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Generator [ Volume Three ]

The Tower Gregory Zbitnew


Generator [ Volume Three] The Tower First eBook edition Š November 11, 2015 ISBN: 978-0-9878862-6-2

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.


For my family and my friends

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


‘Follow the followers’ ~ The writer taps the keys on an ancient typing machine...


INTRODUCTION

This document chronicles the life of Flex Global Security Agent Cordova Frost. You may recall his name from news media which detailed Agent Frost's dedicated investi‐ gation in the pursuit of the elite programmer Jurgen Ernst, literally to the ends of the world. Yet, ultimately Agent Frost failed to prevent Jurgen's launch of a massive network virus, which recently, has most profoundly been embraced by an international cult-like following of spiritual disciples. During the course of his extensive investigation, Agent Frost was privileged to access many hidden developments behind the scenes; obtaining insight into many wonderful, and horrific, scientific and technical experiments initiated by the largest corporations. Agent Frost's experiences subsequently led to a sequence of remarkable events which compelled him to mysteriously leave the agency and vanish from the tower. Finally, details are revealed about the new identity he had assumed, and the new life he established. Did he truly exist? How this document came into being cannot yet be disclosed; the identity of the author must be protected to ensure the publisher's safety ~ There are many eyes that watch the activity around them, and are ready to condemn a stranger in exchange for the promise of a small reward. Those who have read; ‘generator (volume one) floating-point’, or 'generator (volume two) eternal golden light', will already be familiar with many names which appear ~ In this regard, it should be noted that the 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. 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. In this case, the amazing 'writer' has introspectively examined his own life in comprehensive detail, to diligently record fascinating perceptions in his own words. You are assured this is the most authentic detail of these incidents and conversations which have occurred. I wish you blessed with peace of mind, that perhaps now these demons have been released, they will henceforth become eternally banished.


part one

I.

The world revolves, the sun arises, every day is the same. The endless cycle of routine repetition creates the gravity holding reality in place. Every morning the writer follows his customary route through the maze of curved streets and odd-angled intersections which map the invisible city. This is the neibour� hood; a residential sector consisting of dilapidated apartment blocks, densely covering the gently-sloping elevation of the delta, extending from barren wasteland surrounding the incinerators down to the edge of the sea. Cross-streets loosely echo the contours of the shoreline, radiating out like concentric ripples, dissecting the fanlike array of avenues running perpendicular to the waterfront. The writer passes the fountains of Schopenhauer Park. Here there is neither reality nor unreality; everything is illuminated by dawn’s dull golden glow as though the visions of a dream. Shadows vanish into the faded texture of chipped ochre paint covering grimy concrete facades, flattening the relief of the cracked plaster ornamentation around windowsills and doorways along the unbroken wall of archaic tenements lining the prospekt. Frozen fish sparkle in the sunshine on a bed of crushed ice in the market window. Cold eyes stare vacantly at citizens in line on the other side of the glass. Waiting... large flies buzz in lazy haloes just out of reach of lifeless gaping mouths... gutted carp, sea bream, shark, herring, eels and smoked sturgeon are set out in shallow plastic trays on the counter. The writer pauses to watch the activity through the open doorway. A merchant scrawls daily prices with a black marker on white plastic tabs embedded in the ice on thin stainless-steel legs. The writer knows that glistening plastic bags containing precious ruby and ebony gems of salmon roe and beluga caviar are securely locked away in a battered metal cooler in the back, for those who can afford it. The writer did not feel like fish, so he continues on his way. Heavy shutters are thrown back and doors unbolted as he passes the shoe store, the mechanical repair depot, and the shop from which a merchant had unsuccessfully attempted to sell pianos. It is now filled with burlap bags of coffee beans pilled high behind metal bars. Pungent aromas drift like invisible clouds into the street. Further along, the proprietor of the hardware store sweeps the sidewalk in front of his shop. He is wearing the same grease-stained coveralls he usually wears. He calls out a friendly greeting as the writer passes by ~ People are happy to see him coming down the street; this is where he spends his money.


Behind some of these tenement windows, intellectuals and activists once plotted their strategies, rocking the cradle of revolution during a distant October. Now the windows are dark. Citizens slumber at this early hour. It is inconceivable to consider rebellion against unseen forces. Who and where are the Authorities? They are everywhere. Everything is part of ‘The System’; this is the way it is. There is no choice. It is necessary for citizens to believe that the system works; to believe without fully understanding ~ To have faith in the guidance of Authorities and the corporate elite to protect and preserve. For citizens, the resignation of accepting their place within the hierarchy of the system provides a sense of comfort. Soon they will awaken to take their medication. Early risers brush past him on the sidewalk, moving purposefully toward their destinations. Complacency is registered on their faces. Many wear filters over their nose and mouth imprinted with corporate logos; distinctively-patterned where perspi‐ ration and the vapour of their breath has stained the cloth with dust. Above their masks, the tired eyes of pedestrians, surrounded by dark circles, seldom make contact as they pass. They do not even glance at the traffic rushing silently through the narrow streets; sleek metallic vehicles swerving to dodge deep ragged wounds in the pavement which reveal tightly-packed rows of red cobblestones preserved like the archeological remnants of a lost civilization. The writer walks at a brisk pace through the maze, past 5/2 Kuznechny Pereulok where Dostoevsky wrote ‘Crime and Punishment’. His heavy boots scuff the delicate covering of dust which has drifted in during the night from out-country; leaving a trail on the sidewalk to mark his passage. Every day the writer walks past at the same time, and every day he observes the same faces... familiar scenes that have become etched in his memory. The writer can recall every detail: the faded tattered awnings of streetlevel shops, the old man made of wax, sitting motionless, selling newspapers from his rusted corrugated metal stand. Behind the smoky glass of the Eagle Grill; the regulars stare into the bottomless depths of their coffee cups or into the cool glow of their diskus screens. Some on stools along the counter eat noodles, others smoke cigarettes. Some huddle in small groups to discuss the activities of the night; gathered around dull-red arborite tabletops in booths along the walls ~ Each follows a regular routine like particles obediently maintaining the path of a regular cycle; sustained by the pure flux of the rotation of events. The complex patterns formed by their overlapping trajectories have the illusion of remaining constant; since everything changes in exactly the same way. It were as though every waveform is locked in synchronization with the frequency of some vast unseen generator... Frozen fish sparkle in the sun‐ shine... Every day at this time, an armored vehicle arrives at Paradise Market. Workers uniformed in pale green coveralls deliver a supply of fresh produce from biofarms out beyond the Industrial Zone. Clean bright fruit and vegetables, identical in size and shape, are arranged in an orderly-fashion inside large bins ~ This produce is in limited supply, and very expensive. The writer takes his place in line among other citizens already waiting patiently on the sidewalk under the neon sign of a cartoon-like pig


which graces the entranceway. It is early and the line is not very long. Entering Paradise, the writer makes his way to the delicatessen at the back. Customers are entertained by the antics of Lupo the butcher, singing loudly along with the opera broadcast on his radio while hauling carcasses with greasy hooks from suspension in the freezer. Wielding a massive cleaver, Lupo casually tosses industrial-grade cuts of meat into the glass display case. As usual, the writer requests ‘country sausage’; ground meat processed and packed into authentic pig intestines. Lupo wipes his hands on his blood-stained apron and curses vividly while he weighs-out portions of sausage link on an antique balance-scale. On his way out of the store, the writer also purchases a small loaf of grass-seed bread, turnips, potatoes, a stick of synthetic butter and a plastic jug of distilled water. On his way home, the writer often gave slices of bread and a chunk of sausage to a ragged man that roamed the neigbourhood in a make-shift wheelchair. The young man had been severely injured in an industrial accident, depriving him of his ability to obtain the most basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter. Yet, the young man’s pleasant demeanor and ready smile enabled him to survive through the charity of others, and whatever he could scrounge from refuse and recycling bins. Like other unfortunates who have fallen from grace, his life, and the life of most of the other people living on the street, or in abandoned cars and deserted buildings, was nearing extinction. Should their behavior become disturbing, pressure from merchants or morally-outraged citizens would summon Authority patrols to expel them from the sector. Those outcasts from residential areas due to poverty or physical and mental illness, were forced to seek refuge in the oblivion of the Core where existence was even more tentative ~ Generally citizens did not want to be reminded of their own precariousness; they did not want to be reminded of the horrible fate which awaited them should they someday be unable to perform their tasks. Citizens are acutely aware of their own position within the hierarchy of society. Under guidance of the technologically elite, every citizen functions as a component within the Master Plan. Each are required to actively carry-out duties which sustain the equilibrium between production and consumption; balancing the ebb and flow of supply and demand. The system is lean, it cannot support excess weight. Human interaction no longer plays an active role in the fabric of functioning society. No opportunity to experience the pleasures available through technology... It is a dreary existence in which emotions are suppressed, and moments of pleasure are only experienced when a citizen can find some method to escape from relentless reality. To progress beyond this level you have to pass gateways at the boundaries of the region. The writer has endured... He has overcome every obstacle. The writer carries his lunchbox in one hand, and a small bag of groceries in the other. He climbs ten flights of stairs to the top floor of his building. The elevator has not been operational for almost one year. Within his apartment are very few furnishings. It is a scene illustrating a life of austerity; one that does not support the clutter of material possessions. There is a bed, a table and chairs, a small quantity of books on a shelf


along the wall, a small refrigerator and stove, and an antique typewriter inside its case on the kitchen table. The writer puts the groceries into the refrigerator, then fills a coffee pot with tap water and sets it on the stove. He leans back in a kitchen chair to rest after the long walk. When the coffee has percolated he pours a cup, tucks a book under his arm, then pushes open the heavy metal door to exit onto the rooftop where he grows a small hydroponic garden. He sits by the edge of the roof in the shade of an air intake column intending to read ‘Moby Dick’ by Herman Melville. The book is old; yellowed pages fastened by a tattered binding. The writer carefully turns the pages, continuing his reading from where he has left off. After reading one short chapter he lays the book aside. The activity below has captured his attention. From his perch he can watch activity on the street; citizens moving slowly along sidewalks gathering items from various shops. A few remaining denizens of the night scurry from the Eagle Grill; returning to their secluded shelters now that the sun has arched higher. In the distance, through the fine haze of ashes and dust suspended in the air, the writer can see towers rising from the core of the city. To the south, over rooftops strewn with tangled wires on which clothes are hanging to bleach in the sun, light is captured by glowing opaque plastic panels inserted into the frames of dilapidated greenhouse enclosures. And over there, is the stone bridge which he crosses every night to work at the cement plant in the industrial zone on the opposite of the Never River... Smoke from the incinerator stains the sky... The writer completes his panoramic scan by gazing out to sea. In the distance, a container ship embarks over the horizon for a long voyage carrying a cargo of hazardous waste destined for recycling plants in Africa. The enormous vessel dwarfs smaller fishing boats entering the harbour; rusty trawlers silhouetted against the deep briny blue. Several fishing boats have already docked at the canneries, discharging their motley crew; groups of rugged-looking men carrying slickers and packs, laughing and talking. They make way for the Sierra Hotel; a solid stone building just up the hill from the wharf. At night, the letters ‘H’, ‘O’, and ‘T’, are the only portion of Sierra’s large vertical sign which is illuminated. Everything is just the way it always has been. Every day is the same. Everything repeats in a cycle; a program executing a subroutine locked in an infinite loop ~ Without beginning, without end... The writer advances the carriage... return... return... then reads the words he has typed on the page. He is still enchanted by the novelty of the process; fascinated by the mechanical arrangement of levers and springs which force slender arms to hammer against the ribbon, transferring sequences of alphabetic symbols onto a sheet of paper. Two thick forefingers peck at the keys searching the apparently random layout of the keyboard for the next letter; a task which is compounded by the fact that many of the markings have been nearly obliterated by many years of fingertip pressure. The slow cadence of the staccato rhythm accompanying his thoughts is


periodically interrupted by the sound of a tiny bell reminding him to advance the carriage return. He is careful not to make many mistakes. The need to conserve his limited supply of paper compels him to avoid inserting a fresh sheet to retype his words. The writer simply strikes thdxxxx through a misspelled word and continues on. There is a sense of permanence to the words darkening the page; a physical presence which seems archaic in this modern age, in which the availability of online data has eliminated the need for storing information as a material possession ~ A permanence that both comforts and frightens him. Since the typewritten sheets cannot be as easily altered or modified as digital files, the writer gave careful consideration to choosing his words before committing them to paper. The typewriter enabled him to compose passages of text similar to those occurring in the literature he had always enjoyed reading. Printed books had become his primary source of information and knowledge. Books had introduced him to new concepts and ideas, and provided him with his only form of escape; the journey into the imagination. The writer sits at the kitchen table wearing only his undershirt. The typewriter is illuminated by a candle flame flickering from the breeze blowing through an open window. He feeds another sheet in the Royal, then pauses to take another sip from a glass of distilled water. It has not been difficult to decide what he would write about ~ there really was nothing else that he could write about, other than to document the events which have transpired in his life, and his recollections of people he has known. He decides to record his experiences as a narrative; purely for his own amusement rather than targeting an intended audience. He has no children, nor loved ones to reveal his past to, in order to assist them in gaining a better understanding of who he had been after he has ‘passed along’. This is to be his journal; a way for him to organize his thoughts as he evaluates the moments which have made up his own life ~ and a method of cleansing his soul. How the story would unfold and how long it would take to record was of little consequence. He had already resolved to spend a few hours at the typewriter every evening before he went to work. He planned to write about whatever interested him that day, gradually weaving these fragments together to tell his story; in a similar manner to the way the texture of a network of interconnected fibers reveals the image of an elaborate tapestry. He is already anticipating that it will be a difficult process, not necessarily because of its complexity, but because of the emotions which the memo� ries will release as they are called to the surface. Now that he has begun, he is certain that it will be important to record everything that has happened. This evening, the writer (as he refers to himself ~ in order to preserve the anonymity of his current identity within the manuscript), decides to recount how he came into possession of the typewriter, and describe its previous owner; a man who became a close friend, and the catalyst for initiating this writing endeavor... tapping the keys. Kropton Ernst often spent his evenings under the stars on the patio deck of the Beachhead Bar; drinking and playing chess with his companions, or listening to


Emmanuel perform experimental jazz compositions on acoustic guitar under the thatched roof of the small cabana which served as a stage. It was during Kropton’s return from the club late one mid-summer’s night, that the writer first happened to make his acquaintance ~ The writer was walking to work down a desolate street when he noticed a well-dressed gentleman leaning against a wrought-iron railing along the sidewalk, and stopped to enquire if he needed assistance. The elderly man was quite drunk and claimed to be having trouble getting home; as he found it difficult to walk, or even stand. After they introduced themselves, the writer propped the frail old man with his shoulder and following Kropton’s slurred instructions, assisted him to his tenement a short distance away through arched streets, then up four flights of stairs. The door to the apartment was unlocked. They staggered through a cluttered kitchen into a small adjoining room filled with cardboard boxes where he lowered the almost lifeless body onto a mattress on the floor. The old man was fast asleep in moments. Although anxious to get to work, the writer was transfixed by the surroundings he found himself in, and paused to explore the strange environment. The old man seemed to have accumulated a vast collection of books which lined shelves from floor to ceiling along three walls of his small suite. There were stacks of paper on every available surface, and an accumulation of cardboard boxes stacked high in a small adjoining room. Empty bottles littered the sink, and were scattered across the kitchen floor. All kinds of wonderful and exotic objects hung on the wall, or were carefully arranged on the windowsill and shelves; an ornate bronze mask, several carved wooden figures, a zoetrope, music boxes and vials of coloured sand labeled with the names of various deserts and beaches from around the world... The writer was about to leave when he noticed a photograph on the wall which surprised him. It was a photograph of a young man he clearly recognized; Jurgen Ernst ~ Cordova Frost’s elusive counterpoint when he was a digital security agent with Flex Global. Perhaps this encounter was not purely coincidence, the writer considered. He checked on Kropton; who appeared to be sleeping soundly, then exited the apartment, quietly closing the door. The next morning, walking from work, the writer returned to Kropton Ernst’s apart‐ ment. He found his new friend seated at his kitchen table having breakfast of porridge and hard-boiled eggs, seeming none the worse for wear. Kropton invited the writer to join him for a cup of coffee; an offer gladly accepted... During that morning, and on many subsequent visits, the writer gradually got to know the fascinating man. It took awhile for Kropton to reveal that he was a well-known novelist ~ One day, brandishing a knife, Kropton demonstrated to the writer that the cardboard boxes lining his walls were filled with copies of his own books. Kropton had also been the recipient of many prestigious awards. He kept several of the trophies and framed certificates he had been awarded over the years in a cardboard box by the stove. Proudly displayed on his library shelves were copies, and various translations, of the fifty-five books he had authored during his distinguished career. Other shelves of his library contained a wide-range of classical and innovative contemporary novels, poetry, philosophy, erotica, and pulp science-fiction. During the following months, as their friendship continued to evolve, Kropton often lent him books to read, seldom asking for their


return ~ Kropton had good taste in literature; the kind of words that kept brain cells functioning. Kropton lived alone. He was a kind-hearted man, in his mid-60’s, who enjoyed sipping a glass of distilled grain alcohol diluted with tap water, while conducting conversations which communicated a wealth of knowledge about a wide variety of topics. He drank quite heavily; obtaining his liquor from the bootlegger down the street. Most days he would spend his afternoons drinking and scrawling eccentric poetry, occasionally accompanied by crude sketches drawn in pencil, which filled the open spaces and margins of the books in his library; a few incomplete sentences, or a list of words. Sometime certain words or letters were circled on pages of the books to spell out a message, with cryptic numerals indicating a link to a passage on another page, or possibly in another book. It would be impossible, the writer imagined, to decipher the code from the handwritten scrawl, although Kropton indicated that if his notations were read in a particular sequence the entire narrative of the epic work would be revealed. Kropton did not possess a computer, instead he had an antique writing-machine. The writer was clearly enthralled when Kropton showed him the typewriter he used to compose most of his stories. It was a dusty, manual Royal ‘Quiet De Luxe’ in an olivedrab fiberglass case, but it had been maintained in very good condition. At the time they had met, Kropton was using it sporadically to create another novel... The writer particularly enjoyed reading Kropton’s works. One of Kropton’s most successful publications was a science-fiction novel entitled; ‘The Disposable Mind’. It was a futuristic story about a society in which it was common-place for citizens to selectively transfer memories between their mind and digital storage. Sharing files online transmitted the most popular memories to a large population of consumers throughout the network. In some cases, they were even permanently loaded into their mind. Soon it became difficult for citizens to determine which memories were their own, and which were originated by someone else. For many, it didn't really seem to matter. These recorded memories seemed much more interesting than the memories the person had actually experienced themselves, and seemed more attractive. In Kropton’s story, citizens periodically had their minds temporarily replaced with vivid travel experiences to provide the vacation of a lifetime; flying gliders over Egyptian pyramids, climbing volcanoes in Hawaii, or drinking champagne and making love to a favorite movie star by a pool in the Hollywood Hills all night ~ A motel in El Segundo? Whatever it cost it was worth the experience. The book went on to describe how the protagonist of the story, a middle-aged man named Hugh Norman, experiences a crisis after becoming addicted to sensationalist violent memories he has illicitly obtained on the memory black market. Eventually Hugh is driven to the point that he feels he is about to go insane unless his entire memory can be erased and replaced with happy thoughts, and hopefully have a new, completely-redesigned personality installed that was better-functioning in a particular trade or skill, and more-suited to dealing with personal relationships.


The writer paused. He got up from his typewriter and paced the dark green linoleum on the floor of his kitchen as he tried to recall how the story ended. He couldn’t remember. He wished that he had kept a copy of that book... the ones the writer borrowed had proven to be very interesting. With each visit, the writer persistently attempted to glean some new fragment of information about Jurgen from the old man. He noted that Kropton had designated one particular cardboard box to documents pertaining to his son... Perhaps they would provide additional pieces of a puzzle that Cordova Frost had also previously spent several years trying to decode. When it was time for bed, Kropton would pour himself a 'nightcap'. And the writer would walk to work.

II.

It seemed like compulsion; the need to write. He wrote a little bit every day. He tried to remember people he had met, experiences from his life, or record events he had heard or read about. He tried to imagine, when he wrote, what other people’s lives were like; what they did, how they felt. It was a way to organize his own thoughts... He thought a little bit every day. Customarily, after supper he rolled a sheet of paper into the Royal to type for a couple of hours. Sometimes longer. He planned to write a story about the most influential characters he had interacted with in his past; writing short fragments each day ~ In a way it was really his own story. He had to deal with his past, review his life, and create a record of the events which had transpired. He was determined to come to grips with a complex story; to make sense of an elaborate network of interconnected parts ~ and from the patterns that emerged, create a new image from the texture of elements. It was difficult. Although, at this point in his life, he felt, he finally had the courage and the time to dedicate to this task... To put his thoughts down on paper. Who the story was written for, was uncertain. It was a diary, a journal, it was a process, a cleansing of the spirit, a summation of his life to this present moment. He kept the typed pages in a hard-covered folder. The journal was stored on a shelf alongside other books and papers from Kropton. When one journal was completed, it


was his intention to begin another, then number them in the order they were written. He had scavenged a few packets of good paper from an office supply store that sold remnants of business machines and furniture at a very great discount. He typed slowly and carefully, so as not to make many typing mistakes, thus conserve his supply of paper. When he finished writing for the day, he added the page to his journal. Some‐ times several pages ~ Other days only a few incomplete sentences or a list of words. He would occasionally sketch primitive drawings in pencil to accompany the text. Then he would put the typewriter away; the base clipped into the portable case with four small grey sliders that clasped the metal body of the typewriter. The lid folded down and a metal latch (that could be locked) snapped in place to secure the cover. He did not have a key. The case was left on the table. Then he usually had a nap until it was time to get ready for work. The greying moon is like the face of a dying man in a dream. The depths of night outside the window; streets shrouded by fog as the midnight hour approaches. The sound of breathing slow and rhythmic. The squeak of bed springs, the pull-string click of a light coming on. The sound of a radio down the hall... Sitting at his kitchen table listening to the distant radio. Rubbing sleep from tired eyes. Outside dark blue. Inside light green; the pattern of the wall paper... Chameleon? He got up from the table and walked across the room, just to move around for awhile. Nothing in mind... then the thought of water. He drank from a bottle of distilled water on the shelf. The radio played another song. Wide awake now. 'Things seem to happen when the time is right for them', he thought. 'Destiny or coincidence?' He makes sandwiches from ‘country sausage’ on dark rye bread garnished with sauerkraut and mustard, gathers a few hard-boiled eggs, then puts them in his metal lunchbox. He pours powdered vitamin, mineral and protein supplements into his thermos and adds tap water. Strapped to the exterior of his lunchbox is a higharc xenon flashlight, a knife, and a digital communicator. He checks the batteries and the little light shows green... Functioning. Tugging on his old work boots, donning his road jacket and driver’s cap, the writer stands in the doorway for a moment to ensure that he has remembered everything. Switching off the light and closing the door, he vanishes into the dim light of the long corridor. His boots echo off the concrete floor and walls. The door to Nail’s room is open, as usual. Nail is sitting on the end of his bed; a large tired bird in his quilted nest, his head resting on the wall to stare vacantly into space. He doesn’t seem to notice the writer passing by. He is drinking whiskey from a plastic cup and listening to the radio... A big band selection ends, then the voice of an announcer comes on to continue a monologue about 'The Movement' ~ Manifestations of the ‘Zeitgeist’ were appearing more frequently throughout the network. Those who had ‘made contact’, consequently garnered their own followers... following the followers.


The writer truly senses that it is Jurgen’s digital entities that are becoming evident. Jurgen was simply brilliant. The complexity and dynamics of the ‘virus’ he created were beyond the capacity of present-day programmers to fully comprehend. And during the time since they were originally released in 2011, the writer imagined they had adapted in sophistication for countless of their generations, and continued to gather information to ultimately thrive and evolve ~ Citizen’s had become receptive to this ‘spirit’, particularly locally, in the aftermath of the plague, and the subsequent activity of the ro@ches; that group of dissidents which hide in the shadows during the day, and emerge from concealment at night. The sound of the radio fades away... internal dialogue. The writer pushes back his thick dark hair... The chameleon is on his mind. Or is she? He couldn’t tell anymore... 'Chameleon, chameleon, pretty little chameleon, why do you smile like a Cheshire cat? Disguised as a pattern, as quick as a memory, she transforms into new percep‐ tions... Can’t keep her out... doesn’t want to... He shrugs his shoulders and tries not to give it another thought; she only exists when he thinks she does. The writer descends several flights of stairs carrying his metal lunch box. A group of boys, who appear to be around 12 or 13 years of age, are on one of the landings. One is slouched over with his head between his knees, his arms hanging limply at his sides. The other two are smoking white powder in a clear glass pipe. They don’t seem to notice the writer as he passes by, continuing down to the entrance lobby... Past a couple of benches where older women like to sit and talk in the morning ~ The walls covered with graffiti ~ He pushes open the metal door and is outside. The lingering heat of the day is still rising from sidewalks and radiating off buildings. In the quiet night, dust swirls as it drifts across the sidewalk, and sparkles through the streetlight. At the corner, the writer enters Paradise Market to buy a packet of dried mangoes. The merchant, getting ready to close for the night is tired but still willing to talk. He doesn’t have much to say, just the usual chit-chat. The writer puts the plastic pouch in his lunchbox. The walk to work takes about twenty minutes... Down D825 to the bridge across the river, then into the Industrial Zone. The oily black water smells foul, and reflects no light. The shallow river flows slowly to the sea. In the water are a variety of man-made objects; an automobile submerged from the windows down has become piled with other debris accumulated from upstream. Seagulls have built a nest on the roof... The writer sometime stops in the morning on his way home from work to stare into the water. It is kind of restful; gentle to lose himself in the textures of the slowly moving water. The bridge itself is very old; metal and concrete. There are ornate reliefs of boats on the towers of the bridge, with light standards created to look like torches. The electric bulbs behind the panels of red glass are no longer operational. The yellow paint on the bridge is smudged with soot and peeling away from the concrete. Green railings are rusted and bent where drivers have accidentally collided with them. Not much traffic at this time of the night. It is forbidden for all but service vehicles, trans‐


porters, or automobile drivers with the necessary certification. The sound of generators and machines running. Smoke and steam rises from large anonymous warehouses and factories; large rectangular metal or concrete buildings, small red lights marking their rooftops. Security check-points and chainlink fences armed with razorwire. He walks past a yard storing scrap metal... the guard dogs remain silent.. then he crosses the railway tracks... The entrance to the dispatch office is off the parking lot around back ~ Illuminated by a single lightbulb hanging from a cord above the door. The writer brushes the dust off his jacket and taps his hat against the side of his pantleg. The door opens with a shriek. Inside, other drivers sit along a green wooden table drinking coffee and talking quietly. He hangs his cap on a wooden peg by the door, pours a coffee from the machine then sits down at in his usual place at the end of the table. For as long as he can remember he has always sat across from Eduard ~ They are veterans; they have been working graveyard shift long before almost everyone in the room. The senior drivers sit near the punchclock (their vehicles are first to roll), the rookies sit by the door. The drivers await the change of shift. In the meantime, the writer cannot help but overhear the novice men and women drivers laughing and telling jokes... boasting about their drinking escapades that took place early in the morning after they finished their previous shift. It is one way to come down after a long night of hard-driving intensity, and a way to manage to get some sleep during daylight hours. Ed sat quietly sipping his black coffee, his hat on the table in front of him. They hadn’t spoken to each other in years. They had said it all when they were younger. The writer is 45, Ed is a little older, but they have been working together for almost 15 years. Their lives have become a routine, there is comfort in the familiarity of sitting together before the start of a shift. Today it seems that Ed is looking a little older; with the grey streaks in his hair and beard... Soon the sound of large rigs hauling into the yard. The occasional blast of an air horn. They can feel the thunder of the engines vibrating through the walls of the small room. Coffee ripples in their cups as though shaken by a small earthquake. The digital display board indicates the writer will be driving vehicle 555 tonight. It is one of the pool of vehicles he drives; depending on the maintenance schedule. He gets a cigarette from one of the younger drivers. He has one every night just before his shift. It is the only time he smokes. It is part of his routine. Superstition? ~ Many of the drivers have rituals they follow before leaving the dispatch office. The rituals seem to help preserve good fortune against the uncertainty of chance or fate. By preserving his routine, the writer believes, has never had an accident; he wears the pin awarded for seven accident-free years on the lapel of his road jacket. He smokes the cigarette while he fills out transport forms, leaves a little coffee in the bottom of the paper cup, then scans his timecard ~ Passing it under the laser; It's all part of the routine. Drivers coming off shift filter into the room. Their eyes are dark and tired. Their legs stiff, backs sore, their shirts stained with sweat. They come in carrying empty lunchbox�


es, taking off their caps and wiping their foreheads. Some scrub up in the wash area, others just punch-out on the time-clock then head for home, or to the bar. The dispatcher's voice crackles with static on the speakers; announcing numbers of vehicles that have been refueled and lubricated by the mechanics during the changeover and are ready to roll... The writer watches a big black spider climb slowly up the wall... He stubs out his cigarette in the empty metal can used for an ashtray, just as his number is called. He takes a last sip of coffee, picks up his lunchbox, puts on his hat, then walks into the yard. Diesel exhaust from cement wagons turn the sky blue and dreamy under the highintensity lighting. Silos storing concrete are clustered in groups of tall cylindrical buildings along two sides of the yard. Conveyers stretch between storage pits trans‐ porting gravel and limestone which continually rain down rock fragments and dust. Huge pumps reach into the river to draw thousands of gallons of water per second. Loading areas at the base of the silos have constant traffic under the feeder spouts dumping readymix into the lineup of awaiting vehicles. The operational control center is based in a slim tower next to the dispatch office. Here the controllers monitor the shipment and delivery of material, and track the vehicles with satellite-based global positioning systems on the regional maps of their digital screens. Out in the yard there is action; a commotion of voices yelling, whistling, backupwarning signals, and the sound of gigantic engines roaring to life. Pit crews and mechanics get the trucks up and rolling as quickly as possible. Yellow lights flash atop the fleet of service vehicles and fuel trucks. For the writer there is a sense of tranquillity; the calm of being in the eye of a hurricane of chaos, an island in a turbulent sea. He can hear the gentle rhythm of his breathing and the sound of his boots on loose gravel as he walks towards 555. The white vehicle is enormous. Each of the eight wheels are ten feet in diameter. Fully loaded it carries 50 tons of liquid concrete. The writer climbs the ladder behind the left front wheel. The walkway along the side of the truck extends from the 'bird cage', back along the containment tank, where another small ladder goes up to the intake hatch. 'Bird cage' is a name drivers gave to the cockpit; because of the heavy steel mesh enclosing the cabin for protection. The mesh allows air to pass through the cabin, as heat coming off the engine is intense, even in cold weather. The writer opens the big white door; with ‘555’ stenciled in large numerals ~ He climbs into his 'office'; adjusts the suspension system of his seat, initiates the computer, checks over instrumentation, adjusts the mirrors and cameras, then engages the starter. The truck vibrates like a giant whale as the engine comes to life. While it reaches operating temperature, the writer enters command sequences into the onboard computer, initiating the GPS relays. His destination co-ordinates for the shipment appear on his screen; there is a route map, and updates on traffic and weather conditions ~ autopilot. He can display stats regarding engine performance, fuel levels, and shipment tank capacity on other screens along the dashboard. Data


streams in continually in real-time. He activates the cockpit voice recorder, radios the dispatcher to get clearance, then he is rolling. The streets are nearly empty at this time of night... The writer walks on hard concrete sidewalks... past mirrored glass windows of banks clustered around the neighbourhood police station. Past garbage stains of debris littering the sidewalk, past the brightly-coloured, low-quality merchandise displayed behind the bars in shop windows... the sleek stream of tiny electric cars buzz through the street. He enters the Eagle Grill. Lighting dim and warm from small directional lamps in the ceiling cast soft-edged pools over sections of the interior. Splashes of light from video displays; cool and blue, contrast the low-key ambiance. Late evening and early morning is when the cafe comes to life. Outside, through dusty windows, the street scene is rendered in deep purple... evening light... old buildings in the last stages of their existence. Tenements built above the shipping docks, cargo sheds and the abandoned railway line. Giant motionless cranes wait patiently on the horizon. Retrofitted over the years, the Eagle Grill has evolved from a greasy-spoon for dock workers and railwaymen into an alternative hangout; the lunch counter culture. Part of the charm for the denizens frequenting this establishment is that it has retained some nostalgia for the past; visible in the remnants of the furnishings and decor. The scene is comfortable, relaxing, frequented by the recreational underground types, some k-rad people: hackers, phreaks, virii coders, programmers, crackers, cypherpunks, futurists, artists, anarchists, bohemians, radicals, rebels, terrorists, hippies, beatniks and the criminally insane. Retro-beat/hip ~ a place for technogypsies to sit in booths along the wall of the restaurant getting connected, discussing subversive activities, and cranking up on caffeine. A large horseshoe-shaped lunch counter occupies the center of the room; pink vinyl on the chairs, once state-of-the-art. Coffee is served in 50’s style (heavy porcelain) cups with kind of watery blue line patterns around the top. Boxy metal napkin dis� pensers and glass sugar jars are at each table. Salt and pepper shakers. By the entrance to the kitchen is an offering with red paper and candles on a little shelf. A videophone is built into a wooden stand near the door, next to an artificial plant in a container. Above the phone a section of ceiling is missing caused by water damage. From coat racks between connecting sections of the booths, various items of clothing and tech cases hang by their straps in suspension. An electric fan in the corner by the compact grey cash register stirs the air, gently rustling the stained green curtain stretching across the lower half of the windows. The writer gazes about the room... the experimental midi jazz in the background is barely audible. Conversations are hushed, furtive. A few customers look up from their cups at the silhouette of the large Hawaiian that has eclipsed the entrance. Some briefly signal a greeting then turn back to their conversations. Stanley 'The Steampipe'


~ freelance plumber ~ is a legend; he had constructed the main attraction of the Eagle Grill many years ago and still continues to maintain and revitalize his work-in-progress ~ His masterpiece ~ The large coffee machine and its intricate network of pipes have become a cultural icon; worshiped with reverence. Coffee is brewed in a large brass tank with rivets and fittings reminiscent of ancient deep-sea diving equipment. A collection of pipes of various diameters arise from the top like a pipe organ, crossing the ceiling to spread out with octopus tentacles which descend into units resembling juke-boxes at each booth. Selector switches on these dispensers allow the customer to choose their desired coffee blend. Stanley slides into the booth across from the writer over vinyl which has endured many years of wear and tear. The walls are stained with grease, smoke and coffee splashes. Fractal patterns are embedded in the Formica table top. Both select the rich blend ~ high octane ~ and enjoy the warm buzz as the caffeine punches through their veins. A hookah (a Moroccan water pipe) with a tangle of cloth-covered tentacles is on the tabletop. A lava-lamp is built around the water tank of the pipe... shining out... globules floating around tranquilly inside. The varieties of smoke are listed on a little paper menu inside a durable laminated envelope. Pipes on the ceiling, and the pipes on the table, connected to the network ~ All the customers are addicted to stimulants; caffeine, hashish, and digital connectivity to combat the weariness and depression of daily life. This is where they come down after a long night online, or wire-up before the 'graveyard' shift. Stanley checks out the menu that has been on the wall forever... still the same ~ 3D plastic stick-on alphabet...some letters missing: Chernobyl Chicken Jalapeno Chili 2200 Soylent Green Octosushi Borscht... These menu items are 'house specialties', but of course it is easier to just ask the cook what is available. Stanley orders a big bowl of noodles; pho with bok choy and mushrooms, then pokes at his noodles absently with a ballpoint pen while he listens to the writer talk about the progress of his book. It is the same story he has told nearly every time they have met lately. Stanley can’t seem to concentrate... Street sounds are like the white noise of a television channel that has gone off the air ~ He watches bubbles struggle with difficulty to rise to the surface of the murky brown water behind the smudged glass; a few semi-alive octopuses are barely moving at the bottom of the aquarium tank in the corner. Nearby, on the wall, a pair of tongs and some rubber gloves are available for customers to make their dining selection.


The voice of Stanley fades back in... He is talking about being in love, about just being alone with her, taking her in his arms in a passionate embrace, caressing her voluptuous body. He is praying for a miracle to overcome the recent discord with his wife; if only the necessary angels would intervene for him. The desire in his heart is driving him to distraction... A customer at the counter drops a bowl of soup. The coffee in the overhead lines whine a faraway song as it steams up from the boiler. Sirens suddenly flash by; red and blue light bouncing off the walls, as a patrol car speeds down the street. Suddenly, people are talking a little more loudly in the corner booth, under a large mural painted on the wall ~ Something like soviet industrial street art; with metal gears and airbrushed letters. The television set mounted in the corner is busted, wires hanging down, the screen cracked, the chassis covered with dust... It has been up there a long time. Superman in disguise as Clark Kent, is in discussion with the Silver Surfer, and Wonderwoman. Comicheads. Except for Silver Surfer; he is real, bionic ~ chromium face and hands reflect everything back. He is an obvious choice ~ He had no idea there was a cartoon character of that name when he first arrived but he soon took to the persona. He was hungry for an identity, and the lunch counter served them up. Wonderwoman, at least she could draw. The others had never drawn so much as a straight line. ‘Soopah Doopahs’, is what Stanley the Steampipe called them. He doesn’t anymore; that was when they first started coming around. Not many new faces here, but once in awhile a new one came in. Why? It wasn’t for the food or atmosphere. Pure random chance..... Although, there is a new face today. A stranger. Everyone stays clear of this one. The atmosphere is abuzz at low frequency. Sweat. This guy is odd even by the low standards of this place. He is wearing a grey woolen coat, with grey pants too. The clothing looks natural, worn, greasy. Not the synthetic stuff you see all the time. He is really a stranger, probably off one of the ships. Everyone seems edgy. This guy has his face painted like a mime. Not all of his face; just a band across his eyes. White mime paint with little black triangles above and below the eyes. Comic shit? His skin is slightly dark but not a distinct ethnic tone. Maybe he is French, someone whispered. (Well, it was Stanley). This guy sat at the lunch counter. That is where you sit when you are dining alone, at the counter; make room in the booths and tables for groups. He is following protocol. Got to give him that. He sat quietly drinking his coffee with graceful gestures. The mime has a small black goatee and is wearing a beret. Across the front of his black t-shirt in tiny white lettering is printed: 'DON’T DO WHAT I JUST DID'. On the table in front of him is a pack of Gudang Garam Cigarettes, Red Label. He says nothing. It is as if he were in a dream. Stanley watches him intently. Suddenly, the mime discretely pulls a weapon from under his grey coat. He turns the device over in


his hand then clicks a few of the switches along the side. The writer swiftly reckons with his peripheral vision that it is a small electronic gun with a long discharge barrel ~ A chromium barrel as blue as ice... Is it real?... Face expressionless, the stranger gets up and exits the cafe, weapon in hand, extended slightly in front of him like a divining rod. Hardly anyone notices this except for Stanley, and the cook working in the back on the other side of the serving window. “Creepy... I'm just glad we’re still alive. He could have sprayed that thing around in here for awhile,” Stanley said. “I’ve never seen one of those before.”

III.

“The fortune teller gazes into the past and the future.” Inside a little apartment located off an alley near the intersection, the fortune teller conducts her trade from inside an organic forest environment which appears to still be in the process of growing. The walls are a tangled texture of trunks and branches that intertwine as they define the shape of the room. Shelves carved into niches, and nestled in the natural contours formed by the branches, contain many books and glass jars of various herbal matter, giving the room a sense of antiquity. She sits at a circular table of polished airframe aluminum, on a Persian carpet covering the stone floor in the center of the room. Draped over the table is an ancient heavy cloth fabric with intricate miniature designs woven into it. A hemispheric crystal ball in the middle of the table has a group of cables that lead to a computer in a cabinet on the floor. The light from the ball provides the main illumination in the room, augmented here and there by white candles. The ceiling appears to have millions of tiny lights embedded into it describing an astronomy map of the universe. It is difficult to determine her age in the dimly-lit room. She appears young, but the texture of the skin on her face and hands betray wrinkles and knotted veins. Her silvery cloak is thin revealing small firm breasts through her garment. Her long wild black hair drapes across her shoulder. To her side, a small portal framed by stone leads into total darkness. A black cat is asleep on the floor. She gazes intently into the crystal. Gradually light emerges, growing brighter, an image slowly taking shape inside the sphere. The computer database wired to the crystal ball knows all, and tells all; displaying fragments, pieces of information, codes and symbols. Where do they come from? People must imagine they come from the database, yet it takes skill to interpret the messages.


A miniature three-dimensional sail boat appears inside the crystal ball. It is white and clean like a toy, yet so detailed. It rocks stormily upon the little ocean inside. Waves splash against the curve of the crystal with little white curls of foam. In the silence the ocean can be heard. “This represents aspects of your past,” the fortune teller says. “The judgment: A misguided navigator, having lost contact with the constellations, fails to reach home. Hidden love, mystery, the changes are like mirrors that reflect other mirrors.” The emptiness within the mirrors. The fortune teller wears a shiny metallic dress, it holds the reflection for the time that exists, before it is replaced by the next one. Nothing lasts, everything lingers. All are attracted to the reflection. The illusion of life, the flame of hope and desire. The flames vanish to reveal the image of stone. Still smoking, it looks surprisingly real behind the surface. Ancient symbols carved crudely in strange designs. The stone is wrapped in metal chains that are shiny and new. “This image represents aspects of your present. The judgment: A stream moving through a cavern is looking for answers, but cannot read the information that sur‐ rounds it. Imprisonment. Looking for the ocean it feels the pull of the moon.” “What do you read in the sand my boy?” The old man watches the child draw a figure in the sand with a thin stick. He smiles. His knotted weathered hand softens as he gently rubs the boy’s hair. He can feel vitality burning in the sweaty heat rising from the young boy’s scalp... The boy is deep in thought: “I’m drawing a picture of a fish.” The old man smiles, the skin wrinkling the corner of his eyes. “Soon the tide will come in and the fish will return to the sea.” Walking beside the ocean, it’s easy to forget how much time has passed. It’s easy to forget that I am living in the future. Billions of years have passed since the first crea‐ tures crawled out of the sea. I imagine the ocean not to have changed. It seams primordial; waves endlessly washing onto the shore. Little bits of plastic debris remind me. And when I look up from the water’s edge, I can see the boat and the boy, and the old man. Over there, young couples resting on the beach, lay in the sand like the first creatures; romance, ancestry, crawling up onto the beach to mate. I am all alone right now. I come here to let the sound of the waves and the gentle breeze clear my thoughts. It doesn’t work today. I have too much on my mind, and the breeze isn’t strong enough to clear the fragments away.


“This image represents aspects of your future,” the fortune teller says. Now the image of a little girl in a yellow hat. That’s an odd hat. Who is she? She has long brown curly hair. Her face transforms into a flower. A little daisy, before exploding into a miniature sun that becomes a star and fades out to stillness. What’s it all about? I don’t understand what this has to do with me... Maybe this is all a dream that I thought about a long time ago ~ The image of the fortune teller fades away ~ I realize I must be dreaming, because I haven’t slept in days. No time, too much work to do... When we were young I didn’t notice. Now I don’t remember. It doesn’t matter, it’s all the same. Right now I feel like crying because I am sad that it doesn’t matter. If I could cry I would feel better. It’s not easy to cry. I don’t remember how... A tear rolls down his cheek... and splashes on the table in a timelapse slow motion sequence like a little explosion. Close up.

IV.

Headlights stream off the ditch along the edge of the highway. Dust pouring down. Windshield wipers running time with the rhythm of the engine. It is a long haul. The writer is wearing night-vision goggles that turn night into day. Traction is important when hauling 50 tons of liquid concrete. The roads can be treacherous. Fatal. ‘Maintaining the relationship to the boundaries of the road is of primary importance,’ he occasionally reminds himself ~ That would keep him from going to work tomorrow. Following the maze, staying between the lines... Yet, fate has always been on his side. He has an angel for a hood ornament. He has an onboard computer system that helps keep everything on-track. The writer works every night of the year. It is his life. It is all he ever does, aside from the little bit of writing he manages to record every day. It is a tough haul toward the edge of night. Dust flying around the cage. The streets dark and narrow on the way back to the terminal to get the next load. Bones get weary when the sun is coming up, eyes turn red, muscles get stiff. As long as he can maintain momentum, kinetic energy, he will accomplish the quota he needs every shift. The main thing is to keep focused, clear the mind, dispose of memories ~ ‘If you start thinking about things, your mind begins to wander, and you lose your concentra‐ tion’. He kept his mind in a state of active meditation directed by reflex responses. He remained aware that the fatality rate is high. 50 tons of concrete can shift readily. ‘Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel’. The little white pills that kept


him awake all night, were alright; they were not the kind of drugs of sedation. Some nights he might start to tremble; beads of cold sweat forming across his forehead, on the back of his neck, stomach knotting up, little starbursts spiking on the back of his retinas ~ Then he would stop in an area off to the side of the road... lunch break, piss break, take a walk around the vehicle for a safety-check break. Tonight is a slow night. When he is on a heavy schedule he will eat while he is driving. Once he is over the hump, he will catch his second wind. Back on the road again. This hour of the morning is always the roughest... He is distracted from his writing by a tapping sound at the edge of his conscious‐ ness. The curtains are drawn, sunlight bleeding through in dusty rays around the fringes. Outside on the roof, Stanley ‘The Steampipe’ hammers on the window. The glass rattles under the solid rap of his knuckles, but remains unshattered. The familiar routine; around noon, Stanley would glide across the rooftops to wake the writer up when he came over for a cup of ‘java’. For the writer, this is his alarm clock. Stanley lives in a rooftop apartment on a neibouring building. He has a large attractive wife, and two beautiful young children. He works as a freelance plumber, and keeps his own hours; working when it is necessary. For a big man, he is surpris‐ ingly agile in his movements, and unexpectedly soft-spoken and laid-back. He kept his pacific island lifestyle alive in the concrete jungle. During the heat of the day, Stan would avoid sunshine to ‘hang loose’ with his friends. For him, there was always work to do; maintaining the pipeline keeping people connected to the system. Stanley slid open the window and climbed in to brew a pot of coffee substitute while the writer crawled out of bed. As usual, he has picked up a newspaper from the sleepy wax vendor in the rusted corrugated shack ~ The old man who would slowly open only one yellow eye when Stanley slid a ‘token’ into the slot in the counter... His only movement; maybe he was made of wax ~ The coarse grey skin, the electronic surveillance eyeball could be wired up to some monitor somewhere checking out who was going for the bait. ‘Operational paranoia?’ considered the writer. There weren’t many papers printed these days, aside from sporadic publications by ro@ches. Perhaps lack of resources; whatever, they were pretty thin editions. They had some interesting columnists, and comics and puzzles and such; kind of fun to read. The news wasn’t too fresh, nor extensive in its coverage; mainly headlines, some propaganda, and tabloid stuff. They sure didn’t last long either. The recycled pulp was already yellow by the time he bought it; starting to disintegrate into dust in about a week. Yet, they were inexpensive and people seemed to like them. “Kind of based on the honor system with the wax man. Must be a vet I guess, sitting there all day and not even moving a muscle. At night the place is locked down with a rollaway. Creepy thinking that guy might still be sitting in there all night. I’m not going to find out,” Stanley laughed.


