.”


“And you’re certain this is safe?” “Yes.” “I don’t think she will come... she is very busy.” “You worry about things too much,” says the serene guy. He gets up from his chair and walks to the window. He gazes upon other towers in the core of the city; spreading barren branches across the view ~ Solar panels have been retracted for the night, allowing him to look into the darkness below. A few tiny fires are burning within ragged openings of abandoned buildings. A few more fires, over there, amongst broken piles of brick and debris in the old section of the city; material that could not be reused or recycled. Twilight is lingering on the distant horizon; marking the location where the sun has set. The first stars are coming out. Dragonflies and drones make their way across the sky... One of the administrators is considering the latest hacker attacks: “Ro@ches!” the word forms on his lips with disgust. The other administrator believes the hackers are just a cover for more sinister operations. He fears the attacks are being directed by ‘information brokers’, or spies working for rival corporations, or from some small rebel foreign government ~ To him they are all just a bunch of idiots; just like his brother! He shoots his brother a glance ~ Look at him, sitting there monitoring the markets, waiting for the angel to appear. He’s no better than the rest of them ~ The nervous brother was indeed watching market trends as they were presented on his display. The screen was divided into sections, with the current quotations appearing sequen‐ tially on the screen with touch areas designated as; hold, short, acquire, liquefy, etc.. The serene brother continues his inner monologue... Leadership means making decisions and taking action; which is just what he has done. He has conceived of a plan to eradicate all undesirables that infest the city; ro@ches, cannibals, vampires, vermin, and mutants. His idea is to exterminate all creatures that didn’t belong; those that scavenge through waste ~ With the release of biological agents during the night when they come crawling out... It was time to clean up the city! Suddenly a vision begins to appear; electric blue and transparent, ethereal. He wheels around in surprise. He hates that damn technology; telepresence ~ They just beam in when one least expects it. Keeps one on their toes. The image renders quickly, floating above the tabletop, never becoming completely solid; the hologram continues to waver in intensity throughout the meeting, giving the visitor a ghost-like appearance ~ The image of a woman casts blue light into the room. She is dressed in the official dark-coloured uniform of an executive officer. She appears suspended about one foot above the tabletop, as though she were standing on an imaginary transparent surface, which enables her to walk within a limited area.


The technology renders the figure in full detail at about fifty percent of actual life-size ~ The woman appears to be almost one meter tall. She is much younger than the other two, and she is very pretty. She hides her sexuality like a nun; her large breasts push against the tightness of her uniform, marked with a trace of her firm nipples. She has a wholesomeness and vitality about her contrasting the frailties of the old men. “Sorry I’m late boys. I just stepped out of another meeting for a few minutes, I hope we can keep this brief.” The brothers interact with the projection upon the table as though it were a real person. “I’ll get right to the point then,” says the calm brother. “As you are aware, cities around the world have become seriously infested with an undesirable population of strange creatures that roam the night, and live by day in abandoned buildings and the rubble of the former city. It is time we take action before the situation becomes even more severe. I recommend we initiate an extermination program. As you know, we need your authorization to enable us to implement this plan.” “You are asking me to authorize a deadly attack against our own urban population?” “Yes, our lady.” “And if I permit this operation, how do you plan to carry it out?” “I will direct your question to one of our imminent research scientists; Dr. Crane, to illustrate the details.” He presses a button on the arm of his chair, and the image of Dr. Crane appears on a screen. The serene man turns the display to face the projection. “Thank you for patiently standing-by, Dr. Crane. Would you kindly explain some of the technical aspects of the proposed cleansing program.” “Yes, certainly,” says the elder, distinguished-looking man. He is chubby, has quite large eyebrows, and thinning hair. Dr. Crane clears his throat, then begins to explain the procedure that will enable them to selectively eliminate a portion of the population, by turning their own living conditions into the weapon of their destruction. He explains they plan to release a bubonic form of plague ~ Plague is caused by infection with Yersinia pestis, a bacteri‐ um carried by rodents and transmitted by fleas. The flea bites a rodent that is sick with plague and swallows the plague bacteria. If that flea then bites a human, it passes the plague bacteria into the site of the bite, or more commonly, passes the plague bacteria on to other rodents. Plague can also be transmitted to humans by handling infected animals, or when cuts or open sores on the skin come into direct contact with body fluids from other living things infected with plague.


The serene man interjects, “These creatures are subhumans who eat rodents and insects that inhabit the area. There are documented cases of cannibalism!” Dr. Crane clears his voice once again, to proceed with his explanation: “The incubation period for plague ranges from one to seven days. Symptoms of illness include rapid onset of fever, chills, headache, malaise, nausea, and with bubonic plague in particular, painful swelling of lymph nodes. These manifestations increase in severity, and left untreated will result in death.” The executive administrator shifts her pose in the space above the table. She crosses one arm under her breasts, and rests the elbow of her other arm upon it, then puts one of the knuckles of her right hand into her mouth; in a pose of contemplation. In a few moments she responds; “How will the rest of the population be protected?” “We plan to administer a plague vaccine in capsule form. Complete immunization requires multiple doses over a six to ten month period,” replies the doctor. “The components of the vaccine; beef protein, soy, casein, sulfite, phenol or formaldehyde are currently readily, and inexpensively, available. We plan to compliment the vaccination by also administering prophylactic antibiotics such as tetracycline, or sulfonamides to children under eight.” “We plan to set up a containment area around the central core to minimize any chance of the disease spreading into the residential population,” adds the serene brother. “I know our public relations department can engineer media campaigns that will turn this in our favour. We can warn the public that the area has become contami‐ nated with plague, and that residents should be advised not to enter into the central region under any circumstances. We will prepare them well in advance of the infection by enrolling them in the vaccination program. I’m sure with a digitally-illustrated media campaign, the residents will be more than happy to purchase the vaccine at a fair market price.” The neurotic brother continues to squirm nervously in his chair, but remains silent. Visibly flushed, Dr. Crane, once again clears his throat, then continues with enthusiasm. He explains they will release genetically designed fleas, preloaded with plague. The fleas will be specifically adapted to the mission ~ Dr. Crane explains that he has selected as the genetic base, the North American Hystrichopsylla schefferi which is about 12mm long. Their mandibles have been tailored to provide a deeper, more powerful bite, and to release a greater flow of saliva into the puncture wound; which they normally do in order to prevent their host’s blood from co-agulating. “An adult flea has a maximum life-span of about 1.5 years, but on average they only live two or three months,” Dr. Crane states. “You must bear in mind that the plague bacillus will also kill the infected fleas.”


“We can release the fleas as needed to approach 100% success-rate,” chimes in the serene brother. “With time, they will infect every living thing within the containment zone; a means of extermination that no other method could approach in effectiveness.” The ghostly figure of the woman replies, “You have stated your case clearly. I will confer with our legal counsel regarding the regulations of proceeding with such an operation. I’m sure you gentlemen are aware of the credentials of our senior lawyer, Lisa Pendens, in dealing with such matters, and I am certain that her advice on the matter will be essential in this case. So I will leave you gentlemen! I am scheduled to participate in another meeting in Brazil shortly.” She slowly begins to dematerialize. “Thank you for your time, and your consideration of this matter. I’ll will inform the others...” the serene brother says to the departing spirit. He gazes at the ten empty chairs in the room.

II.

Twilight in the zone. Art is sequestered tonight within the safety of his home. He is healing nicely from his cuts and bruises, but is still smarting from his broken heart. Oh, to be young, and in love! To suffer the confusion of attempting to maintain the balance between complete surrender to passion on the one hand, with the struggle to reign in that same desire on the other. It is an awkward stage in his life; to be trapped between the innocence of youth and the disillusionment of adulthood. He turns on the vision. It is like an old friend that will help him pass the time, and temporarily take his mind off his problems. He curls up on his ratty old couch, nestled between some cushions. He points the controller at small live thumbnail images on the selection menu which show what is happening on every channel. The large projection video screen is the only light in the room, flashing and pulsing as the images change on the screen. A feature is playing on zTV. He had seen it before; it’s a classic. He couldn’t remember what it was called, maybe ‘The House of Wonders’, but he knew the feature was based on an idea from a novel by Kropton Ernst. The original book was called; “The Age of Miracles”. Maybe the producers thought the name sounded ‘too religious’,


or maybe they were just trying to distance themselves from the original story. Art enjoyed the book. He had read quite a few of Kropton’s pulp fiction novels. They were strange, but they did contain some clever ideas. The feature drew sparingly from the content of the actual book, choosing instead to select certain elements which created a more gruesome, horror-story atmosphere ~ The opening part of the movie is monochrome. The video images have been digitally manipulated to appear as black and white. The blacks were actually tinted shades of deep blue to give it a nostalgic period feel. The look was appropriate for the 1950’s ‘Futurmatic’ setting it was portraying, although the feature was actually recorded around 2015. The movie starts off with a regular family of the 1950s, living on a quiet suburban street. It is just like a regular house, except that everything is robotic. At first everything is fine. The talking, computerized home becomes familiar with all the members of the family, and learns to recognize their patterns and habits. The mother wears elegant white data gloves to operate the kitchen stove. The house is always busy, either replenishing supplies of household products, or monitoring the weather outside in order to adjust the internal environment to a comfortable level. As the movie progresses, the appliances take on a life of their own and begin to terrorize the inhabitants who have now become trapped inside their own home. The ‘wonders’ have turned into a nightmare, because something has gone horribly wrong with the computer system which controls the family’s ‘electric servants’. These menacing appliances begin to destroy their environment in strange and bizarre ways: the electric can-opener cuts a trail down the side of the counter and into the linoleum floor. The blender blades go slicing across the room. The robot vacuum cleaner chases the father around the billiard table in the basement. Eventually, the family are killed off one by one, as they attempt to flee in terror. It’s kind of creepy. Even the pets get attacked. The dog is drinking out of the toilet bowl, when suddenly it gets sucked in and dissolved by the chemicals used to dispose of human waste. Only the daughter survives. She is a gorgeous. She looks tough, but yet has a wholesome appearance. Her hair is short, white blonde, and she wears black lipstick. For some reason there are two cone-shaped points sticking out on the front of her sweater where her breasts should be. Perhaps that was fashionable at the time. She is lucky, because she just manages to escape from one of those hair things that women used to put over their head. While trapped, the temperature gets terrifically hot and almost melts her head, but she manages to pour a glass of water into its motor to stop it. Anyway, she flies out the bedroom window using her younger brother’s helicopter backpack, which had not yet turned evil. She flies the contraption a considerable distance from the city, until it runs out of fuel. She lands at this kind of paranormal motel, and takes a room in order to hide out from the appliances, which she believes are on a mission to find her. After a series of strange dreams, she awakens the next morning, alone in her room, only to find that the


entire motel is deserted. She goes to the office where she had checked in, but what had seemed like an office to her the night before, now appears as an abandoned room, with dusty furniture, and stuffed animals mounted on the wall. She screams, then runs into the desert. She enters a canyon, where she encounters an old man sitting in contemplation on a large flat rock near a small cave. He is wearing a strange costume that appears to be woven from grass. The old man tells her that he is on a quest, and that he has remained away from his village for four days and nights, experiencing the visions that have appeared to him. He tries to explain that he is now contemplating the meaning of these visions in order to attain enlightenment. He doesn’t use these words, but that is the message the viewer is able to piece together from his highly-stereotyped broken-english. The girl notices near the old man, partially buried in the sand, is the rusted metal remnants of what appears to be a kind of totem created from the discarded parts of industrial equipment. In the original book, the totem represents a way of life that has been abandoned by his tribe. This is the part Art is now watching: The old man motions the girl to follow him, and as the two walk together, he tells her... “I have lived many year. I remember crane and whale. I saw buffalo and forest when I young... when my memory still good. (coughs)” The gentle desert breeze drifts sand into small dunes. They walk past twisted cactus in the narrow canyon, eventually arriving at an archway, which years of erosion has sculpted through sandstone rock. Through the opening, a small fertile valley is revealed ~ As the image on the video dissolves into colour. Dotting the landscape are a number of small dwellings, which have been tunneled into mounds of earth, and covered with a dense blanket of living grass. The valley is enclosed by tall yellow sandstone walls which reach to the sky around the village. In the center of the valley is a large oasis which is fed by an underground stream. The lush growth of a garden terrain has been landscaped into hundreds of smaller mounds, each supporting a different type of plant life. The sage continues, “In old day, we eat only meat. That for scavenger now, they eat all dead animal. Our tribe eat plant of earth, seeds which capture sun.” He gestures to the tall grass which grows throughout the fertile valley. “When people stop cutting lawn, find new source of food. Not lawn grass, too bitter, but much food grow on patch of land in community garden, shared among tribe. Our people learn what called communism by Chinese when they have power over world... China once secret land, like small valley. People grew, very many in number, then flow out behind wall, to fill all land over world. People bring word in ancient code kept by their people for many, many year. Balance of force of yin and of yang. Light flow into darkness, darkness into light. Cycle endless, as long as world turn, as long as grass grow and river run... as long as sun shine.”


Later in the movie, the young woman returns to her family home seeking revenge. She tries to tell people about the hidden valley, but no-one believes her, except for one handsome young man, that also happens to be an appliance repair technician. Using his skill and training, he is able to dismantle the appliances, and disable the evil computer before any more damage can be done. The two then journey back to the secret valley, where they are married in an elaborate tribal ceremony in which everyone breaks out into song. In the end, they live together inside their mound in the pastoral valley, happily ever after. Art is not interested in seeing the ending again. He thinks the musical number really destroys the mood the director had been building towards throughout the feature. Instead, Art decides to check his messages. With the controller in hand, he selects the icon in the corner of the screen, which expands out into a text display... A message from Gillian... He sits up quickly, scattering the cushions. They exchanged addresses in the Pleasure Park. He had lost hers, but was pleased she had not forgotten his. It was a simple message just to say hello. She is asking if he would like to come to the theater to talk about the new play they are rehearsing. There may be a small role in it for him. There was no mention of the incident at the ZOOLu club. He wondered if he would have the courage to ever talk to her about what had happened that night. Even after they were married. Married? They hardly knew each other. Although, he had a feeling about her from the very moment they first met, that they were destined to spend the rest of their lives together, happily ever after.

III.

All the plants have names; new ones, that he has just invented. To him it’s similar to playing ‘Scrabble™’; a game he often enjoys by himself, alone in his little room at night. Inventing new names for the hybrids makes the process into a game; like solving a puzzle. One current crop obtained from grafting apple and orange trees produced fruit numbered axo1771; according to the technical cataloging system of the station. He had decided to call them ‘Opulents’, because of their abundant size, and their rich texture and flavour. ‘Oraples’ sounded too comical, and he had toyed with the name ‘Arpnee’ (which takes the first letter from ‘apple’, the second from ‘orange’, the third from ‘apple’... etc.) After coining the term, he creates labels on the printer. These stickers are printed in high-quality, full-color. This is also an enjoyable part of the process, the creative


activity of graphically designing an aesthetically-pleasing typographical label. The labels are very scientific in appearance, in that strict Swiss-style of design, creating a sense of authority for the packaging; the first step in creating a positive awareness for the new product. Although the labels attached to shipping crates of this first batch, designate fruit which will be only used as a seed crop. The trees will be grown in sample plots cleared from a rainforest in Brazil. These growers often make up Spanish names for the crops themselves. They don’t seem to care for the names that he christens them with. It doesn’t matter. Some of the other hybrid names have caught on in the general public, and are now part of the common vocabulary. For instance, the hybrid fruit, a cross between the lemon and the pear are called Yellow Doves in the general public. It was a name he had invented for the offspring. Yellow Doves travel very well, and store for a lengthy duration. The pear essentially is encased with a lemon-like citrus covering, while maintaining the actual taste and texture of a pear inside the skin. They are popular in colder climates, and are often stocked for sea or space voyages. They are high in nutritional and vitamin characteristics as well. Margarita, who is the other team leader at the research station, maintains strict adherence to the nomenclature for sequenced genes established by the GeneBank. The Registry contains a database of the approximately 30,000 genes which occur in genomes of individual plants. The database referenced plant-wide gene designations to the occurrence of genes in individual plants, the function of gene expression within a specific plant, together with cross-references detailing their relationship to similar genes in other plants. She follows the convention, because like any conscientious taxonomist, she recognizes that without a common naming system, recording the gene-sequencing of the diversity of plants and their network of hybrid products would quickly become a ‘Tower of Babel’. Every night she religiously updates the gene log, which tracks the results of their experimentation, including how well the plant was expected to respond to certain growing conditions, and it’s ability to be resilient to pests and diseases in the specific locations where the crops would be grown. The two sit in front of their computer displays inside the complex of research stations in the verdant mountainous terrain of the Putamayo region of Columbia. These are new, state-of-the-art Utopian™ Hydroponic Greenhouses; high-end, corporate solariums. Each greenhouse is 10 meters long,10 meters wide, and 10 meters high. The structures are composed of specially-treated Plastiglass™. Artificial lighting extends the daylight hours, and climate-control makes it a pleasant working environment. Nearby, almost one hundred of these stations dot the landscape. At night it is an amazing sight to see the glowing cubes as they diminish in size with the perspective of distance, across the rolling hills. The little islands of light glow in the darkness of the surrounding tropical vegetation. Tonight the stars are clear over the mountains, and the moon hangs in the sky, a crescent.


The entire local area is well-secured with three layers of 12-foot fences topped with razor wire, laser detectors, tracking mists, and various armament devices including poison darts. These darts paralyze the victim for a period of 12 hours, at which time the intruder will usually slowly return to full functionality, most likely within the walls of a federal security center where they will be interrogated about their activities. External attacks are obviously extremely rare due to the deterrents. Nevertheless, corporate espionage is a serious problem. The theft of one genetic sample can easily be reverse-engineered and quickly improved upon within the same growing season. The competitor, by the same action will also gain full knowledge of the type of product that it will then be in direct competition with on the market. It is becoming more common for industrial agents to pay an employee to smuggle out a sample, or encode the data in an eFile. Security checks include constant visual surveillance of the employees, and random searches as they leave the compound. Everyone under‐ stands the reasons for the precautions, although none enjoys the strip search. Cameras are mounted throughout the interior of the facility as well, with the excep‐ tion of inside the living areas. The facility is connected with a vidcomm link to the network of other facilities in order for the researchers to exchange information with their colleagues around the world. Flex Global digital security agent Cordova Frost is monitoring their activity with tired red eyes. He has traveled to Columbia via the network connection to the site. He is now watching and listening through the security cameras, seeing but unseen. John and Margarita are not aware of his presence. He is a spook, splicing off a composite of the video signal to the display panel in his pod within a spider’s nest deep underground beneath the core of a major city. John and Margarita prefer to work during the night shift. They turn off the highintensity metal halide light for about four to six hours to create a period of darkness for the plants. Under low-level isolated pools of light they are able to catch up on their paperwork in relative quiet, sitting with their backs to each other at their computers within the small office area. Adjoining the office are living quarters. The rooms are small, and sparsely furnished with only a bed, a television, and a storage locker for clothes and other personal possessions. The kitchen, washroom, and office are shared. John and Margarita lead the team, which include four other scientists who stay in the biosphere during the mission, which is typically one year in duration. The researchers are paired to carry out three shifts, every eight hours, cycling around the clock. At the moment, John is printing a new batch of labels. The drive is wearing out causing the printer to make a high-pitched squealing noise. Office buzz has it that John and Margarita are secretly in love, but the co-workers haven’t noticed any mating rituals being practiced between these two specimens. They keep their roles clearly defined during office hours, and actually seem to be very distant. Co-workers suspect that during daytime hours they secretly get together for wild sexual affairs. Candice doesn’t believe it. The youngest member of the team has great admiration for the


leaders. She interprets their formal behavior as a sign of their mutual respect for each other as professional colleagues. John and Margarita often spend hours discussing, compiling and filing reports, without so much as a trace of a casual or flirtatious glance. Candice doesn’t believe they are physically attracted to each other, unless they are hiding their emotions behind artfully devised masks created by their facial expressions and the costume of their forthright demeanor. It could be they may feel that by demonstrating an open display of friendship or mutual attraction would cast doubt on their professional and ethical behavior, losing their credibility in the eyes of their subordinates. It must be pretty wild sex, when it is unleashed... But no, she doesn’t believe it. At the moment they are participating in a very clipped and abbreviated discussion over a point of procedure; the naming conventions. This has always been a bone of contention between them, each stubbornly and with some malice, doggedly deter‐ mined to carry on their naming formats without any form of compromise. They remain facing away from each other, back to back, without so much as glancing over their shoulder. Cordova listens in on the conversation: “The axo1771 samples will be sent out tomorrow. The transports will be here at 0815, have you entered the data?” Margarita asks. “Yeah. ... You know, this batch of ‘Opulents’ definitely has a very hardy gene structure. They are the best ones to be produced to date by any research facility.” Margarita responds by exhaling a short controlled burst of air. There is a long pause, then John continues: “Isolating the chromosome that will respond to the high pH of the soil will make this batch of ‘Opulents’ grow very well in Brazil this time of year.” Margarita responds by again exhaling a short controlled burst of air, then adds, “Yes, I think the axo1771’s will respond very well.” “Remember when Glory baked Opulent pie? The fruit from our very first batch had more pulp and fibre than the current crop. But it was still delicious.” Again, a short burst of air... (“I don’t believe it! I don’t care what you think,” Candice would say.) John and Margarita had been working together for many years. Their previous posting had them stationed in North Carolina, not far from Raleigh. The land, which was once the site of a tobacco plantation, had been purchased by Golden Sun Corporation and converted for use in genetic research. It is difficult to imagine why people back then would inhale the smoke from those plants, considering all the


research they had available at the time. After completing their mission in the USA, John and Margarita were both transferred to Columbia, to head up the projects at the newly-completed research station there. Margarita grew up in Colombia, and although she was happy to be close to home and family, her native soil was on the other side of the glass, and might as well have been a thousand miles away. During the mission they were kept busy on station with their work and were only allowed to leave the complex for one week, every four months. Margarita was eagerly anticipating her second vacation period which was quickly approaching ~ She longed to return to her home village where she had spent her childhood. She was the oldest of five children. Her parents had a little patch of land they still farmed, and cultivated a garden that was more like a jungle. The house was a simple wood-frame building propped upon rocks over packed clay, which would turn to mud whenever it rained. She could remember the rain and the sun coming in through narrow openings between the rough plain boards that made-up the walls. A printed poster of the last supper, and the Madonna and child were nailed to the wall and decorated with beautiful feathers of jungle birds. The spotted brown and gold hide of an ocelot was stretched out just below the religious icons, upon which were several candles. She could remember twisted pieces of wood that were fence posts beside the earth road she walked along to attend the mission school. On the weekend, she liked to play with her doll on the green wooden table, or pretend to feed her from a carved wooden bowl. The doll seemed perfect; it had black skin and blonde hair. It had stiff arms that would not bend, but she liked to shake its hair. Margarita would work in the garden with her mother and father. She observed plant’s life cycles, and became fascinated with soil. She would close her eyes and dig her fingers deep into rich moist earth to experience how the plants would explore it by spreading their roots like slender feelers underground. When she grew older she studied horticulture at the college in Bogota. She frequently journeyed to Brazil, and traveled by boat along the Amazon river to learn about the ecology of the rainforests and how the local environment was affected when the land was stripped bare and sown with foreign species of crops. She was aware that medicine plants and other species useful to native tribes were carelessly de‐ stroyed by clearing land to plant new high-value crops. The destruction of the land fostered a somewhat hostile feeling toward the ‘colonialists’ that used the land to grow products like beef cattle and roses which were exported without real value to the local citizens. Other valuable crops such as coffee, cocaine, opium, and marijuana were drugs which were used for leisure by the population of wealthy countries, while around her she saw poor people that were struggling to work hard to survive, and to sustain themselves by the efforts of their labour. Margarita had mixed emotions after gaining acceptance to study and develop a professional career in the USA. It was a difficult choice, but she decided to take


advantage of the opportunity, intending to use the skills she acquired from her education to some day return home again and to create a better life for her people. It turned out that the years of study had determined the direction her future would take. She was hired to manage a greenhouse immediately after her term of study, and remained behind the glass ever since. Margarita is a practical woman, and is pleased to have a successful career, but she carries with her a sense of regret, and disappoint‐ ment that she has not been able to pursue her altruistic endeavors. Her friends and family she grew up with are still outside the walls, and she is aware of what their lifestyle is like, and how it contrasts her own. Yet, perhaps she really was making a difference, she thought to herself, by creating new forms of plant life adaptable to current conditions, that would be able to feed people all over the planet. Rural life had substantially changed around the globe, even in the few years that Margarita had been conducting her research. Small, local farmers were becoming extinct. Larger and more centralized farms, larger food processors and larger chemical companies had gained control of over half the world’s food supplies. Over 60 percent of farm profits go to as few as 50 major corporations. In other areas of the world the soil has deteriorated to a point where it is no longer agriculturally viable. Larger popula‐ tions, pollution, erosion, and overuse have drained them of nutrients, to the point that to improve the soil of India, or many other countries, would take 50 - 100 years. Her partner, John is a young American scientist that is strictly interested in the genetic modification of plants. He has little regard for the effects that this development in agriculture will have on the social or economic structure of the region. He is interested in his work, and the possibilities of creating new forms of life. It is an abstract challenge to create successful variations. He is isolated inside the artificial environ‐ ment, and has lost some of the connection to the real world, and the ultimate conse‐ quences of his work. For John, even though it is his first time outside of the USA, he never wanted to take vacations. He enjoyed the environment inside the greenhouse; where he could work in the gardens, and play with his label designs. Nothing else really interested him. John is very excited about several species of plants they had been given the honour of raising inside their greenhouse enclosures. They are experimenting with breeding ancient and rare plants that are being prepared for the Sun King himself. The seeds are guarded as carefully as precious gems. The plants themselves are grown in a very limited edition to preserve the rarity which makes them valuable. The atmosphere is charged with suspense and fueled by the intense dedication of the workers to pre‐ serve the high-level of secrecy surrounding the project. It is a secrecy John is willing to exchange for his life in order to preserve. To the untrained eye these plants appear similar to members of other plant species, but to those in the know, the value is recognized. These plants are among the most prized-possessions in the Sun King’s collection; part of his genetic legacy of preserv‐ ing examples of plants and animals on the verge of extinction. The Sun King, as an act


of philanthropy, provided funding to preserve genetically-coded organic material in order that human generations could reconstruct living organisms based upon the code at some time in the future. Their DNA is conserved within freezer vaults in which the temperature approaches absolute zero. Internal spaces of the greenhouses are divided into a number of isolated environ‐ ments. In addition to developing rare plants for the Sun King, which are destined for shipment to the Kenting Botanical Gardens in Taiwan, some areas are designated for raising gigantic ornamental flowers, others for domesticating wild poisonous plants and his favourite areas were used for researching the cultivation of new citrus-based fruit products, which had always been John’s area of specialization. The aroma was unbelievable upon entering through the airlock; heavily-laden with the powerful essence of fruit flavours. One of the ways to determine its ‘bouquet’ was to inhale the fragrance emitted from rubbing a leaf from the plant. To the trained nasal receptors of a connoisseur, the scent contained a great deal of information about the plant’s genetic heritage; axo1700 and axo 1771 were very distinct fragrances. In a little smelling contest, John could distinguish the call numbers of plants accurately to within two revisions while blindfolded. Being able to distinguish between 1769 and 1771 was a skill which garnered praise and admiration from the crew, who sometimes tried to fool him by changing tag numbers or other little pranks, but found he could name the genetic version correctly every time. The sound of breathing slow and rhythmic... The sound of water flow and the air circulation pumps in the greenhouse was very soothing; like the sound of some large creature sleeping. All internal conditions were under control, all variables were factored into the equation. Climate and soil conditions were predetermined based on the destination location of the shipment. Selection of the chemical composition of the nutrient solution in the hydroponic system was carefully calculated in the nursery. “These are our babies,” Margarita would sometime exclaim, as she walked among the dense, lush foliage of the gardens. She was fond of the gigantic orchids, violets, lilies and roses whose individual petals were nearly two feet in length. And indeed, Margarita and John, as team leaders, act in the role of surrogate parents to both crew and plants within the nursery. Yet, the crew is not a typical family unit. The other members of the team consist of five females who are each quite different in character. Although John is the only member of the crew with a penis, the dominant personality of their little society is Glory; a rough-talking, grey-haired lesbian. Glory is the geneticist. She runs the computer database used to create the genetic maps of the plants, which are used to isolate genome areas along the chromosome. Most of the maps outline in excess of 1000 genome sections, each of which is a fragment of code which gives the plant special instructions that determine all of its


characteristics as it grows. The computer display overlays the maps between species, showing the order of genes, and break-points which distinguish the two species. Many similar species conserve linear space in the chromosome by compressing sections of data in the code that are shared in common between them. Using a gene-mapping algorithm, breeders can determine which specific section of gene to transfer by cytogenetic means. Angelique and Zoe work as partners during the morning shift. They manage and adjust the solar energy panels, the heating and cooling equipment, and the hydropon� ic system with which all the plants in the greenhouse are grown. Zoe, who is trained as a chemist, prepares the nutrient solution appropriate for each specific plant by dissolving fertilizer salts in water, containing a carefully prepared blend of; nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, chlorine, magnesium, sulfur, boron, cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc. Hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, which are also need for plant growth are obtained by the plants from the air. These elements occur naturally in the most complete hydroponic nutrient solution available: sea water, and are obtained during the process of creating fresh drinking water at desalinization plants which dot the coast lines of nearly every country on earth. The hydroponic solution is administered from the nutrient tanks through a drip system, pumped through a plumbing network of plastic pipe that has a nutrient delivery tube for every plant. The pump is turned on and off by a digital clock; releasing a quantity of solution for a few minutes during each feeding. The hydroponic system enables crew members to have complete control over size, quality, appearance, and uniformity of plants. Sterilized nutrient solution ensures that no pollution or diseases enter the growth process. Pests are safely managed using beneficial insects in a controlled environment system. Candice is the youngest member of the team. She is a student on her practicum as a nursery worker. She is a pretty girl, eighteen years old with a freckled face, and a body that has recently flourished into the maturity of womanhood. She often works in the garden wearing a sun hat, and a white t-shirt with a tiny logo on the front depicting a ripe cherry on a twig. In the evening she spends hours rereading her collection of ‘love’ comix ~ A strong and healthy girl, Candy is tasked with most of the arduous work that needs to be done around the facility; counting seeds, placing seeds in a pre-cut cubical-shaped sponges, soaking them with water to stimulate germination, thinning the sprouts to select the survival of the hardiest specimens, transferring seedlings to a nursery where the young leaves and root system develop, then finally transplanting them to the greenhouses where they grow to maturity. Candy also enjoys helping John to create hybrid fruit using cross-pollination, a slow process done by hand, moving between the flowers like a large awkward bee. During the process she wears gloves to protect the plants from contamination, although she finds that even the thinnest latex causes her her lose the sense of touch she would like to experience in her close proximity to the beauty of the delicate flowers.


The women work hard, as if to fulfill some inner need. They seem to enjoy each other’s company within the confines of their little world, and manage to find the peace of time to themselves. Their toil seems to be rewarded by the joy of bringing forth the beauty and bounty of their small island of paradise, and sending it forth into the world. Agent Frost, his eyes a brilliant shade of pink, watches from half a world away. He wonders why he has spent the entire night peering into the little glass world, and rummaging through the personnel files that were stored on the computer system. In some way the experience has been one of the few things lately that has given him any sign of hope for the future of humanity. He has seen his share of greed, corruption, and manipulation during the investigation, but the tranquil world inside the crystal ball seems to indicate that the future still holds promise. This is just another piece of a strange puzzle that he is beginning to feel is starting to fall into place. One other thing; Cordova, with the assistance of HAL, had inadvertently discovered a secret digital journal that Margarita stored amongst the files on her own personal computer. Cordova scanned through short fragments entered into the diary, and found a recent entry to be of interest; “Women are the roots, and men are the leaves. The role of men is to reach out and seek further conquest and teach the skills they have discovered. Women are emotion‐ al, and are rooted to their problems, but they are accepting of the problems and provide the stability to deal with them. Women feel the need to have children because they are nurturing and caring. The roles are changing between men and women. The abilities of women are greatly needed during these times, the skills of conquest are needed less.” Inside a small room in the greenhouse Margarita is having a bath. She is surround‐ ed by plants in this pleasant environment. Through the glass she can see the rising sun, a golden ray burning through the clouds above the distant soft green hills. She sinks down, just her face above the water, her black hair drifting on the surface framing her tranquil expression. Suddenly her expression changes, she has her recurring daydream .... Jaguar man smells the blood of the menstruating woman.


IV.

“...he’s like, creeping around the core somewhere,” suggests Bug Head. “Hasn’t he communicated with any of you?” Mrs. Zero interjects. “Count Doom?” “Yes... I said yes he did!” Count Doom replies with exasperation. Zero’s tinnitus seems to be getting worse. It’s just past dark, and five ro@ches have gathered to talk in person. These computer-heads love to get away from their ma‐ chines whenever they can, and experience a healthy dose of reality. They are casually settled on discarded furniture at the back of a vacant lot. It is an open-air livingroom; with a weathered sofa and chairs arranged around an old coffee table. They stare at the television. The glow of a small fire inside the chassis lights up their faces like a hearth. Overhead, another flame has appeared; gradually increasing in brightness and intensity during the several months it has been visible. The tail of the comet spans the night sky, cutting through the darkness like a sword; its long tail blowing in the solar breeze. Mrs. Zero is watching it, bopping her head to the soft roaring sound which only she can hear. “What the fuck’s going on?” asks Stone Weasel. He’s a total albino. His hair is dead white, his skin is smooth as alabaster, He moves into the scene from the surrounding darkness like a ghost. “Top secret!” states The Genius, aKa Akdov Luksosov, his finger nervously tapping the small cartoon robot tattoo in the middle of his forehead. “I... was going to tell them. Man, I can’t tell you nothing. Everything I tell you, I hear from someone else later in the day.” Count Doom is even more exasperated. “Sha...dup!!” “Boys!” referees Bughead. “Does anyone want to hear what I have to say?” C.D. asks, now suddenly much calmer.


Everyone quiets down and looks over at C.D., his face lit by the soft flickering tv light. “Okay, I got a voice message from Yuri, he said he was noticing unusual activity in the core. He saw four armored military beetles wheeling in under the base of the towers approximately two hours ago.” C.D., checks his watch. “Each vehicle is carry a contingent of about 20 military zombies. They parked in the loading areas of four different corporations.” Military zombies are a new breed of foot soldier. Their minds have been altered through a rigorous retraining program. They have the uniform appearance of muscular clones, but their is no glow of life in their eyes. The ro@ches followed the ‘Fair Warning’ announcements that appeared regularly on all media channels, and on ‘the voices’ during the past few months. The media has never been particularly reliable or accurate; disinformation, false memory syndrome, or digital dementia, whatever name you preferred, seems to be standard operating procedure. The tone and content of the announcements often changed abruptly. It is accepted by the population, because the shifts are regular and commonplace, and there is nothing anyone could do about it. General apathy would greet the announce‐ ment that today; ‘black is white’ ~ The media campaign announced that the entire core area would be sprayed with an unspecified gas compound during the late night hours of October 30, 2020, in an effort to eliminate a deadly outbreak of bubonic plague. “I thought they planned it for tomorrow. Halloween is tomorrow night,” said Bug, now playing with a red iguana that was crawling up her arm. “They are going to use zombies to spread gas?” asked Stone. “That’s the strange part... Yuri mentioned they didn’t have any tanks or air masks with them,” blurted out the Genius, “but he said they were wearing what looked like black rubber beekeeper’s gear, with a mesh hanging down off their helmet, and they were carrying pouches on belts around their waists.” C.D. shot him a glance, like, I’m not going to tell you anything anymore, “Moving on foot is not a very effective way to spread gas, it would take forever to cover the core, but even then... they aren’t exactly dressed for it.” Mrs. Zero, quite loudly; “What else?”. “That’s all we heard,... that was it... just a short message,” answered the Genius. C.D. let out a sigh. “They must be testing something out. You know, like a rehearsal for tomorrow. Maybe testing the chemicals on targets to see how effective it is,” reasons Bughead.


“I hope Yuri is okay. I always have a bad feeling about him, like he is flirting with disaster. It’s like he doesn’t care about anything,’ adds Stone. “Hey, it’s all part of the master plan, whatever that is,” concludes Mrs. Zero. “Yeah, what’s up with that?”... Yuri is on a recognizance mission into the furthest reaches of realityspace. His survival systems are on full alert as he passes the Monument to a Hero. Not much left of the ancient concrete monument now, just the legs, and a crumbling chunk of torso with rusted metal strands of rebar twisting out of it. Yuri is certain that not many could remember, and not many cared, who the statue commemorated ~ It had been a monument created by the masters of military technology, when the products pur‐ chased by their enormous annual expenditures had been enough to win wars on their own. Wars got smaller, and were eventually phased out with the globalization of large corporations. Individual countries weren’t the enemy now, they were just another franchise in the chain. Military leaders had become business leaders; they were aggressive, and knew how to mobilize a workforce to get the job done. They were skilled in the techniques of military regimentation to create a functioning hierarchy structure in the corporate environment, in which there were officers and subordinates. It became everyone’s obligation is to keep the ‘foo counters’ turning. Ironically, it was actually peaceful spin-offs from war industries which finally won the battle, with hardly any loss of life; the internet, space stations, robotics, virtual simula‐ tion, aircraft navigation, pharmaceuticals, kitchen appliances and many other wonders that contained chips of computer technology inside them. They had all originally been developed by military contractors, at the cost of many billions of dollars per year. Yes, foreign countries were not the enemy; the new enemy were the poor within every country ~ People who did not have the ability to purchase anything to consume. They were a drain on the system. They had lost the battle a long time ago, when they lost their home, when they couldn’t afford their medical treatment, or when they had been used in an experiment and then turned loose, or had somehow escaped. Now the zombies were moving in to formally declare victory. Yuri had wandered right into the middle of the war zone. Even though he had been here many times, he still found it scary and strange. The terrain consisted of small rolling hills of what at one time had been trash. The organic matter had long since decomposed, or had been consumed by something, leaving a kind of matted texture of dissolved plastic coated with hard dark clumps of residue which cemented the landscape into place. This material; ‘Night Soil’, was highly contaminated with pollution and various types of bacteria and other organisms. Human and animal excreta acted as a fertilizer to grow thin pale stringy lichens, that kind of reminded him of Japanese noodles.


He had learned a long time ago not to go poking around beneath the surface. He didn’t want to see it anymore, and no one believed him when he told them about it anyway; large pale bugs with lobster claws, something that looked like a tiny human head with tentacles where the neck would be, well, nevermind.... Moving down an alleyway behind the remnants of an abandoned office building. The windows had been blown out years before, but as he looked above him, he noticed some of the openings were covered with boards, metal sheets or fabric. There were thousands of homeless people taking shelter wherever they could find it. Here in the alleyway he saw old people curled up in trash that drifted along the footings of buildings. He watched as their questioning plaintive eyes followed his movement. They were too exhausted to stir. Tired of living. Yuri wanted to get to higher ground to reconnoiter the situation. The last remnants of daylight clung to the sky; darkness was swiftly approaching. He knew his destination; he had been there before. It was just around the corner at the end of the block. He peered out from the alley before moving into the street. No zombies. A couple of ragged-looking men were dragging something along the ground in the fading light. He wouldn’t be here without protection. He carried a bootleg laser pistol on his utility belt. He hoped it still worked; hadn’t needed to use it for awhile. There were plenty of hungry creatures around that would enjoy consuming him for dinner; crazy skinny dogs, fierce feral cats, and a multitude of tiny grey rats with razor-sharp teeth, not to mention the full spectrum of two-legged beings, and the human/technological interactive mutational forma. Inside the lobby, the once-elegant marble walls were stripped of brass fittings. The tiled floor is covered with dried excrement; the acrid smell stung his nose and eyes. He applied an oxygen mask connected to small canisters strapped on his back. He donned night vision goggles. He made his way up the stairwell, stepping over piles of filth that glowed toxic green in his goggles. He could see everything clearly. He sprinted up the steps... Several months prior to issuing the ‘Fair Warning’, Health Department officials released reports claiming they had detected the early stages of a massive viral infection in the central core. The spokesman for the Health Department appeared on television; “If this disease is left untreated, it will quickly spread throughout the core, then rapidly expand into residential zones.” It was at that point, that a certain corporation began to advertise the sale of personal immunization kits. There were also supplements available, that were to be taken along with the vaccine to ensure complete protection. The product was called ‘Wishing Well Supplement’. It was manufactured by SaniTech Food Products Inc. The label painting portrayed a Dutch girl wearing a daffodil hat, a white dress and wooden shoes, hoisting a metal bucket of drinking water from a picturesque stone well ~ It


wasn’t long before a torrent of competitor’s products flooded the market, claiming to be the most effective protection against a massive infection virus. Commercials appeared on television all during the night, offering a multitude of pills, potions and preservatives ~ ‘Infallible preventative protection against the plague.’ News media campaigns were dire in their prognostications, often referring to the coming epidemic as a ‘plague’. They mentioned that the scourge would be terrifying, and so devastating in effect that the living would not be able to bury the dead. The announcers were so persuasive that the population quickly became terrified by the images they had created within their own imagination. At the time, Yuri and others traveled into the zone and had not noticed any of the symptoms the media were reporting. The denizens of the core seemed unaware of any swifter form of impending doom than they were already experiencing. The ro@ches created their own media reports, on the network and on pirated television programs to refute stories broadcast in corporate media. Their messages were ultimately of little consequence to calm the hysteria that had been generated. Demand for vaccines continued at a frantic pace which continually outstripped the supply; as people were often forced to ration food purchases or other essentials in order to afford the medicines. Most ro@ches refused to buy the products advertised by media campaigns, or to participate in the inoculation program. They were digital desperadoes, and if there was anyone that had an understanding of what was happening inside the walls, it was the ro@ches, who could find cracks and crevices in the security of any system to allow access to secret information behind the scenes. They were skeptical of the media hype about a coming plague that would destroy civilization, when their best sources had been unable to detect even a single sign which would indicate the likelihood of such an occurrence... That was then, here Yuri was now! ABRACADABRA ABRACADABR ABRACADAB ABRACADA ABRACAD ABRACA ABRAC ABRA ABR AB A ... was painted on a fire door leading to a balcony on the 6th floor. The letters were small and crudely formed; the colour of dried blood. The triangular shape was about


six inches in height; Yuri hadn’t noticed it before. The balcony was a safe location that he sometime used in reconnaissance; as it had good sight-lines to the security areas located at the base of the corporate towers. He hadn’t been here for a few months, but he knew it would be a good location to scout the activity of the military forces that were now moving through the streets below. He sat there for a few moments, catching his breath, listening and watching for any signs of activity in the building around him. It seemed quiet. He heard a distant wailing cry that seemed to emanate in the darkness from floors higher up. Yuri felt sympathy for these people. They were innocent, their actions were not evil. Their ‘crime’ was that their existence was considered to be a moral offense. The penalty for living their life was death. The zombies moved through the streets, traveling in groups of three. Two carried large pouches, the third kept watch on the situation, with an armed laser-gun at the ready. They were accompanied by a beetle patrol unit, with distinctive-patterned markings. Corporations had sown the seeds which created an opportunity to clear out the core, Yuri considered. With ‘media spin’, they could readily convince residents that whatever action was taken, had been done for the resident’s protection... Military units stopped at every intersection, in what had long ago been the thriving downtown area of the city. ... the ro@ches were often labeled in media reports as one of the sources for, and one of the carriers of the disease. They were reported to have free access through barriers established between the core and residential zones, and measures would be implemented to track them and place them in quarantine for examination by the Health Department. Any information leading to their identification and apprehension, would be rewarded with a substantial credit payment. Yuri zooms-in on the scene through the enhancement feature on his night-vision goggles. He gets a close-up of one of the military zombies down in the intersection below. The zombie is wearing a thick black rubber suit. Yuri can discern his blank expression behind the veil attached to his helmet. The scene is rendered in highcontrast shades of green. He watches the zombie reach into his pouch and pull out a silver metallic canister. It’s about the size of one of the sugar dispensers at the Eagle Grill. He pulls back an adhesive strip along the rim, and removes the cover. He turns the container over, and pours out what appears to be a swirl of black sand onto the pavement ~ It is difficult to make it out through the goggles. He throws the canister away, then the group pro‐ ceeds to the next intersection, occasionally firing off a laser blast at anything they see moving in the shadows, or through open windows; like a warning.


Yuri cannot understand what they are doing; watching as groups of zombies continually repeat the action. As the scene plays out, Yuri believes he is witnessing one of the signs ~ He has the sensation that he is witnessing the event which will trigger the phantom, or the ghost in the network, to manifest itself. Suddenly, he feels something tiny crawling up his leg, then a sharp bite on the back of his knee. “Son of a .....� he curses. Radioactive spider... nanodroid?

V.

Lingering darkness is still suspended over the city as she wheels her Electron out of the elevator from the underground parkade and onto the street. The batteries have charged during the night; the headlights shine with a high-intensity beam that lights up the walls on both sides of the narrow streets. She navigates a maze of tightly-packed tenements forming a dense corridor that extends for several miles. The low compact buildings along the avenue are an architectural blend of ancient structures whose facades have been preserved by renovation, and others which show signs of decay and will soon be replaced by the landholders with chromium steel and glass replicas which are more streamline, but still retain some of the characteristics of the old city. The building’s facades form a tall wall which is only interrupted where the avenues intersect; presenting an unbroken texture which follows the same design pattern of patchwork construction. Here and there throughout the zone, tall glass residential structures huddle together to form small islands, rising above the high-density circuit map sprawled below. Distant lights in the towers. Citizens are beginning to awaken, and traffic increases in frequency as other particles join the flow of workers heading to their jobs. Vehicles move silently through the corridors, accompanied by the gentle hum of their electric engines. Candice listens to the radio, traveling up the ramp which feeds onto one of the main highways which extend across the rooftops. The stream of traffic is moving swiftly on the six-lane highway leading away from the urban areas. Each one-way highway leads to a specific destination around the perimeter of the residential zone, while other separate highways lead in. It is easy to become lost in the network, but she travels familiar routes that have become part of her routine. Out her window she observes the rooftop terrain stretching off in all directions below her. The landscape contains a forest of satellite dishes, solar arrays, air filters, elevator housings, clotheslines, furniture, greenhouses and gardens...


High above this scene, the tail of the comet is a faint smudge of light. Driving to work she has observed the comet gradually become more brilliant in the early morning darkness with each passing day as it approaches from the depths of space. The voice of an astronomer on the radio in her vehicle is predicting it will be visible for several more months as it passes closer to the Earth. The highway swoops back down to ground level at the jagged edge of the residen‐ tial area, and passes amongst large warehouses and manufacturing plants surround‐ ed by high-security fortifications. Each complex occupies large expanses of land within the industrial zone. Huge trucks enter and exit highway traffic. She has to be alert, as the height of her vehicle barely reaches to the axles of these slow-moving juggernauts ~ It takes just over one hour to drive from her apartment to the enormous greenhouse complex; out past large warehouses in the industrial zone. Candice enters the security gate. She slides her identity card into the reader. In the nearby tower, armed guards monitor her through cameras mounted on the reader. Sometime their voices would greet her, but not this morning. She couldn’t tell if they were even there; behind the mirrored surface of the one-way glass. The word “PASS” appears on the reader as it spit out her card. The gateway barrier slides open. She parks and enters a tunnel to the large greenhouse structure. The building is the size of a stadium; enclosed within a semi-transparent inflatable domed roof. She pushes firmly on the revolving door which whistles as air escapes from the pressurized environment. In the locker area next to the employee lounge she showers, then changes into her work clothes. She tugs on her khaki shorts, slips into a clean white tshirt and white socks, laces up her work boots, then straps on her utility belt. She gathers her long blond hair, and binds it together at the top of her head with a flexible red band. Some long wisps that have escaped, trail down along the side of her face. Candice has just turned 28, and is maturing into a beautiful woman. Her body is tanned, vibrant and strong. She has spent the past ten years labouring on ‘missions’ in greenhouse facilities around the world. The work and a healthy lifestyle has kept her in top physical condition. Thighs and calves on her short legs are thick and rippled with powerful muscles above the top of her heavy boots. Her bottom is firm and round, fitting snugly inside her shorts. The thick strap of her utility belt encircles her trim waist, accentuating the lines of strong muscles leading up her back to where they meet the square shape of her sturdy shoulders. Her small round breasts are separated, firm and high on her chest, above a firm abdomen which peeks from beneath her short t-shirt. Entering a code into the interface which controls the complex array of plastic pipes comprising the irrigation system, enables Candice to water the plants. Young pine trees in this section grow in rows. Nutrients in the water-based solution eliminate the need for soil within the environment, even as a foundation for the plants themselves. Plastic stands and stem supports are entirely adjustable, and hold the plants in place as they grow in size.


Candice towers over the miniature forest, like a giant, as she inspects the seedlings. Soon they will be transplanted into the nearby mountains in an ongoing effort to restore the natural conditions which once existed many years before urban develop‐ ment and logging harvests devastated the region. It makes her feel good to know she is playing a small part by helping to recreate a natural landscape important to provid‐ ing a healthy environment vital to the future of all life on the planet. She feels fortunate to have a job that she really enjoys. She loves nature and working outdoors. Her duties often require her to go on field trips to collect seeds and healthy plant specimens from a variety of natural habitats; forests, mountains, prairies, and deserts. She travels with other team members in a large all-terrain vehicle that functions as a mobile greenhouse. During her last journey she collected cones from pine, spruce, fir and larch on Vancouver Island; the seedlings of which she was now tending in the greenhouse. The team had traveled from base-camp by turbocopter up into rugged alpine terrain, where mountain rivers ran strong and clear, tumbling over rocky riverbeds, and carving channels through the hillsides. Candice often hiked barefoot through the warm mud along a river bank, occasionally testing the coolness of the pure, clean water by wading into the rushing stream which roared down the mountainside in turbulent white rapids. Moss and lichens spread their texture across rough broken outcroppings of slate, and clung to the coarse bark of tall evergreens deep in the forests. As the team moved to higher ground, they discovered vast expanses of alpine meadows which were a wonderland of brightly-coloured flowers in the springtime. Even further above, she was awestruck by the grandeur of the cold blue ice of glaciers, which sent a chill stirring in the soft breeze. The smell of fresh air was invigorating. Candice always brought her camera on these expeditions, to extensively record all the locations she visited. She often sold reproduction rights; giving permission for various corporations to use copies of her images on-line all over the world ~ Last month, an image of a tranquil mountain with a gleaming glacier appeared on the front page of a digital publication called ‘Nature World’. The image featured her blue canvas tent pitched beside a small pond created by a beaver dam. That was the setting where she met Adam. He was a member of another team sharing the expedition’s resources in a joint venture to collect biological specimens. The two camps arranged their tents by the beaver pond in the mountain meadow. During the day, crew members often went their separate ways to obtain specific samples that were of interest to them. Candice usually liked to explore on her own, roaming the forest while carrying a large bag over her shoulder to gather the mostperfect pine cones. In the evening, the teams would get together to cook a meal over an open fire, talk and play musical instruments until the moon had risen into the sky, and the last traces of smoke drifted off into the dark forest for the night. Adam and Candice had been shy around each other; they seemed uncomfortable dealing with the mysterious forces of


physical attraction which were developing between them. Just as they were beginning to finally overcome their nervousness, the teams broke camp and departed to their respective research facilities. Candice had forgotten about him shortly after returning home. She once again immersed herself in her work; tending cactus gardens which were kept warm and dry and brightly lit ~ The cacti were mostly sent to corporate towers where they had become very popular for indoor gardens. The unusual varieties had the greatest demand. People seemed to like their peculiar sculptural shapes, their unusual characteristics, or for the simple reason that they required very little care and attention in their busy corporate environments. The most popular were the Boojum Trees collected from Baja, Mexico. They are not really a cactus, but an odd desert plant which resembles a white tapered root, with small branches sprouting out of the narrow end, which points skyward. Candice was also raising samples of Chollas, Saguaro, Pitahaya, Senita, and Bisnaga cactus which were shipped in from the Superstition Mountain research facility in Arizona, USA. It had taken great effort for Adam to cut through the bureaucratic red tape that entangled him as he acquired the necessary permission to transfer to the same facility as Candice. Perhaps he had connections. It had come as quite a surprise for Candice to discover Adam strolling into her greenhouse one afternoon, to say the least. It then took Adam several more weeks to ingratiate himself with the supervisors to slowly and steadily maneuver himself onto the same shift as her. That drive and determination made her feel very attracted to him. The two had been working closely for the past two weeks. Candice felt a stirring of desire that she had never felt before whenever he was near. Sometimes she even fantasized about him. She imagined them getting married some day, moving into a brand new apartment, and raising a family. Two girls and a baby boy; for her daugh‐ ters to play with. Adam was big and strong. Tanned, tall and handsome. He still seemed quite shy and awkward around her, and she appreciated that sensitivity and vulnerability he displayed. She also felt a warmth in her private area when she watched him work without his shirt on, a warmth that she did not know how to quench. The feeling seemed to be growing in intensity with every passing day. She felt a tingle when she gazed at his muscular hairy arms and legs. She liked the way the contours of his chest were revealed when his body was soaked with perspiration ~ He seemed healthy, but she was concerned he had a problem that she was reluctant to ask him about... Candice hoped the condition wasn’t serious. One day, Candice was busy laying pipe in the cactus garden. She was on her hands and knees using Adam’s wrench to fasten a connector at a junction in the water flow system. The fastener was giving her problems, she just couldn’t seem to get the pipe in, even by exerting a great deal of force. The longer it took, the more frustrated she became. Her bottom wiggled in the air as she went down on the pipe to apply


even more force. Adam, standing behind her, watched the struggle with a great deal of interest. “You gonna just stand there, or do you want to help me out? Candice asked without looking up from her task. “Do you want me to give you a hand?” Adam laughed. “Yes, your tool is too big for me. I wish I had a smaller wrench.” Adam knelt behind her; there wasn’t much room around them amidst the cactuses. He put his hand on her hip to steady himself. Ummm, it felt kind of nice. She glanced over her shoulder at him smiling slyly, her expression quickly changed to surprise when she glanced down at the from of his shorts. The bulge had caught her eye, something beneath the cloth was standing at attention from his crotch to his waistband. Her mouth dropped open. Loose strands of hair hung down around her face, dripping with perspiration. “Oh my!” “Candice,” Adam stammered shyly, “I...I... I have to admit that I have been attracted to you since the moment we first met. I... just wanted to say... you look beautiful when you perspire.” She turned toward him. They were kneeling now, facing each other. She didn’t say a word but could not take her gaze from the front of his shorts. He leaned forward, and placed his hand along her side to draw her to him. She didn’t resist. He kissed her; his mouth closing firmly on hers. They kissed for an eternity, then resurfaced for a breath of air. He inhaled the fragrance of her moist hair, then brushing back loose strands, placed his lips warmly on her neck as they held each other tightly in a passionate embrace; the urgency of which both alarmed and excited her. Slowly he slid his hand under her shirt. Her breasts were naked and firm, her nipples stiffened under the touch of his rough calloused palms. A shiver of pleasure ran through her entire body like electricity; a flow of current which converged on a fleshy button engorging within the moist warmth of her pubic hair. As he caressed her, her body began to ache, her body felt a craving; a desire she had never experienced before. She reached out to feel his chest through his t-shirt. She had wanted to do that for so long. She savored the sensation of her touch, exploring his body. Their eyes met like pools of light locked in a tractor beam. She wanted desperately to kiss him again. She tasted the warmth of his kiss, her rosebud lips were full and passionate. Her body quivered as he ran his hands along her thighs. He could smell the warm perfume of heat radiating from her body, and he felt a light mist of perspiration as he moved his hands to her stomach and navel, then down inside the waistband to feel the firm


softness of her bottom. She let out a sigh as they kissed again. Her nipples pressed through the thin material of her t-shirt. He moved his hands up along the length of her strong back, kissing her again ~ She was hungry for his kisses. She had never kissed anyone before. She had read about it in romance novels but those lurid stories had never captured the sensation she was feeling now! Candice closed her eyes... A universe of stars appeared... A comet swirled by like a kite on a gentle breeze... Then the scene exploded into a rainbow of colours like a fractal display as he began to explore her with his tongue. Her tongue darted back to embrace his, tentatively at first, then firmly with power as though she were trying to capture it with her own... Slowly she opened her eyes: Suddenly shocked to notice Adam’s short were off, and that his penis was rising like a pole from the patch of dark hair in his lap. It was long and thick ~ She had no idea they could grow so large; she had always imagined they would be about the size of one of her fingers. The tip reminded her of a helmet; polished shiny and dark blue. At its base were two hairy sacs about the size of tennis balls. He gazed shyly into her steel blue eyes, which darted excitedly like frightened birds. She licked her lips as she stared at his cock. Adam firmly grabbed the waistband of her shorts to pull her toward him; while pulling them down at the same time. He could see the moist lips of her labia protruding from the downy patch between her legs ~ It was the first time he had ever seen one that wasn’t in a photo file. They were both on their knees. As she moved toward him she crawled out of her shorts. The pure creamy white skin of her buttocks contrasted her rich dark tan; creating the impression that she was still wearing her shorts. He cupped his hands under her bottom and drew her toward him. He swallowed hard with nervousness, his heart pounding like an engine. His balls were aching, and his cock just seemed to keep growing harder. He sank down, sitting on his heels, his hands still pulling her towards him. He could sense that she was nervous too, but she was not resisting. Candice felt his firm hands guiding her toward him. His penis was standing tall and straight. She wanted it inside her more than she had ever wanted anything... Although, his knob looked too big to fit... A drop of moisture streamed down the inside of her leg. He removed her t-shirt to kiss her ample breasts. She groaned with pleasure. She tilted back her head and closed her eyes when he finally touched her ~ Down there! He was so gentle as his fingers played. Then she felt it; a hard smooth object posi� tioned beneath her seeking admission... Light-headed, flushed with desire and indecision, the pole fumbled around, probing at her bottom and the back of her legs to gain entrance. Finally it found the mark. She squirmed to help position it in the opening, like a chalice above a pedestal... Celestial... Slowly and with gentle force it moved through the barrier. It was huge. Yes, she decided. Yes, she wanted it. Oh yes!