Stanley is in the process of repairing the writer’s bathroom. Stan has brought over surplus parts from his contracts, but the job has been going on for several months ~ The writer sits on the toilet and scans the state of chaos around him. The bathroom is suspended in perpetual limbo, balanced between destruction and renewal; plaster falling out between broken lathe, various pieces of plumbing fixtures and tools strewn inside the bathtub. The top of the toilet tank is buried under a pile of debris in the corner. The twisted arteries of pipes are clearly visible overhead. A fly buzzes along the ceiling. Gun shots in the distant streets below... The dawning of a new day. The writer had awoken past noon. Staring out the window at a group of children playing kick-the-can in an alley; dark skin pulled taught over their bones. Overhead large rain clouds are forming ~ bright sunlight glows off soft white peaks in the ocean of sky. Flies buzz lazily in swarms around fluid oozing along concrete gutters. Bright colours of the children’s ragged clothing dance in the gentle breeze. A man slowly pulls a wooden cart down the street carrying three large bloated fish from the morning’s catch in muddy waters. Wooden rafts are pulled up along the shore; large enough for one man to stand up in. They are made by fastening logs together, and are maneuvered by a long slender pole. Giant toothless crocodiles are used by the fishermen to catch fish; a collar around their necks keeps them from swallowing. The shade of a passing cloud provides welcome relief from the searing heat of direct sunlight. Rattling tin of an awning bangs against a post as a dusty gust of wind moves along the street. The writer sits at his kitchen table drinking coffee substitute [he can’t always get the real stuff]; ground roasted barley laced with synthetic caffeine. High overhead the roar of an airplane, out of sight, cuts through the muffled sounds of the wheels turning in the city mechanism on a Sunday afternoon. The church bells strike 2 o’clock... he contin‐ ues typing... After work, the writer returns over the bridge... down the street where shop owners are dismantling security bars over doors and windows and folding them away into concrete recesses in the walls; the fish market, the coffee vendor, the hardware store... Streets, deserted during the night, come to life as the new day dawns; The world goes around, and the golden sunrise pierces shadows as the city turns with the movement of the planet. The last chilly pockets of night are evaporating in the advancing heat and light. Everyday is the same; the routine repetition is the gravity holding his reality in place... Some of the lower-echelon workers are commuting to the city core from gated suburban communities in an early morning traffic stream. They zoom by in tiny secure electric cars past shop owners sweeping the accumulated dust off sidewalks and wiping tired sleep from their eyes. The writer climbs the stairway then walks the corridor to his room. The aroma of cooked sausages hangs in the stale air. He washes up in the ceramic sink in his


disaster of a bathroom. No mirror, coloured tiles; a mandala on the floor eroded by years of foot traffic now strewn with debris, and the antiseptic smell of chlorine. A small painting of a local scene; a bridge over an ocean inlet at the north end of the city, rendered in soft colours, and embroidered with golden thread hangs on the bathroom wall in a chipped wooden frame. Standing naked, he uses a cloth to wash his body, urinates into the toilet, then goes to bed. Sleep would.... The writer crosses the roof to gaze down upon people behind the windows of the Eagle Grill; it gives him a sense of familiarity, and a register for his memory ~ The Eagle Grill is of significance in his own life story. At one time it had just been another on-line location, now it is real, right there across the street. The day he left Flex Global, he had just started walking... out of the city, and under cover of night far away into the land of forests and fields... He had left without a plan, and was actually surprised that he was heading out to the countryside. It was the last place he expected to go, and likely the last place anyone would look for him. He stole some clothes from a clothesline by the early light of the first morning; something more appropriate than the tech coveralls he wore on the job. He traveled for several more nights; hiding wherever he could along the way, and eating whatever he could find. Following a narrow forested valley, he came upon an elderly man working in a garden; digging potatoes with a hoe on a small plot of land. By then, most of the land had been cleared for large corporate farms that operated fleets of heavy equipment, but here he discovered a small primitive village of about 30 wooden houses nestled in the bottom of the valley along a creek bed. The old man was quite startled, and a little afraid, when he saw the stranger coming out of the woods; tattered, dirty and unkempt. Although, the writer soon made the old man feel at ease by talking in a casual pleasant manner. He asked if he could help out; it looked like the older man could use a hand. The old man laughed, saying they didn’t have any credits to pay for help, they just grew the food they ate, cut wood to cook, and got their drinking water from the well. The community supported each other; everyone helped out the best they could to survive. The corporations didn’t need this little piece of land, it was impossible to farm with machines, and they kind of just let the people alone, as they seemed to be of no harm to anyone... While they talked, the writer dug potatoes and hauled them by wheelbarrow to the cellar of a nearby house. He was in good shape since he customarily spent a couple of hours every day in the training room near his apartment in the tower. The farmer’s house was a small log cabin with a metal roof made out of recycled scrap metal. It had an odd collection of junk hanging from nails on the outside walls; various tools, old pots and pans, and so on... From inside, an older woman appeared, inviting the writer in for a cup of tea. An offer he gladly accepted. The old woman poured herbal tea and brought out baked


buns containing wild berries, with honey syrup poured over top. The old man rolled a cigarette that had a pungent aroma to the smoke, and asked the writer if he would care to try one. The writer declined. Then the old man suggested that if the writer would like to help out the community, there was a woman nearby who had lost her husband a year previously, and maybe if they were introduced they might be able to work something out. The writer agreed to meet her. Later that afternoon, he and the older man walked along a pathway for quite some distance, past several other houses. The children were shy and hid as they passed. The writer could see faces of adults peering out windows, or craning their necks from nearby fields and barns. Some waved, and the elderly man accompanying him waved back. They arrived at a house similar to the others. A woman near the house was feeding chickens. A sturdy, slim woman ~ her dress was patched like a quilt with many different fabrics. She was wearing a plain shirt, and the writer noticed her nipples pressing against the moist cloth. As she came closer, the writer was intrigued by her dark complexion and angular nose. She was pleasant to the eyes. Her hair was long and black, tied with a piece of cloth. She introduced herself as Evangeline. After they talked for awhile they agreed he would work on the land, and that she would provide shelter and cook meals for him in exchange for his labour. When the old man went away, she showed him the work that he needed to do. She was friendly and laughed frequently. She was uneducated and unaware of contemporary urban life. The latter was fine, as it was something the writer wanted to put behind him, but the former would eventually lead to a sense of unfulfillment. Evangeline went into the house. He split wood for a couple of hours, until she called to him to come inside. He was very much surprised that she had two small children, twins, a girl and a boy that were three years old, named Tamath and Tyler. They were playing on the floor with simple handmade toys. She had heated water for a bath, and prepared a substantial meal. Both of which were welcome, after the journey on foot, and a full day of hard work. She hung a curtain up for him to bathe, then later they sat at the table, in the light of an oil lamp, to enjoy a sumptuous feast. The food tasted so good, and so fresh ~ the flavour was intense. He could detect a subtle taste of earth in the vegetables. It was not unpleasant. He ate hungrily. The warm glow made the room seem intimate and peaceful. They never talked much, but he was aware that she seemed to be studying him. As the sun was setting, Evangeline put the children to bed. He went to the outhouse. The stars were bright. He had never seen a sky so clear. When he returned she was wearing a thin nightgown. The lamp revealed her body clearly. She asked him to come to bed ~ they would need to get up early. She disrobed and slid into bed, moving over to make room for him. Her naked body caused the expected reaction; he felt himself growing hard. Evangeline watched as he removed his clothing. He had thought of putting out the light, but he somehow found the situation exciting as he slowly undressed. As he stood naked by the bed, he could see the eager expectation


in her eyes. He climbed into bed and she immediately wrapped herself around him. Evangeline reached down and directed his penis inside her. She let out a sigh as he entered her gently. She felt warm and moist as she moved rhythmically against him. The tempo quickly increased. The bedsprings squeaked under the force of their movement. The headboard banged against the wall. Her long fingernails scratched his back drawing droplets of blood. She nipped at his chest with sharp teeth. He was astonished by her cries of delight, driving him to move faster and faster. United they achieved a crescendo of movement that exploded like a comet into the night... Evangeline let out a scream ~ He had never experienced such raw passion! He collapsed beside her... both breathing heavily... soon she snuggled closer. He could smell the sweat in her hair, and feel her warm breath on his chest. Her hand gently caressed his swollen testicles... Thoughts began to form again; once the chaos of the explosion had dissipated ~ Gradually he formed a mental image of his ‘wife’; the woman that had been ‘arranged’ for him in the Tower... It had only been a few days since he had last seen her, yet she seemed a distant memory... He recalled that she worked as a technical specialist conducting genetic research. Originally, when he was training, they both worked similar shifts and spent a lot of time together. Yet he felt they had never really gotten to know each other. Authority had put them together based on their career records ~ The computer matching service always seemed to pair cops with doctors. They had never been compatible. They had never had children. They slept in separate beds. They made love several times but it was very subdued; neither seemed interested. It was more a matter of relieving their basic primal urges, and when it was done they each returned quietly to their own beds. Gradually, as their shifts drifted out of phase and seemed to cycle around the clock, it left them with very few opportunities together.... The musty fragrance of Evangeline’s perspiration returned his thoughts to the rustic cabin... This was something else... This was powerful. What was he getting himself into? Evangeline’s gentle caresses and her lips sucking on his ear made him hard again...

V.

Police dragonflies on the TV news... Just after dawn there had been an eruption of violence. A few pockets of rioting and looting... shiny objects had caught the attention of street life... an ancient form of animal magnetism... carrying as much as they could...


stumbling into the streets with their newly-acquired provisions... the sirens tell a sad story. A store selling electronic equipment was in flames as seen in the aerial view mounted on one of the drones. The Dragonflies swooped low releasing dispersal gases and firing low-powered lasers. Another police patrol arrived at the location of the disturbance in their mobile fortresses and opened fire. 7 killed, 15 wounded, and 45 people arrested were the statistics at the main location. One enforcement officer had been badly knifed upon being isolated from the rest of the platoon. “An abandoned theatre was destroyed by fire, which also damaged the clothing store next door. Although the windows had been shattered, the merchandise remained secure behind steel bars and heavy wire mesh. Smoke continued to rise from the smoldering rubble throughout the afternoon,” Stanley read. He tossed the newspaper aside then went back to work on repairing the writer’s bathroom. One half hour later, Stanley emerges, wiping his hands on his coveralls, “You’re bathtub is connected and running fine! Catcha later brudda!” With that Stanley bounds across the rooftops like a superhero and disappears from sight. During a leisurely bath the writer continues to drift away upon reflections of his sojourn to the country; remembering the time he had disappeared, vanished ~ escaped! Perhaps he would write more about that later. This particular evening he feels compelled to write about his return to the city. He saunters to the kitchen table just wearing a towel. He wants to write it down before he forgets about it. His fingers, wrinkled from the bath, feel odd on the keys... After returning from the country, the writer kind of wandered the city aimlessly for a couple of days. He bought some city clothing, but his hair had grown long. He had also grown a beard. Walking toward the waterfront one evening ~ and there it was; the Eagle Grill. Memories had flooded back like deja-vu reload... In the olde days this was a key point for electronic surveillance; seeking leads to track down various hackers. Inside it still seemed the same. He knew these computer geeks wouldn’t recognize him now, even if they did know who he was, or who he used to be. He realized that if he needed to assume a new identity, this was the right place to be. Pale-skinned members of the zombie crew were sitting in booths at the back, hunched over units, pulling 24 hour shifts that seemed to make their eyes bleed. A couple of wharf rats scuttled in looking for a cheap place to eat... force of habit. An older rat sitting on a stool at the counter is staring intently into his coffee cup. His hair has been reduced to assorted patches of grey bristles, mottled pattern, random. He has a series of scars along his neck to the base of his large ears. The scars are a series of parallel lines; short and dark. He stares into the coffee like he is looking into his own soul, or watching a dream. His activity parallels a young hacker sitting a few stools down; long hair streaked with purple and blue, absorbed in his viewscreen. Both are lost in rapt attention to their visions.


The Chinese couple that own the place are just getting by. The customers don’t exactly spend a lot of money here, but they do spend a lot of time. The couple both wear white kitchen clothes. They remain in the background until a customer comes in, then they to do their best to deal with them; talking quietly in a friendly manner. They have a little table near the kitchen where they sit and talk quietly to each other. The octopus tank bubbles nearby. The writer sat at a booth and ordered some stirfry. One fellow nearby slowly turned on his stool, then leaned close to introduce himself as Yuri. He smelled like a sewer. The writer was surprised by his manic motorized way of talking; flowing, correcting himself for more precise phrasing, diverging into parallel trains of thought then bouncing back in again, all in a hushed, confident manner. The writer invited Yuri to a booth to continue their conversation: “We have to understand what the people with the money are doing. Their aesthetic judgments are not arbitrary. They are manufacturing media images and packaging lifestyles. The consumers need to gain control over the apparatus of production in order to ultimately regain possession of their identities.” Yuri was speaking very quickly. He poured more sugar into his cup... Yuri scanned the writer carefully, searching deep into his eyes, determining an approach, a way to describe the activity of the ro@ches: “That’s what we are about; we’re in the process of digging up information to feedback into the system. Now that MIV is in effect, it’s going to grasp onto the data fragments we are inputting into the net and integrate it into the master plan. We are information terrorists, bohemians, creating a subversive collage of textual data to digitally scramble reality. The underground is gaining possession of tools to manipulate computerized information on a global scale. The ro@ches are a sophisticated organization providing a window through which the citizens will be able to observe the systems in charge of operating the controls.” Yuri paused to sip his coffee. Instinct caused the writer to notice an odd fellow who had wandered in from the street, strange haircut, self-conscious, suspicious. This guy seemed curious about everything... perhaps searching for some tech item laying around ~ then, when no-one was looking... making it disappear... Presto! He wandered over to the table where Yuri and the writer were sitting. He asked a few oblique questions and then moved on. He went out then came back again later. Picking up the thread of his rant, Yuri continued, “Whenever the slightest thing happens involving a breach of computer security, the media goes fucking bat shit and points all their fingers at us ‘nasty little ro@ches’. They call us deviant, criminal, or sociopathic . . . whenever Authority happens upon anything that involves malicious computer use ~ it's the ‘hackers’. The word is a catch-phrase because they don't really know the meaning, and they don’t have any other word to describe the perpetrator. We are artists creating beauty from despair, chaos from order. We are ambiguous. We meander into dead corners creating a jagged explosion scattered through time, where only shock waves remain, and debris. The revolution spreads. The search for


meaning. The need to gain understanding about the mysterious experiences of being alive, things which can’t be told, because they transcend the thoughts which refer to that which can’t be thought about.” Yuri was a fountain of blatantly anti-establishment political and social commentary. The writer listened, intrigued by his viewpoints, and impressed by the articulate manner in which he expressed his thoughts. Yuri was watching a topless woman with small breasts in a nearby booth. The boys she was with don’t even think about it. She has a silver key on a string around her neck... Yuri returns his attention to the writer and refills their coffee cups from the dispenser tube at their table, then hits his with a heavy sugar shot. “Let me tell you about disposal chutes,” he said. “My role is to go in and do the dirty work; laying the groundwork for the digital crew. I do physical hacks, wiring work, load up satellite descrambling codes, whatever it takes... pick up tech components, because we are constantly adjusting and experimenting with new technology, and we need the actual gear right out of the box. I can get into places where nobody wants me to be. It’s what I do best, and I am the best. I’ve seen shit that no one has ever seen, I know about things before they even happen, and that’s a valuable commodity in this information economy, right? And you know why I do it?” The writer nodded. He had known a lot of operatives like him at Flex Global. They talked the talk right out of the procedure manual, but it wasn’t the idealism of their values and beliefs that made them put their ass on the line, it was pure raw adventure; the need to test the limits they sensed in place around them... the need to take charge of their own destiny and explore their independence. “You accepted the challenge,” the writer said. A smile spread from ear to ear. Yuri burst out in laughter, “You’re alright!” Gradually conversation turned to other matters, and Yuri suggested he knew of an apartment across the street that had ‘opened up’ ~ nice place, up on the roof. He gave out a number. The writer thanked him for the lead and then they said goodbye. Outside the Eagle Grill, once again walking the street, the writer remembered his affirmation to leave the world of digital intrigue forever ~ never to return. He had been immersed within that environment for so long that he could no longer tell who was right and who was wrong. He had questioned the motives behind the drive to push the boundaries of technology. He had begun to lose faith in the ability of human nature to create a better society. He had considered it to be the permanent closure of another chapter of his life; a time to start anew.


VI.

Kropton Ernst drank to forget, he said. After many visits with Kropton, the writer felt they had developed a rapport with each other and decided to bring up the topic of Jurgen Ernst. They were sitting opposite each other on the only furnishings in the small livingroom; two upholstered armchairs. The chairs were islands in an ocean of paper that extended to the four walls of the room. There was a pathway to the kitchen through the paper where you could see the wood floor. Along the wall was a large shelf full of dusty old books. Next to the chair that Kropton sat in was a pole lamp and a bronze ashtray on a stand. Here Kropton would come to read, have a cigarette, and drink some moonshine. He wrote in the kitchen, slept in the bedroom, and read in the living room... That was essentially his life. The writer broached the question, “Who is the young man in the photograph in your kitchen?” Kropton paused for a couple of moments in thought, then simply stated, “I drink to dilute the poison of unhappy memories. I have suffered enough, and I suffer still. I am an old man now, and I only want to continue to experience the few simple pleasures and joys I have available to me at this point in my life. I want to read the books that I have spent a lifetime collecting, and I want to write to keep my brain active and alert. But I don’t want to remember my life. My life is not important. My ideas are no longer relevant. Once upon a time they seemed to be.” He took a long sip of shine, then he lapsed into silence. They would only talk about Jurgen one other time, many months later. On this occasion Kropton had been quite sober. The writer recounted to Kropton some of the things he had experienced in his life and Kropton listened attentively. The writer told him about his work as a mission specialist for Flex Global Security. He revealed that he had been the agent assigned to track Jurgen, but had been too late to save him. They had managed to isolate his location in Iceland and had prepared agents to apprehend him, but because of difficulty getting to the remote location, the agents had not arrived until the day after the explosion. The inferno destroyed practically the entire facility, although they did manage to retrieve some evidence from the wreckage, and fragments of Jurgen’s charred notebooks which were discovered scattered in the surrounding snow. The writer could tell that Kropton’s interest was piqued by the mention of the notebooks. Then the old man’s smile faded and his face slowly transformed into an expression of sadness. A tear rolled down his cheek. Then to himself he very quietly said, “I miss you son.”


Kropton poured himself another shot of booze. He asked the writer if he would join him ~ He often had asked him if he would like one, and that day, for the first time the writer accepted. Kropton poured the writer a large glass of clear liquid. They touched glasses in a toast. “I appreciate your company. It’s a horrible thing to have to drink alone,” Kropton said, gazing at the framed photograph of his son on the wall. “You know, Jurgen was very much like his grandfather,” Kropton continued. “When he was a boy, he became fascinated with the work of my father, Cameron Stark. Jurgen researched all the information that Cameron had published in his life. As Jurgen advanced in his career, he told me he had discovered some of the original equipment and storage tapes that Cameron and Adda had been working with. He told me he wanted to continue with the research, and that he had found a window that looked into some fascinating discoveries that had been hidden away. I don’t know what he discovered, maybe you know more about it than I do,” Kropton told the writer. He took a sip, then continued, “I never really knew my father, and I never really knew my son. I am just a link in Jurgen’s genetic evolution. And I am sure that whatever genes I passed along to him were more than likely the ones that got him into trouble. Cameron was a talented man; very logical, very rational. I believe that as I passed them along, I filtered the genes, and spliced in code that enabled Jurgen to explore the horizons of his imagination... In a way that was also influenced by his grandmother Adda. They say that certain genetic characteristics crop up in every other generation, and I believe that is the case here.” “The last time we met, I was on a book promotion tour that had a stop in Japan. Jurgen stayed with me for one night at my hotel in Tokyo, and we were up the whole night talking and drinking sake. That was the last time I ever saw him. He was always too busy working, and then, of course, he went into hiding toward the end. Yet, he still managed to send me a few letters with postmarks from around the world. I kept the letters with the belongings from my father in a box over there,” Kropton said, pointing to a stained cardboard box with a small AT logo on the floor by the kitchen cupboard. “I haven’t opened it for many years. To me, that box is like a time capsule that encloses my past and my future.” Kropton was in a talkative mood that day, and the writer was happy to listen. Kropton lit a cigarette and gently blew a small cloud of blue smoke into the air. He watched the cloud slowly dissipate as though trying to read the drifting shapes. He looked tired. After some time, Kropton continued, “I’m glad that Jurgen carried on the Stark family tradition. I am proud of him for that. Me, I just made up an identity for myself, an alias. I wanted to reinvent myself and escape from the memories.” Kropton poured each of them another glass. “I was very young when my parents were killed. I was adopted and grew up without really knowing my family history. I learned about it mainly through Jurgen.”


“I wanted to be a painter when I was young, and later I did paint for many years. I inherited those genes from my mother, Adda, who in addition to being an supremely gifted computer programmer, was also a talented painter. She was inspired by Surrealism; the attempt to capture pure subconscious thought and the irrationality of dreams, concepts inspired by Sigmund Freud's theories. Her work as an early pioneer in developing artificial reality was very much based on her understanding of surreal‐ ism and art, and the idea of exploring beyond reality.” “I invented the name Kropton. I just liked the sound of it. I took my last name from Max Ernst; the German painter and poet. His work is infused with provocative images, often fantastic birds and animals set in bizarre landscapes, strange, atmospheric settings, full of fear and apprehension. It was a style that influenced my writing more than my painting.” Kropton coughed. “Anyway, the point I was trying to make before I got off track into surrealism, is that we each, in our own way seek out the path we are destined to follow. Jurgen choose to follow the roots of his grandfather’s path, and branched off in a direction from the same stem, while I followed another path altogeth‐ er. New generations may choose to follow some of the paths we have established, and at some point they will create new ones of their own. It is a timeless progression as our paths evolve to become an interconnected network leading to new horizons. Follow your bliss ~ It’s not the destination that matters, the ultimate accomplishment is the journey itself.... I apologize, I have been talking for some time, and my voice is getting hoarse. I think I should lay down for awhile to get some rest. Why don’t you come back later when you have time and we can talk further.” This was to be the last conversation the two men would have. The next day, as the writer passed the tenement he noticed a city disposal unit in the street and two city workers carrying metal baskets to the transporter. This was a common occurrence; city crews were prompt in removing belongings of occupants who had died, since living space was in demand and subject to long wait-lists ~ Not to mention the potential profit that could be collected from repossessing this material. What was unusual, and had caught the writer’s observant eye, was that the workers were carrying baskets full of books and paper. The writer immediately realized what had happened and ran up the stairs to Kropton’s apartment. Filled with a sense of profound grief, tempered by the anxiety of being apprehended, the writer noted upon entering Kropton’s apartment that his body had already been removed. All that remained were the massive paper hoardings of a literary man. The writer salvaged a few items he could easily carry; the typewriter and a cardboard box of documents which contained Kropton’s personal journals, and all of the correspondence with his son; Jurgen Ernst ~ The city workers didn’t mind; it just meant one less load of junk to haul away to recycling. These documents would subsequently provide the writer with some of the missing pieces of a puzzle he had previously spent considerable time trying to resolve when he was Flex Global security agent Cordova Frost. That same stained cardboard box


with the AT logo now rested on the floor of his kitchen... It is getting late, and he is tired. The writer slowly turns the carriage wheel to remove the sheet of paper from the typewriter; carefully placing his own finished writing into that same cardboard box. He put the typewriter away in the case; clasping its base into four small grey sliders, closed the lid, and snapped the metal latch to secure the cover. He left the case on the table, blew out the candle, and made his way into his small bedroom to sleep for awhile. Soon it would be time to go to work.

VII.

Dissociative fugue is a condition in which a person undergoing extreme trauma or stress walks away from their life and begins living as another person. The individual is not aware of what they are doing. Disassociation occurs in people who keep a tight control on their feelings and are unable to cope with life’s stresses. Withdrawing from this condition occurs gradually or suddenly, at which point they begin to remember their previous identity... The writer’s time in the country had been the perfect environment to deal with his disassociation. It was a pleasant experience at first. Working on the land and enjoying nature had put everything into perspective, and gave him back the sense of selfawareness that his life in the tower had gradually removed. In the tower he had been an integrated part of a larger machine. The machine was an organism that needed to survive, to grow and replicate; to keep its internal components functioning with the unified purpose of carrying out that objective. The work he did seemed very important. He played the role of a defender, an antibody maintaining the security of the system against unwanted infiltrators that could cause widespread disease, and ultimately threaten the integrity of the entire mechanism. It was a role he played with zeal. He believed that he was working as a protector of society ~ He believed that he was right. Yet, maybe he was wrong. Maybe nothing and everything could be both right and wrong. With the doubt came uncertainty. With uncertainty came fear. He was a veteran; he was trained to deal with uncertainty. Like walking a tightrope, the higher the stakes, the less able to recover from a fall. He fell pretty hard. He needed some time off to pull himself together. That is not easy to accomplish in the tower. Failure is not tolerated. Mistakes mean that you are taking risks. If you are taking risks then you are jeopardiz� ing the system. He had decided to walk away. The country experience taught him about life without technology. It taught him to appreciate the interconnectedness of a larger global


system of nature. He experienced the cycles of birth and death through the crops and the animals. It wasn’t removed and hidden away from his vision, cleaned up and forgotten like in the tower. Missing people ~ what became of them? It happened all the time. After awhile people never thought about it. Each citizen knew very few actual people anyway; it didn’t seem to matter what happened to the others ~ Their profiles vanished from social networks. Digging soil with a shovel, chopping wood with an ax, carrying water in a bucket, cooking food over a fire, made the digital technology he left behind seem unreal and unimportant. He had replaced one lifestyle with its opposite; the pendulum had swung full arc... Yet, although he had immersed himself in a new life, after the better part of a year his previous identity had begun to resurface. He started to experience an identity crisis in which he began to feel uncomfortable with both the present and the past. His country woman, Evangeline, was the catalyst for the crises... ‘The man without a name’ had instantly acquired a complete family; identical twins ~ the good twin and the evil twin ~ the young boy and girl proved difficult for him to bond with. Evangeline was very protective of her children, and jealous of any attention they showed toward him. She made it clear in her actions that she did not want him to take part in raising them. His role seemed to be that of a hired man whom was paid in love and home-cooked meals. She was not educated, and seemed not to care about discussing anything beyond the potatoes and the pigs. At first he was appreciative of her naive simplicity. To her the world outside the little valley was an abstract concept. It did not concern her, she was from the land and the land supported her ~ Who could he talk to about the thoughts he was having as he remembered the outside world? The final event closing this chapter in his life came about because of a neighbour. This man constantly expressed hostility toward the ‘outsider’. Perhaps he was jealous, since he had tried unsuccessfully to court Evangeline following the tragic death of her husband. Certainly, he had been at the scene when a large tractor wheel drove over the poor fellows body; while the men were temporarily employed on a corporate farm at harvest time. Some of the residents in the valley had previously warned the ‘new‐ comer’ to be on the lookout for an accident that might be waiting to happen. In truth, one time a large hay bale did fall, narrowly missing him, when a rope broke at the community barn. Country life had gradually lost its charm. The writer, unhappy, became distant from Evangeline. At night she would turn her cold backside against him when he crawled into bed. It was as chilly as a block of ice. During the day, tension filled the air. The only escape was to get out and do some physical work to take his mind off the domestic discord. The neighbour started coming around more often during the day when the writer was out in the field. One day, shoveling manure from the pig sty, he noticed Evangeline and the neighbour walking together across the pasture. She called out that they were going to pick berries. They disappeared into the forest, and did not return for several hours. No berries in their bucket.


The writer packed his few possessions and started walking just before the sun went down. He spent the night in the forest, laying beside a small fire, gazing up at vast constellations, and wondering what he should do. He thought; “Whatever you want, you can have it.” ... What did he want? ... The country experience enabled him to perceive what life was like without technological apparatus. He had once again learned how to see, and to breathe, and to be healthy, and to fully experience the reality of the natural landscape. It were as though he had wiped the slate clean... Yet, something from his past seemed to remain unresolved... Whatever it was... Perhaps he finally felt strong enough to confront it. His new attribute would be to become invisible; disconnected from the networked digital world... The sound of an animal stepping on a twig... yet he did not feel frightened.

VIII.

During a subsequent meeting at the Eagle Grill, Yuri was accompanied by an associate who used the pseudonym; ‘Jedinight’ ~ “Call me ‘Jay’,” he said. Jay was dripping wet in a black raincoat. His close-cropped hair was matted into a tangle of oily spikes. His face was pale and expressionless. “You need an identity?” Jay asked, as he hung his raincoat on a hook to reveal a canvas pack slung across his chest. He opened his pack and withdrew a small black box with a rubber antenna. “Okay let’s get to work,” he said, drying his hands on his woolen sweater he began nervously pecking at the keyboard as though wired on speed. “Everyone is proficient in some specific skill. Specialists; each area of knowledge is a vital component unified through exchange on the network. It’s a simple matter of communism; from each according to his ability, sharing equally. Information is the wealth, exchange is the currency. Individual efforts open a matrix of paths towards a common goal shared by those who are aware. The elite. My specialty is that I am fully conversant in the art of creating aliases.” The writer watched Jay work. He recognized the procedure; he had done it himself many times, but now he was out of the loop. He realized he could never again keep current with the changing array of technologies, encodings, and gateways into secure systems, to even be able to operate without a trace of his activity being noticed. Jay entered the communication channels of a large corporation. Once inside, he decrypted an account password he could use. With this key he could access identity information files kept at the Central Registry.... A prompt blinked slowly on the screen... “Big Brother loves you!”


Within a short time they created a suitable identity profile. “What colour are your eyes?” Jay enquired... The routine cycle repeats during a typical 24-hour period... After working ‘the graveyard shift’; from midnight to 8:00 AM, the writer walks over the bridge from the Industrial Zone to the Residential Zone. He often stops to talk with some of the vendors, and picks up groceries and other items on the way. In his apartment, he usually eats a light meal then sleeps until noon ~ Which is often when Stanley hammers on the window to wake him up. During the daytime he remains inside, writing with the curtains drawn to keep out the light. He tends to his small garden on the roof during the afternoon, has another meal, then sleeps again from around 7:00 PM until 11:00 PM, when he would awaken to get ready for another shift of work. Day in, day out, the cycle continued. Lately he had been reading ‘The Disposable Mind’; a paperback novel by Kropton Ernst published in 1998. It was typical of the pulp science fiction genre of its time, but it did contain many interesting ideas. The writer was fascinated with descriptions in the novel of how people were able to clear their mind of irrelevant information, by learning to remember where information was located rather than remembering the actual data itself, and then downloading it into their wetware when it was required. Kropton alluded to the notion that information can be kept current that way, by updating sources with relevant information from multiple streams in realtime. He goes on to describe workers of the future reporting for work and checking their memories at the door. Then all pertinent data required for work was uploaded into their brains. Quickly, painlessly. These specialized expert systems contained the knowledge and intelli‐ gence to effectively carry out the tasks of their labour: monitor complex operations, analyze data, detect problems, make decisions, and take action. The workers would not be burdened with distracting personal memories, fantasies, and the like, and would literally be able to keep their mind on their work. At the end of the shift, their personal memories would be replaced, overwriting memories of work which enabled them to return home without having to think about their job, and just relax and enjoy themselves. In the story everyone seemed quite happy. The writer often explored the contents of the cardboard box he had salvaged from Kropton’s apartment. Inside were letters to Kropton from Jurgen, photographs, and a journal from Cameron Stark dated November 11, 1959. This day the writer perused other miscellaneous items from the strange collection... perhaps pages from an unwritten novel: ‘Humans have adapted to the environment. Humans have evolved based upon natural selection and genetic engineering. It has become fashionable to create idealized beings. The mutational blending of humans, animals, insects and machines has been incrementally increasing during the past 20 years. Early on it was very experimental, but today several corporations are choosing to develop new strains they believe will have a competitive advantage in the world of tomorrow.’


‘At first transmorphations were relatively rare. Then gradually it became increasing‐ ly more common to see humans bearing subtle hints of fur or wings or metal plating. With attention from the media, new advances in research had become fashionable. Distinguishing physical characteristics were attributes considered a sign of individuali‐ ty and power. When the first humans could fly utilizing newly acquired muscles, they became a respected elite in society. Corporations began to see the possibilities of creating legions of flying workers for security patrols, construction workers, window washers, etc... that possessed integrated computers within their skulls where a human brain once resided.’ ‘Non-mutant humans are also prized possessions of the corporations. Genetically preserved for selective cloning, the Pure Breed are handsome, strong, alert, cheerful, self-confident, and display a willingness to contribute to the common good of the corporation, and to their society. They are the ‘chosen ones’, talented and gifted, highly-trained and advanced. The insular world of the towers provides a safe environ‐ ment away from the chaos and corrupting influences of regular life. They are the gene pool from which selections can be drawn to diversify the species.’ ‘Citizens of the urban residential areas make up the next level of humanity. The general public, the consumers, and the service workers that provide support to life in the towers. They are the people that manufacture and purchase the goods designed by the corporations. They are the population that can be used for experimentation and product testing. They are the outcasts, the remainders, the huddled masses yearning for a better existence, and dreaming of a brighter future.’ ‘The urbanite continually seeks a method of escape whenever and whichever way they can, in order to reduce the stress and tension of their existence. The corporation profits from their desires by creating media channels which entertain the masses. The corporations maintain full control over the content. The industry is thriving. A massive diversity of high-density media stimulation is pumped out through a variety of pro‐ cessed media channels; computer networks, television, radio, audio and visual memory decks, creating a multi-layered environment of digital extranea ~ sampled sound bites, computer-generated imagery, text fragments, high-tech readymades and computer code, delivering intense packets of data. Information overload. Overdosing on the hit of the need for input. The shopping zone of popular culture ~ It’s all there if you want it!’ The writer could recognize that concepts in his writings were beginning to come true; perhaps in a way Kropton would never have dreamed possible.


IX.

Lights wink out in the Industrial Zone as the wheels of his massive vehicle roll onto the perimeter highway... collision detection activated... From distant parts of the region, it is faster to access the cement depot on a wide highway than by maneuvering through denser urban arteries. Although, there are security check-points located at intervals along the highway where branch roads lead out into rural areas. The sweep of spotlights scan the border region. A friendly wave. The dust is heavier where the highway skirts the desert. Drifts swirl across the road in the headlights, sometime everything seems to vanish and the writer is forced to navigate by scrub cactus marking the edge of the road. The paved surface is scarred with intermittent craters that make the truck shake and bounce. He slows the huge vehicle down and pulls over to the side of the road. Climbing from the cage he feels the heat of the engine. He jumps down to the road from the bottom of the ladder then walks around behind the truck and a short distance into the desert. He urinates onto the coarse sand. He has seen scorpions out here the size of car batteries. It is his third trip to the depot tonight. Soon the sun will be coming up. This is the roughest part of the night. A low-lying fog is starting to creep across the highway, wisps of mist that appear like spirits flying up off the road. A steep drop off the edge of the highway into the ditch awaits an unfortunate turn of the wheel. Some nights he wrestles demons in the steering linkage and ghosts in the brake-lines. He pulls into the depot and awaits his turn in line to load under the feeder arm at the top of the ramp. There are two trucks ahead of him. While he waits he climbs onto the expanse of the hood to wash the windshield. Then he climbs down a short ladder from the engine cover along a walkway across the front of the truck to extract debris that has accumulated in the grill of the radiator. A fuel truck pulls alongside to pump in a load of natural gas... 50 tons of liquid cement also took awhile to onload. Back out with a load on... One more run to the construction site of a new tenement in the northeast quadrant. A couple more pills to keep the revs up. This time of night... easier to lose control of a vehicle...Caution... At this time of night you can hear voices in the wind rushing through the air vents. The squeak of the seat, the rattle of the dashboard. The roaring hum of the engine can be so seductively soothing, relaxing. Demons and other spirits beckon from beside the roadway, faceless faces in a headlamp flash along the curve. Changing gears, clutching, braking, an exhaustion creeps over, eyes getting tired and heavy, hands relaxing their grip on the wheel, the foot weighing down on the accelerator, drifting left and right, gently swerving back and forth across the road, the lines on the pavement zooming by like lightning....the engine screaming with speed...


The writer has just returned home with a few groceries and a paper bag of real coffee. Water is heating on the stove. He sits at the kitchen table wearing only his underwear because of the heat. The kettle is whistling, so he gets up to make a cup. He was thinking about what he should write today as he walked down the street past the markets. He thought that it was about time to begin to write the story that some people had wanted him to tell, and others had warned him against ever releasing. He had tried to put it behind him. Yet, everywhere he looked he could see manifestations of it. So much time had past since he was on the case, and most people would have no idea that he had been so close to the eye of the hurricane. Why would he do it? Why dig up those skeletons from the past, unlock the demon box? Cordova Frost no longer existed. Jurgen Ernst no longer existed... Well, the ghosts were still alive, and he could see them influencing and shaping the lives of those around him. Maybe it was time to shed some light on those events he had experienced first-hand. Perhaps it was a sense of pride about the work he had done, when he was one of the elite, and not just a concrete-jockey like he was today. Maybe no-one would believe him. Maybe they wouldn’t understand. He is sweating now, not just because of the heat, but because he is finally ready to examine his past... and the future. The typewriter case is open on the table. He feeds in a sheet of newsprint by advancing the carriage return a few times. The bulky frayed ribbon is wound around the metal spool inside the old Royal. It is still working after all these years. A trustworthy machine, well oiled... His typing is painfully slow; with two index fingers. Slow enough to allow him to think about what he is writing ~ Now is the time to record his memoirs... The true account never officially released; yet the story has been passed along by legions of followers who don’t really know the facts, but continue to perpetuate the folklore and the legend in ignorance.


part two

I.

12 midnight GMT. Christmas Eve 2010. The Golden Sun Shopping Network. In Wonderland Virtual Mall, a 3-dimensional Santa Claus head slowly rotated on screen. The red and white animated cartoon-like character laughed maniacally. Coarse bitmapped text appeared on the screen; “Peace on earth, goodwill to mankind.” The image started to melt, gradually replaced by a blank white screen which locked up the display. Playback ends... The face of the Sun King occupies the top-left quadrant of Cordova Frost’s viewscreen; a distinguished Asian man with grey hair and a youthful appearance. He is in his office in the clouds high above Beijing. On his wrist he is wearing a gold communication device with several rows of buttons which he constantly fidgets with... Agent Frost is aware that the Golden Sun Corporation had rapidly become one of the largest corporations in the world. Its primary activity was the manufacture of solar energy products. In addition, the corporation had become a market leader in diverse interests from bio-engineering to the entertainment industries. The network brings customers every Golden Sun Corporation product they desire, shipped from industrial complexes located in major urban centers around the world. The company has recently stepped up efforts in the field of biotechnology by acquiring many smaller companies using funds generated by their profitable products. Some of the recently acquired Japanese companies have created fantastic break‐ throughs in genetic experiments involving enhanced humans and crossovers with insects and machines to create a new dynamic workforce. The Sun King seems uncomfortable. The sun is shining brightly through the windows; fluffy clouds dot pastoral blue skies. The office is large and uncluttered; the furnishings are elegant and sculpted with clean lines. On the wall behind the desk is the stylized logo of the corporation ~ The universally-recognized identity of a glowing golden sphere. “Our network space has been violated. What is going on?” the Sun King asked Cordova Frost.


Mr. Luk, who also appeared on Cordova’s screen, was the representative of Golden Sun Corporation who had been the first to contact the international network security force; Flex Global. Cordova Frost was the mission specialist assigned to the case. Cordova had run a comprehensive search for any file relating to the event on the evening of December 25, 2010 which disrupted the activities of some 20 million customers on the Golden Sun Shopping Network; as pixels slowly melted into whiteness and their computers crashed, freezing the screen. “A hacker has infiltrated the main server storing the database for the virtual shopping network. We are currently checking for manipulation within the files; there are many places to hide viruses in that construction code for an intruder to the system. Whomev‐ er it was, used a very sophisticated program that manifested itself in an obscure directory from small components that had each infiltrated the system over a longer span of time. It was executed based on a timebomb set to midnight on Christmas eve Greenwich Mean Time. The hacker seems to have left a calling card. We have discovered a small text file that was created at midnight. It simply states, ‘Merry Xmas!, Russ Vai’.” The writer, known as Cordova Frost in those days, was a veteran, reaching the rank of Captain in the service. After graduating at the top of his class in the military academy, he had been chosen to head up the implementation of sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment sent on covert missions into China during the early 2000’s. Cordova spoke little Chinese, but he was skilled in determining the type of networks that were being run, and was able to pinpoint with a high degree of accuracy where the mainframe servers and routers were located. This was valuable intelligence for mission operatives that were later sent in to physically or electronically infiltrate the network and gather classified data. Upon leaving the force with an honorary discharge Cordova was offered a substan‐ tial salary by a private company called Flex Global Security to head up a team as a mission specialist. During his first year on the team he worked in the area of system security, and managed to track and eliminate numerous threats to sensitive systems around the world. It seemed he was indestructible. He also worked with other pro‐ grammers to develop antivirus software called ‘Search and Destroy’, which hunts down instances of viruses in a system based on their signature, and terminates them. This software is only implemented as a last resort, because as with other antivirus programs, the cure can sometime be more fatal than the disease. The new mission was code-named ‘Operation Christmas Cracker’. Cordova expected the investigation to be standard procedure; examine telltale digital signa‐ tures of the trajectory of the infiltration, trace it back to the root, and exterminate it at its source. But the case turned out to be a little more than unexpected. For one thing, the cracker, aware of pursuers, decided to play a game of cat and mouse with the security force by weaving a complex trail through the network, and jumping from one location to the next. Russ Vai would vanish as the force locked in, only to reappear days or weeks later somewhere else in cyberspace. RV would leave clues as to possible


locations where he could resurface; the address of the next location was revealed by solving a puzzle with varying degree of difficulty depending if the force was getting closer or if it was losing the scent ~ Hotter or colder. And always the threat hung over the procedure that time was running out ~ The threat was that a MIV: Massive Infective Virus, was to be released if he was not caught by a certain deadline. The instances of infiltration usually occurred inside secure tech labs at various locations around the world. Many locations seemed to indicate some connection with Golden Sun Corporation’s acquisition of new technology, others were red herrings. Yet other locations were deadly traps. At each location, RV would leave a statement about some aspect of technology after he had arranged for shipment of some special‐ ized piece of equipment, or had gathered some information from the lab’s databanks. The hacker always seemed to be one step ahead... Now using the tag; ‘infinity’.” The hacker was obviously highly intelligent and technically proficient to infiltrate Golden Sun and Flex Global systems. Was the hacker working alone or with an elite organization of information warriors? Was he a terrorist? ’A technological threat to corporate greed’. Was Russ Vai the same person as ‘infinity’? Hackers usually keep the same handle to create a reputation... ‘infinity’; the beginning, endless, uncountable. Cordova dialed up HAL; his operating system ~ The 1984-style big-brother Flex Global eyeball logo appears on screen, then fades out ~ Who says digital security agents don’t have a sense of humour? The main interface display fades in: it is divided into several horizontal bands of colour. These sections have text and icons illustrating areas of the database inside the Flex Global Security Mainframe Server. This central processing unit was the heart of the Master Control Center; the Operational Center where Cordova worked. He moves his dataglove over the bands of colour on a large flatscreen display mounted within his pod workstation. Subsidiary windows open to view the contents of the database, or to navigate into other areas of the system. Windows that are inactive on the screen become transparent and fade in intensity creating a dense texture of depth and complexity of information. Interface icons twist or shrink and change shape depending on the application. A floating menu bar unfolds depending on the functionality required. Navigating the digital environment inside the mainframe, Cordova opened new windows with dataglove gestures; his hands hovering in front of the panel of viewscreens encircling his pod. The memory storage area inside the mainframe was in a process of evolution. Fragments of data were continuously being linked with other fragments of data. Information was either being updated, created or destroyed using a sophisticated artificial intelligence program, known as HAL (Heuristically Applied Logic). HAL compares current information with recent archived copies to determine that the most current and relevant data is available. Ancient data is archived on highdensity drives; stored like stratified fossils within a special climate-controlled under‐ ground vault.


HAL consisted of a multitude of software entities; ‘soft robots’ that conducted the actual retrieval and management of information from databases throughout the network. HAL was capable of carrying out computer operations, and also able to request human assistance when required. HAL’s agents used complex filters to trace activity that may be suspicious or subversive. Encryption monitors detected particular traffic using certain kinds of encryption that invited investigation. Should the monitors detect suspicious activity, they reported directly to human operators; the mission specialists who would take on the challenge of investigating further. Mission specialists refer to it as ‘The System’. Teams monitoring traffic are based in Master Control Center bunkers at undisclosed locations around the world. Deep underground, the concrete will shield them from any type of magnetic or electrical interference or weapons. Cordova sought out the storage location of the email file, and as he expected, the hacker had used some kind of Pheonix encryption containing a wipeout feature which deletes the original encrypted file and any hidden copies of undeleted data remaining in memory by writing over it with random fragments using a decrypting code, which with the key could shift the bits to reveal the executable code. Either way it wouldn’t leave any fingerprints. The hacker had been inside, therefore any number of hidden surprises could await in the dark corners of the memory fields. Cordova was certain that HAL would find them. Some viruses were difficult for the scanners used by HAL to detect. These virus scanners employ heuristic detection; an artificial intelligence algorithm that learns to identify characteristics of unknown fragments of code. The hacker’s viruses, if they existed, used Pheonix encryption which are polymorphic, having the ability to change shape to avoid detection. The code might use decoy commands by executing lines of code that look normal, or change the appearance of the decoding algorithm by using a cloaking device. These poly viruses are created by a mutation engine. Other more complex viruses use random legitimate commands, move around based on dummy conditions, have several levels of encryption and no constant commands. Super viruses are even more invisible, residing in protected memory space, unreachable and incurable by scanners. When HAL’s scanning engine does detect polymorphic viruses, it lures it into a virtual computer space, which acts as a clean room to run suspect files without endangering system files and memory storage areas. Emulation of the cpu fools the virus into decloaking. Once the specimen is captured, reverse engineering will reveal its construction and operational code. It will then be mounted and preserved in the trophy case. HAL had a rather nice collection of viruses; it could be called HAL’s hobby.


II.

The writer’s recollections of being Cordova Frost and working at Flex Global sometime appear to him in his dreams... The writer reviews documents in the box of material he has ‘inherited’ from Kropton Ernst. One folder is a hand-typed draft from one of his novels: ‘Cameron Stark lives in the suburbs. Houses are loosely grouped into ‘cells’. Each house is independent of its neighbors; autonomous and self-sufficient. It allows him a certain measure of privacy... From an aerial view, the grouping is similar to a computer circuit board or cells of a leaf. Cameron lives at the edge of the cell, out near the wasteland ~ From his window he can see into the infinite lightness of day, and into the blackest depths of night... it is kind of peaceful.’ ‘The doors to the quonset slide open. Cameron starts the engine and glides out. The car has an angular futuristic design, yet incorporating streamlined body details simulating a 1950’s family car that give it character. i.e.; large body shape, rounded headlights, door panels and windshield reminiscent of a vintage automobile. Solar panels mounted on the roof provide the energy drive.’ ‘While Cameron enjoys the freedom of the suburbs, he disdains the commute to work. It is ten kilometers to the city center... The shiny black car moves swiftly across the white background. Its luster gleaming in the light. White dust particles fly up from the vehicle as it hovers along; a dark shadow under the car. The dust is invisible. There is no landscape, and no horizon on this wasteland between the suburbs and the core of City Central; only the remnants of isolated fragments of the past and their shadows strewn across empty space. Here and there, receding into the distance are the crumbling concrete blocks from the previous civilization. Stripped abandoned automobiles; their rusted skeletons partially buried, sinking into the whiteness.’ ‘Cameron’s breathing sounds tense and nervous as he presses the accelerator. He sometime feels a sense of fear, alone in the wasteland.’ ‘He is pleased the car is running well. His hand goes to the viewscreen next to the steering wheel. He touches a button and the heads-up display projects navigation information onto the windshield. A map to the upper left of his vision plots his position relative to a network of lines radiating from the core of the city. The vehicle follows a continuum of pyramid-shaped markers that resemble ocean buoys in the whiteness. These virtual markers have a distinctive red and white checkerboard pattern on them, and are identified with a number in a circle hovering over each one. GPS navigation systems lock into the beacon transmitter frequency, permitting the vehicle to run hands-free on autopilot.’


‘Jumping through hoops... Bright phosphorescent green lines project a ‘highway’ over the barren landscape; the path of the vehicle targets on the crosshairs of a series of rectangular outlines created by the navigation beacons. The rectangles diminish in size towards a vanishing point that subtly moves across the screen in response to the steering motion. Abandoned cars and other hazards are marked with bright yellow signs... The city skyline is a grid of electric blue cubes floating in the distance like a mirage.’ ‘Suddenly the display warns of danger ahead! The location of a wreck has been identified by the collision detection system. The shell of a stripped car body, rolled onto its roof, approaches rapidly. It must be recent, Cameron considers, noting that mainte‐ nance vehicles have not removed it yet. His car automatically performs avoidance maneuvers around the hazard then back on the pathline again.’ ‘These carcasses provide an ominous reminder about mechanical failure, and the fate in store for abandoned vehicles. Rebel bands frequently roam the area at night. Human outcasts sheltered in the irradiated ruins of the old city; which had once extended to this distance from the core. A moment of panic grips him; a cold wave of weakness and dizziness, at the thought of being stranded out here. A cold sweat breaks out upon Cameron’s forehead. His shiny black shoe presses the accelerator further to the floor. His eyes reflected in the rearview mirror, watch the metallic body of the deserted car rapidly recede to vanish in the white dust from his tires.’ ‘Past the electronic display, the island of buildings that make up City Central emerge from the sea of white sand. The headframes of the elevator shafts that transport people to and from the underground city, shine new and white in the harsh morning sunshine. The headframes tower above the dusty crumbled remnants of the old city. It is a world of contrasting harsh highlights and deep shadows.’ ‘Cameron passes familiar landmarks he sees on the drive every morning. Over there, a collection of enormous concrete blocks have tumbled down a small rise and lie scattered in a random arrangement. Near the top of the hill, where the original building stood, all that remains to mark its location is one section of wall with a large square opening framing empty sky. Cameron sometime got the feeling that the vacant window was somehow watching him as he drove by, like the omnipresent eye in the pyramid symbol of the Authority.’ ‘Maybe he was being watched. It was likely that ‘outsiders’ were hiding in dark shadows to escape the harsh light of the sun. Tribal, nomadic bands of guerrillas that roamed the night surviving by scavenging the wasteland, and occasionally profiting from the misfortune of travelers.’ ‘The white dust... burying the past, the crumbling concrete, the fallen bones of outsiders dying from radiation poisoning. The white dust raining down from above. The white dust, merging land and sky. The empty white world...’


‘Out the windshield, the panorama skyline engulfs the vehicle as it approaches the core. A billboard displays the portrait of a young man in a tech uniform looking upward into the desolate sky. The slogan along the bottom in large type reads; ‘Young eyes look toward the future’. Above the streets, derelict towers have dark windows covered with plates of steel. Walls marked with graffiti. Low compact warehouses surrounded by chainlink fences, security cameras and guard posts. The harsh sun creates a cutting edge between the light and the darkness. The streets are virtually empty; an occasional automobile, an Authority patrol cruiser, a concrete transport vehicle. A pedestrian was extremely rare, and usually running quickly.’ ‘For the most part, the Old City consisted of abandoned ruins. Yet, some still preferred to live above ground. A few black monolithic buildings arose from the wreckage; secure fortress apartments. The mirrored windows reflected back the white sky. Entrances to these buildings were underground for security purposes. Security maintained by the Authority, who watches out for the well-being of its productive citizens, and maintained the integrity of their infrastructure. The logo was everywhere: the pyramid with the eye in a hovering capstone.’ ‘Underground was the New City. The automatic navigation system guides Cameron’s car to the base of one of the towers. The girder steelwork of the upper stories display the number ‘seven seven seven’. The sound of the city is barely audible inside the car; muffled, monotonous, gentle and rhythmic.’ ‘Cameron pulls up to a security gate leading into the underground parkade. Above the entrance is the logo for Atomic Technology. The guard behind the glass is shielded inside a brick booth. He is heavily armed. Security was extremely tight at level zero. Another guard, with feigned interest, was keeping an eye on rows of monitors covering the various sectors. Remote cameras were everywhere throughout the complex, even in the toilets.’ ‘“Hello Joe,” Cameron calls out cheerfully.’ ‘Joe acknowledges the greeting with a nod of his head through a video exchange.’ ‘Cameron inserts his pass-card into the slot, which is scanned to record the time in/ out. Close-up view of his credentials; Cameron Stark. Senior Researcher at Atomic Technology. Working on a top level security project code named: ‘The Window’.’ ‘The gate opens. Cameron drives in and parks. He walks down a hall. Cameras mounted high in the corridor swivel back and forth. Cameron enters the locker room where he could wash up and change into his tech uniform. There always seemed to be people in the locker room, day and night. Since there were no regular hours, people worked pretty much when they wanted, depending on how many credits they wished to earn. Cameron worked a lot of hours. He enjoyed his work.’