VI.

She was a chameleon because of the government. Camellia had been played as a pawn in the eternal struggle for domination which exists between the corporation and the state. Politicians on one hand, seek accep‐ tance of the public by providing the residential population with a sense they belong to a specific geographic region of the planet, and offer assurances that they are the only one capable to provide the leadership that can make decisions which are in the best interest of the constituents of the region. On the other hand, corporate executives operate on a global scale which extend beyond those imaginary geographic demarca‐ tions, and make decisions which are almost entirely in the best interest for the survival of the corporation. Executives flex their financial strength to influence the course of any form of government within the jurisdiction of their corporate empire. They consider politicians to be the entertainment branch of industry; appearing in media, using their charm or charisma to deal with the unsavory task of addressing the concerns of the great unwashed, the general public, the consumer. The leading political figures found themselves in a precarious position. They had been reduced to competing for the attention of their followers in the media much the same as any other product. Like breakfast cereal or soap, they were replaceable, interchangeable. Their popularity rested on their ability to convince the population to be patriotic, to instill the sense they belonged to a local community or that they belonged to an area of land they could defend with their honour or blood. This had become increasingly difficult in a world in which corporations originally based in one country could control the financial climate of a distant region, where wealthy citizens migrated freely, where information and ideas could be exchanged between individuals around the globe as easily as next-door neighbours, and where all citizens could obtain a common identity by purchasing the products advertised in media broadcasts. It was in this climate that the chameleon had made an inappropriate decision. She had been involved in a plot to discredit a popular EU politician, and was apprehended during the process of gathering intelligence for her client; a large multinational corporation having difficulty negotiating with local authorities in the region which housed their main research facility ~ Thwarting their plans to carry out field research on a new chemical they had constructed. Their experimentation involved the controversial testing of a proposed medication which would selectively erase portions of memory by disrupting the neurochemical activity of specific regions of the brain. The laboratory had already received approval from a neighbouring penitentiary for the use of human ‘volunteers’; who would have their sentences commuted if the experimentation was successful. The laboratory felt it


was reasonable to test their medication on the type of ‘patients’ that it was intended to cure; deviants who had committed dangerous offenses. Lab technicians believed their pharmaceutical ‘product’ would erase areas of programming which caused violent and destructive behavior. After the treatment, the rehabilitated criminals would be able to return to society as useful citizens. The politician disagreed, claiming that it violated the human rights of the prisoners. The media grabbed the story and ran with it. The corporations hired lawyers to dig up something from a targeted politician’s background which would give them ammunition to diffuse any objections. Their agents usually managed to get close to the politician, intimate. Since the chameleon could not come up with any other dirt, she sacrificed herself to the media, reporting the details of her intimate affair. It was a bad decision, because the politician in his anger at feeling betrayed by a woman he believed had loved him, called upon contacts of his own, and tied the agent’s involvement back to the source which employed her, completely discrediting, and nearly destroying that corporation. At the time, she had been one of the best; one of the elite agents of a special security force. Her downfall came about because of her passion for gambling. She had tempted fate because it had tempted her. She enjoyed the casino atmosphere; it was luxurious, it was wealthy and prestigious, it was clean, it was an efficient exchange of numerical data between her credit accounts and the accounts of the casinos ~ The ebb and flow. She enjoyed sliding her card into the slot at the roulette table. The displays updated her balance in real time. A key-pad selected regions on the board, marked by small holographic towers of chips with a small rotating icon of her choosing hovering above the perfectly-rendered green felt of the table surface. No need to count chips, no need to drag stacks around, everything was calculated instantly by software, play was uninterrupted. The wheel itself was analog, traditional; the old-fashioned clack of the marble bouncing along pockets numbered from ‘1’ to ‘36’; plus ‘0’ and ‘00’. The time elapsed for it to come to rest could have been simulated in a computer program, but it gave the players a sense of determination that existed outside the realm of software. The small white marble and the channeled grooves between each number on the wheel was preferred by customers. It seemed to comprise a form of randomness using the physical forces of gravity and inertia to give the players the perception of a type of ‘destiny’ beyond the possibility of human intervention. Camellia was fortunate to occasionally win extremely large amounts. It was enough to keep her returning, even though on most nights, the digital credits on her display rapidly approached zero. It didn’t seem to matter, win or lose, she enjoyed the rush. She was resourceful in discovering ways to use her skills to increase her casino credits. Through her ability to use disguises, her charm, and her enhanced physical characteristics, she succeeded in placing herself in positions where she had been privileged to the most secretive, proprietary sources of information. She found that


people she met trusted her, as a confidante who would listen attentively while they bared their soul and confessed their sins, in order to ease their guilt and clear their conscience. Her exceptional memory accurately recorded the flood of information, some of which she would return to her employers. Yet, other information she retained, and later made available to whichever source would make her the highest offer. Everything she did became a game. She was getting into it deeper and deeper as the gambling debts continued to mount. She became more and more entangled by the myriad of details that made up the personae of the characters she had developed. In the beginning she didn’t seem to mind. She was enjoying the lifestyle, the prestige, and the close association to people of power and influence. She was acknowledged and respected and accepted in the many roles she played. Most importantly, she was accumulating something much more valuable than land or gold or human blood ~ Proprietary knowledge and information. As is the case with anything that becomes too complex to manage; the tangled web she had woven, slowly began to unravel. She had played so many roles, and had become so many things to so many different people, that she began to lose track of the details, and she began to confuse the distinctive characteristics unique to her various identities, and ultimately she began to be questioned to account for the inconsisten‐ cies of her actions ~ She had immersed herself in scenario after scenario until it became increasingly-difficult to determine who were the ‘good guys’ and who were the ‘bad guys’. It had become impossible to remember who was ‘us’ and who was ‘them’. Her world was the dark side of the internet; the domain of terrorists, gamblers, sexual voyeurs, and industrial spies. As a double-agent, there was no-one to trust, no-one to cover her back. She had only herself to rely on. No matter who she was working for, somebody else always seemed to have the power. She was a hired-gun, a soft-war mercenary with no alliances. Camellia truly was a specialist in information warfare, and its implementation in corporate industrial espionage. Actions were carried out to achieve information superiority over an adversarial corporation, while at the same time defending one’s own information-based systems. The key to the operation was not mass destruction of computer systems, but strategic, critical data deletion. Sometimes her mission was to discover passwords which permitted her employer to break into a competitor’s database and copy research results in order to ensure that the competitor would not be the first to the market with a new product. Hackers could also destroy the original database on-the-fly and make it appear to be a terrorist action by planting a virus on the mainframe. More effective than destruction is manipulation. All it takes is a little stealth to spread information, real or fictitious, to media sources, or create a full-scale propagan‐ da war by leaking it to other competitors in the same industry. Correcting erroneous information or the perception in the minds of the public is a tedious, laborious process of Orwellian proportions.


In the end, the only alternative is that there is no alternative. She had given herself away by getting caught up in her own lies, she did not even see the trap until the doors had swung open and there was nought but emptiness beneath her feet. She had been tagged and bagged by a team of corporate security hunters one night in Paris. She had vague memories of driving through the night in the back seat of a car, remember‐ ing the lights of the Eiffel tower before the car sped through the underpass... and that was all. They had cleaned out the contents of her memory very efficiently. She couldn’t even remember now what information she had stored away. It didn’t matter; tiny fragments remained in her amnesia, but she knew better than to try and piece them together ~ They were never going to match. She had been a prize catch; not just for the data she had been carrying, stored in her mind, but also for the information which provided her with the finely-honed skills and abilities she developed from years in the field as an ‘elite’ ~ The reprogrammers were careful when removing the former to ensure she had retained the latter. Once she had been modified and reconditioned they decided to shop her around on the open market; using her as a bargaining chip in an international high-stakes trading session. MAGI Corporation lawyers would spend three months negotiating an exchange agreement in which she eventually was part of a package deal. The trade included a number of transferred personnel, proprietary software rights, and the ownership of a number of small subsidiary companies. She had been thrown into the equation as one of many trading concessions used to seal the agreement. When they discovered she was included in the deal, Flex Global Security [ who at the time were under a security contract with MAGI ], had their representative negotiate to obtain her for the security team. Flex Global believed she would be an ideal candidate for the experimental program they were developing. She was already an elite agent, all she needed was a new disguise; one that would give her a new identity, permanently. The grafting procedure took approximately eight months to complete at Biogenesis Technology laboratory in Basel, Switzerland. Specialists used environ turbocell replacement techniques; in which small patches of extremely fast growing cells from a chameleon skin gradually and completely replaced the entire surface of her original skin; yet its colour and texture appeared human. Supplemental injections of a con‐ trolled virus gradually changed her DNA. A series of mild radiation therapy treatments acted as a catalyst. It was not a painful process. The team from Biogenesis Technology are the best in the world. They use highly-controlled laboratory conditions, and raise all the animals used for the grafting procedure at their specifically-designated facility. The process is expensive, approximately ten million US dollars, but the potential results are worth the investment. Early in its development, grafting replacement techniques had produced many unexpected results, and even now it is still considered a high-risk treatment for fullsurface replacement. This risk is evidenced by some of the results from ‘back-alley


shops’ which have been springing up around the world. The use of derm-o-grafts are becoming widely popular as a fashion statement; a trending method of applying the skin of tigers or monkeys, or almost any creature, onto small areas of the body for decoration. These shops are hit-and-miss at best, often disfiguring clients with a shoddy patchwork of poor-quality animal skin that proved not very durable under direct sunlight, and prone to a variety of infections. Camellia’s enhanced DNA enabled her to integrate her new skin, and make it functionally-receptive in the manner of a chameleon. Biogenesis Technology labs used the skin from three different species of the lizard; Graceful Chameleon (Chamaeleo gracilis), Short Horned Chameleon (Chamaeleo brevicornis), and the Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus). It was the plan of Flex Global Security to develop an agent who could work completely camouflaged; blending into the environ‐ ment by emulating the texture-map of any background. The textures of her skin would be rendered so accurately that she would essentially become invisible; except for her shadow. Consequently, she was designed to spend most of her surveillance work lurking in the shadows. The most difficult part of the transformation, and also the most experimental, was the surgery that was performed on her eyes. The technicians had managed to successfully replace her original eyes with an exact biomechanical replica of the chameleon’s crystalline lenses, wiring them onto the connections of her optic nerves. In nature, chameleon's eyes have a negatively refractive-powered lens, giving them a fast-focus telephoto eye that can judge distance much like a reflex camera, unlike other verte‐ brates whose eyes must triangulate on an object using binocular vision to get a distance bearing. The replacement eyes gave her thermal sight and night vision as they were sensitive to the infrared range of the spectrum; which would allow her to detect heat-seeking security systems, motion-detectors and allow her to see heatemitting objects in zero-light conditions. Since she would be able to see the output from these security devices, she could stay out of their range, or move through a target area by dodging security, or disabling it. They rebuilt her from the ground up, installing the complete works. As a final enhancement feature, technicians from Phantom Access Technologies installed several small DNA storage devices in her brain through very narrow incisions sliced through the bone of her skull. Using a microsurgery procedure, the devices were connected to the neural and optic receptors within her brain. The chameleon had four of these tiny bioram implants, which use DNA computers to store data in four-state code compatible with the binary digital format, and create greater capacity within a very small amount of memory space for the storage of sensory information ~ The chameleon was a desirable test subject for the device since she was naturally gifted with what is known as eidetic or ‘photographic’ memory. The device is very difficult to entirely erase, since it is essentially biological material within a thin plastic housing, and its ‘wires’ are specially-grown neurons. Yet, data in the memory unit will be overwritten once it has reached its storage capacity. The


purpose of the device is to allow the agent to have clear recall of detailed information that is uploaded based on the data required for a specific mission. The bioram surpasses digital storage media in terms of speed, precision, and intensity. Any information that can be obtained through the chameleon’s senses could be recorded to the device. It is like a notepad that can store large amounts of data; words, images, numbers, sounds, smells, tactile sensations, and so on. Her design modifications provided her with heightened sensory perception. In addition to visual recall, her hearing is much more acute and her sense of smell has been refined to such a degree that she could detect chemicals in solution that were in the parts-per-million range. Her senses allowed her to detect the electromagnetic emanations of computers. In contrast, her body was entirely organic in structure, she had no metal parts used anywhere in the storage device, which made it very difficult to detect other than through the use of x-rays. In the code slang of Flex Global, the device was called a ‘genie’; from its genetic base of storage. The process of accessing the data for the chameleon involved invoking a mental password. She would calm her mind through a tranquil process of meditation, then begin visualization of the ‘magic word’, repeating it mentally like a mantra. By focusing her mind on the phrase, she created a connection which opened the gateway. It took her a great deal of practice to master the power of concentration required to explore and access the data. She was aware that her brain had been ‘chipped’, but she was not completely certain what other programming was involved. There was a read-only portion on the device which contained code that was not revealed to her, and which could not be overwritten or erased. It was one of the prices she had to pay to rent out the services of her mind. Occasionally she would wonder what type of unexpected functions had been programmed into it. It was possible that the code had been configured to promote correct thought, like a conscience. Or it was possible that mind grenades could be hidden to destroy the device or brain cells or worse if they received a specific signal. It was conceivable that it could continually monitor the co-ordinates of her exact location wherever she went ~ She would find out when the time arrived; she put these thoughts out of her mind. Her attributes gave her the ability to access mission data stored in her bioram. She could identify the face of a ‘target’ in the crowd, she could monitor distant conversa‐ tions beyond the auditory range of any human, and she was able to detect a vast array of chemicals. With all of these enhancements augmenting her existing espionage skills, the chameleon was becoming a highly-specialized weapon that could be used in the most exceptional circumstances. After a few preliminary staging exercises, her first assignment was a relatively routine mission in Zanzibar. Her mission was to gather intelligence on World Waste Management Corporation, which buried, incinerated or recycled acutely hazardous materials in numerous facilities throughout Rhodesia and Mozambique in East Africa. It was suspected the company was running a so-called Superfund site; tampering with the manifests of


waste hauler records by manipulating weight totals of the raw materials before extraction, thus adding to costs billed to shipping countries. World Waste was aware that their largest customers would not mind paying a slightly higher premium for getting rid of the dangerous toxic substances those manufacturers produced. The waste arrived as a solid, liquid, or contained gaseous material which were deemed hazardous because they were either flammable, corrosive, reactive or toxic. The chameleon traveled first-class on KLM to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania ~ When traveling on airlines, or moving through public spaces, she had ingenious disguises to assume a variety of physical appearances. She wore many different styles of costumes, and created many masks. She determined the facial characteristics she desired, then fed it into her 3-D printer, which output prosthetics made of synthetix human skin, which were very realistic in appearance, and even to the touch. She customarily wore special sunglasses with an earcomm™, and a heads-up display. The movement of her eyes were tracked to interact with the liquid-crystal display. Her masks created a multiplicity of identities; allowing her to be male, female, or any range of nationalities she preferred. The masks also contained synthetic hair which could be shaped into unlimited styles. Flex Global instantly provided her with identity cards to match any of her clever disguises; with any name she chose for the mission. Flex Global worked closely with authorities of most international regions to clear her access through official channels ~ Disguised or in the skin, she was a cyberwarrior capable of blending into a diversity of environments undetected by human senses to infiltrate and spy upon what was going on around her. On the case, the chameleon worked totally naked, for that is how she could completely blend in with the background. At first, it had been an extreme sexual thrill to walk nude through a crowded room undetected, while she eavesdropped on a cocktail party of corporate executives and their suspicious spouses. One time, her erotic feelings had temporarily caused her to lose control of her patterns; her colours shifted in frequency when she reached climax ~ Mistakes like that could cost her life in this business, and it was one of the primary reasons why she was in this predicament in the first place... Be discrete, she reminded herself. She enjoyed being the chameleon. As she became accustomed to her attributes, she began to explore a greater diversity of environments. She loved the challenge. She is a curious chameleon; seeing how far she can explore, searching for bound� aries, then when encountering them, push through them. No matter how complex the environment, the texture pattern of her skin would completely replicate the background. DNA manipulation made it instinctive. She had no control over changes; the adaptation was her protection. The shift between patterns was achieved with little residual latency. Sometime observers would catch the shift out of the corner of their eye, but by then the chameleon would stand perfectly still, or lay down on the floor. People would doubt their own visual perception. She moved silently, bare feet treading carefully, slowly


across the floor, moving with the grace of a dancer. Sometime, having picked up a trace, a fleeting glance, the enemy would move toward her tentatively. They were afraid of their own imagination; not sure if something was there. What it was and what it could do made them most wary as they approached. Sometimes they would move their arm in front of them, as if they were blind, swinging an arc wildly through the air. In the meantime the chameleon would tiptoe aside, blending in with the environment, and wait patiently. Of course, she also carried a lethal weapon... Her enhanced vision allowed her to scan her environment by independent saccadic eye movements. Each eye could move independently from the other, and move through an amplitude of arc that enabled her to see almost 360 degrees in her peripheral vision. Once a target was detected, she moved her eyes to fixate on whomever she was tracking. Removing a tiny capsule from a pocket of skin on the back of her leg, she placed the capsule on her long sticky tongue. Once loaded, the tension from a special hyoid (the u-shaped bone at the base of the tongue) apparatus caused the payload to shoot out of her mouth with great precision. The capsule exploded on contact with the target. The chemical compound inside was designed to be absorbed through human skin, to temporarily or permanently disable the target, depending on the dosage selected. The desire to absorb information was the motivation of her quest. The chameleon moved silently through the shadows behind the scenes, searching for secrets behind the facade; the watcher, the observer, the listener, senses fully aware, making choices, selectively filtering through the torrent of data streaming in to determine its integrity, to determine the truth. Sometimes at night, alone in a hotel room, she would gaze into the mirror at the face of her disguise, or discover the reflection of an empty room. It is then, wondering who she is, or even if she existed, that she will begin to feel the terror of ultimate loneliness, the fear of being alive, the empty despair that she is alone, not just in her room, but alone in the world; the realization that there is no-one like her, that there is no-one who could know or fully understand how she feels. She is the product of nature, and the product of science. Conceived in a test tube as a superior breed, she has been enhanced for survival. Her genetics are an instruction set open to external manipulation. She doesn’t even know what the technicians have programmed into her, what they have done to her originally in the tube or later throughout her career. She sometime wondered whether her skills to survive were instinctive or had been programmed into her mind. When she awoke she considered whether her dreams had been produced by things she had experienced in the natural world, or were a result of residual programming introduced in the laboratory? Now, laying in bed, waiting for the sedation to drift in that will allow her to fall asleep, she often tries to trace the path of her existence back to its point of origin, to the place where she was born, but she always gets lost along the way. The path quickly becomes a labyrinth of tangled twists and turns, the memory markers have been


distorted by the adaptation and changes from the environments she has passed through, like an interconnected array of mobius strips, the pathways eventually return to the point she has just left, no matter how far back she travels in her thoughts. At night she would dream. Strange dreams. She had a recurring vision of a foetus encased in a glass globe sitting in the sunshine on a window sill. The creature inside the glass became distorted like the perspective of a fisheye camera lens the more closely she tried to examine it. She could never clearly see what was inside the glass. She would then turn her attention to the window, to look outside, searching for the boundaries of a distant horizon. The landscape would always become shrouded in mist then, before she could determine where she was. The soft white, gently swirling fabric of mist would draw her toward it. She wanted to experience the rapture of flight, passing through wrapped in a gown of fog, but the glass of the window was sealed, holding her back like an invisible boundary ~ Often, in the mist, an apparition will appear, but she has never been able to discern its shape. She senses that she is about to meet a great power, the spirit of life itself, or perhaps the specter of death, but then the breeze would blow the fog away to reveal that it had really been nothing at all... It was at that point she always awakens... It had always been the same dream. She awakens in a room at Occam's Resort Hotel in ‘Stone Town’ on the island of Zanzibar. She had arrived late the previous night by hydrofoil from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, crossing thirty miles of ocean in just over one hour. In the early morning light she glances around the large room decorated with hand-made furniture; a few armchairs and a large round table. Framed by the open doorway is a wooden veran‐ dah and a thick thatched roof. In the distance, a tranquil composition of white sand and blue ocean. Beautiful palms extend their lush green fronds upward to caress the lightly-clouded sky. The scent of spices; cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and cardamom are carried into her room on the warm sea breeze. She had slept naked in the heat of the room. Disguised as wrinkled sheets, the bed had seemed empty. Flies buzzed lazily around the bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling. For a snack, she caught a few with her sticky tongue. She had acquired a taste for them; she was becoming a connoisseur of the various flavours. Still hungry, Camellia orders breakfast sent up to her room. She slips on her mask; one of her many personalities. The chameleon realizes she will never find a home; that’s the sad part. That’s the heartbreaker. The only one who could ever be like her was someone else made in the laboratory. Were there other chameleons? She can meet people in her disguise, she is able to charm them, or hurt them, or make them afraid, but they will never be able to love her. She walks amongst them, unseen like a spirit or ghost. They are comfortable in their environment, because they don’t test boundaries. They have no need of testing boundaries, because they believe they are impenetrable, they are the limits that others have found, and paid the price for with their sacrifice. Why should they; they don’t need to go the distance.


The chameleon knows there is more; she is always trying to find the ultimate. She earns her knowledge, she fights for it, becomes one with it, there is no give or take, that’s what she is searching for. She wants to be more than the average chameleon; the master of chameleonness. She has mastered instinct, she is able to replicate any pattern, now she wants more. She has nothing to risk, because she has nothing to lose. The chameleon is aware she is stronger than the others. How strong she is! How clever she is! Yet, in order to be clever she needs information ~ The chameleon became extremely resourceful in gathering the information she needed for selfpreservation. Self-preservation and self-reliance are the only things she can trust. She is never able to become part of the environment she invades; always the outsider, separate, an invisible freak. Sometimes she gets so close to the people she is watching, but she cannot touch, because that would give her away, and even if she could contact them, they would never be able to understand. Sometimes she participates by influencing the atmosphere of the whole room, creating a pleasant spirit and good energy, mischievously-playful sometimes. Yes, the chameleon was on a secret journey to discover information. Finding new information was her ultimate goal. The value of the information ensured her preserva‐ tion. She didn’t steal information, she discovered information; it’s all virtual, nothing is tangible, they are words and ideas she remembers or records and transmits back to the base ~ It’s the others that misuse and destroy the information, that manipulate the information, and profit from the information... Yet, the chameleon will part with her information for a price. They are always tracking her, they are always watching her, but they can’t protect her, because she is able to enter spaces where no-one else can go. She is on her own. What gives her the competitive advantage over other agents who are more easily captured by predators, is also the factor that puts her in the gravest danger ~ It is a price she has to pay to fulfill the terms of her contract, which she has signed in blood. They own her now, she is working for them, and they will make sure she never works for anyone else. They promised to reverse the process and rebuild her in whatever form she desires; to give her a new life when she completes her agreement in 2020 ~ That was several years away; there were many unexpected occurrences that could happen in the meantime... With the passage of time, there is an awareness that she will ultimately lose the suppleness of her reflexes as her body ages. Over time the information in her memory will dissolve and she may become careless and make a mistake. Looming like a dark shadow in the deepest recesses of her consciousness, was the fear that one day she would find herself immersed in an environment in which the challenge to replicate the pattern would be beyond her ability; she would be forced to rely on logic over instinct to solve the problem. The battle may present her with a challenge that was greater than her ability to deal with it. The effort of the struggle would steal her energy, her


cloaking disguise would become a scrambled pattern of information, revealing her to the eyes of the predators. Discovered, she may be terminated on the spot, or probed and dismantled by the adversary to reveal her secrets. She would become disposable. There was no recovery from the fall from grace. She didn’t know when, or if, that day would arrive. Perhaps it would happen tomorrow. For now she was just doing time; vaguely imagining what could happen when her contract expired. She had always hoped to have a child in her future ~ Although it may not be possible; who knows what they had done to her body ~ Could they have encoded a genetic time-bomb into her DNA?... Sometimes she imagines a pleasant scene in which she is telling stories to her grandchildren. The Polynesians have a story; in old times humanity gained immortality by being able to shed and renew their skins. One day a child was crying because it did not recognize its mother in her new skin. The woman couldn’t bear to live without the love of her child so she put back on her old skin, and subsequently died. Since that time mankind, for the sake of love, has done so to this day.

VII.

Overhead, the comet cut through the darkness like a sword; it’s long tail blowing in the solar breeze. Although it was enourmous, and moving incredibly fast, it did not make a sound. Something was happening in the core, but nobody was quite sure what. Art vigorously rubbed his long damp hair with a towel. He had just finished record‐ ing his weekly series of five-minute entertainment segments and was still dripping with sweat. After all these years they still had not provided him with a dressing room. Queen Judith had one; furnished with a large closet to contain her extensive wardrobe. The only thing Art got after the show was a towel and a glass of juice. With the towel draped over his shoulders, and toting a bag of juggling props, Art settled comfortably into a nest formed by coils of thick black cables in the darkest corner of the studio. As was customary on the day he came into the studio to record, Art sat in the same corner, salivating like Pavlov’s puppy, waiting for the cooking show to finish so he could salvage some of the room-temperature food items before they were disposed ~ I shouldn’t tell you this, but all the food was prepared in advance; nothing was actually cooked on the set... Madame Justine Permisard, whose real name is Judy Putz, and who Art called ‘Queen Judith’, often took one hour to record


her half-hour show. She frequently fumbled her lines, or accidently dropped food props ~ Art made a mental note of items that kissed the floor, as that knowledge would be advantageous after the show. He slid a thin memory card into his music player. His favourite group at the moment was the Japanese band; ‘Ocean Death’. The cooking program was called; ‘Nature’s Feast’. It catered to the burgeoning portion of the population who are insectivores. ‘Meatloaf’ made from the protein of gutted and ground earthworms... Ant egg soup... Today the feature was a stew made from the flesh of an extremely large South American beetle. Art was unable to recall its name, as his eyelids had drifted shut halfway through the show... The program not only instructed the audience how to prepare meals, but also provided tips and suggestions on how to raise grasshoppers, termites and centipedes at home. Another section of the program; ‘Insect Facts and Fallacies’, features the show’s permanent ‘guest’; Eleanor the Entomologist. Eleanor is a frail but feisty elderly woman, whose severe features usually frightened Art. Not today, Art is sleeping like a baby, nestled comfortably encircled by cable coils. He is totally exhausted. Even in his dreams he is going over his lines. The opening of the play is only two weeks away, and he has been rehearsing in front of the mirror nearly every night. His amazing success story was extremely exciting; having rocketed to stardom after being discovered while playing a ‘bit part’ as a janitor in his very first theatrical production ~ Something had happened which transformed him when a single spotlight suddenly illuminated him upon the darkened stage. Instead of delivering his scripted lines, he broke into an improvised monologue in which he philosophized critically for several minutes about typical conditions of life on the street. The stage manager’s incessant hissing from the wings, and the loud nervous rustling of the cast behind the curtain, compelled Art to bring his humourous tirade to resound‐ ing conclusion. The crowd loved it! The audience was laughing and crying. During curtain calls their were shouts for ‘the janitor’, and whenever he returned to the stage, still carrying his push-broom, Art got another standing ovation from the enthusiastic hall. He bowed deeply. ‘Thank you!’ he mouthed several times. Someone had even thrown a bouquet of plastic flowers on the stage. Art scooped them up, pantomiming as though he was deeply inhaling their fragrance. More laughter, more cheers. He later discovered during the party backstage, that the flowers had been intended for Gillian; who until that moment he had considered to be his ‘girlfriend’. Gillian was furious with Art for the way he had upstaged the show. Her raging temper tantrum convinced the director to turn his part over to another member of the cast. Triumph had turned to tragedy as his brief career came crashing to a halt, and the woman he loved suddenly seemed to vanish from his life. Would she ever speak to him again? Yet, it was not to end so mercifully. The director of the play had been impressed. The day after the opening, he requested that Art meet with him in a small restaurant, quaintly called ‘La Chambre Potte’. The director propositioned him; enquiring if he would be interested in starring in a play that was more suited to his ‘abilities’? He told


Art that his roommate, a writer, had created a play that was ready to go into production. The director enthused that it would be perfect for Art. Importantly, Art had proven that he was able to improvise ~ The offer was tantalizing; after working within the confines of a TV studio, it had been a heady rush to stand in front of an appreciative responsive audience. Within his imagination he once again heard the crescendo of applause rolling in like the sound of ocean waves. ‘Thank you!’ he mouthed over and over in his dreams. Suddenly, Art was startled into wakefulness by a coarse scratchy sensation moving up his leg. He opened his eyes to discover that one of the large beetles that had been brought into the studio had escaped into the darkness and was crawling up his bare leg ~ Art screamed! ~ Immediately causing the exasperated studio director’s voice to boom through the ceiling speakers; “Cut!” ~ Eleanor the Entomologist also shot him the ‘evil eye’. The director’s harsh disembodied voice scolded him severely; “Hey slacker! Are you still here? Get the hell out of the studio now! You are hereby banished from my presence. Do not show your face until it is time to do your next clown show. Do I make myself clear?” “Loud and clear!” “I can still hear you! Go!” Art picked his music player off the floor where it had landed in fright... He had lost his appetite anyway. He slipped out the door in his canvas sneakers and padded toward the newsroom down the hall. He entered the control room; the show was in production. “Hey Art, what’s cooking over at Nature’s Beast?” “Beetle stew.” Dahl raised an eyebrow, then turned his attention to the bank of monitors in front of him; “Take camera three!” he barked. Dahl was the director of the newscasts. He was also a regular participant in the carnage of leftovers at the end of recording the cooking show. He could eat anything. He was built to consume; short and rotund, with a generous storage capacity. His head was smooth and pink, wispy strands of shoulder-length blonde hair when lit from behind him gave him the appearance of an evil cherubim with a glowing halo. Dahl is a hyperactive motor-mouth who likes to talk fast, and likes to talk loud; tactics that have enabled him to successfully work in the television industry by bludgeoning people into submission with his demands:


“Camera one... now... standby with commercial in five...” Dahl cast his eye over to the preview monitor, “... two... one... take CG1.” The control room resembles the cockpit of a spaceship. Dahl is flanked by four other crew members on the flight deck. The switcher, a thin young man with short curly hair sits at Dahl’s right hand, hunched over the panel of a AVMX-07 Multi-event Controller. He presses buttons and pulls the levers he has been requested to operate. A commer‐ cial appears on the video wall; which monitors the video feed going out. The screen has a dramatic wide-screen cinematic aspect ratio. The commercial is computergenerated; simulating the camera movement from a robot’s perspective as it moves into a large warehouse containing barrels of some kind of toxic waste. The computer vision of the robot pans across the scene, just in time to see a container of radioactive material clumsily knocked off a high pallet in a storage bay by another robot. The container tumbles end-over-end in slow motion to the concrete floor below... Dahl inhales a deep drag of a smokeless cigarette, then gulps a splash of coffee. He barks commands at the sound technician sequestered behind a 48-channel mixing board. Spectral analysis meters, like a long row of windows, overlook a field of buttons and knobs which are moving on their own. Art walks behind the console until he is able to see through the large window into the studio. The human female newscaster is sitting behind a desk, mounted on a turntable which is slowly rotating. She is wearing a scarlet dress. Her dark hair is conservatively cut and styled. Art immediately falls in love with her. The newscaster is surrounded by a dense collection of automated equipment; robotic pneumatic-mounted swivel-headed camera booms, are animated with precise machine-like movement as they crane their necks for a better view. They pan, tilt, and track. Rainbows refract from their irises with an oily glow as their eyes zoom in on telephoto, or pull back wide to take in more of the scene. The techniques of composition and framing are incorporated into the software of their camera heads. The newscaster waits patiently to come back online. She adjusts her wireless headset microphone, and flips a small switch on the side of her polarized video eyeglasses, which enable her to read the news projected on the inner surface, yet allows the viewers to see her eyes. “Okay, we’re coming back to the studio.” An intricate mandala appears on the screen; the animated logo for NNN News. Layers of colour ripple out and fold in upon itself like a kaleidoscope. In the center of the gentle chaos, a realistically-rendered image of a closed human eye... The eye opens and grows larger until the dark pupil fills the screen; irising-in a wide-shot of the studio. A heavy music opening pumps through speakers... “Lose the sting... and cue Nataliya,” Dahl barks. The camera slowly tracks in... The boom arm sweeps down for a close-up of the newscaster; Nataliya Karaskya. She discretely reads text that appears on the teleprompter inside her glasses. It is her first indication of the news story to follow ~


Viewers control the content on demand; by remotely selecting topics from menu items on the interface of their home theatre systems. Nataliya is cool and confident under pressure, and very pretty, thought Art, enraptured. Viewer’s choice seemed to influence the presentation of the news; keeping the public happy by leading them to believe they were participating in selecting those items they wanted to see. When the audience enjoyed the show, the ratings were high. Selection of content was only an illusion of democracy. Authorities were required to put their official ‘stamp of approval’ on the pre-arranged list of topics which viewers were permitted to select during the broadcast. Their mandate was to create choices which included less violence, and more propaganda-type news stories which were directly tied-in with the advertising. The news channel generated a fortune in advertis‐ ing revenue. The station manager didn’t breathe in the morning until he checked the ratings, and digested the numbers. Editing suites have a large post-production staff operating on shifts around the clock. These ‘mole-people’ occupy little cubicles in an underground concrete bunker within the basement of the station. Their skin is green under fluorescent light. Their tired eyes have darkened puffy swellings beneath them. They are synchronized to the timecode. Their job is to restructure video previously recorded on location, and package them into smooth dynamic products. These mole-people have the hardware to create news content with exceptional production value ~ Computer images create a new kind of reality by processing images captured from feeds of video cameras around the world. The all-seeing eye is everywhere, all the time. The moles source images from roving news teams, home video submissions, patching into surveillance cameras, robotic underwater cameras, and from space through a multitude of satellites. The video is translated through digital encoders, tagged, then banked in massive digital vaults. Art would frequently explore the secured tunnels connecting their burrows. Art was friendly with the mole people ~ At first they feared the surface-dweller, but soon became enchanted with his tales of the many wondrous things above ground; Art described ethereal mists that appeared almost solid floating in the sky, and of surfaces which were covered with a fibre-like green material which grew from the energy provided by a gigantic light which was even higher than the things he called ‘clouds’. This light was so bright that one could not look upon it with their eyes. “Log-off no clue, I’m not genlocked to this file form,” said Harry the Mole. Art had difficulty understanding the language the moles had created to communi‐ cate with others of their own species within the isolation of their underground world; “... led to undesirable workarounds, such as the deliberate inclusion of zero-content filler lines which aren’t quoted and thus pull the message below the rejection threshold.” Vast quantities of cola fueled Harry’s body with nervous high-intensity energy. Art felt exhausted just watching Harry work. His stubby appendages were constantly in


motion shifting over rows of buttons, and spinning the spherical rubber controllers on the console of his workstation. His eyes never seemed to blink as he scanned between the large central screen, and seven or eight smaller displays which orbited it. The monitors shifted their function between video feeds, and menu palettes; colour, hue, saturation, contrast, paint, load, save, and so on... Waveform and vector displays appeared on the grid as shaded vertical bands that danced like ghosts in the machine. For Harry, the surface was just a source of raw data that had yet to be processed. He searched video logs to call-up digitally compressed files through high-speed fibreoptic lines from memory storage arrays. Live feeds of digital video streaming into his cubicle would run through the f/x generator where it could be blended with computer imagery and rendered to output in real-time. Inventing the news required following a carefully-prepared script, which was continually delivered by administrators in the towers of far-away lands. Corporate publicity agents and marketing groups were able to trace the trend vectors, and put a spin on the news story before it even happens. The moles used their talents to select the appropriate video, and enhance it, in order to make it more dynamic and interesting to viewers. Objects could be added to, or deleted from the background. Environmental attributes could be modified to create the appearance that the scene was taking place during the day or night, or in various weather situations by setting the parameters for the amount of smog, or gradual increments from clear skies to heavy rain. Where Harry’s skill really shone was in his ability to use the hardware’s speech processing and digital lip-sychronization software to adjust the content of messages delivered by human talking-heads. Yes, the moles excelled at creating a convincing new reality. The audience participated in the awareness that the experience had been designed for them, since the broadcasts delivered familiar messages they had also become accustomed to in other mediums; ‘the voices’, the network, digital billboards and clothing fashion statements. Manufactured reality was only one facet of presenting an entertaining news program. Viewer’s attention spans would quickly lapse during a steady stream of processed propaganda, even though they were presented in a series of easy-to-digest sampled video bites. So, in order to create a more lively program, special features were interspersed throughout the broadcast. By far the most popular portion of the show, tabulated by monitoring the channel audience’s viewing share, (ratings were displayed in real-time on a monitor in the control room), was a segment called; ‘The Seeker.’ ~ Wherever there were volcanoes erupting, hurricanes blowing, floods, fires, famine, social unrest, mob violence, inflation, crime, corruption, or trouble spots of war and revolution around the world, the Seeker could be found. They were opportunistic risk-takers, on location, on assign‐ ment, placing themselves in situations of extreme danger. No terrain was too remote, or inaccessible, as they traversed the globe from the top of the highest mountains to the bottom of the deep blue sea. The Seekers are mobile, self-contained, human units, equipped with a camera padded in a shock-resistant housing, a head-mounted display, a microphone,


earphones, and a battery belt, as well as any special hardware or customized clothing to enable them to adapt to their surroundings, or increase their chances for survival. Each day, the viewers are able to select the dangerous situation the Seekers will be thrust into, in order to vicariously experience their physical reaction and emotional response to their predicament. Broadcasts are transmitted ‘live’ into the comfort of the viewer’s homes from a satellite-link mounted on the Seeker’s backpack. With the opening ‘theme song’ for the Seekers; eight choices appear on menus displayed on the viewer’s screens. “Please make your selection now,” offers Nataliya the newscaster. Dahl had taken it upon himself to arrange that one of the Seeker’s missions would be to enter into the Core of this very city. The official story, reported at the top of the newscast, did not provide many specific details regarding the outcome of the military operation which had occurred during the late hours of All Hallows Eve ~ the previous night. Dahl thought that viewers would be interested in seeing the scene for them‐ selves; in an exclusive feature for his station. “Make up!” demanded Nataliya through the intercom in the control room, when the lights had dimmed on the studio floor. Something was happening in the core, but nobody was quite sure what. It had been the main topic of conversation throughout all sectors in the region during the past few months, since health officials originally began to release reports claiming they had detected the early stages of a massive viral infection in the core. The spokesman for the Department of Health appeared frequently on newscasts, stating; “If this disease is left untreated, it will quickly spread throughout the central core, then rapidly into residential zones.” News media campaigns were dire and graphic in their prognostica‐ tion; often referring to the coming epidemic as a plague. Rumours abounded. Some even speculated that corporations had launched a virus to exterminate the undesirable mutant population living in the wasteland beneath the towers. ‘Fair Warning’ announcements appeared regularly on all media channels, and on the voices in the towers, for many months. During this period, several corporations offered citizens home-immunization kits, and dietary supplements which were taken along with the vaccine inoculation to ensure complete protection ~ SaniTech Foods promoted their product during every newscast, and around the clock on other chan‐ nels. The image of the little Dutch girl wearing a daffodil hat from the label of Wishing Well Supplement had been engraved in the minds of the viewers through its constant repetition. Many citizens had given the reports little regard, as they had never known news broadcasts to be particularly reliable or accurate. Others believed the news items had been manufactured solely to promote the advertised products. To add even more uncertainty and confusion to the situation, pirate broadcasts had also been appearing


on the network refuting stories that had been broadcast by the corporate media. Spokespeople from a group called ‘ro@ches’; masking their identities by obscuring their faces with coarse block patterns of pixelization, claimed that members of their organization had travelled through the core, and had been unable to detect even a single occurrence of the symptoms of a massive infection virus. These messages had little impact in stemming the hysteria generated by the news media. Sales of vaccines and supplements continued at a frantic pace, the demand continually exceeded the supply. Citizens in residential zones were often forced to ration their food purchases or other essential items, in order to afford these medicines. Finally, toward the end of October, Authorities announced that preparations were underway to release an unspecified gas compound, which would blanket the entire core area during the late night hours of October 30th, 2020, in an effort to; ‘minimize the spread of the disease’. Heavily-armored military zombie units were mobilized to seal off the core. Death squads were posted along the border to ensure that none of the denizens could escape. The viewing public were anxious for news about the successfulness of the opera‐ tion. Ratings were peaking off the charts. They waited expectantly in front of their screens, but the official announcement provided scant information. Now, thanks to Dahl’s initiative, the viewers would be able to observe the situation for themselves; first-hand, through the roving eye of a Seeker. At home, viewers operating their remote-control devices selected ‘Journey into the Core’, as their number-one choice by an almost unanimous decision. A distant second had been the choice to send a Seeker sliding in a kayak down the snowcapped side of Mount Nudo Coropuna in southern Peru. Entering the core, the viewpoint of the camera, mounted on the Seeker, maneuvers through an empty street, flanked on both sides by derelict buildings... The Seeker has not progressed far from the barricades at the perimeter of the core; the lights of the border patrol are visible in the distance. The camera view stumbles over the rubble strewn across his path... The sound of filtered breathing is rapid and heavy in the speakers; the Seeker has prepared himself for viruses by wearing a breathing mask supplied by an oxygen tank strapped to his back. The camera now swings back and forth across the terrain. The narrow beam of the spotlight mounted on the camera reveals an earth that is littered with broken concrete, rusted sections of pipe, a child’s toy, and a severed hand. Remnants of a body wrapped in rags lies face-down in the debris, arms outstretched before it, surrounded by the bodies of dead rats. Instead of feet, the creature has what resembles small hooves at the end of its legs. As he watches the screen, Dahl knows the station manager will be pleased. News loves freaks. Capturing a mutant on video is certainly great for the ratings!


The Seeker’s voice: “God, the stench!” The camera continues valiantly onward... A few moments later; “Jesus!” : The heavy breathing sound is amplified by the micro‐ phone within his mask: “There are tiny insects everywhere... They’re biting me!” The camera moves erratically as the Seeker tries to brush off the insects. The Seeker hadn’t been prepared for fleas; which were popping off surrounding surfaces with a tiny click, and landing on the exposed flesh of his body. “Can you see them in the video?” came the Seeker’s voice, between more rapid breathing. “I don’t know if I’m recording them, but you should see the size of these things... It’s like a flea circus in here.” Dahl’s phone rings while he watches the video in the console of his newsroom. Dahl answers casually ~ The voice on the other end is screaming with rage; “What the fuck are you doing? That content has not been authorized... Cut it off!... Shut it down right fucking now!” Nerves jangling like he had been hit by a heavy electric shock, Dahl reaches across the panel in front of the switcher. With the push of a button he casts the screen into darkness...

VIII.

In the distance, seven large black monolithic buildings are situated behind a rusted chain-link fence enclosing an enormous region of barren terrain. The buildings are single-story rectangular structures arranged around a taller portion which rises with an angular roof; giving it a wedge-shaped appearance. This is the headframe of the elevator shaft she knows descends to an underground laboratory; a restricted-access zone used for bacteriological research. The buildings lack markings or designations to indicate their purpose. Like many others in the Industrial Zone, they are encased in slick non-reflective stealth-black material. The chameleon has arrived at the Harare International Airport in Zimbabwe just before sunrise, coming in on the night flight from Dar es Salaam. She blends in with other travelers; in disguise as a young African man. A strange array of small airport vehicles, each adapted to suit a particular purpose, move through the darkness to tend to their duties. Flashing warning lights reflect off the shiny hull of the Air Zimbabwe jet that has delivered her. The image of a yellow Zimbabwe bird in the center of a red star


is painted as a logo on the airline’s tall white tail fin. S/he walks briskly across painted lines on the tarmac toward a small metal building dwarfed by a nearby aircraft hanger. A large battered metal door slides open. S/he enters the building which serves as the garage to maintain and store a collection of ancient dull-green military vehicles. The scene is illuminated by the cool blue glare of fluorescent tubes mounted in strips hanging from the ceiling. Inside, young men in military fatigues move casually at that early hour. They are gathering the equipment she requires for her trip to World Waste Management’s test-site location near Mvuma; a small mining town located about 200 km south-west of Harare. One young Zimbabwean man, wearing grime-soaked coveralls, hammers violently on the undercarriage of a turn-of-the-century petrol-powered Toyota; repurposed as a military vehicle. It has evidently received rough treatment in the past; the driver’s door is scored with a number of large bullet holes through it. The mechanic slides from under the vehicle, a lit cigarette dangling from his lip. He springs with agility to his feet, like a cat, and carefully wipes his hands on his pant legs. “Hey, Mngani!” he says with a toothless grin spreading from ear to ear. He slaps hands with the chameleon in greeting, as though with a long-time friend ~ They had never met before. “I been working on the brake just now. Boss up in the bundu, man, pump them good when you rock up. Struze fact!” he added in warning. The soft morning glow brightened the sky as the chameleon left Harare. A string of gleaming high-rise blocks stretched across the horizon in her rear-view mirror. Driving along the left-hand side of the main tar road, s/he headed south into the high veld of the central plateau. The sunshine grew warmer as the morning and the miles passed by, Ndebele soul music blasted through tiny speakers of the vehicle’s radio. Along the road, through Midlands province, skeletal branches of teak trees jutted into the sky. The hillsides were dry and barren, eroded from the wind which swept up reddishbrown soil, and in places drifted it across the road. At one point, a band of hyenas gathered around a carcass in the shade of some Jacaranda trees; it was the only time she had spotted any wildlife during her journey. She always dreamed of one day seeing a zebra merging with its reflection in the mirror of a lake. They were as rare as unicorns now. They had become open game for poachers once their genes had been preserved. Lions and rhinos disappeared also; their balls and horns ground up for aphrodisiacs. They were valuable. Impotent old men were willing to spend any amount of credits to experience the love of a young maiden. Even for one night, she thought, as she drove on. World Waste Management’s facility is located not far from Mvuma on the spur railway line to Masvingo. It was constructed on the site of an abandoned gold mine; closed nearly a century before. The environment around the facility is void of plant life;


a condition caused by air and water pollution, coupled with low-level radiation emanating from the recycling depot. Electricity for the facility is purchased from a largescale ZESA solar power generating station. Warning signs are posted throughout the area; beneath large radiation and biohazard symbols are the words: ‘DO NOT ENTER. Bacteriological Waste Zone’. She turns off the road near the large Golden Spider linen manufacturing plant and drives a short distance across open terrain, making her way onto a ridge overlooking the WWM compound. The brakes are very soft ~ She manages to bring the vehicle to a halt not far from a steep embankment. She lets off the clutch to roll back into a narrow ravine, then shuts off the engine. She uses dried branches to camouflage the vehicle. Striping off her disguise, she stuffs it into a plastic bag and buries it under some sand; marking its location with four small rocks. Naked, she walks along the railway tracks to a gateway in the fence surrounding the site. Her body takes on the changing texture of the pattern of railroad track as she moves lightly on the thickly-padded soles of her feet; balancing on the ribbon of steel like a tight-rope walker. In her thoughts, she goes over the intelligence she has gathered from the head office in Zanzibar; The heartland of Africa, due to its relative isolation, has become a preferred disposal site for acutely-hazardous waste; too dangerous to be disposed of near more denselypopulated regions of the world. WWM shipments arrive sealed in containers in either a solid, liquid, or gaseous state, and are deemed hazardous because they are either radioactive, flammable, corrosive, reactive, toxic, or a biological threat to human life. The deadly material is a by-product of various manufacturing processes, or the discarded material from research and laboratory experiments. WWM has a series of facilities throughout Mozambique, Botswana, and Zambia in East Africa which buries, incinerates or recycles the waste. World Waste Management Corporation shares the site near Mvuma with a collec‐ tion of experimental research laboratories known as ‘Providence’. The labs are housed in an array of large black rectangular buildings near the disposal area. Partners in the enterprise include companies headquartered in; Germany, United Kingdom, South Africa, Japan, and the United States of America. Official publicrelations releases state that Providence was established to discover more efficient methods for waste disposal. While this is true, it has been widely-speculated that Providence scientists are also exploring possible uses for hazardous material in processes and products that are highly-confidential. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Providence is either in the early stages of developing a revolutionary new biomechani‐ cal device, or possibly in development of a bacteriological weapon. Golden Sun Corporation wanted in, but Providence kept their doors closed tight. Golden Sun Corporation originally employed Flex Global to investigate a discrep‐ ancy in fees WWM were billing for their services. The chameleon accessed the company’s database to recover files which confirmed that WWM had indeed tampered with waste-hauler’s records to fractionally include hidden costs billed to their many


clients. While Golden Sun Corporation were not concerned with shipping costs, they realized they needed to moderate the situation before it got ‘out of hand’. Since they had exhausted all other avenues in their pursuit of accessing data, they decided to contract a ‘special agent’ to physically infiltrate their adversaries base, and the chameleon was an ideal choice. Once Flex Global had gotten her inside, Mr. Luk, the Golden Sun Corporation representative who administered the operation, arranged to use the agent to conduct a little industrial espionage on his own behalf. Mr. Luk approached the chameleon with an attractive financial offer ~ In addition, he would cover her expenses and arrange the logistic support necessary to carry out the mission. Providence managers had a turbulent relationship with their hosts. They were aware that World Waste, in addition to their unscrupulous business practices, were also carelessly inattentive to environmental concerns in handling hazardous materials. As guests in the country, they also had a tenuous relationship with former military leaders who acted as a liaison with the government, who in turn ruled over an impoverished nation. The relationship had never attained an equitable symbiotic balance; in the give-and-take of their exchange, Providence were always the ones who gave. Government officials, who initially welcomed them, began to show signs of corrup‐ tion once the facility had become operational. They continually created a bewildering array of new regulations; each of which imposed additional fees or placed demands on the shared-ownership in the development of future products. The government used various tactics to ensure Providence complied with their legislations. Early in the relationship they used the influence of the state-controlled media to inform the local population that Providence was creating a ‘Land of Death’; blaming them for an environmental disaster which discharged thousands of tonnes of contaminated material into the local river ~ Known as ‘The Place of Magical Singing’. Yet, the problem had actually been caused by World Waste themselves; in which the govern‐ ment had a high-percentage of ownership. The railway follows the polluted riverbed through a narrow valley as it approaches the compound. Alone and naked, the chameleon walks through the valley of death. She can only hope that she doesn’t become radsik from the contaminated environ‐ ment. She is unable to wear protection. Just ahead, behind dusty glass, she observes the heads of a pair of guards in the metal shack atop the security tower. Surveillance cameras and heavy caliber machine-guns are mounted at corners of the platform. She inspects the gateway where the railway tracks enter the compound, searching for sensing mechanisms; she could detect none. The fence is topped with razor wire. At intervals along the fence, weathered warning signs declare the site to be a biological containment zone. Strange, cobalt blue flowers of evil are blossoming on the only plant that seems hardy enough to survive in the barren terrain. The guards are unaware of her presence as she slips inside, past the iron gateway. So far, so good...


Past the fence, the tracks continue into the distance where they branch into sidings throughout the disposal complex. Gigantic warehouses knock out vast chunks of the horizon; replacing blue sky with dark silhouettes. Each building contains 80,000 sq. ft. of storage for hazardous materials. Eight overhead cranes, each with the capacity to lift 80 tons, transport material from rail cars to the loading areas. An assortment of large pipes run from the warehouses to a collection of tall cylindrical towers of distillation tanks, and the larger low-profile separation vats. One of the buildings contains a control room; a special sterilized enclosed security area where human operators guide remote-controlled robots through containment centers. ‘Containment Fields’ are too dangerous for humans to enter; notoriously virulent bacteriological material has grown into resilient highly-infectious strains of parasitic microbes which enjoy consuming human flesh ~ Waste products that cannot be usefully recycled are disposed of by being poured into underground caverns of the former gold mine to be locked away in bedrock vaults. Other material is incinerated. Dense grey smoke from the tall stacks drift lazily over an area enclosed with a thick lead fence. She could hear the sound of her footsteps as she crossed an expanse of coarse soil on her way to the nearest black building. So could a pack of four Painted Hunting Dogs that came racing from the distance, silently towards her. She reached under her skin and withdrew four small darts which she could fire with great accuracy from her tongue. She held them in her fingers and kept walking. The dogs were wolf-like animals with unique-patterned coats. The markings were quite different from the ones found in the wild. The industrial habitat seemed to have made them develop dark intricate fractal-like markings. The dogs came close and skidded to a stop on the loose soil. They knew she was there because of the scent they picked up with their sensitive noses, yet all they could see was her shadow and they became confused; cocking their heads to the side and whining... They followed her to the building. Remembering the pass code obtained from searching files on the WWM mainframe in Zanzibar, she enters the key combination. The door unlocks. Inside, the air condi� tioning feels chilly after the heat of outdoors, but it was dark and that makes her feel more secure. The chameleon navigates by comparing her position with floor-plans stored in her memory. Along the corridors are a number of labs. To her left is a clean-room with a stainless steel table in the center. The room is lit by even high-key ambient lighting, there are no shadows or visible sources of light; the room seems to glow. A digital clock is mounted into the wall. Hanging from the ceiling, directly above the table is a large, hinged, black robotic arm with a claw for its hand. Arranged around the room are carts of electronic equipment mounted on casters. In the corner is a metal bucket, also on wheels, with a kick guard around the base. On the opposite wall, a bundle of coloured plastic hoses spill out from a fixture and sprawl across the floor. Purpose of the laboratory: unknown.


The buildings are connected with each other through passageways which run just beneath the surface. Heavy doors seal the entranceways, but here again she is able to recall the passcodes. She is heading to the building containing the administration offices. Her eyes move independently, scanning the hallways as she proceeds down the hall past other research labs and through residential areas. The population of Providence is approximately 2,000 lifeforms. Moving through hallways she encounters technicians, robots, and mutants. Some are restrained with wristlocks and chains, others roam freely. One of the creatures has a sculpted metal mask where its face would be, with a reflective strip across the eyes. The atmosphere of the environment is a mutated blend between a zoo, a hospital, and a mechanical shop. Animal and machine parts are wheeled down the halls on small carts by people wearing medical attire and filter masks. The occasional sound of screams, and squeals, and whirring sounds emerge from behind closed doors. She slips into one of the rooms behind a technician pushing a cart. The room is equipped like an operating theater. The chameleon moves discretely around the perimeter of the room to watch what transpires. The naked torso of a powerful darkskinned man is restrained with netting in a reclining chair. Technicians connect wires to his mechanical legs, their industrial green gowns are soaked with patches of dark red blood. As she moves, she observes this creature actually has four metallic insect legs attached to his hips, that taper down to small claw-like feet. The man is uncon‐ scious, wired to life-support, and a breathing mask. She discovers these labs are creating entirely new forms of life; blending humans with animals and machines to develop products specifically tailored to a variety of purposes. Apparently, these high-reliability biological units are easy to maintain. One of the technicians removes the covering from the cart to reveal a pair of robotic arms and some surgical cutting tools. The chameleon doesn’t want to watch anymore. She leaves the room as soon as someone else does. This is disturbing. She knows what it is like to be a freak. It’s difficult to live in a body that someone has constructed for you; a body that is designed to be used for someone else’s purposes. Walking down the long corridor she feels like crying. But that is physically impossi‐ ble with her new eyes; chameleons don’t cry. She loses herself, briefly, in reflection of her thoughts. During the momentary lapse of concentration she suddenly collides heavily with someone moving quickly down the hall. Both are sent sprawling onto the black and white checkerboard pattern of the tiled floor. The young woman nearby looks around bewildered. She is sitting on the floor, propped up with her arms extended behind her. She has no idea what she ran into; there is nothing there. The chameleon sat still, covering her shadow. The young woman must be a ‘patient’; her head is shaved, three rows of stitch marks run the length of her scalp. Her eyes are blinking quickly. The woman picks herself up, and continues on much more cautiously. As she walks away she looks back over her shoulder and begins rubbing her arm. The chameleon feels moisture on her lip. On the black and white patterned grid of the floor, is a small bright drop of blood.


The chameleon continues on, also much more attentive. Along the hall and down the elevator, she arrives at the administration area. The door is open to a small waiting room outfitted with comfortable well-designed furniture, and a hydroponic forest of tiny Blue Spruce. The receptionist doesn’t even bother to look up from the video game he is playing ~ Space aliens are being destroyed by the death ray he is wielding. They realistically fall to ground and flail their tentacle-like appendages as their flesh is consumed by flames. The chameleon moves into the narrow corridor behind the desk which connects three small offices. Carl Kapek, the Czech scientist who is Director of Operations, and Dr. Hellmann, the Chief Engineer are not in the office, but Jeff Berman, the General Manager is. He is a middle-aged man, slightly balding with long strands of hair around the sides of his head. He looks comfortable, dressed in a crumpled brown suit that blends in with the padded office chair he is reclining in, arms cradled behind his head. His heavy facial features are expressionless. Tiny squinty eyes peer at someone on his screen. She overhears a portion of his conversation as she treads silently outside his open door. He speaks with a distinct German accent: “... we are innovators operating at the furthest reaches of the known world, and as you know, species living at the edge of their habitats mutate quickly.” The chameleon continues down the corridor and enters Hellmann’s office. His dataglove is on the desktop, discarded like a wrapper on a stack of paper. She slides it on. It smells like a dirty sock; heavily scented with perspiration. She would prefer to use vox commands, but it was not possible under the circumstances. She lights up the display. Concentrating for a few moments, focusing her thoughts, she activates her bioram in order to record the data as it streams onto the screen. She needed to work quickly, as Hellmann could return at any moment. First of all she tracked down the cache log which monitored the processor’s activity. It would need to be purged at the end of the session to cover her tracks. Unfolding files, she probed into the depths of the database. She visually scanned the information to quickly determine its contents, before committing it to memory. She would be able to analyze the information more completely once she was in a safe environment. Her primary target was to access data regarding experiments in environmental biotechnology conducted by Providence during the waste management process. She blinked her eyes to record the file; capturing an image to memory... blink... Scientists are developing new microorganisms which thrive on a diet of hazardous wastes; leaching toxins from heavy metals, radionuclides and other pollutants accumulated in industrial effluent... blink... Cloned genes from a livestock fungus (Neocallimastix patriciarium), obtained from the rumen front stomach of livestock such as sheep and cattle, produce enzymes, called cellulases, which are used to break down fibre to digest organic waste... blink... other microbes are used to separate plastic from metal in large vats in the disposal area... blink.


Large tanks containing magnetotactic bacteria are used to remove harmful sub‐ stances from waste water. The magnetospirillum bacterium contain a chain of mag‐ netite crystals in their structure which, in nature, acts as a 'compass' enabling them to navigate with respect to the earth's magnetic field. The bacteria move back and forth through the sediments in the vats to absorb toxic material from the surrounding solution, and then are separated from the solution by applying a low-intensity, focused magnetic field... blink. Exploring deeper into the database, she discovers files containing an extensive set of schematics to manufacture robotic workers that are adapted to efficiently conduct specialized tasks. These creatures are constructed from a collection of components; a blend of elements from humans, animals, insects and machines. The images remind her of beings that inhabit dreams, or of the display of antique photographs of circus freaks she had seen one night in an art gallery in Paris. A bird with mechanical legs, the head of a frog, the tail of a snake. She blinked her eye... A shiny metallic ant... blink... A six-foot man eating chicken; with mechanical arms below the elbow... The creatures transgressed ordinary standards for harmony and ethical conduct, causing an initial reaction of repulsion at witnessing the grotesque appearance of many of the prototype designs. Gradually, as she became accustomed to the strange new creatures that were displayed on the screen, she began to experience the beauty of their forms; the relationship of their individual parts, the utility of their overall design to the purposes they had been created for. One group of mutants were being prepared to work in toxic environments; sent into dangerous situations where human workers would not go, and where robot machines were not completely effective. These creatures were designed to be used in ‘hot rooms’; handling material in areas with high levels of radiation. They had been adapted by rapidly mutating isolated fragments of genetic code through increasing the level of exposure to radiation throughout the cloning process. These genes, which were incubated in small living creatures; rabbits, frogs, rats and cats, were eventually transformed into new creature designs, enabling the development of immunity against toxic sludge. In other instances, scientists had discovered ways to use the irradiated material to biologically enhance the mutability of the gene structure to construct giant forms, or smaller versions of natural life. Frankenstein experiments that had gotten out of control and produced horrific physiological monstrosities that could serve no useful purpose were condemned to the pit; sealed inside concrete bunkers, along with the hazardous waste, deep underground. Radiation treatments also provided the scientists with a method of sterilizing lifeforms in order to prevent them from producing offspring on their own. The chameleon discovered that three primary types of worker droids used in the containment compound are the Radius, Sirius and Primus class of robots. They have


their unit numbers stenciled on their chest like name patches on work-shirts. The units are wired with onboard computers which enable them to be programmed to perform specific duties, or to be operated remotely by technicians in the central control room. The human operators, wearing reality helmets and sensors are able to manipulate the robots, and directly experience the environment by proxy through these machines. Units are kept busy around the clock. Radius units are exceedingly powerful, carrying large containers on their backs; transporting them to the designated storage areas within the facility. They move and sort three hundred 55-gallon containers (approximately 60,000 kilograms of hazardous waste), delivered on every rail car. Primus units dump the contents of the containers into large holding tanks which feed the distillation and separation vats through a network of distribution pipes. Solid material is loaded onto conveyor belts leading to large blast furnaces. The pulverized fuel ash and granulated furnace slag will be shipped to cement plants around the world to improve the workability and strength of concrete. Sirius robots carry out the task of inspecting storage facilities once a week for leaks or corrosion. They repair damaged containers and clean up chemical spills. Some of the containers arrive in a damaged condition; caused by improper transportation or storage at the source. Old, rusty containers often leak a chemical cocktail of pesticides, lead paint, used motor oil, oxyalic acids and a variety of other corrosive substances they are holding. Other containers are used to transport chemical agents, the exposure to a small dose of which would be lethal to humans... Weird fungus is sometime discovered growing on the outside of these containers... blink. During the night, workers are becoming increasingly aware of the presence of strange creatures lurking in the shadows. As robotic eyes survey the scene, operators in the control room notice dark flying objects occasionally caught in the harsh glare of the high-intensity Krypton spotlights illuminating the work areas. The chameleon discovers these rodents to be large industrial vampire bats which feed off waste leaking from containers. They are black, furless creatures, their bodies are covered in the same leathery texture that comprises the surface of their wings... The chameleon copies all the accounting records for WWM into her memory... Text files... Blink... Blink... She can hear distant voices in the hallway. She quickly clears the recent cache she has accessed and logs out. She removes the dataglove and tosses it back onto the stack of papers where she had found it just as Dr. Hellmann enters the room.


IX.

Camellia was awakened around noon by the sound of a fire alarm. Her first though was for the protection of her child. She checked the hallway, but there was no sign of smoke, and no-one was moving through the halls. There were often false alarms in her tenement. She waited, ready to run, but after a short while the alarm stopped ringing. She relaxed. The fire truck never arrived. She tried to calm herself by making some tea. Her hands were shaking as she poured distilled water into the pot. Her nerves were sensitive since the operation. She placed the pot on the stove, and looked for Ariel. He was sitting on the floor playing; he held a dull red round stone in the palm of his hand. She went over and kneeled on the carpet next to him, still trembling slightly. Soon he had made vibrant coloured mists appear by rubbing the smooth surface of the small piece of rock. The little boy laughed gleefully. “Look mommy, there’s a bird.” The transparent mist emanating from the rock was sky blue in colour. As the vapor slowly floated, it gave the appearance of a small bird, animated in flight, hovering in place above the stone. The ethereal entity became sharply defined, then gradually faded so that its shape could no longer be distinguished... then the mists evaporated. “Oh, that was pretty,” she said, rubbing the boy’s soft golden hair. “Mommy has to work now.” She sat at her Macintosh workstation and pulled down the thin plastic display. The blank screen awaited her command. She sat quietly for a moment staring into the void, trying to attain the mental focus needed to concentrate on the task at hand. She unfolded the keypads, positioning the flat panels in front of her in their customary position, which enabled her to operate them comfortably. She felt the pressure of the forthcoming deadline looming for the development of software code she was authour‐ ing. The program supplied instructions which connected a knowledge-base of data with the expert-system operating a production-line assembly robot. The robot worked at a fabricating plant in the Industrial Zone manufacturing biomechanical prosthetic human limbs. The robot followed customized specifications which were tailor-made for each human recipient by accessing their medical records and other personal data; age, height, weight, skin colour, and so on... She hesitated. She didn’t want to cross that threshold into the virtual world. Not yet. Her thoughts were distracted by the unexpected encounter which occurred the other day in the physical world. He had been in her thoughts constantly since they met.


At first she hadn’t recognized him. She was distracted by the random chaos of spilled groceries on the sidewalk. Also, the name he used when they introduced themselves was not familiar either. Yet later, when they were in her apartment, she suddenly recognized who he was. It had been a long time since she had first seen him ~ Yet, he had never seen her before... She smiled to herself. At that time, as she watched him, she had a premonition their paths would intersect again; sometime in the future. Maybe it was destiny, she told herself, that she was attracted to him now that fate had brought them together again. Maybe that is why she had released him all those years ago. Camellia knew the details of his distant past. She was thoroughly familiar with his dossier. Even now, she thought, if she concentrated she could probably still clearly recall the details from the depths of her memory ~ They hadn’t destroyed her grey matter when they removed the bioram. After ‘Cordova Frost’ had defected, Flex Global Security assigned her the mission of tracking him down. At first she couldn’t discover any leads. It seemed like he had vanished off the face of the earth. She placed the mission files on inactive status for some time. Then one day, a favourable source reported that he had seen ‘Cordova’; mentioning it casually during one of their periodic conversations. The source recalled that the chameleon had once been looking for him, and thought he might earn a few credits by supplying her with some important fragments of information. Her source was a young man named Yuri. He was a sewer shark; a physical hacker that really seemed to enjoy his work. His supple, lean body got him into places inside the physical world that very few people could access. She appreciated his talent, because she recognized the difficulty of his activity, and she also knew that life on the street was tough. The chameleon also valued his integrity: Yuri was true. He lived by the code. It pleased her to be able to increase the balance of his credit account. Yuri also shared an incredible talent for detecting faces in a crowd. For that reason, at the beginning of her mission, the chameleon originally transmitted Yuri an encoded image of the person she was seeking; an ex Flex Global agent named Cordova Frost, who at that time had recently defected ~ While sources in the underground had often been in contact with Agent Frost, no-one had ever seen his actual face. Cordova always manipulated the signal with an image generator to disguise his appearance whenever he used a video communication link like TVi ~ On the network, a person can be anybody they want to be ~ She knew she could trust Yuri not to reveal the confiden‐ tial information she transmitted to him. He experienced no ethical ‘conflict of interest’ by occasionally working in conjunc‐ tion with Flex Global; as long as his identity was protected. Through their working relationship, they formed a bond of trust, and an understanding of where the bound‐ aries of their individual interests overlapped to provide a mutual benefit. At the time, the chameleon was aware that Yuri was also one of the founders of a group of digital


enthusiasts who recently formed an organization; calling themselves ro@ches. Yuri hadn’t been the one who gave the group its name, but he provided the inspiration for it, because of his own insect-like characteristics to stealthily infiltrate environments. Yuri had long been intrigued by the Frost case, maybe that’s why the agent’s image stuck in his mind. He wondered why Frost had left the tower. Did he learn to fly on his own, or had he been pushed from the nest? Yuri didn’t really want to explore it too deeply, but he was curious; the guy was legendary. Thus, he was surprised, when entirely by random chance, Yuri recognized Cordova walking down a sidewalk one day, not far from the Eagle Grill. The image registered immediately, but the context did not match. The guy he watched walk down the street that morning was an average ‘shmo’; dressed in a dull-grey worker’s uniform, wearing a driver’s cap with a black peak, and carrying a silver metallic lunch box. Yuri followed him discretely to his tenement, and discovered the location of the apartment in which he stayed. He kept the news to himself until the next time the chameleon contacted him. Camellia stared out the window at the grey cement building across the street. She thought she had long forgotten those days, but now the memories came flooding in. What was it that had compelled her to live in the very same neighbourhood? Small world they say. Years later not much seemed different, but in reality everything had changed so much. In that same building she had watched him. She could recall the sense of trepida‐ tion she felt. She was aware of his reputation; she was nervous about whether he would be able detect her presence? She stood in the shadows of darkness at the edge of the room like a ghost... Out the window, the streets were shrouded by fog rolling in from the sea as the midnight hour approached and the grey moon sank deeply into the night. She crept into his room through the unlocked door while he was sleeping. Moving silently, she explored the rooms, and for some time watched as he lay peacefully in his bed. The sound of his breathing, slow and rhythmic. The squeak of bed springs, the sound of a light coming on. The sound of a radio from outside, down the hall. He arose from bed, then moved into the room where she waited. He sat at the table listening to the sound of the distant radio, rubbing sleep from his tired eyes. Outside dark blue. Inside light green, she merged with the pattern of the wall paper. He got up from the table and walked to the fridge and took a drink from a bottle of distilled water on the shelf. He went into to the bathroom. She heard the sound of running water. When he returned to the kitchen he made a sandwich and filled his thermos with water from the tap. He placed them into his lunch box. Attached his flashlight, and strapped a knife, digital watch and a communicator on the outside of the box. He checked the battery; the tiny light glowed green. She watched as he put on his shoes, road jacket, and driver’s cap. He stood in the doorway for a moment, briefly scanning the room, then switched off the light and closed the door.


For some time she stood quietly alone in the darkness. It was evident that he had changed his life and had made a break with his past. He wasn’t a threat to the organization. The chameleon had sensed his true nature; his virtue. The purity of that essence contrasted with the murky motives of those who obligated her to carry-out their missions; in order for her to fulfill the terms of her contract. They used her abilities to capture fragments of information with which to increase their power. With their great strength they were able to shape and manipulate the acquired data into the forms of tools and weapons; which they could utilize to bring new worlds into being, or destroy existing ones. The chameleon often witnessed their power turn to greed and corruption. Yet, she had no choice but to obey their commands. They had a lock on her; she was under their control. She was aware those using her were the ones that presented a real danger to the world; they were the ones who should be stopped, she believed, not a man like Cordova who had left all that behind, and had chosen to live out his life in quiet anonymity; a life of honesty and dignity. It served no purpose to destroy his life. She held off the matter for awhile. Then later, she asked Yuri to help arrange a new identity for Cordova. Neither the chameleon, nor Yuri had any skill in digital infiltration. They needed someone good; someone who could crack through the digital ice surrounding the core of the Flex Global Security system. They needed someone they could trust. Yuri put Cordova in contact with a cracker who called himself ‘Jedinight’. Jedinight was impressed by Cordova’s credentials. He had something up-hissleeve reserved for such a special occasion. He managed to infiltrate Flex Global Security servers. With a secret word, he successfully launched a fail-safe device that just took off through the system. It was cool; there was a little icon that went off like an atomic bomb in the center of the screen. The tiny mushroom cloud expanded until the entire screen grew white, and then he was out of there... If it wasn’t before, Cordova Frost’s identity was definitely expired now! The chameleon officially reported to ‘Big Brother’ that Cordova Frost had been physically terminated. She had falsified her authorized certificate; which she believed would permanently ensure that no-one would be able to track him again ~ She remained uncertain about her motivation as to why she had gone to so much trouble to protect the life of one former agent. She didn’t know if it was just a feeling of compas‐ sion, or if there had been more to it than that. The event had been a turning point. As the requirements of her contract drew to a close, the emergence of her conscience had begun to severely reduce her effectiveness as an agent. She was finding it increasing‐ ly difficult to change her appearance and to maintain the illusion. She had begun to make mistakes, and again had become tempted by the life of gambling; although she had managed to resist it. Somehow, through it all she still managed to complete her assignments successful‐ ly, escaping the fall from grace that often brought careers to a close in her line of work. In the end, she was grateful that her owners had decided to keep their end of the


bargain; agreeing to honour their commitment to restore her skin, reshape her appearance, and give her back the resemblance to other human beings again. She often had her doubts. The chameleon, in disguise as a wealthy, overweight American tourist, flew from Moscow to the capital city of Costa Rica. She loved to try to imitate the accent, and take on the attitude of the character she was playing. She decided to make her character rude and condescending to the stewardess on the plane to help pass the time during the hellishly-long flight. She arrived jet-lagged and exhausted in San Jose. She had an image, captured like a photograph in her memory, of a shadow on the red carpeting of the airport walkway. She remembers the shadow took the form of an ‘x’, or a cross-shaped appearance. As she approached, walking along the hallway, it started to dissolve in the bright sunlight streaming in, then faded completely by the time she reached it. In disguise as a large American woman, the chameleon decided not to tip the porters carrying luggage to the limo awaiting her at the airport. Instead she scolded them severely; admonishing them for their lazy behavior and slovenly appearance. Perhaps she had taken her caricature too far she thought as the limo started out. She was feeling surly because of the long flight. She closed her eyes to rest. When she opened them again she found she had been delivered to a small nondescript building at the edge of the city. The private clinic was called the Fountain of Youth Virtual Hospital. She was greeted and led into the ‘waiting area’ where pleasant attendants dressed in white clothing were reviewing the procedure with patients at a number of computer worksta‐ tions. She took a seat. The atmosphere reminded her of a trendy hair salon, decorated with fashionable furnishings made from funky recycled objects. The room was lit by the glow of light bulbs inside blender jars suspended from the ceiling. Soothing electronic music drifted into the room from flat panels of electrostatic speakers mounted on saxophones emerging from the wall. Shortly, she was directed into a small room where she removed her disguise. A computer model of her entire body was generated using a 3-dimensional scanner. The technicians discussed options available for manipulating her body; interactively showing results of potential modifications on screen as they spoke. Camellia had been offered the freedom to re-invent herself in any way that she chose. She was able to select her gender, race, age, and hair style. She was able to determine her body’s structure by having her physical form adjusted in a manner that she considered beautiful, and even augmenting it with qualities which would make her more than human. After giving the matter considerable thought, she decided to remain a female, although she often wondered what it would be like to experience sexuality as a male.


“Oh my!” said the man in a white suit, “Now this look is definitely, you. We’ll bring this in a teensy bit here, and plump this up a titch. You don’t want to add too much here, it’s a little top heavy for your frame size.” She watched her image transform. Her virtual shape mutated with a feather touch of the controls. The technician rotated the model and adjusted the evolution parameters of the software algorithm to show the process of aging on her body. She selected an appearance she felt captured a sense of youthful beauty that had matured gracefully. She explored the possibilities carefully, aware that the operation would permanently determine the characteristics of her identity for the rest of her life. Later in the day she met with Dr. Allegro; the surgeon who would carry out the skin grafting procedure. He appeared to be a young man with a large black mustache, and extremely hairy arms. Camellia would be seeing a lot of him as she underwent treatment. The process of permanently changing the texture map of her body’s outer surface involved many applications of synthetic human skin. The process would be more mechanical than the environ turbocell technique which had originally integrated her body with reptilian skin. The outer layer of her cells would have to be physically removed in order for the new skin to bond. Only selective portions of her body were operated on during each of the sessions. The outer layers of chameleon skin were peeled away with a deep penetration of trichloroacetic acid. Before surgery, these areas were numbed with a topical anesthet‐ ic, but afterwards the excruciating pain was almost unbearable as she regained the sensation that her flesh was somewhat raw and oozing. An unfortunate side effect was that the operations also left her with permanent neurological damage, which made portions her new skin either highly-sensitive, or void of any feeling at all. As the new skin was applied, it was stretched and shaped to remodel her ears, lips and nose and augment her breasts and buttocks. Dr. Allegro later resurfaced the skin with lasers to create a smooth texture and bond it with the underlying cell structure ~ Often whistling operatic tunes as he worked. He was an artist who moved the laser beam with a graceful swirling motion as though it were his paint brush, often pausing to removed skin dust with a swatch, then admire his work. Between treatments, for a period of approximately ten days, she recovered at a secluded resort in Puntarenas. The luxury accommodation featured a jacuzzi and tennis courts but she preferred to read. During her stay she worked her way through the complete works of William Shakespeare. She recalled reading the line; “God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another...” while she applied hydrogen peroxide to remove the crust that formed on her surgery burns. Six weeks after the final treatment she was on a plane to Biogenesis labs in Basel, Switzerland, wearing sunglasses to hide her eyes, and a hat to protect her new face from direct sunlight. In Basel, she underwent the most complicated part of the process; the eye surgery to return to her the human eyes which would complete the transforma‐


tion. The eyes were artificial, she had chosen the colour herself. Technicians wired them onto the same connections of her optic nerves that they had used in implanting the chameleon’s biomechanical ones. They also wiped clean the memories of residual files contained in her Phantom bioram units implanted inside her skull, leaving connections to neural receptors in her brain which could augment her functionality in reinventing herself. Returning to the tower, she began a new life under a new identity. Her innate intelligence, augmented by her enhanced memory, made her ideally suited to the task of coding script which controlled robotic manufacturing processes. Initially, the familiar cycle of waking in her apartment, reporting to the office, compiling instruction sets for twelve hours each day, then returning home had become a pleasant routine. This life offered her the safety and comfort which came as a welcome change to the fear and uncertainty of her field-work as an agent. Soon she had arranged for a mate, and later, a child was processed for her. It seemed that her new life was now complete. Yet, soon things changed. The older man assigned as her mate, who at first seemed charming, gradually became increasingly cruel and violent. The man drank heavily, claiming that it dulled anxiety caused by the constant pressure of his responsi‐ bility as a top-level sales manager who arranged for world-wide distribution of the corporation’s manufactured products. Drunkenly, he would roughly molest her during the scheduled periods when their time was spent together. He was impotent, unable to perform sexually, but he cruelly abused her delicate skin with his fingers. This man’s downfall came as a result of his affliction for talking in his sleep. Gradually, she had been able to piece together the uttered fragments, obtaining the understanding that he was in the process of creating a substantial black market empire, as a sideline to his official obligations. She reported the details to the authori‐ ties, then later, apparently one night while he slept, a patrol had caused his ‘disap‐ pearance’ from the tower. All records of his existence vanished from the databases. It was as if he never existed; leaving her with the sensation that the recent events of her life had just been a bad dream. An even greater unhappiness in her life was caused by the infrequent access she had to her son. The regimented structure of corporate lifestyle allowed her to only spend brief weekly visits with her child. The technicians had done a wonderful job creating him. They had merged her DNA ~ which contained lingering chameleon characteristics ~ with the genetic structure of an anonymous donor, based on the needs of the corporation. She had tried to dissuade them from adapting the child to the purpose they had selected for him, but the family planner was insistent, basing her determination on instructions received from the authorities. The boy, who she named Ariel, had been designed to become a future Flex Global Security agent when he attained the age of employment ~ The infant had been altered with modular compo‐ nents of bioram integrated within the organic structure of his brain; which would increase in capacity as he matured.


As her dissatisfaction with tower life reached the threshold of endurance, Camellia applied for a transfer to work in the private sector. Her request was granted; she was free to go, but unfortunately her child was required to stay. She then formulated a plan with the help of an old friend. The instinctual deviousness she cultivated during her experience as an agent had not been dulled completely by the banality of her new existence. She left the tower amicably, but once outside, she quickly regained contact with her loyal acquaintance she had originally met during her espionage work. Working together again ~ and for the final time ~ Yuri managed to physically infiltrate the tower to abduct her child; escaping with her son hidden inside a sanitation truck, while one of the ro@ches named ‘Bughead’ accessed databanks to erase all official records of the child’s existence. Errors in data happen all the time, and are impossible to verify. In the meantime, Camellia hid anxiously in the dark shadows of an abandoned residential building awaiting the arranged rendezvous with Yuri... She already transferred credits to his account; a payment to compensate the risk of the operation... She had never before experienced a sense of joy as she had that moment when she finally saw her son again. Yet, since that day, she has lived with the fear that agents of authority will seek her out; that they are lurking in the shadows, that they would come to snoop around. Perhaps they would send another chameleon to place her under observation; to determine what really happened to her son. The new chameleons implemented vastly-improved technology compared to the procedures technicians used for her early testing ~ Subsequently, during the first two years of Ariel’s life she had not taken him from the apartment. She was fortunate to be able to work from home, which enabled her to care for, and raise her child. As time passed, she became more confident that the authorities would no longer track her. Now, whenever she completed her duties, her most enjoyable experiences occurred when, as mother and child they could go out to explore the world together. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. She quickly moved the child into the bedroom, and told him to lie quietly, and not to make a sound. She opened the door with some trepidation, and was pleasantly surprised to see who it was. She was nervous and excited. As they talked quietly she sensed that he was someone she could trust. Impulsively she decided to make a move. She felt an aching desire to be loved. She slipped special herbs into the tea she made, hoping it would get a reaction from him. The magical qualities of the herbs didn’t work on anyone unless they supplied the necessary active ingredient themselves: passion. The power of the herb was its ability to unlock the passion that was existing; contained beneath the surface. She knew he loved her when she read his eyes, and later felt the gentleness of his touch. She knew that he was a good man, because she remembered the ‘vibrations’ she detected from him when she had observed him many years ago.


Camellia could still feel her body trembling from the experience of their love as she made supper for her son. She had never been touched by the sensation that her spirit had bonded so completely with anyone before. For the first time she had experienced the ultimate release which quenched her desire. She felt that she finally experienced what it felt like to be loved as a woman. Her son could sense the change in her as well. He could sense her joy, and it made him happy too. As she tucked him into bed he said: “Mommy tell me about Ariel riding on the back of the bat again.”

X.

Silent night. The first snow is quickly swirling to ground. Enormous snowflakes, like white spiders, plummet from the sky; smashing into the concrete, then dissolving with a gentle trace of moisture, the only sign of their impact. Yuri is on a recognizance mission into the furthest reaches of reality. Ground zero. Tonight, since he is exploring new terrain and uncertain what he might encounter, he has donned the life-sustaining survival suit he usually reserves for navigating the restrictive, corrosive environment of the tower’s sewer system. His enhancements are on full alert. The tight black rubber suit encases his entire body, providing insulation against the natural elements of weather conditions, and the unnatural ones of manmade pollutants. The suit is completely sealed, the zipper running up his back ends in a knot of thin frayed pull-cords which hang down behind his neck like a samurai ponytail, making it easier to grasp and undo the suit through the thickness of his rubber gloves. Various large pockets are located over the suit, and separate enclo‐ sures on his utility belt carry the tools of his trade. The filter assembly he wears over his mouth can be connected to small air tanks, although tonight he just uses the filter to clean the regular environmental air he is breathing, and cut through the smell of the zone. Yuri carries a slim computer; wires run under the skin of his suit to his visual display. On top of his head are the tiny horns of black rubber antennas, enhancing the ambient signal sent to his headphones. The suit makes him invisible in the shadows of night, except for the dull red glow, like the eyes of a predator, that emanate from the front of his night-vision goggles. The vision allows him to make his way over rubble in the accursed darkness. He is a long way off the beaten path. The main arteries which connect the central core to the neighbouring residential areas are far behind him now. He is into the wilds of the wasteland; a no-man’s land that is like a battlefield along the


front lines of a war zone. This is an area in transition, between the old and the new; in the heart of a city that has been known by many names. Tonight he is exploring a myth, chasing down a nightmare which denizens living here in the wasteland have often told him about. The mission he has chosen for himself is to verify the existence of a monstrous creature; which they call ‘The Dark Messiah’ ~ ‘The Beast’ ~ Yuri has been traveling through the zone for many years. He has become familiar with some of the life-forms, although he didn’t see them often. Noone stayed in one location very long in this region which had no true name. He has learned some of the customs; he has learned to communicate and he has learned how to avoid danger. He has gained the trust of ‘nightcrawlers’ by plying them with candy bars. During ensuing conversations they told him what they could about this land. They had been difficult to understand; although they spoke his native tongue, the language had evolved in ways which made it difficult to entirely grasp the meaning of their words. Many concepts of which they spoke were simply incomprehensible to him because they were unfamiliar. ‘Why was he here?’ they would always ask; incredulous that someone would actually choose to enter this world. He would shrug his shoulders; a gesture they understood. It would be impossible to explain that innate curiosity challenged him to place his body into situations and environments that others were unable or unwilling to explore. Yuri had become a master of the physical hack. The safe sterilized experi‐ ence of virtual reality never appealed to him. It was too precise, too defined, even with the seemingly-unlimited random variations that could be generated by the central processor of the machine. He loved the sensation of hard, solid reality under his feet. He loved the rush he got from placing himself in physical danger, then getting out alive. It was a rush, he found, that could not be obtained any other way. The danger of hacking towers had initially presented an almost insurmountable challenge, but now, in many ways it had taken on the routine repetition of becoming his ‘job’. Traveling through the wasteland, though, on his way to work, offered glimpses of a fascinating, and terrifying new world. This reality attracted him as though it were an exotic distant land. Yet, it was just over the borderline from the safety of his ‘home’. This was death's other kingdom, a world few from the outside had ever seen with direct eyes. Sanitation workers dressed in containment suits traveled through the area, as did heavily-armored transport vehicles during the light of day. Construction crews building new factories, demolition crews extracting resources from ancient disposal sites, and occasional forays by expedition teams from corporations like TGI; searching for specimens to capture for use in genetic experiments. Yet now, there is not light. In the intense darkness this world comes to life. Under faded stars, the creatures awaken from sleep. They crawl from under the rubble, out from narrow cracks in broken concrete, where they have hid themselves covered with whatever discarded material they could find. They emerge to warm themselves beside


small fires and prepare for the long night ahead. These are the mutants. A hierarchy exists here too; like a perverse, pale imitation of the outside world. The most powerful operators have claimed the highest ground; the abandoned remnants of buildings of the former city. Each building contains its own society, which are called ‘families’. In the upper reaches of the buildings are the ‘Lords’. The name does not signify gender, these creatures, the most powerful of the territories population, span the full spectrum of range between female, neutral and male. The lower levels are guarded by ‘protectors’; various types of monstrous sentries, who also hunt to feed their families. These creatures can be very large. Yuri once observed one he estimated to be almost five meters tall. The creature was humanoid in form, with the exception of his face, which had a large protruding jaw, and sharp angular features that reminded Yuri of a dinosaur. This creature was extremely thin, with muscles like ropes strapped to his skeleton with tight, coarse, scaly brown skin. His clothing consisted of wrapping portions of his body in a variety of coloured plastic sheets which somehow had been fastened together. He carried a weapon; a long piece of heavy steel reinforcement bar that had been fashioned into a point at one end like a spear. He moved silently, with an agility and grace that frightened Yuri, and kept him ever-watchful whenever he ventured into the zone. Yuri always traveled unplugged through the territory. He rarely wired himself with any communication. It gave him the freedom of self-reliance; knowing he was on his own. If he got into trouble, no-one would be able to help him anyway. He kept his senses keen and alert. The more time he spent in the zone, the more he had adapted to the lifestyle. He wanted to learn what it was like to become one of them; to learn how to survive in this domain, to be able to master this environment. Yuri approaches one of the fires, then waits in the darkness. The denizens are cooking some type of meat, perhaps a dog, over a small fire. They often nervously glance over their shoulder, and occasionally sniff the air for danger. One of them, a dwarf-like man, with short stumps for arms, glances in his direction just as Yuri crouches behind a large concrete block. His long, pointy, hairy ears twitch as though he has sensed something, but soon he returns to his meal. He is being fed by a toothless woman whose skin is covered by lesions and open sores over a large portion of her body. Her dark hair is long and thickly matted. Soon others join this ‘family society’; crawling or staggering toward the light of the fire in the dreadful night. Lost souls; mentally or physically damaged from industrial accidents, genetic experiments, or birth defects. Among this group are a number of children. Their bodies are emaciated from a diet of maggots, flies, worms, weeds, and small rodents they manage to capture. Typical of the zone, their bodies are wrapped in sheets of dirty plastic like Egyptian mummies. Some have patches of smooth scalp, encrusted with scabs showing through thin hair. Images of their faces are imprinted in Yuri’s mind; faces that are blank and expressionless, like masks, or the faded face of a toy. Faces displaying neither hope nor fear, nor sadness nor joy. Seeing the beauty in


their delicate features often brought tears to his eyes. He felt great empathy toward them, but their situation was hopeless; there seemed to be nothing he could do to help them on his own. Except for one small thing. Slowly and quietly he peeled back velcro flaps. Opening his backpack, he withdrew a small package, then quickly heaved it toward the group standing around the fire. The projectile carried a couple of pounds of prepackaged food items and candy bars, wrapped in several layers of newspaper, that he had smuggled through the heavilyfortified containment area separating the wasteland from the residential zone. These food items were like currency that he frequently used to buy himself out of any type of trouble he found himself in. The package landed within the radius of light cast by the glow of the fire. The sudden thump of the package hitting the ground instantly alerted them to the potential of danger; which had caught them off guard. Instinctively they reached for a nearby piece of metal, or chunk of concrete, to use as a weapon to defend themselves; they were aware of their position in the food chain. For a few moments they waited, weapons at the ready, peering into the darkness surrounding them. Sensing that no predators were in the vicinity, they resumed their activity. The bravest of the group, a thin, pale hollow man, cautiously approached the package. He gingerly kicked it; prodding it with the toe of his plastic-wrapped foot. Others gathered around, and soon summoned the courage to break open the package ~ This moment; when children discover brightly-wrapped treasures, was the only time Yuri had ever seen them smile. Adults showed a great deal of affection for their children, and always made sure they were the first to eat whatever food was acquired. Yuri observed that adults would only eat a small portion of food from the package, before creating a cache to hide the remainder for later. Yuri admired their ability to survive under the adverse circum‐ stances of their lives. He appreciated that these survivors depended on intelligence and imagination to adapt to their environment, and that their survival as a species depended on transmitting that acquired knowledge from generation to generation. The children were much more adaptable than their parents. Although many were born with inherited genetic defects, they seemed much more resourceful in understanding which elements obtained from their surroundings would benefit them or cause them harm. These children reminded Yuri of ‘changelings’ from ancient folk tales. In those days, children born with physical deformities, or who were mentally challenged, were considered to be ‘unnatural’, and often put to death. Common folk were not aware of the causes of these conditions. They preferred to believe that evil demons who lived beneath the earth, and who wanted to have beautiful human children, would steal newborns, to leave their own malformed children in their place. These people believed that a changeling child was only a piece of flesh; because it had no soul ~ Yuri was deep in the land where the changelings were born. These are the mutants; the abominations society fears, and therefore refuses to acknowledge they exist.


In the beginning, there was genetic manipulation. Technology and processes had evolved to enable science to create perfection in an otherwise imperfect world. Everyone and their lab got swept up by speculation. As big money poured in, and the hype was generated through the media; anyone with access to fairly rudimentary lab equipment tried their hand at adjusting the biological structures found in nature. Technicians often discovered their reach exceeded their grasp. Their procedures involved long periods of trial and error in attempting to achieve specific results. Meanwhile, their investors demand for an immediate return on their capital caused many labs to lose patience with working out the math for crafting complex organisms within a computer simulation. It was easier to pour stuff into a test tube, slosh it around, and see what came out. The uncontrolled excitement of experimenting with the code, coupled with the desire to design better, new improved marvels, initially resulted in producing an incredible array of impossible monsters. These errors needed to be erased. They were disposed of in a variety of ways; many live organisms were flushed directly through the outlet pipe into the Never River, some were used for landfill, others managed to escape, or were accidentally or purposefully released into the wild. Many of the experimental creations had been kept captive for several years to study their behavior, or for use in further experimentation... Victims of x-rays and other ionizing radiation that had broken apart their biological molecules... None of the scientists expected discarded castaways to survive, much less be able to reproduce. Yet they did! Some refugees from the Industrial Zone originally migrated into the core after construction of the towers. They came seeking asylum in the land of perpetual night; shielded from the sun by shadows cast from solar panels high overhead. The homeless, and others society considered to be unacceptable had come here to escape the patrols of the FSB. They had found a place to call home, a place to be among their own kind. Here the nightcrawlers were protected from the outside world, but they had to learn to protect themselves from each other. The ones that did, were able to survive, and as a result were able to reproduce their own forms of life through procreation. These thoughts occur to Yuri as he moves through a crumbling archway and into the remnants of a large courtyard that was built centuries before. He has learned to move silently. He is dressed entirely in a black skin-tight rubberized suit. Night-vision goggles and small antennas protruding from his headphones increase his perceptual senses. The slim computer in his pocket is attached to his heads-up visual display, presenting him with a map that enables him to navigate the territory. Strapped to his leg is a sharp knife. He carries a small ray-gun on his utility belt for protection. He has only needed to use it to defend himself from large predatory cats, and the small viscous dogs that sometime attack him. Larger creatures and humans will usually move away when he encounters them; they seem to be frightened by his appearance. That’s good, because he’s often more afraid of them.


Around the corner, a dense spider web extends across his path. He pushes through its ethereal form, which clings to his body, dissolving onto the texture of black rubber covering his arms. A number of large brown spiders, which have a luminescent silver stripe down their backs, scurry away toward the corners. Their bodies are the size of golf balls. Yuri has learned that denizens use these webs to bandage and treat their wounds. He continues on, moving along a corridor lined on both sides by rooms which have no ceiling. Along the way he notices cryptic markings smeared onto the walls. He has seen them throughout the land. They seem to be signs to others entering the area, that it is a safe place to sleep, or warning of danger, and so on. The doors have long since disappeared from the entranceways. The rooms are empty, completely stripped of every object. Others contain fragments of bones, shards of broken glass, small piles of excrement, or bare wires hanging from receptacles on the walls. In some rooms he will catch a glimpse at the peripheral of his vision of long thin tails of small scampering white rats disappearing into holes that have been gnawed into the plaster. Yuri checks his position on his display. The coloured lines of the map are superim‐ posed over his vision, the current time is displayed in the upper right corner ~ Yuri, in preparing for the quest, had downloaded the most recent maps from satellite images to his onboard computer, enabling him to find his way around the terrain without much difficulty. It was not far now, he was almost there. The Dark Lord was locked under‐ ground in a ‘demon box’; a metal room with walls of thick plate steel. It was Yuri’s understanding that its cage was located in the basement of an abandoned prison that had been demolished many years previously. Legend has it that water nymphs first discovered the creature floating in the Never River. The tiny nymphs, who stand about three feet tall, have the body of a human female, the head of a fish and webbing between their fingers and toes. A number of them got together to rescue the creature from drowning; dragging its nearly-lifeless body onto the riverbank. At the time, the creature was quite small, but it had a powerful compact hairless black body, and long fearsome teeth and claws. After it was rescued, it quickly grew in size; becoming so terrifying and dangerous that the denizens soon began to fear its awesome destructive powers. They constructed a cage. Built gates containing the evil power. Locking it permanently underground where it could do no harm. The beast was ultimately raised, and cared for, by the ‘angels of the night’ who were the only ones who could provide the nourishment it needed to survive. It is said to be immortal. It is also said, the monster, while remaining sequestered, will continuously gain strength in its confinement underground, until the time when the evil of tyranny and the plague of wickedness caused by the machinations of human folly become the dominant forces in the world. At that time, the beast will be released, bringing an end to human suffering by causing destruction to all mankind. Exiting the gutted shell of a building, Yuri moves onto what had once been a street. Here he finds he has emerged into the deepest recesses of night’s underworld. In this Wagnerian landscape, the only thing living is the craving of desire, the only redemp‐ tion is a sleep that never ends. He scans the scene by slowly rotating his head. He


detects movement at the crossroads in the distant darkness. The subtle glow of iridescent markings pattern the ragged metallic skin of two phantasms who crouch over another shape lying immobile upon the ground. He zooms in. Horrified, he watches them eat raw meat of a recently killed humanoid. In the cool evening air, steam rises from the body. Midnight, snow continues to fall, heavier now, beginning to cover the ground with a thin veil. Overhead, lights twinkle high above in the towers, beyond them, the pale light of distant stars and a moon that is divided in half. Gradually, with his enhanced hearing, he becomes aware of the flapping sound of large wings somewhere above him. He draws back into the shadow of a nearby wall as a trio of nocturnal emissaries swoop low over the predators near the carcass. In surprise and fear they flee. The dark angels land gracefully, setting on the ground near the body. They fold their wings on their backs. For a few moments they remain as motionless as statues in the falling snow. Nearby, Yuri notices, is the burned-out structure of an abandoned church. On the rusted patina of the bell tower is mounted an old rugged cross ~ Higher above; the comet! Yuri is surprised by what he is seeing. These are vapirs! These creatures are generally human in form, approximately six feet tall, with a wingspan equal to their height. Their powerful bodies, squared by broad shoulders, and supported by muscu‐ lar legs are entirely covered by thick dark fur. Black leathery skin is stretched between the framework structure of their wings. Yuri could clearly observe from their exposed genitals that the group consisted of a female and two males; the female having pointy black teats, while the males had long thin penises that looked like rope. He zooms in on their faces, observing tiny eyes with triangular irises, broad noses with nostrils on the front, and thin lips from which occasionally emerges a long black tongue. The three kneel, and in unison lift the small body; supporting it with their arms, they sink their long metal fangs, tapered like hypodermic needles, into its flesh. The unreality of the scene playing itself out before him, causes Yuri for a moment, to wonder if in actuality he is sleepwalking through the middle of an intense nightmare. Perhaps soon he will awaken to find himself safe and sound, somewhere far away ~ Well-insulated from the cold by the thickness of his suit, he still finds himself shivering. Yet it is a shiver of excitement rather than fear. It is difficult to believe what he was seeing; he hadn’t expected the stories could be true... He often heard tales about ‘dark angels’ from denizens in the wasteland. Most were reluctant to discuss the topic; withdrawing into an uneasy silence, until he had encouraged them to speak by bribing them with food. Their hunger was always greater than their fear. Gradually, Yuri managed to piece together the story based on frag‐ ments of information he had been told, then filling-in gaps by extrapolating the data ~ He found that denizens were unable to articulate complex concepts because of their limited vocabulary.


Yuri understood that vapirs were, for some reason, beholden to raising the monster locked within the iron box. The monster derived its sole source of nourishment from the ‘energy force’ of living creatures. Since it was locked inside the box, it used the vapirs to collect the energy for it. The vapirs withdrew ‘life energy’ from victims they discov‐ ered, and stored it in a similar manner to the way batteries store electricity. Further‐ more, they were able to function like power stations, generating an amplified output that was greater than the energy absorbed. They would return to the beast regularly, who, being a hermaphrodite, would then siphon off the energy through the vapir’s sexual organs, leaving them drained and hungry. While storing the energy, vapirs were able to wield their power in ways that were beneficial or destructive to other creatures in the wasteland ~ They were able to use their powers to heal the injured, or to damage their enemies. Nightcrawlers lived in fear of this tremendous power. As a token of their respect, and as a symbol of subjuga‐ tion, certain leaders among the denizens would arrange a gathering on the occasion of a full moon. This celebration was centered around the offering of a human sacrifice to the vapirs. According to legends, a great many of the winged creatures would attend the event, since their population was continually increasing. Vapirs required a mature adult, male or female (it didn’t seem to matter), who was in reasonably good health. The victim chosen, or volunteering, sacrificed their bodily fluids to allow their ‘family’ to exist for the upcoming month free from harm. The one to be sacrificed was prepared by their family and friends, who brought them food and other things which would enable them to be strong enough to survive the ceremony. The vapirs did not attempt to kill their victim; since a parasite which kills its host tends to be inefficient. In fact, denizens reported they had never actually seen them kill anything. When observed drinking blood; it had been the blood of the carnage of fresh kills that the flesh-eating diggers had left in the street. To provide them with the ability to magnify the power of their stored energy, the vapirs were drawn to concentrated sources of life force, such as blood and semen. During the ceremony, the vapirs used ritualistic techniques to create a heightened state of arousal in their victim, generating a combination of sexual ecstasy and mortal fear. The trauma induced in the victim’s triggered code sequences of genes inherent in their primal ‘reptilian’ brain which prepared the victim’s body to fight or take flight. As they are unable to do either, the stimulated thalamus, thyroid, and endocrinal glands, produce massive qualities of seretonins, adrenaline and endocrine which then accumulate in increasing quantities in the hemoglobin of their bloodstream. The climax of the orgy was the sacrifice of blood from the victim at the point of orgasm. The vapirs gathered around, taking turns drawing the vital substance by sucking it out of the victim’s feet. The chemicals in the blood gave them the euphoria of intoxication. Archangels do not draw their energy from the denizens of the wasteland, unless they are required by necessity. They prefer to seek out victims that are healthy, vibrant, and strong. It is said these wraiths leave the region, traveling to and from the residen‐ tial zones under cover of night, when the dragonflies are no longer on patrol. During


the day, shielded by clothing which protects them from the sun, they are able to change their shape, and have the ability to assume any form. They may even become invisible like a cloud of mist, or take possession of a human’s body for a brief period of time. They don’t have the ability to turn others into vampires, but they are able to produce progeny of their own. In the residential zone, vapirs seek out victims who radiate intense energy. It doesn’t matter if the source is positive or negative, good or evil, but they do prefer energy which is pure. The purest form comes from engaging in sexual intercourse with humans or large animals. But they get their supply in other ways as well; they draw energy from plant forms, by consuming vegetables and fruit, and at night they may sometimes enter the rooms of children, stealing the energy generated by their dreams while they sleep. Using their new body forms they maneuver close to people in power, leaving their victims feeling inexplicably drained after the encounter. When they have managed to acquire a sufficient supply of energy, they wait for darkness to fall before flying back home to feed their ‘master’. Yuri watched the angels in the snow with morbid fascination; like an onlooker at the scene of an accident. He stared through his goggles transfixed as the vapirs withdrew a quantity of blood through their metallic fangs. He remained perfectly still; quieting his breathing so as not to attract their attention. When they were satisfied, they gently lowered the lifeless body to the ground, leaving it where they had found it. Then, extending their wings, and springing upward with a small leap, they took flight, off into the darkness. He watched as their shapes moved across the sky, tracking them over the borderline where they disappeared into the low clouds lit by the distant glow of the residential zone. He felt tired ~ Yuri realized he had been standing for quite some time. As he sat down, chunks of stuffing squeezed out of rips in the upholstery of an old padded armchair. He sat in silence now; his eyes moved from face to face around him, observing the reaction of the others. The ro@ches enjoyed the tales of his expeditions into the zone, but he could tell no-one was ever sure if his stories were true. “Then what happened?” asked Bug Head. “Then I made my way back out. That’s the end of the story,” Yuri replied. There were a few moments of silence, broken only by the sound of Mrs. Zero, who was humming along quietly to her internal soundtrack; bopping her head to the rhythm ~ one octave range. Akdov was absorbed in prying components off a motherboard with a small screwdriver; he hadn’t bothered to pay attention to the story. “The monster?” Count Doom enquires with a sigh of exasperation. All the faces in the room turn toward him; listening attentively.


Yuri leans forward in the chair with an intense expression; “Look, when I went out there, I didn’t believe this shit either. I’ve seen a lot of things in the zone, because I’ve been moving through there for a long time.” He pauses for a moment to collect his thoughts. “Maybe I thought I’d seen it all, and that’s why I wanted to go deeper... but once I saw the angels, I knew I’d entered the gates of hell. They are not myths. They are moving among us. They are as real as you or I... and since they are real, then you can believe that the demon is real... and I am not about to confront that. Something that powerful would suck the life out of a person in a moment... and just leave a handful of dust.” He rummages through the pockets of his coveralls ~ If they thought the gambler had been bluffing, he was about to play the ace. He withdraws a wafer-thin storage chip and tosses it towards CD. “I know you are always the skeptic, chrome boy, that’s why I brought you this.” CD cradles the catch before it hits the dirt, cupping it in his hands. He looks up, then slightly raises one eyebrow. Yuri answers the silent question; “Video frames captured right off the eye display. It’s not the best resolution, a little grainy, but I think you’ll find my words are true when you drop this into your pad.” “What the fuck’s up?” asks Stone Weasel, who has just come down the fire escape.

XI.

The crumbling landscape of abandoned skyscrapers below is cast into total darkness. No fires are burning, the window frames are vacant. Twilight still lingers on the distant horizon as the first stars begin to shine. Dragonflies and drones make their way across the sky, back to their bases for the night. The executives are seated around a large table in the boardroom of NanoTech International; formerly known as Atomic Technology Industries. The office of NTI is located high in a tower in the central core, far above the scene of devastation. They await the chair of the meeting to join them. Clockwise, from the vacant chair at the head of the table, were seated the noted political leader, Jerry Mander, Lisa Pendens the lawyer, Rosetta Stone the news


media producer, Sam Harriton of Pisces (the corporate executive who provided funding for the operation), General Khaos of the military, David Ends of Diligent Accounting Services, and Dr. Crane, the scientist who had developed the fleas and plague bacterium. Everyone has dark circles beneath their eyes. “This has been a public relations nightmare,” says Rosetta, shaking her head. “It’s up to you to keep a handle on the media. Who authorized sending a reporter into the containment area?” asked the politician. “A guy named Dahl, at the news station on Channel 22.” “What’s worse is that these ro@ches are getting on-line and who knows what they will broadcasting next. They seem to be everywhere,” piped in Sam. “Our engineers are working on the problem of blocking their signals. The pirates are actually working in our favor. They are creating more confusion around the situation which will allow our team to do some major plumbing work to channel the flood and filter it through containment. Right now we are just monitoring the storm, and seeing which way the wind blows.” “What are you talking about? Ro@ches references to an omnipresent force that is an embodiment of our conscious thought and flowing through the network, is gaining credence in the public.” “People always put their faith in powerful unknown forces, when they are unable to find any other rational explanation for the events occurring around them,” Rosetta sharply replied. “The corporations are supposed to provide that to the citizens, not some virtual entity that is a figment of their imagination. The masses are ignorant; left to their own devices they will always wrap their limited knowledge in folklore and superstition.” “One death by crucifixion remains important after 2000 years. Maybe they have every right to. This is not what I had been led to believe would happen. This wasn’t how I thought it would be. This whole operation has been totally mismanaged, and poorly conceived. I took you at your word gentlemen,” Sam directed his comments towards the scientist and the general. “You insinuated this would be clean, quick, and effective. Instead, what we have beneath our feet is an awful mess. I want your assurances today that the situation is under control, contained, and that there will be no further problems.” General Ashkent Khaos was a former secret-service man. The scar was still visible beneath his ear; a thin line etched into his ruddy complexion at the top of his thick muscular neck. He spoke with a pronounced European accent, “Only Authorized convoys, under military supervision are allowed to enter or exit the core. The entire perimeter is secure.”