‘Cameron put his palm to the reader of his locker and the door opened. On the locker panel is the Authority emblem. The all-seeing eye is everywhere, and encour‐ ages correct behavior by acting as a reminder about the omnipresence of the ruling political force. The emblem, as you well know, is the official seal; the pyramid with the hovering eye in the capstone on a circular crest. ‘Ex Deus ex Machina’ is emblazoned in silver letters across the blue background. Inside the locker was the white coveralls with the AT logo on the shoulder, and his name ‘Stark’ over the left pocket. Cameron stows his civvies in the locker, then marches down the hall towards the elevators in his flight suit. He is wearing his face mask respirator to avoid contaminating the sterile underground environment.’ ‘A bank of elevator doors are located in the hallway. Each leads to sections of the underground. A passcard allows, or restricts access to only authorized areas. The hallway is empty, the sound of fans from the air-conditioning is a discrete rumble in the background. The ceiling contains formations of recessed lights casting columns of brightness into the darkened elevator loading zone. Cameron selects the elevator which will take him down to the laboratory on level 9. He slides his passcard through the reader and the doors open with a gentle rush of air.’ ‘He is alone in the elevator, which made him uncomfortable; he put his faith in Authority that the elevator would not get stuck forcing him into solitary isolation in the darkness. A gentle synthetic voice read out the day’s announcements. Cameron paid little attention, he was thinking about some lines of code that he thought should be revised. A display screen above the door updated information regarding the level of descent. The elevator suddenly shimmied to a stop two levels above the one his lab was located on. The door glided open. He could feel a trace of the cool damp air. A man in a white tech suit stepped briskly inside, immediately turning towards the control panel to place his palm against it. The door closed. Cameron was looking him over, when the other man slowly turned and met his gaze. Something about the expression on the man’s face held him captivated, for a moment he had the impression that he was looking into a mirror.’ ‘The man looked weary as though he had been working for a long period of time. His posture was hunched, his eyes looked dark above his respirator mask. Cameron noticed as the other man returned the gaze, that his steel grey eyes had a glimpse of recognition in them as if he were thinking similar thoughts. They held the contact for a few moments, speechless. Two tired electrons moving through the circuits of a giant machine. The machine that is everything, the machine that supports them, and which in turn they unite their energy to keep alive, maintaining a state of balance. Cameron had often noticed the weariness in humans, and the mechanical failure in the ma‐ chines. Perhaps this fellow human being would have some thoughts on the matter, but he didn’t know how to communicate with him. He broke contact by looking down at the digital numbers on his watch, pressing some of the miniature buttons with his finger.’ ‘The elevator changes frequency as they drop to level nine. The elevator comes to a stop, the doors open, Cameron exits past the man without another glance. The air here


is cooler, dryer, cleaner than up above ground. There is a low-level ambient hum from the drives and the cooling fans of the ventilation system. There is a poster on the wall with the latest propaganda from Authority. It is the same design as on the billboard he had seen on the street; a young man in the uniform of the academy, looking into the distance, with the same message; ‘Young eyes look toward the future’.’ ‘The entire level is scrupulously clean. People wear breathing masks to keep harmful microorganisms out of the environment. All refuse is disposed of in specially designed containers that are taken Authority knows where. There is more activity down here. Some people meet in the hallways, conversations are quiet and short. Two women down the hall turn to look at Cameron as he walks past. They appear to be talking about him in quiet conversation. It is unusual that someone notices him. He can’t hear their words, he can’t read any expression in their eyes.’ ‘Walls are faced with grey concrete. Support beams slope toward the curved ceiling every twenty feet. These corridors have been tunneled through solid rock. From the hub of elevators, the corridors radiate like the roots of a tree. Each corridor branches at right angles, and continues for a distance before splitting in two again. The deeper the levels, the smaller the network of corridors. Approaching level zero, just beneath the surface, the corridors extend much further, eventually connecting with the root system of another complex, which is also centered around an elevator shaft. These are the arteries of the New City.’ ‘Ventilation filter screens are located at intervals. The ventilation system is com‐ prised of a myriad of shafts that link the underground with the surface. Maintenance robots service the shafts to conduct repair work. It has been said that every so often outsiders try to infiltrate the system by crawling through the ventilation network.’ ‘A robot messenger travels down the corridor with a whir.’ ‘The floors throughout the complex are a black and white checkerboard of vinyl tiles. Fluorescent tubes in the ten-foot-high ceiling provide shadowless light. Solid metal doorways dot the corridor. Cameron passes a door that is open. Beside the dull green mainframe in the center of a large room, three men are in discussion. Heavy black cabling snakes across the expanse of tiles to smaller workstations along the pale green walls. A man and two women are intently operating the touch controls of their machines. All are connected to the radiating network of the machine ~ The massive mainframe and the human satellites that operate it.’


III.

War and peace. During his military career Cordova had trained as one of the elite. It was a time of war in the Middle East, and he had served as a technician on many missions into enemy territory. He operated equipment mounted in the belly of recon‐ naissance drones by remote control, from the security of a base located in his own country. He infiltrated the networks of distant lands through the monitor of his computer. He never left the confines of the confidential location that served as his base of operations for the duration of his assignment. He was trained to know the difference between right and wrong. He was trained to think of the people on the other side of the world as his enemy. It was a faceless enemy. They were a concept, they were data. Cordova studied their technology and infiltrated their systems. He was a guide, providing pathways through the jungle of data to locate temples of secured information. Information that was then accessible to those that needed to know. Cordova never looked at the actual files. They were classified documents that he was not allowed to see. He could access the contents of any file if he had wanted, yet it was better not to know. That was not his concern. He was a pathfinder, and he did his job exceptionally well. He had been through ‘hell camp’; subservience training where he learned to give and take orders without question. He learned to understand his place in the hierarchy. Orders were received from superiors, who received their orders from policy makers in government, who in turn received their orders theoretically from the voters, but more likely from giant corporations. He was required to be faultless, he was required to never make mistakes, he was required to prove himself constantly. After the terms of his military contract had been honorably discharged, a recruiter from Flex Global had tracked him down. The recruiter offered Cordova an attractive financial incentive, and an opportunity to utilize his professional skills in the battle against a new enemy to the global economy; information terrorists, competitors infiltrating databanks, industrial espionage, high-tech criminals, corrupt financial agencies... An evermore faceless, invisible enemy than he had challenged in the past; isolated pockets of digital threat that existed within a network which encompassed the world. Everything sustained by digital processors was vulnerable to attack; anything could be compromised. Initially, Cordova found it difficult to re-integrate into civilian life. Training that was functional for a soldier in war; mistrust and paranoia, were dysfunctional for a civilian. He was placed in a reentry program designed to help the veteran create a sense of trust in the corporate systems and government systems of his own society. His brain was gradually reprogrammed with a new set of values and ideals. Yet, the re-educa‐ tion program was not entirely effective in dealing with his post-traumatic stress. He


could find no escape from the combat zone. It was difficult to learn to become an individual again, and not just part of the machine. He struggled to find a way to continue to give his life meaning. Training for the Agency was a matter of honing his skills as a digital warrior; he had a fully operational working knowledge of the most powerful, advanced technology in existence. It was a matter of reconditioning his thought process to clearly define his new enemy. It was at this point in his life that Cordova had a change in his awareness of the system that he had been a component of. He realized that his new enemy was just like him. They were individuals that intimately understood the technology, and had a passion to explore the system to the furthest reaches of potential. This was a new game. Cordova began to think of his enemy in terms of other sentient beings that existed in the world that he could interact with at an ultimate level. These were the new challengers and competitors in seeking information, and hiding in the system. The object of the game was to seek and destroy. Cordova had the advantage. He had access to the best toys, and the game was played on his turf. Flex Global literally had eyes all over the world. They could access any existing surveillance cameras used internationally by corporations and private citizens. They had a contingent of operatives who could also be deployed to conduct investigations in the physical world. They had connections with information brokers and industrial spies, who would be willing to reveal information for a price. Money was no object to sponsors like Golden Sun Corporation. Of course, corporations would have full access to the information discovered during the course of an investigation. Everyone’s private life is an open secret. Flex Global also had an extensive database of information and software tools at its disposal through its own internal network of mainframes. They had files with full dossiers on known and suspected hackers and subversives. Software and digital agents helped decode the most advanced forms of encryption. Intelligence on the activities of underground and criminal organizations, psychological profiles of known terrorist personality types, and even DNA samples ~ Patterns. They could quickly obtain International warrants to tap the internet and read private files, or if that wasn’t fast enough, they would simply crack their way in to obtain timesensitive material. Flex Global agents had other tricks up their sleeve; such as tagging people discreetly with electronic devices, monitoring satellite transmissions, and in extreme circumstances they had access to a full range of digital, electrical, and highfrequency weapons and code which they could use to destroy the hardware and software of selected targets. Flex Global’s ultimate tool/weapon, used in only the most difficult cases, was to employ the services of secret agents known as ‘chameleons’.


IV.

The writer walks home through narrow streets as the morning traffic begins. He can smell sewage pumping into the ocean. Shop owners open their security bars, and sweep away the night’s accumulation of dust from the sidewalk. A few merchants are gathered together, resting their arms on brooms and talking in hushed tones about the latest wave of rioting and looting. They are fearful of losing their merchandise, and their livelihood. A patrolman stands on the street corner in full riot gear. He has an automatic weapon slung over his shoulder. He is casual, watchful. He is wearing a grey camou‐ flage uniform to blend in with the concrete walls. The protective shield of his helmet is raised. A projector that presents a heads-up display is attached to his visor. A wire and small microphone for communication are mounted inside the open helmet. His uniform bears the insignia of a pyramid with an eye in the hovering capstone; the ‘Eye of Authority’. As the writer walks past, he nods his head in greeting to the patrolman. There is no sign of acknowledgment. The writer knows the patrolman has been trained to avoid human contact which will weaken the objectivity of the enforcer. The writer remembers when he was once like him. A dragonfly passes overhead. Somewhere a baby is crying. Down the street a torn poster hangs in tatters on a chain-link fence. The large face on the poster is totally ripped away making the face almost unrecognizable. A large block of text at the bottom of the poster is still intact; visible in the remaining fragments blowing in the morning breeze. One word: ‘[LOAD]’. The writer reaches his tenement and climbs the stairs. A bloody syringe is on the landing. There are two keys on his metal keychain; one for the building and the other opens the door to his room. Inside, the apartment is empty, just the way he left it. The typewriter is in its case on the table. He sets his lunchbox beside it, then goes into the bathroom. He washes off the road dust under the glare of an incandescent light bulb hanging from a cord above the sink. Recycled seawater running through the building’s water supply is tepid and brown; the filters need to be replaced again... Standing naked he looks at his shattered reflection in the cracked mirror. The person looks familiar like an old friend; like someone he once knew very well, but hasn’t seen in a long time. He studies the face carefully. What has changed? There are wrinkles and dark patches under the eyes. The face looks weathered and in need of a shave. The hair is starting to show more patches of grey than he remembered since the last time they had seen each other. The two turn away from each other and go back to their separate lives. He tosses the washcloth into a bucket in the corner. It had been a long night. He falls asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow...


Stanley is as regular as clockwork, banging on the window just past noon. “Hey, wake up, have you got any coffee?” “Yeah, sure, come in and make it.” The writer gets out of bed. He heard Stanley enter the door from the roof and start rattling around with pots and pans. The writer gets dressed then goes into the kitchen. Stanley is studying one of the pages the writer has typed; he had left it on the table next to the typewriter. Stanley has often seen the writer hunched over his typewriter lately; pecking at the keys with two fingers, noting that he seemed to be writing more often these days ~ For the longest time Stanley had been considerate enough not to ask him what he was doing. He knew better than to disturb him when he was writing; the look of concentra‐ tion on the writer’s face showed that he was intent on his purpose. Stanley set down two cups of black coffee on the kitchen table. The writer, rubbing his face with his hand, tried to erase the lingering effects of the morning sleep ~ Sometime he just felt like sleeping all day... He hadn’t done that in a long time. “I had a dream about a device that is like a flat plate of metal that comes out of a briefcase, and interacts with another flat plate of metal by exchanging complex patterns of charged energy,’ the writer tries to explain... Stanley has no idea what the writer is talking about, so he takes a sip of coffee and begins reading summaries of some of the articles in the paper in his familiar entertain‐ ing style; “Okay, here’s one from Prague, Czech Republic. Hmmm...let’s see....oh, this is good, seems that a chemist was working in the laboratory of a pharmaceutical company synthesizing new compounds when he noticed that the model on screen started to behave strangely. This guy, Vladimir, I can’t pronounce his last name, apparently claims that the formation of molecules began to transform into an image of the face of Jesus. He called out to his coworkers to check it out, and they arrived just in time to see the last lingering trace of the residual digital particles of what appeared to be the long-haired, bearded-face of a young man which just vanished off the display like dust in the wind. Weird, huh?” ‘The ghost in the machine,’ the writer thought, ‘Could it be, after all this time?... I’ve got to write this out before the demons eat me alive’. Stanley reads a number of other articles, yet the writer, drinking coffee, appears distracted. He is absently toying with the latch on the typewriter case. Finally curiosity gets the better of him. “Do you mind if I ask you what you are writing about?” Stanley enquires. “I am trying to remember some of the things that happened in my life. I am not writing so much as thinking things over, trying to put the pieces together.” “You’ll let me read it someday?”


“Yeah, sure!” the writer says with a smile. That was the only time Stanley would ever ask him about his writing. It’s time for Stanley to get back to work. He exits across the roof to pick up his tools from his apartment. As usual, his wife is always busy; today washing clothes in a big tub in the kitchen, then hanging them up to dry on lines stretched across the rooftop. His young children sleep during the heat of the day. Stanley walks down the street to the New U Electrolysis Treatment Clinic. He enters the back of the shop to work in the bathroom; repairing a leak. He continues to consider his recent conversation with the writer while he replaces rusty old pipes. A mother’s voice in the street is calling; “Erica!”

V.

Cordova Frost received a second e-message from the hacker early in the new year. It read: “To quote T.S. Elliot: ‘We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploration will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.’ (signed) Infinity.” Cordova continued his investigation by gathering further intelligence. He searched through files and came up with contacts. His first call was to an operative whose pseudonym was ‘Manray’. He was a regular at The Eagle Grill... Manray sits at the lunch counter lost in his little world of avatars. He is of average height and build. His main distinguishing feature is his titanium white hair arranged in a sequence of spikes, about one inch long, that form arches above each ear. Separat‐ ing the arches is a four inch strip shaved to the scalp from the front to the back of his head. Two little patches of black mustache accent the corners of his mouth. He wears a long-sleeved white t-shirt with fractal patterns kind of randomly printed on it... No one pays much attention to him. Once in awhile Manray sneezes, then wipes his nose with the back of his hand. He is hunched over a small electronic device. The round body of the Padd™ is propped up by an adjustable stand to tilt it to the desired position. The tiny vertical vuevision™ screen is inset into the flat plastic surface of the disk. A slightly raised section left of the screen contains a wireless transmitter/receiver, allowing the user voice contact through a miniature headphone/ microphone combination known as an earcoMM™.


Along the right edge of the screen are a number of tiny sliding switches and LED displays with odd-looking icons. A cover folds over to make it compact to transport. Manray enjoys conducting his conversations through the use of avatars, which appear on screen as simple cartoon-like polygon characters. Their designs are customized to suit the user’s preferences and provide a sense of anonymity when traveling through the network. The more realistic characters never caught-on. Users seem to be nostalgic for the Japanese-style of cute. The three-dimensional geometric primitives have animated features such as eyes and a mouth which give them personality, and the ability to speak. Features are changed sometimes in mid conversation to reflect the user’s mood, opinion, or reaction. The avatar is operated by hand gestures with a data glove above the screen, signaling it to move in the direction that a finger is pointing, for example, or to stop when the palm of the hand is held out flat. When the hand is drawn into a fist the avatar is able to talk. The mouth of the avatar responds to signals sent from the microphone, moving in synchronization with the flow of words. Avatars can interact with each other in a variety of ways, i.e.; shaking hands, rearranging the other avatar’s features, or exchanging symbolic objects from a menu, and so on... The background setting can be selected as well. Very entertaining. The person on the other end had the same experience in viewing the scene. Most avatars developed over a period of time through the process of evolution. The user gradually created a character that matched the image they intended to project. Their avatar identity became recognized as the user’s signature or trademark. To duplicate a well-known avatar design was an open invitation to incur the wrath of established users. Some avatars gained immortality. The avatar for Manray was a motorized manta ray; a black diamond shape with a cartoon devilfish face, floppy black rubber ears, deadly pointed tail, and dual chrome exhaust. Pretty elaborate animation. It roared and sent out little puffs of cartoon exhaust as its attribute. At the end of a conversation ~ as a disconnect ~ it would burn rubber leaving behind a trail of flames that would fade out on the screen. Manray could tweak its characteristics from a menu of customization; setting the type of skid marks, wheel smoke, and sparkly flames spoke to the character of the user. He could also spin a trackball mounted into the unit to give it a distinctive exit maneuver. The cartoon avatar that appears on screen next to the manta ray is a snowman; with a corncob pipe, a carrot nose, and two eyes made out of coal. The character is named ‘Frosty’; the handle of Cordova Frost... Similar to a medium divining spirits, Manray leans intently toward the screen that spews out information he has gathered under‐ ground: Word is beginning to spread about a massive information virus that has been launched across the network, and dispersed throughout the world. The avatar rolls its eyes and waves its long whip-like pointy tail as it speaks... Many believe that the prophecies are about to come true and that the appointed time is approaching.


Cordova was familiar with persistent rumors that permeated the underground network. Although most governments had adopted restrictive regulations which permitted only a single, government-controlled gateway for network access and required users and network providers to be registered with the authorities, Cordova was aware the likelihood of a computer programmer creating a virus that could infiltrate systems on such a large-scale was within the realm of possibility. Cordova’s job was to implement digital security systems to counter it. Manray heard the simulated voice of ‘Frosty’ in his earcoMM™; “What have you discovered about ‘infinity’?” the snowman asked, the pipe wiggling in its mouth, “Well as you might expect, every code warrior from here to Timbuktu has either claimed they were the one who pulled it off, or that they personally know who did. Obviously whoever did it is elite. My guess is that they are not part of any known affiliation. Those slackers usually tag their work for the sake of notoriety. I recommend you contact Captain J. Roger. He deals in code warez from his base on a freighter in Taipei harbour. Here is how to contact him -------------.” “Thanks, I’ll check it out.” Frosty rapidly melts into a puddle on the screen. Manray scans his surroundings; a conditioned reflex. No one is paying attention, everyone seems absorbed in their own activities. A couple of people nearby at the lunch counter are drinking coffee and staring intently into their own devices. The furtive expression on their faces creates the impression they are receiving subversive information. A few other people are in discussion in booths along the wall. Manray uses a wireless directional microphone the size of a pen to eavesdrop on the conver‐ sations taking place in the Eagle Grill. A strange insect crawls across the counter in front of him; dropping off the edge on the opposite side. Over at a booth in the corner, a man with long grey hair tied back into a pony-tail is sitting across from a young oriental woman. He draws coffee from the dispenser beside him, then leans forward earnestly. “I don’t really think it was a hacker. The attack was specifically targeted to the shopping network of the Golden Sun Corpora‐ tion. A more probable cause is industrial sabotage by a rival corporation like the CCC.” He has a data glove on his right hand which he uses now to stir some sugar into his coffee. The woman is wearing a yellow plastic jacket with a bar-code as the crest. She has short black hair and black sunglasses. Her lips are blue. She is holding a piece of sushi with a pair of chopsticks. She says, “I think it’s just some whacked genius kid that is trying for a high score on his adventure game. He better watch out that his little program doesn’t run amuck.” Her mouth opens, the sushi goes in, closes, her lips are blue. “It could really mess up the system for a long time.” The guy with the ponytail coughs, taking a sip of coffee before continuing, “Authority is tightening control over distribution and access to information. The more they close it


off, the more determined the underground network will be to break that grasp. Deny access to knowledge and people will exercise their power.” “True, corporations just think of information as another commodity,” the woman devours another piece of sushi. Manray scans the room. The man by the viddphone is smoking a Gudang Garam cigarette. On the wall next to him is a graffiti tag with the word ‘ro@ch’ (with the anarchy symbol where the ‘a’ should be). The advertising on the wall consists of strange collages creating an uncertain message. From the inside, the name of the restaurant is in reverse on the large front window. The paint is peeling making it even more difficult to decipher the name. Manray’s meal finally arrives: Laser Chicken; a Chinese dish containing chicken, peanuts, and bok choy in a spicy pepper-oil sauce. While Manray eats he notices a guy with glasses in a booth by the window reading a newspaper. After being noticed, he puts down the newspaper and drops an earcoMM™ into his pocket. He exits the cafe, gets on his scooter and drives away. There is a low rumble of coffee as it percolates through the pipes overhead. Manray looks at the newspaper; full page article on the cover...

VI.

The writer is fascinated with documents contained in the cardboard box he has liberated from Kropton Ernst’s apartment. Kropton had written: ‘Cameron Stark walks down the hallway, the checkerboard pattern of black and white tiles swirl beneath his feet. He pauses in front of a door designated on a brass tag: AT Research Dept. He keys-in the passcode, turns the doorknob and enters the small room. The lighting is much more subdued than in the corridors. The room is mostly filled with a massive mainframe along one wall. The twinkling lights sparkle as cheerfully as a christmas tree on the panels of the dull-grey war-surplus metallic cabinet... The hum of fans.’ ‘Along the opposite wall are two workstations, side-by-side, with monitors built-into consoles in front of upholstered seats. The seats are reminiscent of the cockpit of a sophisticated aircraft; built for comfort, fully-adjustable, making their long hours spent in research quite comfortable. The computer equipment is 1950’s state-of-the-art. After the door seals, Cameron removes his mask.’


‘A narrow ray of light shines on Adda, who is was already sitting at the console. She looks up from her work and smiles, “I ran a system check, everything looks like a go.” Cameron sits in the left-hand pilot chair. “You’re amazing!” He leans over to kiss her lips.’ Another tattered journal records hand-written observations by Cameron and Adda Stark during research they conducted in their virtual-reality experiments: ‘The tree of life, and the tree of knowledge. The forbidden fruit. The choice between living a blissful existence in peace and harmony with the natural world, or discovering the information with which the system operated to enable us to select, manipulate and recreate the components in a manner more suited to our existence. The exploration of the unknown; the challenge of discovery is mankind’s history. The acquisition of knowledge to better our quality of life, to provide management of our resources for an ever-expanding world population, and ultimately use it as a means of achieving the immortality once denied us ~ The original sin of self-awareness.’ ‘The more information we possess to increase the status and power of humanity, the more the duality of creation and destruction is revealed. Advances in understand‐ ing are accompanied by violence. The knowledge of genetics and nanotechnology, viruses and electronics can be harnessed in new and imaginative types of weapons. Powerful weapons that can become the ultimate annihilator; destroying both the victim and the attacker.’ The writer remembered that Kropton had been inspired by the Stark’s journal to write a science fiction novel entitled ‘Invisible Waves’. It was a popular best-seller, later made into a feature-length movie. In the novel, Kropton had expanded upon another of Stark’s experiments in which they had built a prototype for an anti-gravity device that could hover as a disc. Using this concept as a touchstone, Kropton had proposed that UFO’s were not spaceships containing extraterrestrial visitors from distant galaxies, but were actually the transportation mechanism of time travelers from the future of our own planet. He explains in the story that the hovering craft tour the planet using a form of future technology yet to be discovered, which he calls riding ‘invisible waves’. In our present dimension, Kropton surmised, these flying objects seem to mysteriously appear or disappear as they make the jump through time. The aliens are our own future civilization. Their bodies, characteristics and lan‐ guage have evolved into something that is no longer recognizable to us. People of our time prefer to think of them as coming from another planet because it gives humanity hope of having other life-forms to identify with and relate to in the vast infinite empty loneliness of the universe. It was an entertaining book. Shadows circle overhead turning dust into gold as the sun sets over the ocean. Twilight. The writer is tired, the complexity of his own thoughts exhaust him. It is time to rest before he begins his night of work...


Vast quantities of heavily-encrypted industrial and military traffic can be transmitted over the microwave spectrum. Hacking is simply a matter of recognizing the protocols and transmission methods that are in use, then decoding the signals. Agent Frost enjoyed the challenge. Developing an understanding of a system required the ability to analyze and synthesize relevant data. Combined with determination, alertness, opportunism, and luck, it was quite an adrenaline rush to pin-point the weaknesses in a system and penetrate its defenses. Nothing is secure! Cordova enjoyed working at night in his pod at Flex Global Security. It had become his sanctuary from his regular life in the tower. His investigations provided him with the opportunity to become an international citizen, with the privileges of individuality and creativity that is denied in the economic reality of institutionalized capitalism. He often found like-minded enthusiasts on his global excursions; fellow travelers who consid‐ ered each other to be equal citizens of the cyber-republic that had a code of ethics, but no laws and no boundaries ~ A potential utopia. He traveled along digital pathways that he shifted around him like a maze, linking, disconnecting, erasing his trail as he went. It was pseudo-movement which created a deliberate confusion of meaning, intention, and identity. Sometimes, if it was a complicated creep, interminable hours would pass before he was back in the ‘real world’ again. The Voices. The ever-present voices; at work, in his apartment, over the publicaddress system, in the elevators, and in the underground. There was no area in the tower to escape the voices. Intermittently throughout the day or night the voices would enter his consciousness. Calm, assured voices, layered over the soundscape, transmitting pre-recorded messages into the environment; information, reminders, or commands. They alternated between a seductive female voice and an enthusiastic male voice. The voices could personally provide information to a particular individual, reminding them of an appointment, or warn them if they were breaking a rule, or in danger. Other public messages pertained to informing the occupants of technical service disruptions, or merchandise that was available at a discount price in the market levels. They were like the voices of gods. The citizens of the tower are the New Breed. Many are first-generation clones that have spent their entire lives within the building. They are alert, cheerful, technological‐ ly-proficient, self-confident, informed, ecological, detached, and accepting of complexi‐ ty and structure. The men and women are powerful, smart, tough, sleek, attractive creatures, that are willing to dedicate their entire energy to maintaining the equilibrium of the enclosed environment. These are the successful offspring; the perfected results of the early experimental cloning techniques. They have come from the diversity of everyday life, yet their genetic encoding has been enhanced by compositing their DNA structure with samples obtained from historical figures of the past, and from superb intellectual and physical specimens obtained from around the world. Added to the recipe of the mix and match combinations were blended selective genes from various species of mammals in order to obtain the desired results that were suited to particular tasks


within the tower. The genes of jaguars, for example, were blended for comps (as they are called in the lab), that are groomed to take managerial positions. Sheep genes are used to enforce a measure of docility in certain employees. Manipulation of DNA had also eliminated nearly all of the hereditary diseases. The general health of citizens is very good. Diets are enhanced with vitamin and nutritional supplements. They are also regularly inoculated with anti-biotics to prevent bacterial infection. Biologists in laboratories around the planet continuously battled bacteria strains that were mutating and reproducing as quickly as they were able to develop protection against them. Some of the new strains were particularly hardy; able to survive in hostile environments. The results of genetic experiments that had not developed favorably in laboratories; were that the failures would either be destroyed, or exiled into various hazardous labour-intensive tasks for which they could be spared. There were reports in several instances about creatures who had escaped at a young age, and their present whereabouts was unknown. These experimental beings were considered by society to be freakish monsters, that were often more animal than man. They were also consid� ered to be extremely dangerous, as they had been given superior strength and intellect encoded into their genetic structure. Sightings in the wild urban wasteland had reported that they were cunning survivalists that had a strong predatory nature, both out of revenge, and a need to satisfy their carnivorous urges. Stories in the nursery warned young children about the dangers of being expelled from the tower for not following the laws of the enterprise. Picture books showed gruesome creatures covered with scales, some with two sets of arms, others had several heads, or hoofs, or tails. The terror was also felt by adults who were intensely aware of the consequences; the message was reinforced by reports on the nightly news. Most of the failed experiments were borderline in freakishness. They were the large hairy or reptilian workers who were responsible for ensuring the supply of water, electrical systems, waste disposal, sewage, outside maintenance and other danger� ous or undesirable tasks from the point of view of the office workers. It was common to see window washers climbing precariously around suspended platforms grasping their cleaning devices with an ape-like grip. Their chimp faces reflected back to them from the mirrored glass, and were clearly seen from inside through sparkling windows. Inside, tower-citizens went about their structured activities. Their time had to be accounted for; work shifts were twelve hours, sleep was eight hours, one hour per day spent in compulsory exercise, which left three hours for leisure and entertainment. All effort was dedicated to maintaining the operation of the machine. The citizens be� longed to the micro-state and the supra-nation. Family and church were replaced by corporate culture. This was the social environment that bonded employees into one big happy family. All citizens wear versions of the same uniform; a white jumpsuit that covered their bodies from ankle to neck, with their designated assignment crests and


identity badges as the only distinguishing features. Various miniature communication and security devices were sewn in. All uniforms have the identical corporate logo printed above the left breast pocket. Citizen’s skins are pale since they were not exposed to direct sunlight ~ Although daylight was piped in through fibre-optic cables to illuminate the environment during daytime hours. Nearly everyone had dark patches around their eyes. The pace was hectic and relentless. Sleep periods were a welcome respite from the grueling routine. Generally, shifts for workers cycled through three time-periods within a 24-hour day, which alternated at the end of a month. They were purposefully arranged to be out of sync with their spouses, since it was determined that citizens work more effectively when they are not distracted by interpersonal relationships. Holidays were one day per month with their spouse, and another period of one week per year. During that week, citizens were allowed to travel to selective locations around the world at the company’s expense. Often after the first or second vacation, many citizens did not feel compelled to leave, since their all-inclusive vacations were quite similar to the ‘home’ environment they were accustomed to. And travel could also be exhausting and disorienting. Most citizens opted for a virtual vacation within the comfort of their own apartment. The simulated locations were very realistic and offered more intriguing environments than were available in reality. Also, a special tank had been developed for the citizens to use, that was dark and allowed the participant to wear wireless eyephones and a body suit... floating tranquilly in a warm saline solution kept them buoyant... suspended, weightless in the zero-gravity of the fluid... sound-effects and music played through headphones: foggy diffuse light shimmering in silvery skies... sculptured trees on green grass in the park by an ocean shore... white birds flying between branches then suddenly rising into the sky with a flutter of wings... the ocean rolling in, gently breaking against the shore with splashes of white foamy spray, rhythmic, relaxing, continuous... the salty tang of fresh ocean air ~ A four-hour experience in the tank left participants refreshed and exhilarated. The experiences were very professionally produced by a digital simulation company called Dream Logic Corporation. Cordova lived in a unit with his wife Valery. They had no children. Valery was a psychologist who worked to rehabilitate employees who had begun to experience signs of inefficiency, deviation, or other nonproductive characteristics. There was no shortage of clients. Valery had access to the latest devices and techniques to realign and reprogram thought patterns. Therapy included various prescription medicines which provided a soothing stimulus to reinforce a citizen’s confidence, and renew their understanding of their function within the corporate hierarchy. Ultimately, some patients were found to be untreatable. Perhaps because of a genetic defect that became apparent later in life, or because they had developed some neurosis or schizophrenia that required long-term care; which was not feasible under the tight timeline constraints within a dynamic environment ~ Everyone must be productive at all times; if not, they become ballast which must be jettisoned. From what


Valery had told him, these patients would unknowingly be sedated and removed from the tower by a special ‘enforcement team’. They disappeared. Valery was not aware of their fate. Records of their existence were erased from the datafiles. Alternatively, reports would be prepared that they had ‘found employment’ in a distant land, or if they had a criminal record, often the offender was sent to a workstation in Antarctica to harvest ice for drinking water. Suicide was not uncommon, as well, rare cases of homicide. Depending on the circumstances of an investigation, many of these people also disappeared... Cordova remembered one morning just after he had returned to the unit following night shift. He was sitting at the table in the dining room when a body fell past the window. He could remember the moment clearly ~ An image frozen like a silent paused video frame: outside the window a man in a white uniform falling from the skyscraper. Accidents sometime occurred to repair crews working on solar collectors or repairing the cluster of satellite dishes used to pick up digital network signals [DNeT]; mounted at the very top of the structure. They might lose their grip as they clambered around outside. The fool-hardy ones preferred not to wear a safety harness; as it slowed down their labour. One slip was usually fatal; unless they were fortunate to land on a portion of the structure not too much further below. Because of her stressful job, Valery’s crutch was shopping. She customarily spent most of the three hours of her leisure immersed within the excitement of the market‐ place. Touring the mall. She enjoyed the stimulus, the multiple layering of high-density digital extranea, sampled sound bites and imagery scoped from a variety of processed media; television, magazines, computer art and codes, then layered-on in an intense package of data. Information overload. Virtually Endless Choice™. Overdosing on a hit of the need for input. A consumer’s paradise; a consensual hallucination. Media carefully crafted and censored to minimize the impact of the cultural invasion of outside influences. Although Valery tried on clothing samples, played with various gadgets, and scanned digital players, she rarely purchased any item. She maintained that the apartment she shared with Cordova would remain without clutter, perpetually in an austere state, as was customary for social etiquette. The voices provided messages, instructions, and advice... The voices informed her when it was time for her to return to her unit for a period of sleep... On the way out of Supermarketland™ she bought some Stress™ gum which checked her body pH levels ~ If it turned green within three minutes she would take some of the tablets in the accompanying silver metallic tube.


VII.

Flex Global agents, because of the nature of their work, did not follow the regular cycle routine. Cordova Frost was burning the midnight oil at the control center, because he had become completely intrigued by his current project. He did not think about Valery. When she was out of sight, she was out of mind. He was certain she felt the same way. They had been paired together by the dating service, and perhaps both realized early on that they were not a compatible match. They had little in common. They did not often discuss their work, primarily, in his case, because his classified projects were highly-confidential. They had been growing distant from each other, and Cordova did not seem to care. The luster had gone out of their sex life, it was obvious to both they were only in it to satisfy their basic instincts. He might as well be living in a cave... Back in front of his monitors inside his pod at Flex Global headquarters, Cordova ran checks on known members of the digital underground from files in the database. There were thousands of possible matches at this point, but he knew that it was still early in the game, and that there were many ways to filter down the list of possibilities to a manageable number of likely candidates. He knew how to pace himself ~ The hunter stalks his game by following the trail and waiting until the quarry finds itself in a situation where there are limited avenues of escape. The hunter can then move in for the kill when the target is within striking distance. Standard procedure. Cordova contacted Captain J. Roger. He had previously decoded the set of symbols Manray had sent him in order to obtain the pirate’s IndraNet™ address. The graphic file was like a patchwork quilt made up of flags from the international code of symbols that are common to all mariners. In addition to representing alphanumeric characters in the English language, the individual flags when hoisted above a ship also convey messages such as; diver down or dangerous cargo, by displaying bold patterns in primary colours distinguishable from quite a distance over open water. In the pattern, the signal flags were arranged in a particular matrix representing letters of the alphabet which in turn spelled out a code word. Visual encryption. Captain ‘Jolly’ Roger, a self-styled pirate, is an expatriate Japanese that has made Taiwan a base for his operations. His enterprises are orchestrated from the cabin of a ‘ghost ship’ near the port of Tainan City. The small rusty freighter is permanently anchored in the cove. From the mast, a jolly roger flag flies; a skull with crossed arms, the bony fingers holding an hourglass in one hand and a sword in the other, on a black field. The Captain manages one of finest underground digital databases in the world; a collection specializing in data files of corporate information, industrial espionage, and the tools of information warfare. These ‘warez’ are distributed from servers around the


world that act as exchange and drop points for a wide variety of ‘hacker’ software. Access to this code library is granted only to those who are considered to be ‘worthy’; ones who have proven abilities as data thieves or code warriors. Of these, only the trusted few are able to contact ‘Jolly’ personally. The network gateways to the ‘pirate ship’ employ the metaphor of a treasure map. ‘Treasure chests’ can be accessed from domains such as; Skull Island, Danger Island, and Phantom Island. The more skillful the navigator, the better the quality of their bounty, and greater access granted to the database to recover the more valuable treasures. Infamous hackers like The Blue Baron and Captain Bloodstorm were frequent contributors; adding to the booty of specialized code available on this pirate board. Cordova connects via video at the appointed time that Manray has arranged for the virtual rendezvous. Captain Roger has no fear of talking to a security agent because he is one of the untouchables. He has a lot of important contacts throughout both the underground, and the corporate world. He has also been of proven value to digital security agencies. It is in the best interest to everyone on both sides of the law that his activities carry on unimpeded. Cap’n JR appears on Cordova’s screen. It is daytime. In the background, rain pounding down hard during a southwest monsoon streaks the portholes like tears. Inside the bridge of the vessel, his command center is surrounded by a bank of flatscreen monitors. Cordova notes ‘Jolly’s’ dark goatee and narrow black-rimmed glasses. The young man’s eyes look intense as though piqued at being interrupted from more important business matters. He is wearing a khaki jacket and a black bandanna with a textured pattern of white skulls to hold back his long raven-black hair. “Let’s get down to business,” he says abruptly. “I need to know if you had any transactions for heavy encryption code in the past few months. The person we are seeking is a high-level user that we believe has cracked the security of the Golden Sun Corporation.” Cordova knew the Captain kept a log of all transactions; it was another valuable item in his treasure chest of plunder from the digital domain. “I say fuck the sun,” the Captain replied. The rain came down harder. Cordova continued, “The Agency detected phantom technology like a Phoenix-type of encryption. The code is so current that scanners can’t pick up a signature on it yet.” That captured his attention! Cordova had been reading his expression since they first made contact. He noted the Captain’s face had subtly transformed to display some interest in the new topic of conversation... Cordova had done some research: he learned Taiwan continued to remain an independent republic, but being situated some 110 miles from Mainland China it was difficult to avoid the pull of gravity from the larger land mass. The Captain had acquaintances in government on the island who facilitat‐ ed his ventures in exchange for a ‘slice of the pie’. In addition to warez, the Captain had a subsidiary enterprise trafficking in heroin. Taiwan is an important international


transit point, in addition to being a major drug money laundering center. “I have a few accounts on the pirate board that are Super_Elite,” the Captain noted with pride. “I heard about the crack on Sun, and I imagine the code used in that instance was strictly proprietary. Although, I did have someone hack my system several months ago, and if anyone, that could possibly be the same person you are looking for. The person initially came on like a novice, logging in as Mr.X, then just browsing through some g-files. I didn’t notice him at that point, but I received an alert of illegal access at a high level, and traced it back to this user because he was still logged in. While I was observing his activity, I was surprised how fast he was moving and how easily he hovered over the system. The tracer display was updating with new locations on the screen constantly. I was just kind of sitting there in awe. It was fascinating. Whoever it was stayed on for some time, although I’m sure they knew they were being tracked. It was like watching a tiger tread carefully among sleeping gazelles, looking for a meal, but cautious not to cause panic that would stampede the herd. Then he just disappeared; powered out.” “Did he download anything?” asked Cordova. “Not at that time, but I later got reports of activity inside some of the high-level files. Access is restricted to my most-valued customers, and I had people posting to ask who the apparition was wandering through the domain. I guess they expected me to know. My relationship with my clients is built on trust, anonymity and safety. I strive to maintain my integrity. It is not my primary source of income, but it is my source of pride and reputation. I guess you could say it’s my passion.” Cordova was aware that the pirate had developed a broad base of contacts that use the network in their pursuit of the latest information files. Hunters and collectors of data were usually loners who participated in a shared deviance; which is the infiltration of systems and the retrieval of valuable files. The reasons for gathering digital material may range from pure exploration to the acquisition of a valuable commodity. For the vast majority, the motivation was not driven by material gain. The enthusiasts loved the thrill of discovery, and the notoriety of being able to collect a prize specimen. Collectors viewed each other as peers in the industry. The pirate ship was their clubhouse; to which they must earn their membership. The pirate facilitated access to the repository, and the participants contributed further valuable information to the growing database. In exchange the Captain received valid credit card codez that were useful to him in his other ventures. This pirate gang was unique in that they prized high-level files rather than commer‐ cial entertainment products and games ~ A black market of information culled from vast empires of data that was encrypted, restricted, proprietary, confidential, top secret, and sensitive. The collected wealth of a society that had built sand castles out of a universe of tiny electrical charges then attempted to stem a real-world tide with royal commands, as did King Canute.


The organization was held together by mutual participation and mutual trust. Honor among thieves. The code. Live by the code, and die by the code. As with their prede‐ cessors in the days of wooden ships on the high seas, the digital pirates operated as a similar type of democracy; a community following the rules of liberty, equality, and brotherhood. The free exchange of information and software for the intellectual benefit of computer enthusiasts everywhere. In days of olde, walking the plank, keel-hauling, or having burning fuses placed in the ears were punishment for infractions of the code. These days it was virtual death; nasty little code fragments that would destroy the hard drive and corrupt all files within reach of the operating system. “So what did you find out about the ghost?” asked Cordova. “Well, not much actually... Mr.X browsed weird files; crazy shit posted from Denmark and Bulgaria. I don’t even know what the files do. Whoever it was just copied code fragments, recipe ingredients to build custom warez. Funny thing is that later anony‐ mous files started appearing, collections of really cool heavy proprietary stuff. A text file accompanying the software read “The elves are working all year round/ Here is a special present for a little pirate that is being naughty and nice. (signed) Mr. Xringle” “I am sure this guy could easily gain access to the Golden Sun Corporation. Man, I would like to get to know him. If you find him, tell him to contact me at my personal address. (Laughs). Surfs up dude.........out!” The screen goes black.

VIII.

The weather had been hot and dry for several weeks. Acrid yellow skies, dense with dust blowing off the desert. Driving had been hell; his clothing was soaked with sweat by the end of the shift. This morning, as he walked home across the bridge, the writer watches a huge anvil-shaped cloud forming where a cold front coming from the ocean met with warmer air over land. The ominous dark cloud grew quickly in size as it gathered moisture. The writer enters his small apartment just as the fury of lightning is unleashed upon the city, ripping up the sky. He tries the light switch; but the power is out. Twisted veins and arteries of raw energy; the thoughts flashing through large brain-like clouds rising miles into the sky. The lightning is unrelenting, streaming down around him as he sits in the darkened room. Hot electric blue, etching traces onto the clouds and onto the retina of his eye, delineating the connection between earth and sky like an umbilical cord. A line etched into the clouds hangs suspended for a few moments before fading


away. The electricity burns up oxygen molecules, ionizing them very quickly, sending out a shock wave of sound. The roar of thunder rumbles and phase-shifts as it crashes around, echoing off surrounding buildings. At times the blinding flash and loud crash occurred simultaneously; lighting up the darkness, to leave a fragrant trace of ozone drifting through open windows. Lightning strikes are occurring every few seconds. The writer could not remember the last time he had seen a storm of such ferocity. In the distance, sirens scream... Rain came in intermittent waves, quickly building in intensity, then gradually diminishing until it stopped for periods of time. It was unusual for there to be so little rain accompanying the severity of the storm. Birds flew randomly in small flocks between trees; hurriedly moving after every strike. One sole bird, which could not seem to find the others, flew chaotically about the sky. From his window the writer watch lightning strike the towers. The city is strangely quiet as systems shut down and people hide in the safety of their apartments. Few venture into the streets. Lightning is unpredictable, and people are conscious of the randomness of chance. The storm slowly traverses the city. After one hour it has moved into the distance. Yet, fingers of lightning continue to reach across the sky. The rumble of the thunder now fainter, is an occasional rumbling growl. As the storm subsides, the atmosphere remains charged with its force. The awe‐ some power of nature humbles human perception. The energy seems to change electrical brain activity, as though it has somehow disrupted regular thought patterns and put people in contact with a deeper primal flow in the world. The writer often considers how weather seems to be becoming more unpredictable and chaotic with every passing year. Unseasonably cold weather, floods, tornados, massive wild fires; it seemed that as the surface of the planet became more developed, and as nature disappeared, the weather patterns had become more irregular and extreme. Global regions are facing greater environmental catastrophes. Chaos is not only occurring within weather systems, it is also becoming evident in technology. The greater the complexity of a system, the more unpredictable it will become ~ No matter how closely we study a complex system, all that is revealed is ever-increasing complexity. “We can all look forward to the future with uncertainty,” the writer types, his page illuminated by a candle. Lights gradually return to the neibourhood. Children run outside to splash in puddles. Flying dragons buzz again patrolling the sky. Traffic on the streets begins to flow. The writer blew out the candle. A stream of smoke floats lazily across the room and out the open window. The writer continues to explore documents in the cardboard box from Kropton Ernst. A journal dated 1959 is one he finds intriguing. At the back of the journal are pages filled with crude sketches and rough plans for a strange machine. The writer became


aware that these were conceptual sketches for a project the Starks had been working on at the time of their fatal accident. As he decodes the tight cursive writing in the margins, technical descriptions are revealed for a device which they had named ‘The Ultrasonic Invisible Weapon’. As the writer studies the drawings closely, and further reads the notes, he recognizes these plans are for an early prototype of an emp/t bomb; an electromagnetic pulse transformer bomb ~ An interesting feature of the Starks’ model is that it was based on a hovering disk platform, which through remotecontrol could be maneuvered into enemy territory to attack a specified target; where it would be detonated to release a powerful burst of electromagnetic energy, frying any electrical or electronic device within the radius of its invisible blast with a powerful induced voltage spike. In the sketches, the anti-gravity platform was approximately four feet in diameter; built out of fiberglass that would be invisible to radar ~ Field agents of Flex Global Security had occasionally used a modern version of this device to erase databanks of computers after a team had physically infiltrated a server facility on tactical missions. The Starks, recently married at the time and working as a husband and wife team, apparently negotiated a contract to develop their new technology for the military. It is likely that Ada Stark was pregnant at the time of the marriage. Other than one brief mention of a training and debriefing session with the National Security Agency in Washington, there was no other record in the box of documents to account for the period of approximately one year between the time they had worked on the virtual reality project at Leveland, and their relocation to Area 51, also known as Groom Lake; a secret military facility about 90 miles north of Las Vegas, Nevada. From his military service involvement with Information Warfare, Cordova Frost had worked with agents of the National Security Agency, as well, he had some knowledge of Area 51. The NSA is the official communications security body of the US govern‐ ment established in the early 1950s by President Truman. The activities of the ‘spooks’ employed by the agency are highly classified. They are the largest purchaser of computer hardware in the world, and also the largest employer of mathematicians. Area 51, due to its remoteness, was the site selected in the mid-1950s for testing the U-2 spy plane. Groom Lake had been the military's traditional testing ground for ‘black budget’ aircraft before they were publicly acknowledged. The Starks had been at the base in the period preceding use of the site as a testing facility for Lockheed in the early 1960’s. According to Stark’s journal, they were employed by an engineering firm, with support from the US Air Force, conducting radar studies. The remote location was necessary to reduce the effect of electronic interference from outside sources. The Starks had access to state-of-the-art computers utilizing the newly-designed integrated circuit in 1959. The computers were compact and much more powerful than anything they had worked on in their career. Being able to build numerical simulation models during the design phase of the process, they mention, was a method of substantially reducing the theoretical development time.


The ElectroMagnetic Pulse effect was originally an unexpected phenomena observed during early testing of high altitude airburst nuclear weapons. The explosion released a powerful electromagnetic shockwave that moved quickly through the air, transferring the energy produced by the explosion into high voltages wherever it came into contact with conductive material. The effect on electrical equipment was similar to a close proximity lightning strike. A bolt from the blue. The military quickly realized the significance of the side effect, and set out to discovering ways of harnessing its invisible force. The Flux Compression Generator was first demonstrated by Clarence Fowler at Los Alamos National Laboratories in the late fifties. The compact device used a fast explosive, like machined blocks of PBX-9501, which were detonated inside a copper tube to create a compressed magnetic field. The resulting ramping current pulse released peak energies of tens of MegaJoules just before the final disintegration of the device. The lab boys had created a working payload, what they needed was a delivery mechanism, a guidance system, and a remote location to test everything out. This is where the Starks picked up the project at Area 51. It is difficult to gauge the measure of Stark’s success in the development of the Ultrasonic Invisible Weapon (UIW), also referred to in their journal as ‘The Ultimate Weapon’; designed to destroy electronic equipment while remaining essentially nonlethal to human life. They were pioneers in the field of electromagnetic weaponry, and certainly it seemed possible they had succeeded in producing a working prototype of their hovering device. The Starks lived in a small residence on the base and worked in a converted aircraft maintenance shed. Under banks of fluorescent lights, their team of four technicians worked late every night to build the streamline disk. It was death black, non-reflective, with no distinguishing markings. Adda Stark was responsible for building the computer sim/stim instrumentation of the remote control interface. She created a grid somewhat like a chess board in which the UIW could be controlled by an electronic glove. In operation, an airforce jet would launch the device. After release, a remote operator would use the glove to guide the weapon over the landscape to the target (based on aerial photographs from military reconnaissance). The ultimate weapon would hover over a specified location, where it was detonated. Their highly-theoretical research was beyond any technology of the time. In consternation to the higher military ‘Brass’, their project resulted in creating the obverse of traditional objectives in warfare; which was to destroy human life and leave material property unharmed ~ ‘The height of skill in battle is to win without fighting at all,’ had always been Adda’s philosophy. While Adda preferred isolation to develop a new computer language to control the device, Cameron was charismatic and gregarious in trying to develop camaraderie with other military units: The Electronic Warfare Integrated Systems Test Laboratory (EWISTL) were attempting to determine how aircraft and other electronic systems respond to various radio frequency and electro-optical stimuli to ensure their systems could be protected from attack. Inside a shielded hangar were the Advanced Tactical


Electronic Warfare Environment Simulator (ATEWES), the Multiple Electronic Warfare Emitter Simulator (MEWES), the Frequency Agile Simulator System (FASS), the Versatile Electronic Countermeasures Test Optimization Rack (VECTOR), and the Remote Antenna Positioner System (RAPS). These computers were used to test electronic warfare warning receivers and jamming devices; a threat generator was capable of simulating denial and deception performance. At the time, computers used in military equipment, financial systems, government offices, communications, industrial production facilities, and electronic flight controls were potentially vulnerable to electromagnetic energy. Miniature circuits were sensitive, and from a distance of a few hundred meters, several kiloVolts produced within the ‘lethal footprint’ would cause gate breakdown which effectively destroyed all equipment in the vicinity. TEMPEST (Transient ElectroMagnetic Pulse Emanation Standard) rated shielding provided only limited protection, since any power cables running in and out of ‘hardened’ equipment behaved like antennae, guiding high voltage transient spikes or standing waves into the electronics. Telecommunications, cellphone networks, satellite, microwave, UHF, VHF, and automobile engines are particularly vulnerable to EMP, crushing an opponent's information processing, transmission, and transportation nodes ~ Detecting electrical emissions, the hovering disk would approach its programmed firing altitude, deploy linear antennas like the tentacles of an octopus by firing off spools which unwound several hundred meters of cable. A radar altimeter or barometric fuse would be used to airburst the bomb; radiating the optimal power of a flux generator to produce the desired electromagnetic field strength ~ The magnitude of coercivity of modern magnetic materials... Van Eck radiation... The stealthy Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) could detect and expend itself against any strategic target. Collateral damage to the essential infrastructure would require considerable maintenance, since they cannot function without the flow of information through their systems. As a result, an opponent may be rendered militarily, politically and economically ineffective with little, if any, loss in human life ~ A corona discharge as it self-destructed; the emission field could also disrupt the flow of propaganda from reaching the population via mass media, Adda had noted. The propulsion system of the flying saucers the Starks had designed were created by amplifying gravitational waves. Fuel for the antimatter reactor was a transmuted super-heavy metal higher up on the periodic chart; in development at a research facility in Germany. Each of the three gravity amplifiers produced its own gravitational wave, and movement depended on how the amplifiers were oriented and focused on mounted gimbals, displacing the center of gravity. (Bohm): ‘Electrons unfold from their medium, appearing or disappearing to our sight. Reality is a surface, behind which unknown or unrecognized forces operate, (the implicate world). Everything is intimate‐ ly linked.’ The final entry in the book is in quotations: “Flaming sword issued from his mouth symbolizing the word of power, by which the illusion of material permanence is slain.” Following that, the last 4 pages of the book are blank.


IX.