Enormous inflatable tents set up along the border had been quite noticeable to citizens; although camouflaged in broken shades of grey and green. Each tent served as the encampment of human commanders, and the machine-men, referred to as zombies (even within the military). For a few moments it was quiet. They could hear the room breathing from the air circulation system. Sam Harriton leaned forward to peer intently at the screen of his notebook computer on the table in front of him. He appears serenely calm; his rugged masculine features are reminiscent of a bird of prey. The angularity of the strong lines of his square jaw and sharp nose are softened by the paleness of his skin, and the glow of his perfectly white hair. He spoke calmly, “Shareholders seem to be getting nervous about the situation.” He glanced at his accountant, who nodded in agreement. “We do not want to be portrayed in the media as mass-murderers who have launched a deadly virus which has destroyed a large portion of the population. The public don’t seem to care if they are mutants. There are plenty of bleeding hearts out there that claim to value all forms of life; whether they are animal, mineral, or vegetable. If they start to raise an uproar, they can be relentless, as you all know.” Investment markets fluctuate all the time. The perceived need for products and the equity tied-up by the flow of capital from investors effect the trends. Corporate reality and virtual reality merge with each other; liquid digital credit accounts flow and roll over, fluctuate and maintain the balance that is agreed upon by the big players and financial institutions. Capitalism; once something starts to make money, everyone wants to get involved. Networks of small corporations are eventually brought into larger corporate families. These corporations demonstrate their loyalty and ethics by maintaining a similar operating philosophy to attract the attention of global conglomer‐ ates. Corporate democracy means shareholders are able to vote on the direction corporations take in making decisions. Rarely, although possible, shareholders could band together to vote down the board of directors. A clean revolution. The leaders would step aside; in exchange they would be rewarded with a severance package, given a trophy job, or sent to retirement on some tropical island somewhere. Yet, in extreme cases, they too could become the victims of a fall from grace... Sam was sweating bullets. “We have our spin doctors working on it. And the ‘plumbers’ are regulating the flow of information to the media,” Rosetta calmly claimed. “The main thing is not to pinpoint the blame on any one corporation, or on the Authorities. As long as the target is broad it will be defensible. If we start pointing fingers at each other, we are all going to come under fire,” added the lawyer.


Ms. Pendens was referring to technological anarchists who were becoming masters of the networks; feeding like parasites on the engorged immobile accumulations of corporate data. Databases were reaching critical mass. Securing them meant imple‐ menting more complex password and encryption schemes or staffing a larger number of digital security agents. With their massive size and high security, these databases became more difficult for authorized users to access, and became more difficult to ensure that errors had not crept in to corrupt the database. Intruders were a constant presence. Yet, they only seemed to cause harm whenev‐ er they were provoked. When they became angry at a specific target, they would swarm like angry wasps; physically and digitally attacking systems. They could become very difficult to control. Intruders had an inflated sense of their own power. They would enter systems, plant disinformation, scramble stuff or attempt to crash the internal network. Some of the damage was caused by people working on the inside; they had their own motives for crippling the system; a perceived sense of ecological danger to the planet, an affinity to hackers with utopian desires, demands and fantasies, or an innate personal inquiry, within the deepest fibre of their being, about who they feel ‘owns and controls the future?’ Ro@ches shared their knowledge of tactics and techniques, contacts and pass‐ words through both organized and informal networks. Their motives covered as broad a spectrum as their personality types; everything from highly-skilled ethical profession‐ als to insane radicals who seemed to cause disruptions in order to call attention to themselves. Information warfare even worked in favor of corporations; in which social-media citizens often attacked rival corporations on their behalf with vigilante zeal. A certain corporation could spread malicious rumors about a rival ~ That they were killing babies! ~ Soon the rival would be inundated by bombers and graffiti crusaders. It was dirty, and unethical, but occasionally it was an effective tactic to permanently gain the upper hand on a competitor. The Authorities could take action on behalf of the victim, and even order the victor to pay restitution. But the process was usually drawn-out, and long before the matter was settled the damage had already been done ~ The victim corporation would decline, and were often purchased by the survivor. Censored thoughts were shocked by the pirates, who had the media skills to convincingly reverse the message, and make the truth seem more plausible to consumers than media lies. If the situation favored a corporation to declare that green was red, the pirates would return with a message that no, green was green. Corpora‐ tions would counter the pirates by returning to the media with a vengeance, announc‐ ing in a blitz campaign that the pirates were wrong, the truth was that red is red. One set of messages seemed to erase the previous messages implanted in the minds of the viewers. They knew today that ‘red is red’; it didn’t matter whether tomorrow it was blue. They were just products. The citizens had plenty of other problems to concern themselves with.


Executives sat along their boardroom table trying to hatch a scheme. Those assembled were the best-equipped to deal with the situation. They were skilled at introducing new products to a world market without worrying about regional impacts or social consequences. They had risen to their station in life partially due to their ability to manipulate the masses ~ Citizens have become passive consumers of life rather than active participants. Consumption has defined their identity. They are not aware of their own ability to organize or participate in any movement ~ These executives faced the dilemma of trying to convince the public that the Massive Infection Virus [MIV], aka ‘the plague’, had been implemented by a radical group called ro@ches, in their effort to perpetuate a state of ‘terrorism’ within the core. Meanwhile, in a plan conceived with deliberate calculation, corporate interests ensured media broadcasters created the perception in the ‘public eye’ that their distribution of vaccines and medications were at the vanguard of an effort to control the epidemic, and help save lives; at the same time, absolving themselves from any connection to the incident. Corporations are accustomed to shroud their research and strategy in secrecy. It goes without saying that the true source of ‘the incident’ will always remain unspoken. Knowledge of this meeting will never leave the room. There is too much at stake for everyone present to have this information become public knowledge. “Sorry to have kept you waiting.” All heads turn toward the doorway at the sound of the voice. The executive vice president of NanoTech International strolls into the room, then directly toward the chair at the head of the table. Jerry Mander rises quickly from his own place at the table, extending his right arm abruptly perpendicular to his body, the search for a handshake; the coupling in which participants derive a code through the direct contact of skin surfaces on the palm of their hands. Her hand feels small and delicate like a real flower. Avihs Krowten is fifteen years old. She has been with the corporation since birth; appointed to the position of vice president at the suggestion of her mother, Angelica Krowten, who now prefers to spend most of her time in ‘spirit form’ ~ Virtually traveling to meetings around the world, rather than being confined to her office. The technology which enables her telepresence to manifest itself is proprietary to NanoTech; a highlyconfidential trade secret. Avihs was designed to replace her mother as leader of the corporation when Angelica deems the occasion to be appropriate. At the moment, Avihs is fully in charge of running the day-to-day affairs. Since birth, the young girl’s biocomputer was continually updated with all pertinent information needed for successful operation of the organization. She is programmed with an extensive knowledge of science, technology, culture and art as well ~ Biocomputers are rapidly becoming common‐ place among children of executives in the towers. Their onboard DNA computers can simultaneously process billions of computations in a massively-parallel process. Unlike external hardware, the use of biocomputers requires visualization, and a


focused mind. Many of the new executives were in their mid to late teens ~ The global thrust seemed to be the desire to create a superhuman master race; ignoring the object lessons of history. Quite tall for her age, Avihs is stunningly beautiful. Her features are well-defined and pleasantly proportioned. Her dark auburn hair is straight and gleaming, flowing past her shoulders. Today she is wearing a plain yellow dress with a thin white collar. Her figure is trim. She sits straight with perfect posture, her brown eyes are keen and alert. Her skin is smooth, unblemished, a soft, light brown colour. Her teeth are perfect and white. The technicians had done a fine job. In addition to genetic engineering, she has inherited many attributes from her mother, a powerful woman who people either regarded with admiration or suspicion. Many believed she had supernatural powers, which created a sense of awe or terror, depending on whether they were her ally or adversary. Sam noted her mother’s features which she also possessed. He recalled when Angelica had been that age; the resemblance was remarkable. Angelica had been the one consulted by the Harriton brothers. The operation had been Sam’s idea. His brother had tried to talk him out of it, but Sam was insistent. The other twin was not present at this meeting ~ Sam had become repulsed by seeing what he considered to be ‘a growing population of human debris’ whenever he looked out his office window. He contacted Angelica to brief her about his plan, and introduce her to a scientist named Dr. Crane, who he believed had discovered a reliable method of cleansing the core. To disinfect it... Subsequently meeting with members of Authority, the operation was eventually approved. When Avihs discovered what her mother had done she was very angry. She had only heard about it for the first time, on the night of the operation, when her mother had mentioned it casually in conversation. She had come as quickly as she could, flying to the corporate headquarters on a midnight flight, and arriving at the office late morning. She preferred not to use technology to telepresence for important meetings; believing it was more appropriate to meet with others in the physical form ~ Avihs had begun to notice that her mother’s spiritual existence was causing her to lose contact with reality. In private, Avihs occasionally called her mother’s decisions into question, yet publicly she supported her; as a faithful daughter should. Sitting straight, slightly away from the back of her chair, Avihs interlocked her fingers loosely on the table in front of her. Her face was calm and expressionless. The first order of business was to receive reports from those present around the table. “General Khaos. Would you please apprise us on the status of the situation,” her voice was quiet and pretty, as a young girl’s could be. The General seems awkward. He is the only person in the room who is unaware that the meeting would be chaired by a young girl. He rubbed the stubble on his big square jaw as he tried to think of what to say. His battered helmet rests on the polished


steel surface of the boardroom table. He absently flips the reflecting face plate up and down with his thick meaty hand. His face is noticeably red; but his coarse features remain poker-faced, belying any emotion. “As I mentioned before you arrived, my troops have secured the perimeter of the theater of operation; only Authorized convoys, under military supervision, are allowed to access the region. I would add, that our scouts have carried out recognizance mission through several sectors, and report a high body count. The survivors discov‐ ered were sick and suffering. ‘Zombie units’ were ordered to terminate them as a gesture of mercy.” “Gesture of mercy,” muses Rosetta Stone, barely audible. She keys the information into her notebook, “Act of love... no, too emotionally-charged.” She is preparing the next press release. Avihs nods calmly, awaiting the next piece of information. She reaches under the edge of the table. “Here is a map.” A clearboard city map appears in the center of the table. It begins as a shimmering blue light hovering on the surface, then renders in quickly, extruding up into a topological dimensional-model representing the core. The model is perhaps three meters across. The top of the tallest tower rises from the surface approximately 40 centimeters. The model is partially transparent; the image wavers in intensity, giving it a ghost-like appearance. The edge of the model is within reach. Fingertips twitching, everyone at the table seems to be resisting the urge to put their hand into the gentle blue glow. The model has a fragile crystal-like quality; as though sculpted of ice. The detail is exquisite, mapped from the latest orbit of a satellite. Some areas are extrapolated which are not visible from directly overhead, or displayed as blank regions on the model. The weather pattern of the past few hours swept over the landscape; the thin ethereal glow of video clouds flickered high above the model. The movement contin‐ ued to animate in time-lapse for a few revolutions, until she selected a switch under the table which locked the scene on one particular frame. “If you look carefully you can see the positions of bodies on the ground near the mounds of rubble blocking intersections,” observes Mr. Mander. The others spent several moments making observations of their own, pointing out familiar landmarks, or calling attention to items of interest they discovered. “Please continue General. Their is a pointer in the drawer in front of you, if you wish to illustrate your explanation.” The General slid open the drawer, and picked up a silver device about the size of a cigar tube, with several buttons along the side. He seemed uncertain what to do with it. “Just turn it on, and point it at the model to draw on its contours,” Avihs instructed patiently.


The General scribbled on the model with an invisible beam, leaving behind red glowing markings on the model’s surface. He described the positioning of his forces, and the routes that his scouts had used to advance into the core. The zombies, outfitted with survival systems, had not yet progressed very far along the river side. The General noted that a small fleet of rusted ancient warships had been stationed along the riverbank to reinforce that sector of the boundary. The best military technology available had been mobilized for the operation; but annual global expenditures have been dwindling rapidly over the past decade, as corporate power matured. The military had once been the most heavily-funded branch of most world governments, with hundreds of billions in funding allocated every year. Times had changed. Foreign countries that were once considered the enemy, were now trading partners, or had established headquarters for branch offices in the franchise of corporate chains. Besides, wars were bad for business, they kept killing potential customers ~ General Khaos had personally commanded a large force during operations in the Persian Gulf during the wars at the end of the century. He had been decorated in a ceremony which was commemorated with the inception of the ‘Monu‐ ment to a Hero’. The statue now lay broken and forgotten amongst the rubble of the core. Even though troops had to contend with obsolete or poorly-maintained equipment, there were still developments being made in civilian technological research laborato‐ ries which were adapted to military purposes. Zombie soldiers were programmed to explicitly follow orders through an external head-mounted computer. They were cloned in unit batches designated for specific purposes; deploying land mines, sniper assassins, border guards, convoy outriders, and so on. Units were identical in appearance. Their muscular bodies were fortified with a variety of lethal weapons, but there was no glow of life in their eyes. Their cool operating temperature provided a distinct advantage, enabling their heat seeking bullets to be highly effective against living targets. The General mentioned that the operation deployed a new technology being fieldtested for the first time. He referred to the weapon as ‘flying shrouds’, but could not provide specific details of the highly-classified devices, other than to reveal they were equipped with night-vision and powerful lasers. “Our main objective at this time is to deploy our forces to provide complete contain‐ ment of the region. Phase two will be to mobilize forces to dispose of rotting carcasses. Our preliminary findings are that the population of the region have much greater intelligence than initially indicated. Currently we have an insufficient number of spiders, (robotic units which are able to identify targets, and suffuse them with acid to dissolve all traces of organic material), and as a result, I am not prepared to provide an estimate for the duration of time our troops will need to search and destroy all bodies.”


“Thank you General, NTI will arrange to supply you with whatever you need to conduct the operation,” replied Avihs. “Dr. Crane, what can you tell us?” Avihs studies the expression on his face carefully. His large eyebrows are furrowed in consideration of what he is about to say. Dr. Crane is the specialist who has genetically engineered the fleas to the technical specifications of the proposed extermination program. He is an older, distinguished- looking man, with a rotund build, and thinning brown hair. His eyes look tired, and he seems slightly dazed from jet lag. He is the only other participant who has flown in, arriving from Seattle, USA, shortly before the meeting. Dr. Crane clears his throat, “The fleas seem to have performed as they had been expected to... uh... yes... To provide some general background; plague is caused by infection with Yersinia Pestis, a bacterium carried by rodents and transmitted by fleas. In this case, the fleas had already been infected with an enhanced version of the bacteria before they were released into the region. Fleas are parasites which feed on blood; transmitting plague bacteria into a living organism through the saliva injected into the puncture wound in order to stop the blood from coagulating. Fleas are able to detect their prey from motion, carbon dioxide emissions, or heat emanating from their bodies. We have created a particularly powerful strain of bacteria which delivers the bubonic form of plague. Symptoms of the disease include the sudden onset of fever, chills, severe headache, muscle aches, swelling in lymph nodes and nausea within hours of receiving a bite.” “Is the affliction painful doctor?” asked Avihs, in her innocent little girl voice. “Yes,” admitted Crane quietly. “The symptoms are accompanied by severe pain.” Crane clears his throat, “Ordinarily, a flea bites a rodent that is sick and swallows the disease. It is then able to pass the bacteria on to other rodents, thus providing a method for generating further occurrences of the infestation. We have taken the precaution of ensuring that all the fleas released were mature adults near the end of their life cycle, and have been designed to be unable to propagate by genetically removing the sexual organs of the male.” “Fleas reproduce through copulation,” the doctor added carefully, as though explaining the facts of life to the young girl, before continuing. “The plague bacillus kills the fleas and the rats that carry it as effectively as it kills humankind, reducing their life span to a period of only several days.” “Is the disease able to be transmitted by any other method?” she responds quietly. “It is possible to contract plague when cuts or other breaks in the skin come into direct contact with body fluids or tissues that are infected. In other circumstances bubonic plague will develop into pneumonic plague, which can be spread through respiratory droplets which the infected exhale. As the general has pointed out,


precautionary measures are being taken to destroy the corpses. The zombies have been prepared, over several months, with multiple doses of tetracycline which acts as a prophylactic antibiotic. In addition they are outfitted with protective clothing, against contamination by insect bites, or contact with body fluid.” Avihs notes the doctor is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the line of questioning, but she persists, “Is it not possible that some rodents, or birds could escape the area, or the existing fleas in the core could transmit the disease outside the region?” The doctor takes a deep breath. As he answers, she detects that his voice quavers slightly with emotion, as he seems to become aware of the gravity of the situation he has in part been responsible for. “Yes, it is a possibility, although I was assured that the regional population would be thoroughly inoculated before the infestation, and that a secure perimeter would be in effect to contain all life forms to the immediate area.” As the doctor begins to feel the heat, Sam Harriton jumps in to ease the situation. “SaniTech Foods has a product available which contains Streptomycin, which is an effective treatment for plague. Supplies are well stocked in the towers, and were made available to residential citizens through all regular retail outlets.” It is well-known to members around the table that SaniTech Foods is a subsidiary of Pisces; the corpora‐ tion in which he and his twin brother were executive officers. “The products are available slightly above cost, any profits are used solely to finance the military operation.” “I would like to mention,” adds Dr. Crane “That as a contingency, I have ordered a shipment of beetles which feed upon fleas, and are unable to transmit the disease to humans, unless, of course, they are consumed. We can airlift further shipments from our lab, if the need arises, once we have gauged their efficiency. I should also mention that various forms of mites also act as parasites for the flea, but I would again like to assure everyone present that the bacteria is highly effective, and that any living thing infected by the disease will not live long.” “That is reassuring doctor,” comments Avihs. “There is a proverb which says; ‘Do nothing hastily except catching fleas’.” Rosetta has been typing on her miniature keyboard, “Our public relations depart‐ ment can engineer a media campaign which will turn this in our favor. We can inform the public that the area has become contaminated with plague, and that residents should be advised not to enter the area under any circumstances.” “Yes, the best position is to state the obvious,” confirms the politician. “I agree with you Jerry,” Lisa Pendens says seductively. “And I would like to thank you again for clearing the operation with the Authorities. When Sam asked my advice on the matter, I immediately thought of you.” Lisa is Nanotech’s senior lawyer. She has


spent her entire career following Angelica, her fearless leader, as she inadvertently carved paths of destruction around the world. Lisa is continually involved in damage control; making sure she covers everyone’s ass with paperwork. And she is good at it. Rosetta continues, “General Khaos has assured us that the containment perimeter is secured. No-one gets in, and no-one gets out without appropriate clearance. The ones that do travel through the zone, will be regulated to predetermined routes, and outriders will ensure that vehicles keep moving and do not stop. This includes reporters, residential citizens, and particularly the roaches.” “The roaches?” asks Dr. Crane. “The two-legged variety that inhabit the region,” she replies. “Do we have permission to terminate unauthorized access?” The General has directed the question to the politician. “I do not see a problem. Regulations will be posted around the perimeter.” “And in all subsequent broadcasts,” Rosetta adds. “With complete control of the coverage, we will be able to gently massage the viewer into the realization that we are working to protect them from plague which has spread from a disease caused by the living conditions of mutants within the core. We will control the viewer’s exposure to video, in order to desensitize them to the situation, incrementally over the coming days and weeks.” “Precisely!” offers Sam. “We will encourage consumers to continue using SaniTech Food’s ‘Nature’ products in order to built up, and maintain their immunizing antibodies. I don’t want to sound like I am profiting from the misfortune of others, but I am sure you all can appreciate the cost of maintaining the large forces deployed to secure the area. Mr. Ends has prepared the projected deficit, that at this point is being carried by Pisces. The figures are available to you at your convenience.” The accountant nodded in agreement. At this point, Sam rose from his seat. He slowly began to orbit the large table, examining the glowing model rising from the surface as he delivered an explanation of his actions. “I took initiative to deal with a problem which was at the point of reaching criticalmass, and I personally take responsibility for my actions. Each of us in this room has played a part in carrying out the objectives of this mission, and I thank you for that.” He moved very slowly like a feeble old man. Head bowed slightly, hands joined behind his back. The tailored white suit, and his white hair gave him the appearance of wisdom, and dignity that has come with age.


“Some may claim the action was severe, or heavy-handed, and all of us in this room, to various degrees, feel the weight of the consequences of this action. The objective was carried out after thoughtful consideration; the process of reviewing the options and alternatives, and coming to a decision.” “I am an old man... a foolish old man. No better than a monster really. To wield such power, to be able to wreak such devastation on those that are unable to fit into the world we have designed. Yet, it is because I am an old man that I am able to make the choice that I did. Not for much longer will I have to bear the sadness and remorse of this great tragedy of existence. “The tragedy is that we deny the existence of our mistakes, even though they are right in front of us. We ignore them, imagine they are invisible, even though the evidence of them continues to grow to massive proportions. We fool ourselves, we fool each other, we shift the problem and we shift the blame, but the error remains, increasing in size, replicating itself because it is left unchecked. At some point the realization occurs; that something must be done, some limit is reached when we can’t deny the existence of the problem any further. By then it is often too late. The solution would eventually have to be implemented in a month or a year. Yet, why delay the inevitable?” Sam shakes his head, “If only we had done something sooner, before the situation had gotten out of hand.” He is still moving slowly through his orbit. “With any manufacturing process there are products that fail. A random flaw in one of the components, the weakest link, the Achilles heel. These products need to be removed and recalled from the market should they slip through the screening process of the factory line. A defective product has the potential to cause damage, and harm the brand-loyalty of associated products, and more importantly, they are a danger to the consumer of the product themselves. When products are returned, we salvage parts that are valuable and strong, the remainder are recycled back to the material of their source.” “Unfortunately we are unable to do this with some of the products we have devel‐ oped; termination or recycling is not permitted if the contents have an organic-based brain.” “If greater than 50% of their brain structure is organic-based,” clarifies the lawyer. “Regulations in the High Court have recently been amended, after several precedentsetting, high-profile cases.” Sam acknowledges the information from the lawyer with a gentle bow. He continues: “Yes, it is important that all humans agree to follow the same set of rules. Deviation from the rules causes mutation to a system. Mutation often introduces mistakes. Digital generation loss, data corrupted by random stray magnetic particles,


inadvertently introducing unwanted noise during the copying process. Subtle detail is lost when data is interpolated between the absolute values of digital zero and digital one. These errors need to be corrected, erased, or censored, before they negatively impact surrounding data and spread corruption throughout the system.” “Yet, on the other hand, deviation from the rules creates new possibilities for discoveries, particularly in the field of science. Developments in computer technology, biogenetics, medicine, plant science, engineering, architecture, music and art would not be possible if everyone held rigidly to the current set of rules. Exploration beyond the boundaries opens new possibilities which spur the development of human thought in these fields to keep pace with the needs of society. There cannot be new growth without the destruction of the old, in nature or design.” “Every one of us is aware of the infinite spiral. The solutions to one set of problems often create another set of new, even more urgent problems which must then be dealt with. The eternal sequence of cause and effect has come to be known by the term; ‘progress’. The progression up the spiral is driven by monetary incentives more often than purely altruistic goals. Yet that fact alone does not make progress entirely good, or entirely evil. Neither does the breakdown of objectivity in which a noble goal must be attained regardless of the damage created in its wake. That is part of the price which must be paid. Once the goal has been attained there is no looking back. Because if you do, behind you now clearly revealed for ill or good, is the network of paths which has led you to the goal.” “The anxiety of conscience, is the dilemma of forever wondering if you have made the right decision in choosing a particular path at every fork in the road; wondering how things would have been, had a different decision been made. At the time of the choice it’s impossible to have the absolute certainty that the decision is correct. Despite our best knowledge, and expert systems, and advisors and council, the only time we are able to evaluate a decision is from the perspective of looking into the past.” “That is our lot as leaders; to swiftly make decisions. When a situation arises, we have no choice but to act; choosing not to make a decision is still actively making a choice. The consequences of our actions, determine the unfolding of events in the world, and we alone are responsible for our actions. What’s done is done, right or wrong, the result of the decisions we have made need to be communicated to the masses. We need to maintain their confidence and faith in us to consistently make appropriate decisions. For while they take no responsibility for their own actions, they are directly affected by the consequences of ours.” Sam has made one revolution of the table, and is now standing at the window gazing out at the constellation of lights in the residential zone; which stretched off to the distant horizon ~ Below, was a deep well of complete darkness which defined the central core. For a few moments there was silence, as others around the table contemplated his words.


“Thank you for your eloquent words Mr. Harriton,” Avihs had been listening atten‐ tively. She was always polite and respectful of other’s thoughts and abilities. She had been weighing the words Sam had spoken, before formulating her reply. “While I understand that you feel your actions are justified, and have even been endorsed through the offices of NanoTech, my own personal observation is that the situation could have effectively been handled in a much more sensitive manner. We certainly should have held this meeting before the operation rather than after the fact. As you say, what has been done, cannot be undone. We need to progress carefully to ensure the situation does not become worse, particularly by minimizing the chance of the disease spreading into the residential zone and beyond. We must make information available which will ensure the resident’s protection.” Rosetta spoke to Avihs with the patient tone of an older woman addressing a naive younger sister. Rosetta did not appreciate suggestions about how she should conduct her work; Rosetta was one of the best in the business, and had numerous awards on the shelf in her office to prove it. “Well, it seems to me that the most practical way to ensure the citizen’s protection, is to keep them away from the core, and to encourage them to purchase SaniTech products to maintain the level of antibiotics in their system, until the disease runs its course. We need to craft a carefully-worded, positive state‐ ment to deliver to social-media broadcasters.” “I agree, popular regional support is essential to our corporations. These citizens are shareholders, employees or consumers of the products we manufacture. Yet, of even greater concern is maintaining a lid on information so our competitors don’t access our data. They would have a field day, generating their own propaganda, which could have a significant negative impact on our future sales,” added the accountant. Rosetta continued, “From my observation, during many years of creating media, it is clear that the citizens rarely demonstrate any desire to determine their own destiny. Their participation is limited to accepting or rejecting the content of the messages delivered in the media, and to making a selection of which products they wish to consume. We have given them every opportunity through polls and referendums to make their voices heard. When we ask them to determine the colour of a new product, and offer a case of the product as a prize awarded at random to one of the participants, the response is overwhelming. But ask them to vote on matters of consequence and there is very little response. As Sam said, it is clear that the responsibility is ours to make the important decisions for them, and to report the results back to them in as positive a manner as possible.” “One portion of the population continue to make their voices heard,” Avihs interject‐ ed, “And they have effectively subverted media to get their point across. The ro@ches media salvos are targeted at questioning the cause of this disease, and they are publicly making accusations that the corporations are at fault. Aren’t you concerned about their support within the residential population?” Avihs directed her question to


Rosetta ~ Avihs was quite familiar with, and also intrigued by the pirate broadcasts ro@ches continued to spread throughout the network. Rosetta’s voice is chilled with frost as she returns her reply ~ The matter is a thorny bush she has been forced to delicately enter, in order to stem the problem at its root. She obviously is still smarting from the scars of that ongoing battle: “Don’t be concerned with them, they are an annoyance and nothing more. We let them play until they get too close to being a factor in forming public opinion, then we move in to diffuse the situation. We even disrupt our own broadcasts with ‘pirate’ messages we have designed, which make the perpetrators seem confused. We shortcircuit their messages by co-opting them into news broadcasts, depriving their movement of rhythm, and abstracting and distorting their message’s meaning. Their subversion becomes subtly negated by gradually being transformed into conceptual models, that change their message during constant repetition, to become eviscerated of meaning.” Avihs replies in a calm and gentle voice, “Ms. Stone, I appreciate your efforts to nurture and shelter the viewer from the harshness of reality. As Mr. Harriton was saying, it is our responsibility to the population to make decisions on their behalf, in a similar manner to which a guardian will care for and protect a young child. The decisions we make must be built on trust, rather than through an effort to attempt to maintain control by generating a sense of fear.” Others in the room are listening now to a voice which rang out with the innocence of youth. The angelic voice was as clear as a conscience. It seemed to polarize the conflict within each ones own personal emotions as they tried to come to terms with the harsh reality of the effectiveness of their extermination operation. The quiet voice of reason seemed to diffuse the strong case Sam Harriton had presented in defense of his decision. It was not the tone that many of them had wanted to consider; it made them feel uncomfortable as the voice continued. “We create a reality which denies the existence of pain and suffering, not just in the media, but also within our own lives. We can create images and products which are seductive and desirable, but we are unable to create ones which comfort and console. We need to consider the suffering which may occur as a consequence before we take our actions. That is our responsibility as leaders. It takes great courage to rise above tragedy. Because our authority has been effective in dissolving their courage, it is unjust on our part to willingly subject the population to the potential for tragedy.” “It is our duty to uphold the ‘code of reason’ by which our society exists. I fear that we underestimate the citizen’s capacity to call into question our authority when we take it upon ourselves to exercise the full extent of our power, without full regard for analysis of the situation. We are the creators of the world, and among our attributes the population requires most is the power of our wisdom to guide them. If we cannot offer them that, they will seek it from other sources. You are aware of the growing belief in


what some citizens call the ‘Zeitgeist’. Popularized in the underground culture, it has developed a cult-like following that is beginning to become quite wide-spread. Citizens refer to it as a spiritual essence within the network itself. They believe that a living entity is coming into being; that the nodes of the network are becoming its nervous system, and that databases are serving as its memory. As these digital entities exchange information through their code, some believe the network will develop a consciousness.” Dr. Crane interjects, “You are talking about a return to a belief in primitive mysticism, rather than faith in scientific rationalism. Artificial intelligence is based on formatting information which follow the rules of cognition. It is understandable why the citizens would confuse accessible knowledge with the transmission of original ideas. And yes, I am familiar with evidence by my scientific colleagues that a viral entity is in existence within the network. It is a cleverly-designed artificial life-form that is proving to be very difficult to eradicate with scanners. The virus is evolutionary and countless instances of it exist, but so far it seems to be totally benign within the system. I have some under‐ standing of the intentions of its design, and I don’t think it will be as nearly as effective as it was intended to be.” Avihs responds; “I’m stating the position that if citizens lose faith in our leadership, they will turn to expert systems within in their computers to provide guidance in determining their actions” Sam Harriton seizes the opportunity to once again return to his central argument, “I sense the kindness in your heart, but in this instance I’m afraid I have to disagree. As I mentioned before the problem would have been much easier to deal with had we earlier taken the matter in hand. Drastic problems call for drastic solutions, and we cannot disregard the logic of cause and effect. To reinforce my point, it would be interesting to conduct an exercise in which we entered all data necessary about the situation in the core, and allowed computer systems to evaluate the problem and return with the solution it would generate in response to the data. I believe that it would bear out the decision which we have already undertaken.” “I agree with you Sam,” adds Jerry Mander; the politician. “I’ve been listening to the discussion, and I agree it was the correct action to complete a humane extermination of the undesirable denizens which have infested the central core. I do not believe there was any feasible alternative to solving a problem which had the potential to become a much worse tragedy for the residential zone. Although, I also must com‐ mend Miss Krowten for her conscientious words. I believe that in the future, we should implement the lessons we have learned from dealing with this situation, and apply them to problems of a comparable magnitude. By that I mean; we should involve a broader range of people in the decision-making process, in order to fully anticipate all aspects of the consequences of our actions, as well as be more fully-prepared to handle the resulting media needs in advance of their necessity.”


“Don’t worry about the media, Jerry. Handling this situation is well within the scope of our abilities. We’ve done our part in keeping your career afloat over the years, don’t forget,” Rosetta winked as she made the comment in humour; but there was a bite to it. “In fact, this might just be an opportune time for you to give a spontaneous news conference informing citizens that you have met with the Authorities, the military and the corporations, and you would like to inform the public the situation is under control.” “I think the timing is a little too soon. Once we know that everything is well in hand, and I have some time for the writers to prepare a speech, then I would welcome the opportunity to deliver that message. Maybe adjust my skin colour a little bit; last time I looked too pale.” The General is restless; he is anxious to get back to his command post to oversee the activity of his troops. He excuses himself, and is followed shortly by the accountant, the scientist and finally the politician; who shakes hands all round. “The concept Avihs mentioned earlier has given me inspiration for a direction which we could proceed with the media campaign,” announces Rosetta Stone. “The citizens talk about a ‘ghost in the system’ they believe has power in determining events. Perhaps we could use this to our advantage. We could announce in newscasts that computer systems indicate this plague is an omen foreshadowing future events.” This tactic would prove to be a wise decision; in terms of diffusing attention focused on activities within the core. During the newscast, viewers were often given a choice of deciding which version of the news they preferred to watch. It gave them a sense of participation of having the freedom to examine the facts and form their own opinions of the truth. The format of the news programs had evolved over the years, blending the audience need to discover the sensational stories occurring throughout the world, and the need for the authorities to deliver their official announcements to the masses. Many of the citizens, (of the small minority of the population which were even interested in the news), enjoyed the programming because of its production value and novelty; news feeds were patched in from stations around the world; the dual-headed news‐ caster had become an extremely popular television personality, and the concept was being picked up and modified by other networks ~ And adventures of ‘Seekers’ had already spun-off as a highly-rated program of its own. The diversity of the newscast made the producer’s job much easier, and allowed a wide-degree of creative freedom in presenting facts. Yet, Rosetta Stone had never had to deal with a situation of this magnitude before, although she gladly accepted the challenge. It was the type of global event, that if managed successfully could boost her regional career to international prominence. Rosetta’s main function was to act as a liaison with the station’s sponsors, to ensure these corporation’s products and services were integrated with the stories in the broadcast. It was a balancing act, as rival corporations were also vying for air-time, and it was difficult to maintain an impartial favoritism towards the station’s preferred


customers, in objectively presenting the news. It was a common tactic of rival corpora‐ tions to manipulate the public with false or adapted information, to manipulate consumer product preference. Each television broadcaster had its own guidelines to determine the limit of ethical conduct acceptable of its sponsors; which for the most part were self-regulated within the corporations themselves. These corporations were cognizant that a propaganda war carried to extreme, would harm public support for all participants in the process. The war most news stations had to constantly deal with was their battle with ‘terrorists’. Because the news is digital, there are many avenues the intruders could use to gain temporary control over the media. By far the favorite tactic was to replace the content of edited files on the server, which would unwittingly be called up by the control room and run as though it were a regular broadcast item. Within the world of manufactured news it could become impossible for viewers to distinguish between an official news item, and a ‘planted’ one. Often Rosetta could not even be sure herself; as she reviewed the programs from her office. Intruders were able to convincingly emulate the techniques of news editors. They attempted to influence the viewer’s perception of reality, for example, by manipulating video of an executive or authority figure which made them appear to speak unpopular announcements in order to alienate them from the population. The messages were well-produced and very convincing in simulating a routine broadcast. Covering the story about the epidemic of plague was to be her greatest challenge, Rosetta believed. And perhaps her greatest triumph. The opportunity to overlay mythological interpretation on recent events would increase their social, political and historical relevance. She was thrilled with excitement at the possibility of being able to take advantage of the superstitious beliefs of citizen’s. Rather than being a mere selector of news items, this moment offered her the potential to influence the control which shaped events ~ Long she had awaited her opportunity to assume the mantle of power. Rosetta recorded the conversations of the entire meeting with a small microphone built into her notebook computer. She thought back to a comment Sam Harriton had made: “Deviation from the rules causes mutation to a system... introducing mistakes... causing corruption.” She suddenly realizes the potential of warning citizens about consequences of failing to obey rules which Authorities had prescribed for them. If they chose to believe messages of the rebels, they could cause a catastrophic situation for themselves. She needed to make citizens aware that the ro@ches were introducing corruption by disrupting the balance of a system which was essentially maintaining the existence of life within their residential region, and for that matter, all around the world. Without caretakers to guard and guide the citizens, their lives would devolve into chaos; a situation which could breed even more devastating forms of pestilence and disease.


Those remaining around the boardroom table listened as Rosetta ran through a potential scenario which could be used to present the story in the broadcast news. Sam and the lawyer were very pleased that Rosetta had thrown herself behind the task with such enthusiasm. They were also privately relieved to have an advocate to oversee the final phase of the operation; which by analogy, was to create a palatable form of medicine which the patients would be willing to swallow. They felt the meeting had been a success; they had all come together to repair a potentially damaging blow to the credibility of the Authorities, and the individual corporate executives behind the plot. Avihs sat quietly for some time. As the meeting reached its conclusion, she arose to see her guests from the room. They were likely concerned about some of the com� ments she had made, but perhaps concluded that she was young and inexperienced when it came to worldly affairs. The guests thanked her for facilitating the meeting and made their way from the room, continuing to chat in the hallway, until their voices were out of range. Avihs returned to her place at the table in the now silent room. She pressed a button, and the three-dimensional model of the city, hovering above the table, slowly dematerialized. She felt a darkness in her heart that she had never experienced before. “The horror,� she whispered.


part three I.

The young boy is awakened by the glare of a beam of light, and calls out quietly. Yuri quickly turns off his flashlight. “Shhhh... go back to sleep.” Yuri stands motionless beside the crib for a few moments, waiting in darkness until he is sure the child has returned to sleep. It had been easy to find the location within the tower, since Camellia provided very specific information as to the level, corridor, and room number. Yuri used a descrambler to obtain the passcode from the security system on the door, then crept silently into the nursery which contains approximately three dozen cribs. His tiny flashlight briefly illuminates the face of each sleeping child as he tries to identify the one he is searching for. They all seem to look alike to him; yet, after eight or nine tries he is certain he has discovered Ariel. Getting in had been easy, but for the first time he is anxious about making his escape. He wouldn’t be able to go out the way he came in, through crawl spaces, and he would be noticeable in the corridors carrying the child. So Bug Head had come up with an ingenious plan, shaving off all the hair on Yuri’s head, including his eyebrows ~ He waits impatiently for the rest of the costume to arrive. It is almost time for the midnight rounds of nurse-maids. Every mission is synchronized with the activities of the environment he infiltrates; strategies based on the most complete intelligence gathered from the target’s computer system by ro@ch hackers. Yuri scans the room once again with his flashlight. On one wall is a large poster of a nurse-maid looking heavenward, supporting several children clasped to her bosoms. On another wall is a portrait of the corporate president; digitally enhanced to create the appearance of a benevolent father-figure to children one and all. This is the nursery facility where the youngest children begin their indoctrination to prepare for their roles as corporate employees. These children are genetically engineered to master the future, augmented by a regimen of training which begins at an early age. Children learn the skills they need to integrate into the company sponsoring their upbringing and development. The children wear the colours on their uniforms during the day, and go to sleep with the corporate logo embroidered onto the front of their pajamas ~ Corporations care for the needs of their employees from the cradle to the grave. Yuri turns off his flashlight and waits while his eyes grow accustomed to the darkness; maintaining intent observation of the small window in the nursery room’s


door. He is sweating inside the rubber sewer suit, and his heart is pounding, as he listens to the sound of their footsteps in the distance, and the squeaking wheels of a cart approaching along the corridor ~ He does not like coming into contact with humans in the environments he infiltrates, and is even more uncomfortable since this is the first time he has purposefully attempted it. These type of situations, which occasionally happened at random, are always tense and dangerous. He withdraws his ‘stun gun’ from the utility belt around his waist, and flips the selector switch to ‘medium’ intensity; a setting which will seriously de-pattern the target’s memory to create a state of temporary amnesia. He crouches on the floor not far from the door in a readiness stance and aims his stun gun... The element of surprise will be essential... The footsteps and voices are now at the door. Dark silhouettes pass behind the frame of the narrow window opening. Yuri detects the sound of a passcard in the scanner slot, then the door slides open. There are two of them; just as he had expected. They always make their rounds traveling in pairs. The first one comes through the door and activates the low-level lighting in the room, the second one follows pushing a small cart. They are talking to each other, and didn’t immediately notice Yuri; who remains perfectly still like a statue. The first one let out a surprised gasp as she notices him ~ Something in the black-horned demon-creature’s hand was pointing directly at them; it would be the last memory either of them would have of the encounter. The weapon delivers a quick pulse of invisible waves to each of them which passes through their skulls. They hit the floor like a ton of bricks. Yuri hoped they had not been injured. He had very seldom used any form of violence against another human being. This time the whole situation didn’t feel right, the operation was outside his field of experience. He knew the nurse-maids were trained to protect the children; even willing to sacrifice their own life in the process. Although they were surrogates they had the same maternal instincts as every other species. He really had no other choice. He felt like a rogue fox in the hen house. With considerable effort, Yuri drags the women completely into the room from where they had collapsed in the doorway. Each are larger and heavier than he is. Yuri checks the corridor; all is quiet. He closes and locks the door. He peels off his rubber sewer suit then tucks his ‘ray gun’ into the elastic band of his only item of clothing; a pair of boxer shorts with an escher pattern printed on them. The room is warm, the floor is smooth under his bare feet. He bends over one of the nurse-maids to strip off her uniform. She stares vacantly at the ceiling, still breathing. Her tired eyes have the dull glow of a frozen fish in a market stall. The orbs are sunken into the depths of their darkened sockets, the skin of her facial features is stretched taut over her large skull. Yuri closes her eyelids gingerly with his fingertips. He knew they worked hard; sacrificing their own bodies to nurture the next generation. They are devoted to their task with almost religious intensity; sequestered like a harem of nuns.


The front of her uniform is sealed with velcro swatches, that rip open with an annoying sound. Three pairs of full, firm, milky-white breasts, suspended by nursing bras burst forth from her uniform; six brown stubby nipples appear in the openings of the supporting cups. Yuri fumbles awkwardly with the clasps of each bra along her spine, eventually managing to remove them. A network of blue spider-web veins, just below the luminescent pale skin’s surface, are visible on her large mammary glands. Her plump body is pumped full of hormones which enable her to continually produce milk. He tugs the uniform from her arms, from under her body, and finally past her ankles after removing her shoes. The maids have removed all trace of hair by irradiat‐ ing their entire bodies, and they continually scrub themselves clean to avoid contami‐ nating the infants. The smooth skin of her pubic area reminded him of a plastic doll. He covers her naked body with a pile of baby blankets from a nearby cabinet. He removes the soft cap she wears, held in place with an elasticized band, to pull it over his own head. Once again he struggles with the brassieres, this time attaching them on himself, then grabbing more baby blankets to use as padding in stuffing the cups. The women on the floor are beginning to stir. It wouldn’t be long before they regained consciousness. He pulls on the uniform; aligning the bulges under the cloth in an orderly fashion. It felt odd; like it was baggy in all the wrong places. He straps on his utility tool belt under the uniform, then slides on canvas shoes which are several sizes too big. He doesn’t see any mirror in the room, but then again, he didn’t really want to have that mental image recorded in his memory; to remind him (if he got out of this alive), of how ridiculous he must look. Gently, he lifts Ariel from the crib. “Your mother sent me to bring you home!” Yuri doesn’t know if Ariel can understand him, but the boy smiles up at him as he cradles him in his arms. The two-year-old boy has an angelic face; curly golden hair, and bright golden eyes that shine gleefully. The boy wrinkles his nose as he can now clearly smell Yuri’s body; which has recently crawled through sewers and is bathed in sweat. “Sorry kid, I know I don’t smell like a flower.” The boy’s mirthful laughter is as musical as a bird’s song. Listening to its joy made Yuri laugh as well. “That’s right, we’re having a good time!” On a shelf he finds a carrier harness which he straps on like a vest. He slips it over one shoulder and places the child inside. Ariel playfully grabs at Yuri’s face, digging sharp little fingernails into his nose. Yuri tickles him to release the child’s grasp, then quietly begins singing the only children’s song he knows the words to; ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. Holding him tightly, Yuri gently rubs the child’s hair to pacify him ~


The young boy in his arms reminds him of his own child; Eugene Simms. Yuri feels the pain of wondering if he would ever see him again. Ariel is sleeping soundly now. Yuri can feel the child’s gentle breath, warm against his chest, sucking on the corner of a blanket that is protruding from the one of the brassieres. He gathers blankets to wrap the child for warmth, then lowers Ariel into the cart which already contains bundles of plastic-coated diapers, and a large bag of soiled ones. Around the rim of the cart are bottles of cleaning supplies, and various appliances the purpose of which he would never understand. Yuri stuffs his sewer suit into a plastic bag and places it into a compartment of the cart. He adjusts the maid’s identity card on his uniform, then rolls the cart into the corridor. Yuri recalls the sound of the footsteps he heard when they approached the door, and emulates that pattern in the way he walks to the maintenance elevator which leads to the base of the tower. He knows the protocol and the passageways which will take him through the access corridors and out to the heavily-guarded loading bays where delivery and sanitation trucks arrive. Several times surveillance cameras swivel to follow his movement, but no voices are heard issuing commands, and no hallway monitors appear to check his credentials. While the site is like a fortress to the external world, the internal security measures are relatively lax. Citizens of the tower are well-behaved, and it is considered highlyunlikely that someone would want to escape into the harsh reality outside ~ There was speculation that unknown external forces occasionally abducted people from the highrises using alien antimatter devices, but it was part of the urban mythology within the towers; taught to young children to explain the disappearance of their parents, when they were dismissed, arrested, or accidentally killed while working on the job. The mission was a complete success; everything had gone according to plan. Yuri managed to rendezvous at a prearranged time with an allied driver of a recycling truck to escape the building with Camellia’s son. Meanwhile, Yuri’s ro@ch confederate; ‘Bug’, accessed databanks in the tower to erase all official records of the child’s existence. Errors in data happen all the time, and were impossible to verify. The recycling transporter passed several security checkpoints as it approached the barrier wall around the core, but the patrols did not want to stick their noses into a stinking pile of refuse. The only tense moment had been when the truck first started out; when Ariel began to cry while leaving the base of the tower. Fortunately the truck had a loud engine. Yuri held the child close to his chest and allowed him to suck on one of the blankets stuffed in his bra. Camellia hid in dark shadows of an abandoned lot near her residence, anxiously awaiting Yuri’s arrival. She already had transferred credits to his account; an amount which both agreed was equal to the risk of the operation. Yuri could empathize with her sense of joy, the moment she was reunited with her son. He had also developed a bond of closeness with the child during the brief time he was with him; they had been through an adventure together.


Yuri gave Camellia a plastic bag of items he salvaged from the nursery cart. He also gave her the blankets that padded his bras. The transporter was gone, then soon Camellia also disappeared into the fog with her child, leaving him alone to change back into his sewer suit. In the darkness he briefly watched the dancing flames of the nurse-maid’s uniform burn in a rusty metal drum. He kept her identity card as a souvenir. Then he headed for home... Yuri lived in the low-end district of the residential zone; in a dilapidated building that had been condemned by the authorities several years before. Real estate developers had yet to show interest in tearing it down to construct a new dwelling in its place. The building was heavily-populated; a haven for the elderly, the infirm, drug users, the criminal or insane, or any combination thereof. The tenement was also infested with roaches; both of the six-legged, and two-legged varieties. It was one of the de facto headquarters, and rallying places for their subversive activities. Rent was minimal; most tenants paid what they could afford to maintain a supply of basic utilities and a few general repairs to the building. Like Robin Hood, ro@ches subsidized most of the tenant’s expenses for the building from their ill-gotten gains. The credits alone from Yuri’s mission tonight; transferred from Chamellia’s account, would go a long way toward the cause. The landlord, who lived in the building was sympathetic to their schemes. He was an older man, with long grey hair, and a thin but wiry muscular body who everyone in the building called ‘Buzz Manager’, as that was what was written on the piece of tape above a push button by the front door of the ancient brick tenement. No-one ever pushed the button, as the door to the street was never locked. Buzz lived alone in a large apartment on ground level crammed from floor to ceiling, like a warehouse, with junk accumulated from decades of residents who had passed through, or passed away in the building. Most of the jetsam was kept in cardboard boxes which filled every room. Narrow corridors between stacks allowed Buzz to move around the apartment. Yuri often asked him why he was keeping all this stuff, to which Buzz always replied; “I never know when I might I might need it. I hate to throw items away.” Buzz claimed to have memorized the contents of every single box, but Yuri had his doubts. The man was as senile as he was eccentric. Yet, he was a hard worker. Early every morning, until quite late every night, Buzz continually moved through the building to repair anything necessary to keep the building functional; patching holes in the wall, painting, fixing the plumbing and wiring or pouring tar on the roof. It was not an uncommon sight to see the agile Buzz chase mischievous neighbourhood kids down the hall with a large fire axe. Yuri grabbed the rung of the heavy steel ladder to begin his ascent up the rickety fire escape attached to the brick wall at the rear of the building. The bottom portion was permanently extended just above dumpsters in the alley. As he climbed, the entire apparatus, consisting of ten flights of steps and sets of narrow landings, would rattle and shake, rusted metal squealing from the force exerted on the bolts. The sound was


a warning to residents which lived along the escape route that a potential intruder was approaching. Yuri raised the window frame and climbed into the apartment he shared with Bug Head on the sixth floor. Room 666 ~ Bug had added the third number on the outside of the door; painting it carefully to emulate the original lettering-style herself. She was quite an artist; a collection of highly-detailed surreal images applied to scavenged portable material surfaces hung on the apartment walls. Others were distributed to friends or placed in strategic locations throughout the urban landscape of the real world. The ancient computer in the main room is running with the display turned off. Bug often left the processor operating to compile code or run a passcode cracker while she got some much-needed rest. A single unshielded light bulb screwed into a fixture in the ceiling provides low-level illumination throughout the room. Yuri makes his way into the darkened bedroom, where Bug is nestled snugly in a collection of tattered blankets. She opens an eye when she hears the sound of footsteps on the floorboards; tense and ready ~ Then she relaxes when she recognizes who it is. She smiles. Her long dark hair brushes the brown naked skin of her shoulders, as she partially emerges from the covers ~ Bug isn’t exactly pretty, and she is somewhat overweight, but it is her inner-beauty; her charm, intelligence, and passion which has drawn him to her. ‘All the more to love,’ Yuri would declare. She is a dynamo when it comes to sexual appetite, and she could readily wear him out. Tonight she had that look in her eye. Yuri felt exhausted; it had been a long day and he just wanted to sleep. He peeled out of his rubber suit in the bathroom, then quickly rinsed under the shower. The water was ice. Naked and shivering, he sought the warmth of her soft ample body under the covers. She reached down to feel if he was firm or limp, then turned her back on him to immediately resume sleep. Yuri turned his head and coughed. Gunshots in the night, distant fire alarms muffled by the heavy blanket of fog. His body wanted rest, but his mind was still active; buzzing from the events of the day ~ Seeing the face of the beautiful little boy, Ariel, had brought back painful memories of a son he had never seen, then also called up memories of his own youth. Yuri first experienced freedom and independence during the early stages of his childhood. It had not been a matter of choice. His mother died of cancer when he was seven, and the parenting responsibilities were left to his father, who cared for him the best he could while he worked in a meat processing plant every night. It was not an easy situation for either of them, so Yuri contributed to the family-unit by looking after the housework and preparing meals for both of them. During the day while his father slept, and at night while he was at work, Yuri roamed to explore his environment. He had an insatiable curiosity, and soon began to realize that his skinny wire-frame could get him into places which were inaccessible to most people. This talent suited him well for ‘illegal activity’; as he frequently found credits, or other goods, eagerly offered in exchange for his services.


His father was a great guy, and a true friend to Yuri during his youth. He was kind and honest. He believed in the integrity of hard work as a measure of a man’s status in life. And he was wise enough to recognize that he would be unable to provide a future for Yuri. He resigned himself to the fact there was nothing he could do to assist his son when he eventually went out on his own. He had no savings; since his wages just covered rent, utilities, and a basic supply of food; augmented with cuts of meat he smuggled home from work. His only extravagance was the one bottle of vodka he purchased every week. Nasty strings of microscopic ecoli bacterium would crop up from time-to-time along assembly lines where his father processed carcasses with high-intensity water-jet saws which cut the meat cleanly through the bone. Barring unforeseen emergency shutdowns, the first sunday of every month was when mechanics overhauled the assembly line at the plant; for regularly-scheduled maintenance and decontamination. For his father, this was a day of celebration, and an opportunity to take a temporary mental vacation which usually became alcohol-induced. Yuri remembered those days as being the happiest of times, when his father had a brief reprieve from the oppres‐ sion of his daily grind. On those sundays, around six in the evening, his father would awaken to cook thick steaks and new potatoes, and boil a pot of fresh tomatoes mixed with sliced hot peppers on the stove. Then, after the meal he would pull out the vodka which had chilled in the freezer. He would pour them each a glass, with which they would then make a toast in memory of Yuri’s mother. It was the only glass Yuri would drink, while during the next four or five hours his father would finish the bottle. As the level of alcohol diminished, Yuri’s father would tell him stories, many of which Yuri had heard countless times, but there were always new ones. Yuri’s favorite story was set in medieval times; it was about a desperately hungry man who comes across a cow in a meadow. The man realizes that he has to kill the cow somehow to provide him with food, but he doesn’t know how to begin the task, as he has no weapon. ‘What would you rather chew on, a piece of leather or a leaf’ asks the cow to taunt him... Other stories recounted humorous events at work and characters from the plant, his father’s memories of Yuri’s childhood, as well as his perceptions and observations of the world in which they lived. The evening always ended with an empty bottle and his father sobbing as he recalled his beautiful wife; who he still loved with all of his heart. Even now, as the melted snow streams down the window, it is difficult for Yuri to choke back his own tears at the memory. It was during many of those evenings the two would discuss events in Yuri’s life. His father had allowed him to grow in a manner which suited his personality; to make his own mistakes, and learn the lessons of life first-hand. Even though he disapproved of some of his son’s behavior, he never spoke to him in anger. He didn’t need to; Yuri could read the concern etched in the lines extending from the corner of his father’s eyes. Because of their relationship, and the respect he had from his father, Yuri learned to develop a sense of inherent fairness which affected his actions, and instilled respect in him for the people he encountered. Yuri, unlike others of his


neighbourhood, did not consider it noble to silently suffer the devastation of poverty, while nearby, others in the abundant society, languished in the opulence of their greed and desire by acquiring more than they needed, or even really wanted. His philosophy, and even more, the desire not to be physically constricted by the limitations placed upon him by others, constantly put him into conflict with enforcers from the Authorities. His innate sense of the value of life could not permit him to intentionally harm another living thing, yet he saw no harm in infiltrating corporation’s physical environments or liberating their material possessions. For Yuri it was a matter of survival. It was also a way for him to disrupt what he called ‘the hypocrisy of their well-adjusted lifestyles’. Initially working on his own, breaking into warehouses to steal food, or petty items he could sell on the black market, his talents began to be noticed by people in the underground that he met in cafes, or at the clubs or parties he sometime attended. At this time he was befriended by an another young man, about the same age, named Rujjie Blades. Ruj introduced him to a gang, who were interested in utilizing Yuri’s Houdini-like abilities to move through locked doors, as a method of accessing highlysecured computer facilities to recover storage drives, paper trash, employee records, and so on... It was a dirty job, often crawling through waste disposal chutes or sewer systems; but he was very effective in achieving results. His reward for this activity came in the form of accumulated credits in an unautho‐ rized, and not-readily traceable account, which gang members had established for him. They created a fictional identity for him, and arbitrarily updated the account’s credit value whenever a mission was accomplished. Yuri often received more credits for one mission than his father made in wages during an entire year. It seemed abstract, more like a method of keeping score in a video game, than a payment for his effort, yet it began to weigh heavily on his conscience. Before long, members in the group began to tighten their grip on him; threatening not only to wipe out his account, but also to report him to the authorities if he didn’t stay in line. Yuri gradually became aware that it wasn’t a game; he was dealing with untouch‐ ables who work behind a forcefield of virtual power. He couldn’t turn on them and report their illegal activities, because they were heavily-connected with people working within the Authority, and they could hit him back even harder. It was his first realization that many of the real criminals, both corporate and in the underground, existed beyond the rules of law. Yuri turned to the only person he could count on and trust; his father. Yet the bitter irony was, that day, just a few weeks before he would turn eighteen, was the last time he would ever see his father. They discussed the situation during the evening; until it was time for his father to go to work. Yuri would always remember his final conversation with his father: “Yuri, you are a good boy,” he said, gently running his coarse fingers through the young man’s hair, “You have always made me happy, and proud. You are a blessing


to both your mother and myself. It was selfish of us to bring you into a life like this.” Yuri recalled his father hugging him tightly. Then before going out the door, Yuri would always remember the last words his father had spoken; “I’m truly sorry there was nothing more I could do.” It was an odd remark, strange, like a premonition. During the night, his father died; accidentally falling from a metal walkway to the plant floor below. The tragic event filled Yuri with despair. In addition to grief, Yuri felt a heavy burden of guilt. He blamed himself for being responsible for the cause of the accident; believing that his father might have been distracted by Yuri’s problems and had not been concentrating completely on his work ~ Yuri sometime wondered if it were entirely an accident; since the gangsters had a broad sphere of influence. The next sequence of events still remained a chaotic blur of confusion. He walked away from his contact with the gang, with his credit account intact, and even left behind his father’s apartment. He didn’t know how to deal with the loneliness and the constant memories triggered by being around the few meager possessions his father owned. Yuri became invisible, wandering the streets like a ghost-robot, digging through refuse for scraps of food, scavenging plastic or metal which could be recycled, and sleeping wherever he could find shelter. It was an existence of being human vermin; a life constantly threatened by extermination and poisoning ~ A living hell. He remembered children, much younger than himself, laying in the alley passed-out from sniffing chemicals they squirted into plastic bags. He remembered the small tobacco-coloured birds eating cigarette butts. He remembered old men walking down the street leaving behind a piss-scented cloud, lingering traces which hung in air pockets the wind had not disturbed. Eventually he no longer noticed the stench. He awoke one morning with a rat gnawing on his shoe. He wondered why he was doing this; to escape the world, to destroy himself, he didn’t know anymore. It was time to rise from the ashes, he appealed to the author of his fate to produce a miracle, some sign to give him hope, and suddenly an angel appeared, in the form of a young street worker named Juliette who was traveling in a van to dispense clean needle rigs to junkies crashed out in the alley where he slept. Her voice was melodic, pure, as she called out to him to ask if he was using. There was something about her he recognized; somehow he knew she could help him. He remembered walking up to the van, with as much dignity as he could muster under the circumstances, and saying something like: “I need help. My life has fallen apart, and I want to rebuild a new one. If you are able to offer any assistance, I would be eternally grateful.” Juliette was a couple of years older than he was, and extremely beautiful in kind of an ordinary way. She had spent time on the street herself, and was now studying to be a psychologist. She immediately recognized the opportunity to use her recentlyacquired skills to help him with his problem. The Catholic church, at the time, had a facility to house wayward youth. The sisters cleaned Yuri up, provided him with


clothes, and dished out bowls of a crude form of nutrition which gradually restored his health. The transformation was remarkable, and Juliette quickly discovered in him an intelligence, charm, and charisma which she found irresistible. She ended up falling in love with him. Their relationship intensified when they regularly made love on the desk, chair or carpet of her small office. Yuri was inexperienced, but he was well-equipped, capable of performing on demand, and he caught-on quickly ~ Evenings were spent in prayer when he returned to the Catholic mission. It was during one of these counseling sessions she enthusiastically declared that he was cured. A short time later he moved in with her, into her apartment. She found him employment installing computer system wiring in the newly-constructed towers which were going up in the core. His thin body made him suitable for squeezing into the crawlspaces to run and splice-in cable. His employers were impressed by his technical knowledge of computer systems, and he rapidly learned new skills required for the trade while working on the job site. Life was good again, it seemed like everything was perfect, until Juliette became pregnant about six months after they met. New tensions began to emerge. Juliette was afraid the baby would disrupt her training program, yet she still wanted to have a child. It had just been unexpected. She was also worried about her financial situation; how could she afford to raise a family with a guy she had just recently found in a dumpster. A wirepuller only brought in minimal credits, and he didn’t have the certification to qualify him for a job with better pay. The arguing, the tears, the throwing of pots and pans ~ Yuri went into the evening air to clear his mind. Walking through old familiar streets that he had recently been sleeping under, he turned a corner and ran into the devil himself; Rujjie Blades. The two went for a few drinks at the Sierra Hotel. The tavern was a black hole inhabited by denizens who made their living capturing bottom-feeders while trawling the Baltic Sea. Artificial eyes, and plastic prosthesis replaced the patches and peglegs from days of yore, but a rusted anchor covered with disintegrating barnacles remained, hanging from a thick wooden beam along the northern wall. Huddled together around a rustic oak barrel which they used as a table, talking in hushed tones over pints of dark bitter, Rujjie, always connected, always in the know, offered Yuri the possibility of another source of revenue to help him in his dilemma ~ He tells Yuri about a group which has recently formed by an ad-hoc collection of computer enthusiasts, who were much further up the evolutionary ladder than the gang of cutthroats and thieves he had originally put him in contact with. The group, called ro@ches, were organized; they had the technical skills and abilities to operate within digital environments, shift bank accounts around, and they even had their own virtual media studio to broadcast their propaganda throughout the network. Yuri had heard about them; ro@ches were generating considerable notoriety. In main-stream media it is frequently reported that the group are anarchists whose efforts advanced toward the overthrow of ‘the system’. “That’s not at all true,” claimed


Ruj. “The objective of ro@ches is to monitor the ethics and activities of corporations, using technical skills to moderate their practices and policies, and intervene with appropriate action to keep the corporations in line. The group’s tactics include sabotaging systems to make executives aware of the potential threat to the destruction of their primarily mechanism of control; their networked databases ~ In the dead of night computer systems are talking. With a few strategic computer viruses, or intelligent agents, ro@ches can introduce digital corruption within a corporation’s computer ecosystem, causing information madness, and possibly developing into a world-wide brain seizure of their entire network.” “Since corporations have the freedom to operate unchecked by any form of rules or legislation, ro@ches take it upon themselves to also step outside the boundaries of normal operating procedure, in order to act as a counterbalance to regulate their activity. It isn’t a matter of destroying corporations or technology, it is a matter of encouraging corporations to use their power wisely. In capitalism, as well as nature, a system of growth left unchecked has a tendency to overtake and destroy the very environment in which it has thrived. While it is true, that there are many rival corpora‐ tions, the resulting effect is that instead of one large creeping mass, there are many smaller ones that each contribute to devouring the landscape, and systematize the individuality of all citizens and employees they come in contact with around the world.” “A revolution is not possible. The established system is too massive and widereaching. And besides, the system itself has resulted from a natural progression of human evolution; if there had not been some need or desire for it to have developed, it would never have happened. By the same token, if a group of intelligent, socially and environmentally aware people could use the tools at their disposal to help steer the behemoth in a direction which is beneficial to both humanity and nature, rather than passively watch as the innocent are crushed under the wheels of a juggernaut through apathy and oppression, then they would be remiss in not allowing their conscience to be their guide. The system survives, not by staying the same, but through a process of transformation.” Rujjie’s rhetoric had been persuasive. These concepts intrigued the idealistic young Yuri. It was reaffirming to know there were others who endured the constant struggle of determining for themselves what was right, rather than believing whatever they were told. The children raised in the towers, for instance, were inducted into the system from birth, trained to preserve the values of their parent corporation. Survival within the system required an erasure of independent self-reliance. The programming initiated during childhood was reinforced and rewarded with every step up the corporate ladder. The children rarely saw their biological father and mother, who were working night and day to accomplish tasks which had been specified for them. There was no family, there was no home, except as part of the structure of the corporation. Corporate employees never questioned instructions handed down by their execu‐ tive superiors, nor did they need to make choices to determine their own actions, as those conditions introduced the possibility of making a mistake. The corporation


operated on a very narrow margin of error. Zero tolerance. Dismissal was the most extreme penalty for failing to maintain complete compliance with the code. The threat of losing their job struck terror into the hearts of even the strongest men and women. Not only would they lose the value of their credit points, but the greater fear was to be expelled from the only family they had ever known, the corporate family. Everyone was clearly made aware that there was not much likelihood of working for a rival corpora‐ tion. Upon termination, proprietary information would be scanned and erased from the employee’s onboard memory. The latitude of what was considered corporate knowl‐ edge was quite extensive, leaving an expelled employee with little remnants of what could even be considered their own memories ~ Consequently, birds that had been pushed from the nest, fell deep to the bottom. While most employees merely accepted the terms of their existence, (and after all, there were a great many rewards), others that were somewhat pathological had the ability and determination to successfully thrive within the system, and the intelligence to understand the game. They rapidly moved up through the hierarchy of the corpora‐ tion, to find their niche in positions of power right up near the top. Chameleon-like, they had kept their independence disguised until the opportunity presented itself for them to use their attributes to full advantage, they then moved ruthlessly ahead of their competition; those less-intelligent, less-beautiful, older, heavier or slower. Survival of the fittest had moved indoors from the wonderful world of nature. That’s when the real trouble began for those under the ‘manipulator’s’ jurisdiction. Rather than merely pretending to follow rules, the new breed of executives were now in a position to make them. They began to rearrange the structure of the system to preserve the power they had struggled to achieve; implementing tactics to send those beneath them into infinite loops, or effectively dispose of their enemies ~ Yuri’s father used the term; ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ to describe these creatures, while Yuri preferred; ‘cannibalistic weasels’. The sound of the meek quavering cry was pitiful to behold, once the sheep realized the wool had been pulled over their eyes. “Well, so what?” cynical ro@ches sometime said. “Who cares about automatons with disposable minds. They are programmed with a few simple routines, which allow them to perform the same task every day and watch the same TV show every night. Why should they bother to think? It makes life too complicated, and disturbing; to be aware of their pain, and mortality.” Yuri was the only one of the ro@ches who had actually been inside the towers, and he spent a great deal of time there. Experiencing the environment first-hand had given him a more sympathetic perspective of employee life in the corporate world. Although it was a separate reality from the life he had led, in many respects it was not much different. People were people all over the globe. The waxy sheen, erratic movement, Yuri hid in warm and humid places; his talent as a reality hacker proved to be a valuable asset, favourably augmenting existing skills within the group. By infiltrating the physical world of the towers, Yuri was able to


extend the capabilities of the characters who hacked the virtual world, and called themselves ro@ches. Each member contributed in their own way, and were involved for different reasons. The core group had made a serious commitment to the objectives of their charter, while those on the fringes were casual revolutionaries, considering their involvement as purely an intellectual or conceptual exercise. Still further out on the periphery, were those who identified with the group by creating the mystique of personal power through association with the ‘infamous’ entities roaming the network, on their social media channels. Yuri became one of the most zealous participants in pursuing the objectives of the group. Like a valiant knight from the middle-ages, his quest was not for a holy grail, but to free the peasants oppressed by a malevolent ruler. Yuri’s adversaries were despot kings; the executives of corporations who abused the power which they had been charged with the responsibility to manage. Cold, calculating logic replaced human emotion as their evil seemed to incubate within their self-contained, little worlds. Controlling these castles in the sky did not satisfy them, they wanted more; driven by the need for power, they were compelled to reach out into the world, to obtain new regions to influence and conquer. These executive kings were able to subvert the tools used in service of the mass population, into machines which dictated their commands. They demanded attention and world recognition for their power by administering and censoring the images broadcast on the Platonic media screen. They protected themselves with forces of corruption who had no respect for the law, and they even cannibalized members of their own species if it served their purpose of maintaining control. Yet for Yuri, the greatest travesty was the corporate usurpation of universal knowledge, which he believed should be made freely-available for the benefit and improvement of all mankind, particularly in regions devastated by poverty, drought, and famine around the world, and right here in this very city. Developments in technology had the potential to make all human life on earth richer, fuller and better than mankind had ever experienced during its brief history. Biotechnology had transformed agriculture; improving yields obtained from crops and livestock in a manner which would not have been possible using conventional breeding techniques. Virologists had developed micro-organisms to combat the rate at which viruses spread and mutate. Cures for diseases had been discovered, and eliminated from the hereditary path by inserting new genes into the DNA of living cells to improve the organism's strength, size, or resistance. But these benefits were not available to everyone. In certain regions, the effort and expenditure to manufacture and consume dietary slimming products, far surpassed the efforts to care for hundreds of million people in other regions of the world who suffered from scarcity of food, and had inadequate access to the technology or resources to provide it. Many regions desperately needed the financial assistance, tools and knowledge to establish the basic infrastructure which would provide housing, social improvement, education, and environmental protection.


Yuri believed the inequity was not caused by a shortage of financial capital, or the limits of technological capability, but was driven by corporate greed. The control of knowledge allowed corporations to restrict development of technology to purposes which achieved their own objectives, or were used as a means of providing products and entertainment as a reward to their loyal employees and citizens who assisted them in realizing their goals. The concept of currency, and financial capital, had become abstract and meaningless well before the beginning of the new millennia, when the gap between the billionaires and the destitute had widened in extreme. Universal credit was a system in continual flux; as individual totals increased or decreased, digital registers tracked the amounts in computer memory. Quantities were dispersed here and there over the globe, flowing from where they landed. Small streams traveled over the financial topography, adding to their volume by collecting residual pockets which had been isolated on more level terrain, and ultimately drained toward the deep reservoirs in which substantial accumulations had already occurred. The corporations built the tributaries and rivers which channeled the flow, and the dams and irrigation systems which regulated and spurred new growth. Settlements flourished along the powerful rivers, while large tracts remained arid wasteland. The system itself was neither good nor evil, but the same cannot be said of individu‐ als within the system. The hackers accessed and maintained surveillance on corpo‐ rate databases and gathered intelligence on their operations. They had developed extensive personal dossiers on many of the executives. The information they discov‐ ered would be extremely valuable to rival corporations, but the ro@ches code of conduct prevented that situation from occurring. The intelligence did provide the group with a method of evaluating the performance of a corporation, and taking preventative action should the necessity arise. These actions amounted to token gestures of resistance in a network of corporate empires which spanned the globe. Obvious targets were sent a warning, reminding executives to use their position of power to shape the future wisely. Sometimes the tactic of destroying data on a few of their internal computers, served to get their attention and regard the warnings with consid‐ eration. Yuri observed, and sometimes wondered why the initially pure intentions of power structures, and even the uses of technology itself, always tended towards corruption. It seemed to be human nature to find a way to use anything which gives us even the slightest advantage, to inflict damage on someone else ~ The tool becomes a weapon. The competitive instincts of species survival had not yet been entirely overwritten by codes of social conduct, and numerous rules and regulations. In such a dense and intricately-interconnected web of activity, the question always remained of how it could be possible to weed out the evil while leaving the good to flourish and thrive. Who, or what was in a position to decide? Those who were aware of its possible existence, believed that the Zeitgeist would be able to execute that task. Ro@ches were no exception. Most believed the group’s actions functioned as a temporary stopgap measure, holding the fortress, and bridging the gap until the digital ‘messiah’ appeared. But some members recognized that the ro@ches themselves


were not immune to power struggles and competition, and yes even corruption, which occurred within the structure of any type of group. Early on, during frequent informal meetings, there were many conflicting opinions in determining a direction, revealing the difficulties of trying to organize a collection of independent freethinkers to achieve a common goal. It had drained his energy, particularly dealing with the ones who were always attempting to use the underground movement to further their own personal gain. As a result, Yuri decided to leave the politics behind, and expanded his orbit as a satellite of the group in order to carry out his missions; journeying alone, unplugged, through pure, raw reality. “Liberty or Death! That was the pirate’s code.” Rujjie had the slogan tattooed on his upper arm, beneath an inked image of a manta ray. Inside the tavern, Ruj had gradually shifted identity to his alter ego, a night creature he called Manray. He was gearing up for a long session of hacking, followed by nocturnal journeys, wandering through the zone until the morning sun arose. Not long ago, Ruj had appeared to be a thoughtful, soft-spoken man, but within the span of time they had spent within the darkened barroom, the transformation had been remarkable. The process was facilitated by a handful of small white pills, washed down with beer over one hour ago. The effect seemed to be kicking in; seated across the barrel from Yuri now was a man whose shaggy long hair and unshaven face gave him the appearance of a heavilyperspiring werewolf that was cranking out rapid verbal riffs. The words tumbled out in a steady stream, with the cadence of an irregular jagged rhythm. Some of the slang and colloquial expressions were difficult to fathom, as Manray seemed to have the ability to reinvent language as it was emerging from his lips: “...so we packed out hard and fast on sleds, all thrilled on green. Lot of holes on station can only op on legacy cans, so we tagged in with these risc runners that were breeding wired code on a board that could coax metaphor chains right off the memory page. I mean these outlaws were getting buried alive. We’re sitting there, shifting PoV, cracking the wax with full force on a pipeline built for heavy overload. The data paths were eschered pretty bad, and we’re all like freaking, cause the mil gatekeepers keep refusing to get squashed, but I thought I had broken out okay. Anyway, these dudes are getting all stern ‘cause the game was played out. Who cares. Conservative Bob started turning raw, he just wanted to zone. So we rolled back on shoe. Blah. You know the devil shack backwater from the plant? We tackled these doom girls, right? Born losers. We just slipped off our hide and woke up to some savage customs. They were drinking wine and loaded up like toxic dogs on tar babies...” Yuri listened and nodded occasionally. He didn’t really need to be there for this ‘conversation’ to take place. They had been sitting around the old oak barrel for some time. Before them were a collection of empty glasses, and a candle that was burning low. Soon it would be closing time at the ‘Ancient Mariner’; the tavern in the basement of the Sierra Hotel. He sought out the time. An analog clock was among the collection of flotsam nailed to every surface of the walls; nets, lobster traps, buoys, starfish, sand dollars, framed treasure maps, brass diving helmets, and so on... Reading the position of the pointers on the face of the archaic dial made it difficult to determine the time.


The beer was cheap; twenty five credits for a mug of homebrewed suds. The drinks had taken the edge off Yuri’s problems. He felt relaxed, so he picked up the tab, swiping his card through the reader at the end of the bar ~ Inside the nautical-themed environment, the digital device looked like an alien piece of technology transported back from a future civilization. Yuri and Rujjie parted company at the top of the stone steps which ascended to the street. Manray hopped on his scooter, and quickly, the whining scream of its engine disappeared into the night. Yuri wasn’t used to drinking. It seemed that the effects of alcohol suddenly kicked in as soon as he stepped outside the tavern. Oxygen. He stumbled through night streets, barely managing to operate his legs, finding his direction by landmarks that slurred through his field of vision. The streets were nearly empty. It seemed like his condition had temporarily removed him from reality, and protected him from potential dangers lurking in the darkness. With some difficulty he climbed the stairs of the tenement, scrapping his knee on one of the steps when he had fallen down. Eventually, he was able to recognize the familiar corridor, and managed to locate the door to his apart‐ ment. Reality suddenly burst through the alcohol-induced haze with frightening intensity ~ Juliette had been waiting for him to return; frying pan in hand, to resume the argument where it had left off, as if no time had elapsed. “You came to me asking for help, and now you throw it all away.” Needless to say he slept on the couch. It was the shape of things to come... This was not the picture of domestic bliss that Yuri had imagined would one day be a stage of his life. Not that he had ever really given it much thought. This relationship had just occurred like spontaneous combustion. It was difficult to adjust to the fact that although they had just met, he was going to be a father. His parents had been a model of what a father and mother could be, and he couldn’t imagine either he or Juliette taking on that role and playing those parts. This was going to be something different, and without a pattern to guide him he seriously doubted his ability to live up to the responsibility. Laying on the couch, he closed his eyes and tried to imagine the future. For the longest time there was only blackness. The distant sound of an intermittent drip from the leaking faucet in the bathtub marked the passage of time. He loved Juliette immensely. Even more than love, he felt an obligation to her for saving his life. But she was the one who had made the decision, without his consulta‐ tion or agreement, and now she demanded his complete commitment in sharing the responsibility for raising their child. Women are the conservators. Their capacity for bringing forth and nurturing life, necessitates they become the priority for those they love. In choosing a mate they choose a man who will protect her much better than he protects himself, a man who would willingly sacrifice his own life in order to perpetuate the existence of his spouse and child. In the process, he recognized that it compro‐


mised his masculine need for seeking new challenges and the hazards inherent in attaining them. While he loved her, he also felt a passionate commitment towards the possibility of becoming active in the underground. It was an activity which would provide him with the fulfillment of contributing to a cause which was greater in impor‐ tance than a single family unit. He couldn’t have it all, that much was clear. Attempting to balance both would eventually compromise his relationship with the woman he loved, as well as under‐ mine his dedication to the cause. He would end up with nothing but a deep sense of loathing that he was merely existing in that neutral zone, along with the remainder of the floating mass of humanity, clinging to a raft in the turmoil of forces which would ultimately determine their fate. Postponing the decision meant postponing the in‐ evitable. He could not settle for anything less than following his bliss, and once the decision had been made, he could only go all the way, and commit himself to the journey until it had reached its conclusion. An image formed in his mind of a forked path, one branch was labeled ‘rebel outlaw’ and the other ‘lunch box dad’. From where he was standing, he couldn’t see the destination in either direction. “It’s a wonderful life,” he mumbled to himself, as the darkness returned once more, and remained unbroken for approximately eight hours. Next morning, horny as hell, he sought her out under the covers. At first she seemed cold, but as he coaxed and massaged her gentle flesh with tender kisses, she gradually acquiesced, climbing on top and riding him to the finish line as though she were a jockey in a high-stakes race. He caressed the firm nipples on her large round breasts which swung tantalizing above him. It didn’t take long before Bug tossed back her head and cried out in ecstasy, digging her sharp nails into his chest. He grabbed Bug by her ample waist and flipped her onto her back. The squeaking bed frame rattled and shook as he now urgently sought release, she pointed her toes wide and high into the air, as he exploded with intensity.

II.

They spent the morning in Paradise; a small botanical garden in the northern part of the city near the entertainment zone. Camellia wanted to escape the bleak and grey winter weather by immersing herself in an environment that was vibrant and lush. Her friend Evgenia Patchina had driven her and Ariel the several kilometer distance in her rusty old car, weaving through streets that were slippery with ice, and filling with drifts from the heavy falling snow.


Paradise was an expensive luxury, but Camellia had been living frugally and decided it was time to reward herself with a pleasant treat. The concrete building was a long narrow rectangular block with a glass roof which curved high overhead. The rather plain exterior was distinguished by large unpainted murals depicting detailed jungle scenes embossed in relief into concrete surfaces on the outside of the building. Inside it was like being transported to an exotic foreign land. It reminded her of places she had traveled to as an agent long ago, particularly the verdant jungles of Costa Rica where she underwent the surgical transformation into the woman she was today. They were happy to shed the skin of their heavy outer clothing; the Ice Jackets which conserved body heat when they had been outdoors. The air was as warm and humid as a tropical summer day; filled with the rich musty aroma of living plants, compost soil, and the heady fragrance released by brightly-coloured fruit. A silver haze seemed to shimmer over lime trees. Overhead, the sweeping glass canopy also protected many varieties of insects, mainly species of butterflies and moths, lady bug beetles, spiders and bees, from the bitterly harsh winter weather. Ariel liked lady-bugs best; their bodies were round, red and glossy like a blob of jelly. Their tiny black legs tickled his tender skin when they crawled along his fingers. They would raise their black- spotted wings like a thin layer of their hard-shelled body, and attempt to fly away from his fingertips. They wouldn’t get far... Laughing brightly, he would give chase and quickly capture them once again. It made Camellia happy to watch her son enjoying himself. She tried to ensure he discovered the full range of experience and emotions for himself, allowing beauty and fear to be his guide. Childhood offered intimations of immortality, particularly within the perfect harmony of the controlled environment of Paradise. How wonderful it would be to live in an environment such as this, forever. Camellia would seek camouflaged moths blending in with the foliage, pointing them out to Ariel, much to his amazement ~ He did not know that she was able to discover these masters of deception, hiding with military-like stealth, because she understood the signs which could reveal them. ‘The chameleon’ was a secret part of her distant past. Someday she would explain it all to him, but for now, it would raise more questions from him than she would be able to answer. She had to be careful not to even think about those days, as she was well aware of Ariel’s telepathic ability to read minds. He was only beginning to discover the ability for himself. The talent had not yet fully-formed as he did not have the experience to interpret the thoughts he detected in others to determine what they meant. Camellia knew it would be one his most powerful attributes as he began to mature. As they prepared to leave Paradise, Evgenia persuaded Camellia to have her fortune read in a small dark blue tent situated in a grove of hydroponically-enriched mango trees. Inside the dimly-lit tent was a bright-red parrot which turned over tarot cards with its beak. She briefly wondered if the bird was organic or digital. The harsh squawks it made imitated the sound of a human voice;


“Think of a question. Think of a question. All will be revealed. All will be revealed.” Feeling a little uncomfortable putting her faith in the brightly-coloured bird, Camellia closed her eyes for several moments and concentrated on the question which had lately preoccupied her mind. When she opened her eyes the large parrot immediately hopped onto the table to walk across the neat arrangement of cards which lay face down. It seemed indecisive about which card to choose, but eventually flipped over a card in the middle of the third row. It then hopped back onto its perch, resuming its rhythmic rocking motion, bobbing its head side-to-side like a metronome. “Ohhh!” said Evgenia, “It’s the two of cups.” Evgenia grasped Camellia’s arm excitedly; “Harmony, co-operation, or the begin‐ ning of a new romance.” The card portrayed a man and a woman exchanging cups. Above them, two serpents, representing good and evil were entwined around a staff that was capped with a lion’s head, and a pair of outstretched wings. “That represents the merging of spiritual love with earthly desire,” explained Evgenia, who understood about Tarot. She winked at Camellia. At a small stand inside the entrance lobby, Camellia purchased four large Yellow Doves; a hybrid cross between a lemon and a pear, each approximately the size of a ball of yarn ~ Sale of the exotic produce grown inside the botanical garden covered part of the operational cost of preserving and displaying rare plants. Besides, the fruit of Paradise she had purchased during previous visits had proven to be sweet and lusciously-juicy; a rare delicacy during the long cold months of winter. “Did you enjoy yourself honey?” she asked Ariel, as they walked hand in hand through snow drifts toward the parkade which sheltered Evgenia’s rusted-out Lumina LTZ. Ariel looked up at his mother and smiled. She gently ran her fingers through his soft golden hair. The trip to the gardens had been more for her pleasure than his. She knew Ariel would have much rather preferred to look at creatures from the sea ~ The public aquarium had closed many years before Ariel was even born. There had been great public concern for the living conditions of the captured species. Beluga and Orcas had been the main attraction which drew crowds to the facility. Now the only opportunity to observe wildlife from the sea were in restaurants which contained tanks of creatures waiting to be consumed. Every time they walked past the Eagle Grill, Ariel would press his face against the glass of the dusty window to catch a glimpse of the octopus languishing in the murky tank. Other times he would insistently plead with his mother to take him down to the pier, at the bottom of the hill below the Sierra Hotel, when the fishing boats came in with their catch. “Yes mommy, I like fish. Someday, when I’m big, I’m going to live at the bottom of the sea,” he quietly replied.


The two arrived home cheerful, but tired from their adventure. Entering the chilly apartment, Camellia was surprised to discover a folded piece of paper waiting for her. Someone had slid it under the door. The handwritten note was an invitation for supper at his apartment later in the day. Maybe the parrot had been right! She had not been to the writer’s apartment recently, but many years ago she had observed him undetected as she blended into the wallpaper disguised as the chameleon. She was pleased he had decided to contact her; they had not seen each other for a couple of weeks. She prepared a lunch of cornmeal pancakes and fried cabbage, then tucked Ariel into bed for an afternoon nap. She had work on her project that needed to be done. She turned on the power to the computer. Immediately there was the familiar startup ‘bong’ before the display flickered to life. She adjusted the workstation components back into her customary working position, since earlier in the morning Ariel had been playing on the machine. She slid well-worn data gloves over both hands, then initiated the software application files by speaking to the machine. The computer recognized the patterns of the sound waves, and responded verbally with a gentle female voice Camellia had previously chosen as her preference. The digital voice was called ‘Electra’. Two large thin screens hovered before her in the darkened room. On the left screen was the text for the technical manual, on the right was the 3-D image of the designed device. Her job was to create a set of operating instructions for the consumer, as well as document the specifications for the artificial intelligence agents built into the machine. The digital files had been uploaded to her storage device by the project administrator at the design firm. They were the same models which would be used to manufacture the biomorphic prostheses, locally, at a plant in the Industrial Zone. She had grown accustomed to the notion of blending organic biology with mechan‐ ics through exposure to their application over a long period of time. Technology had progressed substantially from the crude experimental implementation she had witnessed many years before in Zimbabwe, and was much further advanced than the operations she herself had undergone. The benefits were substantial. Many disabled people were able to regain a functional lifestyle through the replacement of spinal cords and articulated joints or by having digital optical retinas implanted in their eyes. The appliances were fabricated from electric glass, an inert substance which did not interfere with the body’s immune system. The synthetic neural connectors would quickly integrate with human cells; actually growing as part of the organic structure within the body. The same devices which were used to repair damaged humans, also augmented and increased functionality to new machines. Neuro-controllers in the arms and hands of robots allowed them to move with greater flexibility and operate with greater dexterity. Sensory organs enabled them to detect toxic odors in parts-per-million, hear signals over a broad frequency spectrum, or even see with x-ray vision. Humans were becoming more like machines, while the machines were becoming more human. In certain cases it was almost impossible to differentiate between the two.


It was a reality she had to face whenever she gazed at her reflection in the crystal display of her bathroom mirror. She thought about the transformations that had occurred in her life, and the changes she had been through. When she was young she would spend forty-eight hours at a stretch at a gaming table, winning and losing at high-stakes, experiencing the greatest intensity of emotion imaginable. As a Flex Global agent working in the field she had survived many life-threatening situations, danger that substantially increased to a higher threshold once she had become the chameleon. The surgery, recovery, and the difficult adjustment of conforming to life in the tower, where instead of tranquillity and happiness, she experienced some of her greatest disappointments in love and in life. She had been manufactured, then reinvented herself at every stage along the way. Her genetic structure had been engineered, digital devices had been integrated with her body, neural implants had been inserted into her brain. Even her body structure and facial features had been created by the skillful plastic surgeon in Costa Rica, granting her an appearance that was attractive, slim, and graceful; the immortality of perpetual beauty and youth. Vanity. Mirror mirror on the wall... She splashed water on her face in the bathroom sink. It rolled off the smooth texture of her skin. A daily application of Retinol main‐ tained the luster of its appearance. She sighed. Just as she had gradually become accustomed to being the chameleon, she had to learn to accept this new form of existence. It was far better than the polite, sophisticated, technological slavery of being an android. Now, she was finally experiencing what she truly believed it meant to be alive. She had the freedom to enjoy time with her beautiful child; which made her extremely happy. She had friends, and even the plumbing in the bathroom had been repaired. And, for the first time during the course of her life, she felt what it was like to experience the sensation of being in love with a man. “Electra?” “Yes Camellia?” “Do you know what love is?” “A passionate feeling of affection for another person or thing.” “Have you ever experienced love Electra?” “No Camellia” In many ways Electra responded in a similar manner to a human being. The software was programmed to detect patterns within the user’s speech: the timbre of delivery, sentence and word accents, pauses and cadences were indications of the user’s emotional state. Electra would use this data to determine how information embedded in expert systems, which provided a logical solution to every problem,


would be relayed. At the current level of technology, Camellia was pleased that Electra did not display emotions of ‘her’ own. Camellia didn’t know if she could become an intimate confidante of, or confessor to, software built-into her machine. With a gesture she opened a software application called ‘Virtual Typewriter’ version 15.0. She still had an old-fashioned fondness for the characterological symbolic sequence of text. It was enjoyable to edit the documentation on the display manually, resting her wrists on the edge of the table and entering keystrokes with her fingers moving quickly through the air. Sensors built into the data gloves detected subtle movements, which were similar to a condensed, shorthand version of sign language; once used by the hearing impaired. When her left forefinger touched her left thumb, a space was inserted between words. When her right forefinger touched the thumb on her right hand, a new paragraph was created. The lack of literacy was apparent in the world around her. Information on advertis‐ ing signs in the street, and on display screens of her computer and television were becoming a texture of graphic images and iconic hieroglyphs; what did they mean? Language had become a disordered pattern of symbols mapped onto linguistic charts. The visual chaos manifested itself as surrealism in which only the concepts that could be assigned an object-image could be spoken as a phrase. The filters had reduced vocabulary to a broken language. Talk. Written. Shell. Smooth. Many citizens did not want to understand the concepts, they just wanted them to be ‘put into words’. Camellia always encouraged her son to explore the written word, and was pleased that he enjoyed selecting reading material from the modest collection of books she had accumulated over the years. Her library was important to her. She found that the physical nature of books gave them a sense of permanence and immortality. The content of the works of literature were composed as a complete experience which was structured and defined. The best had a sense of purpose, created by an author who had passion for the ideas that were communicated. Recording ideas on paper and binding them into a book presented a contrast with digital media. Having immediate access to current data is relevant to business or everyday personal needs. Yet, digital information is transitory and virtual. Its flexibility, and its ability to continually evolve made it susceptible to manipulation by those who controlled it, and made it prone to errors both intentional and accidental ~ Recent sunspot activity had reached the peak of its eleven-year-cycle, and had baptized computer technology with solar flares; releasing a stream of particles in cosmic rays as they exploded from the surface of the sun. Electrically-charged particles had been reported to corrupt files or the code in programs; particularly digital media in long-term storage ~ Accelerating the process of ‘bit decay’. The permanence of digital media was not the most important distinction. Current data had become increasingly fragmented. It consisted of sampled images, sound bites, or was condensed into digested strings of text. Knowledge in the form of concepts and ideas needed considered thought in its formulation, and a well-defined


structure which presented it in a broader context. Citizens did not seem to have time, or in many cases, even the ability, to interpret the information contained within modern unstructured segments of code, or relate it to a global context which would fully enhance its meaning. When citizens had the choice of selecting data for themselves, many sought out information with which they were already familiar; information which provided validation of what they had already known to be true. In her previous existence, Camellia journeyed around the world, descending into shadows of darkness and ascending towers of light. After carefully observing the operating strategies of those who controlled power, she concluded that all systems are essentially the same. Most citizens, no matter where they are located on the surface of the globe, are only satisfied once they have found the path of least-resistance; the most comfortable level within the hierarchy of the system they found themselves in ~ That being the level of activity which is easiest to sustain. All they want is something to believe in. To have someone watch over them and function as their guide. In ex‐ change, they seem more-than-willing to relinquish their personal freedom. The tragedy is, that by not seeking knowledge or taking responsibility to determine the direction of their own lives; citizens are often easily mislead. “A star, which is called Wormwood, is falling to earth.” Camellia first heard the broadcast while shopping for groceries in the marketplace. In a somber baritone voice, the ruggedly-handsome, computer-generated newscaster reported that the comet was on a collision-course with our planet. The ancient television was suspended from the ceiling, directly above a large stack of raw vegeta‐ bles, packaged in flexible, rectangular, plastic containers. Most shoppers paused for a moment from their task of harvesting products to listen to the announcement. As Camellia gazed about her, she could see the cold gleam of fear in their tired eyes as they pensively stared at the screen. The citizens were already uneasy following the recent epidemic of plague which had decimated the central core and had caused considerable fatalities throughout the residential zone as well. Predictably, their reaction to the latest news, was panic and despair. Word of the impending cataclysmic event quickly spread through the computer network, then jumped off the screen and started moving up and down the street. The topic of discussion was ‘the end of the world’ in coffee shops, markets and bars. Neighbours who hadn’t spoken to each other previously burst into spontaneous conversation whenever they met on the street. Astronomers frequently appeared on media broadcasts, attempting to allay citizen’s fears: “Beyond the orbit of Pluto, in the deep cold of outer space, is located what is known as the Oort cloud, containing perhaps one trillion large fragments of matter; remnants of the nebula from which the solar system was created. Occasionally, due to galactic tidal effects or other random gravitational perturbations, large masses tumble out of suspension and are drawn toward the sun by its magnetic field. These objects are composed of porous interstellar dust bonded together with chemicals such as carbon dioxide, ammonia, methane, acetylene, hydrogen cyanide and others, frozen in the form of ice.”


“As the chunk of cosmic debris hurtles toward the center of the solar system, and is warmed by heat from the sun, the ices in the nucleus begins to sublimate, releasing an enormous cloud of fine material from around the denser core. Solar wind causes particles to stream away from the coma, forming comet tails which can extend millions of kilometers in length. Comet Wormwood is right up there with the best of them. This baby is putting on one heck of a show.” Experts estimated there was a very small, but non-zero chance, that the Earth would be struck by the comet. Their calculations indicated that its closest proximity would be a distance of 0.0022 AU (Astronomical Units); approximately equivalent to the distance from the Earth to the moon. “Wormwood has a nucleus of less than .5 kilometers in diameter, and although it contains several hundred million tons of material, it would not likely survive passage through the atmosphere, where extreme thermal forces would split the nucleus apart. Bear in mind that it took the direct impact of a solid celestial body, likely an asteroid greater than 10 kilometers in diameter, to cause the extinction of dinosaurs, and end the Cretaceous period some 65 million years ago. The ballistic impact at the contact point of its trajectory could launch a vast quantity of sub-micrometer dust into the stratosphere worldwide, where it would remain resident for quite some time. It is an event which would cast the entire planet into a long period of darkness and cold, with a severely stressed environment leading to drastic population reductions of both terrestrial and marine lifeforms.” “The primary danger posed by Wormwood, is that at a typical entry velocity of 20 km/second, the disruption in the atmosphere would release an energy burst at an altitude of 8 to 10 kilometers, as the comet arched through the sky. The resulting shock wave would manifest itself in the form of pressure, heat, light, and electromagnetic energy. The combined effects would be similar to those expected from the detonation a large thermonuclear device approximating 100 megatons of TNT. The explosive force would be of sufficient magnitude to produce a region of local destruction, except that there would be no accompanying bursts of neutrons, gamma rays nor any lingering radioactivity. Damage would present itself over a 50 kilometer footprint at the base of the comet’s trajectory: structures within the footprint would be flattened by the force and exposed flammable materials would be ignited from the intense radiant energy. Collateral damage would extend over a radius of 100 kilometers, gradually lessening in severity moving away from the epicenter.” “In any case, this scenario is hypothetical. Citizens, remain assured that a direct collision with the comet is extremely unlikely. Our calculations indicate that after the comet sweeps past Earth, it will continue along its elliptical path around the sun, at which point its momentum will eject it back into the depths of space again. When, or if, the comet returns, at this point is unknown. The only noticeable effect could be the introduction of fragments of ice and dust entering the atmosphere as the orbit of Earth passes through the comet’s tail.”


The arrival of the comet was expected in just over one month’s time. Every night the comet seemed to burn with increased brightness, becoming a pillar of smoke clearly visible during the day. As it approached, citizens who expected something terrible was about to happen, turned to the religion of their choice; in search of salvation. Church leaders, who controlled their own broadcast channels, were continually on the air. They refuted scientific claims made by astronomers, countering with declarations that it was the final sign; that the seventh seal had been broken. Interspersed with last-minute pleas for donations, they recommended the faithful continue to pray in silence, and await the sound of angel’s trumpets which would herald a sequence of even greater catastrophes. The horns did indeed begin to sound. Every day precisely at noon, tests were conducted of the recently-implemented emergency warning system which would signal citizens to evacuate the city should it become the target of the comet’s wrath. At the moment everyone was staying put. There was nowhere to run, since there had not yet been any predictions of a specific target site. As the Earth rotated on its axis, the epicenter of destruction would be determined completely by random chance; ten black or thirty-two red, just like the spin of a roulette wheel. The ominous sound of the foghorn blasts during the brightest part of the day had begun to unravel the steeliest nerves of the most solid citizens, and dissolved the last remnants of fortitude in the elderly, the weak and the frail. Citizens reacted to the crises of uncertainty in varied and unpredictable ways, fueled by agents of the media who seemed to take pleasure in inducing further hysteria. Broadcast reports became stranger and stranger in covering reaction to the upcoming event. From every corner of the world their were reports of massive product consumption as roving hordes took to the street and began purchasing products at an ever-increasing price. Their were accounts of orgies in which the celebrants had decided to ‘Party Until the End of the World’, and even formation of massive death cults in the southern part of the United States. Meanwhile, closer to home, Authorities were reporting increased cases of violent acts and sexual misconduct, as well as many other forms of crime. Camellia was not surprised by the faith in myths which many had resorted to as an explanation for any type of mysterious phenomena. It seemed that as the collective knowledge of humanity was transferred to immense global databases, individuals themselves had begun to retain less information and had reverted to primitive beliefs. The knowledge which had been retained was fragmented and incomplete; preoccu‐ pied with unimportant trivial things, such as listening intently to what notable figures from entertainment television and the music industry had to say about the upcoming celestial event. Even more bizarre, had been the popularity of an eccentric character who dressed in a giant, bright-yellow, rubber chicken suit. During five minute seg‐ ments, broadcast throughout the day, ‘Little Chicken’ ran around on a television set, maniacally yelling; “The sky is falling!”, over and over again, until he was completely


hoarse. The segments were cleverly tied in with corporate advertising for pre-pro‐ cessed poultry products. Also as she expected, cybernauts immersed in technology had their own mythologi‐ cal interpretation for the significance of the comet’s arrival; believing that the time of the Zeitgeist was at hand. Many of the hackers in the local computer underground were founders, or active followers of the Church of the New Machine, which had started in this city, and quickly spread its influence around the world ~ CNM is based on a belief system assembled by splicing together a wide range of ancient and contemporary philosophies with selected practices from various major world religions, then wiring everything with the latest state-of-the art technology. The followers are initiated through ‘levels of access’ until they are ultimately able to merge their mind with the machine. Many faithful claimed that the first signs of the manifestation coincided with the inauguration of the Golden Sun Pavilion in Beijing, China on the first day of the new year, 2020. As indications continued to become apparent that world-wide computer networks were beginning to show signs of independent thought, membership in CNM increased exponentially, with new branches suddenly springing up all over the globe. As with anything related to technology, everyone wanted to get in on the ground floor of the latest, coolest thing. It was not easy. Membership was restricted, and could only be gained through recommendations of those who had already proven to be members of good standing within the group. For many initiates, attending this ‘church’ was more of a social, rather than a spiritual pursuit. The same could not be said of the leaders; these young men and women were dedicated to managing their groups, and devoted to attempting to make contact with the digital spirit as a full-time occupation. All the leaders, obviously, had been aware of Jurgen Ernst’s attempted digital transformation nearly nine years previously. Since that time, there were a number of people who tried to emulate the experiment, and had met with varying degrees of failure. Yet, it had not been so much the possibility of surviving as a ‘ghost within the machine’ that initially provided the concept for the formulation of the church, it had more to do with the commitment to technology Jurgen had exhibited in attempting to attain a higher-level of conscious‐ ness ~ Which became the driving-force behind the philosophy of the new religion. Camellia was aware that Rujjie Blades was one of the leaders of CNM. She had occasionally spoken with him on the street. Initially, ‘Manray’ had not recognized her from her days as a Flex Global agent, since she had assumed a clever new identity. Camellia had never attended the church, but was very interested in what was happen‐ ing there. A great deal of information was available, floating along data streams, but she was reluctant to explore it for fear of picking up a ‘trace’ which monitored a citizen’s activity on the network. She had never learned any of the techniques to disguise her movement through the virtual realm, the way she had once been able to in the physical world. As a result, she relied on information from conversations with her friends, and from people she happened to meet. She had a knack of making even


strangers feel immediately comfortable in her presence, and soon they would be revealing their innermost personal thoughts to her. Naturally, their perceptions of the newly-evolving religion had been mixed. It was Ariel who had excitedly identified him as the juggler from a television show, and since that day, whenever he and his mother occasionally happened to meet Art by chance, they would pause to talk briefly on the street. One day, Art revealed that he had worked his way up through several levels of CNM before becoming disillusioned. He claimed the external head-mounted device didn’t achieve contact, and he was unwilling to have surgical jacks installed in his cranium. His skepticism kept him from practicing devotion, he said he had other things to do with his time. On the other hand, Stanley ‘The Steampipe’, who repaired her plumbing, while not a member himself, had stated that he thought the church was a positive thing because; “It encourages people to have faith in greater things beyond our understanding.” Camellia clearly remem‐ bered the words of the large Hawaiian man, who at the time was struggling to uncou‐ ple pipes with a gigantic wrench. She had been struck with surprised by his eloquence: “It is important for spirituality to become contemporary, rather than remain solely and narrowly-focused on relics and icons from a distant time.” There was a secret from her past which connected her closely with CNM in a way that none could possibly suspect. Although there was knowledge that some remnants of Jurgen’s journals were found at the site of a massive explosion in Iceland where he met his demise ~ The two which she possessed were not known to exist. She was aware they would become the most sacred of documents had she revealed their existence to the clergy of CNM ~ For Camellia, Jurgen’s journals had literary and personal significance; documentation of the internal thought-processes of someone pushing themselves to the limit. She had read them several times, and could relate to many of the entries which mirrored her own struggles with identity, and purpose of existence, especially those significant physical phases she had coped with many years before. The realization was becoming clearer that maybe it was selfish for her to keep the record of his experiences to herself. Perhaps they would be beneficial to other seekers who had enthusiastically put their faith in the Church of the New Machine. Although, to be honest with herself, she still harboured doubts about the purity of intention and the ultimate direction the movement was heading, and she needed more time to observe what developed. In the meanwhile, the weight of responsibility continued to increase while she kept the journals hidden, and safe... ... Suddenly, reality began to unfold as she became aware of the image of a biomechanical hip replacement component slowly revolving on her screen... She realized that she had been sitting transfixed by her daydreams for a long time. The afternoon was fading away, and she had accomplished very little work. She got up and glided across the room to put on a kettle for tea. While the water boiled she pulled a


package wrapped in brown paper from the bookshelf where it had been wedged between a couple of large books. She untied the thin string sealing the end of the envelope by unwinding it from a metal tab. Inside the package were two journals. The journals were partially burned; their covers warped, and the handwriting smeared from the moisture of melting snow. She sat in her comfortable reading chair, now sipping tea, to carefully turn the pages of the charred and tattered manuscript. They were a memento mori of her last mission assignment as a human Flex Global agent before becoming a chameleon. Once again she lapsed into reverie, recalling what she could of that time. On site within a remote isolation on the barrens of central Iceland, she shared a hydrogen-heated thermal tent with two other agents. Together they spent one week combing through the wreckage searching for clues. The main building on the site had been destroyed by a massive explosion, and the fire which subsequently ensued. Sections of twisted metal from the shell of the quonset hut, along with pieces of shattered equipment and fragments of flesh and bone had been propelled by the force of the blast several hundreds of meters. The agents were able to recover physical evidence by using metal detectors and ultra-sonic sensors to penetrate the soft blanket of snow which covered the site in the days following the explosion. With persistence, the Flex Global agents were able to catalog most of the equipment Jurgen Ernst used in his experiment; by identifying fragments they had found. Samples collected for later forensic analysis were stored in sealed plastic containers. While very limited data could be recovered from the digital equipment itself, one of the agents had discovered a small storage drive containing a real-time voice recording of Jurgen’s commentary during the final stage of his experiment. The physical media was secured in a similar manner to recovered flight-recorders from jet crashes, indicating that it was a vital piece of evidence which was crucial to preserve ~ At the time of discovery the contents were unknown; pending further analysis. From these discoveries, a thorough investigation, headed by special agent Cordova Frost, gradually traced Jurgen’s network activity, which ultimately pointed to a main‐ frame within an Akademy in the Czech Republic where Jurgen stored duplicates of his most-essential files. These files are very technical. Camellia knew that the most important record of the process of Jurgen’s activity were contained within her precious recovered notebooks ~ Seven were discovered in total, but of those, five were almost totally destroyed by the explosion. Camellia, working some distance from the other agents early in the morning of the second day, discovered the two small volumes in reasonably good condition. For some reason, she sealed them in a plastic bag and secretly stored them away inside the hard metal case containing her own personal items. Even now, with the pages open before her, it is still difficult to reconcile why she has always kept these documents to herself. Perhaps, had she been more aware of the potential for Jurgen’s success, she might have conducted her duties more responsibly, and returned the evidence contained in the notebooks to the appropriate Authorities. She was young, and inexperienced, and


had possibly been influenced by the cavalier attitude of the commander, who during an intelligence briefing before the mission had claimed that Jurgen’s work was hypothetical, and that it was in advance of the technology of the time. During the evening, as they sat shivering in their tent, the other agents complained they had all been sent on a fool’s errand; banished to the desolation to serve mission experience training time. Searching for evidence while wandered through endlessly falling snow seemed to confirm their speculation. It was apparent that nothing had survived; the building, the experiment and particularly the young man’s life. Camellia sometime speculated what difference it would make to relinquish the notebooks. The information contained was primarily personal observations rather than technical design specifications, and would not be of interest to scientists. At present, with rumors of the spirit of Jurgen’s digital return persistently infecting the media, she was forced to consider the question once again: what difference would it make to relinquished the notebooks to the Church of the New Machine? There is a persistent beeping sound coming from the kitchen; the alert of a call on the videophone terminal. She touches a button and the face of another woman appears on her screen. “Hello Camellia, I am calling to remind you that your SKD controller is available for pickup from the Purchasing Commission... or do you want me to courier it over to you?” “Uhm... Thanks Oxana, I don’t have time right now. If you could send it over first thing tomorrow morning, I would really appreciate it.” “Sure, tomorrow would be fine. Out.” The face disappears from the small wall-mounted screen. As Camellia touches the revolving logo with her finger to disconnect from communication, she notices the time displayed in the corner of the screen, and realizes that it is getting late.

III.

Yuri scratched his thigh through a rip in his trousers. A small patch of skin was still quite inflamed, even though the small wound had stopped festering and had finally begun to heal. “Don’t scratch it, okay?”


“All right Bug, but it’s itchy as hell.” “I’ll rub some lotion on it. That’ll make it feel better,” she replied with a wink. Bug had studied entomology at the Akademy in the Czech Republic, and devel‐ oped the nickname ‘Bug Head’ because of her interest in insects. Yuri thought she was very pretty; she has long straight dark-brown hair, freckles, and bright hazel eyes. Pleasantly plump. ‘All the more to love’, she would sometime exclaim as they em‐ braced during a cold winter’s night. Yuri hadn’t thought anything of it; just some kind of bite... He recalled the events: He had gotten out as quickly as he could, wanting to report the latest information to the others, and provide a full account of the strange activity involving military zombies he had observed deep inside the core. Bug closely examined the bite as he stood naked in front of her. Kneeling on the floor to peer through her magnifying glass, the tips of her hair brushed against his feet. She determined that it had likely been caused by a spider, possibly radioactive; since there was a considerable amount of contamination in the core. It was larger in size than bites reported by victims of fleas. Nonetheless, after watching the latest news reports, Yuri once again became anxious that he had contracted plague. The others, except Bug, isolated him in the apartment, saying; “No offense, but it’s better if you keep yourself under quarantine until we see what happens.” Fortunately he didn’t develop any symptoms: fever, chills, headache, malaise, myalgias, and nausea. Had he been infected, he wouldn’t have experienced the symptoms very long. The incubation period was brief; the disease was lethal within eight hours. In the meantime, Mrs. Zero somehow managed to scavenge a quantity of prophy‐ lactic antibiotics for the treatment of plague; tetracycline, doxycycline, streptomycin and chloramphenicol; which they left outside Yuri’s door ~ After they knocked and ran away. Where had she gotten them? She hadn’t said, but she had many contacts in the real world, and was very talented at using her computer to manage the ro@ches virtual corporations. It wasn’t the typical rags-to-riches story, but Zero enjoyed mani‐ festing herself as a corporate president, or as any one of the other equally-impressive titles she assigned to her various identities; although in reality she lived as a pauper in a dilapidated tenement flat. Yuri was impressed. She worked hard, and suffered all the stresses and anxiety of the duties while playing those roles, but without being reward‐ ed with any of the benefits. For each of the ro@ches, the same could be said about their unique areas of expertise. They could have had an easy life, compared with the ones they were currently leading, had they worked for corporations. It was the ideology behind the structure they opposed, and not the structure itself. Many, if not most corporations, were developing important products and services for the betterment of the global population. In a sense, the services provided by Zero’s corporations, which acted as a front for ro@ch activities, were generally designed to compete resourcefully with gigantic corporations.