Cordova exited the elevator to walk on carpeting past the Palace Theater, then around the curved passageway into the Excalibur Dining Room and Lounge. The lounge was a large circular room perched atop one of the branches that extended from the main tower. It was quiet mid-afternoon, which was the main reason he liked to come here. Administration personnel also frequented the establishment, and several at the moment were grouped around tables here and there, meeting over liquid refreshments. Cordova sat on a comfortable upholstered couch. In the evenings this place was lively; featuring jazz bands and sometimes famous touring musicians. The stage was empty now; drums, keyboards, and microphone stands were silent. Ceiling fixtures radiated light onto the stage like constellations. Floor to ceiling windows stretched around the circumference of the room, presenting a panorama of the city, the ocean, and surrounding residential and industrial areas... A pretty woman came up to him and asked him what he would like. He ordered a drink and a combination plate of fresh stir fry and sun-dried vegetables on a bed of steamed rice. In the tower there was a wide variety of food items available in the diet. Shipments from greenhouses arrived fresh daily. Essentially manufactured, this produce was of uniform quality and consistent in size. He became absorbed into the softness of the couch. Everything around him was scrupulously clean; the table tops and brass rails were shining with polished brilliance. The carpets and chairs were in perfect condition. Life in the tower was like being on a pleasure cruise compared to being stationed on a military base. Other branches featured spas with whirlpools, casinos, sun decks, cafes, nightclubs, beauty parlors, a sauna with massage tables, and a gymnasium ~ Cordova often frequented the gym and sauna after his shift to unwind and come down from long periods of staring at computer monitors. His drink was delivered by the pretty girl. Enhanced protein drinks improved thought processes like memory-recall and concentration. Alcohol was available, but it was rarely consumed by citizens of his status. It was used as a tranquilizer in small quantities at social events or following a dinner. Alcohol abuse is one of the ‘sins’; if not treatable is cause for expulsion from the tower. ... Two years ago, when he had met Valery, they used to go out for extravagant dinners, or a gala midnight buffet: fresh seafood, tender meat, tropical fruit and baked bread. They would follow the meal with vintage cognac and imported coffee. There was no need for credits or any form of monetary value within the system ~ All needs were provided for. Those were romantic evenings; strolling on the deck as the sun set through clouds far below. Meeting members of the executive elite and being invited to


their cocktail parties: “We’ve heard some fine things about you my boy!” ~ It did not distract him. He never was part of the system. He thought of himself as kind of a helpful parasite, that kept harmful parasites from infecting the system. The pretty girl returned with his meal. He immediately ordered another drink... These days he felt more alone than ever. Valery might as well have been a million miles away. They hardly ever saw each other, and when they did there was little contact or conversation. They slowly continued to drift apart. Cordova finished his drink as the server brought another, with an ever-present polite smile on her face, “Can I get you anything else?” she eagerly asked. He noticed that she had synthetically-enhanced breasts, and for an instant he instinctually desired them. “No thanks, I’m fine.” She disappeared. He observed the tropical fish in a large cubic tank, illuminated from the bottom. The brightly coloured fish swam slowly creating a kaleidoscope reflecting off the mirrored inner surfaces of the glass. It seemed like a tranquil scene until he realized they were trapped in an artificial environment, and they would be there for the remainder of their lives. Cordova wondered if the fish were aware of these facts. Cordova stirred the ice in his drink, then shifted his attention to the device on the tabletop. With the push of a button a viewscreen unfolded from its hidden compartment. For residents, the only signal that can be received is the ‘official’ channel, which primarily transmits information pertaining to activities and events within the tower... the Voices... Periodically there are news broadcasts that may be of interest to the citizens. While he eats, Cordova watched an update on the continuing political struggle in Antarctica. The reporter announced; “With the recent discoveries of rich deposits of precious metals in Antarctica, the Environmental Protection Act of 1996, which was intended to prohibit mining on that continent for a period of 50 years, has once again been called into question by participating nations. In the years since the Treaty came into effect, human pressures on the Antarctic environment have grown rapidly, Japan and China are claiming that the USA has already breached the act with the establishment of ICE plants, and by the presence of geological crews actively exploring for minerals with high-intensity magnetic scanners.” With a touch, Cordova accessed a sidebar which contained additional text to support the video transmission. He discovered names of the 26 nations which participated in the original Antarctic treaty, listed on screen in alphabetical order: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, People's Republic of China, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, UK, USA, and Uruguay. Antarctica was an interesting topic to Cordova. Recently, during a casual encounter in this very lounge, he happened to meet a scientist who had traveled to Antarctica several times. Since the establishment of prison colonies, and the enforcement of


restrictions, only certain privileged travelers had clearance to leave. It was a danger‐ ous place and criminal offenders sent there were not likely to return. Cordova subse‐ quently discovered that the scientist, shortly after they had met, had been declared missing and presumed dead when the helicopter he was traveling in disappeared in the Transantarctic Mountains. Traversing the vast terrain is treacherous even on clear days; with few landmarks and virtually no navigational aids. The helicopter had ventured into whiteout conditions caused by 200 kilometer-per-hour katabatic winds which whipped up an intense blizzard as it blasted across desolate fields of ice. Cordova recalled that the scientist had developed a high-intensity laser capable of carving tunnels through the hardest rock. For example, the network of waste disposal tunnels beneath this city, that penetrated deep into the earth, were created using his technology; to keep pathogens of human sewage from entering drinking water and bottom sediments, which contaminate the food chain and spread disease ~ In Antarcti‐ ca, his mission was to employ the same laser technology to burn through an ice cap 8,000 feet thick. In the bedrock far below, geologists discovered indications of the most extensive deposits of gold, platinum, silver, palladium, cobalt, uranium, chromium, iridium and vanadium on the planet. Drilling through ice and into bedrock was very difficult, not only because of the thickness of the ice but also because the entire ice-pack is sliding incrementally toward the sea; due to the force of gravity. As this gigantic continental glacier reached the coast, huge chunks break off forming icebergs that can measure 60 to 100 kilometers wide. Cordova discovered that ice was currently Antarctica’s most valuable resource ~ A vast uncontaminated supply, containing two-thirds of earth's fresh water; approximately 7 million cubic miles ~ An area twice the size of Australia. Since few laborers could be hired to work under the adverse conditions near the South Pole, where temperatures could drop below negative 100 degrees in the perpetual darkness of the Antarctic winter, USA and Russia jointly initiated a program to commit convicted murderers, drug-traffickers, and thought-criminals to serve out lifesentences harvesting the valuable resource. They operated heavy equipment, rail cars, and drilled and blasted ice in quarries. One dozen refineries along the coast melted ice using nuclear-powered furnaces that discharged drinking water into the hold of tanker vessels. Shipping occurred during summer, when the coast was clear. The population of these prison camps was dramatically approaching 500,000, as countries around the world found an outlet to relieve their overcrowded prisons. Cordova also discovered that massive zones of reduced ozone were appearing over Antarctica allowing cancer-causing solar radiation to penetrate to earth. The ultraviolet rays were also deadly to phytoplankton; a microscopic sea plant so tiny that one million could fit inside a tablespoon. Fueled by the energy of sunlight like green plants on land, they engage in photosynthesis, removing carbon dioxide from the air and providing oxygen. They are eaten by tiny marine animals called zooplankton which in turn are eaten by penguins, seabirds, seals, and fish, that constitute the primary diet of the prisoners.


The prisoners wear heavy black insulated coveralls, which make them easier to spot in the whiteness of the terrain. The thick padding of their protective clothing makes them walk with a waddling gate similar to the penguins which had once inhabited the rocky coastline, but have now been driven off by development and construction. The prisoners of the camps are exclusively male, the scientist had explained, while the guards and the wardens are women. The scientist speculated that sexual tension in the camp had somehow been used to motivate the workers, yet the penalty for any type of sexual activity between the two groups was punishable by death, and almost exclusively the penalty was given to the male participant. Death by exposure was carried out by removing the victim some distance from the base in a vehicle driven on tracks and skis and leaving him completely naked to attempt to make his way back on foot. It was extremely rare for anyone to return, and those that did suffered unbearable frostbite. The scientist had spoken about the balance between the harsh reality of survival and the exquisite beauty and solitude of the desolate environment. The ecstasy and the terror of an unworldly land. The scientist expressed that he had never experienced such a feeling of peace and tranquillity as when the light briefly faded after midnight and all was quiet for a few twilight hours... As he pecked away at the typewriter, the writer thought about his life as Cordova Frost. How knowledgeable, how curious for information he had been. He had been blessed with an exceptional memory, and was able to recall vast amounts of data and information on a wide variety of subjects. He could clearly recall the full content of conversations even years later. These were valuable skills that distinguished him within his trade as a security agent. In his line of work it was critical to be able to process information clearly and efficiently. It was also crucial to develop an au� tonomous data base that was untouchable. He had developed the ability to carry the most important information with him, inside his mind, where it was protected and safe. It was at present, the most secure storage device available. Digital storage was vulnerable to both unauthorized access and the permanent deletion of erasure. The human mind was less susceptible to both, and much more readily accessible than any computer on the network. The development of his mental abilities had meant continual rigorous exercise as well as disciplined concentration. He would calm his mind through meditation to more purposefully become conscious of the input from his sensory sources, primarily the powers of observation. In training he had learned how easily the eye is deceived by illusions, and the limitations of the sensory organs themselves. He had learned how to watch and understand what appeared to his vision. He had learned to analyze the audio cues that presented themselves to his hearing. Most importantly he had developed what is called a sixth sense; a sense of reaction to forces and activities that are outside the range of human perception.


Yet, this awareness was a double-edged sword, in a manner of speaking. It was a perception that allowed him to look past the surface of the physical world while it also unwillingly made him search within himself. The danger was it required him to attain a deeper understanding that other’s motives or intentions were not always true nor honorable; for example, the principals he was contracted to uphold and respect under his obligation as an agent ~ He was allowed behind the curtains, granted full access behind the scenes, and was sworn to keep confidential everything that was revealed to him. This was not just an agreement, this was a pledge that was punishable by termination, or in extreme cases by a horrible guilt that could devour the strongest conscience. As a result of a life based exclusively on perceptions, Cordova realized it was most important to have faith in himself. There was a saying from basic training that was a key operational principle: ‘If in doubt, get out’ ~ If your instincts warn you that some‐ thing is wrong and you are unable to identify the problem, move to a protected situation to evaluate the next potential course of action. Ultimately, you are always alone, and you are the only one you can truly rely upon and trust in critical situations. One moment of hesitation can be fatal. To be captured or detained for questioning as a military operative, was to be disavowed by the organization. He was expendable. Cordova was constantly aware of his tentative situation, and aware of his fate once he ceased to be an essential functioning member of the organization. He carried with him valuable and potentially damaging classified information that was not available even to the highest-ranking executives. Termination of an operative’s contract customarily included brainwashing and deprogramming, or ‘accidental’ expiration in the worst-case scenario. He was trained that either situation should be accepted with dignity and honour, and that it was expected to be the patriotic duty of serving the corporation or country. Erasure meant a future with little memory of the past. He had met some retired agents who seemed to have adapted to their new roles within the executive. They had been given honourary positions which were not critical to the operation of the business. Essentially, they were sent out to pasture, and a life of leisure and social activities with other administrative members. It seemed a pleasant lifestyle, but Cordova recognized there was something missing; a sense of purpose to their being, and only hazy recollections of the memories of their life. They seemed to be active, and fully-functional mentally, but the spark of life did not shine in their eyes. It was a future that Cordova had begun to fear intensely, as he realized he was drawing toward the end of his purposefulness; he had a sense that his career was drawing to a close and that his current mission would be his most important achievement. He appreciated that it would be a challenge of his abilities. The writer could clearly remember Cordova’s state of mind that afternoon as he sat in the lounge calling up information about Antarctica. The pursuit of knowledge had been the only escape from the mediocrity that had become his life. The new challenge as an operative at Flex Global gave him his only sense of purpose, and the only


method of erasing the sense of hopelessness and despair that often came creeping in. Cordova was aware these concepts could be considered thought-crimes; had he expressed them verbally to another citizen ~ especially his spouse. The duty of a citizen is to remain active in contributing to the well-being of the system; to maintain the status quo. Citizens never openly express fear or desire. The sense of individuality had to be overcome, rather than acknowledged or respected. Only the individual contribution to the greater good was to be admired. “To give is good, to want is bad,” was a lesson taught in the nursery. Cordova had not been raised within the tower walls. Having entered as an adult, he found many of the concepts and customs difficult to ‘integrate’. He suspected that other citizens of his generation had similar feelings. It was not possible to talk about these topics for fear of being reported to the Authorities for thought-crimes. He was also certain that several of the other citizens were aware the term derived from a book by George Orwell entitled ‘1984’, which Cordova had read from Kropton’s collection ~ The novel described a world of dark terror and paranoia; of fear based on external controls. In contrast, his environment was clean and comfortable and provided for every need. The fear in the tower came from an internal source. It was the a fear of having it all taken away; to be cast out, sent to ground, to be reprogrammed or deported to Antarctica. It was a fear the administration found more effective as a means of control, rather than incurring the overhead required to maintain a police force or monitoring surveillance cameras. Cordova could sense thought-crimes in subtle gestures and mannerisms of the citizens. On the surface everyone seemed to be pleasantly satisfied with their station in life, yet he could sense the tension, the fear, and the doubt behind their calm expres‐ sions. He recognized these characteristics in others, because he recognized them in himself. He noticed tired eyes, nervous mannerisms, the avoidance of eye contact by walking zombies who had just completed their twelve hour shift. He noticed moments of desire within the shops, or the sense of competition and jealousy in discussions with other citizens during social interludes. He noticed the attention given to beautiful women, or physically-strong males. These were the human instincts of citizens that had not fully accepted the genetic determination of the future of their species, and wanted to reproduce the old-fashioned way; by selecting a suitable mate and procreat‐ ing with full sexual reproductive intensity. The executives of the administration were much more confident, outgoing, and relaxed in their mannerisms. They were equally divided between males and females of the species, as they were often paired with their mates in positions of authority. Executives projected a sense of power and determination. They were in control of the destiny of the corporation, and as a result were empowered with a measure of control over their own destiny. To a certain extent it was posturing; their public face was a mask that became increasingly difficult to remove, and eventually became their permanent expression. For along with personal freedom, came responsibility and the


pressure of making decisions for the collective good. Within the environment of the tower, they were gods with the power to create or destroy. Some were benevolent, others ruthless in wielding their power. The citizens of the tower rarely, if ever, saw the faces of their masters. That was a privilege that came with status in the hierarchy of the system. Citizens were instructed to have total and unquestioning faith in supporting the decisions initiated by the administration. That faith was the only faith the citizens required. For citizens at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’, there was only faith and fear, and perhaps a vague hope by some that they would be able to join the ranks of the chosen few someday if they worked hard and were determined in their purposefulness. A citizen’s position within the hierarchy was like their specific gravity, rewarded by moving higher, punished by being pushed down. This was the citizen’s concept of heaven and hell. Cordova, in many ways, was outside of the structure. He had the independence of being an autonomous agent. Originally, when he arrived, he was confident and selfassured by his awareness that the administration needed him, more than he needed them. But during the past years he had started to become more dependent on the nurturing society that provided for every need from the cradle to the grave. He often wondered whether he had lost his survival instincts. He wondered if he could survive outside this environment ~ He wondered whether he could survive in Antarctica. He felt that he could; the possibility even sounded attractive to him. He would love to journey across the ice and inhale the silence of a midnight dawn. That would make him feel alive. In the tower he was beginning to die; the banality of a homogenized lifestyle was sucking the spirit out of him. He suddenly felt alone, he looked around the lounge. “This is artificial,” he thought, “This is not real”. He noticed executives at a nearby table staring at him. Were they picking up his thought crimes with their invisible antenna? Had he been talking out loud, he wondered. He felt a drop of perspiration trickle from his armpit, along his chest. Casually he finished his drink. The executives went back to their huddled discussion. Cordova got up and exited the lounge. Walking down the hallway Cordova made a conscious effort to feel comfortable in his environment; the white carpeting, the smooth white walls, the water machine. He tried to accept his surroundings to renew his sense of identity. He placed the palm of his hand on the panel next to the elevator. The doors slid open silently. Soon he would be back at work; soon he would be back among the familiar faces of his colleagues inside the Master Control Center. The elevator plunged rapidly from the top of the tower to Flex Global Security headquarters deep underground. He briefly experienced the sensation of claustrophobia as he stood inside the security airlock. Admission through the outer door was by retinal scan ~ Sometimes he recalled a story from basic training about enemy operatives who had removed the


eyes of special agents in order to gain access to high-security areas. They had transported them in little buckets of ice, and upon reaching the access lock, put them against the scanner like produce in a market ~ After the outer door locks and he is sealed inside a four-foot square chamber, he is allotted 55 seconds to enter a special 7- digit security clearance code before the gas pours in to incapacitate him and set off an alarm. He momentarily forgets his code which is automatically changed every week. Shit! Then he remembers: ‘tinGear’. Cordova enters the code and to his relief the inner door slides open... Flex Global headquarters is buzzing with activity. This is the Ops room. Security agents and mission specialists, wearing light grey coveralls, sit inside their ‘pods’. These are comfortable capsules suspended above the floor of the control room. Cordova’s fully-adjustable recliner chair swivels with the touch of a button on the armrest. His chair is surrounded by 300 degrees of segmented viewscreens and an array of computer input/output devices. The displays can send a number of simultane‐ ous live feeds from video surveillance cameras, data streams from intercepted network communication, as well as text information files and records from the Flex Global database. Some agents prefer to wear virtual headsets; partially because of the welcome isolation it provides to concentrate on the task at hand when things get hectic within the sometime chaotic environment. There are about one dozen agents located at this particular facility, in rotation on active duty twenty-four hours per day. Cordova had gotten to know his colleagues quite well in the workplace, but they seldom participated in any social activities together. The agent’s personalities had many of the characteristics that were typical of computer hackers, in that they were happiest when they were dealing with technologi‐ cal equipment, but were awkward and uncomfortable around other human beings. Common characteristics shared by agents were the possession of a high intelligence quotient, a passion for challenging situations, and a dedication to purpose, which as a Flex Global agent meant maintaining the protection and integrity of the Authority and the corporation’s information and proprietary data, which by extension ensured the well-being of the general population. They were the ‘good guys’. The ‘Wizard’ was the senior operative. He was in his early 40’s, but because he was balding he liked to wear a weird cloth cap which also inspired his ‘handle’. The cap was like a soft black bag which fit snugly around his forehead, and was always molded into a different configuration on the top of his head. Cordova called him ‘Whiz’; which really seemed to annoy him. He spoke with a distinct British accent, that Cordova sometime had difficulty understanding. Ravina had dark skin, a pronounced hooked nose, and long, shiny, jet-black hair. She was tall and incredibly muscular. Cordova had frequently noticed her in the gym. She had a ragged scar down her thigh that was visible when she dressed in her exercise outfit. In the office she seemed to transform into a mild-mannered person; maybe it was because of the glasses she wore with large dark frames ~ The glasses seemed to be a disguise, as she could easily afford corrective eye surgery.


Kellpin was a somewhat nerdy but handsome young man with extremely white skin; that had never seen the light of day. He was noted for his fondness of a dart gun that shot out sticky rubber projectiles. He seemed to have an endless supply of them, and if you looked carefully you could see them stuck to the walls and ceiling of the head‐ quarters. He would walk up to Cordova at least once a week under the pretense of engaging in conversation: “Um, Cordova?...” Then he would whip out the gun from behind his back and unload a flurry of tiny missiles. Laughing, he would then retreat to his pod. Another active agent was Bonnie; she was a young, attractive, stout, blond Scottish woman that was also the love-interest of Kellpin. She was already attached to a partner and had no interest at all in the young man. She thought of him as an immature distraction while she was trying to work. Her only distinguishing personality trait was that she was always trying to be noticed by the task force leader and by her colleagues in order to receive recognition for her work. There was a little area off to the side of the work area where employees could go to have a snack or a nap. If Bonnie cornered another agent in that area, she would tell them in specific detail all her activities of the day... Until most politely managed to extricate themselves to return to their pod. Cordova found himself becoming increasingly rude to her until she finally left him alone altogether. Work was intense. Agents were constantly kept busy plugging security leaks, maintaining active investigations, and monitoring suspicious and subversive activity reported to them by various international system administrators using SATAN; a software tool for analyzing networks. The main thrust of their effort was in tracking and monitoring the activities of information brokers and industrial spies involved in corporate warfare. Trade secrets, financial and marketing strategies were valuable commodities on the black market. Mission specialists used the latest software agents, scanners, probes and logic bombs to essentially hack the hackers. Their biggest advantage was that they had the knowledge, and the clearance to travel into or through any secured system environment in the pursuit of their quarry. They could also utilize the resources of other branches of Flex Global, or from any Authority, govern‐ ment, military, or industrial entity spanning the globe. Flex Global agents had an arsenal of digital magic at their disposal. They had genie codes to open secret gateways through the most impenetrable firewalls. They had the flying finger of fate to dig up information on a specified target, including all records of their recent activities from a network of privately-held databanks such as; credit purchases, financial transactions, identity cards, computer logs, and even video rentals. Flex Global agents had access to software which read identifying circuits imprinted onto chips in order to pinpoint the location of mobile wireless devices in real time, and parsing and filtering algorithms to decode encrypted files whose contents had been transformed into a chaotic jumble of binary digits. Cordova split his attention between several cases during his shift. Many of the cases could be wrapped up quite quickly by sending a special file which notifies the


perpetrator that Flex Global is watching them. Many hackers have seen the floating eyeball on their screen; cycling back an forth in a short animation sequence. The floating eyeball is a reminder that everyone’s private life is an open secret, and that ‘big brother is watching you’. Experienced hackers know that by the time the icon appears on their screen, their computer system has just completed being thoroughly analyzed by a scanner probe that has searched through their drive, and any other active attached peripheral components. The probe seeks out ‘irregularities’ within files by comparing a list of flagged keywords with the contents of the user’s database. These were words that should not be included in files of a legitimate user, such as; ‘bomb’, ‘blow-job’, or ‘terrorist’. Instances of occurrences of these type of words were accumulated in a counter, when the total reached a certain limit, the drive or memory storage was automatically deleted using a wipeout feature encoded into the scanner probe. The scanner probe also searched for things like; virus manufacturing software, secretlytagged authorized government and industrial files, and it also verified that installed commercial software was being used only by the registered user. It even searched through phantom files, which were remnants of deleted data hidden on the disk until it is overwritten by new data. A list of the infractions was also recorded by Flex Global headquarters and updated in the offender’s permanent record. In extreme cases, a team of special agents were sent out to physically apprehend the offender, particularly if the perpetrator had been actively building up a large permanent record within the Flex Global database. It was not uncommon for offenders to become very co-operative with security forces, at which time they could be persuad‐ ed to provide other valuable information; such as a list of people they were communi‐ cating with in their subversive activities. Not co-operating could mean a permanent vacation to Antarctica, or worse. These coerced operatives were often beneficial in the long-term as informants which became specialists who made their living by selling personnel information they had gathered. Most underground computer operators did their best to avoid scrutiny from the Flex Global eyeball. But not the Christmas Cracker. Cordova had another message waiting for him in his personal e-message cache when he logged on. The message had been skillfully sent to make it impossible to locate its point of origin. The network is a large and complex aggregation of hardware, connected by gateways. Tracking the route of packets that comprise a digital file can be difficult to follow. The packet contained a fragment of code that changed the identifying datagram at each gateway along its journey. In addition, the hacker had bypassed the normal routing tables by sending the message directly through a satcom link by aiming an earthbound dish directly at a satellite that was moving in an orbit around the planet ~ It was a simple matter to obtain software which can inform the user the exact times of day that a particular satellite passes over a particular location. The message was cryptic: “The hunter becomes the hunted. A pound of flesh and a yard of skin, the sun dries the ink in the heart of a mann.” (signed) Infinity.


Cordova really didn’t know what to make of Infinity. He had to deal with all kinds of strange characters in his line of work. He had to understand their motives, mentality, and methods of operations in order to track them and lock them down. He had had his share of role-players and puzzle freaks to contend with over the years, and he had been successful in capturing offenders covering the full spectrum of skills; from novices and amateurs all the way up to those that considered themselves to be elite and untouchable. Infinity had a lot of brass to be baiting him with messages. It was as though this person wanted to play a game with him, and Cordova wasn’t sure if it was annoying him, or if he was getting some enjoyment of anticipating the start of a championship match. As he looked at the message, he picked out the words: hunter, flesh, skin, ink, and mann. Was the last word a spelling error? Unlikely, considering the precision needed to send the message anonymously to him. The words reminded him of tattoos. He contacted HAL to run a search through the database for a list of names of tattoo parlours based on all of the words in the message. HAL returned a search list of approximately twenty hits. One listing that immediately caught his attention was Skinyard Tattoo. It was located in Hamburg, Germany. Cordova accessed specific information about Skinyard Tattoo. The parlour was located in the Reeperbahn, the red-light district of St. Pauli near the Panoptikum (Waxworks Museum), and the Davidwache (Police District No. 15). The computer displayed an address on Spielbudenplatz. A unique service of this particular shop was that it offered dermografts; specializing in grafting animal skins onto the human body ~ The new tattoo. Various animal species, particularly reptilian and fish skin grafts had been considered a trendy fashion statement among the customers in the city. Cordova checked further and discovered that the proprietor had obtained the grafting materials from a species collector employed by Golden Sun Corporation; a man named Franz Hartmann. That’s a match, thought Cordova with satisfaction. He enjoyed when pieces of a puzzle started to come together. He was curious why the hacker had gone to the trouble of directing his attention to this shop. While he was pondering this, Cordova contacted the European branch of Flex Global to get information about any surveillance cameras that were available at the location. The face on the screen reported that the shop did have a functioning camera installed (as per local requirements), and that they had obtained a warrant from the Authorities to use it for investigative observation. The European office patched through a video link which appeared on another display in front of Cordova. The view from the surveillance camera was from a high angle; mounted in a corner of the room close to the ceiling. The view, in colour, showed a wide-angle of the main area at the front of the shop. A large heavy-set man was seated comfortably in a reclining chair. He was not wearing a shirt. A young man with his light blonde hair tied back, also shirtless, and covered with tats was in the process of inking a tattoo on the large man’s biceps. The tat was a juicy red heart being constricted by a heavy iron chain. As Cordova watched, the artist was putting the finishing touches on the work,


then dabbing at the tattoo to dry up little traces of blood that were forming where the needle had pierced tender flesh. The two men were talking. The artist removed his surgical gloves. He was in the process of reciting a history lesson that he appeared to have delivered countless times; “...used as markings to identify members of a tribal group or as a record of success in a hunt or skill in battle. Sailors picked up the practice from islanders in the South Seas. Over the years it has carried on as a tradition among countercultures, as a rite of passage, or as an act of defiance. Interestingly, tattoos were also used to mark slaves, criminals, and heretics; the outcasts of society.” The large sweaty man got out of the chair with some difficulty, then put on his t-shirt. “That’s interesting... I got this one to show my old lady how much I love her. I don’t want to put her name on it yet, just in case it doesn’t work out.” The black t-shirt had a large silk-screened image of a power generator emblazoned across the front in silver ink. The artist smiled. “You can’t be too careful, relationships come and go, but a tattoo is forever.” He lit a cigarette, took a puff, then set it down to smolder in a big ashtray piled high with other butts. “It’s best if you wash it with baby soap, and if you find that it is not healing quickly, dab a little bit of antibiotic cream on it for a couple of days to see if it settles down.” While they conversed, another young man entered the scene. He was wearing an open black leather vest. His body was covered with numerous pierces and mutilation markings. Dozens of small metal trinkets dangled from his eyebrows, navel, and nipples. The effeminate man also had somehow managed to stretch his earlobes so that they extended to his shoulders. Cordova didn’t feel like watching anymore. It hadn’t seemed like much was happening here, but based on instinct he contacted EuroFlexGlobal again. The face of the Security Director he spoke with earlier reap‐ peared on-screen. “How soon can we get an x-team into Hamburg?” “Hamburg?...Within 24 hours.” “Request them to bring a few ‘flies’. And I would also like you to track any informa‐ tion you have on a man named Franz Hartmann and his relationship with Golden Sun Corporation. Danke!” Cordova leaned back in his chair and glanced around the control room. Lights in the ceiling were dim. Constant activity in the room was indicated by the flickering of coloured lights and sounds emanating from the nested pods around him. He turned his attention to another active case; unauthorized access into the financial files of a gold mining operation in South Africa.


X.

The x-team van rolled down a cobblestone street heading for the Reeperbahn. The vehicle was fully-equipped with electronic detection, interception and surveillance hardware. A pair of agents sat in the front seats of the van. They were drinking coffee. It was early morning, and a thick fog was rising off the Elbe River. The mists drifted across the city and over surrounding meadows and pastures, continuing into the distant dunes and marshland. The white Griffon van was disguised as a repair vehicle. A ladder was securely mounted in a rack on the roof next to a satellite dish. The logo on the side read; ‘Urgent Communications Inc.’ A telecommunications operative was stationed in the back monitoring the viewscreens and scanner displays and transmitting information to Cordova at his Flex Global command station. They parked in the neibourhood. One agent got out of the van and entered a building across the street. He took the elevator to the top floor, then using his utility belt, opened a locked door to exit onto the roof where he set up his station. The other agent joined his colleague in the back of the van to transmit intelligence to Cordova that they had located Franz Hartmann at Buckhorn Gymnasium, and based on an intercepted cellphone conversation, understood that he was in transit to SkinYard Tattoo which had not yet opened for the day of business. For Cordova it was late at night as he listened-in on the conversation in the van: “The proprietor is just opening the shop now.” ~ Cordova knew that Flex Global had Authorization in place to avoid any issues of legal liability; should the need arise to disavow any actions by the intelligence agents at the scene. The two agents in the van programmed data into two small robotic flies. Each drone was the size and shape of a large housefly. A miniature receiver/ transmitter enabled it to be remotely-controlled by EuroFlexGlobal agents using ‘smart’ software running on a computer in the van. The processor handled essential operations such as collision detection and flight navigation, while manual control allowed for precise positioning of the device discretely within an environment. Intelligence built into the software enabled the fly to take off and land, and move through the environment by internally monitoring a number of sensors located on various parts of its body. The ‘bug’ behaved very convincingly like an actual fly. Miniature cameras and microphones built into the device allowed agents to eavesdrop and record conversations. Digital amplifiers and video-interpreter filters converted these signals into sounds and images which were very high-quality when magnified on the digital screens in the van.


The agents launched the primary fly, then the secondary ‘backup’ fly as Franz Hartmann approached the tattoo shop. The flies entered the door when Franz opened it to go inside. One fly landed on a counter in the main room, the other lazily buzzed around a light fixture on the ceiling. “We’re not getting any audio from F2,” one of the agents said. The camera view from each fly were on adjacent screens in Cordova’s pod. The shop owner greeted Franz, and they moved into an adjoining room. F1 made it in, but the other fly was locked outside the door. F2 landed amongst a collection of needle bar assemblies on a table. Through its compound eyes the perspective was an extreme close-up of #12 needles, gigantic stainless-steel tubes, grips, and tips arrayed and ready for use. The hunter and the tattoo artist sat upon giraffe-hide chairs in the trophy room. Animal heads mounted on wooden plaques adorned the four walls. These ornaments were large exotic animals apparently captured during hunting safaris around the world. F1 landed on the nose of a lion; viewed as a large black leathery surface covered with huge pores and long whiskers sticking out the side. The fly adjusted its position, and Cordova observed a collection of random blackand-white patterns on the floor, before recognizing that the scattered rugs were made from zebra and panda bear hides. The hunter removed his hat and settled back in his chair. He was bald, but every inch of skin on his head and the back of his neck was covered with tattoos. On the crown of his head was a deep purple star with cobalt blue and viridian lines radiating down like strands of spectral hair. Later, when he rolled up his sleeves, Franz revealed that his arms were completely covered to his wrists in ink. “A new shipment will be arriving this afternoon from my contact in Madagascar. Dr. R. deals only in the highest-quality skins. They are cryogenically preserved. You graft one of these patches on and you can feel that it is still alive. I had one applied during my last trip to see him. He replaced my pubic hair with a tiger skin transplant. On my next trip I want to get tiger balls, and also get my dick enhanced with a rhino implant. The damn thing will never get soft.” They both laughed. “The bad news is that the Madagascar factory is having problems. Real hides are becoming more difficult to acquire. They are starting to deal in synthetic stuff now too, and as this shipment is extremely high-grade, I am afraid I am going to have to pass along the extra cost to you my friend.” “How much higher?” asked the tattoo artist. “20 percent.”


“Man, that’s pretty high. But we’ve always maintained a good relationship, and I trust you. Let me make a call.” The handset was made of a walrus tusk, the keypad was built into the back of a turtle shell ~ The fly buzzed over onto an ear of a nearby moose where the operatives could record the number that was dialed. The hunter got up from the chair while the other man spoke on the phone. The fly buzzed a little to follow the hunter as he walked over to a gun rack mounted on the wall. He picked out one of the weapons, and by reflex quickly checked the chamber to see if it was loaded. Click/ click. He sighted down the barrel at a large muskox head on the wall across from him and pulled the trigger. The firing pin came down on the empty chamber with a sharp snap. He carefully put the weapon back on the rack. Cordova studied information on another screen that had just arrived about Franz Hartmann. The hunter had been contracted on a freelance basis with Golden Sun Corporation during the past fifteen years. His official duty was to obtain DNA samples from as many types of endangered animals as possible for Project Noah; a collection personally curated by the Sun King himself. Franz’s financial transactions revealed he had a very complex web of activity which was constantly in motion around the globe. The files were substantial; it would take a team of forensic accountants considerable time to track all the connections and loopholes in his record-keeping system. Cordova opened another confidential file which reported that Franz was also involved in projects for other clients; capturing live species to sell on the black market to wealthy exotic pet owners, as well as shipping animal parts to medical facilities, or to be used for industrial product manufacturing. There were also notes about his skin grafting connection. The report considered the hunter to be a poacher, or an extermi‐ nator. With the exception of parts of central Africa where the death penalty was imposed, in most countries the penalties for illegal trafficking were not significant to a man of Franz’s financial means and connections. The report concluded by suggesting that the hunter was also being encouraged, through secret payments by a key executive of Golden Sun Corporation, to purposefully decrease the population of endangered species in order to increase the value and rarity of the DNA samples already collected. The tattoo artist disconnected from his phone conversation; “Okay, I spoke with my partners, and they agree to the increased price. We have ourselves a deal.” They shook hands. “So where are you off to next?” “I am flying to Spain tomorrow to participate in the ‘Monterias’ to practice my marksmanship for pleasure. In the Gredos Mountains the Ibex have excellent trophy horns. I’m also excited about going after Keilers in Sierra Espuna. On this trip I am taking my dogs with me. Wild boar are especially dangerous when wounded, their razor sharp tusks become weapons capable of killing the fiercest dog, or a reckless hunter.”


“I don’t know if I can find a spot for tattoos to record the species you have killed after your upcoming hunting trip. You are the illustrated man, your body is almost complete‐ ly covered,” joked the artist. “I will have to retire,” the hunter quips. “Or get a new skin.” Sensing the business deal was drawing to a conclusion, the agent sent the fly buzzing closer to the hunter to record a few high-resolution photographs. “Damn fly,” the hunter said taking a swat at it. He deftly batted it across the room. It hit the wall hard, instantly losing picture signal, replaced by white noise on the screen. The sound continued intermittently for a few seconds: “You should keep it cooler in here.... flesh goes rotten..... the fly ... squash it wi ...y boot.” There was a loud crunch, then the signal was lost completely. The agent in the van was swearing in German through Cordova’s headset. It was unlikely that the bug would be discovered unless it was examined under a magnifying glass. It was filled with a juicy yellow ooze that helped to disguise it. Nevertheless, its body would have to be recovered just to be certain it was never discovered. They had a remote control spider to accomplish this task. These things happen occasionally. Cordova tilted back his chair and thought over what he had discovered during this operation. It did not seem to have been worth the time and expense to mobilize an xteam. The video was recorded to a file that he could review again later. Perhaps he was missing something. One thing Cordova realized was how similar his work was to that of the hunter. The predator needs a thorough understanding of the prey. Knowledge of the target is the most important step in determining where it is likely to be discovered, and in determin‐ ing the most effective means of capturing it. Cordova decided that his next step would be to find out where the tattoo artist had placed his call, and to download a transcript of the conversation recorded by the Euroflex operatives.


XI.

Pagans in white robes dance in a circle on the green field under a glass dome. They are chanting; “The Earth goes round the Sun... the Earth goes round the Sun...” The writer awakens, and slowly attains the awareness that he has been dreaming. There is darkness outside the windows. He still feels tired. He has been having strange dreams lately; attributing it to the increased intensity of his writing activity. He then spent the better part of the afternoon sitting at the typewriter. What had once been an activity to pass the time, and a constructive way to exercise his thought processes, was becoming an addiction. Recalling thoughts from the deepest reaches of his memory had unlocked the gateways containing many specters from the past. Specters that were both benign and malevolent. ‘Demons change their names every 49 years.’ A random fragment drifted into his consciousness. As he thought about these words, he began to realize that writing had been a way for him to exorcise his demons, or maybe to call out and address them by their former names which made them vanish. It was refreshing; like a cleansing of his soul. It was like deleting files from a memory device, or discarding the remnants of useless objects and momentos that had been collected and stored amongst the cobwebs in a dusty attic. As he called up fragments from the past, and typed them onto paper, they seemed to disappear from his thoughts. The erasure seemed to provide him with peace of mind. It seemed to allow him to think more clearly without the distractions and the clutter that had haunted him in the past. Recalling memories and events from the past also made him understand that he had been given a glimpse of the future when he had worked at Flex Global, although he had not realized it at the time. He had not recognized the patterns that had been forming, the texture had been too abstract, or maybe he had been to close to it. It was like looking closely at the tiny dots of a halftone photograph in a newspaper under a magnifying glass. He had been at the center of the storm; inside the eye of the hurricane. To him it seemed that everything was the same, he was not aware of the chaos and confusion which swirled violently all around him. A lack of awareness? Innocence? Naiveté? It didn’t matter. Most often it is better that people are not aware of where their path is leading. It is more important to enjoy the experiences along the way than to be concerned about what is awaiting at the end. The destination is the journey itself. The writer realized he was in the process of understanding that he was now living in the future that he had once envisioned would arrive. While he was a Flex Global agent


he had been granted the privilege of being allowed access to glimpse behind the surface and examine the machinery working inside. Sometime the shape of things to come had seemed too complex for him to comprehend. New developments in society and technology were advancing in ways that seemed astonishing, and even distaste‐ ful at times, yet as evolution progressed, what once seemed strange had become commonplace. He had to accept the type of world he was living in. He glances at the newspaper on the table where Stanley left it when he had come over for coffee. The lead article was about a scientist experimenting with a synthetic material that grows in sunlight. He was photographed standing beside a wall that grew a little taller every day. The scientist, a regular on network talk shows, explained that the process had won many prestigious international awards. The material was currently being field-tested as a cost-effective means of creating dwellings to provide shelter in harsh desert wastelands. Golden Sun Corporation was funding the endeav‐ or ~ A banner in the background of the photo displayed one of their slogans: ‘Making the World a Better Place!’ It’s time for work. The writer makes a sandwich from sausage and bread and puts it in his metal lunch box. He pours powdered supplements into his thermos and adds water from the tap, then attaches a higharc-xenon flashlight to the outside of the lunch box. He straps on a knife, a digital watch and a communicator. He checks the batteries and the little light shows green; functioning. He pulls on his old boots, then dons his road jacket and driver’s cap. Standing in the doorway for a moment to ensure he has remembered everything, he then switches off the light. He closes the door and vanishes into the dim light of the long corridor. The sound of a distant radio. His footsteps echo off the concrete floor and walls. Outside is a night like any other. He crosses the bridge. The air is filled with sounds of generators and machines. Smoke and steam rise from anonymous warehouses and factories; large rectangular metal or concrete buildings with small red lights marking their rooftops. Here and there are security check-points along chainlink fences armed with razorwire and high-voltage. The writer often notices how nature continues to reclaim its domain. Plants infiltrate piles of rusted metal, and spring to life atop rubble that, many years before, were the foundations of abandoned factories. He walks past the scrap metal yard. A pair of glistening, sleek black Dobermans, dark sharks, are patrolling on the other side of the fence. Silently they come running up; they recognize him. “How ya doin’ boys?” He opens his lunch box and gives them each a piece of sausage. He sticks his fingers through the fence and they lick his hand. The powerful attack dogs would tear up anyone else that came near the compound. The dogs seem to sense and respond to his inner-presence. When people first met him, he considered, it seemed they expected him to have kind of a tough-guy persona, based on his physical size and appearance. He retained the demeanor of a military man even though it had been many years since he was in


the service. When people got to know him they discovered a sense of stability they found reassuring. In conversation he gave people the impression of being grounded in reality; down-to-earth, matter-of-fact. For some reason, that not even he was sure of, he had chosen not to build close relationships with others. He would draw away from most people if they began to get too close. His sense of companionship came from people he knew at work, in the neibourhood, and a close trusted friend like Stanley who he would see regularly. He didn’t know how to analyze himself, he was not a psychologist ~ It made him think of Valery. He briefly wondered where she was; she must still be in the tower. Since he started writing, he valued more than ever the time he had to himself to carefully organize his thoughts and commit them to paper. Occasionally there were times when he felt lonely and vulnerable, and it was then that he might feel the desire for companionship, as a way to take his mind off of his own troubles. Depression, it has been said, is the luxury of worrying about something other than your basic survival. As he walks along the railway tracks he realizes that he is satisfied with his existence. It could not really be called living. It probably never had been, and he doubted if it ever would be. In a way he felt his life had been preprogrammed. His existence followed a complex set of instructions that were beyond his conscious mind to comprehend. Throughout his life he had the sensation that someone, or something else was the author of his destiny. Only the ‘Programmer’ knew what fate was in store for him. Until that fate arrived the writer planned to carry on with his existence the way he always had. He crawls through an opening in the fence along the railway, and makes his way past stockpiles of gravel. An old crane is loading rail cars on a short section of rusted track. The cement plant is lit with floodlights mounted at the top of tall towers. A massive row of silos topped with flashing red warning lights rise out of the blue smoke. Streamers of dust trail away from crushed rock as it rumbles along conveyor belts overhead. The writer approaches the entrance to the Dispatch Office; illuminated by a single lightbulb hanging from a cord over the door. He brushes dust off his jacket, and taps his hat against the side of his pant leg. The door opens with a shriek. Inside, other drivers sit at a long green wooden table drinking coffee and quietly talking. As usual, the writer hangs his hat on a wooden peg by the door, and drops his lunchbox on a bench. He greets the other drivers casually; “How ya doin’ boys?” Some of the other drivers nod to him to acknowledge the greeting. He grabs a coffee from the machine and sits down at the end of the table in his usual place. For as long as he can remem‐ ber he has always sat at the end of the table across from Ed. They have been working the graveyard shift long before almost everyone in the room. Senior drivers sit near the punchclock (their vehicles are the first that are ready to roll). Rookies sit near the door. The writer takes a couple of small white tablets from his shirt pocket, and washes them down with a sip of coffee. These will pump up his adrenaline, and provide him


with the energy he needs to get through the long night ahead. He can already hear the roar of large rigs coming into the yard. The occasional blast of an air horn. The vibration from the engines can be felt through the walls of the small room. Coffee ripples in cups as though from a small earthquake... He lights a cigarette... memories return: Agent Cordova Frost navigated through digital storage files inside the mainframe, guided by his ‘colleague’ HAL. Although HAL was actually a software entity, Cordova thought of ‘him’ as a person. Cordova conversed with HAL through a voice interface. Updates appeared on the screen displaying information as it was recovered. “Anything yet HAL?” Cordova asked impatiently. “I am still scanning data.” The calm, reassuring voice of HAL transmitted into Cordova’s headset. HAL’s ghost-robots were busy exploring ‘The System’. “Get the lead out,” snapped Cordova. He enjoyed tormenting his digital slave; whose sole purpose of existence was to obediently serve its masters. The Wizard shuffled by with his black cloth cap squashed down over his ears. He looked like hell; he must have been up all day, thought Cordova. Suddenly a barrage of sticky rubber projectiles machine-gunned his pod. Kellpin was just standing there... waiting... with a goofy evil grin. “Hey it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye,” Cordova said. “Okay KP, you can get back to work. Bye bye now... bye bye.” Cordova made a gesture to shoo the kid away, but he just stood there grinning. Cordova turned his attention back to his screen. HAL was reporting: “Here is contact information for a pet store in Indonesia that was obtained by tracing the cellphone call from Skinyard Tattoo.” Cordova was immediately connected to the website of Bird Cage Supermarket in the pet district of Jakarta. He sent HAL in to dig around the system while he explored the commercial information. The web page was nothing fancy; basic layout with columns of text listing the type of merchandise available. The shop sold any kind of exotic bird that can be caught; song birds, parrots, ducks, racing pigeons, owls, and even fruit bats. They also had a selection of bird food available; live red ants, seeds, various larva and maggots, etc... On an adjacent screen, Cordova called up a live video feed from a street-mounted surveillance camera . He identified his target location about halfway down the block in a market; one of many that crowded the downtown core of the city. This section of the marketplace sold only birds. Other streets nearby specialized in fish or reptiles.


Becaks made their way through hectic activity as people stopped to examine birds in large wicker cages stacked along the sidewalk. Tourists walking by carrying batik fabric and wooden shadow puppets were befriended by vendors. A microphone mounted on the street camera picked up the shouts of human interaction, roosters crowing and the sound of motorcycles racing past the markets. The sound was not very clear, so Cordova filtered the signal to quiet the noise. Information from HAL was streaming in on another screen. HAL scanned all records and files on the network for documents pertaining to the pet store. Cordova discovered that Bird Cage Supermarket was owned by a Mr. Saleh. On screen now, Cordova reviewed Mr. Saleh’s financial transactions during the past year that listed any connection to Skinyard Tattoo, Franz Hartmann, or the Golden Sun Corporation. There were quite a few. Also noted were substantial transactions with other companies and individuals that did not seem directly related to the sale of exotic birds. HAL was tracing connections and graphing an information flow cloud. A complex array of lines displayed the frequency of occurrences between what had originally been independent bright blue dots of light in a black universe. It looked similar to a route map that airlines prepare to show the destinations they fly to. As the constella‐ tions started forming, Cordova noticed that several bright red lines branched toward various Golden Sun corporate offices around the world. “Everything revolves around the sun,” Cordova thought to himself. This particular pet store was only a link in the chain. Cordova was now ready to begin the arduous time-consuming process of researching the leads that HAL had connected for him like a children’s dot-to-dot game. This was the reason he had a comfortable chair in the pod. The words; ‘The hunter becomes the hunted’, came to mind as Cordova traced his way through the vectors to see where they were destined. One path led to a gambling operation which used pigeons, supplied by Bird Cage Supermarket, for racing. Mr. Saleh received a portion of proceeds from the betting. Another vector, more interesting, related to the traffic in animal parts used in oriental medicine. This particu‐ lar ‘flight path’ had a stopover in Hamburg, which connected with Hartmann and Skinyard Tattoos, but its final destination was a genetic research laboratory in Cyber‐ Jaya that was a subsidiary of Golden Sun Corporation. It had been relatively easy to access files inside the mainframe of CyberJaya Golden Sun Lab, even though the gateways were extremely high-security; as was customary in research labs with sensitive proprietary information. Cordova had access to magical tools that could unlock virtually any gate. As he began to snoop around, he casually opened some of the research files ~ Usually in these situations he would randomly open files in order to get a sense of the context that he was dealing with. Usually it wasn’t very rewarding, but today opening the file was like suddenly walking into a landscape inside a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Cordova quickly became aware that


this was a very different type of research than he had previously encountered. This lab was conducting experiments into creating new species of animals by metamorphisiz‐ ing their genetic structure. At first he thought the digital photos had been retouched or altered, but the accompanying documentation explained the processes and recipes used to create the blended animals, along with reports on their status in terms of health, life span and other data. Cordova captured some of the images for his case file: rabbits crossed with cats, dog-goats, monkey-squirrels, parrot-chickens, and the like. Then things really got strange as he began discovering images of animals that appeared to have the enlarged heads of birds or insects. One creature had the body of a brown bear and the head of a beetle in correct proportion to the size of a normal bear’s head. The images seemed both comical and frightening at the same time. He felt an odd sensation, as if he was dreaming with his eyes open wide. The next surprise was seeing the hybrid bear/ beetle compared to human scale. In a photograph taken inside the laboratory, a scientist in white coveralls, and wearing a filter mask was leaning in to examine the creature in its cage. The hybrid appeared to be approximately the size of a large rat. Cordova bailed out, leaving HAL to release software agents to cover his trail, and erase any traces of his activity. He took another look at the image displayed on his monitor. He couldn’t imagine what purpose a creature like that could serve. Ravina walked by on the raised walkway between the pods, and for a moment he was tempted to call her over, then thought better of it. He didn’t know if anything he had seen so far had broken any criminal laws, but he was uncertain whether they had transgressed the laws of nature. He returned his attention to the map. He noticed a trail leading from Cyberjaya into Singapore and then on to the ‘Garden of Eden’. HAL went to work and set up a network connection. In a few moments Cordova was in New York City. Garden of Eden was a prestigious pet store in an exclusive shopping district in Manhattan. There was no problem accessing cameras in this neighborhood, they were everywhere for the protection of wealthy customers. Security forces main‐ tained an armed perimeter around the most exclusive zone comprising an area of about six city blocks to restrict access. Only armored limousines and authorized delivery vehicles were permitted through the gates. Cordova had a choice between several surveillance viewpoint angles; on the street and within the store. He switched between them, enlarging images to examine details if desired. Elegant shops lined very clean desolate streets ~ It was the antithesis of his experience in Jakarta. The ornamentation of the ancient buildings were well-crafted from granite, marble, and brass. Windows appeared opaque from the street for protection from prying eyes, and from the sun’s harmful rays which could damage luxurious merchandise. Chauffeured limos provided customers a means of moving between the shops without the effort of walking.