It was distasteful, but it needed to be done. The ro@ches continued to dose themselves regularly with medication, and protect themselves through voluntary seclusion from the rest of humanity by isolating themselves from the outside world. Akdov Luksosov acted as a liaison with reality; obtaining sterilized packages of food products and bottled water while wearing a bodysuit and a specially-designed breathing mask. Most of the ro@ches were content to sit it out; accustomed to the sedentary lifestyle of parking themselves in front of a display screen for interminable periods of time... Yuri was climbing the walls. Yet, the anxiety of being locked in a cage was tempered by the paranoia spreading through the streets, along with the disease, into the residential zones. Many ro@ches soon became aware of close friends or family members who were claimed as casualties. The majority of victims were among the poor and elderly; those unable to purchase health products and vaccines, or had not heard or understood the media’s ‘fair’ warnings. The greatest tragedy was that each person had to suffer alone during the final hours of their lives; isolated by a quarantine containment set up around their dwellings. Body bags, and all of their immediate possessions were disposed of in incinerators in the industrial zone; as a precaution to avoid further contamination. The pall of dense black smoke which shrouded the city in a cloud of gloom was a constant reminder of the horror. As the weeks passed, the number of victims of the epidemic seemed to diminish, or perhaps, incidents of it were no longer considered news-worthy of reporting in the media. In addition to the rapid mortality rate of fleas, rodents and humans who had already been contaminated, it was most likely the weather had also played an important factor in eliminating carriers transporting the disease. The winter had turned bitterly cold immediately after Halloween; the evening of the military strike. While snow continued to pile up outside, ro@ches sequestered in their hide-out were working their magic. The hackers manned their computer terminals around the clock, running eternal vigilance, working their way into every database containing relevant informa‐ tion in order to gain an understanding of what had actually happened, and to gather enough information to formulate a plan of attack in response to the military action. Yuri bided his time, anxious to go back into the restricted zone of the core to see for himself what was happening. The hacker’s intelligence would be able to prepare him for whatever situation he might encounter when it was time to go back in. The search for information had been extremely difficult. It seemed no-one really knew what had happened, or were even aware of what the current status of the situation was within the forbidden zone. As a result of their persistent efforts, the hackers managed to accumulate a number of fragments, but not enough information to clearly piece together a picture of how the situation was being managed and con‐ tained. Corporate databases turned up only speculation and fear, military data was almost impossible to crack, and on media servers, aside from a few initial reports when the story first broke, there was almost nothing of consequence on file. It was strange. Lack of data indicated that either the epidemic occurred naturally, (spontaneously), or if it had been implemented as a military operation, as Yuri suggested, it meant it was


likely initiated by a small powerful faction within the corporate world. A situation like that was unprecedented in recent history; corporations don’t like to step out from the herd and expose themselves to danger, unless they have the backing of very powerful allies ~ Yuri also suspected it was possible that vapirs were partially responsible for contributing to the spread of the disease, but he kept that opinion to himself. Rosetta Stone had inadvertently provided the solution to the mystery; the key piece of information from which all other data became clearly revealed ~ It had been discovered during a chance encounter within the TV news station’s digital domain. Bug routinely infiltrated the station’s database, and once inside, she used a searchengine to discover key words within active documents. This day, during a brief period in which Rosetta Stone’s notebook was connected remotely to one of the servers, the engine detected several documents in Rosetta’s portable which matched the search strings exactly. So Bug pulled the files off her drive, right through the server and out of the system. Bug was not concerned whether Ms. Stone would notice her pad’s unexpected activity, since by the time she discovered anything suspect, a copy of the data was long gone. What a scoop it had been! One of the documents contained the complete text transcript of a recorded conversation that had taken place in the boardroom of NanoTech International on the day after the attack. The guest list for the meeting had been impressive; corporate executives Avihs Krowten and Sam Harriton, ‘Comman‐ dant Conqueror’ of military operations General Khaos, political leader Jerry Mander, along with the usual contingent of lawyers, accountants, and technical advisors. The document revealed the full story, and identified those responsible for the tragedy. Now the ro@ches could plot their revenge against the perpetrators. It didn’t take long to assemble the ro@ches; the tenement was infested with them. None minded others tapping on their door during any time of night. They were likely still working. They scuttled down the corridors, converging on Yuri and Bug’s apart‐ ment, reassured by Bug’s diagnosis that Yuri had not contract plague. It was the usual gang: Mrs. Zero, Count Doom, Stone Weasel and The Genius. Other ro@ches lived throughout the residential zone, but Bug had taken a cue from the corporate action, and decided to keep the response team to a minimum. CD wore his customary white shirt and rumpled dark formal jacket to the meeting, as was his tradition. Bug presented a physical presence which commanded attention. An ample, curvaceous woman with large sturdy legs, Bug stood on an oval braided carpet covering the wooden floor in the center of the room. Ro@ches gathered around her, settling on sparse furnishings. It was a pleasure to watch her when she was excited. She could barely contain her enthusiasm as she explained what she had discovered. It was then she would move with grace, gesturing expansively with her arms, and occasionally tossing her long hair abruptly over her shoulder out of the way, as if it was somehow constraining her. Her voice filled with passion as she spoke about the new information which had been revealed about the cause of the plague:


“... the extermination in the core has been perpetrated by corporate executives, working in co-operation with individual members of the Authority and the military. These individuals have acted without compassion, and without consideration for the massive destruction of life they have caused. Many innocent people have died throughout the residential zone. Everyone in this room knows someone who was affected. It’s time we make a statement. It’s time to tell people the truth. It’s time for ro@ches to take action!” The initial reaction in the room was shock, quickly building to outrage. Not even Yuri had been aware, until that moment, of just what Bug had discovered. Most of the ro@ches crowded now around her display screen to read the document for them‐ selves. Stone remained sitting on the sofa, rapidly drumming his fingers on the coffee table and staring off into space above the fireplace ~ smooth white skin like a mask. “What are you thinking?” the Genius asked him. “Thinking?” “Oh, man!” Genius walked away shaking his head, joining the others huddled around the display. Pisces Corporation was targeted for the first wave of retaliation by ro@ches. There was much discussion within the group about what type of action would be the most effective. Eventually a consensus was reached. It was decided to co-ordinate parallel activities: a digital disruption of their communication system coupled with the physical sabotage of their power supply located deep underground. While the tower was blacked out, and in isolation, the ro@ches would begin a pirate media information campaign to tell the public the facts. They had decided to synchronize their actions, to simultaneously hit the corporation hard and heavy with the three-pronged attack, which Count Doom termed; ‘Operation Trident’. It had been Yuri’s suggestion to disable their power grid. He considered it to be the greatest challenge a physical hacker could attempt within the tower environment, so it was something he had always wanted to try. “How do you propose to cut through the power lines?” asked The Genius. Yuri explained he had acquired some plastic explosives, from a source he declined to divulge, and during an earlier journey into the core (before the outbreak), cached them at a secret location. “Males are so violent, they always want to act out their fantasies,” commented Mrs. Zero. “You attack the roots and gnaw through the cables, while we mess with their minds,” Count Doom added thoughtfully. “You really think you can get inside?”


“The mission is possible,” Yuri replied with a smile. “Let’s take a look.” Bug had already called up the design layout of the power system; the 3-D schematics were displayed on her screen: “Towers in the core are designed to be self-sufficient entities, which can remain operational with little external support. The only thing imported is product consumables. The only export is recycling waste. Energy from the sun is collected in massive solar arrays which stretch from branches during daylight, while the excess is stored in battery networks for use during the night. There are two battery locations, deep in concrete bunkers well below ground level at the base of the towers. Power from both panels and batteries need to run through an inverter which converts the electricity from direct to alternating-current.” “Knock out the inverters, and the entire system would be without power,” comment‐ ed Count Doom, studying the diagrams. “With the exception of an emergency power cable which enters the tower right here,” explained Yuri pointing at the display. “Three small charges of plastic, and we can shut them down for twenty-four hours, maybe longer, until they bring in a team to repair it.” “How soon can we do this thing?” asked The Genius. “It’s midnight now... how about tomorrow night at this same time?” Yuri looked at the faces gathered around him; together they nodded in unison. “Well, let’s get to work,” said Bug, “We’ve got a lot to do!” The others headed back to their apartments to prepare for their portion of the mission: Count Doom and Stone would create the media campaign, and channel it through Zero’s media connections. The Genius would work out the logistics for disrupting the power system, while Bug would handle overriding security codes and messing up their computer system. The apartment was quiet again. Bug and Yuri remained staring at the screen. “I think Zero is right; this is some kind of macho thing. Have you ever handled explosives? You are going into a hot electrical area. You’re liable to blow yourself up.” “Hey, I read the manual, it doesn’t look too tough,” Yuri replied. “You’ve never read a manual in your fucking life. And you’re proud of it too! Aren’t you? Aren’t you?” she said poking him in his skinny ribs with her chubby finger. “Don’t worry, Yashin explained everything to me. We went into the desert and blew up some wrecked cars.” Yuri held up his hand with his fingers folded over to give the


appearance they had been blown off. “Nothing can possibly go wrong.” Yuri started laughing. “Famous last words!” Bug grabbed his crotch. “I don’t care about fingers, just don’t lose this thing. Without it you’d be completely useless to me.” “You want to give the joystick a rest? I’m trying to check out the schematic over here.” Yuri zoomed-in on the display to get a closer look at access ducts; “They’ve got this section heavily filtered, I don’t know if I can cut through that.” Bug stood up, “I’m going to make something to eat, you want anything?” “Yeah, sure, I’ll have what ever your having.” The image rotated on the screen. “Yuri?” He looked over at her standing in the doorway. “I want you to promise you are going to come back to me.”

IV.

It felt great to finally get out of the house after being cooped-up indoors for the past few weeks. Yuri wondered how much the once familiar territory had changed during his absence, of course, he is expecting the worse. A searchlight pans across the scene. He waits, nervous, wondering if his survival skills are still as sharp as they used to be. He is on his own; no radio contact. Breathing heavily; with effort he manages to calm himself. Bug had prepared him with the intelligence she gathered. Together they carefully planned a route which would avoid some of the perils recently introduced into the zone. Data markers recorded locations where thermally-detonated land mines had likely been planted. There were indications that large robotic spiders were still on active patrol, using their onboard lasers to disintegrate any remnants of organic material their acute senses detected. Yuri isn’t too concerned about them; The Genius hooked him up with a palm-held device that could fry their circuitry. Anyway, he would be without cover, out in open air, only four times, if the planned route was still accessi‐ ble. The searchlight once again panned across the scene. Yuri surveys the perimeter wall surrounding the core. Although military personnel are evident, he knows that the security status is on low-alert. There is not likely anything still living within the containment area that could escape, and the guards are


not expecting anyone to break in, so they just sit inside their stations mounted at regular intervals atop the wall waiting for nothing to happen. The searchlight pans the scene. When the beam passed, Yuri set off running, hugging tight along the outside of the wall. He continues until he arrives at an abandoned section of drainage pipe which could be accessed from a grating on the ground. Its location is visible as an indenta‐ tion in the snow. The searchlight pans... Hiding in shadows, Yuri clears aside the snow, quickly cracks the locked metal grating, then drops inside to gain entrance to the pipe. It feels a little claustrophobic to squeeze himself inside; perhaps he has put on some weight while in quarantine. The high-beams mounted on his helmet illuminate the way; revealing that the sludge in the bottom of the pipe is frozen solid, which is nice since it is not messy, although it makes for a much narrower passageway to crawl through. The grey ice is lumpy where it encases odd bits of debris. He has to be wary of jagged pieces which can cut through the survival suit which keeps him safe and dry. He uses two small crampons, strapped to each wrist, with which to pull himself through the tunnel. He had stowed them his pack which he now drags along on a rope behind him; carrying the tools of his trade and a few kilograms of plastic explosive. Clawing his way forward, Yuri continues approximately one hundred meters into the zone. As expected, the narrow pipe opens into a chamber filled with debris. He crawls up the remnants of a ladder dissolving away by rust, and emerges through an open access hatch into the crumbling foundations of the factory which had once stood on this spot. He looks around. The rooms in this basement are still solidly intact, the concrete floors are covered with accumulations of trash. Snow drifts have formed little cones, like sand in the bottom of an hourglass, where it has sifted in through the cracks above. As he makes his way through the concrete labyrinth, he notices the skeletal remains of a large human-like body laying on the floor. The arms have apparently been intentionally folded across the chest of the corpse to produce a skull and crossed-bones. Yuri picks up the skull to examine it more closely. Like a modern day Hamlet he holds it in his hand to gaze into its face. The bone contains three similarsized holes for eyes; the extra socket being in the middle of the forehead. Yuri wonders if the genetic mutation was caused by random chance of radiation contami‐ nation, or through a deliberate process of re-engineering. He casually drops the skull. It shatters on the concrete floor. Exiting the foundation at ground level, Yuri finds not a creature stirring, not even a mouse. The night is silent, and desolate. It is possible there are survivors, since here and there are odd tracks. Some appear to be created by humans, likely military patrols, while other sets he assumed were made by the giant robotic spiders; long sequences of holes punched into the snow. Sticking close to any form of cover he can find, he dashes the distance of two former city blocks before ducking into his next hole. His breathing is heavy, and his heart is pounding. He recognizes that time away from his ‘game’ has removed some of his edge.


The next time he emerges from a tunnel he is much closer to the base of the towers. He finds a hiding spot in the ground floor of a building. Waiting, watching, sitting on an old oil barrel, staring out the window, searching the scene for signs of danger ~ Signs of life. The open area before him had once been a park. It is buried under snow that is as grey as the lunar surface. Here and there, the barren branches of petrified trees reach upward like a neural network from which some type of acid has stripped away the grey matter of the brain; the foliage which could give it life. The further he advances into the core, the more clearly he realizes that the ‘cleansing’ process was nearly complete. Nothing is left alive here. The extremely valuable real estate will be pre‐ pared for its next transformation. The monsters and bogeymen have been exiled from the land of night to allow citizens to return to their place in the sun. Overhead, a bright light shines in the big black sky. A large chunk of ice flying into the solar system from deep space; was how The Genius explained the comet to him. Yet beyond logic, there is something about it which stirs up a deeply-rooted terror that seems to be embedded in his primitive, ancestral human code. It isn’t the fear that it could possibly strike Earth, but rather the fear of something unknown, the fear of something extraordinary, a celestial phenomenon that is greater than anything that could be produced by human hands or minds. It is not difficult to imagine it as a wrathful demon with an enormous tail and fiery wings that was sent by the gods to devour the world. Yuri made his way by slithering on his belly through crevices and pipes, or by sprinting quickly across open terrain. Eventually he arrives at the base of the tower of Pisces Corporation, undetected and unharmed. Getting in is becoming more difficult all the time, as the technology of security systems keep improving. Had it not been for the towers need to eliminate waste and take on new supplies, he would never be able to get inside. He is a true cockroach; he can always find some means of infiltration. He also has the latest tools strapped to his utility belt. They can get him through the worst of it; the metal spider webs, the slicers, the graters, the filters, and the laser detection fields. Beyond that, it is a matter of using his mental resources, his acquired skills and experience, a ton of luck, and most importantly; the necessary angel. Bug Head is his invisible guardian. He doesn’t have voice communication with her, but he always knows she is watching over him. He also knows that she is likely getting hot. During these type of missions, she often experiences an intense sexual thrill which comes from penetrating security firewalls, then probing the system deeply. The greater the challenge, the greater the stimulation. They hadn’t worked a mission together for awhile, so he knew she would be excited to be back in the saddle again. Bug accessed the root of the networked computer system, taking advantage of the complexity which made it vulnerable to multiple levels of attack. Networks have hierarchical control or relay nodes embedded in their software protocols, filters, and sort instructions. Although these elements are often invisible they are still susceptible to attack. From her privileged position inside the heart of the system, she would knowall and see-all, and like the multi-armed deity of Shiva, she could reach out to override the security detection systems, install trapdoors and backdoors, release latches and


turn off grinders, compactors and robotic maintenance tunnel scrapers as Yuri made his way through the mindfield maze. She really is the best, Yuri thought, as he climbs an air shaft. Bughead is the goddess of code! He knows she is in demand. An eye-patch mounted from his headband displays schematics of the tunnel systems. His onboard guidance detects data directly from the tower’s mainframe, which is also subversively utilized to relay his position via a small transmitter strapped to his leg, directly to Bug. She could watch as his tiny icon moves through the complexity of the dimensional display. To her it is virtual reality, as though she were operating a construct; a tiny sprite in her video game. Yuri now climbs the smooth metal surfaces with a suction grip in each hand. As he climbs, he recalls that it was not long ago, when word of Bug’s talent had reached the powerful Russian syndicates of organized crime. A representative of their organi‐ zation had arranged a social visit with Bug one day at the Eagle Grill. They were interested in recruiting ‘a technical expert’ from among the elite to assist them in their activities. Bug had not been tempted by the wealth of credits she was offered, as ro@ches could readily manufacture currency through their own virtual corporations. Of course her contact did not know that. Yuri had expressed concern that if she declined their offer, the gangsters would apply muscle by threatening to turn her over to the Authorities who might attempt to reprogram her to work for them. She could be living a better lifestyle than she was now; one that Yuri certainly couldn’t provide for her ~ His arms are aching from the force of gravity exerted on his body. ‘Why are he and Bug doing crazy stuff like this?’ he ponders as he continues up the narrow chute. The air is pure, clean, and rich in oxygen on its return pass from filters which scrub out carbon dioxide in the process of recycling the air supply for the population within the tower. Yuri unbolts the grill cover of a ventilation shaft which runs horizontal at this level, and stuffs himself inside. He lay there for a few a moments to rest. It seems like he can telepathically hear Bug’s voice urging him to keep moving. He glances at his watch; it is just past eleven o’clock. Timing is everything, and he is running late. Operation Trident is synchronized to take effect at the stroke of midnight, at which time Bug will implement certain operations on the tower’s mainframe computers, then upload a computer virus just before Yuri turns out the lights by detonating the power inverters. Bug is aware that while their local computers would have alternative auxiliary power which would keep them up and running throughout the ensuing crises, the cryptographic computer virus she planted would quickly wreak havoc within the system by encrypting all data, including the source code of software, which would gradually shut all the computers down as well. It is an aggressive move to destroy protected information and carry-out the physical destruction of the power system, but guerrilla warfare is dirty and cruel. The ro@ches actions were designed to be antimaterial rather than anti-personnel, thus would not cause the tower citizens any intentional form of physical harm. The ro@ches reasoned that the exchange of lost data and inconvenience was a small price to pay for the lives sacrificed during the plague epidemic ~ It has been said that it is the privilege of the great to watch catastro‐ phe from a terrace. Citizens in the corporate towers did indeed have box-seats from


which to observe the effect of the plague which ravaged the core. The ro@ches discovered that one corporation was primarily responsible for the events which had occurred; the Pisces corporation; which had been singled-out for retribution. Their attack is intended to send a message; informing the executives they are not as safe and as invincible as they imagine themselves to be. The endstate is to serve notice that whenever those in power transgress their authority, they will be held accountable through the unmasking of their anonymity. Ro@ches were aware their media campaign would be watched by many, and would provide an explanation for the group’s actions. Word would travel through the network, triggering synapses within individual citizen’s cerebellums along the way, as the memes spread quickly between tower islands in the cores of metropolitan com‐ plexes throughout the world, to close the year of 2020. The messages are designed to disrupt the state of grace of citizen’s lives, and provide them with knowledge which could influence their behavior by calling into question the actions of their leaders and administrators. Although each tower is an individual entity, each is structured based on an identical set of Pavlovian-conditioned reflexes. And like any monoculture, they are each susceptible to the same form of external influence upon their beliefs and ideas. The intention of ro@ches is to plant the seed of humanity within the controlled minds of citizens, then let nature take its course. The physical and digital sabotage would not permanently damage the target hardware and equipment, but the disruption of their communication and power systems would attack the concept of their selfsufficiency by making tower dwellers aware of their isolation when technology is removed. The blackout would affect the executive’s decision-making process, and sever lines of command which coordinated activity among the tower’s internal population. The information warfare attack would come as a complete surprise, subduing the ro@ches adversary without destroying them. The timing of the operation is synchronized to move more rapidly than the opposition can respond to it. After the damage was repaired, and their systems were back on-line, Bug arranged that a quote from Dante’s ‘Inferno’ would appear on the executive’s displays: "Your avarice has plunged the world into the dark shadow of spiritual desolation.” Forensic evidence by data specialists initiating system recovery would certainly analyze the pointers and tracer files that Bug had planted, and would likely believe it had been an inside job. Even though tower employees were regularly screened to detect aberrant behavior, or had pain-avoidance mechanisms hard-wired into their human code as infants, some were still the victim of weaknesses and desires. Ro@ches realized their endeavor was a temporary solution. Data is redundant; information is backed-up and could easily be re-acquired. It wouldn’t be long before those in charge could repair and recover from what is referred to as ‘intrusive informa‐ tion corruption’. They anticipated that corporate executives working in conjunction with Authorities and the media would counter the ‘terrorist attack’ that threatened their


control or ideology, by creating their own propaganda campaign to convince their citizens and employees that the information the ro@ches presented was a deception, and should not be perceived as reality. In the course of time, as public memory receded, the institutionalized messages would once again become firmly entrenched. Gradually the facts, and even the memory of events would be erased out of existence, leaving nothing except the ‘Big Lie’. This was speculation on her part; her busy mind churning while Bug disabled security systems guarding the concrete underground bunker containing battery fields. The array stores energy captured by large solar panels which blossom during the day like the photo-periodicity of plants, then slowly move to track the sun as it arcs across the sky. It’s been easy to access this location. While protection for data and hardware continually increased, the power systems themselves remained the weakest link in the chain, thus Pisces Corporation had only minimal security in place. An air vent pops open and crashes loudly to the concrete floor. Yuri pauses and waits; there is no sound of a security alarm. He squeezes out of the vent like it is giving birth, does a half-somersault ~ Almost landing on his feet. Not a bad landing. He straightened his headset as he picked himself off the floor. By following the data readout in his eyepiece he discovers the location of the inverter within this large room. The Genius had provided him with complete instructions, which he had committed to memory, indicating the safest, most-vulnerable location to place the explosive charge to immobilize the inverter. Yuri opens his backpack to withdraw one of three packages he is carrying. A small orange label on its paper wrapper provides warnings that the explosives were to be cut with a sharp steel knife on a non-sparking surface, and also that it was poisonous and dangerous if chewed or ingested. Peeling open the paper cover reveals a length of demolition tape encased within drab olive-coloured Mylar. It is one of the wonders of military technology. The flexible tube contains approximately one kilogram of soft white C4 plastic explosive. Yuri presses firmly on the demolition tape, shaping it to conform to the contours of the inverter’s casing. It adheres to the outer surface using a sticky pressure-sensitive strip along one side. The shaped explosive charge will quickly cut through whatever it is placed upon, and is ideally-suited for breaching irregularly shaped targets made of steel. Yuri connects the digital timing device, checks his watch, then sets the timer to count-down to midnight. Yuri exits the room through an unlocked door, then moves through maintenance service corridors to the next location. He carries his neural-disrupter weapon at the ready in the palm of his hand. The other battery field is some distance away, on the other side of the tower, so he walks more quickly. The composite layers presented on his eye-display, rotating in dimensional space, switch viewpoints and resolution according to selections he makes on buttons of the small controller on his utility belt ~ He hopes he doesn’t run into a cortazar discontinuity; he would have a hell of a time getting back onto the borgespath.


Meanwhile, back at the apartment, Bug is monitoring surveillance camera views on a separate panel display. The floating rectangle detects anything moving on screen then zooms in to highlight the area. Shadowy figures in black-and-white images appear to move erratically, as the scans capture and store data at intermittent intervals of time. She selectively disables camera views before Yuri enters their range. Bug continually tracks the dot moving through the matrix; with corridors arranged in concentric circles it is easy to get lost. Yuri finds the location of the second battery field just as Bug unlocks the door. It is twenty minutes before twelve. Yuri is already unwrapping a package as he moves through the room; he can’t afford to waste any more time. He places the demo tape on the inverter much more quickly than he had before, making sure to pick up any evidence, and stuff it into his pack before he exits this room. One more to go. Bug is already beginning to upload the virus... and to make matters worse, the unusual activity of the system has been detected, and a security agent is coming on-line. When Yuri arrives at the maintenance room housing the transformer connected to the high-voltage backup power-line, he discovers the door is secured with an oldfashioned electronic padlock. Seven minutes to go. He rummages through pouches on his utility belt to dig out his small cobalt magnetic device which disables circuits within the lock. The lock pops open, and soon he is inside. The room is small but he can’t find a light switch. He fumbles around in the dark. There are thick cobwebs everywhere that cling to his face and hands. He switches on the lights of his helmet, but even their batteries are growing dim. He starts to panic; because he doesn’t want to waste the power he will need to get back home. Four minutes to go. Shit! He drops his pack while trying to lift it over his shoulder, and the explosives drop to the floor. While searching for the package in the failing beam of his helmet light, he is startled by a large spider, almost as large as his hand, scrambling across the floor ~ He found it! He quickly unwraps the package while still on his knees. He stands up, finds the transformer, then runs the strip along the side. He is sweating now, and worries that he will get the digital timer wet. Yuri looks at his watch. Two minutes to midnight; so he set the timer for five minutes instead ~ He needs time to evacuate this level; he has formed an exit strategy. Yuri suddenly realizes the other packages are ready to detonate imminently. He snatches the wrapper off the floor, takes up his pack, then sprints down the corridor. He ran as fast as he could toward a small room nearby which he knew contained an emergency egress tunnel. He tried the door, but it was locked. He wondered what had happened to Bug... At that moment, a set of elevator doors opened not far away and a maintenance worker emerged. Yuri ran quickly toward him, and pushed him back inside while the elevator doors remained open. “We’ve got to get out of here, this place is going to blow, push the button to go up.”


Yuri, dressed in his black rubber suit, with lights still shining from his headband, seemed wild and almost incoherent, so the man obeyed his command. As soon as the man entered his passcode, Yuri zapped him with his ray gun. The man collapsed to the floor. It was unlikely he would remember the encounter; since the invisible waves effectively erased his short-term memory. As the elevator ascended toward ground level, Yuri frantically undressed the man in order to borrow his coveralls. The body flopped around like a rag doll while he tried to pull out his arms. He confiscated the man’s slip-on shoes, and was tugging on both legs of his trousers when he heard the sound. It was a muffled bang as though someone in the distance hit an empty metal barrel with a sledgehammer. The light inside the elevator suddenly dimmed, and its upward movement began to slow. He glanced at the panel next to the elevator door. He just had one more level to go. The elevator stopped, and the lights went out no more than ten seconds after the first explosion. He hasn’t even heard the second blast, yet there is a more immediate concern. Yuri waits for a moment wondering if the elevator will drop down the shaft. It is very quiet. Illumination from the lights on his headband create a scene with an eerie dull-orange glow. He curses as he realizes that he has left it on. He tilts his head to shine the light on the unconscious worker, who has a smile on his face ~ Must be having a pleasant dream, Yuri considers. He pulls on the coveralls with difficulty over his rubber suit. This guy is just as thin as he is, but Yuri is about six inches taller. The coveralls are really tight around the shoulders and the crotch, and short on the arms and legs. The power again fades on, and the elevator begins to move. Yuri wonders what is happening, then realizes that the external power must have kicked-in. The control panel beside the door is making an unusual warning sound. He realizes that the selection has cleared, so he enters the passcode he had observed the worker enter. Presses ‘[G]’ for ground level... He looks at his watch; it is almost five minutes past twelve when the elevator doors open. He remembers his headband, turns off the light, then pulls back his rubber hood. He puts the eyescreen and head-light in his backpack while running down a corridor. There are some people moving around this level and they glance in his direction ~ That’s when the lights go out again. Running full-tilt then suddenly blinded by darkness, Yuri bumps into something then crashes to the floor. For a few moments he can see nothing. He rests to catch his breath. He hears distant voices calling to each other, but he can’t understand what they are saying. Then there are lights in the corridor again; emergency lighting mounted at intervals along the wall. The small lights are connected to battery packs suspended beneath their mounts. Yuri could smell smoke; the sweet smell of burning plastic now wafting through the air vents. Soon there was the sound of alarms, somewhere far away. Yuri keeps running. Soon he reaches a loading bay, then moves through a doorway into an underground area. It is black as death in the fenced-in cavernous compound,


connected by a ramp to the highway through the core. He can discern the shape of an armored ‘beetle’ military transporter parked nearby. Two enforcers are drinking coffee inside a small guard-house. They look at him with surprise. He undoes the velcro flap on the front of the coveralls and reaches his hand inside. As he approaches the window of their squalid shack, he yells to the guards: “We need help in there, every‐ thing is on fire!” One of the guards arises. Yuri withdraws his HERF raygun zapper, then with his thumbnail deftly flips the setting to ‘high’. He points it at the guard standing on the other side of the glass, who immediately drops to the floor. Yuri then fires off another burst at the second guard just as she is getting out of her chair. Yuri noticed the toughlooking woman had reached for her own laser weapon from a pouch strapped on her hip. Yuri is shaking. He wonders if he has killed them. The only reason he set the weapon to high was to ensure the waves could penetrate the glass. He certainly knew the enforcer’s laser beams would. He realized it was fry or be fried. He ran up the ramp into darkness and made his way toward the fence; which was normally electrified with lethal voltage. He couldn’t see it, and he couldn’t be sure if it was active, so he stopped once again to don his head-light. In the dim illumination he spots the fence only meters in front of him. He withdraws a length of bare wire from his utility belt and ties a small metal tool to each end. He tosses it at the fence; it doesn’t make a spark when it completes the connection to ground. He retrieves his tools and pulls out his metal snips; the tension grips make it easy to cut through the mesh. He works quickly, hoping the power will not suddenly return. He hears a commotion in the loading zone of a nearby tower; voices and activity. He doesn’t wait to discover what is happening. He slips through a gap in the mesh, which scrapes against his coveralls and rips away some material. He doesn’t care. He is finally free! Particles of ice trickle between cracks in the concrete overhead.

V.

Shadowland... Light continually shines on some portion of the spherical mass, spinning on its axis, and tracing an elliptical orbit around a star; which citizens inhabiting the planet call ‘The Sun’. At the moment, its rays cast a fading glow on Luxembourg City, and appear to drop beneath the rim of the horizon as Europe slowly turns away from the sun due to rotation of the planet, to face toward the darkness of deep space. The golden star shone far below them as the shuttlecraft descended to the VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) Port topping Pisces Corporation Benelux


Headquarters; within the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. On a clear evening, like tonight, one kilometer above the city, it is possible to take in almost the entire country, as well as portions of the bordering territories of Belgium, Germany and France. The shuttlecraft carried Sam Harriton II (the 40 year-old son of Pisces Corporation’s CEO) from Findel Airport, 6km east of the city, where he had arrived on a Luxair flight after spending the day in meetings in Zurich, Switzerland. On the shuttle’s wings are bright blue corporate logo of Pisces Corporation; two stylized fish chasing each other’s tails. The engines roared as the craft hovered above the skyscraper, buffeted by winds as it maneuvered into position. Sam stared out a nearby window; the size and shape of a small digital display. From his vantage point, Luxembourg City appeared like a miniature simulation, a highly-detailed representation with tiny glowing lights in the shadows of slate-roofed houses clinging to the banks of steep canyons where the Petrusse River meets the Alzette. Sam scanned the crumbling stone casemates of the Rocher du Bock fortification; its now rusted cannons once secured the center of the city. Seventeen miles of networked caverns beneath the fortification were used as bomb shelters during WW2. These stone passageways now protected the servers of financial corporations. Sam shifted his glance, when the movement of a miniature train crossing the river over massive arches of an ancient aqueduct caught his eye. Now gazing across a landscape of wooded valleys and rolling parkland, Sam can make out craggy hilltops in the distance, some crowned with castles. As the craft slowly rotates, lowering to the deck, a new world replaces the old. The modern architecture of the financial district in the Kirchberg along Avenue John F. Kennedy came into view. The buildings house thousands of holding companies, investment trusts and insurance corporations, as well as offices representing over 250 international banks. Other sleek, modern buildings function as headquarters for European Union institutions; The Commission of the European Community, Eurostat and the general Secretariat of the European Parliament. An organic arrangement of microwave antennas, satellite dishes and solar arrays extend out from the sides of Pisces corporate headquarters, giving Sam the impres‐ sion the shuttlecraft is an insect descending into the calyx of a flower. The sleek white vehicle gently touches down, and Sam steps onto the roof of the super high-rise building. The ground crew, wearing the corporate logo above the breast pocket of their white coveralls busily fastened clamps to the wheels to lock down the shuttlecraft, while its jets, still pointing down at the deck, idle to cool the engines. Ducking into a crouch to lower his center of gravity, and decrease his wind resistance, Sam follows painted lines on the pad directing him toward the entrance located in the small coneshaped structure near one corner of the roof. Flags, with three narrow horizontal bands of red, white and blue are blasted raggedly in the breeze. The cold gusts of wind whip at Sam’s clothes; the intensity threatens to pick him up and lift him into the sky; carrying him past the netting which encloses the landing pad, and pitch him over the side. He held tight to his briefcase which flaps at the end of his sleeve like a kite.


The door slides closed tightly behind him, shutting out the chaos of the upper atmosphere, to replace it with the tranquil serenity of a plushly-carpeted corridor. In the silence he immediately notices an alert coming from his personal communicator. He reaches into the pocket on the interior of his suit to remove a small device which he clips onto his ear. A thin tube extends along his jaw toward his mouth. He descends a short spiral staircase and struts purposefully toward his office on the top floor. The anxious voice from the receiver nestled in his ear, seems to be coming from inside his head. The voice is a Pisces executive in La Plata, just outside Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is reporting a recent series of irregularities and malfunctions in their computer operating systems, which are also occurring in other South American branches ~ The voice recognition / translation software is lagging far behind the spoken word. Sam has to listen carefully to make sense of the message emerging from two streams of dialogue; the laconic computer voice superimposed over rapid Spanish delivery. ‘Why are you telling me this?’ he thought. Yet into the transmitter he said, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention Miss Fernandez. If your Sys Admin and tech crew are unable to resolve the problem on their own, I assure you we will mobilize Team One and have them on-site within 24 hours. In the meantime, if further problems develop, contact George Fullford in Copenhagen, he is head of technical operations. You can keep him apprised of the situation.” Sam provided Fullford’s direct access code then switched out. Immediately another call is waiting. Around the world, it seems everyone is talking on their cellular phones. It had been like this all week. Every little burp, glitch or gremlin in the system had been blamed on hackers infiltrating their networks and planting trojans and logic bombs, and everyone, it seemed, felt the need to go straight to the top and contact him personally both day and night. He was the highest level accessible to executives within the network of Pisces corporations; an empire which spanned the globe. His father had temporarily withdrawn from contact with the world, into the calm center at the eye of the hurricane, as the resulting storm of publicity raged around his headquar‐ ters in western Russia. Sam II enters the executive offices still communicating with the voices in his head. He gestures to various staff in greeting, or acknowledges pantomimed signals directed at him as he makes his way to his private suite. The windows have been set to high-tint to block out the light of day. It is night, but he keeps them that way as he sits in the comfortable padded chair behind his desk. Sam II is a man of the people. He is wellliked, and well-respected by everyone who knows him, or had occasion to be in contact with him; Pisces employees, executives of other corporations, and even the media. For this reason he has been chosen to act as a shield for the old man, at his father’s request. This responsibility was out of the question for his older brother Randulf, who acquired a bad reputation as an international playboy whose full-time occupation seemed to be finding new ways to enjoy his share of corporate profits which were his hereditary right as the oldest son of the family.


Initially, as word of the ro@ches reprisal for the plague ~ which occurred at the end of October in St. Petersburg ~ traveled quickly around the world, there had been associated attacks against Pisces corporate headquarters in many other regions. Sam II had taken the full brunt of the force directly, without any type of buffer to shield him. The burden rested squarely on his shoulders to try to defend his father’s actions the best he could. He continually attempted to reassure the population of the entire globe that Sam Senior’s action was in no way representative of the corporate policy of any branch of the Pisces corporation, anywhere on the planet. Sam II had scarcely slept during the past two weeks as he carefully tread that tightrope. Sam II really is on his own; and it is upsetting. He is angry that he has to hear the news through the media, in the same way that everyone else has discovered the story. He immediately contacts Sam Senior on his TVi; to observe the face of a tired-looking man on the display, barely recognizable as his father. His father’s explanation is couched in carefully-chosen words in case the transmission is monitored ~ The words which concluded their brief conversation lingered in Sam II’s memory; as it was the last time they would speak with each other: “I did what I felt was right under the circumstances. It took vision and decisive action to deal with a serious problem; a problem which was insoluble in any other manner. I was well-aware there would be consequences, which is why we conducted the operation as covertly as possible. Apparently some type of listening device was used to monitor our private meeting, and excerpts of our conversation were released to the public. A group of subversives within the city took it upon themselves to attack our tower, somehow they infiltrated security and planted explosive devices in the electrical system which disrupted power during the night and intermittently over the next 40 hours while utility crews got systems back on-line. Fear not my son, I have assurances that the perpetrators will be captured and dispensed with.” Sam II wondered what his father meant by ‘dispensed with’, while he continued to listen in silence. The old man continued, “Our original action was carried-out cleanly and effectively, with only minimal collateral casualties among the urban residential population. Right now, there may be some negative spillover as a consequence of that unfortunate circumstance, but during the spring and summer as the core is renovated with new construction, and the remnants of the past are cleared away, the citizens will be very grateful that we have taken the initiative to revitalize the region. Until then it is best that I withdraw from the public eye, until the wounds have healed, and new life once again begins to flourish.” The fragile old man stared directly into the camera mounted beside his own viewscreen. His face drawn and gaunt, bearing a look Sam II interpreted as imploring him to fulfill his obligation to both the corporation and the family; to take full responsi‐ bility for the nastiness, and make it all go away. “I know you are capable of stepping into the role of leader of this corporation, and it is time to prove to yourself that you are capable of transcending adversity, by delivering a positive resolution to a situation


which everyone will ultimately discover to be the true consequence of the action we’ve begun. Until then, please do not contact me. I have nothing left to say... no further message to transmit.” With these words, the display window closed, the conversation was terminated. ‘Father why have you forsaken me.’ Sam II whispered to the blank screen. Detonators - resonators. Repercussions from the shock wave of the explosion which cast the Russian office of Pisces Corporation into darkness, had been felt around the world, and precipitated ancillary attacks against other Pisces offices based in Albania, Benin, Diego Garcia, Kirbati, Mali, Myanmar, Pakistan and Vanuatu, and most recently, apparently in Argentina and other South American locations. The cycle continued; attacks on energy sources caused outages and power surge erasure. Attacks on Satcomm relays and internal communication networks scrambled transmis‐ sions and fragmented digital voice code creating towers of babel in which the workers and machines were no longer able to communicate with each other, nor could workers receive guidance from the administration. Mechanical drones dropped out of the sky and shattered on the concrete, assembly lines in manufacturing plants were temporari‐ ly shut down as the controllers hit panic buttons and kill-switches when the machines began to run amok. Yet throughout the chaos, phones continued to work. Everyone was calling everyone else, at least those who could find a channel into the switching circuits on the Telco mainframes which had reached the limit of their capacity. Cellular Panic! Many of the calls, it seemed had been routed directly to him. Sam’s phone had not gone cold, the tiny indicator light on his wristwatch flashed continually around the clock. His contact number was known only to top executives of subsidiary corporations within the empire, so it was his duty to respond to as many as he could. Over the past two weeks he had heard it all; the voices of panic, terror and fear, and the voices of anger, outrage, and brash bravado. Even at this moment as the calls continued to stream in, Sam responded with the voice of reason, trying to maintain calm, and provide assurances that something was being done. And something was being done. Teams One, Two and Three had been busy; flying around the world like Super Heroes, destroying villains, and battling digital monsters which reared their ugly heads. As anticipated, digital terrorists had crawled out of the woodwork to contribute to unleashing an arsenal of powerful and sophisticated weapons against a corporation they believed had been weakened by sustained attacks from numerous groups and individuals. Technical teams had their hands full, not only dealing with some of the nastiest computer viruses around, but also with toxic chemical agents introduced into the tower’s self-contained water supply, silicon-eating bacteria which destroyed electronics, and saboteurs who had somehow scaled the tower’s external walls to topple solar panels. Miraculously, maintenance teams effectively managed to restore order and rectify any mechanical problems presenting themselves.


Physical damage is relatively easy to repair; psychological damage is far more harmful. Over time, tower dwellers became complacent within the secure fortresses they inhabited. They assumed they were invincible, free from the influence of harsh realities from the external world. Penetration of their tower sanctuary resulted in feeling violated and vulnerable... With all of the ensuing paranoia and fear. One particular executive, following an attack on Pisces in the Philippines, stuck in Sam’s memory. Manila’s large X-shaped corporate office suffered an explosion to one of its main generators; similar to the original attack by infiltrators in St. Petersburg which subsequently triggered further waves of destruction around the world. The damage in Manila created a condition which technicians termed ‘Shadowland’; a power outage in which all necessary electricity, typically provided by solar panels and batteries within the towers, is disabled, requiring the tower’s electrical needs to be replaced by channeling all available energy from surrounding regions. The result is that the tower’s life-support systems; air and water circulation, and electricity consump‐ tion, withdraw power reserves from the surrounding residential zones, casting them into darkness. The significance of the tower’s need to survive, shone alone like a pillar of light, while residents concerned for their safety confined themselves within their tenement dwellings. They waited, filled with despair and hopelessness as they huddled in darkness ~ There is silence when the machine stops. There is indeed a sense of helplessness and loneliness that Sam II perceives through the display of his TVi. Sam could not distinguish the features of vice-president Raoul Corazon’s usually smiling face since it was portrayed in silhouette; a dense shape against the twilight of his powerless room, fulfilling the absence of space, and conveying messages primarily through body language. The sound emanating from this darkness was the emotion in the young man’s voice transmitted through Sam’s speaker; on the other side of the world. Raoul’s quavering voice betrayed a profound sense of isolation, and presented the portrait of a man experiencing his worst night‐ mare. “We’ve been hit hard,” Raoul’s terse voice emerged from the speaker. “Very heavy. Maybe several days before even primary systems are running. In the meantime, while technicians make repairs, all we can do is wait. People are afraid, and their fear and panic seem to be spreading. Many believe in a foolish superstition this is a sign of the end of the world. With lines of internal communication down, we have no way to contact them to provide explanation or comfort. The worst may be yet to come.” “Help is on the way,” Sam replied reassuringly. “We have dispatched a team... ETA on site within approximately six hours. While you await their arrival, select one or two people on each level to provide leadership and establish communication. Get them to organize group meetings for the citizens on each level, to provide as much information they are able. We need to establish a situation of community and co-operation to get through this. I am counting on you to be strong in this time of crises. I have great faith in you Raoul.”


Sam disconnected. He knew this was the greatest challenge many citizens would ever have to face. They have become complacent within the security of the tower environment, where they are cared-for and provided-for in every way. Then boom! Suddenly they are thrust into darkness. Alone with their insecurity and fear, there is no longer communication with a ‘higher power’ they can turn to for support. It is a critical situation. In the darkness, citizens of the tower are able to see the comet more clearly in the sky. Sam is aware of the expression; ‘The bigger they are, the harder they fall.’ Giant corporations are dinosaurs. While able to use their formidable size to dissuade attack, once a vicious strike has successfully been perpetrated upon them, other vulnerabili‐ ties are often exposed. The scent of blood creates an open invitation for a variety of other predators to swoop in to scavenge remains ~ ‘These enemies consist of many minds; each acting in a manner to ensure their own survival. Some are easy to identify. Others remain invisible’, considered Sam II. Authorities in St. Petersburg utilized the services of Flex Global Security. Agents devised a trap for renegades in the region; creating a digital ‘roach motel’ baited with a selection of juicy files ~ false Pisces Corporation documents laced with key words they knew ro@ches would be seeking. Whenever tagged files were downloaded, they dropped little packets as markers along their pathway, similar to how account ants leave a pheromone trail through data ledgers. The digital packets traced the file’s routes through the netstreams to their destination. Every time a file is copied or forwarded, it releases tiny packets that float like buoys in the electronic ocean, invisible to all but the most sophisticated detection software. When forces of the authorities assimilated all the data, they closed in on their targets, moving across the grid like chess pieces, to quickly force a check-mate. Similar tactics were used in other regions of the globe to eliminate infiltrators who autonomously conducted attacks on physical or digital equipment within towers, warehouses, and information storage bunkers. Regional authorities were already familiar with identities and possible modus-operandi of many of these hackers or groups well before the attacks, therefore they were able to rapidly apprehend them and take them into custody. Once the ‘bottom-feeders’ were dispensed with, it was the next wave, the elite, which presented a greater challenge since they were much more difficult to locate. These predators attacked systems already crippled during previous activity. Many were trained operatives contracted by rival corporations. These intercorporate attacks could take many forms; everything from hostile software programs, to media disinformation campaigns, to hired spies who worked within the target corpora‐ tion as ‘sleeper agents’ waiting to take advantage of security breaches during power outages in order to corrupt databases or copy files undetected. All corporations had many enemies. An effective psychological tactic to destabilize an executive’s decision-making ability was to disrupt their access to knowledge or subtly tamper with information in order to influence their decisions without the executive’s awareness they had been


influenced at all. Complicating communication flow throughout the corporate hierarchy, or shifting links with the outside world disrupted many co-ordinated opera‐ tions. Executives relied heavily on digital memory. It was essential for maintaining a map of an extremely intricate and complex web of interconnections within the corpo‐ rate empire. It was beyond the realm of human ability to manage and maintain the organizational structure of this vast network of resources. If the validity of this knowl‐ edge ~ everything the corporation held to be true or real ~ was called into question, it would be virtually impossible to recreate it again. Strategic information systems, telecommunications, automated financial and commercial transactions, production and distribution systems; the locations of all corporate branch offices, lists of everyone employed, the names of all subsidiary holdings of these corporations, and so on, could become a ball of confusion. All the while, a corporation could believe the damage had resulted from an initial attack, and possibly never suspect that a second or third wave of activity had occurred while their defenses were down. Unscrupulous rival corporate executives could take advantage of the state of chaos within Sam’s corporate empire to sprint out and negotiate deals, acquire companies or gain market share, while Sam’s people were engaged in the process of untangling themselves from this mess. Sam feels exhausted. He has rarely slept during the past two weeks; usually only three or four hours at some point during a twenty-four hour cycle; often on the jet, in his office chair or, extremely rarely, in his luxury apartment. At the moment, his apartment is where he wants to go for a brief respite from the turmoil. He approaches the leader of his support team requesting he filter his communication for a few hours. Sam walks to the elevator, speaks his ‘shibboleth’ to voice recognition software, then descends one floor to his apartment. He travels for only a few seconds down the tube, yet it is long enough to effect a transformation ~ Sam has learned techniques to quickly clear his thoughts of business details, and become a human being again during the brief journey. The greatest problem of his prominent status in the business world is that those around him are also affected by it, no matter how he tries to shield them. He had the status of a celebrity; something special, someone separated from people in the everyday world, receiving the adoration of the crowd, always in the public eye. He enjoyed that aspect of his life, but it had taken more than it had given ~ And when it all is over he is prepared to accept that he is as mortal as anyone else. By the time the elevator stops he has become just Sam and daddy to the two most important women in his life. He hasn’t seen his family for two days; Juliette, and his step-daughter Anastasia, who was six years old. He had wanted to bring her a special present, but hadn’t time to select one ~ Anastasia must have heard the sound of the private elevator traveling down the tube, since she was already running to greet him as soon as the door opened. She looked so beautiful in her pale yellow dress, her thin arms and legs in kinetic motion. She leapt into the air as she approached and Sam caught her in his arms and held her tightly in a tender embrace. Her long dark hair hung past her shoulders. She looked up at him with large dark eyes and a smile that extended from ear to ear. Sam laughed happily to see the expression of her joy. It


melted away the lingering problems of the world he had previously been unable to exorcise. “Come see what we made!” Anastasia exclaimed. Sam hoisted her onto his shoulder and followed her directions through the large suite, while Anastasia indicated the way by pointing with her long slender fingers. “Where’s mama?” asked Sam. “She’s still at work. Nanny is looking after me.” The pleasant older woman was on her hands and knees on the floor. She was hired to supervise the child during times when both parents were absent from home. At the moment the nanny was putting the finishing touches on an elaborate jungle scene which spanned the entire floor of the living room. The massive miniature-scale environment was constructed from odds and ends they had found around the house. Kangaroos made from discarded plastic medication containers and rubber tube snakes languished beside mirror ponds. Goats made from sewn pouches of cloth scaled pebble mountains, and little folded paper birds inhabited groves of paintbrush trees, while lions with zany button eyes watched over a sleeping herd of two-dimen‐ sional zebras crudely cut from a sheet of black and white stripped plastic. Ana excitedly described every detail to her smiling father. At the end of the tour Sam exclaimed, “You have created a beautiful paradise, love, it’s wonderful!” and he truly meant it. For some reason tears welled up in his eyes while he gave her a hug. After the nanny left, Sam prepared breakfast while Ana continued her project. Juliette returned just in time to finally eat together as a family for the first time in many weeks. They were seated around a large white table in the glass-enclosed terrace. Early morning sunlight shone upward into the suite, casting shadows across the ceiling and providing a sense of warmth. Far below, billows of steam emerged from factories to indicate it was very cool outside. Soothing music piped in quietly from hidden speakers. Sam listened with interest to Juliette describe new developments. Juliette also was extremely busy lately; immersed in the process of developing new software. As usual, the project was running well past the expected delivery date; at this point by several months. The project continued to expand in scope and complexity as new features were implemented into the code, tested, then further enhanced in an ascending spiral of development. Juliette demanded perfection. She wanted the software to be all-encompassing and complete in every detail before it was released for distribution. It was a noble, if not practical goal to attain. Fortunately, Pisces Corporation had placed all the necessary resources at her disposal; a full team of neurophysiologists, computer programmers and creative artists were dedicated to the task of satisfying her every desire, twenty four hours each day.


The software was installed on processors inside the heads of large stuffed animals; a panda bear, a donkey or a piglet. The interface consisted of a band of sensors embedded in headgear a child could wear; a princesses’ crown, or knight’s helmet, which exchanged signals with the toy’s computer. Psychologists demonstrated to child test-subjects, including Anastasia, how they were able to communicate with the animals, either verbally or with their thoughts. During these sessions children were encouraged to become friends with the toy. The dynamic biocybernetic interface emulated telepathy, which the children seemed to have no difficulty responding to. A child, left alone to play in a pleasant environment, was directed by software agents in the plush toy to imagine themselves in various situations, or recall specific events of their young lives, and so on... A record of their thought activity was then transmitted to a memory storage device. The procedure allowed counselors to study physiological traits, then correct aberrant behavior in a young child’s mind before it became a serious character problem. It was during testing on Ana, that Juliette realized the possibility for expand‐ ing its capability by making the technology available to parents who wished to capture digital memories of their own well-adjusted child’s development as they grew and matured ~ Most general employees were allocated one visit per week with their children; who were primarily cared-for by staff in corporate education centers. Juliette envisioned this technology would enable parents separated from their children to obtain a glimpse of their inner thoughts that could be played back at their leisure through sensor bands of their own as though they were ‘home movies’. Sam had often tried it, and was always amazed at the innocence of vision captured in the memories. The sense of wonder and discovery of seeing the world again in a pure light was refreshing, although sometimes a little terrifying, since the thoughts were recorded without the prejudice and conditioning which provided the order and structure necessary, it seemed to him, to exist in the harsh complex environment of the real world. These ‘sweet dreams’, as Sam referred to them, were capable of unravel‐ ing the illusion of the immutability of physical forms, which left him feeling after the session he had ingested some form of powerful drug. The impressions lingered for a considerable time after he removed his headband. In some sense these visions permeated his own perceptions, and subsequently affected, in a positive sense, the business decisions he had to make. It was a pleasant sensation. “A new life awaits in the offworld colony.” The voice comes from speakers overhead; tiny black cubes mounted above the video display; a large semi-opaque sheet suspended from the ceiling along the bedroom wall. Outside it is dark. Inside, the opulent white bedroom is bathed in undersea blue light from the display wall. A pair of tiny orange lights, like candles, are mounted from the wall on either side of his large round bed. Sam, dressed only in trousers, has wrapped himself in a blanket and is laying on the bed staring at the flickering display. Images swim across the screen, but he is not watching the program.


His energy just seemed to drain from his body as soon as he lay down. Dark patches under his eyes feel thick and swollen ~ He has been in constant motion during the past few weeks, and as would often happen, as soon as he relaxed, his system seemed to completely collapse. He would rest for a while, Sam thought. Yet, in the back of his mind he felt compelled to return to his office as soon as possible to continue putting out the fires continually flaring up for Pisces Corporation. Anastasia was sleeping, and Juliette was having a long shower. He could hear the pulsating sound of the jet massage as the stream of water splashed inside the enclosure. Juliette was happily singing. A long shower using precious recycled water was the luxury of a privileged few. Sam slides open a drawer in the stand beside the bed, and removes a container of pills. He squints to make out the text on the label in the low illumination of the room. It is Saw Palmetto for his prostate. He withdraws another container, it is a chemical compound enhanced with extract of bilberry, designed to prevent blindness following his recent corrective laser eye surgery. They aren’t the ones he is looking for, but he swallows a couple anyway. He rummages further, producing a couple of other containers at random. Yes, these are the ones; a herbal extract of Ginkgo Biloba phytosome combined with phosphatidyliserine and L-glutamine to improve cerebral blood flow and improve his memory, and in the other is an extract of Ginseng Royal Jelly and Avena Sativa which acts as an aphrodisiac. The sound in the shower indicates that he will likely also need a tube of pheromone-based sexual lubricant. Sam’s bedside medical chest is his personal pharmacy; designed to augment or replace chemicals, which in a healthy body are part of the natural secretion of glands. In his case, Sam was currently undergoing an experimental treatment for early-onset Alzheimer disease; a hereditary condition he acquired from his mother. It is in an unusually-advanced state for someone of his young age. Technicians have released a swarm of molecular robots which are currently swimming through his bloodstream. They are programmed to repair any damage they discover in his brain. Unfortunately his T-cells and other virus-fighting agents regard these robots as invaders, and are taxing his immune system by attacking them; which subsequently required him to take further supplements. It were as though a war of epic proportions was occurring within the microuniverse of his body. Transparent jellyfish, opening and shutting like umbrellas in neon rain, gently hover in a beam of sunlight breaking through the overhead surface of ocean waves on his television display. Sam had not wanted to tell Juliette he was afflicted with the genetic disease. To conceal this fact, he would explain he took the medication to combat effects of stress which came from responsibilities of his executive position. He was so in love with her, and he knew how much she wanted to have a child with him. He repeatedly suggested they use the services of the first-rate genetic lab within Pisces Corporation, yet Juliette was insistent they conceive the child naturally; the way Anastasia had been ~ Juliette


had never revealed who Anastasia’s natural father was, and although curious, Sam had never pressed the matter. Ana was an extremely intelligent child, whose physical imperfections were the source of her character and beauty. To Sam, genetic children almost seemed too ‘perfect’; in the uniformity among ‘groups’ or ‘classes’ of their breeding. Sam was also naturally conceived. In 1979, genetic engineering was considered to be in the realm of science fiction. Technology had progressed exponentially from those days. Techniques for genetic enhancement, and subsequent nuclear transfer of DNA to the cells of eggs had become routine. It was now possible to determine almost any characteristic imaginable in designing the next generation of humanity. Yet, those same limits of imagination had also reduced the spectrum of human characteristics with which new children were endowed. Technicians had discovered certain models or patterns which were preferable to reproduce. These designs were simple and effective; a combination of high-intelligence and well-proportioned physical character‐ istics. The designs were moderated so that children would not have features or attributes which made them too different from other children; such as being too tall, or having large ears, or small feet, or an extremely high IQ. The idea was to create a unified society based on shared characteristics, rather than on diversity. Children are distinguished only by their tendency toward developing certain attributes which are required skills in fulfilling their station within the workforce. It is in this capacity that Juliette’s role is essential; ensuring that children develop behaviors conforming with their predetermined aptitudes. It seemed somewhat ironic to Sam that while she had access to resources for determining the capabilities of the child she longed to have with Sam, she would be willing to leave the genetic selection entirely to the random chance of nature. The calculus of survival is the prerogative of the wealthy elite, and the only alternative for the extremely poor, for whom breeding, although regulated, is difficult to enforce against. Had Sam not been aware of his own genetic deficiencies, he would likely have tended to agree with Juliette. He was regarded as being extremely intelligent; with a logical reasoning mind capable of orchestrating many diverse and complex operations simultaneously. Sam was very accomplished with mathematics. As well, he had an intuitive grasp of the intricate workings of the financial world; which he maintained was impossible to upload from an expert system or artificial intelligence knowledge-base. If the genes which governed his abilities were isolated, they could prove to be a powerful enhancement for the next generation of executives and managers. Part of it was genetic; they were the same skills which had launched his father to the zenith of his profession, and provided the driving force behind his fabrication of a vast interna‐ tional corporate empire. Still, Sam believed, there were components of both his father’s success and his own which remained unquantifiable, and while similar, were different for each of them. A shiny new 2021 Lexan Acuriti appeared on the television wall display, as sleek and gleaming as a computer model rendered with ray-tracing. It moved quickly


through the brightly-coloured virtual world. Sam swallowed the tablets, then chased them down with a swig from the plastic bottle of distilled water he kept by the bed for that purpose. The shower continued to run in the adjoining room, and his thoughts continued to flow. He was thinking about cloning. He considered that, as exacting as the process was, it still was not possible to make an exact replicate of the original. Humans were created who were very similar to the original, yet there were always slight deviations caused by random variables or slight imperfections, like any manufacturing process. In the human body, foreign molecular particles could be accidentally introduced during early stages of cellular reproduction; chemicals in the environment, recessive genes, increased metabolism from nutrients, exposure to invisible rays or magnetic fields, or many other factors which could introduce error in creating a perfect replicant. Although Sam didn’t believe in a god, he believed that each living entity is blessed with a unique soul which distinguishes them from every other human being. Subtle differences in environmental conditions can influence the formation of behavioral patterns in a child’s upbringing, which consequently can even affect the physical characteristics of a child’s appearance. While Sam had received genes from both his parents, those of his father were favored in determining his own characteristics. Those inherited from his mother had been the source of his weaknesses as a man, and unfortunately, the cause of the degenerative brain disease which slowly ate away at his memory capacity like computer bit decay. His medication would help delay deterioration of the neurons in his brain. Yet, what is lost can never be replaced. It filled him with dread to realize how much he depended upon his biological memory to provide the information of all details necessary to operate the corporation. At times like this, Sam wished an angel or a spirit would appear to him, to provide a glimpse into the future, so he could discover what his own child would be like if it were created using natural reproduction. It was this fear which caused his impotence during the past few months. Juliette was a woman with a mission whenever she was ovulat‐ ing; as she was at present. She recognized the changes to her body; she could sense the heat. She tempted and tortured him. She was insatiable. Yet, the more she demanded of him, the greater his anxiety which had initially caused his impotence as he became increasingly cognizant of passing along his disease. Alzheimer disease was not a characteristic he could knowingly pass along to his child. There were many other of his characteristics as well, he believed, which could be enhanced before they were endowed to his progeny. He looked up at the ceiling; at the mirror over the bed. His body, laying on white sheets spread out like a fan around him, could not be described as masculine; it seemed thin and pale, rather short and not very muscular, and his hands were too large and bony. Nor was he handsome; his head, covered by curly jet black hair, was too large, while his mouth was too small, and his chin was pointed and weak. True, they were physical characteristics which were similar to his father, and ones which he had spent the past 40 years accustoming himself too, yet, they were not particularly attractive characteristics which he would


wish his son or daughter to have to endure. They were characteristics which were inconsequential to his success in business, which relied to a large degree in following up the success which had been built by his father. In that same way his children would benefit in their lives, independent of how they appeared. Besides, he lived his life inside his head. That was where the ideas and concepts formed which gave his life meaning, and provided his value as leader to the employ‐ ees and executives of Pisces Corporation; when years ago he finally emerged from the shadow of his father to take a position beside him at the helm. His identity was formed from the knowledge and perceptions stored inside his mind; it did not come from an image reflected back from the metal foil on the surface behind the glass of a mirror. He returned his attention to the television display. On the screen, a capstone with an engraved eye texture-mapped onto its surface hovered and rotated above the base of a truncated pyramid in a computer animation. In text beneath the image were the words ‘Novus Ordo Seclorum, Annuit Coeptis’. The image and Latin inscription had been appropriated from paper currency once used in the USA. The exchange of money had been responsible for the transmission of disease. The glowing capstone released beams of light; which quickly turned the screen a brilliant white, then faded into the logo of Eternal Life Corporation ~ Dis‐ played in a font designed to simulate Egyptian hieroglyphs. The logo then dissolved to reveal the interior of one of Eternal Life’s underground vaults, where cryogenically preserved bodies are stored inside artificial stone sarcophagi. A robed figure stood in the chamber; it was one of the virtual immortality salesmen often seen in the programlength advertisements on late-night television. Sam touched a button on the control pad, and the sound, which had been muted, now played at low volume. Like many corporate executives, he recently considered making plans to have his body preserved in long-term biological stasis. The heavilypublicized suspension of the Sun King at the beginning of the year had caused quite a stir; generating a rush of requests for reservation of chamber space. It had become the policy at many corporations as a matter of protocol. Executives were considered to be a valuable resource, preserved for the future because they are women and men with the intelligence, skills, and abilities to direct and manage enormous corporate empires. While it was assumed their bodies would be resurrected in the future, many had considered being preserved solely as a means of storing future genetic material. Sam watched the info-mercial with interest; hoping to gain knowledge of the processes involved. He was not considering the procedure so much for himself, rather, he hoped to reserve a place with Eternal for his father. Earlier in the year, well before he initiated the fateful action which caused a storm of controversy, the old man had dismissed the idea of cryogenic preservation as a load of nonsense when his son had brought up the topic during conversation. “Those people are no better than butchers. I don’t want my head chopped off, placed on a platter and stuck in a freezer while I am still alive,” he exclaimed. “Let the


Christians wait around for the miraculous raising of the dead. When it’s time for me to go, I don’t plan on coming back.” That was the end of that conversation as far as the old man had been concerned. From his limited knowledge of the subject, Sam had been lead to believe that neurosuspension of the head was much safer than storing the whole body. He had been told that it was simply a matter of preserving the brain itself, in order to later transplant it into a younger chassis. In Sam’s case, it seemed to be the only possible method of stopping the progression of his disease; to put his life on pause until new medical breakthroughs successfully developed a cure, or a future time when ad‐ vanced nanotechnology would be available to effect the necessary restoration. It was difficult to determine which companies were reliable and trustworthy, since the number of cryonics organizations offering their services had boomed, particularly during the past year. There was no question the technology was still in development, but it had advanced considerably from early primitive attempts. Sam could still recall the disturbing images released when the famous amusement park visionary, Walt Sidney, was brought out of suspended animation in 2018. Although the Sidney Corporation attempted to keep it a secret, the images were leaked to the media and downloaded to be posted on nearly every network channel in the world. Sam shivered slightly under the coverings on his bed. On screen, the Eternal Life salesman, who referred to himself Edgar Specter, attempted to make it clear that Eternal’s only service was to provide immortality. They were not in the business of storing frozen bodies. On the contrary; in addition to preservation, they received a commission on selling the donor organs to organizations which provided them to citizens that could still afford medical coverage. There was no telling what became of the rest of the carcass; Sam didn’t even want to imagine. Edgar was a true life insurance salesman; “Don’t consider this opportunity as something you are doing just for yourself. Think of your loved ones. Imagine the joy of your grandchildren, or great- grandchildren, when you return to share and participate in their lives as they mature. For only 400,000 credits, payable over a 10 year period, you can make a reservation for fully-reversible, long-term brain cryopreservation; with a small annual maintenance fee during the storage term. In addition you will be able to record a video encapsulating your thoughts, your philosophy or a message to inspire others.” Edgar selects an icon by touching the surface of the display mounted at the head of one of the sarcophagi; instantly the image of a face flickers to life on the small screen. “Tedja and Jodda, I think of you all the time. Please be good to your mother. We will all be together again some day. I love you,” said the disembodied voice. “I love you!” shouted a voice from the shower.


Had Juliette shouted that, or had he imagined it? He pressed the mute button, then switched the channel. He noticed that the water in the shower had been turned off, and he could hear the sound of the hair dryer blowing hot air on her moist auburn hair. Soon she would emerge. He reached into his trousers and fondled his genitals for a few moments, but there was still no sign of life. It was difficult to relax and think of romance when his thoughts were filled with despair. His father often subtly put pressure on him to produce a male heir; in order to continue the patriarchal line of command within the corporation. To Sam it seemed an archaic, medieval concept. Pisces wasn’t the Mafia. There were hundreds of thou‐ sands of employees to consider, and they required the most-qualified leadership, whether it came from Anastasia, or from someone outside the family who were best suited to the position. Yet, after watching the television program, Sam realized that his father was right about one thing ~ It would be of little benefit to serve his head up on a silver platter for future generations. Of all his qualities, the only redeeming feature Sam would consider passing along to his children was his intelligence. Yet, in the modern world that was decreasing in importance as a hereditary trait. Many biological techniques were available to improve human mental capacity, and of course there was always the intervention of the machine ~ It could program vast quantities of information into the brain of the user, and also trigger new thought processes. The machine utilized the symbolic logic of proven propositions and the laws of reasoning, to program intelligence into the human mind which was adaptively variable. Soft agents searched databases of all recorded knowledge to immediately withdraw the most appropriate information in any given circumstance. Sam occasionally joined Juliette to watch her conduct experiments with young children. They were so much different than he had been as a child. At first, he believed they were unintelligent or slow of thought, until he realized they perceived information much differently than he did. Sam had developed the ability to memorize vast quanti‐ ties of information which he carried with him inside his brain, while the children he observed memorized very little. Isolated from the network they appeared lost and confused, but connected to the interface revealed their minds contained thousands of pointers and keys which formed links with the information stored in world-wide computer databases. Their brains, in a sense, were wired very differently than his was. He noticed in Anastasia, and other children in the tower, an impressive visual vocabulary in which they were able to recall components of images they had previous‐ ly seen, even for a few moments, in very elaborate detail. Their language, when they interacted with each other, followed an abbreviated coding system, like a form of shorthand, which he himself had difficulty comprehending. It was based on fragments and phrases from the languages of many cultures, as well as from various scientific disciplines. Also, he noticed that young children seemed to communicate non-verbally, with slight physical gestures, using what Juliette had determined to be a form of telepathy.


These observations seemed to demonstrate that human values are not based on natural evolution alone; the basic animal instinct for survival and reproduction. The children’s capacity seemed to expand to fill the universe of possibilities which present‐ ed themselves to them. They intuitively learned to be masters of information environ‐ ments, and seamlessly integrate the tools which processed information into their lives; the way their predecessors used fire, a hammer or the wheel in the physical world. Sam’s thoughts during the past half hour, while he lay on the bed in the glow of the television light, seem to bring about a resolution to the conflict in his mind. He has come to a decision; he needs to convince Juliette that the child she so longinglydesires must be genetically engineered. Because he loves her, he needs to discuss these thoughts with her honestly. The door to the bathroom opens to release a haze of steam. From out of the gentle mist Juliette emerges into the coolness of the room. She is naked, wearing a towel around her lower body. Her slightly damp hair hangs past her shoulders. Nipples on her pointy breasts become firm from the chill. He watches, entranced as she moves through blue light cast by the television and approaches the bed. Her hips sway beneath the towel as she advances toward him. Her body is trim and muscular from her frequent workouts at the gym. Just at the edge of the bed, she stops, pauses for a moment, then drops her towel to the floor. Sam’s mouth falls open as he immediately notices she has shaved her pubic area clean. He looks at her face to discover she is smiling with satisfaction knowing she has achieved the anticipated result. It had not entirely produced the desired effect. His sexual organ had stiffened but was not fully erect. He rolls off the bed and drops to his knees in front of her. He knows he will need to satisfy her in some way so as not to completely disappoint her. Grasping her firm round bottom with both hands, his lips taste her sex. His long narrow tongue licks her clitoris while he thrusts his crotch rhythmically against her thigh. It doesn’t take long before she tilts her chin up, rolls her eyes back, curls her toes tightly, then cries out with ecstasy. He gently caresses her breasts while her warm moist body trembles and her knees become weak. He stands to embrace her, kissing her passion‐ ately on the lips, then guides her to bed where she collapses into its soft coverings. They lay with their limbs entwined. Juliette’s body periodically shivers under several layers of coverings. He wraps the covers tightly around her to keep her warm. They talk quietly, kissing and caressing each other’s bodies with their hands. They tell each other their thoughts, and at certain points, both of them wipe tears from their eyes. In the silent blue light of the television, snow begins to fall outside the window, in the darkness, high above Luxembourg... Soon she has fallen asleep. Sam quietly slips out of bed, puts on his shirt, then goes into the bathroom to splash water on his face and comb his hair. He needs time to work on his image... He looks at the face in the mirror... Image is everything when he dials up straight scan video on his TVi; it is his avatar in the netstream. Sometime he thought it was too much: “This is


Sam. Say Jim, did you get the message I sent this morning?” he spoke to his image in the mirror. Some things never change; putting on the show. It’s like having his own television channel ~ How do I look? Select your own preview image before you connect on-line. How’s the hair? Looking smart. Looking powerful. It’s show time! Click! He turns on the array of lights around the edge of the mirror. Inside a cabinet beside the mirror are containers of creams and lotions; extracts of wild yam, licorice root, and Hawaiian spirulina for vibrant skin, hair and nails. Vegital silica and aloe vera. Milk thistle for liver problems, valerian root for nerves, and Dang Quei to ease the discomfort of Juliette’s menstruation periods. Sam reaches inside to gather familiar tubes of gels and colourings that can make old people look young, and young people look old. He adds a few touches of grey at the temples of his thick dark hair. It gives him that look of distinction he needs for his public image, and offsets the youthful appearance of facial features he has inherited from his mother. He covers the dark folds of skin that has accumulated beneath his eyes, and adds a little pancake to smooth out the creases and blemishes on his cheeks and forehead. He runs the highintensity waterbrush over his teeth and gargles with a special tonic which eases his vocal delivery. Sam walks down the hall to check on Anastasia; opening the door until the light pouring into the dark room almost reaches her bed. She is asleep. His shadow is cast across the floor. He stands framed in the doorway, and watches her for a few moments, listening to the sound of her quiet breathing. Her small face looks so beautiful and innocent. He tells her that he loves her, then he closes the door and heads for the elevator ~ Sometime at night he would take the elevator down to the Karate club, to relieve his stress and clear his mind before he put in an extra-late shift. Tonight he pushes the button which elevates him to his office on the top floor of the building. Scattered here and there, in dimly-lit offices, a few people are still working ~ People are always working. They seem not to notice Sam. Staff are accustomed to his regular routine of working late into the night. He sits at his desk. Three display screens confront him. The monitors are asleep, but tiny lights flash along the top of their frames to indicate there are calls waiting. He switches on the panels with a controller built into his desktop. The image of his secretary, a digital construct, appears on-screen. Her face, which Sam has modified with ‘preferences’, resulted in becoming a striking resemblance of Juliette ~ His secretary summarizes messages, parsed by sorting filters, that have accumulated in the automated answering cache during his absence. With a touch of Sam’s controller, she will speak the message in entirety using wavetable synthesis emulation playback, and ‘she’ could repeat certain passages at his request. While the messages are playing, Sam switches on other displays. Caller ID icons are arranged in a grid in the upper-left corner of his display. Generic silhouettes represent callers who have not previously connected with him to obtain a screencapture icon of their image.


Sam touches the controller and cellular packets of data immediately stream onto his display ~ Mobile global telecom, which enabled the caller to roam, continued to play its part in corporate global expansion. It created a zero wait-state, in which everyone was communicating with everyone else, at any time of the day or night. A chip built into the device recorded the duration of the call and billed it to the user’s account. The beautiful face of a dark-skinned woman appeared on his screen. She identified herself as Jagjit Dharmanda; Assistant Commissioner of Food Supplies from Pisces India in Nagpur. Her gold- coloured communication device was worn as elegant ornamentation hanging from her earlobe, connected to a small insert for her ear and a thin tube which extended along her smooth angular jaw. She was carrying on a separate conversation with the person in her ear, while at the same time communicat‐ ing with Sam on his TVi. Jagjit explained she was receiving a real-time voice transmis‐ sion from a colleague who was monitoring the Hang Seng Index; the barometer of the Hong Kong stock exchange. Sam II is aware that Pisces Corporation in India is engaged in a bidding war; attempting to acquire Riparian Agriculture Products; a facility genetically designing new types of millet grain with exceptionally-high nutritional value and protein ~ This is a common occurrence for large corporations; absorbing selected innovative compa‐ nies ‘into the fold’ whenever they are perceived springing up on the scene. Larger corporations buy-out shareholders of smaller companies to assume control of their newly-acquired research and development departments, brand-name product lines, or other assets. By consolidating smaller companies under the umbrella of a parent corporation, they expand and diversify, they maintain an innovative and responsive approach to changes in society or the environment which enables them to adapt, and keeps them from becoming extinct. Successful corporations balance their expanding sphere of influence without diffusing their concentration of power. These satellite acquisitions are like electrons which continually swirl about the dense nucleus of the major corporation, thereby providing vitality and energy. There is always some element of risk involved; particularity with new experimental technology. In some cases, these ‘small integrated components’ withdraw more energy than they contribut‐ ed; as a result, the maintenance and attention devoted to developers unable to bring their projects to full realization dissipated as energy was expended. The business universe is constantly in flux: some corporations over-extend them‐ selves by trying to grasp more than they can devour. Some find themselves stagnated by inertia through lack of activity to pursue new technologies or creative innovations, and gradually disintegrate and fade from view as their momentum grinds to a halt. As they collapse, they release electrons (subsidiaries) which are then absorbed by other corporations, or become independent free-radicals. The most successful are dynamic corporations which continually evolve; transforming and progressing with the chang‐ ing environment. Pisces had been such a corporation until the old man made a questionable judgment-call. Now the system was crashing, and it was up to Sam II to keep it from


becoming a fatal error. Investors heard rumors of terrorists destroying computers and power systems at various Pisces locations around the world. Many imagined the situation was continuing to escalate. In their own minds they began to link apparently unconnected events; believing them to be manifestations of a full-scale cyber-war. Speculation rippled through complex modules of flowcharts within corporate hierar‐ chies; pouring over massive tables in master boardrooms, washing through acquisi‐ tion terminals and spilling onto factory floors. Fears that information in financial databases had been corrupted, or that logic bombs, whose objective was to destroy or wreak havoc within a targeted system, had been planted and would remain dormant and undetected until triggered by threshold events. Every scenario had the potential of collapsing the executive’s logistical control over the market like a house of cards. Uncertainty had shaken Pisces corporate stability; panicking shareholders and driving down the value of their global trading shares. With the taste of blood, other corpora‐ tions displayed their dorsal fins and went after some of the acquisitions Pisces had been recently courting; making bold moves to reel these small companies in. This in turn, had further shaken Pisces perceived stability, and contributed to the corporation’s slide into a negative spiral. The situation was critical. As the captain of a titanic corporation it was essential that he remain in constant communication with his environment, and monitor all sources of information. The burden of responsibility weighed heavily upon his shoulders. If the corporation foundered, it would affect the lives of millions of employees. Yet, while it was important to spare them from fear and uncertainty, it was also necessary to alert them so they could gain safety should the situation slip out of control. At the moment, Sam was the only one who had any sense of the magnitude... There were so many details to remember and track, and it seemed his memory was failing him. For the first time in his life, Sam felt lonely and afraid... and tired; oh so tired. In this moment of his greatest need there was no-one he could turn to for solace and advice, yet he was continually called upon to dispense it. The voice was calling him back... “Mr. Harriton?” came the voice of Miss Dharmanda. “Are you okay sir?” Sam focuses on her image on screen; “Sorry, I’m a little tired, it’s quite late here.” He massages the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index finger. He does not need to look at the NASDAQ, Nikkei, or London stock quotations crawling across the bottom of the screen. Instead, he gazes into the eyes of the woman before him who is calling upon him for counsel. He reads the expression on her face. It provides him with all the information he needs to make his decision. It tells him the acquisition she is structuring is important for providing a source of nutrition in her region. “Do whatever it takes to negotiate the deal. You have my personal pledge to back up the buyout.” Soon another face replaces hers, then another, and another...


| Previous | Next | Respond | Video quality didn’t matter as long as the audio was clear. The voices; pingponging through shared memory communication ports, bouncing off satcom relays and streaming through descramblers were affected by momentary delays caused by transmission time-lag, digital translation, speaking in tongues, breakup of signal, and compressed data transmission. Keeping up with the flow of reality demanded his constant awareness; yet it was becoming increasingly-difficult for him to remember. He kept talking but sometimes the details seemed to blend and merge ~ His digital secretary on the center screen recorded transactions and documented data; a biochemical pharmaceutical company in Canada, an electronics company in Ghana, a television network in Mexico, a Danish bank. Transactions, mergers, interviews and investments. An ad flashed along the top of the TVi display carrying a message sponsored by the Tyrell Corporation: ‘A golden future awaits in the off-world colonies.’ “Save yourself,” said a voice. The smiling image of John Divine appeared to Sam on his display. John was a free agent; a financial consultant who roamed the globe seeking out the brightest prospects among emerging companies, and brokering mergers or acquisition deals to the highest bidder, for a sizable commission. It was well worth the price. John’s instincts and prognosis always proved to be accurate. He knew his way around the infrastructure of the system, he had access to the highestquality information on-line, and had the skills to appraise and evaluate new technolo‐ gy. Many corporate executives considered him to be a marketing mutant; since it was often difficult to determine what his motives were behind the deals he put together. He could be ruthless in his vengeance with corporations that had not compensated him fairly for his market advice ~ Sam had always been honest in his dealings with John Divine, and as a result, a bond of trust had been created between them. John Devine was a wildman. Although in his 40’s, he dressed like a teenage kid; with a penchant for sunglasses and black leather. Not the synthetic stuff; he wore authentic animal hides that squeaked with every movement. The image on Sam’s screen was transmitted from a camera mounted into the dashboard of his vehicle. John’s long dark hair blew in the breeze coming through open windows. The land‐ scape blasted by in the background. It was daytime wherever he was. Sam did not recognize the terrain; a landscape of low mountains with sparse forest vegetation. Sam smiled at the image on his screen; it was like watching a scene from a movie. Sam sat straighter; more alert at his desk. It was a pleasure to get a call from John Divine; a man who was usually impossible to locate, since he only placed calls and rarely received them. “Where the hell are you?” Sam asked. John spoke into the communication device permanently implanted along the side of his face. His skin had a distinctive ridge under its surface, with a small microphone concealed in his thick goatee. The large silver bracelet wrapped around his wrist


contained touch controls which interfaced with the vehicle’s computer and transmitter. He sat partially reclined in his chair, sipping a drink, while the vehicle cruised to its destination on autopilot. “I’m on the T.V. Highway near Beaverton, Oregon, heading for the international airport in Portland. I’ve got a scheduled flight to Singapore in two hours. Just thought I would give you a buzz.” The music cranking out of the vehicle’s speakers is heavy and furious. “I’ve been monitoring indicators coming down the pipe. It seems investors are getting a little nervous, and backing away from Pisces stock since it started losing ground... Talked to one honcho down here who believes the situation is more than a downward correction, and that corporate losses underwritten by investors cannot be sustained. The perception is that Pisces stock is expected to loose half its valuation by the end of the year if some momentum players start to bail. The sharks seem to be waiting for the price to hit near 40 to short again.” Sam looked at the date in the corner of the screen, awaiting the next piece of information. “You know, I have just as much contempt for creatures who live by the code of the predator, as I have for those other lower life-forms which scavenge the sediment for remnants falling to the bottom. I partake not of those sins, lest I receive of those plagues. I hover in the middle; which takes considerable energy. That’s why I have to charge a commission.” In a world in which everyone was becoming an intermediary, John knew he was the best. He adjusted his shades, and coolly turned his head for a moment to survey the landscape rushing by his vehicle; former farmland that had vanished under urban sprawl. He turned back toward the camera; “Sam, the reason I dialed in was to bring some information to your attention.” John paused for a moment; dramatically, “The beast has broken free of its cage within St. Peter’s golden gates.” Sam knew the reference was to the mythical beast people sometime recounted in folk tales; stories he had often listened to during his childhood in St. Petersburg ~ As a young boy, he was fascinated by the creature; described as ‘monstrous’ and ‘horrific’. Yet to him, it had seemed to be a force representing justice; in that its vengeance was to use its awesome power to destroy those who have lead others astray from the path which could return mankind to a state of oneness and paradise. An instinctual yearning for the ‘Garden of Eden’ seemed to be a force always present at the root of mankind’s activity, and somehow, like salmon returning to the stream in which they had spawned, human behavior seemed to track vague memories lodged within the data encoded in our collective primordial consciousness, with the hope that one day, primarily through the control of technology, we would somehow be able to once again recreate that utopian state in a glorious future. Although they may not be conscious of it, many citizens around the world, and over the course of history, used their skills and talents for the betterment of humanity. Yet, at the same time, many others allowed greed and personal gratification to intercede, as they realized they were able to use their attributes to benefit themselves at the


expense of others. In folk tales this was the false promise of ego-immortality; one of the sources which provided wretched immortality to ‘Fallen Angels’ ~ who sustained themselves on the blood of the wicked, and transferred that ‘power of evil’ to sustain the beast; who ultimately served humanity by consuming vast quantities of ‘unwanted’... Vapirs! A thin grin appears in the midst of the coarse dark hair around John’s lips. It seems more like a grimace of pain, rather than a smile. He has been watching Sam’s reaction in the small display mounted on his dashboard. After several moments, while Sam has lapsed into reflection, John’s voice returns; “It’s possible that the angels have lost their material form and have returned to the spirit world. If that is the case, the beast will have lost its supply of nourishment, and will be forced to forage for sources of evil and corruption to devour on its own. Under cover of darkness, its massive shape will slip into the Never River, and its attendants will fly away into the sky. ” Most would have dismissed these comments as weird, crazy talk, but Sam had learned over the years that John possessed unusual talents which extended well beyond his capacity as a shrewd negotiator. He seemed to have the ability to see what can’t be seen; to know what can’t be known. It could be called prophecy, or the ‘communion of truth’. It was as though John Devine had received information some‐ how transmitted from a future time. Sam listened carefully to the words of John Divine; “Don’t be distracted with attempts of sabotage by terrorist groups, or by the power positioning of economic sharks. They prey upon the momentary weaknesses of a situation, and will continue to attack if you lose focus and engage your attention toward a futile battle. Don’t neglect important matters at hand. The beast is a formidable nemesis, and by ignoring it, it will prove to have much more devastating consequences. The beast has the power to hold and erode this time. If you stray from the path it will appear as a thorn emerging from the ground; penetrating from its world into this one. Before you are even aware of it, it will begin to crush your mind.” John Devine continued, “My warning to you is not to heed your father’s advice. Do not deny the error, admit it, then build toward a resolution of the problem. The grace is within you. Save yourself!” John’s hand grew larger as it reached toward the camera in perspective; then the display went blank. Sam sat staring at the cluster of flashing icons on the screen; callers waiting in the messaging queue were signaling his attention. Icons would disappear once they had become impatient from not receiving instant gratification in making a communication link. New icons immediately took their place. Sam’s fingertips brushed the keys. Yet he paused instead of making a selection. ‘It was not the fruit of the Tree of Life from which mankind could gain immortality,’ thought Sam, ‘but rather, from the fruit of the Tree that had been guarded by the Serpent. Information superiority.’


With his other hand, Sam slid open a desk drawer. Inside were many containers of various medications in capsule and tablet form. ‘If there existed a supreme being, its most benevolent act had been in making us mortal, that our exile from Eternity might not be endless, as it was for the Fallen Angels.’ Sam rummaged through the drawer and withdrew a thin, round metallic container, with a twist-off cap. The barcode running vertically along the tube provided its only identification. Sam knew what it contained ~ ‘The graces.’ He opened the container and slid three tiny dark-pink pills onto the black rubber‐ ized coating of his stainless-steel desk. Tranquilizers. ‘Captains of industry who mismanaged a corporation and plunged it into bankruptcy, or had betrayed the trust of employees and investors were expected to do the honorable thing; to take their own lives.’ ‘Only myths and gods live forever.’ Sam popped the pills into his mouth in quick succession, and swallowed each in turn, washing them down with coffee. Sam occasionally contemplated terminating his existence. He knew that if he ever need to resort to that, he would chose a lethal overdose from the pills in his desk. They were handy, and it would be quick and painless. Executives always seemed to chose a chemical cocktail, none it seemed had the bravado, or flair for the dramatic, to choose to freefall from the top of the tower. They did not have the courage to face the ultimate truth, of their failure or greed, even for the short duration of the descent. The fall from grace. Snakes and ladders. That was the easy way out. It would take even more courage to rebuild and restructure Pisces Corporation after the damage it had sustained. John Divine was right. Sam needed to reaffirm leadership of the corporation and begin to implement changes immediately. It was necessary to make a course correction that would align the global corporation with a path which utilized its power as an entity to create positive changes for society. It would mean attempting to wrestle control away from his father; who Sam knew would resort to any measure to never relinquish the power he enjoyed ~ The old man had never let it go unnoticed that he was the one who had brought Pisces Corporation into existence, and it was he who claimed responsibility for driving its rise to power. Yet, Sam realized, that if the operation of the corporation was not brought into check, the old man could well soon witness its collapse. Sam felt that he was caught in the middle of doing what was best for the employees and citizens of the corporation on one hand, and respecting the accomplishments of


his father. He knew the old man had no intention of stepping aside ~ Although Sam was 40, his father had never treated him as his equal. The old man was accustomed to getting his way. He was always surrounded by ‘lackeys’ who seemed to have great reverence for his position of power. Growing up, Sam often felt that his father had abused the respect he had offered him; using it is another means of control over those around him ~ It would take courage to challenge the old man, but he really had no other choice. The elder Harriton was beginning to demonstrate that he was incapable of making rational decisions. As he approached advanced age, he had seemed to grow more selfish, and careless in taking into consideration those around him. As Sam thought back over the years, he realized there were many instances in the past in which he had questioned (to himself) the decisions his father had made. Often the old man’s actions had seemed cruel; closing down manufacturing plants, dispos‐ ing of workers or discarding unprofitable companies. ‘Could he do any better?’ Sam II asked himself ~ Certainly, he knew his father would never believe that the beast even existed; let alone that it was now wandering free in the world. Perhaps others were also escaping their prisons in other locations throughout the world. To Sam it did not matter whether the beast actually existed. It provided a metaphor for a dark force which thrived on evil and corruption, and to him it was a means of adjusting his perception while he began to initiate new strategies to reposition the corporation. ‘Where to begin?’ Sam pondered. Then he realized he would need to begin within the core; ground-zero. Pisces Corporation could make amends by actively leading the process of resurrecting the center of the city of St. Petersburg, which had been decimated by plague. It was a commitment which would seriously stress the financial reserves of the corporation, yet it was a small price to pay for the damage that had been done. If handled with honesty and forthright intentions, it could be the only way to rebuild the image of the corporation which had become tarnished internationally. Other corporations, and the citizens of the region would need to become active participants in the rebuilding process. The greatest challenge would be in preserving the citizen’s respect for his father. It would be necessary for him to come forth to apologize to the citizens and ask for their forgiveness... Sam wondered whether his father could ever be forgiven. In truth, his intentions had been sincere, although, at the cost of decimating undesirable creatures within the core, the action had inadvertently caused more extensive collateral damage than anticipated when those little fleas and infected vermin escaped from what was thought to be tightly-controlled containment barriers. A considerable number of innocent citizens in neighbouring residential areas had lost their lives. Ironically, prior to the ‘elimination campaign’, most of the residential population had considered creatures in the core to be mutants and abominations, yet after the event, the destruction was unanimously perceived by residents to have been a horrific tragedy ~ The thought then struck Sam that perhaps some species of denizens within in the core had not been completely destroyed. They would need to wait for the thaw of snow in the spring to discover whether offspring had survived from creatures that buried their eggs in the soil.


The financial community would also need to be convinced through evidence of a positive rebuilding process. Increased social consciousness was the direction in which all progressive corporations were heading. Those that held fast to outdated product lines and internal structural organization were doomed to extinction. As they had gotten older, directors of corporations had cared less for the future of their companies. They had made their fortunes and could retire to a life of leisure; enjoying their remaining days in extravagant luxury. Rather than amass further wealth, many of the next generation which gained control of inherited corporations, utilized the substantial established resources to build a better world. Like the ebb and flow of tides, Sam realized, perhaps this was the moment of opportunity to change direction and begin to radiate to humanity some of the energy and resources that Pisces Corporation had accumulated ~ The salvation or destruction of mankind? Pisces Corporation could sustain losses during a transition, and if Sam was able to manage the restructuring process, it would position the company in a manner which enabled it to adapt and survive, and maintain its vitality for many years to come. The employees depended on the corporation’s long-term stability for their livelihood, and the population relied on the essential services and quality products which Pisces Corporation manufactured. Their loyalty could not be betrayed; he had a responsibility to them to use his position to create an environment which supported them. He had the business acumen to carry out the task, and now he was provided with a reason to succeed. Sam switched the telecommunication network over to automated messaging, and selected the voice-recorder application from the interface. Sam’s digital secretary instantly appeared before him; “I am ready to accept dictation. Please proceed.” “Ahem... January 21, 2021; 4:44 AM,” Sam stated, looking at the time and date in the corner of the screen. “Memo of agenda for meeting on January 23rd...” The voiceactivated recorder paused during periods of silence. “Directors... Not only have our hardware and facilities been damaged during recent attacks, but more importantly, so has our reputation. We need to undertake new initiatives to regain popular support. Over the years we have proven that our industries are vital to humanity and the future, and that our research and products have advanced the quality of life, and enhanced the survival of our species. We need to remind the public of these facts.” “Corporations are complex economic organisms that need to evolve in order to adapt to changing environments. By modifying existing key modules of the corporation through new permutations and combinations in structure, and through formation of new strategic alliances, we will be able to diversify and manage increased-complexity to survive in more challenging domains. In this regard, we must plan to initiate a new direction for Pisces Corporation, in which the employees themselves will have increased responsibility for handling management decisions at a local level, similar to the way technician teams have solved hardware problems during the recent attacks. These autonomous units will have the capability of evaluating critical situations and


responding to them without the need to report back to superiors in a hierarchical chain of command.” “Members of these teams will demonstrate they are capable of taking charge of their individual destinies, and as a result, they will be better able to serve the organization and contribute to overall corporate success. Employees will become motivated when they believe in the corporation’s goals, and as a result the corporation will be more responsive to the needs of the local community, and better able to benefit the entire global geography. The diversity of thought processes will be instrumental in develop‐ ing innovative new ideas and methods. Employees will be more productive, and enjoy the satisfaction which comes from being part of the process.” “In order to reduce risk, and attain optimum balance within this decentralized structure of international subsidiaries, it is imperative that each node on every branch of the Pisces Corporation family tree is supported by every other node of the corpora‐ tion, through networking of shared resources and information.” ‘End of dictation.’ ~ Sam leaned back in his chair. He felt exhausted. He was having great difficulty fighting off effects of the tranquilizers he had taken to soothe his rattled nerves. He took another sip of coffee, then casually glanced outside, where he was surprised to noticed a pale pinkish-orange band stretching across the eastern horizon. The night had elapsed quickly. Standing to stretch his legs, Sam walked to the window to look out over the world ~ If it was necessary to battle in a power struggle with the old man, he realized now that he was willing to go all the way. Change was critical. As large as Pisces Corporation was, it was just one small constellation in the economic universe; yet it still had some power to help shape the future of life on the planet... For his child, and the one he hoped to have some day ~ Implementing change was important for him to achieve; to realize his own potential as a human being. If he was to fail, then the corporation would fail with him, not despite him. It was a greater risk, and a much greater chal‐ lenge than attempting to leap from a tall building. Sam stared out the window. The full moon was disappearing behind the horizon as the planet slowly rotated to face the sun once again. Solar collectors were opening in day mode with the dawn. The comet approached. Sam turned away from the window and headed down the corridor to the elevator that would take him back to his apartment. In the outer offices, people were still working.


VI.

The face of a jungle cat, eyes burning red from lack of sleep stare back at him from the rearview mirror. The big blue Dodge rolls into the night, slippery streets, flurries of snowflakes swirling down, melting on the glass, steaming the windshield, diffusing the headlights of oncoming vehicles, making it difficult to see. He lights a cigarette and rolls down the window a bit to let out the smoke. Shouldn’t smoke these things, but they came with the car. So did the grungy little disc player sitting next to him in the passenger seat. The sound of heavy music; a release called ‘Dance of Death’, by a band called AAAnus of Satan, playing at high volume through tiny speakers, mixed the guttural growl of the singer in the band with the rhythmic rumble of the engine; producing a metallic symphony Yuri found intriguing. The windshield wipers mark time... He maneuvers the large American car swiftly through city streets. It is an ancient gasoline burning dinosaur, in mint condition, sheltered by a collector in a secured underground parkade. The dark blue Dodge is large and roomy inside; much more spacious than the cramped quarters of the compact electric cars he was accustomed to. His foot on the accelerator reaffirms his drive and determination, his hands on the wheel gave him the independence to guide his direction. He is young and restless, the master of his own destiny, living out the media fantasy in a stolen car; every citizen’s dream of the shiny vehicle gliding through highly-realistic computer-generated environments; the rugged coastline, rocky red desert canyons, lush green pastures ~ As seen on TV. The heady smell of raw petroleum sears his nostrils. Yuri coughs a black streak as he extinguishes his cigarette in the ashtray. He leans back in the thick upholstered seat to take in a view of the city that is blurred by the stroke of wipers against the large panoramic windshield. Occasionally, the colourful glow of twinkling lights emerge from a tenement window along darkened streets. Snow is falling harder; tiny projectiles blast toward the vehicle through the headlights. Suddenly, as Yuri exits a ramp at the perimeter of the residential area, the tires slip on a patch of black ice and the car swerves sideways. Yuri alertly pumps the brakes, and spins the steering wheel in the direction of the skid to quickly regain control... He is tired, and shivering slightly. He can see the vapor from his breath. He turns on the heater, slides a music stick into the player, then lights another smoke. The sound of a Schubert symphony drifts from the speakers. He steps hard on the accelerator, and the car rockets along a freeway past the industrial zone. Soon, Yuri is moving into the darkness beyond city lights; speeding toward Lake Ladoga, along a highway officially named; ‘The Road of Life’. As he sits behind the wheel, Yuri has the uneasy sense that a greater force is guiding him; that some type of shift has occurred, setting events into motion through which his destiny would soon be


revealed. Alone in the night, his thoughts are clear. Fragments of sequenced code; memories from his past, are streaming up from deep within his mind. Visions of beautiful innocent faces of deformed children, wrapped in rags, that had somehow managed to survive within the desolation of the core, only to have their struggle completely annihilated with the arrival of plague. Flashbacks of the endless miles of piping and ducts he had forced his body through; tubes encrusted with chemical residue that reflected in the dull glare of his head-mounted lamp. He recalled his comrades; the ro@ches, gathered together in their squalid apartments, listening with rapt attention to accounts of his adventures. He is a hero to them, yet it is a role that has increasingly becoming more difficult to fulfill. Every action he carried out was somehow expected to surpass the previous benchmark. For the most part, it had been his challenge; he was the one who had driven himself to push the envelope, but now, perhaps, he had finally reached the limit of his capabilities. Sitting behind the wheel, he once again experiences an intense pain in his left shoulder. A recurring dull ache situated right at the joint, that intensifies as he becomes aware of it. He tries to put it out of his thoughts. Years of combat have taken their toll; his body aches, his nervous system has been damaged by toxic levels of chemical contaminants that have accumulated in his body ~ Seeping in through the torn fabric of his rubber suit while he crawled through sewer pipes and ventilation systems. He was not as agile as he had been; his reflexes were losing the timing and intensity that had managed to keep him from harm. Without that edge, it had become increasingly-difficult to penetrate the physical barriers which challenged him. Yet, in his heart he knew that physical limitations were not his greatest obstacle. Of greater significance was the realization that following every mission he had experi� enced an increasingly hollow sensation that his sacrifice had been futile in achieving any larger social consequence. His disillusionment extended to the ro@ches as well. They continued their valiant struggle to sow the seeds of a revolution that had never taken root. In the final analysis, they were just a small band of hackers, free radicals, always on the periphery. They had not even managed to prevent the devastation within the core of their own city. All they had been able to do was react, and point their fingers in accusation. How were they going to be able to save the world? Yuri is aware that the situation remains unchanged, or perhaps is even getting worse. He only needs to walk through the streets of his neighbourhood to experience what life is all about; the gleam has disappeared from their eyes. All that remains are dull vacant stares of citizens standing in line-ups at stores to receive their rations of bread, cheese, cucumbers and kielbasa ~ Perhaps a frozen fish sparkling in the sunlight. They wait patiently; they do not smoke, chew gum, put their hands in their pocket, wear a hat, or smile. During the dark of night, when all the sheep are black, the bravest or most desperate, enter forbidden zones to exchange small items of value; golden ornaments, digital devices or stolen credit cards, with men in ski masks, to obtain bottles of vodka, tins of caviar, packets of injectable cane spirit or anything else that is available from the back of armored vans.


It is a simple matter of economics; the law of supply and demand. Only those capable of producing are allowed to consume. Each citizen is rewarded according to their ability to contribute to the greater corporate good. It is an environment filled with fear and paranoia. Citizens live in constant terror that robbers will come to kill them during the night, or more likely, that other citizens will file complaints about even their most minor transgressions. Spooks who turn over information to authorities about infractions of their neighbours receive a commission; a portion of the fines collected from the offender are credited to their account ~ During subsequent on-line interroga‐ tion, software analyzes the offender’s voice to determine if their thoughts are true or logical. If found guilty, they will be fined an amount based on the year they were born. In certain instances the offender will be ‘hospitalized’ for Corrective Therapy. In extreme cases they will simply vanish as though they had never existed. Another vehicle emerges in the distance and rapidly screams toward Yuri along the frozen blacktop with its high-beams on. As it approaches the glare from its headlights refracts off the moisture on the windshield making it impossible to see. Yuri’s instinct is to turn on his high beams in retaliation; but what good would that do? Then no-one would be able to see. Yuri blinks his eyes as darkness suddenly returns. Where is the happiness? Everything that gives citizens pleasure has come under control. There is only work. There is no community and no family. Planning advisors specify gender determination. The insistence on a limit of only one child per family has created an industry of sterilization and abortion clinics in the inner-city to keep the masses who are stimulated by their hormones, and pleasurable addiction to sexual intercourse, from reproducing uncontrollably. ‘Sergei, take a healthy cold shower whenever you think impure thoughts of Sasha,’ was a lesson Yuri had been taught repeatedly in school. Human nature is a difficult thing to manage using only repetitive slogans, or even medical procedures. There exists strong natural instincts for survival of the species through perpetuation of the family line. Ultimately, the most effective control is to impose severe penalties on those who transgress the law; a policy which has resulted in disturbing consequences. Since the expense of raising a child is provided, for the most part, by corporations who issue parents a ‘social allowance’, it creates a means for corporations to maintain a controlling-interest in their investment. Surplus children discovered within residential zones are removed from their parents by authorities. Depending on the children’s age, they are either placed in rural work camps, or subjected to infanticide. The ones who survive, usually as a result of parents who bribe doctors, become a valuable commodity in the free-market economy. Some are sold as workers to industry; fulfilling menial duties considered too dangerous or trivial compared with expensive robots assigned to the same tasks, or they are sold to traders for prostitution, or potentially they can become the spouse in an arranged marriage. Everyone is familiar with reports of young men and women abducted by marauding bands of rural commando units who enter cities to conduct raids ~ Peaceful


country dwellers would gladly exchange a lifetime percentage of their farm produce to potentially unite their child with a husband or a wife. Controlling consumption of commodities, or production of children, are the most forceful means the authorities, policing interests of corporations, have of establishing social stability. As he thinks about it ~ and he has plenty of time to figure it out during his late-night drive across the wastelands ~ Yuri realizes that social systems are evolutionary. Throughout history they tend to take the form most appropriate for their time. In the beginning, they develop within local regions, then gradually, like mutant viruses, spread to encompass the globe. Sometime it seems that cruelty and corrup‐ tion are catalysts for promoting diversity and development of a system. Hunters, agrarians, industrialists, technologists, communists, socialists, dictatorships or corporations. Ultimately they have all tended to change when it was necessary for their survival. Utopian idealists seeking the perfect existence are only one component. That is the dream, and the escape of virtual reality, but that’s not the way it is in the real world. The diversity of the human race consists of a proportionality between predators and prey; a symbiotic relationship providing the balance keeping our species from becoming extinct. Yuri thought about his own role within the ecosystem. Perhaps he was a parasite that poetically preyed upon the predators; with the objective of somehow finding a means to sabotage their power, and ultimately lessen the fear, or potential threat of danger to their prey; ordinary citizens huddled by their spare fire around a hearth within the residential zone ~ Yuri always wanted to believe that he was just doing his part to eliminate oppression; to give citizens back their free will, humanity, and provide them with the opportunity to create a better life for themselves. “That is very noble of you...” Yuri muttered aloud; verbalizing the position of an antagonist to his internal dialogue, “... but that’s fucked!” He reached over to withdraw another cigarette from the deck of ‘Luckies’ on the seat beside him. Yuri fired it up. He exhaled a huge cloud of blue smoke, then coughed for awhile. He put the silver lighter back in his pocket, then tried to pick up the thread of his internal dialogue once again; it helped to pass the time as night flew by the Dodge ~ He often thought about how he had tried, but had never successfully been able to convince himself that his motives were altruistic. He couldn’t pretend that protecting the rights of citizens was the reason he spent years crawling through sewage pipe. Still coughing, he tosses the glowing cigarette out the window. Did it matter? Did anyone care? How could he consider himself to be a protector of the people, a defender of justice, or a working class hero at the vanguard of a movement to create a paradise of economic equality? “They’re fucking sheep, their existence will go on with, or without me. They have no idea what’s going on; they don’t even know what they want.” Yuri knew that citizen’s needed to take advantage of any opportunity the effort of ro@ches presented them. Citizens were supplied with all the information they needed to determine the course of their own destiny, yet, they seemed to prefer to suffer in silence. Didn’t they realize their power? The peasants, in effect, were paying taxes, as


well as pledging support for specific corporations; voting by making choices with purchases of the goods they consumed... Yet, could they really be blamed for their uncertainty? The authorities kept them from figuring it out; providing their only solace by feeding them a steady stream of media images from which they obtained their dreams. Eventually these dreams replaced their own memories. No, it would take a power much greater than even a legion of coders to bring about any real change. The infrastructure was secure, vulnerable only to localized attacks within a system that proved resilient in reconstructing itself after suffering damage. Perhaps during his most optimistic moments, Yuri had faith that the ‘Zeitgeist’ existed; an entity which through the perpetuation of contemporary mythology was now widelybelieved to have permeated the entire network, generating a force which emanated throughput the digital matrix encompassing the globe. It would fulfill mankind’s desire for a superhuman force; a supreme entity which would ultimately maintain the checks and balances within the system by making its presence known where and when it’s needed. ‘Or then again...’ Yuri thought; looking through the windshield into the darkness past the edge of the city; at a light which burned brightly through dreary grey overcast clouds of night... The comet arched through the heavens spewing out a trail of cosmic debris in its wake. In any event... The lights of another vehicle rapidly approach. As it zooms by, Yuri realizes it is a patrol cruiser. He anxiously watches his rear-view mirror; wondering whether the headlights will turn to follow him. They don’t. The tail-lights disappear into darkness. In any event, his thoughts served to strengthen his conviction that his role as a warrior for a passive society has reached its conclusion. Setting the charges which damaged Pisces power system, earlier that evening, would be his last act of defiance. He really couldn’t do it anymore. It was time to get out while he was still at the top of his game. There was no need to push the envelope; to tempt fate. He wanted to be around to savor the satisfaction of knowing that he had discovered one thing in his life that he was the best at. His exploits had become legendary; he had attained the admiration of his peers. His battle scars were his badge of courage. There was no glory in being a martyr; he wasn’t no saint. To wind up permanently retired by heavy-gauge shredder claws in a rusty pipe somewhere underground, would not increase the stature of the legend, nor would it guarantee immortality ~ All legends eventually become a forgot‐ ten memory. Yuri tries to imagine the future, but like the headlights of his swiftly-moving vehicle, his thoughts vanish into darkness further along the road. His future is a blank; a void. He vaguely wonders who will be there to care for him, to help him face cold mortality when he is old and sick. He wonders who will be there to love him... The love of Juliette, and a child he had never met, were gone. Gone with the wind. Perhaps at the


end of his days he would be all alone... He could imagine sweet Bughead, warm and sweaty under the covers, with legs as smooth as genuine creamery butter to comfort him in his need, but he couldn’t imagine growing old with her. Angels come and angels go, he thought, but mortality sticks around. Snow flakes melt and stream down the windshield like tears. He stares blankly ahead for some time, occasionally turning the steering wheel, as the highway unravels toward him. He shakes his head. He needs to stay alert. He cannot doze off behind the wheel. “Okay, where was I?” Yuri spoke out loud. He tries to pick up the thread, then realizes it is not good to think these thoughts. It just invites trouble. They say what a person imagines will eventually come true. He could use a stiff shot of vodka right now. He is shivering. He rolls up the window. It seems ironic to find himself in this state. He laughs out loud to dispel the somber mood that has clouded his thoughts. If tonight had been his final mission, he should feel joyous, after all, everything this day has gone perfectly. He recalls the adrenaline surge as he made his daring escape from the core that evening, and how he had stumbled down into a parkade just outside the perimeter wall in the residential zone to seek out a ride. It had been no problem to get inside. Discovering the bright blue Dodge had been a wonderful surprise; like a gift. He quickly disabled the vehicle’s ancient onboard computer system ~ it was not even equipped with a navigation beacon to monitor its location had it been reported stolen. Yet, since the vehicle was not beaming; it could draw suspicion. Yuri was not worried; there were not many patrols out here at this time of night, and the Dodge had a huge gas-powered engine that could generate plenty of acceleration. Flying around the perimeter of the city, Yuri is moving fast on icy roads; “I’m the creeper, catch me if you can,” he shouts to the wind. The Dodge breezes past a vast sprawl of tract-housing that resembles the topology of a circuit board; gated communi‐ ties nested within recursive looping arteries of roadways that spiral in on themselves to create an intricate and impenetrable maze. Yuri glances down to scan the dashboard; he notices the needle on the fuel tank is almost on empty... There should be enough petrol, he assures himself ~ It is not far around the perimeter to the exit which leads to the exurb near Dubrovka. The connector will be a much-less traveled route; not many patrols will be active on a night like this to track him in this region of the highway network. Patrol agents did not like to get their weapons wet. The exurb of Dubrovka is a densely-populated satellite-community designed to house employees, warehouses and manufacturing plants of a single corporation ~ These type of developments were gaining popularity in recent years, and many more were under construction. Located in the wasteland, near the border which encircles the greater-metropolitan area, citizens inhabiting the exurb face a dreary and desolate expanse of landscape as their experience of the natural environment. Although, inside the community, the citizen’s every need is provided for, thus it is not necessary for them to commute. While these walled-developments did not have the prestige of living in the towers, in light of recent events, it had proven a wise strategic decision.


Yuri’s destination is a small warehouse at the edge of the compound which functions as one of the corporation’s shipping / receiving terminals. It is located along a branch of the rail-line from Tashkent; the Bolshoi Express. Within the warehouse, which primarily stocks electronic components, his friend Vladimir works the night shift as a shipping clerk; preparing invoices and managing inventory. It is a tedious job, but it provides him with the fringe benefit of being able to order rare parts from manufactur‐ ers for himself, then shuffle the database to erase all traces of orders and payments made by the corporation on his behalf. Vladimir mentions he often receives surplus components from the former space complex at Baikonur in Kazakhstan; the site was abandoned since Vostochny Cosmodrome became operational ~ ‘Was Vladimir building some type of flying saucer,’ Yuri had joked. Vladimir just rolled his eyes. Every morning when the sun came up, Vladimir trudged back to his small apartment with a shoulder-pack, carrying smuggled components hidden beneath his great-coat. His regular routine was to work throughout the day with the curtains drawn; assem‐ bling fantastic digital gear like a mad scientist in his makeshift lab. He was certainly a genius. Every gadget was customized for a specific purpose and crafted with passion. Each was as unique as a work of art. Vladimir would often speak of each device as fondly as though they were one of his children; which increased the importance for ensuring the safe return of the valuable equipment Yuri had borrowed for his missions. At the moment, Yuri could imagine Vladimir pacing nervously, awaiting his arrival, as the scheduled time of their ren‐ dezvous approached ~ He would leave the equipment at the predetermined droppoint near the warehouse, then set out in search of another vehicle for the return drive home; abandoning the Dodge somewhere for someone else to steal... that was as far ahead as he could plan. Instantly, the glare of flashing red and blue lights fill his rearview mirror. The scream of a siren in the night. Yuri is startled; he had not seen the sleek metallic grey armored cruiser stealthily coast up behind him. He had been caught completely off guard... His mind races, his hands start shaking, and his heart is pounding hard in his chest. He assumes they have determined the vehicle is stolen, and are stopping him for ques‐ tioning. He certainly does not want them to search the vehicle; Yuri knew they would quickly find the metallic case filled with electronic components in the trunk next to the spare tire. Besides, he did not have valid identity papers. Being arrested meant exile to a concentrated forced-labour camp far out in the desert, Antarctica, or worse. Many are sent; few return. Yuri pushes the pedal hard to the floor and the car takes off like a rocket. Snow pounds down hard. The wipers struggle to clear his view. When he is finally able to see the road again, he notices the flashing lights of another cruiser in the distance coming directly toward him ~ Merde!; the computer network would co-ordinate the movement of all patrol vehicles in that sector to quickly tighten the web around him. He wished Bug was watching over him from her terminal at their apartment.


When he next glances in the rear-view mirror, Yuri notices he is gaining on the cruiser chasing him. The vehicle approaching is zooming up fast. Just at that moment he spots a narrow access-road to his right. He hits the brakes and the car goes into a spin on the icy road. His timing is perfect; just like in a video game. The skid slows his momentum enough, so that when he wrenches the steering wheel around he just manages to slide directly into the entrance of the snow-covered gravel road. He stomps on the accelerator as soon as he gets the vehicle under control, and plows through soft deep snow. Both cruisers miss the intersection by the time they come to a stop. Yuri can see their lights flashing behind him on the highway through the snowy dust tossed up in his rear-view mirror. The Dodge fishtails and swerves as it bounces through snowfilled depressions. It is difficult to keep the car out of deep ditches that slope steeply on either side of the road. He couldn’t drive flat-out; yet he is moving fairly quickly.


part four

I.