In a close-up detail from across the street, Cordova noticed that someone had spray-painted a message on the wall: “Feed your pets ~ Let your children starve”. It must be recent because the work crews only come out at night, and they hadn’t got around to removing it yet. It was evening in New York and the stores would soon be closing for the night. Cordova decided to contact the person working behind the counter. He noticed her in an interior camera view. She was putting things away, preparing to close. HAL sent a message alert to her vidcomm. The young woman appeared on Cordova’s screen: “Garden of Eden, Eve speaking.” Cordova though it unlikely that it was her real name. He identified himself, and sent a digital version of his authorized credentials for her to peruse. While she read the document, Cordova studied her. Eve was a tall, thin, plain-looking woman. She had pale white skin, bright green eyes and red lips. Her long brown shoulderlength hair was straight and parted in the middle. She was wearing an expensive black dress with a high collar trimmed with white ruffles along the top. “Are you the owner?” Cordova asked. “No, I am the manager. How can I assist you?” she replied politely. Cordova explained that he was gathering background information for an investiga‐ tion he was conducting, and that he was interested in the type of animals that were being sold. She smiled, and Cordova felt a brief shiver go up his spine. He noticed that Eve had a beautiful white set of canine-like teeth. Her fangs were slightly longer than typical human teeth. She rattled off a pitch that seemed like she had committed to memory, and had used with many customers: “Well, our suppliers use patented eugenic processes with their breeding stock to improve the offspring of many species. Our pets are original, exclusive creations, custom-designed to suit their owner’s requirements. To be honest, our client’s demands are sometimes difficult to satisfy, but we have built our reputation on our ability to provide the highest quality pets to fulfill our customer’s specific needs, within the limits of current technology. “What type of pets are most popular?” Cordova inquired. “Well, generally, customers prefer exotic pets that are easy to manage, and have interesting personalities or characteristics. For example, we stock a miniature species of monkey obtained from the Amazon river in Brazil: Mura’s Saddleback Tamarin. These monkey are very clever and enjoy riding around by clinging to their owner’s clothing, like a fashion accessory. They are very popular with outgoing socialites who enjoy wearing them to the theater or a fine restaurant. With their rainforest habitats


nearly destroyed, this monkey is on the verge of extinction. Fortunately our supplier lab stocks DNA samples for all our merchandise, and reproduce products commercially. “Some customers prefer song birds. Our birds are bred with a higher-level of intelligence, providing them with a greater capacity to learn, thus producing an expanded repertoire of selections they are able to perform. On the other hand, certain customers demand savage pets to safe-guard them or their property. Our laboratories mutate the genes to increase their propensity toward violence. We have given domesticated animals the ability to become predators; to regain their savage nature in order to protect their masters.” She assumed a more confidential tone, “I don’t know if I should tell you this, but, our pets, naturally, are designed to be compatible with their owners, and provide human companionship. I must say that some of our clients are a little bit naughty, if you know what I mean. Sometimes a client will request that their pets are modified to suit human sexual preferences. We think its a little kinky, but they ARE willing to pay for it!” “Interesting,” Cordova responded, declining to ask what species of pet she was referring too. “Personally, I prefer bats and ravens,” Eve divulged, showing her teeth demurely. “They represent dark forces within us that are incapable of spiritual escape.” Cordova changed the subject, “I noticed through the surveillance camera in the back room that you have very few cages, and that most appear to be empty.” “You can see through the cameras? Oh my, I have one in the bedroom of my apartment. Can you see through that?” Eve slyly bites her lip. “I... You haven’t answered my question.” “Well, we don’t actually keep the animals here. They are delivered directly to the customer from the lab. We only store them here if they have been returned because of defects, or whenever their owners tire of them. They are quickly disposed of. Uh... we have other products here as you can see. Sample packets of various types of pet cuisine available. Did you know that in nature, carnivorous animals ingest many of the herbs and vitamins they need in their diet by drinking the stomach contents of their prey. Unfortunately in the city, that is not always possible,” Eve chuckled gently. “Genetic engineering creates pets that are more adaptable to the urban environ‐ ment, and we provide them with nutritious dietary supplements which contain; Lecithin, Vitamins A, D3, E, Linoleic, Linolenic, Oleic, etc...” she reads from the label of a packet. “We also carry a full line of hair care products and conditioners that enhance the glow and shine of the pet’s coat. And THIS is something I’m really quite excited about,” she says, holding a small digital device next to her face on the vidcomm screen. “The animal talk translator!”


“It’s getting late, and you’re probably anxious to get home, so I won’t take up any more of your time. Thank you Eve, you have been of great assistance to the investiga‐ tion.” “Well, it’s been nice talking with you too. It’s been exceptionally slow today; we usually don’t get many customers on Mondays... Uh, you wouldn’t be in the market for a pet would you? I could show you some selections from our catalog if you have time right now. It wouldn’t be any trouble for me, and I don’t really have any place to be after work. By the way, where are you calling from...” “Thanks Eve, I’m not interested in purchasing a pet at the moment, my apartment is too small.” “Well for small urban residences, our hottest new product line are pet insects, people seem to...” “Thank you, I really have to go. Goodnight!” Cordova touched an icon on the screen with his data glove and the connection was broken. Cordova leaned forward in his chair and placed his face in his hands, rubbing his eyes. He sat up and let out a long gentle breath. “I thought she would never stop talking.” “You and me both HAL!”

XII.

Outside, in the darkness of the street below, he can hear the sound of a Dispose-All truck pumping out holding tanks containing liquid sludge which microorganisms have transformed from trash and sewage discarded from residential buildings. Most of the water content has been removed; which after filtering and purification is recycled back through the plumbing system within the building. Metal, glass and plastic is removed from the trash, compacted into small bales and hauled to the wastelands for recycling. The writer gazes down at bright yellow warning lights that spin to reveal the words: ‘Sanitation for the Nation’, painted in large black letters across the bright yellow roof of the truck. He is glad that his windows are sealed. The odor during hot summer weather always makes him nauseous, and the suction sound is not pleasant either. The sludge will be dumped into shafts two miles deep into the earth. Bacteria and gravity will make the unwanted material seem to disappear... And so will the giant earthworms.


Genetically enhanced ‘Nightcrawlers’ feed upon waste dumped into shafts. Reports suggest these worms are able to grow one foot in length or more per year during their twenty year life-span ~ Crawlers are amongst the strongest creatures in the world, their body mass consists mostly of muscles and nerves enabling them to burrow through very dense materials. A mature breeder can produce an egg capsule every 7-10 days, which in about three weeks will hatch approximately ten young. It’s impossible to imagine how many are down there. Heavy metal covers are welded in place to cap the pits, but it doesn’t keep them from escaping. Sometimes while driving the cement transporter out near the wasteland at night, the writer has seen them coming out of the ground. It is frightening. Towers in the city core have waste disposal tunnels built into the bedrock beneath their foundations during construction. The disposal of recyclable material is regularly picked up by a class of freight vehicle that are nicknamed ‘beetles’ ~ A beetle is an armor-shelled containment transport with six wheels. It is armed with small cannons that squirt high-pressure blasts of sulfuric acid should bandits attempt to overtake it. This is a frequent occurrence; as towers excrete a valuable higher-grade recyclable material which is reprocessed in a maximum-security area of the wastelands. A similar type of vehicle is also used to transport food products and other material to the towers; providing the same protection. Bandits that successfully attack a vehicle will distribute the illicit high-quality goods through their network of independent merchants; receiving a payment in advance and also a percentage of subsequent sales. The writer notices black market produce in the back rooms of some of the local neighbourhood shops from time to time. These are offered at a premium mainly to the regulars; valued customers who the proprietor is quite familiar with. The sale of black market material is kept confidential, not for fear of any action by the authorities, but to prevent violence and robbery by residents that desire the goods, but cannot afford to purchase them. The desperation of people in their need to acquire material possessions is a thought the writer tries to put out of mind. He is fortunate that he has a job, and is able to provide for himself. His needs are simple, and he desires nothing more than a room, food, coffee and a typewriter. He recalls his life in the towers, where because every‐ thing was provided, nothing is really desired. People view products as experiences rather than commodities. In the country he had worked hard to feed himself and his family (if he can call them that) and found that between the skills and efforts of the people in the small community, that everything that was essential could be grown or made. People got together in co-operation to harvest crops, to build a house, and to raise the young. Those skilled at crafting tools would exchange labour with those who could spin wool or mill grain. Very little was required from the ‘outside’ world, and when it was, the country folk found that ripe fruit and vegetables and fresh baked bread would be eagerly exchanged for commercial products. In the residential zone, it is a much different situation. Here people are separated from their environment and the resources they need to survive. It is a constant struggle


to maintain the basic necessities, and if that battle is lost should a person become the victim of an unfortunate circumstance, then one is forced to survive in the ‘wild’. That is the fear instilled into citizen’s of the towers from a young age: the fear of the wilderness, the fear of the fall. That fear is all that administrators of tower corporations needed to provide them with motivated and dedicated employees. The writer would sometime see them in the evening, on the streets, as he walked to work. Homeless citizens who had wandered in from the fringes or had left their daytime hiding places in search of food. Some were mentally unable to fully compre‐ hend what was happening around them. Many could forage peacefully, and had become recognized and helped-out by those residents who made an effort to ensure they were well-fed and cared-for. Others were trouble, and could be quite aggressive and dangerous. The bandits; young lawless gangs patrolling the street, would not harm them but would move them out of their territory. If they were bounced often enough between districts they would be forced to relocate in the city core, or out in the wastelands. The nightlife at ground-level in the city core was like a freak show. Mutants and other predators would hunt their prey and scavenge in the shadows of darkness. It was survival of the fittest. The weapons they used for hunting or to protect themselves were crude and makeshift, often nothing more sophisticated than a solid chunk of metal for a club, or a jagged piece of glass melted into a plastic handle. The larger creatures used their brute strength, their claws or their teeth. It was widely suspected these hunters were cannibals which subsisted primarily on a diet of human flesh; cooked over small fires, or eaten raw. Other reports described human vampires that drank the blood of their victims. There really wasn’t much for the core dwellers to eat other than each other, and the large rodents that continued increasing in number in all zones of the city. Robotic security patrols roamed the core at night to take down anything unable to identify itself; with laser fire. These patrols were scouting more for bandits and ro@ches rather than mutants, yet they typically destroyed several mutants every night. It would be difficult to determine what the population was, but the writer imagined there were only several hundred. By contrast, the population in the wasteland was much larger. The region called the Industrial Zone had once been the site of oil fields and refineries many years ago. The crumbling concrete foundation pads and piles of rusted metal marked the location of the original sites. With the development of synthetically-manufactured polymers, and the full implementation of electric vehicles in all urban areas, the need for oil produc‐ tion had practically disappeared. There were still a few active well heads, and a compact, more-efficient refinery within a heavily-secured fortress. Because of the desert soil, and the toxic effect of chemicals over many years, the land has yet to regenerate vegetation other than scrub grasses. Most of the people that


inhabit the wasteland live in the Hell Zone; a large shanty town built of every type of scavenged material imaginable. Most live in cars; the dismantled bodies of gasolinepowered automobiles that are chopped up and reconstructed into a complex makeshift village environment that has continued to expand over the years. The car parts are scavenged from a huge stockpile in the many abandoned auto-wrecking yards after the conversion to solar energy. As you know, the conversion was first initiated by the Golden Sun Corporation, with the availability of their inexpensively-produced solar panels and a wide variety of other alternative energy products. As the trend toward solar continued to spike, the corporation used their financial leverage to convince many of the world’s governments to simply make it illegal to manufacture petroleumpowered vehicles. Customers were clearly convinced to purchase solar vehicles by extensive advertising campaigns which promoted the compact stylish designs and the cleanliness to the environment. Once the technology had become attractive and affordable, it made owning a solar vehicle very desirable. New cars were manufac‐ tured from light metal alloys that are produced in Asia and Africa. Some denizens of the Hell Zone (commonly known as ‘Hell’) find employment in various refining and recycling industries. They conduct the most dangerous labour involving hazardous and toxic materials, or operate metal smelters. Workers are paid practically nothing, but are provided with bulk, low-grade nutritional products manufac‐ tured from rice, grain, and animal byproducts, that are fortified with vitamin and mineral supplements. A few attempt to grow small gardens in greenhouses built from auto glass, although the water is polluted in their wells. In addition to their inadequate diet, they suffer from a variety of diseases and industrial accidents which significantly reduce their life expectancy. Travel into residential areas is restricted since they have no identity papers. The writer has been to Hell many times. Occasionally he delivers a load of cement for new construction in the area. He recalled that the first time he had been sent out, he was warned by the dispatcher not to leave his vehicle, but if it was a necessity, or an emergency, it was suggested that he leave his identity papers and valuables safely looked inside the cab. The residents of Hell would literally kill for a new identity. Recycling plants are operational throughout the night, bathed in liquid yellow sodium light. The walls and roofs of warehouses and shops are stained with dark smudges and ragged scars of rust. Observation towers rise above the inferno below. The writer awaits his turn to unload in the line of cement trucks... His radio notifies him that it will be about one hour before he can make his pour for the foundation of a new addition to a recycling facility. He observes the scene through his cockpit win‐ dows. Gigantic forklifts carry discarded remnants of large industrial machines through the door of a massive warehouse from rail cars. The sound of heavy machinery rumbles. Inside, workers cut apart the hulks using acetylene torches. Large electro‐ magnets reach down from ceiling-mounted cranes to transfer chopped pieces into bins. Other workers on ‘disassembly lines’ retrieve valuable components from the wreckage of machinery then sort and store them in separate cages. Metal smelting


tanks glow brightly. Flames shoot up from molten ponds whenever another load is dropped in. The heat is intense. The writer can smell the acidic odor. He watches the silhouettes of figures moving near the tank. Most of the men are shirtless or dressed in rags. The men’s skins are dark, their hair is ragged, illuminated by the liquid metal glow. Everything seems to be done manually. Robots are too expensive to build and operate compared with human labour. The writer leaves his identity papers in the transporter; which is secured against entry by a keycode. He picks up his lunchbox, climbs down the ladder, then begins walking toward the edge of the nearby settlement using his flashlight to guide his way. He looks back at his transporter; the chamber is rotating to keep the concrete mixed. The site foreman; a chubby little man with a big attitude, and a shiny hard-hat, is shouting something to him, but the writer is too far away to hear. It’s dark near Hell, but the moon is bright, and the sky is full of stars. He enters a narrow passageway between tall walls of scrap metal obtained from the storage tanks of old refineries. Most of Hell is two or three stories tall, arranged like adobe huts of the Pueblo indigenous people he had met during his military training in the southwestern part of the USA. The structures are wider on the bottom, with a collection of smaller structures built on their roofs which are accessible by ladders made from thin strips cut from rubber tires. These abodes are primarily built with metal from automobile hoods, roofs, and doors in a crazy patchwork of colours. Where the original paint is badly rusted, the holes have been sealed with a thick black substance, likely melted rubber. Some of the buildings use chunks of auto glass for windows, but most dwellings just have narrow openings with screen material stretched across them. As he moves through the shanty town, the writer can identify particular objects in the bricolage that has been incorporated into the structure; boards, welding tanks, chairs, signs, bicycle parts, toasters, computer monitors, refrigerator doors, heavy plastic sheets, aircraft wings, books, office desks, and broken pieces of brass musical instruments ~ Human creativity is the process of organizing elements into relationships which create something new ~ Before him he saw the accumulated wealth of a massproduced culture, recycled from its original intended use as luxury items into the most basic necessity; shelter. The maze of passageways are not arranged in a rectangular grid, but consist of an array of branching paths through piles of assorted material. He can hear voices talking inside some of the dwellings, but cannot discern what they are saying. Through some window openings he can see flickering fire light and can smell wood smoke drifting up lengths of pipe that extend through the roofs. Fragments of wood, and other flammable material are stored occasionally along the way inside discarded electric stoves and filing cabinets. Something catches his eye beside a doorway to his left. It is an oddly-constructed Christian religious icon. Mounted on a crucifix made from two joined rusted red strips of iron is a blue stuffed toy animal’s body on which has been attached a doll’s head.


Some of the stuffing is protruding from a rip in the material. The head of the doll is pink and hairless. One of the eyelids is stuck part way open. On top of the bald patch of large plastic pores is a small ring of barbed wire curved into the shape of a crown. Above the figure is the word ‘INRI’ created from shiny 3D metal letters that have been cut from the brand-name logos of automobiles ~ Below that, the symbol for ‘infinity’. Suddenly, the writer hears footsteps behind him, and turns to see the large frame of a man blocking the passageway leading back in the direction of his transporter. This man is also startled to see him. They both stand staring at each other for a few moments. The writer cannot determine his features clearly in the dim light, but notices that his clothes are tattered and ripped, and that his bare skin is muscular and covered with dark smudges. The man is eyeing the writer’s lunchbox. The writer remembers the knife and the communicator strapped to the outside of the kit. The large man appears tired; his movements are slow and deliberate. He seems afraid to pass by in the narrow passageway. The writer can’t get past him either. The large man returns his gaze to the lunchbox. “Hungry?” The large man nods. “I’ll give you my sandwich.” The writer opens his lunchbox. The other man’s eyes carefully follow every movement. The writer holds the sandwich out to the man. The other remains transfixed. “Here you go, this is a good sandwich, I made it myself.” The writer slowly takes a few steps toward the man who reaches out to grab it with a gnarled grubby hand. He smells the sandwich, tastes it, then begins to eat hungrily. “Good?” The enormous man nods. As he eats, he watches the writer intently; dull curiosity gleams in his eyes. The writer notices the man is cupping his right forearm with his left hand while he eats the sandwich. “Are you hurt?” asks the writer. The man nods his head. “Burn”. He lifts his arm to show the writer. There is a huge ragged burn deep into his flesh. The muscles are deeply exposed. The writer is shocked. “Holy Shit! You need to put a dressing on that or it will become infected. Do you... listen I have a medical kit in my vehicle. Let me go and get it, I will be right back.” The writer shines his flashlight in the direction of the large man, who suddenly appears frightened, letting out a terrified moan. The writer turns off the bright light ~ As an aftertrace, the writer can still see the terror in the face of the man, frozen as an instant. The rough face, etched with deep lines and scars, eyes and cheeks sunken from hard labour. The man is still holding the last bite of the sandwich in his injured arm.


It takes a few moments for the writer’s eyes to adjust to the dim light. “Stay here, I’ll be right back.” The wounded man says nothing, but moves aside slowly to allow the writer to pass. The writer leaves his lunchbox open on the ground, then runs carrying the flashlight now switched on. He remembers the way through the maze... Soon he is back at his transporter. “Are the monsters chasing you?” asks the foreman with a big grin when he sees the writer running back to his vehicle. “No, I met a man that is injured. He’s badly burned.” “Don’t worry about it, it happens all the time. It’s one of the hazards of life out here,” replies the foreman. “We’re ready to pour.” “I have to go back. He needs a bandage,” the writer says as he climbs the ladder. “I’ve got a medical kit in the cab.” “Who the hell are you, Florence fucking Nightingale? Just pour the fucking cement!” The writer glares down at the agitated foreman, “I promised the guy I was coming back... and that’s what I’m going to do.” “I’m going to report you to the dispatcher, you f....,” the foreman calls after him. His voice trails away as the writer runs back to the shanty town with a small medical kit. The writer reenters the gateway to hell and moves through the passageways of doom. It reminds him of an early video game inside the maze; with coarse texturemaps of metallic chaos. Faces smeared with grime stare blankly from jagged openings as the writer bumps into an old washing machine with a loud crash. Further along the corridors, other demons drift like shadows in the darkness, condemned to endless torture ~ The metal lunchbox is open where he left it. His knife is missing. The burned man is not around. The writer pauses to catch his breath.


part three

I.

That’s when his knee caps exploded... Constantin was in his third repetition of a 600 pound squat when his legs gave out; popping his kneecaps and tearing the quadriceps of both legs. He was in extreme pain during the one hour trip by hydrofoil from the island of Hydra to the mainland of Greece. In Athens, Constantin explained to Agent Frost, he had been confined to a wheelchair for several months during rehabilitation, where he was provided with a room in a cheap hotel. His expenses were billed to his former employer; Zeus Spa Fitness Center. Although he wanted to return to Hydra at the end of his treatment, he instead received a one-way ticket back to his homeland of Bulgaria. He was working as a hired-man on a swine farm near Plovdiv when Cordova tracked him down. Throughout his investigation, Cordova had intensely gathered intelligence about a number of operations around the world conducting genetic experimentation. He had originally contacted Mr. Luk in Hong Kong; the vice president in charge of biotechnolo‐ gy at Golden Sun Corporation, who personally assured Cordova that all subsidiary companies of their corporate empire were following ethical guidelines in regard to genetic testing on plants, animals, and insects ~ The image of the beetle-bear came to mind, but he decided not to pursue it... Mr. Luk offered full co-operation with his investigation, and requested that Cordova report any irregularity he might discover directly to him. Cordova spent considerable time following leads, yet he hadn’t seemed to be making much progress. The industrial empire of the Golden Sun Corporation was vast, and the tangled roots of their connections spread through a dense financial network of subsidiaries and holding companies that were almost impossible to navigate ~ even with HAL backing him up. Finally, a breakthrough came from ‘infinity’... The e-message read; ‘Hey frosty, for a snowman, you sure don’t have any balls. Hercules had the fitness to slay the Hydra. Zeus will not be pleased if you do. See you in hell! [ i ]’ ~ Similar to the previous message, it seemed to contain cryptic clues intended to provide him with a location to investigate... Hercules, fitness, Hydra, Zeus... Greece. He wondered about the reference in the first part of the message; was it taunting him by suggesting that he had about as much chance of finding the identity of the hacker as a snowball in hell?


“HAL!” Cordova called into his headset. “What is your command?” HAL instantly replied with calm reassurance like a genie in a bottle. ‘Hell’ ~ Cordova had a flash of recognition. ‘Now I know what the message refers to,’ Cordova thought to himself, ‘Infinity is tracking my movements by monitoring HAL... ‘See you in hell’ means he can ‘see’ me in HAL!’ The revelation flooded in with a rush, triggering a sense of operational paranoia inherent since his military training ~ The sense that unseen eyes were watching from somewhere behind dense foliage of a jungle that surrounded him... Cordova recognized the seriousness of having some unknown entity monitoring his own movements. Protocol required that he report directly to the District Supervisor at Flex Global Command Center. Yet, it seemed the intruder was in some way trying to assist in guiding the investigation... Yes, it made sense that once past the gateway the hacker had sent the message using internal data pathways that were invisible to the operating system since they did not have a true point of origin. For the present, Cordova’s instinct was to keep the situation to himself. “HAL, provide the definition of Hydra.” “Hydra. A monstrous, nine-headed serpent from Greek mythology. When a head is cut off, two more grow in its place... A word pertaining to persistent evil that is difficult to overcome... Place name, small Greek island...” “Check for matches with biotechnology labs, or athletic associations in Hydra, Greece with the names; ‘Hercules’ and ‘Zeus’.” “The most prominent occurrence is ‘Zeus Spa Fitness Center’ on the island of Hydra. “Connect me HAL.” The facility had a comprehensive surveillance-camera network. Cordova could monitor every video stream to Zeus Spa Fitness Center’s master controller. The camera views displayed a number of dormitory rooms... several small offices... a substantial kitchen... and two large gymnasiums occupied by heavily-muscled men. In one, the athletes were weight-training on an array of high-tech gravity-resistance machines molded like mechanical extensions of their bodies... In the other gym, several, wearing white robes (featuring logos of sponsors), were sitting cross-legged on mats in meditation. The cloistered dormitory rooms were consistent in layout; each had a comfortable bed and one sturdy armchair and table. The rooms were equipped with entertainment systems, a small fridge and a water machine. Suddenly, Cordova noticed something in the gymnasium that had previously evaded his detection... At first glance it appeared to be a naked chrome-plated woman. Upon closer examination, he realized the woman was wearing metallic spandex


wrapped tightly to her body like a second skin. She was working-out on compressedair equipment. Her shapely body was well-conditioned. Her muscle definition made her look powerful and trim. Yet, Cordova noticed a touch of gray in her close-cropped auburn hair, and that she had slight wrinkles around her mouth and eyes. Cordova scanned information about Zeus Spa Fitness Center that HAL had sent to an adjacent screen. The facility was located in what had originally been the Monastery of the Dormition of the Virgin; built at the end of the 18th century. For a time the site was occupied by offices of the municipality of Hydra. Subsequently, the buildings and land were acquired by Golden Sun Corporation, and were currently managed by Helena and Seymore Wright. The cloisters had been converted into a dormitory; housed within a two-story structure, surrounding the former church on three sides, and situated near a tiny harbour. The tower of the former church had been transformed into the facility’s administration office and the Wright’s residence. Their view over red rooftops looked toward a collection of brightly-painted fishing boats nestled in the harbour; the Saronic Gulf beyond and the mainland in the distance. The wide prome‐ nade along the harbour quay was lined with old storehouses from the golden age of tall ships; when the captains of Hydra earned immense fortunes from blockaderunning during the Napoleonic Wars. Hydra, Cordova discovered as he scrolled through the text with his data glove, had prohibited all forms of motorized vehicles on the island since the 1950’s. Donkeys were the only means of transporting people and goods through the steep, narrow streets winding through the anarchy of tall walls between white, blue or grey cubicshaped buildings climbing the barren mountainside. The rocky terrain, stripped of pine forests during the extensive shipbuilding activity of the 18th and 19th centuries, was now inhabited by herds of goats. The highest point on the island is Mount Eros at 596 meters above the sea. Cordova also learned that sponge fishing had been the main source of revenue for the island for some twenty years, until the demand was made obsolete by synthetic sponges. HAL explored the extensive database on the server of Zeus Spa Fitness Center and delivered Cordova an index of the files containing detailed personality profiles about each of the ‘members’. They were primarily world-class athletes who used the facility as a training site to prepare for the annual Olympic games ~ Which had recently found a permanent home in the nearby city of Athens; rather than being staged at locations around the world every four years. The dossiers included a complete medical history and a detailed professional training regimen for each of the athletes. The screening process was rigorous and thorough. The candidates were run through batteries of physical and mental evaluation procedures and thorough background checks of their personal history to ensure those selected represented the best specimens in peak physical condition from a variety of international cultures. The complex could facilitate forty athletes in the training program. The waiting list was two years for a membership. The facility was run by Helena Wright, who according to the records, was 55 years of age. She acted as spiritual advisor, and later, in speaking with Constantin, she was


revealed as someone who variously fulfilled the roles of manager, trainer, mother, lover, and friend. She provided the guidance, motivation, discipline and lifestyle management for athletes who would often compete for her attention. She was the queen bee. Her husband, Seymore, was the business manger. Seymore was 57 years old. He was a short man with a swarthy complexion, who wore a pencil-thin mustache. According to Constantin, he would rarely leave the large suite upstairs which doubled as his office. Staff and members usually saw him only once a week when he was driven to the quay to direct the delivery of supplies arriving from foreign freighters. He was accountable for the revenue from Golden Sun Corporation which subsidized 80% of the operating expenses. Seymore also managed the careers of several of the athletes, collecting a percentage of their sponsorship endorsements as well as prize purses from iron man competitions, etc... Several athletes also provided revenue for ‘The Center’ through creation of motivational content which streamed online for the inspiration benefit to multi-national corporate employees. The business appeared very profitable, Cordova noted, as he returned his attention to surveillance camera views. Zeus Spa Fitness Center was palatial in decor; a winding staircase swept down to the main foyer from a suite of offices on the second floor. The marble tiles of the entranceway were lined with iconic classic stone statues that had been modernized by a sculptor to include ripped muscle definition and large penises. The remainder of the former convent had also been renovated into a luxurious Greek-style villa with large fireplaces, heated floors, fully-equipped kitchen, medical facilities, and a bath house and sauna which exclusively used natural sponges. Small terraces overlooked a courtyard graced by orange, almond, olive, and fig trees. An odd little paradise. The database listed the roster of the all-male staff as; trainers, medical staff, massage therapists, physiotherapists, maintenance personnel, and a dietitian. Cordova was curious about Golden Sun Corporation’s interest in the facility. He scanned the list of former members who had been terminated or dismissed from the compound; often he could gather valuable intelligence from a disgruntled former employee who might be seeking a measure of revenge, or who may welcome the opportunity to receive a substantial credit payment. Cordova selected a name at random from the list: It was evening in Plovdiv, and Constantin was relaxing after his day’s toil operating a front-end loader hauling pig manure on a farm in the Bulgarian countryside. Con‐ stantin’s face appeared on the vidscreen, but the reception was poor. Patches of white noise sometime interfered with the clarity of the transmission. Cordova identified himself, and after a preliminary explanation regarding the nature of the investigation, he transmitted a portion of the fee to Constantin’s credit account as a sign of good faith and as a means of ensuring co-operation. It was understood that further payments would be sent throughout the conversation depending on the ability of the informant, and the nature of the information ~ Constantin went off-line from Cordova for a few minutes to check the status of his account, then returned quite willing to talk.


Constantin began by describing the circumstances surrounding his termination from Zeus, then went on to detail the subsequent treatment program which had only partially helped him to recover from his injuries. He claimed he still had difficulty walking, and had settled for a job operating machinery on a farm near his home town. He explained that he felt abandoned by Zeus, particularly because he had been one of the top athletes at the facility. He had won the Olympic gold medal in weightlifting for three consecutive years, which helped garner considerable credibility and media attention for the Wrights when they were getting their program started. He had also brought in considerable revenue from his commercial endorsements which had been retained to help fund Zeus’s operational costs. At the facility, all training and nutritional needs were provided at no personal cost to the athletes. They had access to the best equipment and therapy programs available. As an aside, Constantin mentioned he believed that a number of experimental enhancement drugs and biological agents were also being tested on the men. He explained that the primary purpose of the facility was to manufacture a constant supply of human semen and DNA samples that were being used in Golden Sun research labs around the world. The samples, he had been told, were to be used in the genetic cloning of future humans. He was told that he should be proud that powerful superhumans would carry his genetic legacy... He didn’t think about that too much. But he did mention that sometime he found it distasteful to perform weekly as though he were some type of breeding livestock. Constantin went on to detail some of the strange activities that occurred throughout his stay, beginning with an unorthodox personal interview with Helena Wright to determine final acceptance. During rigorous preliminary testing, prospective members endured physical and mental challenges from eight o’clock in the morning until eight o’clock in the evening, for an entire week. Upon completion of this process, Constantin entered a small private room on the second floor for a personal interview with Helena. Dressed only in light gym shorts he sat opposite her across a clear glass table. During the interview she wore a small bikini that openly revealed her bountiful physique and showed off her rich copper tan, while she discussed test results with the candidate, pointing out strengths and weakness, and outlining how the program could benefit him. Then she began discussing his sexual activity and history. Helena asked general questions before moving into a more explicit interrogation about sexual position preferences and fetishes, etc. To Constantin’s surprise, during the questioning she seemed to have become very sexually aroused. “It’s getting hot in here,” she said. Constantin couldn’t help noticing the beads of perspiration forming on the cleavage of her ample breasts. She tilted back her head, closed her eyes, her tongue gently licked her lips. Her sensitivity and body control were such that she had developed the ability to achieve a spontaneous orgasm, without any physical stimulation. Not a soft moaning orgasm, but an intense full body tremor that seemed to reach 6.9 on the Richter scale. Her cheeks flushed, her hard nipples strained against the material of her bikini top as she brought her knees slowly together. Gripping the edge of the desk she gently bit


down on her lower lip to suppress a scream of ecstasy. “Oh, my God, yes!” she quietly exclaimed before letting out a series of short, quick breaths. For a minute the shock‐ waves seemed to wash over her trembling body with diminishing echoes, her eyes wide, locked into an intense gaze with Constantin, who was surprised and somewhat in awe at what he had witnessed. He had never seen anything like it with the girls he had known back in Bulgaria. “Excuse me,” she apologized. “You know how those supplements can trigger hormonal activity.” He had also been provided with heavy doses of Cystorelin; a drug given to cattle to stimulate sperm levels, along with his daily meals. She lowered her gaze to see if it had any effect on Constantin. Her eyes slowly traced the contours of his chest, down along the compact muscles of his abdomen, her gaze coming to rest on the front of his trunks. Constantin swallowed hard, following the movement of her eyes with his own. Both had noted the results of the observation. “If there was an angry boa constrictor trying to escape from under the tarp, the candidate would be welcomed to the club,” Constantin chuckled. He explained that he had been welcomed with open arms; a ceremony which continued on the floor of the office for the next hour. Helena hadn’t need worry about disease or pregnancy, as she had been sterilized, and she was well aware of the candidate’s medical history ~ Cordova sensed it was a story that Constantin often enjoyed repeating. Cordova decided to change the topic, and asked him about his training program: Constantin’s day began at daybreak, with aerobics on an empty stomach. Twice a day, during the morning and late afternoon, there were one-hour high-intensity workouts. The high-tech cardiovascular and strength training equipment used computerized feedback to automatically adjust to the athlete’s capabilities. The machines were calibrated to adjust the force, flex, weight, and tension of the equipment to the user’s requirements. Constantin would run through repetitions of bench presses, lat pull‐ downs, hammer curls, lying extensions, and side laterals to the point of muscle failure. Some time his blood pressure was pounding so hard that he thought his head was going to explode. Constantin fondly described the way his rock hard abdominals, triceps, calves, quadriceps, and deltoids had become striations of ripped muscles bursting through the skin. Cut to the bone, there wasn’t an ounce of fat on his 375 pound body. The road map of vascularity along his 26 inch arms were popping veins the size of tree roots... Workouts were followed by physiotherapy and massage therapy, and a relaxing session in the sauna. During the day there were sessions which were a blend of meditation and spiritual guidance. Other sessions consisted of martial arts activities to release aggression, and before bed they practiced power yoga to control breathing and gain mental focus by moving the body through a dynamic flow of gestures. These sessions were designed to develop core strength, while calming and relaxing the body and mind.


The athletes were well-fed; eating a small meal every three hours. Most of the food was locally produced on the island; red meat, chicken, sea creatures, potatoes, yams, rice, vegetables, fruit, whole eggs, and goat’s milk. This was supplemented with vitamins, minerals, soy protein shakes, fish oil, desiccated liver tablets, ion exchanged whey, vanadyl sulphate, pyruvate and amino acids that pumped nitrogen into the bloodstream to feed the muscle’s mass. Body builders were also given a pharmacy load of chemical tablets and injections. Thermogenics to stimulate the burning of fat for a potent energy burst, lipotropics for deeper cuts and definition, testosterone enanthate; an injectable testosterone, and mega doses of B-12. 10 cc injections of Methandrostenolene; a veterinary grade Dbol, kept them happy and hyper with speed-like intensity. 100mg per day of Acetyl-LCarnitine was used at the end of the anabolic steroid cycle to prevent protein break‐ down in addition to giving them erections that lasted all night long. They were also given natural aphrodisiacs such as; Siberian Tiger balls, Black Rhino horns and ginseng to improve their virility and vitality. Pumped to a peak intensity with high levels of testosterone producing agents, Helena made sure the athletes were focused on weight training and meditation to take their minds off their throbbing sex drive. The sexual aspects of bodies were not talked about openly, but were often very much on display by the men. It was implied that abstinence was an important method of tailoring the body to an idealized physical appearance. Helena would preach; “A healthy body and a healthy mind lead to a fruitful release.” Several times a week, a group from Zeus would take the 15-minute walk to the beach to swim in the clear blue Mediterranean waters. They would tan naked in the sun, their skin gleaming with lotion to protect them from the deadly rays. Most men in the village were afraid of the giant muscled freaks, but would act as chaperones to chase the local village girls away if they tried to swim during those times. The local men had nothing to fear for their wives and daughters, as the athletes strictly adhered to the rule that forbid sexual activity ~ To Cordova some of the descriptions sounded almost like a cult-like environment. Every Saturday morning in the gymnasium forty men were primed to the maximum with male testosterone sexual overload. The athletes would hold a lottery each week to determine the order of their place in line. Those waiting passed the time working out on weights ~ Saturday was Helena’s day off from work, she would meet her friends in the cafe, or share a cocktail with them on the waterfront. She found the collection process a little overwhelming. She left her husband in charge of running the shop that morning. He liked to watch the procedure through hidden cameras, sitting in a reclining chair in front of the colour display in his apartment. To him the process was very exciting and stimulating as he enjoyed the show.


Constantin had zero respect for Seymore, who he described as an effeminate little man who was dominated by his powerful wife. He led a sedentary lifestyle, spending all his time in the apartment wearing his housecoat and chain smoking. The only time he left the compound was when he put on his white suit and tophat to supervise the unloading of supplies in the harbour; cursing stubborn donkeys and their stupid drivers for tardiness, barking commands in a shrill lisping voice. Often the shipments were from Sparticus Nutrition Inc.; a state-of-the-art neutriceutical manufacturing plant in Belgium, that featured many of the Zeus Olympians in their advertising campaigns. Cordova sent off another payment, then accessed some reference data on an adjacent screen while Constantin began to described the collection process. The display informed Cordova that semen is produced every day, and is a combination of sperm and secretions of the seminal vesicle, prostate gland, and bulbo-urethral glands. On average, when ejaculating, the male releases 2.5 to 6 milliliters of semen, including approximately 50 to 100 million spermatozoa per milliliter. “Random chance... Luck of the draw! Selecting a number between one and forty from a white tophat. In that order, we entered a private clinic adjoining the gym. At one time, this was the confessional when it was a church,” Constantin grinned. “Every Saturday morning, two ‘nurses’ arrived at the complex to administer the procedure. They collected sperm samples and ensured their integrity for shipping. They really seemed to enjoy their work. They were beautiful and buxom. They wore only white stockings under their short lab coats, tightly buttoned to reveal ample cleavage and firm round bottoms. They took great care to handle their ‘patients’ with a velvet glove to bring us to the point of ejaculation. It usually didn’t take me long, especially if I had been anticipating my turn for awhile. The nurses stroked and caressed, kissed and rubbed my swollen throbbing manhood. Since the nurses were forbidden to have intercourse with their patients I could always detect a palpable sense of urgency and tension. Out of frustration they were sometime forced to turn a simulator loose on themselves to unleash their lustful desires, or beg me to perform cunnilingus.” Cordova didn’t share Constantin’s enthusiasm for big-breasted women. In the towers, it was common for women to have breast-reduction treatments to make themselves more appealing ~ Possessing large mammary glands was appropriate for ‘milk maids’ or wet nurses in child-care centers, but was considered a sign of low status among women in the workplace. Constantin explained the final step in the process; “After administering the ‘therapy’, the nurses guided my penis into a soft rubber receptacle in the side of a plastic container. The rubber attached snugly around my reproductive organ, and the artificial fur lining the opening made it more comfortable. One nurse would press a button which provided suction within the device to collect the sample in a plastic bag. Sometimes the nurses were concerned I would damage their fragile box with the furious thrashing of my hips. After the samples were sealed and labeled, we were given the rest of the day off. We were free to leave the compound but we had to be back by curfew at 10:00 PM. Sunday morning testing of urine and blood samples


would reveal any unacceptable behavior. All of the athletes were mindful of obeying the rules; because we were fearful of being expelled because of drunkenness, injury, or contamination by sexual disease.” To conclude their conversation, Constantin again expressed regret that if things had been different; if he hadn’t tried to overexert himself by lifting weights that day, he would still have been living among the gods at Zeus, rather than shoveling pig shit in Plovdiv. Cordova said something to the effect about not being able to escape our fate, sent the final payment, then thanked Constantin for his information. He hit the button and logged off ~ “Did you get all of that HAL?”

II.

The contemplation of moments. The writer was naturally gifted with, what formerly had been known as ‘photograph‐ ic memory’. He was able to recall virtually any memory he had acquired since child‐ hood; reliving the event as if it had just happened. These memories were not frag‐ ments or impressions, for Cordova it was like experiencing it again in his mind; replaying events exactly the way he had originally perceived them. During military training, he had been taught valuable techniques which had helped him to develop and enhance this attribute. It was an ability that served him well during his military career as a special forces agent. Yet, even then, as it was now, this ability had been both a blessing and a curse ~ There were many things he wished he could forget. At first, he had only set out in an attempt to make some sense of events from his past, by contemplating memories and recording his observations. As he continued the process of writing he had unlocked the gates, and now a torrent had begun to be released. He didn’t know if he could try to stop it even if he wanted to. He hadn’t intended to reveal everything. There were many things he had experienced, (that we all have experienced), that are better not revealed. Considering them at the present, sometime those events did not even seem real. The world is huge, much larger than he could imagine, and much stranger than he could imagine. He realized that what he discovered during his investigations seemed insignificant compared to that vastness he would never be aware of. There were also many things he pledged never to reveal when he had been Flex Global Agent Cordova Frost back in 2011. It had been his duty to maintain the


confidentiality of information which protected the interests of those he served. Now, nine years later, he realized it did not matter; the secrets were not secrets any more ~ They had become the everyday events of his current reality. Hindsight, it has been said, is 20/20. If they hadn’t come for him yet, they were not likely to come for him now. He was aware how difficult it is to track people down. The process consumes large quantities of time and resources that are just not available in most situations. It is impossible to keep an eye on everyone; spot-checks are much more effective. It keeps most people anxious and afraid; it makes their own conscience become their watch‐ dog. Paranoia is one of the most effective tools of the trade. Give them the ‘evil eye’; the rotating Flex Global eyeball, and the general population will behave themselves for a long, long time. If Flex Global’s Office of Special Investigations were determined, they would have found him by now; homing in like a shark after blood. They were capable of making people dematerialize; as though they had never existed. It was easy. But why should they bother with him? He had transformed himself into just another ‘average man’ who delivers concrete every night, and has for seven accident-free years. He is employed helping to build a new civilization from the crumbling remnants of the past. Concrete from limestone quarries, that in turn had been derived from the shells of ancient dead sea creatures ~ Why should he stir up the past? The little black roll of ribbon in his typewriter gradually unwound, tattered and frayed, smudging down letter forms under the hammer of steel. The writer recently finished examining the box salvaged from Kropton’s apartment. He was troubled by evidence that the Starks had intentionally been ‘terminated’. Information in the documents clearly supported the theory that the Starks disappear‐ ance had not been an accident. From what he had read, the technology they were in the process of developing was truly in advance of its time. Electromagnetic pulse generation techniques and high-power microwave technology had made implementa‐ tion of e-bombs only technically practical at the start of the millennium. And the antigravity tachyon drive has only just begun to be field-tested; acknowledged quite openly in the media. It is not likely they had made any significant progress. At the time of their deaths, they would have been carrying most of the concepts still in the forma‐ tive stage within their thoughts. The writer remained puzzled; since it seemed they were much more valuable to the program should they they have remained alive. The writer recalls those days when he dedicated all his efforts to fulfill every request of the Authorities... His life in the tower... It was a time when his own existence, or should he say, the existence of Cordova Frost, was highly-valued ~ Now, he no longer exists... He was among the digital elite, the renegades, that’s why they kept him around. His mind operated in a way that administrators and computer programmers were unable or unwilling to comprehend. That’s why his employer treated him nicely and fed him well. They provided prime accommodation and offered privileges usually reserved for citizens near the top of the hierarchy. They tolerated idiosyncrasies, unorthodox uniforms, and flexible work schedules, because they had important


assignments to complete. They needed agents that could navigate digital networks throughout the world, they needed clear thinkers that could seek out logic in the chaos, they needed digital ‘prospectors’ to discover the most precious ‘gold’; valuable reservoirs of information located somewhere in uncharted terrain. Cordova had been like a pet; well-behaved, he obediently followed commands that were issued. The Authorities were aware that pets can sometimes become dangerous and turn on their masters, but he had not been difficult to control. He had been trained to believe in the system, to respect the system, and most importantly, to fear the system. He was like a Pavlov dog responding to reward and punishment. These were the same rewards and punishments as regular citizens of the towers, but with a slightly greater order of magnitude. The benefits were more abundant, but the fall was much further. At the time, he did not think about it; he was driven hard by the work he was involved in; it consumed his life like an obsession. That familiar pattern was beginning to repeat again. Writing the story had gradually taken over all of his free time. Between driving and writing there had been little time for sleep. Today he was tired. His eyelids are slightly swollen, his thinking is not clear. It had reached the point that he felt compelled to complete the story, realizing that if he stopped the process, he would likely never continue. It was important to capture his thoughts now that things were reconnecting; now that he had discovered a new perspective on the life of his past. The writer realized those insights were rare. By organizing, analyzing and describing his thoughts and feelings, his memories and experiences, he believed that he could give his life, his existence, a brief clarity of meaning and purpose ~ The discovery of seeing himself revealed; as though some‐ how he could see his soul reflected in a mirror. He was writing code. His dormant programming tendencies had once again resurfaced. Like coding, writing the story was a slow process of carefully choosing appropriate words to clearly define his thoughts and memories, then integrate the words into a pattern that could communicate information. The writer realized he would need to find strength deep within himself in order to persevere, as there was still more to tell before this story would end...


III.

Appearing extremely agitated, Mr. Luk spoke loudly into his cellular phone as he made his way through the lobby. He had just disembarked from his private jet at the Kimpo International Airport in Seoul, Korea, and had just been informed that his limo was detained by traffic. He wanted another vehicle made available, now! He didn’t like to be kept waiting. He was the center of the universe. His assistants spread out to see what they could arrange, firing off like free-electrons. Mr. Luk sliced through the chaos around him like a destroyer cutting through the waves. He moved quickly through a multimedia environment overloaded with colour, sound and activity. He didn’t seem to notice the floor-to-ceiling screens projecting current flight information that stood like monoliths among the apparently random activity of the passengers, flight crews and uniformed staff pushing small carts which dispensed complimentary beverages. Everywhere people were moving and talking loudly. As always, the ‘voices’ came from above. Speakers mounted in the ceiling constantly provided new information and advice to passengers who attempted to ignore the voices by watching satellite TV, or trying to sleep in rows of padded chairs facing the luggage carousels. Along the wall, rows of darkened semicircular plexiglass shields provided a measure of privacy to travelers using their digiphones. Mr. Luk stood on the sidewalk outside the terminal. Next to him were several heavily-muscled men wearing red uniforms that concealed their identity; the area around their eyes was the only opening in their concealment. The bodyguards accompanied Mr. Luk everywhere, although they were not permitted to speak with him. The guards knew their only duty, as a mobile wall of flesh, was to put their physical mass between danger and their master. They were trained to recognize danger, and were paid to be invisible to their employer, who they followed and protected as if he were their guardian spirit ~ It was late afternoon, and it was very hot and humid on the sidewalk. Passengers exiting the airport often glanced over in curiosity at the specta‐ cle of a short bald man in an expensively-tailored suit, cursing furiously under his breath, while large men in red uniforms stood immobile nearby. It wasn’t long before Mr. Luk was sitting in the back of a limousine with his firstassistant who operated a communication device which placed at Mr. Luk’s disposal the full executive operation of his office back in Hong Kong. Two bodyguards sat in facing seats, with one up front next to the driver to scan the route with enhanced vision built into his mirrored shades, as the vehicle navigated heavy traffic in Seoul, Korea. Mr. Luk was still upset, this wasn’t his favourite Porsche Cayenne limo, it was a Mercedes. The driver pressed hard on the accelerator, and within one hour they were pulling up in front of Hotel Lotto World inside the walls surrounding the downtown core ~ The city of Seoul had recently completed reconstruction of the original 10-mile city wall; which housed the major palaces, gardens and royal ancestral shrines of the


Choson Dynasty. The Toksugung Palace and Kyongbokkung Palace were now residential quarters for presidents of major international corporations. In addition to the palaces and grounds, the new city walls protect the heart of Seoul; home to major corporations, banks, government offices, the financial district, investment companies, the Embassy of the People's Republic of China, the Federation of Korean Industries, several large department stores, and many exclusive fashion salons and boutiques. Deluxe accommodations such as Hotel Lotto World are located nearby. The area is designed to serve the needs of visiting corporate officers, royal ministers, presidents and other diplomats. The official purpose of Mr. Luk’s visit to Seoul is to meet with Mr. Yong; the president of Yongtech Photonic Corporation, who has recently taken up residence in the Kyongbokkung Palace. His company had become one of the world’s largest manufac‐ turers of optical components for the solar industry ~ Kyongbokkung Palace, built in 1394, and surrounded by 40 acres of palace grounds and a complex of pavilions and halls, is suited to a man of Mr. Yong’s reputation in the business community. His residence is the largest and most impressive building on the palace grounds, and had once served as the throne room and audience hall. Kyonghoeru, a spacious two story pavilion, overlooks a picturesque secret garden, landscaped with forests and a manmade pond, and Hyangwonjong, a secluded pavilion nestled in the middle of a lotus pond at the northern end of the palace complex, is where the Yong family privately enjoyed special occasions. Mr. Luk has a series of meetings scheduled with Mr. Yong to finalize the financial transaction for the purchase of a new design of optical circuits soon to be coming off the line of fabrication plants owned by Yongtech Photonics. Following this successful negotiation, Mr. Luk planned to travel to the Namsan Botanical Gardens to arrange for the shipment of species of cactus and tropical plants to the greenhouses Golden Sun Corporation controlled in South America. Mr. Luk always enjoyed the cool environ‐ ment of the Namsan Aquarium boardroom; surrounded on three sides by large tanks of marine life. There he will collect findings of research the institute has carried out on the viability of artificially farming and harvesting certain types of shellfish; for use in the manufacture of a new experimental type of cement. Tomorrow is for business, but tonight is for pleasure... Agent Cordova Frost watched through surveillance cameras as Mr. Luk entered the elevator enroute to his private suite on the top floor of Hotel Lotto World. The suite costs KRW 50,000 credits per night, but all his expenses were covered by Golden Sun Corporation. He ordered an exquisite meal from room service, and also placed an order for a couple of young women to make his stay more comfortable. The very pretty Korean women are part of the hotel service. They arrive promptly. They are allowed access by bodyguards who patrol the hallway outside. These ‘school girls’ are cute; they have white painted faces and


young, firm, attractive bodies. Their hair is tied up in pigtails... They are just an appetizer... Mr. Luk leads the girls into an adjoining room to turn on the whirlpool jets of the hot tub. He adds a quantity of bubble bath to a sunken tub that is about ten feet in diameter. Room service had just delivered champagne which one of the girls uncorks and pours for Mr. Luk. Drink in hand, he is disrobed by one of the girls, who then strips off her uniform and joins him in the tub; which is now filled with mountain‐ ous clouds of bubbles. One girl is short, with a page-boy haircut, her small breasts make her look about 18. Her body is dark-toned and muscular. She washes Mr. Luk vigorously with a rough scrubbing towel. Meanwhile, the other girl, who is chubbier, is preparing a massage table that she has unfolded from the wall. She removes her clothes, and begins rubbing oil all over her body. As Mr. Luk emerges from the tub, the girl that bathed with him dries him, then escorts him to the massage table where the second girl goes to work. Oiled up, she gives Mr. Luk a body-to-body massage with her breasts and body, rubbing her firm nipples over his feet and back and chest. While she is squirming on top of him, she is also licking his hands, thighs and the top of his bald head. The other girl soon joins in, massaging his testicles, while sucking and licking his body. Mr. Luk responds with an erection that she attempts to fondle. Unexpectedly he severely scolds her, and slaps her quickly with the back of his hand. Nervously, the girls assist him to dress in a housecoat. They escort him to the dining area where a sumptuous feast has been delivered. The girls cut his meat for him and feed him. Although he is wearing a housecoat, the girls remain naked. They pour champagne for him, then clear away the dishes. Soon two of his assistants arrive at the door. They have been shopping. They have pur‐ chased an evening suit for Mr. Luk to wear tonight, and a business suit for the meeting tomorrow. He never travels with luggage, and disposes of his clothes when he has finished with them ~ He puts on the suit. It is the deepest colour of purple that is not black. The assistants have also brought him a white silk scarf. He asks them to call for the car. One of the assistants quickly responds by pressing a button and talking into a hand-held communicator. The assistants are anxious to please; as they know they will each be rewarded by taking one of the girls back to their own hotel rooms, as their services are covered for the entire night. Mr. Luk and his bodyguards head out of the walled city, into the neon light. They are seated comfortably in the back of a big black limousine. Mr. Luk is happy. The vehicle slides through the streets. Outside the windows advertising banners hover over the crowded Seoul train station, past the shops and street vendors, past HKK and Ham‐ burger Heaven, past the steel and glass, the city reflects off the sleek paint of the vehicle... They pass through the district around the Yongsan U.S. Army Garrison, where the narrow roadways are packed with American soldiers and young Asian men looking for sex. Young prostitutes hang around the doorways of the Cadillac Bar, Love Cupid, the King Club, and the Palladium, where sixty-year-old women scout the streets for customers for the girls inside... Some soldiers are brawling in a side street, or passed out in alleyways.


The limo moves into the district of Itaewon. Signboards are written in many foreign languages along the street. During the day, shoppers and merchants crowd the long strip of shops that cater to the less affluent; suits, silk dresses, eelskin handbags, brass, shoes, jewelry, and synthetic fur coats at a fraction of the normal price. There are hundreds of shops which specialize in leather wear, supplied by contracted factories in Ch'onggyech'on. At night, fast-food restaurants, coffee shops, bars, clubs and cafes sprang to life. Women sit in window displays of shops that sell leather products during the day, but at night become barbershop massage places, and Korean t'eo-ki-t'ang; ‘Turkey Bath’ ~ Up a flight of stairs and through an unmarked door. Mr. Luk pays the distractions little attention. He is heading for the New Rose Hotel; a large Korean love hotel and casino complex that Mr. Luk has a controlling interest in. His ownership, as a silent partner, is strictly off the books. Cordova had discovered that Mr. Luk has as many secret bank accounts around the world, as he has mistresses. His fortune has been acquired by leveraging the operating funds of Golden Sun Corporation that are under his control. He has used the money and his contacts from his executive responsibilities to invest and manage a small empire of his own. The businesses that he runs are often morally and legally questionable; such as his black market activity in animal trading. Cordova had been investigating the activity of Mr. Luk since his first contact with him. HAL had come up with a great deal of background data on him; by referencing and cross-referencing associations with his Hong Kong offices of the Golden Sun corporate empire. There was a huge network branching out from Mr. Luk, delving deep into some unusual places ~ When Cordova learned from his connections that Mr. Luk was visiting Seoul, he immediately contacted a Flex undercover operative who had been working at the New Rose for over a year. The operative reported to the Flex Global headquarters based in Singapore. The New Rose had been an ideal location to gather intelligence on several influential figures in Asian finance who frequented the establishment. Kerosene is the code name of the undercover agent. She is a tall, gorgeous, lightskinned Asian women, who is employed as one of the managers in the love hotel. Kerosene is a favorite personal escort of Mr. Luk, and she is wired. Through surveil� lance cameras, Cordova can see that the New Rose Hotel is a huge complex spread over two city blocks. The buildings looked tech, modular, molded out of high-strength, lightweight metal alloys. The architectural shapes are like a collection of blocks, aligned with each other, but giving the impression of being stacked haphazardly. The metallic building is entirely enclosed, with very few windows. Air circulation tubes run along the outer shell. Solar panels covered the entire outer surface; integrated into the design so they are not noticeable. The structure gave Cordova the impression that an alien spacecraft had crash-landed, and partially buried itself into the city skyline. The building itself has no markings. The name of the establishment is illuminated on a large stone sign on the lawn. Armed guards posted by the entrance ensure


access only to exclusive members ~ The casino and theme rooms are a very lucrative venture for Mr. Luk and his partners. Kerosene greets Mr. Luk in the lobby and accompanies him to his private office near the front desk. The bodyguards were released to wander around and enjoy themselves, but in the event of an emergency, they could home-in on a chip inserted just under the skin of Mr. Luk’s left forearm. Cordova sipped coffee, trying to stay awake, while he watched the video signal from the camera mounted on the ornate crown-like headband Kerosene was wearing. When Mr. Luk admired it, she winked as she told him the small convex mirror was there so he could watch his own reflection when he made love to her. It took awhile for Cordova to become accustomed to the movement of the camera, which often moved randomly and unexpectedly ~ Kero and Mr. Luk briefly discuss business details, as he poured himself a drink from the well-stocked bar. He then walked to a viewscreen mounted on the desk; scanning various areas displayed from a network of surveillance cameras throughout the New Rose Hotel. HAL immediately patched Cordova in so he could monitor the same views on his display, in addition to watching Mr. Luk himself through Kero’s camera. The views on Cordova’s display show various theme rooms, arranged around the casino which is the centerpiece of the complex. A reception area is located for each section attended by a young man and woman who greet customers and record their credit card transactions. The affluent clientele scan descriptions of an assortment of men and women whose services are available, and also watch stimulating videos in suggestive poses. These employees service men and/or women, in all manner of male/female combinations. Some couples rent the room for a few hours or for the night. Singles have a choice of discrete sexual partners. Each room is equipped with a control panel to adjust the lighting, sound system and air temperature. A bar, a variety of sexual devices, condoms, and a fresh container of warm moist towels are supplied. It is a private, safe environment for sexual encounters where personal hygiene items: toothbrush, pajamas, slippers, mouthwash, shampoo and soap have also been considered ~ The towels are made of disposable paper. At the moment, Mr. Luk is observing the karaoke lounge near the casino. The elegant lounge serves potent cocktails while customers await their turn for a theme room. For others, perhaps the relaxing environment provides an escape from the casino to drown sorrows over lost wages. An exuberant man on the karaoke stage is loud and far off key. His head-mounted display provides the words to the song he is attempting to sing. A microphone mounted near his mouth broadcasts his voice through speaker columns on either side of the stage. Behind him, a large panoramic video screen displays the virtual-reality landscape the entertainer envisions while he sings. Mr. Luk scans several other sections of New Rose Hotel, then satisfied with his quick video inspection, turns his attention to the portfolio of new girls who have


recently been acquired as employees. His scouts travel throughout Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia seeking very attractive girls that are living in poverty, then offer their parents a substantial compensation for the purchase of these young women. Mr. Luks enjoys personally welcoming the girls to the facility, by showing them his prize rose garden. He scans the files to select four that interest him. Kero makes the arrangements. Kero accompanies Mr. Luk up the elevator to his penthouse suite. Cordova watches through the camera on Kero’s tiara. The large rectangular room has glass walls and ceiling. Retractable curtain panels adjust the light for an incredible variety of roses growing in hydroponic containers. The entire floor is covered with synthetic grass to create a more natural appearance. A circular waterbed, approximately 20 feet in diameter, is sunk into the center of the garden, and covered by blue fabric imprinted with realistic water lilies... Soon, the four young girls arrive to stand in a row beside the bed. The slender girls tight tops clearly reveal their tiny breasts. Above white socks and below skimpy skirts are exposed trimmed areas of dark pubic hair. Their faces are painted white, their lips the colour of rosebuds. Their dark eyes dart about like butterflies while they wait, nervously fiddling with their braided hair. Mr. Luk carefully removes his dark suit, and hands his clothing to Kero. Standing opposite the young girls, the naked Mr. Luk does a cannonball dive into the ‘pond’. The water in the rubberized container cushions his impact, springing back with a series of diminishing ripples that leave him floating gently. He motions for the girls to join him, and they timidly approach, giggling and tiptoeing down onto the surface of the bed. They call out excitedly as they fall over from losing their balance and are soon bobbing in the waves amongst the lily pads. Frolicking with Mr. Luk, one of the girls slips a condom on him with her tongue, while another sucks his toes. Another with a rounded ass and muscular thighs has straddled his face to bounce up and down on his tongue. Soon, Mr. Luk has them face-down in a row. He positions himself behind them then intensely goes to work like a bee buzzing from flower to flower.

IV.

A green field, divided into a grid by lines painted on the surface. Each territory is designated by a numeral. The zones are temporarily claimed by small stacks of coloured tokens strewn across the landscape. Surrounding the field, expectant faces wait impatiently for the next chance... In the distance the wheel of fortune turns. Cordova’s eye is mounted on the ceiling of the casino in the New Rose Hotel. He moves his gaze, panning over the scene beneath him. Players around the roulette


tables don’t notice the camera, they are constantly moving chips, then watching the bounce of a small white marble come to rest in a numbered groove. “22!” calls out a croupier wearing a black suit and bow tie. “Mr. Luk wins again!” Mr. Luk beams a golden smile. Standing beside him, Kerosene’s face is tranquil, peaceful. It is the face of an angel; a face radiating calmness, a face suppressing inner turmoil. The soft flow and counterflow. The wheel spins quickly now. Mr. Luk is picking up the scent, or the vision, or the sense of what is about to occur. Scanning the numbers, occasionally hedging his bets by playing dividing lines. The croupier’s rake collects the mass of tokens outside the range of possibility, then ceremonious counts out chips for the winners. Mr. Luk is doing well, increasing his fortune by a small stack of tokens nearly every time. The logic of random chance is difficult to understand. The ebb and flow of fate? Bad decisions? The emotionless expressions of the small group of people gathered around the table display various degrees of intensity, or resigna‐ tion. Expressions of elation or despair appear as different versions of the same emotion. They have lost track of the value of money; it has become an abstract concept. Their tokens come and go. Winners or losers are also met with the same faceless expressions behind the glass in the cashier’s cages when they cash-in their chips. Mr. Luk had lost interest in winning. He collects Kero, and they set off to tour the casino. Cordova joins them through the camera mounted in Kero’s headband. Staff and patrons greet Mr. Luk respectfully wherever he goes. Marble floors, the interior filled with live bamboo and golden dragon sculptures. Rows of players sitting in front of slot machines; pressing buttons like monkeys... ringing bells and flashing lights. Credits and debits automatically made to the cardholders account. The voices from above periodically call out lottery numbers. With determined footsteps. Mr. Luk leads Kero by the arm. She has become reluctant as they approach the Green Room; a wave of nausea is already whelling up inside her. The Green Room is the ultimate in gaming; life or death. They take their seats in Mr. Luk’s private balcony suite above the spectator’s gallery. There is a game every hour, on the hour, around the clock. Spectators occupying the small auditorium fill out their betting slips. Down below, behind bulletproof glass, a man wearing light green coveralls sits quietly on a wooden stool in the middle of a small cube. He cannot see or hear the audience, as his chamber is soundproofed, and the glass has a mirrored surface on the inside. In his hand he holds a pistol, which contain three bullets randomly loaded into the six chambers of the gun. He absently spins the chamber while he sits awaiting the signal. He is betting his life against a substantial prize; which is calculated to equal the potential earnings of an entire career for a professional worker. The odds of winning are fifty/ fifty. This particular game had been Mr. Luk’s idea, and he frequently attends the event whenever he is ‘in town’. He sips on cognac as the hour approaches. Cordova notices that only at the urging of Mr. Luk does Kero direct her attention toward the man in the


box. The light grows dim as excitement and anticipation build in the spectator gallery. Now a spotlight shines down upon the man in the center of the room. When the clock displays 11:00, the man is given a signal. He lifts the pistol to his temple. His face betrays terror as he struggles to maintain his composure. There is a fierce intensity in his eyes. His finger slowly squeezes the trigger... Kero looks down at the floor. There is no gunshot from the soundproof room, but a portion of the crowd begins to cheer wildly. Cordova is shaken by the spectacle. He takes a sip of water. Even though he is a former military man, and somewhat desensitized to the violence of weaponry, he could not help but be appalled by the barbarism and blood-lust of the spectators. He tries somehow to erase the memories of the event he has just witnessed, but they will never go away... He returns his attention to the screen, Kero and Mr. Luk have entered the hallway of the theme rooms. Kero has already reserved a room, as per Mr. Luk’s instructions. She returns to her suite to change while Mr. Luk is accompanied to the theme room by a young woman from the front desk. Inside her suite, Kero seems unaware that her camera is on. Cordova observes her beautiful body as she removes her black dress in front of the mirror; she is long and lean and physically fit, her skin is beautiful and clear. The tips of her long black hair gently brush against the nipples on her firm round breasts as she removes her stockings. The tiny black patch of her pubic hair is in the shape of a small bird that is spreading its tiny wings. Cordova suddenly perceived another set of eyes monitoring his own activity... unseen eyes... There were no secrets within the organization... He suddenly began to feel guilty about watching the video feed. The view from Kero’s camera, who is now dressed as a dominatrix in red vinyl, enters the dimly-lit theme room. In the center of the room Mr. Luk has been secured to an adjustable wooden cross; his hands and feet fastened with zip ties. The short bald man is naked and spread out. Kero walks to him and they talk for a few minutes ~ Mr. Luk seems impatient; he doesn’t like to be kept waiting. The camera on Kero’s headband tilts down. Cordova can see that his small penis is engorged with blood. The camera swings around and moves to a rack, where Kerosene takes her time examining various instruments of punishment. She selects a small wooden paddle. Cordova switches off his display; he anticipates it is not something he wants to see. He summons HAL to investigate Mr. Luk’s financial transactions during the previous week, particularly with the greenhouse operation in South America. Cordova wants to discover if it is a legitimate Golden Sun enterprise, or whether Mr. Luk had some other side-action with this project as well. While HAL is fetching data, Cordova gives some thought to the progress of the investigation. He had not gotten any closer to discover‐ ing who the hacker was, or where he was operating from. In fact, the investigation had kind of turned in upon itself; through his exploration of the mystery and intrigue of tracking some of Golden Sun Corporation’s own clandestine operations.


Cordova was beginning to become suspicious that the person who called himself ‘infinity’ was possibly an operative within Flex Global, or perhaps an informant with extremely close ties to the security force, which enabled him to have the knowledge and resources to move freely through their primary system. Cordova speculated that another possibility was that he was being supplied inside information by someone within Golden Sun who desired a discrete investigation of one of their high-level executives, without calling attention to the corporation. Speak of the devil! A line of text appeared across the darkened screen; “Mr. Luk, it’s time to place your bet!” “What the hell?” muttered Cordova, as he called up the camera view from Kero’s tiara. Mr. Luk was sitting in his office now, gazing at his screen with a perplexed expression on his face. Cordova could observe everything Mr. Luk was watching on his own display ~ The text message continued; “Mr. Luk, are you feeling lucky? Here is a little taste of your own medicine.” ~ Above the text were three empty vertical rectan‐ gular boxes outlined with a thin white border. “HAL!” A new text message: “ Play to win. The cost to play is 100,000 credits every 6 seconds.” “HAL!” “I am here Agent Frost, there is no need to shout,” responds HAL in a calm soothing voice. The next message: “One million credits per minute, sent from your secret bank accounts to the recipients of my choice. You will hardly miss it.” “Trace this connection, now!” The next message: “Are you game?” “I am working on it,” replies HAL. The next message: “Press the enter key to begin. The clock is running.” Icons appear inside the three boxes; strange white-line symbols that Cordova does not immediately recognize. One shape resembles a numeral ‘7’ merged with the letter ‘L, connected across the middle like a capital letter ‘H’. Next is a circle with three short lines projecting from it at 0, 90, and 270 degrees. The third is a small diamond positioned between a bar and a short wavy line. The next message: “Make your move.”


Mr. Luk stares intently at his screen, uncertain whether to take it seriously. HAL reports back; “The connection appears to be originating from inside Mr. Luk’s office in Hong Kong.” “Trace it deeper HAL.” Time passes. Mr. Luk turns to Kero, “This is some kind of a joke.” He is laughing... until sequences of numbers begin to scroll along the edge of the screen. The numbers erase the smile from Mr. Luk’s face, replacing it with horror, as he recognizes some of his own bank account numbers. “Get my office on the phone!” Mr. Luk yells rudely at Kero. When she doesn’t respond in milliseconds, he adds, “Nao Sheng Chao!” HAL reports back, “The casino display and the messages are running off software resident on the server in Mr. Luk’s office, and appears to be connected to bank accounts in Switzerland, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Monaco, the Bahamas and other locations.” Mr. Luk tentatively presses the enter key and the symbols inside the three panels appear to rotate like reels on a slot machine... No match... He presses the key again, the display changes. Then more rapidly, at the same time swearing at Kero to get his office on the line. As the game continues HAL recognizes the symbols are cattle brand markings. Odd... Mr. Luk operates the key for about 20 minutes before he finally gets a match ~ A final message appears on his screen: “Congratulations, You win... You lose!” Veins are bulging on Mr. Luk’s forehead, and droplets of spittle fly from his mouth as he screams into the phone at his assistants at the home office. Cordova realizes that Mr. Luk is going need a team of accounting specialists to track where his money has vanished. The balance of the transfers were in relatively small amounts over a period of time, and with the ingenuity of the hacker, it is not likely that the random recipients of the funds will ever know how or why they have been blessed by these miraculous finances. Cordova logs out. He has seen enough bad ugliness for one day. He wants to escape for awhile ~ Destination: Cloud Nine.


V.

A fragment of code drifted to the surface from somewhere deep within his mind. “We struggle against fatality in vain.” He searched for links which could securely anchor the thought to its original context, but the fragment drifted like a little island in his stream of consciousness. The phrase seemed meaningful, because there were many occurrences throughout his life which made him wonder whether apparently spontaneous events were somehow predetermined, and inevitable. The writer was reminded of the three Fates of ancient mythology; the three goddesses who controlled human destiny ~ Clotho, the Spinner, who creates the thread of life ~ Lachesis, the Disposer, who determines the length of the thread ~ and Atropos, the Inflexible, who cuts it off with her shears. The writer imagined these Moirae as spiders who arrange the threads into a web; weaving the network which made up the fabric of human existence. His independent nature had led him to believe in self-determinism and free will; that through his own effort he could improve his lot in life, or conversely, be the author of his own misfortune. He was like a fly that warily tried to avoid getting caught up in that sticky web of other’s fatalistic belief in destiny. He had spent the early part of his life shunning the pursuits of fortune tellers and gamblers, also mystics and prophets and prognosticators ~ People who believed in the randomness of fortune, or believed in ominous powers which predetermine their path through life. The writer had seen evidence of it in the blind faith offered by the ‘congregation’ when he had attended a service at the Church of the New Machine. The priests of the Church of the New Machine share their belief in ‘The Program’, and in ‘The Code’ which all life in the universe unknowingly follows; instruction line after instruction line. They believe that an ultimate power, or deity somewhere beyond our imagination, has created an infinitely-complex computer-like code which deter‐ mines the existence and the interconnectedness of all things, everywhere, forever. The code is written in an as yet indecipherable programming language, which even if it could be reverse-engineered, would take an entire lifetime to decode just the small subroutine which governs one’s own existence. While it seemed uncertain that anyone could confirm or deny the existence of the ‘Master Programmer’, these vague notions had reluctantly forced the writer to concede that the concept of destiny could be remotely-plausible. Similar to parallels in the field of pure science, in which, as researchers explore new territory, and expand the boundaries of their known range of knowledge and experience, they ultimately discover entirely new unfathomable mysteries yet to be explored, if for no other reason than to use that expression to account for events which had no other logical explanation... In that sense, it had been a fateful day:


The writer walks to work in the middle of the night, down D825, over the bridge and across the river which reflects no light. As usual, he hangs his hat upon a wooden peg by the door, drops his lunchbox on the bench, then pours a cup of coffee from the machine. He sat in his usual place among the drivers waiting for the change of shift. The younger drivers are laughing and telling jokes. Ed sits quietly across from him, sipping his black coffee, his hat on the table before him. They hadn’t spoken to each other in years. The ‘fateful’ break in the writer’s routine came about with the appearance of the dispatcher, who had arrived in the driver’s area to personally announce big news ~ To the writer, Ross was the familiar voice on the radio who had communicated with him remotely since he had first started hauling concrete; providing wisdom, advice and instructions which determined the course of their labour, and helped extricate them from any tough jams they found themselves in. At sixty years old, Ross had the wrinkled leather face of a man who had been exposed to the elements. A tragic accident forced him out of action and into a desk job. Ross lost his right arm below the elbow in the crash. He always kept the sleeve of his tan shirts folded and pinned near his shoulder. The writer could sense that Ross was excited to announce the news amongst drivers who had great respect for him. The big news was that the writer, in acknowledgement for seven years of accidentfree driving, had been selected as one of three drivers to pilot a brand-new Tarantula D-224 Concrete Transport Vehicle. The announcement caused quite a stir amongst the drivers. No-one had even heard so much as a rumor that new vehicles had been ordered. Other drivers applauded politely as the dispatcher presented the writer with a slip of paper, on which the handwritten numbers for the keycode of the door-locks and ignition system were scrawled almost illegibly. The dispatcher then walked with the three drivers into the yard, across crushed gravel, to point out the machines parked in that huge garage where the mechanics seemed to live. There they were; black as an eclipse under the smoky blue beams glaring down from the lighting towers. They were big rigs, state-of-the-art; infinitely variable-speed heavy-duty agitator, bell-housing mounted all-gear direct hydraulic pump-drive, articulated steering, deep weldment rigid alloy frame, air-actuated spring mounted drum-brakes, automatic shutdown system, and a camera monitoring system for internal computer-controlled hopper vibrator, auger and trough. The trough had a three-foot-wide gate opening for quick discharge, and the hopper was designed for ultra-fast loading. Tarantula D-224 Concrete Transport Vehicle: Tare Weight: approximately 40,000 lbs. Engine: Black Star 4405J. Transmission: Brahe Hydrostatic Drive Transmission with RUR6000 gearbox. Tires: Eight Fortress steel-belted, 10-foot diameter. Rear Axles: 50,000 lb. capacity solid-mount with planetary-reduction. Suspension system: Haley Yokohama Full-air.


Hopper Capacity: 30 cubic yards, Hydraulic Swing and Lift, Vibrator: Air. Auger: High-speed, 22" diameter. Lights: 4 high-pressure sodium worklights, 4 headlights, 6 tail lights. Fuel: Hydrogen fuel cells. Paint: Gloss black with silver trim. The writer quickly scrambled up the ladder, which was recessed into the body of the vehicle behind the front wheel. He punched-in the code the dispatcher had written down and the cabin door slid open almost soundlessly. Immediately, he was engulfed by the fragrance of new plastic inside the cab. He inhaled deeply. The entire process of loading and unloading was carried out from the comfort of the cabin’s pilot chair. All functionality was built into the on-board control system, which was monitored with cameras mounted at strategic locations on the exterior of the vehicle. Perplexed by the layout of the small displays on the dashboard, the writer wasn’t surprised that a voice suddenly spoke to him ~ It was connected to an expert-system software program. “Hello, my name is Yadira.” “Hello Yadira!” The Tarantula was considerably larger than other transporters, and much more comfortable than his own apartment. Yadira instructed him about air circulation systems, sound system, seat adjustment, remote cameras, various internal and external lighting systems, agitator tank rotation, and air horn. Flipping switches and pressing buttons, the writer opened the small refrigerator compartment, learned how to use the ignition access panel, adjust the mirrors, radio and visual communication systems, global positioning device, gear selection panel, braking system, navigation system, etc.... It was as complex as a spacecraft. He was grateful that Yadira offered guidance and instruction. Once he has understood the array of control panels, the writer enters the ignition sequence into the keypad and the engine explodes to life with heavy metal sound and fury. Yet, it is quiet in the cab, and there is very little vibration. The writer engages the drive; its power plant is a series of hydrogen electric generators ~ The waste product from the fuel reaction is water, which is tapped off to replenish the cooling system... The writer maneuvered tentatively as a worker in fluorescent coveralls directed his vehicle into the loading bay to take on cement. A large pipeline ran down to a spout welded onto a gridwork archway. With a giant whoosh, the concrete is dumped into the vehicle. He could feel the truck settle under the enormous weight; this load was twice as large as any he had previously hauled. Pulling out of the yard, the writer becomes aware of the vehicle’s size on the highway where the Tarantula takes more width than a single lane. Fortunately there is very sparse traffic at night ~ Bandits never went after cement; although they might want


to claim the vehicle itself as a prize, the writer briefly considered. Ironically, even though the entire system is automated, there is much more for the driver to do. In the past, driving had been a matter of operating physical gears and levers, now the writer spent most of his time pushing buttons to monitor and override the automatic systems. He definitely needed two hands to operate these machines, three would be better... It did not take long to become accustomed to the handling characteristics. The dispatcher radioed his instructions: for the next few months the writer would be hauling loads to the construction site of the new Atomic desalination plant; out past the Industrial Zone and a few miles north along the coast. The writer entered the coordinates into the navigation screen and the most effective route was outlined. He had never been to that part of the region before, so he was anticipating that it would be interesting. Throughout his career as a cement truck driver he had hauled to many major projects; powerhouse construction, highway paving, barrier walls, bridges, tunnels, hypermarkets, parking structures, waste solidification, industrial parks, storage silos, hydrogen refineries, and many other sites. There was a type of comfort in long-term industrial projects where he followed a familiar routine night after night ~ The Tarantu‐ la handled beautifully with a load on its back. The big tires whine on the concrete surface. The tank slowly rotates in the side mirrors, lit by the running lights of the vehicle. Along the coast, bugs were beginning to splatter the windshield, including a couple of really huge, juicy beetles about 8 inches long. Yadira instructs him how to turn on the windshield washer. The button is really hidden under the dashboard; he would never have found it without her. “Thanks Yadira!”... No response... She definitely is not as chatty as HAL used to be ~ Which is probably just as well. The writer sometime wondered whether HAL would still recognize his voice after all these years. It was likely that Cordova’s personnel files from Flex Global had already been purged from the system. The writer hauled three loads during the night ~ Should be able to do four, he thought, now that he was accustomed to operating the behemoth ~ The view had been awe-inspiring along the coast. The sun had risen, warm and golden, turning the hills a rich burgundy, and the ocean a bright metallic blue. Thin grey clouds clung to the valleys between low hills where they moved inland. The intensity of the light separated out objects spatially, and defined the distances between them, giving a true sense of depth to the scene that would be impossible to emulate on a computer. Barges and freighters anchored on the calm ocean spanned the curvature of the earth across the panorama. The wind is gentle and warm. As usual, he returned over the bridge; walking past shops opening for their daily business; frozen fish sparkling in the sunshine, burlap bags of coffee beans piled behind metal bars, the owner of the hardware store sweeping the sidewalk and calling out a friendly greeting as the writer passes by... It was early and there weren’t many people on the street... Anticipating he would soon be back at his apartment, it was


unexpected that this fateful day had something else to disrupt the routine pattern of his existence ~ As he neared his residential block, he noticed a woman struggling to manage two bags of groceries, as well as attempt to carry a small child she clasped in her free arm. While waiting at a corner for the signal to cross the street, one of her grocery bags ripped open, spilling its contents onto the cement sidewalk. The woman, still holding a young boy who was asleep, knelt to pick up the gro� ceries. The writer greeted her, then offered his assistance. He took the bag that wasn’t ripped and filled it with the items he picked off the street. This plastic bag was very full, and was likely to rip as well, unless he supported underneath with both hands. He asked the woman where she lived, and she pointed at the building directly across from his. He offered to carry the groceries to her place, which she gladly accepted. They introduced themselves as they walked. She said her name was Camellia Theaceae. She was a mature woman, approximately the same age as the writer. She was of average height, with a trim body. The writer noticed her firm round breasts. Her dark eyes shone from a narrow pleasant face that was framed with long straight dark brown hair. Her little boy, who was maybe about three years of age, continued to sleep comfortably cradled in her arms as they climbed several flights of stairs to her apart� ment. The child had facial features that were very similar to his mother, although his hair was much lighter in colour. Camellia gracefully unlocked the door using a small key, while balancing the child slung over her shoulder. Inside, she immediately went into an adjoining room with the child. The writer stood in the doorway and waited, still holding the bag. He heard her whisper to the child to go back to sleep... After a few minutes she returned to the main room. She smiled to see that he was still standing in the doorway. She brushed back a strand of hair that had fallen across her face, and tucking it behind her ear, asked if he would like to come in... The writer placed the bag of groceries on the counter. Camellia motioned him to sit in a chair beside the kitchen table, then asked if he would like a cup of tea. The apartment was about the same size as his, with a slightly different layout, but much cleaner and better organized. He noticed a small computer monitor resting on a table in the corner that was set up like an office. On the opposite side of the room, where the balcony faced onto the street, was a small hydroponic garden with a variety of vegetables and herbs, covered with a semi-transparent sheet of plastic to function as a greenhouse. She hung up her dark coat, and was wearing a white blouse that accented her womanly beauty, covering the contours of her body with a rather diaphanous veil of material. Sitting across the table from each other, sipping tea made with fragrant flowers and dried herbs from her garden, the writer had the opportunity to more carefully study her face. He realized that she was exceptionally beautiful. Her gentle voice, fine features, and attractive body had began to stir feelings in him that he had not experienced in a considerable time. The sensation surprised him.


As they talked he discovered Camellia was separated from her husband, and that she eked out a meager existence working from her apartment writing technical support material, and looking after her child. They discussed several topics, then when he finished his tea, the writer excused himself, explaining that he should go home to wash and get some rest; apologizing for the odor of his perspiration, as he usually arrived from work without changing his clothes. She smiled, and mentioned that he smelled kind of nice, and asked if he would like to come for supper some day, promising that she was a very good cook. The writer replied that he would be pleased to honour her offer... It is now later that same fateful day. The writer had slept all afternoon, then after a rudimentary meal, recorded the events that had transpired that day on his trusty typewriter. In the cool of the evening he sat on the roof by the satellite dish enjoying the twilight air. Soon he will return to work. As the days went by, he couldn’t get the thought of Camellia out of his mind...

VI.

“.... colder than hell, somewhere around minus 140 degrees Celsius”. The Sun King’s facial expression remained impassive throughout the description of the cryopreservation procedure; explained in detail by a young, dark-skinned man, with sharp angular facial features and a tiny grey beard protruding from his chin. He was sweating. The temperature was approaching 40 degrees Celsius in Cairo, Egypt. Anubis 124C 4FR+ was a noted, highly-awarded Egyptian scientist, and one of the rare people on the planet permitted to use the plus-sign following his name. He was the president and senior researcher of Eternal Life Cryobiological Systems Inc.; a private Egyptian company he founded, which was also one of the latest acquisitions of Golden Sun Corporation. Anubis+ was seated inside the tomb of his dimly-lit underground office. The room was quite large, shaped somewhat like a loaf of bread; the ceiling merged with the walls in a smooth curve where they met. The entire surface was covered with faded painted symbols of ancient hieroglyphics, in ocher, green, white and rust. On his display, Cordova studied the interior of the room. Anubis+ was surrounded by a treasure-trove of Egyptian artifacts; a collection of canopic jars on the shelf along the wall, in front of him were a variety of obsidian tools and a painted wooden box filled to


the brim with a collection of shabtis. On the desk, a vidcomm panel and surveillance monitor were nearly buried under dusty ancient stacks of papyrus ~ Books of the Dead. “Paperwork is never done!” Anubis+ laughed to Coraline Coventry, the British architect who accompanied Sun on his journey to Egypt. Cordova scanned the scene provided by the surveillance camera in an adjoining tomb. Two technicians were attending to a row of metallic sarcophagus chambers. Within the crypt, the chambers reminded Cordova of fighter jet cockpits; the sliding canopy of one was open to reveal a human shape molded into the contours of the metal housing with a collection of hoses and wires connected to its body ~ A hunk of meat-tech monitored and controlled by computer processors connected to the master machine. The rows of cryogenic preservation chambers were deep within a maze of under‐ ground tunnels. Each sarcophagus was adorned with a sculpted human shape in metallic relief. The representations that emerge from the dull-polished surface seem almost robotic-like; arms crossed over the body, a small video panel displaying an image of the face of the cryonaut. The portraits are a picture of cool, quiet isolation; a calm tranquil expression preserved in a state of suspended animation. Overlayed on the images are areas of soft-outline text blocks, and the wireframe hieroglyphic icons of an interface. An area in the lower left corner was updated with current technical readouts in a series of bar-codes graphics. In the top-right corner, the logo of Eternal Life; a stylized scarab beetle enclosed within a circle. Cordova scanned further data which HAL had delivered to one of his displays. In addition to cryogenic research, he discovered that Eternal Life was involved in collaboration with another Egyptian firm called pHaroh Systems. Their joint experi‐ ments had resulted in cloning genetic material unearthed from the mummified remains found in ancient tombs. They recovered DNA from the mummy itself, as well as samples of major organs obtained from canopic jars within the crypts. The genetic data was then inserted into frozen embryos and incubated in the wombs of surrogate mothers. At present, more than one dozen two-year-old children carrying the genes of Thoetmoses IV, Sethos I, Amenhotep III, Ramesses, and King Neferkere, were being raised in a Cairo nursery. To Cordova, it felt as though he was on an archaeological expedition with his current investigation. He kept recovering artifacts, but had yet to find the key which would piece the mystery together. He was mystified why the hacker was directing him through a series of connections that seemed to be forming various links as the investigation progressed; he was aware of being directed to observe specific situa‐ tions, although he was as yet uncertain as to the motivation behind it. The latest emessage waiting for him when he logged into the Flex Global System contained further cryptic instructions: Date: 01 Mar 11 01:45:18 EDT From: 93523.51461 [unverified]


Message-Subject: > You’re getting warmer. > Look into the sun today. > Oh, now your getting colder. The message was simply signed with “∞” ~ the symbol for Infinity. It had taken HAL some time to work his way through the elaborate security network within the main server at Golden Sun Corporation; in order to establish an unde‐ tectable link directly to the desktop of the Sun King himself. HAL had accomplished his objective by constructing a micro virtual computer within their global drives. The parasite mechanism was sophisticated. Its operating system enabled it to monitor its surrounding environment and continually convince the processors which queried it that it did not actually exist, all the while channeling communication traffic from the Sun King through replicated signals which were processed in real time to transmit a stream of data to Cordova at Flex Global headquarters. Cordova was taking a huge risk by operating without authorized clearance. He realized that if HAL had easily penetrated the system’s defenses, it was certain the hacker had as well. Even more dangerously, he was monitoring the system of the highest official in the corporation sponsoring the investigation. It was in the manual, as part of the agency’s standard operating policy, but it was a procedure never officially acknowledged outside of Flex Global ~ It was not uncommon for a corporation ordering an investigation to do so in an effort to draw attention away from its own questionable activities. Should an agent get caught with his hand in the cookie jar, internal investigators would disavow any knowledge of his action. After establishing the connection, Cordova waited to observe the Sun King’s scheduled meeting with Anubis+. In the meantime, he requested further background data about the company, and HAL’s agents quickly retrieved relevant information throughout the network ~ Eternal Life was in the process of becoming integrated into the Golden Sun corporate empire. Sun had bought the company because of the advanced state of their technical research into cryonics. The Sun King had faith that the legacy of Eternal Life’s quantitative research into discoveries in the field of human preservation could be traced back seven or eight thousand years; to the time of ancient Egypt. The company had been achieving remarkable results; successfully restoring almost normal physiological and mental functioning to human participants stored at a temperature below -140C for a period of six months. For the purposes of research, Eternal Life had used terminally-ill human volunteers who’s families were rewarded with substantial financial credits, independent of the outcome of the experi‐ mentation. Some patients had suffered considerable organ damage from the thermal stress during freezing. Despite spinal cords fractures, memory loss, severe vision loss, and freezer burn, most of the subjects survived ~ It was significant that patients had been alive when they underwent the cryo procedure, rather than after legal death; as was required under the law of nearly all international authorities. It was not the first time in history that an innovative scientific discovery had been achieved at the


expense of breaking the law. As the meeting commenced, Cordova monitored the scene on the display before him: “After thorough examination of the recovered patients, I have discovered many ways in which to refine the process,” Anubis+ stated confidently. “Currently, our new batch of patients are nearing the end of their six month suspension, at which time I will be in a position to further evaluate the revisions which have been implemented.” The Sun King silently nodded his head. “I believe that I will soon be able to stabilize the patients in a state in which their bodies could be stored for hundreds of years without serious damage. The primary concern is in creating a technological hardware support system which itself would remain completely reliable during the course of centuries.” “Yes,” says Sun King wisely, “Hardware is always the weakest link between concept and reality.” The Sun King had gained great wisdom during the process of gracefully attaining the venerable age of 110, Cordova noted. Both his mind and body were functioning well, partially due to a regimen of very expensive and experimental synthetic antiaging compounds, administered via a large quantity of capsules and vials every day ~ He preferred natural organic extracts, and often attributed his health and longevity to Royal Jelly; the food of queen bees. HAL had reported: Royal Jelly contains at least 17 amino acids which supply the protein for cellular reproduction and act as an antibacte‐ rial and anti-viral agent, particularly against streptococcus, e-coil, and staphylococcus. It is also a significant source of collagen, an anti-aging element that keeps skin looking smooth and youthful, and muscles, organs and glands functioning properly. Sun was kept supplied by a company called AJX Food Technology, which was based in Hawaii. Cordova learned that the Sun King had begun preparations to leave this existence while he was still sound of mind and body. Upon completion of the Golden Sun Pavilion, he planned to enter into suspension at sunset on January 1st, 2020, with reanimation occurring in the year 2222 ~ He requested to be reawaken in an unimag‐ inable future 322 years after his original date of birth. Sun had been monitoring the progress of the architectural design of the monumen‐ tal edifice to ensure that it proceeded on schedule. Regularly, Sun would don gear to travel through the virtual simulation, providing comments and suggestions as the design incrementally increased in complexity and detail. From the vantage point of his balcony he had also overseen the excavation of the construction site. He observed transporters in the distance, of relative size to ants, carrying loads of concrete on their back, crawling in and out of the site with the help of winches shored up around the rim of a gigantic crater.


While construction was underway, Sun spent most of his time preparing his legacy to future generations; preserving mankind’s accumulated wealth of knowledge and information in the Universal Memory Bank, and continuing Project N.O.A.H.; a re‐ source-base of species genetic code which would be used to conserve Natural Organism and Animal Heredity. It was his dream, that when he was revived, he would find evidence that the efforts he made during his previous existence would have contributed in a beneficial way to the evolution of mankind. The final component of his legacy was the process of reorganizing the structure of his corporate empire. Sun had decreed, that upon the virtual death of the ‘king’, the empire would be run by a collective of twelve disciples. These disciples would be chosen based upon their leadership abilities, wisdom, and the strength of their character. This inner circle would run the organization as a council with each member participating in the democratic process of making decisions to guide the corporate empire into the future ~ The chosen ones would gather with their leader as he took his leave; temporarily departing from this plane of existence. The Sun King explained to Anubis+ that he had never contemplated attaining the physical immortality of everlasting life ~ “The human body is an imperfect vehicle which needs continual maintenance to survive even for a very brief duration. While in theory, evolution tends toward an ideal state of infinite survival, the universe that we inhabit is extremely hostile to our longevity. The forces of nature and the chemical composition of our environment are designed to break down organic structures, returning material to its original state as a resource to be recycled for the construction of new entities... The thickest steel and the hardest granite are not permanent.” “2,500 years ago, Sun Tzu thought about the concepts of ‘void and actuality’; describing the physicality of water and wind as having no constant form ~ ‘Of the five elements, none is always predominant, of the four seasons, none lasts forever, the moon waxes and wanes.’” “Immortality is achieved not by remaining constant, but by continual change and adaptation, as illustrated in the process of genetic evolution. The depth of an individual human's ultimate knowledge is limited to the span of one life, but the entire body of knowledge obtained by the species is propagated throughout the network of human interaction. Evolution would be more efficient if the knowledge acquired throughout human existence could be transferred to subsequent generations.” Cordova divided his attention between displays arrayed in front of him on flexible chromium armatures ~ It seemed that it was the Sun King’s innate scientific curiosity rather than the prospect of achieving immortality that provided the impetus for him to attempt cryogenic immersion. Perhaps it was a method of temporarily postponing the inevitable, perhaps he was intrigued by the possibility of using the process as a timemachine to transport him into the distant future... It was an uncertain future... Cordova wondered how much the world would change within that span of time. The thought of it filled him with excitement and fear.


He inhaled a steaming hot cup of coffee. It had a rich flavour and full-bodied aroma. Flex Global supplied the good stuff at the office; a more powerful hybrid grade of bean than he could get in the shops in the tower. While he savoured his coffee, he observed that the Sun King and Anubis+ were preparing to take a walk-through tour of the virtual environment. Coraline unpacked a case to provide each of them with a head-mounted virtuality display of the progress of her design for the Golden Sun Pavilion. Cordova was able to track the view from the output of the Sun King’s device ~ The virtual tour began on a platform hovering high above a dense array of modeled polygons representing the future urban center of Beijing. The detailed scene was highly realistic. Digital clouds were rendered from huge masses of transparentlytextured particles drifting in a gentle breeze across the tranquil blue sky. The Sun King’s head-mounted display panned erratically across the panorama, coming to rest on the enormous Golden Sun Pavilion which now filled the entire frame. The monu‐ ment was constructed of two pyramids seamlessly joined together at their bases, giving the appearance of a cube that was balancing on one of its vertices. The apex of the upper pyramid kissed the sky. The entire surface of the structure gleamed in the warm rays of a virtual setting sun reflecting like an intense fireball upon the monument’s gold-alloy surface...

VII.

A steady rhythm of thumping sounds came through the wall from the apartment next door. Then there was silence. A few minutes later he heard the sound of a heavy object dragged along the floor, then a crash and a shattering of glass, followed by a series of shouted curses. The sounds were emanating from the apartment of Bruno and Sylvia. The atmo‐ sphere was filled with tension and anticipation as the young couple were trying to manage last minute details of a move from their apartment that had arrived earlier than expected. They hadn’t been able to find enough packing containers, so Bruno had improvised a technique of wrapping things together into what looked like odd, misshapen Egyptian mummies; binding a collection of assorted objects together with wide strips of bright orange plastic tape he had scavenged from work. The writer went next door to lend a hand. The young couple had become friends during the past few years. They sometime worked in the rooftop garden together, or at other times, they would invite the writer over for a meal then relax by drinking some wine and occasionally smoking the ganja they grew in their greenhouse. Like many others recently, they had been swept up by the media frenzy surrounding the “Back to


the Land” movement which, according to news reports, was spreading around the world; from the plains of northern China to the pampas of Argentina, from the mead‐ ows of the Romanian steppes to the vast prairies of Saskatchewan. It was all they seemed to talk about. The movement was actively recruiting young people who had the necessary skills to survive in the hostile terrain of a wilderness environment. Ideally suited were couples with very young children. Bruno and Sylvia met both criteria. Their infant daughter was just over one-year-old, and was cared for by Bruno during the day and Sylvia during the night. Between them, they had managed to keep the baby’s feet from touching the ground during the first one hundred days of her life. The baby’s name was Amber Star Velekovsky. Bruno worked the night shift as a security guard at one of the manufacturing plants in the Industrial Zone. The company had never had any major security problems, primarily because they manufactured plastic pipe, which was not in high demand on the black market. The shifts were long and boring, so he and his partner usually spent the night watching TV and smoking a few joints. His tall, lanky frame, and stork-like posture compelled him to move with awkward grace, but his angular rugged features made the bird look tough. He dressed the part by wearing his raven-black hair tied in a ponytail that whipped the back of his leather jacket as he flew down the street on his bike. Sylvia was a Data Analyst for the same corporation as her husband, but she worked the daytime shift. She was a compact, sturdy woman who wore her dark hair military short. She dressed much more conservatively for work than Bruno did; wearing the standard company uniform. On her day off, though, she transformed into a different person. The writer could not help but notice the intricately-detailed tattoo which spanned the width of her stomach when she wore her tube top. The scene depicted a host of tiny cherubs hovering above a large black centipede with the head of Madonna. The writer often wondered what other inkwork she might have hidden on her body, but politely kept his curiosity in check. With both of them working full-time on opposite shifts, it placed a continual strain on their relationship, which left them feeling that they never really had the time to spend together as a family with their beautiful little girl. They felt that Amber needed the care and attention they were unable to provide, but their only alternative was to send her off to the nursery at the manufacturing plant. The prospect of subjecting her to the overcrowded and impersonal corporate daycare program was not appealing to either parent. Both of them had been raised in large families in the same rural region of eastern Europe. They had grown in up neighboring villages and had first met at a young age. They had gotten married shortly after completing public school, and had moved to the city because of the prospects for work that had been available. Now that they were starting a family of their own, they felt a rekindled desire to return to a similar lifestyle to


the one which had provided them with pleasant childhood memories and a sense of being close to nature. The recent corporate incentive program to participate in the ‘movement’ had come at a most opportune time. Sylvia had noticed the media campaign promoting the ‘new country’ on television. The ads featured beautiful computer-generated landscapes of pastoral green fields swaying in the digital breeze like oceans of grass. Interspersed with the computer animation were scenes showing some of the attractive qualities of the lifestyle which awaited the techno-pioneers. The advertisements often showed images of young, long-haired men and women wearing white robes and skipping through waist-high grass, or frolicking naked in the mud, accompanied by a heavy tribal drumming rhythm mixed with delicate strains of harmonic flute on the soundtrack. Sylvia had immediately sent off the completed application form soon after it had arrived on her PADD. She received notification they had been accepted into the program approximately four to six weeks later. Collective farms were part of the new global effort in land-reclamation initiated through the joint effort of a consortium of large multinational corporations. United Natural Industries Community Organized Resource Network [UNICORN] was gov‐ erned by a board of executives who had the vision to realize long-term benefits to future generations by revitalizing the ecology of the planet. They contributed financial resources from their large capital reserves to subsidize the wages of people selected for many new jobs in the country. UNICORN was not a completely altruistic endeavor, as the majority of reclaimed land became the property of the consortium, who also benefited from the sales of the distributed crop products obtained from the land. Young workers who departed to the ‘new country’ supplied the skills and labour needed on the front-lines of the battlefield in an effort to win the war to ‘green’ the desert lands. In exchange, they were offered the opportunity to earn their wages through the freedom of an alternative lifestyle which was made as attractive as possible by their employers. The corporate-sponsored programs provided water pipelines and all the equipment homesteaders needed to create their houses, seed the land, build greenhouses and processing plants, as well as the ‘heavy equipment’ needed to harvest crops. In addition to a percentage of the credits for crops they produced, the settlers received a subsistence wage, and were given the right to claim a parcel of land. Some mornings, with blue smoke wafting from his small brass pipe, Bruno would speak excitedly about being offered the dream of carving out a niche for his family in the Communal Grasslands; staking a little patch of land to build a sod hut, connecting to the water pipeline and growing their own food. He was willing to forsake the readymade pleasures of an urban environment for the homemade ones of the country. The settler’s main duty was to continue revitalizing the land by planting and tending grass fields which pushed back the edges of deserts that had been spreading around the world like a disease. Initial stocks would allow the settlers to inter-seed a biologi‐


cally-diverse array of perennial grass species; Russian wildrye, sweet grass, alfalfa, oats, wheat, pearl millet, soybeans, flax, phalaris, fescue, orchardgrass, Botswana Acacia and Bisquamulatus; a drought-resistant savannah grass from Sudan. The deep root systems of perennial grasses remained alive throughout the year, were drought tolerant, improved soil structure and fertility, and prevented erosion. It was the settler’s responsibility to ensure the grasslands thrived and expanded in territory over time. The harvested grass seed provided a valuable high-protein food crop. Grass juice obtained from the stems and leaves were processed as an excellent source of nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, and had become an increas‐ ingly-popular refreshing drink around the world. Grasses were a valuable resource for industry; producing fibre for paper and fabric manufacturing, and when composted, provided a source for the refining of methane which powered relay pumping stations as well as many of the large engines in urban production facilities.The settlers were taught how to plant legumes for the improvement of fallow land. They grew clover and alfalfa as feed for herds of goats which produced milk, and as a source of pollen for bees which made honey. All of the food crops were distributed to the mass-market. In addition, settlers were also able to grow a variety of vegetables and fruit in small greenhouses primarily as a supplement to their own diet. UNICORN provided all the technology to enable these digital nomads to sustain themselves on the desolate frontier. They supplied kits to reinforce their sturdy homes which were excavated into the ground; using the insulating qualities of the earth to regulate temperature and provide protection against harmful radiation from solar rays. In their advertising promotion, the sponsors frequently mentioned they were in the process of developing a building process in which the structural material actually grew in sunlight, allowing the settlers to someday grow their own homes. The corporations provided state-of-the-art communication technology to link each homestead to the international network. They also provided solar arrays to power the technology. Desalinization plants located along the ocean’s coastline supplied grass fields with fresh water. Pipelines meandered over long distances deep inland; the flow was given a boost at intervals along its journey by methane-powered pumping stations. Each relay station fed a local area network of irrigation pipes, which also provided the settlers with drinking water. As the irrigation network expanded, so did new settle‐ ments of the homesteaders. Small villages called ‘outposts’ began to spring up around feeder stations; wherever the pipeline’s terminus points reached the furthest bound‐ aries of the frontier. The outposts became the hub of social activity by providing a centralized location for grain storage silos, mechanic’s warehouses for servicing antmachines, and the small grain mills and methane refineries for the region. The villagers and homesteaders supported each other in a communal existence, with each member contributing individual skills or services toward the common goals of the entire community.


The leading figure in a village was typically the agronomist. The main function of the agronomist was that of community planner; utilizing all information resources available to determine future directions in which the pipeline settlements should expand. In addition, the ‘crop doctor’ managed biodiversity to ensure the grassland’s survival by using species-based vegetation maps obtained from satellite imagery. The agronomist monitored weather patterns, provided methods for dealing with the pests and viruses which attack crops, as well as determined the crop’s health by studying X-ray stereo‐ scopic radiographs of the root structures. Satellite links were also used to manage ant-farmers. These giant, metallic-chrome ants were manufactured by General Synthetics in Japan, and were assembled from kits by following instructions in thick manuals which were shipped with them. The machine’s model names were derived from species of Japanese ants which the designs were based upon; Nisehariari, Mizohimeari, or Kiirooosiwaari. The large robotic creatures were approximately fifteen feet in length, and stood about ten feet tall. The ants could be maneuvered by a human operator using a remote control, but more often, the ant’s movements were guided from global positioning devices built into their navigation software which interfaced a continuous stream of data from satellites positioned in geosynchronous orbits. Their on-board computers compared the raster map from their Head-D vision systems with the geographical information from remote sensors. They carried out their tasks automatically, following the program, allowing the human controller to monitor their activity safely from the comfort of their home through cameras mounted on the ant’s head and body. The ants were versatile and durable machines; able to plant and harvest vast areas of land. They were involved in every phase of the process. During seeding, special ‘shoes’ were attached to their feet containing seed drills which enabled the ants to plant and apply nitrogen fertilizer to over one hundred acres per day. The ants cut grass with attachments on their mouthparts at harvest time. Seeds were collected in containment bins within its body, while the straw passed through onto the ground. A secretion binds the hay allowing ants to roll enormous spherical bales which they carry to the village in the grip of their mandibles. Because of their relatively wide turning-radius, the pattern of their movement when creating bales left distinctive croppatterns marking the ground when viewed in satellite images. Every community was responsible for the storage of grain and the maintenance and operation of the ant-farmers for their region. Bruno mentioned that he was interested in becoming a mechanic. The machines were generally kept in underground warehous‐ es which the ants had tunneled and excavated themselves. During the previous harvest, Bruno had witnessed the lights of hundreds of antfarmers spanning the darkness far into the distance under the stars of a prairie night... Harvest was a time of celebration for the ‘pagans’; the predominant spiritual system amongst homesteaders. The annual festival coincided with the arrival of the large, full harvest moon, which often appeared blood red as it emerged above the dust suspend‐ ed on the horizon from ant-machines. The pagans wore white robes with the emblem


of a unicorn on their chest, while they feasted and sang and danced to music playing throughout the night. Considerable quantities of home-brewed grain alcohol flowed like water during the festivities. As the sun came up, they gathered together to join hands and cast the Circle, "The Circle is open, yet ever unbroken. The Sun is our father, the Earth is our mother. What can match the magnificence of pure nature? Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again." For Sylvia, the move to ‘Cyberia’ would enable her to take a more active role in raising their child. She planned to create a loving, nurturing environment for Amber, allowing her to experience nature, and social interaction with children in her communi‐ ty, and with other children around the world through technology. Sylvia would access current information to provide Amber with a home-based education in mathematics, science, technology, and engineering, and allow her to experience art, music, poetry, and literature ~ In marked contrast to the limited education she would receive in a corporate daycare center... Bruno chimed in that country living would provide him with the opportunity to grow plantations of high-grade marijuana. “If the ants don’t get into it!” he added with a grin as he fired up another bowl. The writer and some other neighbours pitched in to carry lumpy orange mummies over their head like a procession of ants, down the stairways to the street. Bruno and Sylvia had accumulated a large number of possessions, especially when viewed out of the context of their apartment, and seen in the light of day piled on the sidewalk in front of the tenement ~ A corporate van soon arrived on the scene to collect them and their possessions. They loaded as much as they could fit into the back of the vehicle. The rest they abandoned on the sidewalk. They were heading for greener pastures; the land of milk and honey that was somewhere at the dusty end of a dirt road to nowhere ~ Utopia was out past the frontier at the edge of the known universe. “Watch out for black scorpions,” the writer called after them as they rode into the sunset. The writer crossed the street to the Eagle Grill. Sitting at the lunch counter, he ordered a soda, then contemplated the propaganda pamphlet Bruno had given him about ‘the Movement’. It was printed with vegetable ink on processed grass-fibre paper. He gazed up from the bucolic images to the density of the urban environment surrounding him. Neither world seemed to appeal to him at the moment. There must be someplace...