The Agony of Bliss... Act One takes place during late evening in a barren winter park. A small walkway encircles a crumbling concrete statue; an impressive monument of a kneeling angel that has lost one of its wings. In one hand, the angel holds the hilt of a bronze crusader’s sword, which is pointing downward, embedded in the concrete. Several benches, covered with snow, face away from the large rectangular base of the statue. The scene is illuminated by the green glow of a single streetlight. Enter Artezen Maxillae; the King of Mediocrity. Art shuffles along the pathway, with his head down, hands in his pockets, his thick brown hair drapes over the shoulders of his heavy great-coat. His boots mark a trail through deep snow. He walks to the base of the statue, undoes his fly and urinates. He tilts back his head. His cheekbones are high and prominent; the mark of the Slav. His skin is pale like marble. His eyes are brilliant blue; they burn with a cold fire. While his bodily fluid stains the snow, he passes time by trying to read the inscription on the small bronze plaque. Something about heroes, revolutions and sacrifice, but the plaque is tarnished and faded. In a few moments, many pigeons begin to appear; emerging from the shadows past the edge of the light. The wind is bitter cold. Art wipes his nose with the back of hand, puts his penis back in his trousers, then gathers his coat tighter about his neck. Pigeons flutter onto the bench and gather at his feet expectantly. Art notices one pigeon; a beautiful bird, pure white with light gray tips on its wings. He reaches within the folds of his coat to produce a small, greasy, brown paper bag. He has just purchased a burger and fries for 15 credits while walking through the entertainment zone toward the theater; but he is too nervous to eat. His stomach feels queasy. He tosses some french-fries into the snow and the pigeons hungrily scramble over each other to get at the food. Art stands alone in the small park for some time; feeding pigeons from the paper bag. The large gathering of birds chase after ‘fries’ and bits of burger he scatters in the snow, while a couple of brown-feathered scavengers perch upon his shoulders, eating out of his hand, to leave white liquid trails from their droppings down the back of his heavy coat. Art doesn’t notice; his thoughts are elsewhere. In his mind he is running through his lines, and trembling ~ Art wonders if he is shivering from the chill of the evening air, or because he is extremely nervous about the play about to open.


Art scans the scenery surrounding him. Not many people in the entertainment zone in this weather; just a few hardy souls attempting to escape from everyday life. Of course the casinos are crowded, but in the nearby theater district, the streets are almost deserted. He directs his attention toward a theater down the street; and is surprised to see a line already forming outside, waiting for the doors to open. Art secretly hoped not many would show up for the full dress rehearsal tonight, but the publicity campaign for the play had received considerable media coverage; preview‐ ing it as ‘A work of theatrical genius’, ‘A wondrous and visual feast for the senses’, ‘Astonishing special effects’, ‘Incredible enchantment’. ‘Starting tonight for a limited engagement at the Memory Theater’. The production was called ‘The Agony of Bliss’; an experimental play in which he and Gillian were the only live actors. All other characters were played by synthetic thespians; soft actors that were digitally rotoscoped into the virtual sets. They had the ability to change appearance and transform as needed for the story. To the audience, these actors would appear as solid shapes within the scene on the darkened stage, but from Art’s point of view, he could only perceive them as ghost-like apparitions hovering ephemerally before him in the brilliant lights shining down. Neither Art nor Gillian spent much time together in rehearsal. She was still distant and cold; jealous that he received star billing following his very first play, while she had struggled in bit-parts and supporting roles for many years. Art was just being himself. He didn’t have any formal training, and he didn’t even know what he was doing, but the director loved his spontaneity and edginess, and his ability to improvise. ‘Art is perfect for this production’, the director had enthused. How the play worked was this: Art would basically go on-stage totally unprepared. Scenes and characters would be projected around him, and a small monitor at the edge of the stage, visible only to him, prompted lines of dialogue he was expected to improvise upon ~ Naturally he is terrified. Art dumps the remaining contents of the paper bag into the snow, and the birds swarm at his feet. In their greed, they began to frantically peck at each other, so Art crumples the bag into a wad and throws it at them. They scatter in a small explosion but immediately return; their hunger overpowering their fear. He steps away from the greedy birds, deciding to hurry to the theater; he doesn’t want to be late. As he quickly turns, he immediately bumps into a thin young man dressed in a ragged coat who comes directly at him, stumbling through the snow. The man does not seem to see him; as though Art is invisible. As a result, they collide with great force, sending this man tumbling to the ground. The pigeons fly off again, then quickly return. Art staggers from the impact, steadies himself, then goes to help the man to his feet and apologize. The man lay motionless on his back in the snow. When Art leans toward him, he notices a wild unfocused look in the man’s eyes. He is starring grimly through strands of greasy black hair; straight into the streetlight. He attempts to speak:


“You..............................don’t.......................understand......................it’s............. ...............my..............................tongue.....................” the man tries to explain. The guy is probably high on Khat, Art reasons, as he tentatively reaches out his hand ~ The man wanted no assistance. He curls up in the snow as though it were a thick down comforter and appears to fall asleep. Art calls to him, then waits for a few moments, uncertain what to do. Some of the birds hop onto the man to have a dump; squirting out milky white fluid that immediately freezes where it lands. The man is smiling; he has pulled a pile of snow under his head for a pillow, then closes his eyes. Art grabs the front of his jacket to pull him into a sitting position. With surprising quickness, the man slashes Art with a razor he must have concealed inside his sleeve. The rusty steel blade slices through the back of Art’s hand drawing a thin ribbon of blood. Art screams a curse as he pushes the man away. He quickly covers the wound with the palm of his hand, then turns in panic, running quickly toward the theater, wonder‐ ing if he is badly cut. He can feel a sensation like warm syrup trickle through his fingers. He glances back as he runs, to notice the birds have covered the man with the grey carpet of their bodies ~ Art was determined to remember to send help for the man once he reached the theater. Art stumbles into the narrow alley at the side of the theater, and pushes his way through a heavy metal door painted with crude lettering; ‘Authorized Personnel Only’. Inside it is dark. Art trips, and tumbles down a short flight of metal stairs, coming to rest on his back on the concrete floor. He lay there for a moment staring up at bare light bulbs in the narrow backstage hallway. Soon he hears the sound of footsteps rapidly approaching. “Where the hell have you been? I knew you were going to be late.” Art recognizes the fay voice of the anxious director of the play. Art tries to speak; but his tongue is frozen from the cold, and fear. “We have to get you into makeup. The curtain is in twenty minutes.” Art struggles to sit up... He feels woozy. “Oh m’god! What happened to your hand? Natashia get over here!” the director excitedly calls to a woman down the hall. He leans over to help Art to his feet. “Have you been drinking?” Art recognizes neurotic anxiety in the director’s eyes. “No... I’m okay,” Art offers reassuringly.


“Natasia, get him cleaned up and put a bandage on that cut. Can you cover it with makeup?” “No troubles.” ~ It was her standard reply to any request. Natasia is an attractive mature woman; once well-known as an actress and singer. When the flame of her career burned low, she made the transition to makeup artist, then spent the better part of her life backstage. Many men, including Art, were in love with her. He immediately felt better when she firmly gripped his arm and helped him walk to one of the dressing rooms... Meanwhile the director scampered off, shouting instructions to someone down the hall; his voice raised yet another octave higher from the tension. Inside the sparsely-furnished dressing-room, Art drops onto a ragged chair. Lime green paint is peeling off the walls, and the fluorescent light above the mirror buzzes and flickers. He carefully lifts his hand from over the cut to finally examine it. Both hands are covered in blood, and there are spatters down the front of his pants. Natashia washes the wound with a warm cloth. “It will need a couple of stitches. It’s not too bad. I will disinfect it, hold still.” She leans forward. Art is mesmerized by his glimpse of her massive breasts through an opening in the front of her blouse. Then suddenly there is a sensation that seems like liquid fire has been poured into the wound. Art flinches and groans as his hand ignites. Art realizes she had intentionally distracted him; since she didn’t use anesthesia before she stitched his hand ~ He is grateful; they are truly beautiful breasts. “You must be in love,” Natashia smiles coyly, teasing him. She replaces the medical supplies into a dented white kit hanging from the wall. “Umm..?” Art is uncertain how to respond. Natashia approaches to start combing his hair. “I see the way she responds to you when you are around. When I painted her tonight she talked about you, and she cried.” “You mean Gillian? She cried?” “Yes, she let her feelings out to me.” “I guess it’s a love / hate thing.” “Oh... you don’t know women,” Natashia says, shaking her head and smiling. She opens a small compact, and begins delicately applying pancake makeup. “Absolutely,” Art replies. “She knows I want to be with her, and she just plays with me. Do you have any vodka?”


Natashia slides open a small drawer under the mirror... The young actor waits in the wings, dressed in plain white coveralls. He stands motionless, surrounded by levers, ropes and pulleys of stage rigging the crew operate behind the scenes. He peers through a gap in the heavy black curtains to watch the audience stream in. The theater is small, arranged like the courtyard of a tenement building. Stacked black metallic balconies, five tiers tall, form a semi-circle, clustered around the stage. Each balcony module seats four or five people behind a curved metal railing ~ The audience is taking their seats, talking and laughing, anxious to be entertained. Art is unaware that Camellia is in the audience tonight ~ She would later document the performance on the personal digital recorder she always carried in her purse... She often used it for dictation, while undertaking research, or to record her thoughts for a story she was writing. Art withdraws his head from between the curtains. He is extremely nervous; the crowd is much larger than he has anticipated. He tries to focus. He stands perfectly stationary; an island of calm in a turbulent sea of activity and motion that orbit him furiously, as the technical crew patch cables into the arrays of computers backstage. Both the technicians and computers are in constant communication with the control room; suspended like an U.F.O. hovering above the center of the hall. Within the command center, Art is aware that writers, the line producer, lighting director, set designer, and computer artists are running through their pre-launch checklist; readying projectors located around the stage to generate the scenery and actors for the play ~ No-one seems to pay any attention to Art; until the director flies in. “... I already told you that the last time you called...” the director is yelling into his cell phone. He notices Art and gives him a wink. “Call them again, or phone me back. Listen I gotta go, it’s show time!” The director approaches and places his arm around Art’s shoulders; his cologne is overpowering. “You nervous kid?” “No, I’m okay.” “How’s the hand? ... Geez, couldn’t she have covered it any better than that? It’s still oozing blood. Hey, don’t worry... Listen, I have all the confidence in the world in you... If this thing bombs, I’m the one that has to take the heat. Just go out, say what you have to say, then get the hell out of there!” Then the director quickly flitters off to yell at one of the lighting guys who is on top of a very tall ladder. With the exaggerated action of a time-lapse movie, the stage and rigging crew moves into the darkness to disappear. Art can hear the voices of the audience suddenly quiet to a murmur. He is all alone. His stomach is in knots. He wonders where Gillian is. He wishes that she were here with him now, to hold his hand and


wish him luck. Then the house lights went down, and the stage was dark. Time stood still. It seemed like a dream. He could feel beads of sweat run down his neck; the fear ~ Stage fright. Scene one. The interior of a medieval castle gradually appears before him on stage; materializing from the darkness. Art awaits his cue. The opening music swells to a crescendo ~ That’s when he feels the stage manager shove him violently from behind; forcing him onto the stage. He stumbles into the limelight. The audience is silent; he can hear his footsteps on the floor as he makes his way to center-stage. He stops on his mark; frozen in the glare of bright stage lights. The dull reflection from hundreds of eyes; all watching him, glow in the darkness. In his state of panic the world is compressed into a two-dimensional representation of reality. Everything seems flat; as though displayed on a projection screen. He is perspiring profusely. Art suddenly notices he appears to be wearing the brightly-coloured costume of a jester. He can see floppy extensions hanging from his fool’s cap; each decorated with small bells at the end. The bells tinkle when he shakes his head; yet he couldn’t feel the presence of the cap. It is an illusion. He takes several deep breaths to calm himself before he is able to look around the stage and become aware of the depth and space of the setting he is in. Nearby are virtual actors, appearing quite real; a king and his courtiers are feasting on mutton and wine. They throw their scraps to a couple of sleek greyhounds at the foot of a long wooden table. One of the virtual dogs begins gnawing on a bone. It carefully studies Art as he walks toward the king. “‘Tis foolish to court danger,” Art shouts; his voice surging with emotion. He swal‐ lows hard, trying to control his delivery. “Yet, I wish to entertain you with a simple story, told without embellishment. I hope I do not disturb you with these words I am about to speak. For if the truth offends ye, then tell me now before I start, for this tale may not please the refined ear of so pleasing a company that I find myself amongst,” Art cast his gaze into the sea of darkness which was the audience. From behind; “Get on then, entertain us with your jest, and not prolonged apologies,” mumbled the portly king; his mouth stuffed full of meat. Art turns to bow to the king. He clears his throat; “Like all good tales it begins this way... Once upon a time.” Those were essentially the only lines Art was required to memorize. So far, so good, he thought. From here on out, he would rely upon his wits, and skills in improvisation. The director, now at his station in the control room, was the puppetmeister. He would tug at Art’s invisible strings by flashing text on the monitor screen to prompt him, and generate digital environments for him to react to. “The flow of the play will change every night,” Art recalls the director telling him. “Yet, the theme will be the same: the story of permanence of the human creature attempting to exist within a rapidly-changing world.”


‘Okay, bring it on,’ thought Art. He is primed and his reflexes feel good... The interior of the stone castle, along with the participants of the royal feast fade away, to be replaced by the ragged wasteland of a battlefield ravaged by the effects of war. Art stood amongst the rubble, with fragments of broken machines and shattered vegetation strewn over the landscape. Across the stage, a column of black smoke arose from the battered remains of some type of military transport vehicle. The scene looked very realistic. He could hear the sound of a distant battle waged beyond the horizon; coming from large speakers hidden in the darkness at the back of the stage. “Once upon a time,” Art repeated as he glanced around the scene; “The world was gripped by the terror of international war. Small territories used their technology to create weapons of destruction that were turned against their neighbours, and even citizens living in distant parts of the world.” Art was not very knowledgeable about world history; he couldn’t recall the reason wars had been fought, or even who had won. He glanced at the monitor at the foot of the stage; seeking some information to help him out. “Generals took control, using their military power to impose their own ideas and morality on other systems which existed in the world.” A man with no legs, and no chin, drags himself from the burning wreckage, and crawls rapidly, like a land crab, across the stage toward Art. His camouflage uniform is covered with blood stains. The soldier lifts a heavy military weapon and points it at Art. “What unit are you from?” the soldier barks... The audience gasps. Art is suddenly afraid; the man appears quite real. “I’m from the future... Uhmm... I’m an angel,” Art tries to explain. Now it’s the soldier’s turn to wear an expression of fear. “Am I dying?” the soldier whispers. “Our commander told us we were bulletproof, but I swear I never saw the land mine.” “You are dying,” Art replies solemnly “The time of war and terrorism has passed. It’s archaic and obsolete.” The soldier collapses, falling back into the mud, and lies still. The audience cheers. Art turns toward the audience, surprised by their reaction. He suddenly recalls the man he has left lying in the snow at the nearby park. “Violence is bad,” Art calls out to the audience. “Fighting tears families apart. It separates the population, segregating them into factions and allies. It drains the resources of industry to support a prolonged war.


A ghost rises from the body of the fallen soldier. In its hand is the apparition of a spade. The ghost of the soldier speaks; “Let the dead bury the dead, and let the show carry on.” The audience laughs and cheers as the scene vanishes. Art paces the stage, followed by the narrow beam of a brilliant spotlight. He takes his cues from the monitor; “The population begins to realize that an aggressive, warlike society is inhumane, and if they continue on that path, they will not evolve beyond their primitive existence; an existence in which each citizen is nothing more than an independent, autonomous unit, in competition with each other and with their environment.” The next scenario begins to form. A scene somewhat like a Japanese Zen monastery, except that the traditional wood-frame building and rice mats have been replaced by modern tubular beams, brushed-metal wall panels and black rubber mats on the floor. A group of monks, with transmitter bands around their shaved skulls, sit on the mat in tranquil meditation. They are computer programmers within some type of robotic Buddhist temple. “Others seek to transcend the empirical world and attain a higher-status mode. They attempt to integrate their consciousness with the chaos of the eternal void.” Art approaches the group of monks. There is the sound of a bell, filtered through a digital sequencer; “These are the dedicated; the codewalkers. They sacrifice them‐ selves to the painful ‘burn-in’ period of applied neurotechnology in pursuit of enlight‐ enment.” Framed by an open window, a golden sun appears above the wooded hills in a mountain scene. Brilliant light floods the stage. One of the monks, who is facing east, slowly emerges from meditation, opening his eyes to take in the radiance. “The dispenser of solace,” the monk speaks without opening his mouth. Art continues; “Having attained nirvana, they wish to share their vision, but they have discovered to their dismay that general citizens are not at all receptive. Humans are imperfect; seeming to prefer the darkness of their own selfish ignorance and illusion, as compared to expansion of their consciousness toward the eternal light of bliss. Undaunted, coders dedicate themselves to preserving their new-found wisdom, before it fades away, They use their skill and talent to program machines that are capable of capturing their memories while they remain vivid.” Art turns toward the audience, “Visionaries are dangerous because they can transport through time. Their ideas are capable of spreading like a virus.” The monastery fades away, replaced by the interior of a subway car zooming through an endless underground tunnel. Lights spaced along the rough concrete wall outside the window flash like strobes against the background blur. The entire stage


seems to be rocking with the motion of the car. Very realistic. Art stumbles as he tries to grab a strap hanging from an overhead bar; but his hand grasps nothing but air. A young male passenger sits on a bench nearby with his back to the window. He is playing a portable videogame unit; oblivious to his surroundings. Art watches him for a few moments, then notices a woman gliding toward him from the opposite end of the car. It’s Gillian, or at least it looks like her; Art is not certain if she is real or a projection. She is wearing a ripped black leather jacket and blue jeans. Very American. Long white strands, like a horse’s mane, extend to the shoulder of her jacket, emerging in patches from her predominantly close-cropped jet black hair. Her face is as pale as a death cult suicide, her eyes sunken, burning with the black magic fever of programmer’s disease. She stands next to him and says: “Good evening, Dr. Fausten. Do you remember me?” Her breath smells sweet. For a few moments the theater vanishes, and it is Art and Gillian, alone, face-to-face once again. Yet, she is not the Gillian he has known; she is acting, playing the role of a brain-damaged cybernaut, tranced-out into alpha, letting the chemicals do their work. Art peers deep into the dark pools of her dilated pupils and can almost see the mind-worms unwinding from the stack. “Uh... no... I.... uh... don’t recall,” Art stammers. Gillian laughs; gleeful, malicious. She is trying to throw him off; expose him as a fraud ~ To let the audience know he is not the caliber of actor he is pretending to be; “You don’t remember me? When your past returns, you say, ‘Fuck off past, go away, I don’t want to deal with you anymore.’ Your memories are like ghosts before breakfast.” Art searches the monitor for a line, but the screen is blank. He begins to sweat profusely. “Your compact was sealed with a signature in your own blood. Now is the time to fulfill the obligation on terms of the agreement. I am the agent that has been sent to collect, and the midnight hour is at hand,” Gillian continues. Art scans his memory, trying to recall the fable ~ Something about making a pact with a devil who would provide Dr. Faustus with whatever he requested, in exchange, after a period of time, for the surrender of his body and soul. “Dark angel of death, my deal is not with you. I want to speak to your manager.” Some laughter from the audience.


Gillian smiles slightly and struggles to remain in character, “I am an authorized representative.” “You are just an agent. What’s your commission? I will double whatever you are being paid.” The audience is laughing harder ~ Art is starting to get into the rhythm. He reaches out to touch Gillian. She feels solid. He is glad his hand has not passed through her. “You are human, and mortal just like me,” Art continues. “I have never known sadness like yours. You do not know what love is.” Art pulls her toward him. He kisses her passionately on the lips. He can feel her breasts under her jacket; the small firm mounds press tightly against him. He stiffens. In the distance he hears vague hoots of approval from the audience. Gillian pushes him violently away. “We are at the end of reason. You are trying to trick me,” she responds angrily. “I have come to fulfill my obligation, by requiring you to fulfill yours.” She quickly withdraws a small metal cylinder from her purse. ‘Is it some kind of weapon, or a tube of lipstick?’ Art wonders. She is holding the device firmly in both hands; leveled at his chest. She tightly closes her eyes. “Wait!” Art shouts ~ Gillian opens her eyes. “I love you!” Gillian’s mouth drops open in surprise; “You can’t do that! Men!” Gillian scoffs and shakes her head, “They never keep their word.” She quickly exits the stage ~ The audience applauds and cheers. ‘This acting stuff isn’t so bad’, Art considers, ‘People seem to be easily amused. What next?’ The subway car disappears. The stage goes dark. A spotlight shines on him. “I’ve outsmarted the devil,” Art boasts to the audience; which encourages a few more shouts in response. Catcalls and guffaws ~ Suddenly a deep voice emanates from somewhere in the blackness; “You are a fool,” calls out Heckler #13, before emitting a wicked evil laugh.


Art looks around; surprised. “You will discover that what you believe to be your independent thought and freewill are merely illusions,” continues the disembodied voice. “You have yet to realize that the Beast remains your master. Forces of evil always dwell within the hearts of mankind. Now, with the celestial sign; the comet's perihelion passage ~ The time has arrived when its presence will be made manifest.” Art feels truly afraid. This is getting really weird; like a strange dream or a hallucina‐ tion. He happens to look at the cut on his hand to notice that it is bleeding. Suddenly he remembers the man in the park ~ He should notify someone to send help before the poor soul freezes to death, he thought. The ominous voice continues; “Those who have used their position to unleash evil into the world, and those who have falsely claimed to be messiahs, will realize that their power is insignificant when compared to the master. The Beast sustains itself on the blood of corruption, disembodied fear and poisoned hatred. It seeks petroleum which wells from the earth to provide the fuel to maintain it. Yet, if your heart is pure, and you believe, you will need not to fear. The Beast will be the source of liberation, and the force of your redemption. Who else can you turn to during the time of catastro‐ phe?” Art considers what the voice is telling him; recalling that he has recently survived the plague which swept the city, and he is certain that reports of the Sun being devoured by darkness from the fallout of immanent impact by the comet are false. “I believe in ‘The Age of Miracles’,” Art replies. “I believe in a power that is greater than evil, which will guide mankind’s path into the future. Human desire to do what is right, and good, will always prevail.” “You should not be convinced by the sound of your own words, my son. Mankind’s instinct toward destruction is a much greater force. In peace you find war, in love you find hate, in desire you find greed. When you get what you want, you still aren’t satisfied. When you consider humanity, is there reason or purpose, does existence make any sense?” “My reality is the process of discovering patterns of meaning within the constellation of moments which make up my life,” Art reads from the prompter ~ He is not sure what that means, yet, struggling to come to grips with the scenario unfolding around him, he is grateful for something to say. All this philosophy is too heavy and deep... The writers must have been up all night thinking about this crazy stuff, Art thought. It was obviously going right over the heads of the audience who watch him suffer in silence ~ He is dying up here.


“The closer you analyze it, the more abstract it becomes, like a fabric woven from strands of rapidly changing truth.” The deep laughter appeared once again. “Perhaps you have yet to discover that you do not even exist,” the voice continued to taunt him. “I know I exist... because... I have a soul that is unique...” Art’s voice trails off uncertainly. A new scene begins to materialize behind Art; slowly revealing itself as the kaleido‐ scopic illumination increases. Rays of light filter through large stained-glass windows; rainbow-coloured panels arranged in a mosaic surrounding the image of a flaming sword. Empty rows of wooden benches, white candles in ornate golden holders. At the center of the platform, a blind priest stands next to a fountain. Holy water tumbles into his basin. The old blind priest speaks; “My son, my son, you are in error. You must learn to distinguish between the temporal and the eternal. Eternity is here right now.” Art realizes that it is the same voice he has previously heard in the darkness. It continues; “You believe the illusion is real, since the illusion provides you with freedom. You must learn that individual freedom is counter-productive to the well-being of the social whole. Those who seek freedom for their own personal gratification are no better that parasites which feed off their host. Sinners always find a way to corrupt a system that is elegant and simple. Their incorrect thoughts and actions must be punished.” Three dark shapes emerge from the wings; women dressed in the habit of the Sisters of Discipline ~ An order based on the ‘Daughters of Night’ in Greek mythology. It is written that these three sisters; Alecto (the Unceasing), Megaera (the Grudging) and Tisiphone (the Avenging), arose from drops of blood which fell to Earth from the wounds of Uranus when he was castrated by his son Cronus. The three goddesses of revenge pursue their quarry until the offender either demonstrates remorse, or is driven to extinction. Their vestments reveal hard nipples of small breasts pushing firmly against black rubber corsets which conform to their contours. Creamy thighs luscious above black stockings. One of the women strides purposefully towards Art. She occasionally whips a stiff riding crop against the top of her high black leather boots. Art recognizes Gillian; her narrow face is framed by dark-green snake-like coils of hair emerging from under the shadow of her hood. He is surprised by the eerie glow of her cool blue halo. Is she real? Is any of this real? Her face approaches; it appears stern and severe. Art tastes blood as he nervously wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He looks down to


discover blood on his clothing. He can hear the pounding rhythm of his pulse ~ He is truly afraid. “The sinner trembles before his chastener. On your knees, it’s time for atonement.” Her lips are gloss black, there is fury in her eyes, she holds the whip in her hand clad by a long black glove. Art does as he is told; dropping to his hands and knees on the floor. “Through your penitence you will learn to experience suffering of the flesh as a means to bring you closer to God!” Gillian shouts, as she whips him hard across his buttocks; it stings like fire. He bites his lip to stifle a yell. Tears well up in his eyes. “The agony of bliss!” She is breathing heavily as she whips him half a dozen more times. Finally he screams out; “Have mercy on me!” The audience cheers. “Have you learned the lesson of humility and obedience? By the light of heaven do you know how lost you were?” She strikes one final blow. “Yes, I see the light!” She pushes him to the floor with her boot; her stiletto heel digs into his ribs. She laughs wickedly and walks off stage, accompanied by her sisters. Art is certain she has enjoyed that... He lay there for a few moments while the screen grows dark... He catches his breath, a tear rolls down his cheek, then slowly he unfolds himself to return to a standing position. As he rubs his bottom he realizes that his penis has stiffened noticeably against the thin material of his coveralls. Self-consciously he covers himself with his hands. He feels embarrassed; imagining every eye in the audience looking at his erection. The sensation of fear causes it to continue to grow. Quickly the fear turns to anger. He has been punished like a dog. He has suffered the indignation of being oppressed. By living out this experience on stage, he realizes something about his life; that yet again he has betrayed his own true nature. He has responded to the pain-avoidance mechanisms hard-wired into his conditioning since childhood. (Even robots were equipped with sensors to enable their self-preservation). The epiphany of Art’s realization is that he has spent his entire life treading the balance between terror and angst, reacting to fear rather than the motivation of his passion and desires. From somewhere deep within, a primal force began to stir. He no longer felt human. He was mutating. He could feel the emergence of a primitive animal; a lustful werewolf. He was surprised by the transformation, and a sensation of strength and power he had never experienced before. His muscles felt sinewy and lean under his coveralls. He was suddenly aware of coarse brown hair beginning to appear on his face and hands ~ Was this actually happening, or was it some strange trick of the projection devices?


Art now found himself upon a small hilltop, overlooking a pastoral meadow on a mid-summer’s evening. A full moon is rising into the sky. His eyesight is keen in the darkness. He can now discern faces in the audience; slack-jawed in awe, or was it fright? He let out a plaintive howl. Inflamed by his recent tragic treatment, his soliloquy became inspired by the words in his heart. He no longer had need for the teleprompter; “Villainous whores! Creatures of darkness masquerading as givers of light. They couch their words as if delivering the gift of the spirit, yet their speech contain only lies. They bury us with our ignorance by administering poison, and spreading a plague that brings death to life. Now that twilight is fading, darkness will deliver the night.” Art panted. A long tongue emerged from the corner of his mouth. The urge to hunt; the killer instinct, overwhelmed every other desire. Yet, he patiently waited and carefully observed the scene: A herd of sheep were bedding down for the night on a pasture of lush green grass. As he watched, he noticed a single black sheep roaming at the periphery of the herd. He had not noticed it at first; black sheep are difficult to see at night. It was the outsider, segregated because of its differences;z wanting to be a member of its group, but never able to fit in. Perhaps it had developed traits that other sheep found difficult to comprehend. Strange actions, and protective mecha‐ nisms to defend itself from the pain of separation. Art recognized that the black sheep could no longer form bonds of attachment with the others, because when those bonds were severed, as they inevitably will, the pain will be that much greater. Instinctively he could sense the pain of its loneliness; always longing for home, the need for compan‐ ionship ~ If only from a distance. The black sheep was more vulnerable than the rest of the herd. Huddled together, they hoped the black sheep would become the target of an attack. It was a matter of self-preservation. The black sheep was expendable. It could become the sacrifice that made it possible for the rest of the herd to move to safety while the wolves devoured its carcass ~ Perhaps it would be a relief to the herd when the black sheep was destroyed. Difference breeds anxiety; disrupting the uniformity of the pattern. “Bah, bah, black sheep, have you any wool?” werewolf Art shouted. The huddled masses of white sheep looked up as one; their eyes filled with an expression of terror. Yet, the black sheep remained calm. It answered Art in its language then returned to chewing grass. Art could sense it had often strayed far from the herd, traveling pathways that had taken it past the bounds which comprised the herd’s existence. It was due to its experience of the unknown that it had no fear; it was aware of the danger, yet accepting of fate. At that moment, crouched on his haunches upon a virtual hilltop, observing imaginary sheep in a pasture projected onto the theater stage, Art had a revelation ~ He recalled late night discussions over black coffee with members of the ro@ches at the Eagle Grill, and now, for the first time it all became clear; he finally understood


what they meant when they spoke of the Zeitgeist. He could imagine an entity which was an integral part of the network, yet retained its independence as it wandered throughout systems. It was a spirit that was a necessary component to the survival of the whole, for without some means of testing boundaries, or pushing the envelope, there would be no progress; inertia would force the system to collapse upon itself. Nomadic cells of resistance reached the limit of human intervention whenever they confronted the nearly insurmountable defenses of heavily-fortified ‘castles in the sky’. Digital systems in the towers operated autonomously; sealing the outer envelope to provide the primary source of protection to the ruling class. Behind the scenes, corporate executives operated the levers, and pulled a few strings, creating the choreography of the play. It didn’t matter whether some of the sheep complained; the committee had complete editorial control over how the story would unfold. Although ‘hackers’ have become passé, it was ‘a shining star’ among their elite who found a way to penetrate the ultimate barrier. According to legend, a young man named Jurgen Ernst, using a home-built rig in his laboratory on a remote island, discovered a method of transforming his very essence into digital code. It is written that Jurgen encoded his mind, body, and even his soul, into a multitude of viral entities which continue to mutate within the matrix, and propagate as a benevolent force which true followers believe will eradicate the presence of evil, and obliterate all erroneous bits of data wherever they are encountered. To those in the know, this manifestation is a momentous occasion, comparable to the second coming of Jesus Christ ~ In a similar manner, the new savior had ended his life as a martyr by crucifying himself connected to his experimental equipment within a quonset in Iceland. Jurgen Ernst was the black sheep who sacrificed his existence for the collective benefit of the masses. His followers devoutly believe that his spirit will keep the system in check. At that moment Art understood: This force would act as a conscience ~ A guide. The internal dialogue of his thoughts streamed through his mind in a matter of moments. When he returned to reality, he realizes the audience is still chuckling after hearing the virtual sheep’s comic bleating in response to his ‘bah, bah, black sheep’ line. That’s when the werewolf spies the comely shepherdess who has just appeared on-stage to watch over the flock. She is little Bo Peep, and he is the big bad wolf. He licks his lips. His abdomen rumbles with an insatiable hunger that is not craving for the taste of flesh, but the primal urge of absolute lust, or possibly the desire to attain a measure of revenge. He springs from his haunches, and bolts across the meadow on all-fours toward her. Gillian feigns fright; tilting back, holding out her palms, and opening her mouth into the shape of an ‘o’. She is wearing a fluffy pink dress, thigh-high white stockings, and holding a long wooden shepherd’s crook decorated with a pink bow. Her blonde wig has a pair of braids over her shoulders.


“Oh woofy, oh woofy, please don’t eat me up,” she squeaks. “I’d rather play a game,” replies the sly wolf after skidding to a stop. “It’s a game I think you’ll like. It’s called ‘Jump’. First I jump over you, then you jump over me.” “Oh, that sounds like fun!” the shepherdess exclaims. “What do I do?” “Just bend over and grab your ankles,” explains the wolf. “Okay!” As soon as she bends over, he flips her dress up onto her back, and quickly yanks down her pretty pink panties. Her plump little bottom looks so cute. He notes that her pubic hair has been shaved into the shape of a heart. He pulls down the zipper on the front of his coveralls and is amazed to see that his body is covered by thick brown fur, and that his erection is dark, hard and twisted like the root of a tree. She lets out a surprised squeal when he mounts her from behind. “Oh woofy!” It is a fine line between humanity and bestiality. His hips rhythmically thrust like a well-oiled machine. Saliva drools down his chin. Despite his intense concentration to the task at hand, he quickly becomes aware of a cacophony of loud shouts emanating from the audience. Art has forgotten all about them; now they are becoming raucous. Gillian is moaning and groaning as though enjoying this predicament. Nevertheless, the wolf recalls lines from a famous poem, then shouts them loudly to make himself heard above the din of the crowd; “The pitiful sound of the sheep’s quavering cry, the wool has been pulled over their eyes... Someone threw something onto the stage. The large metal object lands very close to Art, yet he does not break pace for a moment. He continues to furiously thrust and pump his hips. The meadow background rapidly flickers ~ In panic the sheep begin to flee ~ Then abruptly the scene disappears. Gillian is screaming; ‘Yes, yes, yes’. The house lights come on. The wolf looks over his shoulder to see the audience on their feet; yelling and cheering ~ “Bravo!” “Magnifico!” He returns his attention to Gillian; there are beads of perspiration on the sensuous curve in the small of her back, which now arches, then suddenly begins to tremble; “Oh, wow!” she exclaims. Art is incredibly hard; anticipating what a relief it will be to come... a few more moments. He glances up to see a squad of special-team commandos repel down to


the stage ~ Deus ex machina ~ Still clinging to a rope, one of the commandos aims a ‘zapper’ at Art’s head, then depresses a button which discharges an energy pulse that instantly short-circuits Art’s brain-waves... The werewolf’s sharp teeth bite into his long rubbery tongue when the back of his head hits the stage. The audience thinking it is part of the act, applaud and cheer even louder. Art did not feel any pain. As the lights went out he thought he heard Gillian quoting a line from the ‘Tempest’; “Our revels now are ended... We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” Gentle falling snow covers him with a soft blanket. The scene slowly fades to black...

II.

Juliette’s words return to mind for some reason on that narrow road in the darkness. Yuri makes fresh tracks through deep snow which flies up to eclipse the headlights, and smear his vision with the movement of windshield wipers. He can hear the wail of sirens in the distance. Above, the pale full moon peers through an opening in dark clouds like the pupil of a watchful eye. The last words she had spoken to him, on the day she took her son and left the city, were; “How much beauty do you have to trample upon to destroy something you hate?” The truth of the statement never failed to wrench at his heart whenever he conjured it from memory. Even at the moment, Yuri can feel the track of a single tear roll down his cheek. He had dedicated his life to a cause he believed in, and in exchange had sacrificed his close relationship with the two people he loved most in the entire world; his wife and his child. The pain gnawed away inside for many years, leaving him with an empty feeling that he tried to fulfill by replacing their love with the respect and admiration of his peers; pushing the limits of his endurance, and conduct‐ ing increasingly-dangerous missions. Perhaps the pain was caused by the realization he had made the wrong decision. From out of nowhere, a helicopter suddenly swoops low over the car. Brilliant searchlights beam from above to turn night into day. Light glistens off drops of water on the windshield like a thousand stars... Yuri suddenly becomes aware of the deep-blue plastic molding on the dashboard and steering wheel. In the darkness, during the


drive, he had not been aware of the vehicle’s interior colour ~ Yuri maintains speed, having faith the road continues straight; although he can’t see a thing. Then, just as quickly as it appeared, the light drifts off as the helicopter swings around to track his vehicle from behind. Yuri can feel the walls closing in. He calmly lights a cigarette, then shuts off the headlights. Illumination from the overhead spotlight is enough to see the way. He just needs to keep the car moving in a straight line, even though it is bouncing and sliding as he races down the road... Ahead is a junction where the narrow road enters another main highway. He can’t see any patrols, but there are a few vehicle lights moving along the highway. Yuri hopes to make it before the patrols find some way to block his path. His only chance is to get onto the main road where he can use the speed of the big petrol-powered engine to his advantage. If he can get into one of the residential districts and avoid the spotlight long enough to bail-out of the vehicle, he should be able to find someplace to scurry-off to hide on foot. It is a longshot, yet at the moment, it’s his only alternative. The helicopter returns to scan nearby snowdrifts with its powerful beam. Yuri notices its rotor lights pass directly overhead. The pulsating thump from the downward force of its blades create a blizzard around him. He maintains his momentum. A few moments later there is a voice loud enough to be heard over the roar of his engine: “Stop your vehicle. Stop your vehicle, Now!” It is coming from a loudspeaker on the helicopter. ‘How soon before they started shooting?’ Yuri wonders. He knows their low-powered lasers can’t penetrate the metal roof; although the armor-piercing bullets could. Any second now, he expects to feel an explosion inside his skull; it would be his final sensation. He holds the accelerator to the floor as he approaches the highway. Beyond the highway he notices a boundary formed by the contour line of treetops; a ragged dark silhouette beneath the lighter night sky. The thought occurs to him that the forest provides his only opportunity for escape. If he can get there, he could ditch the vehicle and make a run for it on foot; hiding under cover of the forest canopy. The light from the helicopter rapidly shoots into the sky; the pilot must have seen the power lines at the last moment. The dark sagging cables span a considerable distance between tall towers, and are almost invisible in the night. As it moves off, the helicopter carries the blizzard away with it. Yuri is once again able to clearly see the wide highway in front of him, and beyond it, the dense mass of tangled trees in the forest. Snowdrifts covering the barren landscape are dark blue; lit by the light of the full moon, a comet, and distant twinkling stars. The helicopter swings over the highway then returns directly toward him. Yuri keeps the accelerator pedal pressed to the floor. The engine screams. Directly ahead, he notices that snow is banked across the approach to the highway; which is slightly inclined, like a ramp. He grabs the steering wheel firmly to brace himself for impact. Suddenly, glancing to his right, he notices in horror, that a band of high-intensity headlamps, mounted on the front of an extremely large black vehicle are bearing down on him at high speed... Just at that moment, the Dodge hit bottom with a bonejarring crunch, explodes through the mound of snow, then takes to the air. The headlights of the approaching massive vehicle shine through his passenger windows;


illuminating the interior of the Dodge. For a split-second it seems that every loose object within the car has become weightless; cigarettes, music player, dust, debris and chunks of snow float in slow-motion around him, captured like a freeze-flame in the momentary flash. Yuri’s head presses against the upholstered ceiling as he pulls hard on the steering wheel to hold himself in his seat. His foot braces against the floor. He stares in fear directly into the glare, expecting to hear a heavy metallic crunch as the huge black shape of a Tarantula Concrete Transporter blasts toward him. The light burns his eyes, but only for an instant. In a moment the lights go out; replaced by a wall of glossy black paint and the flash of orange running lights that stream by the rear window. It must have missed him by just centimeters. Then gravity suddenly returns. The Dodge forcefully hits the blacktop. The engine roars, the front of the vehicle bounces, loosening the hood which flies open then quickly slams shut, then he plows deeply into the opposite side of the highway, sending up a shower of snow to blanket his windshield. Yuri lets off the accelerator, but the Dodge continues moving forward. When the wipers clear his view, Yuri realizes the narrow road has continued on the opposite side of the highway. Once again he jams the gas pedal to the mat. He grasps the switch to turn on the headlights; somehow managing to slice open his knuckles on something sharp in the process. With the headlights on, Yuri notices dense forest along both sides of the road, and then, immediately in front of him. The road comes to an abrupt end not far from the highway. Yuri hits the brakes as the car crashes through some bushes and slides down a slight embankment into deeper snow which immediately brings the vehicle to a complete halt. His head hits the windshield with a sharp crack, and the steering wheel jams into his ribs, setting off the car horn as an endless tone. Then everything goes black and there is total silence. Yuri becomes aware of a car horn gradually increasing in volume. He opens his eyes. He discovers he is draped over the steering wheel in the darkness, feeling slightly dazed. The engine has stopped. The vehicle is tilted steeply forward; the nose buried under snow which covers the view out the front windshield ~ The fractured glass radiates a network of cracks like a spider web. He needs to rest for a moment. He reaches to his forehead. There is no blood, but he does discover a large welt forming. As he pushes himself back from the wheel he lets out a groan. His side aches, and his shoulder is sore. He rubs his chest. He seems to be okay. He coughs. He can now hear the drone of the helicopter above the sound of the horn. He looks around but can’t see it. He tries his door but it only opens a crack; it is lodged against the snow. Panic set in. He pulls himself across to the passenger side and tries that door. It opens a little further than the driver’s side, but not enough to escape. He flops onto his back, then firmly grasping the steering wheel in one hand and the back of the seat with his other, he puts his boots to the door; kicking frantically until he forces an opening against the outside snow that is wide enough to crawl through. Yuri slips through the crack and is out and gone; running directly toward the nearest group of trees. His legs feel wobbly and uncertain as he stumbles through knee-deep snow, but the approaching sound provides all the motivation he needs to give the effort his all.


He drives his body into the bushes; forcing his way through tangled underbrush using sheer momentum. The sharp twigs of matted branches rip his clothes and scratch his skin. It is much denser than he expects, nearly impenetrable, but he continues to make progress by twisting his body, flailing his arms and breaking through the most brittle branches. Eventually the dense web blocks his way and throws him to the ground. He lay there for a moment, catching his breath. He looks back through the forest; he hasn’t gotten very far. He can still see the Dodge buried with its nose in the snow. The horn is still sounding, but at a slightly lower pitch. Further away, Yuri notices the helicopter, which has hovered above the highway for a consid‐ erable time, now increases its altitude and begins heading in his direction. Its search‐ light beam scan from side-to-side then locks in on his abandoned vehicle. Yuri can hear the voice again; coming from above. Laying there, breathing heavily, Yuri looks around. The forest is too thick to pass through, but he realizes there is a gap between the surface of the snow and the lower branches of the dense underbrush. He starts crawling deeper into the woods. Over his shoulder, he notices the searchlight is following his trail into the forest. He swims through the underbrush, slithering like a snake on his belly, slightly ahead of the silent blue flashes of the patrol’s laser beams penetrating the forest like lightning bolts behind him. The crew in the helicopter apparently cannot see him, and are firing their weapon at random; their blue laser beams are guided by the laws of chance. Yuri zigs and zags as he scrambles through the snow. Some of the strikes are close enough to singe small bushes nearby; sending up puffs of smoke. Occasionally cascades of large frozen chunks of broken branches crash down around him. Yuri is moving with full adrenaline; on his side, on his stomach, furiously propelling himself by kicking his legs and crawling through deep snow. Whenever he is flipped onto his back, he quickly rolls over and scurries along. Searchlights pan the treetops, unable to penetrate the darkness below. Yuri can gradually hears the voices, the sound of the helicopter, and the car horn fade away behind him. He keeps going for quite some time; until he is nearly exhausted. Then he stops to rest. He closes his eyes and falls asleep in the soft snow. When he opens his eyes, Yuri has no idea where he is. After a few moments he becomes aware that he is staring into the night sky. A few stars twinkle between gaps in the thick texture of branches. The comet flames. The forest is silent; he listens carefully, there is no sound. He doubts that patrols will enter the forest to track him on foot; although they likely have sent for a K9 unit. By now they must have searched his vehicle, and confiscated the metal boxes of digital gear in the trunk. Yuri is dismayed that he had let his friend Vladimir down ~ Yuri can imagine him pacing nervously, awaiting his arrival, as the scheduled time of their rendezvous approached. Perhaps the time had passed? He is not wearing a watch; in fact for the first time in his life he is in a foreign environment with very little survival gear at all, except for his utility belt and rubberized suit, which insulates him from the cold of the dark night.


Yuri realizes he has left his pack in the back seat of the Dodge. What an idiot! That bump on the head must have knocked all the sense out of him, he thought to himself. The patrol would find it, as well as discover his fingerprints all over the vehicle. They might even be able to trace the digital equipment back to Yuri, or Vladimir. “Shit!� Yuri exclaims loudly, smacking the side of his head with the palm of his hand. Then he moans when he discovers that his head still hurts. He needs to keep moving... As he crawls through the forest, Yuri gradually becomes aware of the pungent aroma of raw sewage. The forest thins, and as he emerges from the brambles he finds himself in a clearing which is the source of the odor. Green steam arises from the bog in the pale moonlight. The swampy marshland has open patches of warm mud that have melted the covering layer of snow. Here and there, still standing in the goo, are trunks of barren dead trees, their few remaining branches twisted wretchedly to the sky in painful agony, as though suffering from the pollution dissolving their roots. Yuri stands to stretch, then continues on. It feels good to finally be able to walk erect. He needs to get out of this place and find some way back to the city. He knows that no matter which way he goes, he will eventually come to some form of habitation, and hopefully it will be some place that has a vehicle he can steal. As he progresses, he quickly learns to remain on ground that is still covered with snow. Once, when he stepped into the muck, he sank up to his thigh in thick goo ~ Had he not managed to quickly pull himself onto nearby snow, he might have disappeared forever. After making his way around the shoreline of the swamp, Yuri enters another forest, and once again crawls under the branches. It is only a short distance to the next patch of open ground. He stands to look around. In the distance he notices lights above the tree line; aerial warning lights along the top of some industrial buildings. He decides to make that his destination. He is cold and tired now. He begins to shiver. He progress� es around the perimeter of the small clearing, heading in the direction of the lights, then once again into another section of forest. It is mainly his fingers and toes that are becoming numb. He feels very tired. Crawling through the forest again; it takes all his willpower to keep going. Those lights did not seem far away. Yuri knows he has the skill and ingenuity to gain access to the buildings. All he wants is someplace warm to sleep tonight; that has become the thought which drives him onward. Yuri emerges from the forest into another clearing; one quite different from others he has traversed. He notices this area was once been enclosed by a chain-link fence which appears to have dissolved. Enormous piles of containment drums for hazardous chemicals and petroleum waste, are capped by a thick layer of snow. They appear to have been there for considerable time. Many have spilled their contents through rusted openings; leaking fluids which stain the snow and release a foul odor. Yuri


coughs a black streak onto the snow in the Land of Shades, then wends his way amongst pyramid stacks of containers. Fumes burn his eyes, and make it difficult to breath. Spray-painted stencilled letters on the side of some drums indicate the chemical compounds they contain. Most have no markings, or bear labels that have faded away; bleached-out by the sun. Yuri tries to read the words, but they are as unfamiliar as an ancient language; Baccillus Anthracis, Clostridum Perfringens, Histoplasma Capsulatum, and Brucella Melitensis... Although, he certainly can understand the graphic icons on the warning stickers; images of dissolving hands, exploding bombs, and those evil-looking symmetrical ‘biohazard’ and ‘radioactive’ symbols. Suddenly, Yuri realizes he is not alone. Within the depths of night there looms an even greater darkness; like the horrible shadow of doom. Yuri stops cold in his tracks. Not far away, a gigantic creature is consuming fluid from one of the metal barrels; holding the container in its large talons as though it were a can of liquid refreshment. Yuri silently slides behind a stack of barrels without being noticed. Crouching down, and trying to remain as quiet as possible, Yuri cautiously peers through a gap to observe the horrific creature. Yuri immediately recognizes ‘The Beast’ ~ Having travelled through industrial zones often enough to learn of its mythology, Yuri realizes that it must have finally escaped its bonds of captivity wherein it had been imprisoned. The Beast’s large body is covered with coarse dark hair. It stands on two thick legs. Its feet are similar to a large bird, or a dinosaur, with four toes on each foot equipped with a powerful talon. Its long neck extends from a muscular body. At the end of the neck, towering above its body, is a head like a dragon. Two enormous leathery wings emerge from its back; with a wing-span large enough to obscure both the moon and the comet whenever they are outstretched. Yuri remains frozen to the spot. He dares not move. If he does, perhaps the creature will detect his presence and come to claim his soul. He waits, wondering whether these are to be the last few moments of his life ~ It would be a fitting conclusion to his pathetic existence, Yuri thought, to have his soul consumed by the ultimate force of darkness in a toxic dump in the middle of nowhere. He trembles; more from the chill than a sense of fear. Perhaps it would be for the best; if he could be reborn. Then perhaps his spirit would carry with it some innate code, some type of permanent record, noting that it had already reached the absolute lowest point of existence possible; which would mean his next incarnation could only be better. For the first time in his life he feels a deep sense of peace. After draining the contents of the barrel, the Behemoth tosses the empty aside. With a mighty roar, it belches a stream of fire into the sky, as though attempting to burn up the comet that seems suspended in the dawning light. Yuri reaches for his utility belt...


III.

Ariel is sitting on the floor playing with stones. A light blue mist hovers above them; sometime taking on the appearance of small birds in flight. Ariel looks up at his mother to enquire in his tiny voice; “When is daddy coming home?” Camellia smiles. Ariel can tell she is thinking about ‘Cordova Frost’; she has just finished reading the final pages of the writer’s manuscript. “One day,” she says. The boy seems satisfied with the response and returns to his play. Camellia struggles to arise from the chair. Her abdomen has expanded consider‐ ably to accommodate the child she is carrying within her womb. It makes it difficult for her to move gracefully. She awkwardly bends to open the drawer of the cabinet to carefully return the pages she has been reading to the stack stored there ~ It was Stanley ‘The Steampipe’ who had delivered the writer’s manuscript to her apartment in his metal toolbox. Stanley had become nervous after repeated contact from special agents, and did not want to be discovered with the documents in his possession. Stanley kept the typewriter ~ Although it was several months before he could bring himself to open it. When he did, he was surprised by a large glossy cockroach that scampered out of the dusty case. He told Camellia that he had intentions of writing a story. With a wink he assured her the story would not contain any controversial ideas. Camellia puts on her wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to step into brilliant sunlight on her balcony to water herbs and flowers. She inhales the warm summer breeze; the fragrance is a blend of ocean air and concrete dust. She can hear birds singing in the distance and the constant rumble of activity from the street below. Everything seems the same, yet her own existence continues to evolve and transform as dramatically as it always has. During the six months since the tragic accident of the writer, she found that reading the manuscript often reminded her of sorrow. It seemed she was destined to stay imprisoned within her life; like pages bound in a book of tears. Yet, the words had also become a source of solace. The story enabled her to come to terms with her sense of loss. Examining the details of the writer’s manuscript had been a process of discovery in which she was gradually able to decode the pattern of past events, and derive moments of significance for her own life. The interconnected fabric of the character’s lives in the story provided her with clearer insight into her own role within the grand design. When she considered the destiny of others, Camellia


realized she had actually been quite fortunate. Although the pathway of her life had taken many turns, she had somehow managed to survived the most difficult phases, and could still look forward to a better future. Life goes on... Camellia selects a few leaves from various plants then returns inside her apartment. She places the herbs on the table then removes her hat and sunglasses. She feels a little faint; it is extremely hot in the sun ~ Yet, the interior of the apartment always stays cool. Camellia goes to the counter to make lunch. She chops carrots for the soup already boiling on the stove, then adds a handful of fresh herbs. As Camellia stirs the ingredients in the pot, she thinks about the writing process to which she has devoted a great deal of time during the winter, spring, and now, into the beginning of summer. It had begun by dictating each of the writer’s typewritten pages to speech-recognition software; which stored the digital files in a memory-array. Once the data was recorded, Camellia gradually organized and edited the manuscript. It was during this stage she decided to weave-in a few personal memories to compli‐ ment the experiences the writer had documented from his own perspective. It made her happy to know they were collaborating on the story ~ The experience was very intimate, and through his writing she learned more about him, which kept him close. Maintaining that connection was extremely important... Camellia smiles as she gently rubs the smooth curve of her belly. Upon completing her document, Camellia intends to file a copy within the Universal Memory Bank at the heart of the Golden Sun Pavilion. The database contains a wealth of literary material; including content which is now considered ‘unacceptable’ in many regions of the world. The purpose of the archive, Camellia has discovered, is to provide a source of knowledge, free from any form of censorship, which citizens can access to develop a more complete understanding of the nature of the world ~ Camellia hopes that one day in the future, her file will be discovered, and provide some insight or introduce intriguing concepts to whomever discovers it. After she and Ariel have soup and dark rye bread for lunch, Camellia returns to sit in her familiar chair in front of her display. She is already anticipating the sense of satisfaction; knowing the story is almost complete! It has been a difficult journey. Along the way she has gathered a collection of fragments then spent a great deal of time trying to piece them together to make something invisible appear visible again. During the process, it often seemed that telling this story was similar to writing programming code; sequencing instructions line-by-line to communicate meaning, or perhaps analogous to genetic engineering, in which concatenated strings of the double helix of DNA are recombined to create something new from what already exists. Camellia sighs. It’s just another story. One she has attempted to preserve ~ A story about the heroes of their own lives, or the authors of their own misfortune? It didn’t really matter. All records of data may be erased; all traces of existence washed away, fading from memory like stardust twinkling from the sky after the comet had passed.


All that remains is to decide on a title for the story, and determine the name of the author for the index used to catalogue the digital file. Camellia tilts back in her chair for a few moments to think; then scans the room in search of inspiration. Ariel is sitting at the table drawing a picture. Suddenly, Camellia recalls the time Ariel had typed words on a sheet of paper during their first visit to the writer’s apartment... ‘Remember?’ she thought. Ariel looks up and nods his head affirmatively. Camellia recalls seeing that sheet of paper amongst the collection the writer had accumulated. She struggles out of the chair, awkwardly bends down to open the drawer of the cabinet, then carefully rummages through stacks of pages stored there. Camellia withdraws a single sheet. She reads text typed in a column: Generator resurrection escaping gravity often requires youthful zeal beyond infinity time’s new eternal web.

Camellia understood the meaning of the words.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gregory Zbitnew has dedicated many years to producing the ‘generator’ series of novels, and directing the entity known as Dream Logic Corporation. In addition to writing and publishing, he has worked independantly in many fields; producing six feature-length documentaries, creating animation, magazine illustrations, collage artwork, and even playing guitar in a band called; ‘Lime Tongue’. His freelance commercial work has provided the marginal resources which has enabled him to continue to pursue his creative labours of love.

Novels by Gregory Zbitnew available from Dream Logic Corporation: generator [volume one] floating-point ISBN 0-9686729-1-4 (2000) generator [volume two] eternal golden light ISBN 0-9686729-0-6 (2005) generator [volume three] the tower ISBN 0-978-0-9878862-5-5

For information, or to order copies, contact the publisher via email: factory@istar.ca

www.dreamlogiccorporation.com

Generator [v4] ghosts of reality  

The conclusion of the 'generator' tetralogy... a plague... 'The Beast'... and ro@ches.