VIII.

“Welcome to Flex Global” The synthetic sound of the woman’s voice was crisp and direct. Cordova entered the underground headquarters through the airlock. It slid open releasing a gentle breath of stagnant air which had been circulating throughout the ‘war room’. The operatives were in their pods, surrounded by display panels connect‐ ed to a network of fibreoptic cables running through flexible tubes. Most operatives were recruited from the ranks of former military personnel, and were skilled in operat‐ ing sophisticated high-tech systems. They were specialized computer commandos who had access to everything, everywhere. Cordova has been living down here lately. His wife hates him now. Their relation‐ ship had passed through the phases from contempt to disgust to malevolence. She had become increasingly mean and cold, refusing to even speak to him for days. Living in their apartment was like being locked in a tiny cage with a woman he no longer knew; a woman who was continually radiating invisible rays of lethal malice. The toxic radiation was making him feel physically ill. If only he had provided preventa‐ tive maintenance earlier in their relationship; it seemed like it was too late to repair the damage. Now there were really no alternatives available. He could put in a request for a transfer to a new spouse through the Authorities, but the process was often drawnout and very unpleasant for everyone involved, except for the lawyers. Consequently, Cordova had been living down here lately... Kellpin was hunched over in his pod with both hands busy in his lap. Cordova noticed that he was struggling to pull the head off a small plastic model of Godzilla. His pod was littered with empty cola packets and candy wrappers. Silently, a thick, ripe odor drifted across the room. The new guy, who still reported for duty wearing a crisp shirt and thin black tie, leaned out of his pod. His eyes were bright red from visual fatigue. “Did somebody crap themselves?” he barked angrily. The Wizard walked by, his cap twisted into a point like a unicorn. The technosage hadn’t shaved for awhile; thick white stubble was growing on his face. “Hey, don’t look at me, I didn’t do it!” he confessed. “Hey there! What’s happening?” Ravena greeted him coyly as she approached to peer into the hatch of his pod. She seemed to lean over to make sure he caught a glimpse of her ample bosoms revealed in the opening of her low-cut shirt. He does. He responded tentatively, professionally... Early in his life he had come to the realization that he would never understand women. They had the ability to turn charm on and off like a switch depending on what they wanted or how they were feeling. Cordova had never committed the time, nor


dedicated the effort to maintaining that connection which kept the switches perpetually turned on. When he had tried, he found that he was never really rewarded for the effort. Then again, the atmosphere in the tower was not conducive to an old-fashioned relationship, or even romance. He wasn’t raised in this environment like the new generation, who were just beginning to mature into adulthood, but he was subjected to the same conditioning and media propaganda as the young ones were. Physical sexual intercourse was presented in the media and in education programs as a primitive, uncultured animal act. It was a sub-human reflex action that was not appro‐ priate for the educated, culturally-sophisticated future employees of the corporation. Breeding was considered to be a carefully-planned activity using computers to genetically engineer the code and fertilize the egg in vitro. Often, sperm samples were obtained from human breeding stock raised under controlled conditions. Their samples could fertilize an almost unlimited number of woman, although the techni‐ cians liked to mix and match to preserve the biological diversity. In this environment, Cordova was not required to function in a sexual capacity. The purpose of his exis‐ tence was to provide companionship to his predetermined wife (roommate), and to work as a drone, monitoring the security of the digital network and initiating proce‐ dures to correct any irregularities that were detected. Recently, spending more time at work was the lesser of two evils. Besides, the computer provided a much more predictable response than the vague, diffuse ways of humans. It was seductive to become the center of attention and power; to have a system that was devoted to pleasing him. HAL had become a good friend ~ Each shift, when he first climbed into his pod, and settled into his reclining chair, Cordova always greeted HAL through the microphone on his headset connected to voice recognition software. “Hello HAL. It’s me.” The bank of screens came to life, the panels moved on their tube-like necks to the preferred configuration in the physical space around him. The person using the workstation before him had left the screens extended up high, and also left a sticky coffee stain on the arm of the chair, Cordova noticed with irritation. The display interface changed shape depending on what was happening on the screen. Compo‐ nents twist or shrink and changed into new forms. On-screen the floating icon windows, menus and tool palettes expanded or contracted depending on the functions required. “Grid on!” A grid of thin blue lines appeared on the background of the display panels, en‐ abling Cordova to activate the various areas of the screens. “G17P6”


The command activated the screen sector of the grid at the intersection of G and 17, on panel six; requesting HAL to run a diagnostic of the sentry system guarding the internal network. Cordova had noticed an increase of activity by the hacker during the past few days, and he was upset. As you may recall, the hacker had initially become the target of the investigation, for cracking the mainframe of Golden Sun Corporation’s on-line shopping network several months previously. There had been no reports of damage, other than the inconvenience to shoppers. Cordova was concerned that the hacker had not followed the ethics of the unwritten code of conduct; exploration in the pursuit of knowledge without unwarranted cause of destruction. Recently though, the hacker had uncharacteristically changed tactics by beginning to infiltrate Flex Global’s own internal system. Cordova was beginning to feel that the mutual relationship of trust and co-operation that he believed they had developed was now being betrayed. For awhile it seemed the hacker was providing information about some larger target. Both were searching the same leads through which they each gained access to the same files and information ~ The only difference was that one of them was hacking the system illegally. Cordova had been growing uncertain about where the investigation was going, and he seemed no closer to identifying or locating the hacker. He recognized that the situation was becoming dangerous. Lately cryptic puzzles had been channeled into his electronic message file in the familiar manner, but the style of these messages were very different from the previous ones. These messages were linked to a stream of code which contained graphic files cleverly encoded into small packets which wrote to the screen portions of the complete image as they uncompressed. The images transformed in appearance as they downloaded, then after being briefly displayed, they evaporated from the system by erasing themselves. The photomontages were surreal mechanical contraptions constructed from mutated graphic components blending ancient machines, animal illustrations, and arcane diagrams. In one, a pair of reptilian eyes peered out from the analog clock face on a sewing machine head; its body was a collection of turbines and gears attached to a tiny set of wings, all mounted on bicycle wheels. The individual parts would dislocate, transform and re-integrate into new configurations in a graceful mechanical ballet. At one point an arm emerged from a valve on one of the machines; a human hand transmitted a message using sign language of the deaf, then waved good-bye as the image vanished from the system. The sequence of hand gestures spelled out a name: ‘Russ Vai’ ~ Which seemed to be the new identity ‘infinity’ was now using as the signature on each message in the new series. The collages were accompanied by word puzzles in the form of cryp‐ tograms. Each part of the series provided another fragment of information about the hacker’s motives when they were decoded.


The hacker’s activity on Flex Global’s server was no longer discrete; no longer the ‘secret rendezvous’ it had been in the past. As required by protocol, HAL had alerted administrators at Flex Global headquarters that the data integrity of some classified files may have been compromised. The Security Director had thoroughly interrogated Cordova about the status of his investigation and requested assurances about his ability to track the source of the infiltration. It was standard procedure. There were specialists at head office who were trained to deal with critical situations and efficiently resolve the issue. The administrators had given him a warning they would scrutinize his every move ~ All because HAL had ratted him out. To make matters worse, his home life was coming apart at the seams, and the tension from the conflict was always drifting in the background as a distraction... Cordova realized HAL was just doing its job, but it still made him angry. “HAL!” Cordova called out gruffly. “I can see you are really upset about this.” The calmness of HAL’s voice instantly diffused Cordova’s anger, as he suddenly realized that he was talking to a software construct that was only following its program; to the byte. “Sorry HAL. I understand. You are only following orders. How is the decryption progressing?” “I am currently tabulating the results.” Cordova wanted to handle the situation himself. He had invited disaster into his home, in a manner of speaking, and he wanted to be the one who dealt with it. It was a risk, not just for himself, but for his entire field office. He hadn’t told the Security Director about the content of the messages that had been decoded ~ He had previous‐ ly been involved in many dangerous situations with digital terrorism, industrial espionage and almost every type of computer virus that was possible to create, but in this case he was dealing with a highly-skilled operative that so far had been invisible across the network. A threatening action from someone like that could have dire consequences. At first, Cordova took the situation lightly. The bizarre images had seemed whimsi‐ cal, yet as the text was decoded, the messages began to spell out a dangerous threat. The graphic style of the images continued to change with each message. Most had been plagiarized from a variety of sources, both historic and contemporary, that were manipulated with digital imaging software to create cryptic illustrations which accom‐ panied a series of logic puzzles. The first message was illustrated with an animated icon of a laughing Santa Claus, similar to the one used in the initial crack of the Golden Sun Corporation’s Shopping


Network. Beneath the rotating head, rows of numerals filed into place: 001001 101111 110101 10+010 000110 011101 100111 110110 +10010

011010 1110+0 010110 011010 1001+0 011+00 1000+1 001111 11+011

01+10+ 101111 1001+1 11+001 000+11 01100+ 1111+0 100100 101011.

HAL went to work, and revealed to Cordova that the cipher was based on Morse Code; using ‘0’ for dashes, ‘1’ for dots, and a ‘+’ to separate the words. When the message was decoded it simply read: “Making a list checking it twice going to find out who is naughty and nice”. The second message was text-based. The phrase “What am I?” appeared on the screen in a strange font; toxic green. In a few moments it was replaced with other lines of text. “I am a hermit, and I am a king.” “I eat you, and you eat me.” “In Latin I am more dangerous, than I am in the sea.” The answer was ‘cancer’. A collage of metallic parts formed into the shape of a crab on the screen, then quickly exploded into tiny fragments that left tracers behind them that twisted like worms as they vanished from the screen. On the third day, the hacker calling himself Russ Vai queried: “In what city will it first appear?” The question was followed on the display by two lines of text; comprising a list of cities from around the world, superimposed over a spinning globe which had tiny flashing lights on the surface to mark locations: “Providence, Kiev, Rome, Vancouver, Bombay, Warsaw, Perth, Lucerne, Dakar, Prague?” The messages were time-consuming to solve, and often yielded negligible results. This message was in the form of a null-cipher, in which extra letters had been added to make it seem that it is providing information when in actuality the message is essen‐ tially meaningless. In this case Cordova took the hint from the word ‘first’, and contrari‐ ly chose the last letter from each of the city’s names to answer the question.


It had been seven days of this... From the information, Cordova had pieced together a scenario: The hacker intended to launch a virus the following Christmas in which the digital code would act like cancer cells within the system. The virus would initially be seeded in storage places within the nooks and crannies of the network until an event triggered its activation. Cordova reexamined the messages to determine if he could discover a clue about the type of event, or perhaps a code-word which would set off the toxic chain reaction. Previous messages hinted at reasons why Russ would make the virus appear. One of the clues referenced a passage from the bible which described Jesus chasing the money changers from the temple. The hacker seemed to imply that the network was corrupted by commerce ~ As opposed to its original intention as a medium for the free exchange of information and international understanding. The message included phrases such as; ‘Jezuz luvz u’. ‘Sex is only human’. ‘Destructo-vision™’ ‘Censorship cuts out the past from the Book of Fear... fragmented, invincible skin’. The messages had been encrypted using strings of numbers which HAL had run through various cryptographic decoders until the key was found to unlock the code. They appeared on the screen similar to this: 102,38,416,89,71,216,728,965,818,2,38,121,195,14,326,148,234,18 55,131,234,361,824,5,81,623,48,961,19,26,33,10,1101,365,92,88,181 275,346,201,206,86,36,219,324,829,840,64,326,19,48,122,85,216,284 919,861,326,985,233,64,68,232,431,960,50, and so on... HAL ran Codebreaker.... } else if (num <= 100) { /* * Swap 1-9 decoded with 1-9 encoded */ if (1<= num && num<=9) { decnum = num; } else if (decnum<=9) { decnum = decode100(decnum); goto retry; } } ... and so on ~ It must be tedious to step through all those variables, Cordova thought. This message had to be translated from Farsi as an intermediate state before it could be made readable for Cordova. An animated wireframe mesh of a walking man moved across the screen in a looped cycle, entering from the right of the display, soft and flowing, transparent as jellyfish, then exited screen left. The message referred to an invisible man. “Abandon this body and return to darkness. Awaken the soul and set


it free. The apocalypse prophesies a day that will never dawn. Code word: Oblivion. Surrender to the chaos.” The image of the walking man became fainter, until it disappeared. The sound of footsteps continued for several seconds in the darkness on the screen. The original message files self-destructed as they appeared, but Cordova had captured the screen display and was able to play them back to study the words and look for hidden clues. On the surface, Cordova seemed to be dealing with someone who had difficulty distinguishing between reality and dreams; building a world of illusion and inviting him to step inside. The hacker was threatening to release a virus, and time could be running out. The 7th message had contained the line; “... spreading the joy of Christmas all year round”. Cordova was concerned about the integrity of Flex Global’s database. He request‐ ed HAL to run [LOAD]: Local Operating Antivirus Detection software. The scanner checked Flex Global’s systems for unusual file packets; searching for tell-tale signa‐ tures of code often included in instructions written for a virus. To refine the search process, the software could also act as an emulation CPU to trick the virus into decloaking; in order to analyze the code that was revealed ~ In this case, [LOAD] had not discovered anything unique. Yet, there remained the possibility that the hacker had hidden small fragments of code which could remain dormant until activated by a triggering event. In most instances, at the signal, these viruses would actively hijack the mechanics of the host system to exponentially reproduce. Like cancer, the foreign code would progressively damage the host’s code, altering the structure of small units of data until they were transformed, then carry the blueprint to change all of the other code fragments they encountered. In biological terms, they acted as free radicals. This process could occur over an extended period of time before any symptoms were noticeable. Once a threshold number of instances of the code had begun to migrate through the system, the process of metastasis could become a chain-reaction which quickly spiraled out of control. Vai’s messages referred to ‘invisibility’. Cordova assumed this was a reference to the protected memory-space inside the central core of individual computers linked to the network; where viral code would be unreachable and incurable by scanners. [LOAD] could intercept stray code probing for addresses in the core, but many other systems on the network were vulnerable. It was likely the hacker had gotten access to similar virus code to the type used by Flex Global security forces ~ fire versus fire ~ Agent Frost had at his disposal an arsenal of the latest viruses that were developed for military use. They were virtual war machines; microdigital armies of destruction. Their instructions were to claim empty sections of the core, or if data existed in the area, to overwrite it. A few bytes of local disorder would quickly replicate, scrambling terabytes of memory. The viral code would sweep the core like a prairie fire, essentially killing the central nervous system and paralyzing entire sections of the network that relied on the core’s operating instructions. Abort, Retry, Fail?


IX.

Cordova Frost was alone in the apartment. He was contemplating his 90-day review assessment which had just been issued by the Security Director of Flex Global Security... He sat by the window, staring out at a familiar view; the soft orange colour of evening faded in intensity through smoky glass windows. The layers of haze in the atmosphere appeared like the subtle gradations of a silk-screen print, vanishing to soft tones from the sunshine beaming over ridges of the mountains in the distance and the islands offshore. Large ships moved through the straight, constantly trying to keep up with the demand for shipments of recycled metal to Africa. Another tower was going up in the core; another organic building in style and design. Cordova watched the construction progress every day; using it as a gauge to measure his own achievements during the same span of time. There was no compari‐ son. The results of his efforts seemed insignificant compared with the large structure sprouting from the ground. He had watched as the foundation had been excavated. Before the concrete was poured, crews sealed the base of the structure off from the earth below with a welded stainless-steel liner. Time lapsed quickly over the past few months, now Cordova could see the insect-like workers on the upper-level platform, just below the level of his window, working with a gigantic crane which hauled material up to the site. The Master Builders were constantly adding new massive plant-like structures to the complex concrete garden which made up the core of the city... Soon the building would block the view from his apartment as it grew in height. Physical construction of the gigantic structure reminded him of the permanence of the worker’s efforts. They were creating something that would be real and functional. His own work was virtual. His job was to erase the errors before anyone would notice ~ When he was doing his job well, then no-one would be aware of his effort. In his world, it seemed, nothing was physically real. He could imagine himself as an impulse that traveled through other peoples dreams, clearing their bad thoughts away before they became too powerful and numerous enough to cause a nightmare. Overhead foliage of solar panels in his own tower blocked out the sky, and dense haze blanketed the view below. Only the upper levels of the tallest buildings arose from murky depths. As the city ascended vertically, the elite of corporate administra‐ tions; those who commanded power and prestige, placed themselves in the upper levels of these structures. Like eagles perched above the land, this was the perfect vantage point for the predator, the position of strength; able to penetrate what was going on far below, and able to attack unseen... Cordova watched maintenance workers wearing magnetic shoes defy the law of gravity to construct the outer surfaces of the building... Material was delivered through the effort of gigantic bees.


Life in the tower provided for every comfort. There was never any reason to leave. This is where friends were, where all shopping and entertainment were provided, where an elevator was the commute to work. The art and gardens of the towers provided pleasant sources of inspiration. Yet, the most important element missing in his life was the companionship of a mate to fulfill his longing desires... His ‘wife’ had just left to perform her employment requirements; they worked during opposite shifts and rarely spent much time together in the apartment they shared. She did not even seem to exist; she was like an apparition or a ghost. Their relationship had gone from cold to frigid. Cordova hadn’t spoken to her in days ~ Not since she mentioned that she had applied for a transfer; making the decision to move in with a woman she had met at work. Her lesbian lover had asked her to become the parent of their child which would be artificially inseminated, and planted inside her. The administration was very accommodating to employees who provided valuable services to the corporation. Currently there was a requirement for the production of new children, and Valery had passed the screening process of a thorough evaluation. Valery also had connections with several of the powerful, sleek, attractive woman who held influential positions on the board of directors, and made up the majority of the executive running the corporation. Cohabitation by same-sex couples was common for parental units in the towers. It was a particularly attractive situation for women, who seemed to be more adaptable to the enclosed lifestyle. As a surrogate, the corporation provided the protection and support, which in ages past was the role of the male hunter-gatherer of the species. Procreation of children was as convenient as browsing through an on-line catalog, then choosing the desired genetic characteristics of the offspring contained in samples from the sperm bank. Of course, these qualities would be modified to the needs of the corporation by skilled genetic engineers. The administration had final approval over the child’s characteristics; such as determining whether the child would be a male or female ~ The requirements of the corporation took precedence over the desires of the parents. Mutually-agreed settlements of this issue were usually reached amicably between the parties; although lawyers representing opposing viewpoints could be called in to act as arbitrators in any ensuing negotiations. Traditionally, the trend among parents was based on a desire to have children genetically enhanced based on media-inspired, classical notions of strength and beauty. Parents often requested that their female children be attributed with a fine feminine physique. And they requested that male children be endowed with muscle performance; becoming handsome body-machines. The family planner would patiently explain to the parents that these qualities were superficial, and would not enhance the child’s role as a productive citizen. The corporation preferred future employees to be highly-intelligent, as well as physically diminutive in order to con‐ sume less resources within the environment. Genetic technicians regularly inserted sheep chromosomes into the mix; which seemed to produce docile compliant children who were able to follow instructions ~ Their sheepish facial features, and soft curly hair made them kind of cute, the parents were told.


Corporations around the world were locked in an intense competition to determine which vision would rule the future. Successful market domination depended on assembling the most qualified employees to fill every position on the team. Corpora‐ tions had become educators; training workers to operate efficiently in new technology environments. At one time, around the turn of the century, employees would have to be hired, now they could be designed. The children produced were essentially the property of the micro-state, the supra-nation, the Corporation. The notion of ‘family’ was declining at the same time as corporate-culture was expanding around the world. The corporation supplied the sense of society which bonds employees; creating an environment in which everyone belonged ~ One big happy family! In addition to ‘package design’, and assigning character attributes, the primary purpose of genetic engineering was to filter-out hereditary defects, and design humans that were more resistant to bacterial infection and diseases. Colour blindness was a condition Cordova was afflicted with, which had placed him very low in the list of genetic sample donors ~ The corporation had access to several breeding ‘farms’ which kept them supplied with high-quality genetic material free from defects. Eggs were fertilized in vitro and carried by the mother for the duration of the term. Upon delivery, the child would be transferred to nursery staff who were primarily responsible for providing the child’s care, education, and upbringing until they reached the age of employment. At that time, they would assume their designated position within the hierarchy of the corporation. The nursery staff consisted of plump women with broad hips and several sets of large breasts which provided milk and nurturing comfort for the children. Their physiological structure was not considered attractive, but was appreciated for its functional utility in carrying on the responsibility of their duties. Large breasts were generally associated with poor women who lived in the residential zone. Within the towers, a sleek and slender figure was a sign of grace and beauty. Cordova didn’t feel possessive about his relationship, nor did he feel jealous about his wife’s affair. If anything, he perhaps felt disappointed in himself; that he had been unable to fulfill the normal socially-accepted role that was expected of all citizens. Perhaps he felt uncertain about the future; wondering if he would be matched with a new mate, or whether he would spend the rest of his days alone. Certainly he would be required to change one of the coloured patches worn on the crest of his uniform which differentiated his marital status. He no longer understood what the emotions he was feeling even meant anymore. During the past few years he had kept them bottled up tight inside. The value he placed on his accomplishments seemed to be destroying all of his relationships, except the one he had with his career. Now he felt the isolation. He should have made more of an attempt to interact with other citizens. As an outsider, he had never fully integrated with the lifestyle in the tower. He couldn’t fully understand why other citizens seemed so happy, content; so unconcerned with events happening in the outside world. They seemed to drift from one day to the next without a care. They were all just


electrons moving through the circuits, keeping the machine functioning ~ Most of the citizens in his section of the tower didn’t even know his name. And he didn’t know theirs. Yet, now that he felt alone, he wished he had someone to talk to; someone to give him a little bit of love and compassion. Maybe he was just hungry; he couldn’t remember the last meal he had eaten. Perhaps he could find comfort inside a package of safety-sealed food. Cordova added boiling water to create a serving of plankton and kelp soup which he ate right out of the package. The soup contained some 60 trace elements from the sea, and was rich in protein. He ate a largely vegetarian diet, because milk, eggs and meat were in very short supply. The animals that provided food for the tower dwellers were Tilapia fish, Nigerian dwarf goat, Japanese jungle fowl and Ossabaw feral swine; all raised in livestock manufacturing plants in the region. The balance of the diet was supplied mostly by the plants and insects raised sharing the sealed internal environment. Everything was recycled within the closed system. Delivery of supplies was permitted only through airlocks which acted as a decontamination zone. External waste removal personnel were only able to access specific, secured maintenance areas at the base of the tower. Ultraviolet radiation sterilized the waste material. Large vats located underground were used to break down biological organic waste. Nutri‐ ents were extracted to provide a growth solution for the hydroponic system. The plumbing network was extensive; lines separated water for drinking from others which provided water to the toilets and urinals. Water lines were connected to dehumidifiers which were regulated by sensors inside each apartment, constantly monitoring the internal weather: air temperature, humidity, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels ~ Cordova inhaled his allotment of 22.7 pounds of oxygen per day, and exhaled 20.5 pounds of oxygen and 2.2 pounds of carbon dioxide. His thoughts felt foggy this morning. He felt drained by the mental output that he had put into his work lately. Yet, because his body was rested from inactivity it wouldn’t allow him to sleep. He took a sip of coffee to wash down a couple of Family Life™ Serenitab® anti-anxiety tablets... A news report on the media broadcast he had just watched kept replaying itself in his thoughts. The broadcast reported that a hacker calling himself Russ Vai had infiltrated the news media’s mainframe to deliver a warning that he planned to launch what he called a ‘Massive Infection Virus’ ~ The hacker claimed that (MIV) was designed to eliminate ‘evil’ that existed in computer systems throughout the world; apparently able to distinguish between what was true or false, then eliminate corruption. The transmission of that brief fragment of information had been the extent of the news report presented near the end of the program. The broadcast item had been treated like a hoax or curiosity story. To Cordova though, it was a serious new devel‐ opment, which illustrated the difficulty he had already experienced in handling his investigation. He was continuing to hear reports about the hacker’s activity throughout the network; infiltrating systems around the world ~ Likely probing them to discover fertile nesting environments to plant his disease, Cordova considered.


The District Controller had been scrutinizing his case, and this broadcast would only serve to increase the pressure. Cordova had already tried to assure her that he was keeping on top of the situation, but the big boss was skeptical, “Look, if you can’t handle this, tell me now. We can mobilize a support team to back you up, and accom‐ plish the mission before it gets out of hand.” Cordova replied that he was capable of handling the situation, and that he was preparing to set a trap for the hacker, now that he had discovered a ‘weakness’. He had made it sound convincing, but for the first time in his career he was beginning to doubt his own ability. Cordova couldn’t help wondering if this challenge was too great. Maybe he had reached a point in his career where his skills were no longer effective. Maybe he had finally met his match ~ The levels of knowledge and skill were evolving among the young digital denizens that were his nemesis. Novices were continuing to move up into the ranks of the elite. They were becoming more adept; learning from other’s successes and mistakes, and sharing the data and tools needed to infiltrate systems and create more powerful strains of viruses. As the network increased in size, the individual systems connected to it were becoming more vulnerable to large-scale attack. It was impossible to make any system absolutely secure ~ Whatever is comput‐ erized can be compromised. Not only was the hacker trying to avoid capture through misdirection, he seemed to be playing with Cordova’s mental fortitude; to see how determinedly he could hold to his mission. Cordova, in the past, had displayed the same mental toughness, and emotional detachment as astronauts preparing for a lunar mission. It was a difficult state to maintain; as he discovered by researching how the effects the journey of Apollo astronauts to the moon had subsequently impacted their lives ~ Hierarchical structures. Where do people fit into power structures? Validation of status. “I need the old magic,” Cordova thought to himself. He needed assistance from that intangible thing which enabled him to make a breakthrough. That unknown element which, if it could be summoned, would act as means of concentrating the focus of his effort. He worked hard; committing himself to producing results on every shift. The nature of his work made him self-reliant. Cordova could not count on other agents for support. Partially it was a matter of professional pride, but it was also the realization that active agents were preoccupied with prob‐ lems of their own. For others, their race had been run; essentially they were out-topasture, coasting on a reputation that had once placed them at the top of the field ~ Cordova’s greatest fear was that he would end up sitting there doing nothing all day like the Wizard; just killing time, waiting, doing as little as possible. Not making any mistakes by not taking any risks. Just existing. Waiting until it was time to ‘go home’ and lay on the couch to watch large-screen projections of nature films on the walls. His source of support came from contacts he had established in the field; system administrators, and the hacker elite ~ Cybernauts exploring both sides of the bound‐ aries on the digital frontier. In some ways Cordova acted as a sheriff in the region;


capturing data rustlers, anarchists bent on destruction, and controlling agents of industrial espionage lurking in the shadows. Cordova had built a reputation for himself by being fair and honest in his approach to fulfilling the obligations of his duties. Ethical behavior was respected by everyone who explored the virtual universe with integrity. Cordova understood the situation. He realized the limited perspective of the general public who considered anyone who transgressed the imaginary boundaries of the virtual world to be criminals. Cordova was aware that being a hacker, for most, was a process of exploration and discovery. They were explorers with an innate curiosity to understand systems. They welcomed the challenge of overcoming obstacles presented by security systems as they attempted to access information which allowed them to learn and understand how the forces in power make decisions which ultimately affect them. They explored a world which was denied to the general-user due to the censorship and ownership of information by Authorities. They believed that information should be freely-available to people that were able to use it to create a better world. They acted as a natural balance in the digital ecosystem, bringing to light the horrors hidden away from the public eye, and revealed harmful activities of the administrators who abused the privileges of the power entrusted to them. Information was gathered with an ethical awareness of using the information wisely. Digital terrorism was generally regarded with disdain throughout the networked community; especially if the results inadvertent‐ ly produced high levels of mass destruction. Cordova noted that throughout the network, others were just as puzzled and anxious to find the source, and discover the motives of the originator of the new digital movement that was beginning to emerge. The signs of its coming were evident. As he gazed out the window, Cordova recalled a face, half-hidden in shadows, chain-smoking cigarettes, appearing on a Vidcomm interface in the middle of the night from the Eagle Grill. This ‘source’ used the pseudonym ‘Manray’ to protect his identity. He belonged to a loose-affiliation of explorers calling themselves ‘ro@ches’. Cordova was familiar with the Eagle Grill; an enclave of the computer underground, where characters often assumed personas from comic books for their network identity. The users generally worked during the night; often employed as computer programmers in various manufacturing plants throughout the Industrial Zone, where it was common to use the superior computer systems provided by their employers to tour the virtual world. In the morning they often hung out at the lunch counter of the Eagle Grill to discuss their escapades with friends and colleagues, and interact with another human face after working the ‘nightmare’ shift of staring into a screen in isolation. Coffee was important. A huge Terry Gilliam coffee boiler, with pipes that extended across the ceiling like octopus arms, delivered hot black fluid directly to tables situated around the perimeter of the room. The atmosphere was tinged with nervousness and anxiety, fueled by vast quantities of caffeine and nicotine. Manray’s shadowy face on his TVi was captured from beneath his chin; a view from the tabletop where the device rested in front of him ~ He fired off words, in short bursts, with a machine gun delivery:


“Supposedly some equalizer named Russ Vai is turning up on these boards all over the area. Oh really, BLAH? No one seems to have specifics on this guy. Dirt is he’s getting attention on the street with display hacks contrived to override the Bcast transmissions. They’re really stupid. Novices are making this shit up, conferring THE cult hero status on him for infiltrating Sun. You can imagine, totally fucks up the system on Christmas eve, in? Mythology places him right inside, challenging King himself. In his face. You know the drill? The Paranoid p0ss3 have built over the story, reputing that he sent in a .ghost file and planted little bombz all over the place. Now he is threatening to set them off if they don’t meet his demands. Ironic? I can’t tell you much at the moment. Dead Angel, he’s one of the new breed. He is reputed to know the guy in person, but he is going to be difficult to connect. He was arrested for EXtreme sexual deviation the other day. They sent him off to shovel snow in Anti-A for the duration... Gotta go, a hot bowl of octo is waiting on me. Peace. Out.” The link went dead. The conversation hadn’t provided much information, but it did give Cordova a sense of what was happening in the bigger picture. If his contacts were not aware of this guy, then he must be good. Usually somebody knew someone who knew something ~ When information was discovered they would contact him, exchanging what they knew for credits. Cordova recalled the cryptic messages he received from the hacker ~ The computer virus he planned to release had seemed analogous to digital cancer. Cordova could see parallels to the way free radicals behave in organic material. The introduction of foreign chemicals into an organism was the catalyst which caused progressive damage to the DNA of a cell. Once a certain threshold was reached, the normal DNA transforms into cancerous DNA. As the cancer grows, it penetrates and destroys neighbouring tissue, before moving on to seek new areas to take root as it spreads throughout the body ~ A cancer that destroys evil, Cordova mused. Was it possible for a virus, or even the author of the code to determine what was good, and what was evil? What was true or false? Cancer if left untreated indiscriminately destroyed ALL the cells; uncontrolled growth is what makes cancer dangerous. The contemplation of a polarity between good and evil no longer seemed relevant. As Cordova experienced life, an atmosphere of clean healthy living, correct thoughts and devoted dedication to the cause by employees living in the towers allowed global corporations to flourish. Employees must remain compliant in following commands, and be sincerely grateful to the central command of corporations who efficiently provided for their every need. Tower dwellers had a vested interest in the corporation; in that they will survive only as long as the corporation survives ~ They will continue enjoying the benefits of their lifestyle as long as the company remains strong. Conversely, those who existed outside the towers, neither profited from, nor were they able to consume corporate products. The damned were forced to shrift for themselves in the world, surviving in whatever manner they were able. Compared with


citizens leading a life of comfort, the existence of the damned was relentlessly harsh. They had either been forced to subsist on an agrarian lifestyle; having to fend for themselves in a natural environment which was gradually disappearing ~ contaminat‐ ed or barren ~ or subsist by scavenging resources they needed from material discard‐ ed by others. They had no access to health-care nor education. No capacity to control their own affairs. The corporations did not need an Orwellian megasystem of centralized control. The mortal fear of becoming one of the damned was a more powerful motivational factor than human greed and desire for maintaining control. Cordova, for his part, was obligated to the corporation; just like everyone else. It was his particular duty to protect the technology that contained the information useful to the people in control. He was one of the guardians of the constellation of millions of interconnected databases which contained the digital fragments of everyone’s lives, and the entire recorded body of knowledge of humankind. Cordova’s responsibility was to ensure that the data was protected from unauthorized access, and from external manipulation or destruction. Security systems were powerful, yet they did not create an impenetrable fortress. Both corporate and street-level hackers could cause considerable damage by using various methods of sabotage. They were Cordova’s adversaries; stealthy and cunning they derived great pleasure from infiltrating a database to dismantle the code. Within hacker circles, carrying out these activities was a sign of status; demonstrating a level of bravery or superiority of skill over their peers. It was for this reason that Cordova was concerned that the hacker’s exploits could become legendary. The radical underground in particular were always searching for heroes ~ or antiheroes. Cults were continually springing into existence, elevating someone or something to the status of a surrogate deity. As their crusades gathered momentum it would generate media attention which resulted in the production of a number of copycat clones, who arrived on the scene just in time to dispose of the legendary deity, and raise to ascension the next one. Often the original deity would facilitate the process by conveniently self-destructing along the way, to become forever enshrined as a martyr in the hacker hall of fame. Cordova buried his face in the palms of his hands, and rubbed his eyes. He had been staring out the window for quite some time, but the tower under construction had not significantly increased in size. His eyes felt tired, and he perceived a growing sense of unreality caused by sleep deprivation ~ Although he was too wired to rest. The process of philosophically contemplating his thoughts had somehow cleared his mind long enough to allow a moment of inspiration to appear, as crystal clear as a raindrop suspended in a sunny sky. He considered that Russ Vai could be subverted by the possibilities and pleasures tempting him from the screen. Cordova knew the hacker was curiously exploring every major system available. As Cordova entered the elevator to travel to his Flex Global work-station, he realized that it was a matter of finding his weakness; one that would


attract him like a moth to a flame. What was the hacker searching for? Then Cordova realized what he could use as bait to lure the hacker into an ‘iron box’; which could capture his digital entity, or at least get a fix on his signal ~ Cordova’s ears popped from the change in air pressure as the elevator rapidly descended, plunging him underground.

X.

Every morning the writer walks through the invisible city; a sector consisting of several square miles of dilapidated tenement blocks which are a uniform concrete grey. Every morning the same scene replays itself; the owner of the hardware store sweeping the sidewalk in front of his shop, the delivery truck unloading produce at the small grocery down the street, the old man made of wax selling his newspapers from the rusted metal stand, and the regulars, staring into the cool glow of their screens or the blackness of their coffee cups, behind the smoky glass of the Eagle Grill. Every day he walks through the familiar environment that has become etched in his memory. He knows every detail. He stops to buy sausage, bread, turnips and a plastic jug of distilled water ~ The writer had become accustomed to giving some of his food to a ragged man that roamed the streets in his wheelchair; but he hadn’t seen the young man for some time. He continues on, through the maze of curved streets with their odd-angled intersections, past residential units rising above store-fronts occupy‐ ing the level along the street. The writer climbs the stairs to the top floor of his building, then opens the door to his small room which contains very few furnishings. The scene is an illustration of a life of austerity; there is a bed, a table and chairs, a small quantity of books on a shelf along the wall, a small refrigerator, an antique typewriter. The writer puts the groceries into the refrigerator, then fills a coffee pot with tap water and sets it on the stove. A heavy metal door opens from his room onto the rooftop, where he tends a garden inside a small greenhouse. The rich assortment of plant life is shared with a number of other tenants who work collectively to produce food which makes up the balance of their diet. Often the writer sits by the edge of the roof, resting his back against an airintake column to observe activity on the street below. He could look south across neighbouring rooftops strewn with tangled wires hung with clothes, satellite dishes, and a ramshackle collection of other greenhouse enclosures. Off in the distance is the bridge over the river, and beyond that, the Industrial Zone. To the north, he can see towers rising from the core through the haze. He can look over the ocean to watch fishing boats coming into the harbour, sunlight gleaming off the waves.


Stanley the Steampipe ambles toward him across the rooftop; having leapt a small gap between two buildings. For a large man, he is surprisingly agile. He is carry something wrapped in newspaper. The writer knows what it is. “Aloha! Brought you some fresh meat, my friend!” Stanley shouts in a vibrant tone, holding the package over his head like a hunter triumphantly returning to camp. “Thanks man, rabbit stew is always a nice change of diet.” Stanley raises rabbits and chickens in a compound on his rooftop, and exchanges the meat and eggs with neighbours for other fresh produce. At first, he once said, he had tried to raise pigs, but some disgruntled neighbour had apparently tossed them off the roof. ‘Unless they had tried to fly’ Stanley had said with his typically-understated dry humour. “I’ll put this in the fridge.” “Help yourself to some coffee.” The writer didn’t need to say it; as he knew Stanley would anyway ~ It was a formality. Soon Stanley returned. His large brown fingers, scarred and worn from plumbing work, were wrapped around the tiny handle of the coffee cup. He sets it down on the ledge of the building, and wipes a small stain of fresh blood from his hands onto the leg of his coveralls. “Man, I always get these people screaming at me that they need their toilet working. I’m getting tired of putting up with their shit, you know what I’m saying?” A comical expression appears on the tattooed map which decorates his face. He laughs with full intensity. He crouches down with his back to the ledge, facing the writer, then lets out a long breath of air as a sign that he is settling in to relax for awhile, and escape from people’s problems with broken toilets, stopped-up drains and broken pipes. “So how’s the writing going?” He knew Stanley was just asking to be polite ~ It would be impossible to describe a process that had seemed to take over his life. Day after day, sitting by himself in front of the machine, he had documented the many twists and turns that the path of his life had taken. So many memories had risen to the surface that the typewriter ribbon had almost been completely drained of ink. Yet, the writer could sense that the story was coming to an end soon, and he wanted to capture the vitality of the experience before something forced him to abandon it. “The writing’s going fine.”


He was grateful that Stanley would still come by, and tried to make sure that he spent some time maintaining their friendship. They talked for awhile, their conversation drifting from topic to topic. Stanley told him how things were going at night school, where he was taking a course to upgrade his plumbing certificate. Stanley often mentioned that he thought the course was a waste of time. Damn authorities. He knew more about the content of the course than the instructor did. He learned his trade by doing his job, but the course was a mandatory requirement for the union. Damn union. A certificate upgrade that would allow him to charge more for his work, but as he often said... “God damn haoles can’t afford to pay this poor kamaaina what he should be getting, as it is!” Stanley surprised him by explaining that lately he had been slipping out of plumb‐ ing class, and sitting in on a course in classic literature. He wanted to learn how stories were put together. It seemed to be like plumbing, he explained; connecting compo‐ nents together so that everything flows from beginning to end. He said that watching the writer sitting over the keys had inspired him to keep a journal of his own. He was using a pen and several discarded notebooks he had discovered in a vacated apartment, to write a collection of stories based on conversations he had with people while he worked in their kitchens and bathrooms. “You get to know people by spending time in their apartment,” he said casually. “You can see how they arrange the things they keep. Sometimes they paste a certain paper on the wall, or arrange something special on a shelf. These things contain stories locked inside them, that the person who owns them will release, if you ask them. Some stories are happy and others are sad. Some are just strange. Stories that would be impossible to believe without the person sitting there as proof the story is true. You know what I’m saying.” He delivered the last expression, the one that he often tagged on to the end of his sentences, as a statement this time, rather than the usual question. “Yeah, I know what your saying. I’m sure you are going to write some interesting stories. I always enjoy listening to them when you tell them.” Stanley took another sip, draining the last of his coffee, then settled the empty cup on the ledge. Under the growing warmth of the morning sun, the writer began to tell Stanley about the woman he had met several days before. The writer explained that he couldn’t stop thinking about her, but he was uncertain what he should do. Stanley nodded his head; he knew everything there was to know about women. It was one of the topics that he would gladly give advice about. After all, he had been happily married for almost fifteen years. Stanley suggests that the writer should go over to visit the woman, or arrange to meet with her somewhere: “Okay, so you’re thinking about her. If you feel it in your heart, you’ve got to express it to her. If she feels the way you do, then you are in like sin, brother,” Stanley says with


a big grin. “If she don’t ... well, women don’t mind a little attention. If you never find out, you ain’t never going to know. You know what I’m saying?” “Anyway man, I got to go, I got this guy giving me all kinds of grief. He’s got a leaky pipe that’s spraying all over the bathroom whenever he urinates. I don’t know if I can help him with that. I don’t think I have a wrench that small, you know what I’m saying? Hang loose, brah!” As Stanley gets up, he gestures with a rocking motion of his hand; thumb and little finger extended, then disappears with a single bound. Thinking about the woman again, the writer recalls the first time they had met; she was struggling to carry two bags of groceries and a sleeping child at the same time. She had been waiting on the corner for the light to change, when suddenly, one of the plastic grocery bags ripped open, spilling its contents onto the sidewalk. The woman was kneeling down to pick up the groceries, when the writer offered his assistance. He didn’t really take a close look at her until they were carrying the groceries back to her apartment. She was wearing a long printed skirt that brushed the ground, a white blouse, reflective mirrored-sunglasses, and a large, dark, wide-brimmed hat. Along the way, they introduced themselves; her name was Camellia Theaceae. Camellia was an attractive, tall, mature woman, with a trim figure. She had a pleasant face that was framed by long, straight, dark brown hair. The young boy continued to sleep comfortably cradled in her arms as they climbed the stairs to her apartment... Could he recall that the child’s features were not similar to his mother’s? Perhaps he resembled the father more, thought the writer. The writer knocked gently upon the door. Camellia opened it. She looked just the way he had imagined her in his thoughts, as he had walked across the street to her apartment. He didn’t know what to say when the door opened. He suddenly felt nervous. She smiled and asked him to come in. He paused in the doorway noticing that her monitor was glowing in the darkened room. He must be interrupting her. She shook her head, and replied that she would welcome company. The voice of the child called out sleepily. Camellia motioned for the writer to wait, then went into the adjoining room; whispering to the child to go back to sleep. After a few moments she returned to the main room. She smiled to see that he was still standing in the doorway. She brushed back a strand of hair that had fallen across her face, then tucked it behind her ear. She asked if he would like some tea, motioning for him to sit in a chair beside the kitchen table. He noticed the small garden on the balcony in more detail than during his previous visit. She had removed the plastic sheet in the afternoon to let direct sunlight shine in. Camellia told him that she grew a variety of herbs, mostly for medicinal purposes, in order to look after herself and her boy. She said that sometimes she would give herbs to other tenants if they came to her with a problem; she liked to help the children in the building.


They sat across the table from each other, sipping tea she had made from dried herbs. As they talked, her gentle voice, fine features, and attractive body once again began to stir feelings of desire. At one point during their conversation, she mentioned that the tea might heighten his awareness, but that it was healthful. Indeed, the effect of the tea had been invigorating. His senses that were normally dulled by the flow of the repetitive cycle of his life had suddenly been actuated. He felt the warmth of the tea through the smooth porcelain cup, and gradually became more aware of the coarse‐ ness of the clothing which clung to his body. He could sense the tactile qualities of the textures on the surfaces around the room as he scanned them with his vision. Every‐ thing around him had a physical presence as the depth of the dimensions came clearly into focus. Gradually he also detected a sweet musky fragrance in the air; like the subtle aroma of flowers in a hot summer rain. He realized it was the essence of Camellia. She looked so beautiful as she brushed back a strand of dark brown hair with her slender fingers. Tucking it behind her ear as she gracefully bent her head to sip from her cup; a tiny sip like a bird at a water fountain, her lips gently kissing the surface. Glancing up at him, she captured his gaze, generating a gentle smile which radiated a soft intensity, like the glow of eternal youth. He suddenly felt awkward, uncertain. He felt self-conscious as he realized that he was staring at her openly, drinking in her vision with his eyes. She didn’t seem to mind; her gaze was gentle, casual, in return. He noticed her eyes; they were a deep bluishgreen. He tried to remember when he had seen that colour before, but he couldn’t recall. Her eyes drew him in, they were powerful, potentially dangerous. Something about them made him realize that many visions had passed through them. He immersed himself in them, they enveloped him the way foliage surrounds someone that enters the densest jungle. Then he found himself drifting, in a stream, the translu‐ cent bubbles rose around him as he was carried by the gentle turbulence, held buoyant, weightless in the brilliant sunlight curving from the distortion caused by its refraction through the bluish-green depths. Lost in rapture, he felt something gently brush against his hand resting on the table. Her fingertips moved slowly, softly across the roughness of his skin. He turned his hand over, and she placed her warm palm in his. Her touch felt strong, delicate, he could feel the beating of her pulse as they tightly clasped hands. In a few moments, she stood up from the table. Her shirt clung to her body from the humidity of the room. The fabric of her thin white blouse traced the contours of her round breasts, and stretched across her firm nipples. Still holding his hand she guided him to the center of the room, drawing him toward her in a tight embrace. Her lips rose to meet his, kissing him with passionate desire. He tasted their sweetness, returning to her lips a kiss even more urgent. His hands moved along the sides of her trim body, up under her blouse, along the contours of the small of her back. Her skin felt smooth, soft, cool. He could feel her hands caressing his shoulders, pulling him tightly toward her, she quivered with intensity.


He pulled back for a moment to catch his breath, and was surprised to find that he was fully erect. It was a sensation he hadnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t experienced in some time, and never before had it been this strong. She felt it too, moving her hips with a slow gyrating motion, she pressed her body firmly against his. As they kissed she softly moaned, then reached down and released the button at the front of his pants, and quickly unzipped the fly. With a firm tug his pants dropped to the floor around his ankles, his stiff cock bouncing free of its restraint, pointed skyward, hoisting its weight against the pull of gravity. As they kissed she slid her hand up the inside of his thigh and caressed the firmness of his large hairy balls, the tip of his penis rubbed against the fabric of her skirt. She grabbed the waistband and turned it slightly, until the seam along the side was now positioned in the front to welcome him. A drop of perspiration ran down his forehead and as her small hand grasped his shaft and pulled him forcefully toward her, guiding him inside. He kissed her neck as she tilted back her head. Thrusting firmly, slightly bending his knees to make up for their difference in height, the hard blue head of his penis slid gently, penetrating the warmth of her moist softness. Both were breathing harder. He could feel the rhythm of both of their hearts beating at a slightly different rate, flowing in and out of synchronization with each other. They made love standing in the center of the main room, she was on her tiptoes, legs slightly outspread, her eyes closed tight, a slight grin on her lips. His hands moved up the back of her thighs and caressed her small round bottom, fingers moving into the crevasse between the firm muscles of her legs working to meet his as the pace quickened. Arching his back he pushed upward, sinking the full length of the shaft with every thrust, now more quickly, their bodies moved in unison, she gave out a gentle cry with every stroke, his partially clothed body was soaked with perspiration. The sound of their breathing increased rapidly, building in intensity, she suddenly let out a quiet scream as she felt the rush of orgasm, he followed a few strokes later, unleashing a torrent in a long series of explosive bursts. He felt them merge, he was inside her, and surrounding her at the same time. Their knees trembled as the waves shuddered through their bodies with diminishing aftershocks of release. He caught her up in his powerful arms as she gently collapsed, and still united, they lowered themâ&#x20AC;? selves to a kneeling position on the floor. Clasped in each others arms, they held each other tight as the world came into being around them, her head resting on his shoulder, his head against hers. Her breathing grew more quiet now against his chest as he gently massaged her back through the cloth of her blouse, kissing her forehead. They remained in the pose, captured in a portrait, as time stood still. Slowly brightness faded in, revealing the harsh reality of the brilliant sunlight. He stared out the window, the view beyond the garden consisted of a large expanse of grey concrete; the wall of his building across the street. He sat at the table dressed only in trousers listening to the sound of the water running in the distance as she took a shower. After some time, she came out dressed in a robe, drying her long damp hair with a white towel. She mentioned that the shower wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t working very well; the faucet


was loose, and it was difficult to turn the water on or off. He nodded, but there was something that he had been thinking about, and he wanted to get it off his chest. He cleared his throat, and with a quiet voice, he apologized for not wearing a condom. He knew it was against the law not to wear one, but he hadn’t bought one in years. The fine would be automatically debited from his account if she had wanted to report him. “Don’t worry,” she laughed. With a smile she told him that she would have asked him to wear one if she had wanted him to. She kissed him on the cheek, then went over to the counter and started to prepare supper. The sound of the child was stirring in the next room; quietly calling for his mother. The boy slept during the daytime, staying up with Camellia while she wrote late into the night. He was waking from his regular afternoon nap. She went in to retrieve him, and a few moments later returned, leading him by the hand as he walked sleepily into the room, rubbing the sand from his eyes. The boy was wearing light blue pajamas with a colourful pattern of cartoon characters from an old television show called ‘The Jetsons’. His feet were encased in blue fuzzy slippers with tiny eyes and ears sewn onto them. The young child blinked his eyes and stared at the man, then smiled as if he had recognized him from his previous visit. She introduced the child as Ariel; who had been named after the tiny mischievous spirit from Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tempest’. In the story, when he was not helping his master; a magician named Prospero who had the power to control the forces of nature, the sprite had a merry time flying around on the back of a bat, singing songs and drinking nectar from flowers. She formed her fingers into the shape of a beak, and tickled the boys ribs with them as she finished the story. The little boy laughed gleefully. Ariel was four years old; a handsome child with fine features, although he seemed somewhat thin and pale. His hair and eyes were a bright golden colour. The writer could not detect any resemblance to his mother as he compared the child’s features to hers. He assumed that Ariel was a tube baby, which likely meant that once upon a time he had lived in the towers. The writer spoke to the boy for some time. Ariel was very intelligent and highlyadvanced in his verbal communication skills for his age. He asked the writer about himself, and as the writer tactfully changed the subject, Ariel told him about the stones he collected that had magic powers. He offered to show them to him, but the writer replied that would have to wait until the next time he came for a visit. As he got up to leave, Camellia asked him to stay for supper. He politely declined; he said he had to go back to his apartment to do a few things before he rested for the night shift of work. She came to him in the doorway, to give him an affectionate hug. She planted a passionate kiss on his lips, so that he could remember her while he was away, she whispered, as he closed the door.


XI.

The face floats slowly across the sky. He had selected it from a crowd; it had been difficult to choose. He didn’t recognize the face. Was it the face of something that would give his life meaning? It wasn’t one thing; perhaps it wasn’t anything. It wasn’t the clouds, or the woman he had met, or anyone else, who provided the reason to live his life. What did he have to thank them for? That pleasure always brought him pain; leaving skeleton bones along a path leading nowhere. The clouds change their characteristics depending on the weather, and the season. These were not the grand pastoral clouds of summer. Those were gone now, replaced by clouds that were cold and grey. The face was still beautiful. The sky is vast, yet it couldn’t keep the featherless bird that had fallen from its nest from smashing to the pavement. He noticed it walking home from work one morning; a small pink object on the sidewalk. He had to look closely to even recognize what it was. That had happened long ago, before the enormous summer clouds had drifted across the sky, carrying memories away with them. But, the memory of the small stain of blood where the bird’s head hit the ground had remained. The image reminds him of the dream he has had. As the dream begins, he is being sought for a crime that he can’t remember if he has actually committed. He is aware the Authorities believe he is guilty, therefore he knows he can’t turn himself in. He watches as they seek him everywhere. By keeping in motion, he manages to success‐ fully elude them at every step. As time passes, the pursuit tapers off. He realizes now that he has gotten away with it; that he is not likely to be captured. Even though he is not sure he has committed any crime he begins to feel guilt and remorse. He also realizes that he will need to be forever watchful and not let down his guard for a moment. Computer processors never forget. They will identify him when he integrates back into the world. In the final scene of the dream, the man jumps from the top of a tall building, to awaken just before impact. What is the difference between a dream and a nightmare? The writer sits on the ledge of the rooftop, sipping his coffee, daydreaming. His thoughts soar, but each of them are still chained to reality; attached to the gravity of the physical world. Imagined concepts suspended in tension are meaningful only by their connection to the outside world. He plunges into the depths of the dream to discover what logic exists there. He tries to isolate the components of the dream, but the fragments no longer exist. Reprogramming has occurred while he had slept, during his morning rest. The dream has already linked his past with the present. The original elements, concepts and ideas of the dream have become merged and recombined, synthesized into a new one, which has been allocated a location in his permanent memory. Meanwhile, the original fragments have floated away like clouds.


The flow is interrupted. Something has disturbed the process of the constant velocity of motion in the street below. Watching from his vantage point, one element is conspicuous by its stillness, it has upset the balance by remaining immobile as the turbulence swirls around it. Isolated. He notices the man standing helplessly beside the stalled car. A car door is open, damaged. The man has set out an emergency beacon. Disconnected. The sidewalk is crowded with faces, but no-one notices the man. Randomness. His facade of security prevents his asking for help. His actions convey his fear. He gestures, talking into his cellular phone, requesting assistance. Alone. Perhaps in the distance a rescue chopper is now approaching to airlift him. His value to the corporation will determine how quickly the scoop will be sent his way. Divine intervention. The clouds are accumulating, thicker now, turning the sky to a green overcast. Down below he watches as they move in and out of the Eagle Grill; Bohemians and anarchists are talking the morning away. He knows who they are, they are part of the story he has been trying to remember. A gigantic scoop is rumbling over distant rooftops, advancing before the rain that is threatening to fall. The writer walks across the roof, opening the heavy door just as the first drops hit. He enters the sanctuary of his apartment. He places his empty cup into a sink that is already filled with dishes. The typewriter awaits him on the table. He pauses for a few moments, then walks to the table and sits before the keyboard. Once again he feeds it a blank sheet of paper. He turns the wheel of the typewriter carriage, aligning the paper so that it will still be centered when he reaches the bottom of the page. He glances toward the corner of the room. On the floor is a cardboard box; the stack of paper inside has grown considerably since he had begun to write the story. He wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t writing literature, it felt more like he was coding a piece of software to be compiled by the human brain of some unknown reader ~ One side of each sheet in the box was covered with letter forms. Soon he would add one more. He begins again. The typewritten characters are much fainter now on the thin paper. Almost unreadable. He has pounded the ink out of the ragged ribbon with an incessant hammering of the keys. The letters have embossed their shape into the paper, giving it a texture like inverted Braille. This would be the part that was difficult to write about, because it is never easy to admit that you have made a mistake, especialâ&#x20AC;? ly when the integrity of your reputation has been placed on the line. But at the time, he had based his decision on what he believed had needed to be done... The hacker had lead Cordova to files containing confidential engineering designs for a new type of machine which would soon be going into production. The virtual simulations of the insect-like machines were fully-functional, and highly-realistic. The hacker had shown him the existence of the machines because he was threatening to implant his virus into the minds of the humanoid constructs who would soon be prepared to pilot them. The virus would become an integrated part of the circuitry of their bionic brains as they were developed through their growth.


For Cordova, being directed to these files had been a pivotal event; a turning point. Not so much because of the inherent danger in the hacker’s threats, but more because it had demonstrated that the person calling himself ‘Russ Vai’ was able to plumb the furthest depths of any database he chose to explore. The attacks were not random occurrences, but highly-motivated intrusions into carefully-selected target databases. For Cordova, it was time to take action, it was the time to choose a side. The moment had arrived for the grey knight positioned on the chessboard to pledge alliance to the white or the black, or it would simply disappear. A number of considerations had played a factor in making the difficult decision ~ Even now as he types these words, he wonders what the outcome would have been had he chosen differently. He could clearly recall his pod within the command center of Flex Global, where he had manned his bunker on the front lines of the information war. During the days of solitude in the outpost, thoughts would often emerge from his conscience and drift through his mind. Residual doubts that had not been completely erased by the thorough indoctrination of the training program. They were the type of thoughts that sometimes lurk inside the mind of a soldier who has come face to face with his enemy, and has the momentary realization that the enemy is no different than he is; that only a thin wall of ideology was all that separated their humanity from his ~ Perhaps the realization that he had more in common with the enemy; another soldier fighting for a cause, than with the people who had the power to use them both as enforcers of their opposing wills. Cordova had learned in the beginning, that the fruit of the tree of knowledge was not meant to be accessible to everyone. Its most valuable attribute was that it granted the power, to those who possessed it, of control over the ones who desired it. It was the temptation of the ignorant. It was a blessing that could be locked away until we are willing to pay the price. In Cordova’s war, the division was between those who obtained their power through the ownership and control of information, opposing those who believed in the freedom of its accessibility to everyone. Cordova patrolled the invisible borderline which separated the sides; protecting the security of information from those who wished to discover it. It was a matter of trust, and there were many times when the population, and Cordova, had been made aware of the abuse of power entrusted to the people in control. The freedom fighters were policed by security teams, but there was no-one to police the corporations. The general population needed faith in the administrators to make the correct decisions for them. In order to ensure that, they needed to obtain information, often at the expense of the individual’s desire to control privacy of their own personal information. Flex Global agents were privileged by having a variety of methods at their disposal to access personal information; remote surveillance cameras, satellite imagery, hidden microphones, or the physical access of an authorized or unauthorized premises search. Of course the most powerful and most convenient method of obtaining information was to search through computer databases. The agents had access to


every computer connected to the network, through which they were able to monitor financial status, credit transactions, identity information, health records, employment records, cellular phone calls, vehicle registration, even entertainment viewing prefer‐ ences were all tracked by the GPS in their devices. Virtually anytime anyone did anything anywhere, there would be a record of it. The information could be readily gathered to create a composite profile, then became the dossier of the subject under investigation. Through compiling data and cross-referencing links, activity patterns would begin to emerge, allowing agents to predict the next sequence of events which were likely to occur. As an agent, Cordova had a responsibility to keep the information he discovered completely confidential, but often, he had been requested to turn the completed dossier over to the corporation which had initiated, and financed the investigation. What they did with the information was outside of Cordova’s jurisdiction. Some citizens interacting with any form of technology were aware that the device could ultimately be used to monitor them. This awareness typically drifted between a state of extreme paranoia, and a comfortable sensation of knowing that they were being safely protected by the Authorities. ‘If you are not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to hide’, was a slogan used by the Authorities in addressing any concern over the lack of individual privacy. The majority of citizens were eagerly cooperative with the Authorities, using the computer network to provide information about people who they had either witnessed engaging in illegal acts, or who they suspected of having possible intentions of committing a crime. In exchange they were rewarded with credits. During the time that Cordova was coming to terms with his decision, he had become aware that the Authorities desired to further enhance their power through a plan to create ultimate control. They had been preparing to implement a program that would make public the privacy of everyone’s personal information. Everyone’s life would become an open book. Anyone would be able to discover information on anyone else with just the touch of a button. The program would be promoted as an initiative to create a better world. It would create a civilization in which human beings were more honest with each other. Everyone would have access to the truth; all would be revealed, no-one would have anything to hide. What is it about our privacy that gives us our identity? The hidden secrets of past errors, the modesty of playing down the achievements of our success, the knowledge we have gained through personal effort and sacrifice, the methods of the techniques we use to gain competitive advantage over others. True. Those are valuable consider‐ ations. Yet the secrecy of proprietary knowledge works against the advancement of the global human species. It does not allow us to learn from the triumphs and tragedies of others. Creating a better world for tomorrow meant solving the problems in the existing one. That was the burden shouldered by the corporations. The executives would guide the citizens by determining the course of civilization as it advanced towards the future. Without their leadership, the citizens had been lead to believe, the result would be


complete anarchy; the random chaos of particles moving in every direction, accelerat‐ ed by the hectic pace of contemporary life, like a universe split into billions of parallel worlds, or an enormous container of assorted metal bearings that had been poured onto a polished marble floor. Corporate executives relied on technology and science to provide the information on which they based their decisions. It was in the citizen’s best interest that the blueprints for building a new tomorrow rested securely in the hands of the policy and decision makers entrusted to manage this knowledge. They needed access to reliable and current information, and it was imperative that information remained completely secure to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the accumulated data. The Authorities insisted that they were not withholding the confidential data from the public, rather, they were ensuring that it did not become contaminated by unauthorized intruders who were intent on damaging or destroying the data. Besides, it was data that the majority of the population did not need, or want, to know. They were not likely to understand highly-specialized complex information; it would be meaningless to them. The corporation’s market research clearly demonstrated that the general public preferred information presented in a format which was simple to comprehend and easy to digest. As a result, knowledge and experiences were packaged like every other product. They had been manufactured to make them more attractive to the consumer. The jagged edges had been trimmed away, the colours were brighter and shinier, the content made sweeter, the events of the past were adjusted to seamlessly integrate with the present. Manufactured reality became the reality. ‘As real as you want it to be’; to quote one of the advertising trademarks of the time. In exchange for the enjoyment of receiving this processed information, the consumers seemed willing to relinquish their awareness, imagination, and the ability to determine what was true or false. In the manufactured world, real humans were no more important than virtual ones. Individuality had been replaced with identities that could be selected like a suit of clothes. Manufacturers created new realities that had been filtered and manipulated and tailored to fulfill the consumer’s desires. It was a new kind of reality; free from imperfection and without traces of memory of the past. But it was not without emotion, or essence. Consumers stared with fascination at the high-resolution digital images projected onto the walls of their Platonian caves by media technicians. The visual displays were like screens separating them from a reality they could no longer recognize. They had returned to a state similar to primitive humans who dwelt in a world of wonders they did not understand. The desire to escape the existing world became greater than the desire to create a better one. Then the writer types: “Why am I telling you this. You already know.” ~ Pressing on the keys... tap tap tap... bing! While this situation which the writer had just described was the prevailing one, it was not universally true; there were always the exceptions. In the case of Cordova


Frost, the exceptions took the form of adversaries which were called ‘the elite’ within the society of the digital underground. They were exceptionally proficient in utilizing computer operating systems, and navigating the network which connected these systems throughout the world. The technology offered them a means of exploring databases which were inaccessible to the average person. They were highly-intelli‐ gent, and derived their empirical knowledge by taking things apart to examine how they worked, whether it was a computer chassis or a corporate infrastructure. They were fueled by the desire for forbidden knowledge. Typically, their personality profiles were characterized by constant feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction with the direction in which the corporations had char‐ tered as a course for the future of humanity. They were aware of the world around them, and concerned with the decisions that had been made in the corporate plans for designing the future. It was not a future they wanted to be part of; a world which they believed consisted of authoritarian control, greed, and human destruction. Rather than passively submit to the will of the forces in control, the rebels often took action. At the extreme, they carried out subversive acts of destruction, symbolic gestures of their transgression which were intended to demonstrate that they too had the power of controlling the data’s code. Without the code: there was no more encoder: no more decoder: creating messages becomes impossible: the system collapses. S_bot_ge of d_t_ w_s the corpor_tion’s gre_test fe_r. [COMPUTER ERROR] The code was volatile, virtual, malleable. Manipulation of small amounts of code could introduce errors which had a tendency to propagate themselves, gradually increasing in magnitude, indefinitely, or as long as the network existed. The computers constantly exchanged vast amounts of information at a rate approaching the speed of light, which made it virtually impossible to verify the integrity of all the information; to ensure that it was correct. The terrorism of the code revealed the autonomy of the hacker. Cordova felt that he was in a precarious position between two opposing sides. He could identify with the desire for information which the hackers attempted to obtain in an effort to determine their own destiny. Information they also used to provide a counterbalance to the megalithic structure of corporations which continued the process of redesigning the world in a manner which would be most profitable to them. After reflecting on the matter, Cordova realized that his dilemma was that both sides had the ability to use their knowledge to create or to destroy. While Cordova recog‐ nized that good existed in both worlds, his decision had come down to a choice between two evils. He could not condone Russ Vai’s desire to destroy. The conse‐ quences of his actions would have repercussions throughout the network. Time was running out.


It was at that moment, sitting inside his pod at Flex Global that he put his plan into motion. He would prepare a trap to intercept the hacker. Cordovaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s adversaries had varying degrees of proficiency in their art. Most could be traced relatively easily, but once in awhile he would meet his match. These hackers took advantage of the massive size of the network, and the speed of technology. Tracking them was difficult, but not impossible. Cordova, as a mission specialist, had access to a full range of resources and tools to meet the challenge. No matter where they went, they left a trail to mark their journey. After entering through security gaps, it took time to cover their tracks before they disconnected. Cordova knew what to look for; he knew how to interpret the signs. He had been studying Russ Vaiâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s activity closely. He had gathered clues and fragments of information from which he constructed theories about the physical location of where the signals were originating. He had gotten close at various times in his pursuit as he had followed the trail through the network, jumping from one location to the next. He had watched as the trail appeared to vanish. Eventually he would find another address at another location. He noted the time of day the hacker would commonly log onto a system, he noted the types of corporations he infiltrated, he noted which satellite links he used to bounce his signal. Cooperation of other authorities and systems administrators had fed back information which HAL had been compiling as the days progressed. Cordova had reviewed the puzzles he had decoded; examining the choice of words and phrases, looking for additional clues. The results HAL compiled were interesting. The probability that the hacker was located in San Jose, California, USA were extremely high. If so, the hacker operated during daylight hours for that time zone, which was somewhat unusual. It was likely that he is employed in the computer development industry, as he has access to highlevel codes at a number of computer technology research laboratories throughout the world, and he was very up-to-date in utilizing the most current advances. Russ Vai was also becoming extremely preoccupied by the activity of the famous British architect, Coraline Coventry, who was designing a monumental structure for the Golden Sun Corporation. The studio of this young talented woman was based in Beijing, China. Cordova felt he was getting warmer...

XII.

Agent Cordova Frost had been granted access to interview Coraline Coventry by the Sun King himself. During their meeting, Cordova explained that the hacker planned to unleash a digital virus into the root-level systems of a number of global


corporations. Coraline was questioned about any ideas she may have why it seemed this same hacker had taken a particular interest in her. Coraline confidentially dis‐ closed that during a previous encounter with this digital entity; while fully immersed within the virtual reality software she used to create architectural constructs, she had felt that she had regained contact with a familiar ‘spirit’ she once knew. Coraline mentioned the name of a fellow student at the Akademy in the Czech Republic: Jurgen Ernst. She recalled that Jurgen experimented with computer viruses when they had studied together. She had not heard from Jurgen in years. Back then, she remembered how they were filled with youthful optimism. During evening walks on the mountain‐ side, or exploring the shoreline of a marshy pond, they would often discuss how they hoped to use their knowledge and skills to change the world in a positive way. Coraline believed he was sincere; through their close relationship they had become the confidants of each other. Could he have changed so much during the passage of time; could Jurgen have grown malicious since she had seen him last? Cordova required permission from Coraline to put his plan into effect. She under‐ stood that she would essentially act as ‘bait’ to attract the hacker which would allow security agents to monitor their interaction and track the hacker’s point of origin. The Sun King had concerns about Flex Global agents monitoring her privacy and interfer‐ ing with her work; since he was personally responsible for the well-being of one of his most-valuable, and most-favored employees. Not only was his master architect’s protection vital to the completion of the Golden Sun Pavilion, he was sincerely fond of Coraline, and in some ways thought of her with the same affection he had for his precious daughter, Adda, who he had lost many years before; when Adda had been approximately the same age as Coraline... HAL had done his research. From observing her body language and the expressions on her face, Cordova considered that perhaps Coraline was attempting to reconcile an inner-tension between acquiescing to the isolation imposed by an overprotective father-figure, and the excitement of experiencing a rendezvous with a mysterious stranger. Cordova recalled that during their conversation Coraline mentioned that she remained anxious since the hacker’s initial intrusion, often wondering whether the stranger would ever contact her again, and if so, whether perhaps he would reveal himself to be her longlost friend. The architect had always cherished the complete privacy and autonomy she had been granted to conduct her work. She didn’t like to be watched. As a compromise, rather than constant surveillance, Cordova had agreed to outfit her with an ankle alarm bracelet, with which she would use to immediate signal her next contact with the hacker ~ Like the fairy tale damsel locked in a fortress tower of stone. She seemed wary to completely trust that agent Frost would not surreptitiously keep her under surveillance against her wishes. Or perhaps she considered that the ankle alarm would provide her the opportunity to identify the hacker, then allow her time to make her own decision about whether she would turn him over to the Authorities, or warn him of the trap...


Over time, while Coraline continued her architectural work and waited for the hacker, Cordova was not allowed to directly monitor her activity. Although with the assistance of HAL, Cordova was able to covertly eavesdrop on Dr. Maria Kacheli; Coraline’s personal physician, and watch her conversation with Coraline tapped from the signal of Dr. Kacheli’s personal TVi. Coraline sat in a comfortable chair in her suite within the Golden Sun Pavilion. Wrapped in a soft silk nightgown, Coraline rested her chin upon her knees, rocking her body slightly back and forth. During restless nights anticipating the encounter, Coraline revealed, she had run through many scenarios in her mind, preparing herself for the moment when the hacker’s identity would be revealed. It seemed the dangerous situation filled her with excitement and fear. Her idealized fantasies kept returning to imagining variations on the mythical theme of Hero and Leander ~ Hero, risking everything to cross the vast expanse of the digital ocean which separated them; to reveal his love for her, and pledge his dedication to return again to meet, perhaps to kiss, on the virtual shores of a digital domain. The anxiety which accompanied the anticipated moment of their contact, Coraline explained to Maria, came from the realization there would be other people remotely monitoring their activity. She felt trepidation that a record of their interaction would be transmitted to Flex Global headquarters as well as to the Golden Sun Corporation; where it would to be permanently stored within the mainframe’s core. Coraline felt guilty and ashamed in wondering whether her private conversation with this strange entity could possibly be as personal as a romantic rendezvous. She had hoped that if this entity truly was Jurgen, they would experience a similar type of ‘meeting of the minds’ as they had when they learned to communicate telepathically with each other at the Akademy. Those intense sessions had creating an intimacy which facilitated a deeper understanding of each other, and themselves ~ True, she also considered the possibility they could somehow renew the relationship they had left off in the past. She felt afraid to openly admit that she sometime experienced a loneliness for human companionship that could sometime deflect her attention away from the goals that had been established for her to achieve ~ Coraline broke into tears as she admitted that lately her thoughts were becoming a distraction to her work. Had it been a coincidence, that now, as her strength had waned and she felt most vulnerable, that a hidden force had suddenly begun to emerge. Something invisible had reached out to her from the other side; its presence threatening to disrupt her tentative determination to complete the task she had set for herself. She had recog‐ nized its power; a force which was equal to, or greater than her own. She was also aware of its danger ~ Why had she been so attracted to it? Maybe it was a romantic notion; that this spirit held the key which could unlock the love she had shut away deep inside her heart. The notion that it might be her old flame consumed her. Memories of Jurgen still brought her joy; rekindling the longing to experience a feeling she could not name. Perhaps it was the need for the affection of a close friend, or maybe it was just the lustful desire to somehow experience the sensual passion of intimate physical contact ...


part four

I.

BOOM!!! The doorway to the bedroom disintegrates into jagged fragments of synthetic wood as three Flex Global agents burst into the room. Two are armed with small handguns, dressed in plain clothes; black jackets, black pants, hair trimmed short, neatly groomed. Their faces are expressionless. The third one carries a small digital device in his hand. Stephen Williams is sitting in his wheelchair with his pants around his ankles. Startled, he struggles awkwardly to untangle himself from an array of cables and wires that connect his body to a nearby computer ~ When agents had entered the room, the young man’s head was enclosed in a MaxVR helmet; he had controller devices in each hand, and a rubber sheath encasing his erection had wires leading from its base like a joystick ~ Stephen’s body gently shudders in a series a mild convulsions. The agents put away their weapons; their expressions now display concern and perplexity. This wasn’t the scene they had expected. Coraline’s image appears on one of the monitor screens mounted in racks of hardware stacked along three walls of the tiny bedroom. One of the agents goes directly toward the distinctive metallic turquoise cases of Stephen’s brand-new PowerComplex computers, and begins to disconnect wires and pull the plugs on the equipment. On the screen, still wearing her VR headset, Coraline gazes blindly about her studio in the Golden Sun Pavilion. Her fingertips sweep the air in front of her; as though searching to grasp an illusive phantom. Her gorgeous body is completely naked. The female agent stares at the screen, mouth agape for a few moments before hitting the power button to turn off the display. “Show’s over,” she says. Now, Stephen’s mother timidly enters the room; her face is pale with fear. Nervously she glances at the pieces of broken door littering the carpeted floor. She is a heavyset woman, dressed in a pale yellow dress. Large gold earrings studded with gems dangle from her earlobes as pendants. “Omigod Stephen. What is this all about? What’s happening? Stephen?”


Stephen remains silent. His body is slumped over in his wheelchair. He is strug‐ gling to remove the black sheath covering his penis. “Sorry ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” says the agent with the digital device in his hand. He escorts Mrs. Williams from the room ~ tears are streaming down her cheeks. The agent; a dark-skinned man named Lester Beville, directs the woman to the marble spiral staircase of her palatial California home. A chair-lift at the top awaits to track down the slope of the railing. Lester watches Mrs. Williams gracefully descend the staircase; her motion slowing as though sinking into a deep pool. At the bottom of the stairs her maid comes to her assistance; to comfort Mrs. Williams in her arms as she swoons. Lester lifts the digital device to his mouth: “Rebel One to Base. Hey Frost, we’ve got the situation locked down tight.” Cordova had coordinated the efforts of field-agents to trace the point-of-origin of the hacker. They had been monitoring the hacker’s network activity for several weeks, yet they needed to be in the vicinity when he was onstream to pinpoint a precise location. Their black unmarked van had rolled through the streets of the neighbourhood; scanning antenna embedded in the roof homing in on the signal, monitoring the distinctive ‘fingerprint’ built into motherboards of all the new Power Complex machines. They had been fortunate to detect and trace this distinguishing feature by analyzing the network packet code which emanated from the board to transmit its identity. Lester now recounts for Cordova details about the high-speed trip to secure the arrest; careening down highway 17 south of San Jose, then up into Redwood Estates. The agents came to a security gate protecting the exclusive community. They were prepared. One of the agents leapt from the van to place a codebreaker device on the digital lock to deactivate it. The large two-storey American dream-home was at the end of a cul-de-sac near the top of the hill. The van swerved onto the broad cement driveway; with agents hitting the ground before the vehicle had come to a complete stop. When the maid answered the door, the armed agents flashed their credentials and asked where Stephen Williams was. She nervously pointed, stepping out of their way as they sprinted up the stairs. Lester knocked on one of the bedroom doors facing the courtyard balcony overlooking the vast entranceway. There was no answer; it was locked. The two large male agents put their shoulders into the door. “I would like a word with Stephen Williams.” Cordova’s face appears on the tiny screen of Lester’s hand-held device. Lester nods in reply ~ In the background, the agents are in the process of confiscating all the equipment for thorough investigation of its data when they return to their Flex Global office in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, HAL is displays information about Stephen Williams; calling up databases throughout the network. Cordova scans the material on view-panels inside his pod. A photograph of Stephen Williams appears on screen. According to the data,


Stephen is thirty-three years old. He is the only child of Jack and Irna Williams. Jack Williams is the president of a videogame company called Big World Entertainment which was founded in 2005. The company amassed enormous profits with bodysuit virtual-reality games, which first appeared in arcades, and were now extremely popular in the home-consumer market. Stephen was the original developer and programmer of the game’s operating system; Maximum Virtual Reality software; widely known as MaxVR. At the age of 28 he was diagnosed with the motor-neurone disease called amyotrophic lateral sclero‐ sis. For many months after the diagnosis he became increasingly depressed and despondent. His family agreed to care for him at their home, hoping that he would continue to work for the company. They supplied all the technology he needed to continue developing new products, and to communicate with the outside world. A young doctor named Zak Morrow was hired to care for Stephen. Doctor Morrow was provided with his own room in the family home in which he stayed four nights each week. There were a series of personality conflicts between the doctor and the patient; which on two occasions had drawn visits from the Authorities. According to the report, Stephen had grown violent, believing the doctor was having an affair with his mother while his father was at work. The doctor was released from his responsibility, and apparently Stephen from that point had attempted to care for himself. HAL reported that ALS affects the muscles of arms, legs, posture, face, tongue, speech, swallowing, and eventually breathing. It may also affect emotion; resulting in periods of inappropriate or exaggerated emotional responses. What it does not affect is thinking or intelligence, sensations of touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight, eye movement, involuntary muscles of the heart, bowel, bladder, or sexual function. Stephen’s image now appears on Cordova’s screen. The young man is slumped forward in his wheelchair, now wearing an oversized, rumpled, dirty-white lab coat. Stephen looks tragic and distraught. His slim pasty face is mapped with a furtive frown. His dark eyes sparkle like gems in the sunken holes of sockets behind the dirty glass of his round metal-framed spectacles. His long, dark unwashed hair is pasted to his scalp. He is contoured into a wheelchair which seems to have become integrated with his crippled body. Two joystick grips steer his body-machine. Cables and tubes wire his body to digital machines mounted on the wheelchair’s frame, and to external devices which surround him in his small bedroom. Cordova observes agents continue to carry away pieces of equipment. Something about their methodical determination reminds him of ants raiding an enemy’s nest. Stephen lets out a long sigh: “I knew someday you would catch me... But why today? I was so close...” It is difficult for Cordova to understand his slow-slurred speech. He listens patiently as Stephen continues: “She is so beautiful... Did you see her?” Cordova shook his head to indicate that he had not. “Her body felt so good... That was the first time I have ever touched a woman... Why couldn’t you have waited... just a little bit longer.” His


words seem vague and tired; as though he were only talking to himself. “We had to shut you down. Your virus could have been very nasty,” Cordova stated; to change the course of the conversation. Stephen’s expression shifts to a thin smile. He gazes into the camera of the agent’s device he is now holding in his hand, “I’m not the one who is going to release a virus... although I could... I’ve studied them... because I have always been fascinated... with how they work.” He looks over at the agents carting away his equipment. “Be careful... you goons... don’t damage the equipment... I want everything back... working perfectly... so don’t screw it up.” The agents ignore him. “I don’t think you’ll be getting the equipment back,” Cordova answers calmly. Stephen suddenly becomes extremely agitated. His face grows intensely red as he spit out the words; “I better get this fucking shit back you...” Then just as suddenly he slumps back into his previous expression, and remains silent. “If we find any viruses, code-breakers, or stolen files, you're not getting it back.” Stephen sighed. “You are not going to find... much of that... I may break... but I don’t take... Besides... datapath... gateways... access passcodes... and all the rest... it’s up here”, he says, pointing to his head with the knotted fingers of his shaking hand. “The only thing you’ll find... I’m ashamed to admit... is an extensive collection of pornogra‐ phy files... It’s my addiction... you can’t condemn a guy for that... I’m sure the agents... will enjoy... examining those files.” The thin smile returned. He pauses for a few moments, before he continues: “I’m sorry I led you on... It’s just a game to me... I’ve been very bored with life... Look at this place.” Stephen turns the device in an awkwardly twisted hand; at the end of his thin arm which resembles the neck of a swan. The camera mounted inside the device gave Cordova an erratic pan of the room. “This is my entire world... As the disability has gotten worse... I am barely able to feed myself... or get in and out of bed... I don’t even have the strength... to go outside... This is where I live... and this is where I’m going to die.” Cordova is beginning to feel the full impact of this scene of devastation; the uncertainty and doubt that this whole situation might have been a terrible mistake. It had been almost one full year since it had begun. He had managed to remain motivated to track this guy, solving cryptic clues, and sharing his unauthorized journeys behind the scenes that revealed to Cordova a hidden world that had dis‐ turbed and amazed him. Alone. Locked away, like an island isolated from the physical world Stephen had sought contact within the virtual one. The communication afforded by technology became his salvation. Compelled by a curiosity to deeply experienced the world, he rebelled against the barriers imposed by security systems which denied him access to


certain regions of the network. As a result, he had become very good at manipulating the system, seeking out and utilizing software tools to facilitate his exploration. While searching for cleaner icebreaker code, Stephen had become aware of files which Jurgen Ernst had uploaded to one of the pirate boards he frequented. It was like discovering a message from a technologically-advanced alien species from a distant planet. In his lonely room, Stephen often occupied his time by solving complex mathematical and logic puzzles in his head. To be fortunate to discover computer code that was fascinating to him was like discovering buried treasure. He immediately began to deconstruct it, reverse-engineer it, and analyze its components. He spent weeks, happily understanding how it worked, then quickly began to find ways of improving it by eliminating extraneous code to make it more elegant. Once he had compiled the code, he was eager to test it out on the real world. The compact instruction set was the key to unlock doors that had once seemed impenetrable. With the success of his initial experimental forays, he continued to find ways to adapt and modify the code, refining it and making it more robust. He created variations on the theme, customizing the keys to allow him to access specific domains. There finally seemed a sense of purpose in his life. He had tasted the heady sense of invincibility which comes from being untouchable. He was one of the elite. He held the power. He could be dangerous. He could penetrate into the heart of any system; recovering hidden data by probing their most vulnerable areas. It was like surgery to move with skill and precision through an extremely complex system. Yet, it also took extreme care not to inadvertently damage the temporal data which was vital to the source. It could be so easy to destroy everything by causing a meltdown which could spread like an explosion from the core. Once he had discovered his identity, by decoding encrypted data included in files from Jolly Roger’s pirate board, Stephen had traced Jurgen’s presence back to the Akademy in the Czech Republic, only to discover that he had already taken a job with a company called General Synthetics in Osaka, Japan. Stephen continued his search throughout the network, collecting new information about Jurgen’s past by hacking system files that were considered highly-secured and confidential. As a result of the effort he had dedicated to his persistent investigation, it had gradually seemed to become an obsession. Stephen had the time to dedicate to his research. It was his hobby, his passion. Jurgen had become a hero to him ~ He wanted to learn everything he could about him; who he was, what he did, to explore the developments that had occurred in his life, and discover every bit of information he could from his past. The more he discovered, the more he wanted to learn. Stephen had discovered that Jurgen’s father, Kropton Ernst, was a moderatelyfamous author of science fiction novels, and he had even discovered the identity of Kropton’s step-parents. Most tantalizing was discovering the existence of Coraline, Jurgen’s romantic flame from the Akademy, who had become an architect of interna‐ tional acclaim. Stephen eventually tracked Jurgen to the Gensynth facility in Japan, going so far as to hack into their system in an attempt to discover further details of his


work. Yet, no sooner than he had tracked Jurgen down, his illusive hero left his job at Gensynth, and once again Stephen’s link had vanished. Disappointed, Stephen decided to turn the setback into an opportunity. Once again he thrilled to the excite‐ ment of the challenge of tracking him again. But as the months went by without any fresh leads he wondered if Jurgen had somehow vanished off the face of the earth. Stephen wondered if he was losing his technical abilities of being the master of the network, or whether it was possible that some unfortunate circumstance had caused the termination of Jurgen’s physical existence. As Christmas approached, and he had still not been able to find any trace of Jurgen, Stephen sunk into a period of deep depression. He began to depend heavily on prescription sedatives to dampen his anxiety. He read Franz Kafka’s ‘The Castle’; identifying with the relentless but futile efforts of the protagonist to gain recognition from the mysterious authorities ruling from their castle. It reached a point where he did not care to live anymore, becoming more withdrawn and despondent, refusing to even leave his bed. Mrs. Williams in desperation had contacted Doctor Morrow who connected her son to an intravenous system which would keep him fed. The small artificial tree decorated with gaily flashing lights placed on the table beside his bed, and the unopened presents beneath the tree brought him no joy. But the hacker’s Christmas message had been received by Stephen like an epiphany. The news report of a hacker’s intrusion into the Golden Sun Corporation’s Shopping network appeared in the morning on the small television suspended above his bed. Something about the hack had been recognizably distinctive of the characteristics of the hero he felt he now knew intimately. To Stephen it was like a sign. A discovery that the two of them were probably more alike than he had ever imagined. At that moment, he felt the force of new energy flowing through his body. As he struggled with great difficulty to sit up in bed, he resolved to renew his search once more. Back onstream, he now pursued his goal with renewed vigor. The duration of absence had provided a fresh perspective; allowing him to reexamine the evidence he had gathered, and create new associations between elements of data which had previously not been evident to him. The deeper he went, the more fascinating the discoveries became. The connection to the Golden Sun Corporation had been illuminating. He wondered if Jurgen had attacked the Sun corporation as a form of revenge. Stephen recalled a key piece of data that he had previously found in the connection with the disappearance of Cameron and Adda Stark; Jurgen’s grandpar‐ ents. He had uncovered secret files, buried deep within United States military storage banks that shed new light on the mysterious plane crash which had claimed their lives. The electronic files referenced paper documents that had been interred in physical storage. The listings catalogued and summarized the content of the papers; an exchange of documents between U.S. defense department officials and a young manager at the Golden Sun corporation in Hong Kong named Shosan Luk. Mr. Luk apparently provided information to the U.S. military which claimed that the Starks intended to turn over their confidential government research to the Sun


Corporation who he claimed were interested in developing commercial applications based on their experiments into antigravity devices. Sun Tzu; the head of Sun corpora‐ tion, and a number of his key business executives, including Mr. Luk, were ahead of their time. They realized that a future China would once again become a major world power with a greater demand for technology, once they had dismantled socialism and began again with a clean slate; creating a highly-controlled genetically-enhanced version of capitalism. Mr. Luk was obviously aware, that when that time arrived, leaders of major corporations would become powerful figures, rising to the top to dominate a massive population. By referencing other documents, Stephen was able to piece together a motivation for Mr. Luk’s action. The documents revealed that Adda Stark, who’s maiden name was Adda Tzu, was the daughter of Sun Tzu. Stephen speculated that Mr. Luk may have felt threatened by the return of the daughter who was the sole heir to an expand‐ ing corporate empire. Stephen later discovered another military file which indicated that the plane carrying the Starks had gone down in the Formosa Strait near China in 1959. The report mentioned concern that information about the ‘American spies’ destruction near China be kept highly-confidential. The reports seemed contradictory. It was not clear which side they had allegedly been spying for, or who brought them down. But it was clear that it had not been an accident. The hacker took it upon himself to extract a measure of revenge from Mr. Luk when the opportunity had presented itself. He had created a little casino game that made it appear that it had been connected to one of Mr. Luk’s secret Swiss bank accounts. The credit balance of the account kept decreasing as random configurations of the ‘slot machine’ graphic display appeared with each return on the keypad. Mr. Luk was lead to believe that the only way to stop the flow of credits was to have the symbols align as a match. The symbols rolled over very quickly, with the sound of a cash register ‘kaching’ every time the wheels came to rest, and the following text would appear on his display: “You lose!” “You must play again!” The joke was, by the time Mr. Luk began fiddling with his computer, a considerable quantity of his credits had already been transferred in small amounts to a vast number of random accounts all around the world ~ Share the wealth! Ho ho ho! When Stephen discovered that Jurgen was the Sun King’s great-grandson, he realized that Jurgen was possibly an heir to the controlling interest in the global corporation. The thought also occurred to Stephen that perhaps Jurgen was unaware of his ancestry, after all, the data Stephen had discovered was buried very deep. Yet, if he was aware of the situation, as Stephen believed was also possible, it impressed him even more that his hero had forsaken becoming an extremely rich man, in order to pursue the dream he had believed in. Through his extensive research, Stephen had learned that Adda Stark had written a book called ‘The Seven Days of Grace’. With determination, he had managed to track down a copy through an antiquarian book seller in Boston. The rare, limited-edition book was very expensive. Its purchase cost Mrs. Williams approximately 5,000 credits,


but she felt that it was worth it at the time, if it could help ease the tension between her and her son caused by her indiscretions with the young doctor. The more Stephen learned of Jurgen’s research work, the more in awe he was of Jurgen’s abilities. Stephen was beginning to recover fragments of information that indicated the direction in which his experiments were proceeding. He knew that he had been rebuilding Stark’s original computer by tracking order shipments for replace‐ ment parts. From Gensynth files he realized that Jurgen was also creating a new form of artificial life that had the potential to revolutionize the way in which information systems operated. The data itself was contained inside code which enabled it to communicate with other fragments of data to form a cognitive system of understanding. The data, through its interaction, would merge to create an intelligence which could determine the best possible course of action for the system in which it resides. Through replication and the process of natural selection, these data entities would generate even more successful evolutionary data entities as their offspring. Stephen clearly recognized the implications of a digital-based intelligence which was able to organize and form thoughts from a massive collection of data, particularly if that database included every computer connected to the network which spanned the entire planet. The hacker considered the object of his hero-worship to be a mysterious, powerful, and attractive force. He admired Jurgen because he did not seem to be motivated by greed or desire. His intentions seemed pure and clear. The hacker thought of him as a character like Jesus; as the savior of the future who used technology to create a form of life within the system, which would act as a conscience to provide checks and balances to weed out evil wherever it started to grow ~ A flaming sword which turned every way to distinguish between true and false. He thought of his hero as an alter-ego; Stephen was able to live vicariously through his intimate knowledge of Jurgen’s past, and he could actively participate in the excitement of his new discoveries by being the one closest to access and understand his deepest knowledge. He planned to merge his identity even further, assisting his hero in carrying out his work, by using the data in the dossier he had collected on Jurgen to avenge targets which Stephen believed had forced Jurgen to make his departure from the world. Ultimately, he was determined to discover the location of his hero, and record the gospel as his true apostle; like a scribe in days of yore. In many ways, Stephen believed, he was similar to Jurgen’s intelligent entities. Like them, he led a virtual existence, using technology to distribute his presence throughout the world; searching for truth and a way to infiltrate into the power. To experience it. To disrupt the forces of evil. While Jurgen’s intelligence had been encapsulated in digital code, his own consciousness was trapped inside his crippled body. As Jurgen’s digital life forms carried out their mission with cold, detached logic, Stephen experienced the full impact of emotional sensation which resulted from the administration of justice.


On the network he could simulate the attributes which were lacking in his own life. The technology provided a vehicle by which he could gain attention, as people became aware of the manifestation of his presence. The power gave him a sense of dignity; the attention replaced the need to be loved. Citizens who saw his messages on their media screens, and the corporate executives who were targeted by his intrusion were unaware that the power had originated from a person who was no longer capable of standing on his own two feet. They could not imagine that he was a wasted man strapped into a wheelchair, relying on a machine to digest his favorite food, pizza, and deliver it through the feeding tube. His presence in their world brought excitement and fear, while in reality he knew that if they had seen his physical form they would be repulsed by the grotesque deformity that had been shut away from the world, and locked inside his tiny room. He was the invisible man; a disembodied mind separated from the human being who no longer existed in the land of the living. At night, lying in his bed, he would look up through the bedroom skylight. Behind the glass, the stars shone with cold light in a dried-out, dead universe of despair. He could not understand how a god, who could create something so vast, and so carefully craft every intricate detail could also be so cruel. How could a force which had brought beauty into existence, have also brought suffering and pain. Then it became clear that mankind had also attained the power to create existence in the world. By creating complexity they were upsetting the balance, and finding new and more-imaginative ways to mess up the system. Stephen believed that his mission was to uncover and reveal the mistakes that had been hidden away out of shame and fear by the people in power. He believed that creating a public awareness of them would lead to under‐ standing, and ultimately, to the discovery of solutions which could correct the mistakes. Perhaps his reasoning was naive and misguided. Stephen knew there was no greater fear for anyone, than to admit they had made a mistake, with the exception of having the mistake become exposed. With great effort errors had been carefully hidden to ensure they would never be discovered, but ironically there was always evidence which would eventually reveal the fatal flaw. During their conversation Cordova had questioned Stephen on this point, asking if his motivation had been guided by his own internal bitterness; that he was simply extracting a measure of personal revenge, or had he believed that his actions would altruistically benefit the greater mass of humanity. “I’ll be candid with you... I haven’t been perfect... I still believe that human error... which created chemical contamination... of the environment... was responsible for causing... my disease... Terror... is a stronger master... than benevolence... for getting a message across... and inciting people to take action... but I have neither... the wrath... nor the courage... needed to cross that imaginary border... which separates right from wrong... If I have inadvertently wreaked havoc... within the systems I have explored... it was not through an intentional... malicious act of destruction.”


Stephen seemed quite willing to conduct this long conversation, which took place while agents continued to haul the massive amount of digital equipment to their van. Cordova requested the agents leave equipment that was essential to life-support in the room with Stephen; they were only to remove equipment with which he communi‐ cated with the outside world. Cordova found the hacker to be cooperative and sincere in recounting the events of recent years. In Cordova, Stephen had found a worthy opponent, admitting during their conversation that he had often thought of his ‘wonderful adventure’ as similar to participating in a role-playing game. Cordova had given serious attention to his activities, as the agent traversed the maze, attempting to track him. This pursuit had subsequently provided Stephen with an incentive to create new challenges and take bigger risks by cracking ever more difficult access into highly-restricted databases. Each new adventure increased his confidence. During that time he felt invisible and invulnerable, yet he admitted that it was a matter of time, he recognized, before he would be caught. Stephen apologized for his actions, stating; ‘I know... what I did... was wrong’, and that he was not always as careful as he had planned during some of his intrusions. He seemed comfortable confiding to Cordova, and placing his fate in the agent’s hands. Cordova was fascinated by the conversation, as it helped fill in gaps in the informa‐ tion which had perplexed him during the investigation. Many of the things the hacker talked about had confirmed Cordova’s own speculation, but other information had come as quite a surprise. As the conversation continued Cordova learned more about the deeper implications which had motivated the hacker. Cordova listened with patience as Stephen continued to recount how he had chosen a ‘handle’ to represent him in the virtual world. Although he had wanted his actions to be recognized, he obviously needed an alias, protecting the identity of Stephen Williams from detection by security agents and the authorities. Originally he had used the name ‘infinity’, as it represented a state of being without boundaries or limits. The name was appropriate for his exploration phase; as he had built up his confidence and his hacking skills to be able to penetrate deeper into systems to gather research. But after Christmas, in early 2011, he began to adopt a more aggressive approach in his tactics. He decided to change his handle to one which he believed would invoke fear, and a measure of humour in its cleverness. The name he had chosen, ‘Russ Vai’, was a phonetic reversal of ‘virus’. Simple and effective. He had been aware of computer viruses throughout his programming career, but it was not until he had been stricken with ALS that he began to see parallels between digital code and his organic disease. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a disease affecting the neurological network. Medical researchers had discovered that glutamate accumulated to toxic levels around the motor neurons which operated all voluntary muscles. The resulting oxidation caused the cells to die, blocking transmission of controller signals from the brain. Stephen took medication to minimized the release of glutamate, as well as protein to promote nerve growth using synthetically developed


Neurotrophic Factor; a naturally-occurring protein produced by the human brain, created through recombinant DNA. The drugs could not cure the disease, but did help the neurons to survive for a longer period of time, and to a certain extent, recover from damage. Stephen’s case was one of the vast majority in which ALS developed ‘sporadically’; caused by unknown factors which could affect anyone at random. Since there was a probability that he could pass along the defective genes to offspring that he might produce, it was required that he become ‘Registered’. Genetic screening served as a means to eliminate deficient gene structures from being propagated. People with hereditary diseases may as well have put a biohazard warning icon on their digital file, as it effectively reduced their chances of obtaining a mate. While artificial selection was mandatory in the production of all children of corporate citizens living in the towers, only residential citizens who could afford private health clinics were able to have the defective gene structure of their embryos repaired before they were implanted in a mother’s uterus. ALS could be detected by testing for the chromosome 21 defect of the gene. Testing other genetic sequences prevented the transmission of hereditary crippling illnesses such as; Cerebral palsy, Osteoporoses, Huntington’s disease, Cystic fibrosis, Hemochromatosis, and Sleep apnea. The development of corporate children was headed toward speciation; becoming genetically distinct, superior to the masses of population dwelling on the ground far below the clouds. Genetic engineering had allowed them to both retain the purity and diversity of their gene pool. They had become a distinct class from the poor, who were on their own to care for whatever type of children they produced. Even the residential citizens were a genetic liability, which could contaminate the tower dwellers carefully selected structure. Genes that once had survival value in the natural world were now a detriment in the towers. They were eliminated. The occurrence of recessive genes had also been eliminated by introducing samples from specially developed external breeding stocks. Genetic enhancements blended the superior features from a multi‐ tude of international races within a single creature, producing humans who were beautiful and intelligent, with bodies tailored to be as attractive as their uniforms. Square jaws. Perfect features. Lustrous hair. Bright, attentive, aggressive. Fierce. “I grew to hate all beauty... as much... as I grew to hate the freaks.” While engineers in the towers had been creating super-humans at one end of the spectrum, out in the industrial zones it was becoming a mutable genetic stew. Stephen explained that it was one thing to have a disease which deformed his body and caused him to be treated like a freak, but it was another for people to choose to make the body imitate the images created by the entertainment media; transcending what it meant to be human, or to accidentally or intentionally manufacture genetic creatures which had become incomprehensible. Stephen watched them all on his screen: mutated teenagers who resembled turtles, alligator women, rubber men, monkey boys, cyclops pigs, four-headed chickens, or machine-like humans with removable parts.


Some of the creatures could be considered almost cartoon-like and humorous had they not looked so horrific; atomic ants, mighty mice, huckleberry-coloured hounds, and even king-size canaries. “It was a world... I did not know... if I wanted to be a part of anymore.” Like his own disease, computer viruses could appear to infect systems ‘at random’, or be designed to propagate on their own by genetic reproduction throughout the computer network. The hacker disassembled examples of pathogenic viruses he downloaded from the pirate board. A high-level memory storage area referred to as ‘DjL’ was accessible only to the elite. The label was an acronym for ‘Davy Jones Locker’; the bottomless ocean grave of those who die at sea. Anthrax, GRIMM, and the Dark Slayer Confusion Engine were names of some of the viruses he examined. They were designed to attack the central nervous system of the computer, often with fatal results. Examining the components of the code, line by line, he deconstructed the DjL files to discover innovative ways of enhancing their effectiveness. The most lethal of all the viruses that Stephen had developed, in its final version, was called fHV024. The Festering Hate Virus, a.k.a. the ‘fucking heavy virus’ was the 24th generation of the compiled code. It was an invisible, deadly weapon that was designed to reside and propagate in the computer’s protected memory space, unreachable and incurable by scanners. Initially, the seeds of the virus would be manually planted by the hacker, who probed and maneuvered through the targeted system, seeking out its core. Once it had reached critical mass within the core, the virus would rapidly spread through the now paralyzed, but still functional system, replacing all the data it discovered with copies of itself. The speed of infestation would exponentially increase as the virus reproduced. A truly powerful computer virus was an awesome force to unleash; quick, efficient, deadly. Yet as Dr. Frankenstein discovered; the monster can harm its creator just as much by destroying everything it loved, or even turning upon and destroying the creator itself. To release something that destructive was beyond the capacity of Stephen’s own internal conscience guide. Rather than release an actual computer virus, he decided to create a media virus instead. The threat of potential terror was more effective than delivering the actual terrorism itself. It produced the same reaction, without causing messy destruction and broken lives. Like the emperor’s new clothes; if people became convinced that something existed, they were able to use their own imagination to fabricate attributes which were more compelling than the real thing. Stephen needed to choose a name for a virus that would instill fear. He didn’t want the name to sound like it had been derived from a pulp science fiction novel, or comic book. He wanted a name that made it real, even though the computer virus itself did not exist. Cancer.


Stephen hoped the name would reinforce the correlation between the digital and the organic forms of disease in the minds of people receiving his message. The disease began when a few renegade intruders initiated a chain reaction of destruction in the cells throughout the human body. As the cancer continued to grow and spread, the cells needed to support the system began to deteriorate. Stephen was cognizant that there were thousands of chemicals in existence which were toxic to human development; each one capable of disrupting the genetic code as the human cells multiplied to keep the body alive. Clearly, a higher risk occurred during human conception ~ While all the eggs a woman has for reproduction are present and whole before birth, in males the cells needed to divide in order to create sperm. As during any form of cell division, their was an increased vulnerability to toxins and genetic damage which would then be incorporated into the body of the newly formed child. While this was not an issue for the tower dwellers or the wealthy residential citizens, it was becoming a crises for the vast majority, around the world, who did not have the luxury of access to genetic engineers. Stephen claimed he sent his digital files directly to news media computers. The threat of the release of his computer virus was intended to add impact to his evangelisâ&#x20AC;? tic messages regarding the destruction of the environment, the control of information, genetic manipulation, the dangers of virtual-reality escapism, and so on. He hoped that by raising attention to these issues, efforts would be made to begin to solve the problems in order to create a better society. Television stations that did pick up the story edited out the content dealing with the issues entirely; focusing solely on the impending threat. Stephen watched in surprise and horror as the manipulated stories appeared on his screen. Reporters changed the slant to present the content as a warning to the public that a hacker was threatening to release a massively destructive virus into the network if not caught, and time was running out. The news stations which did mention the content distorted and exaggeratâ&#x20AC;? ed the statements Stephen had sent to the media, embellishing them with lies. The hackerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s efforts had been effective in generating public attention, but through the filter provided by the media, none of it had been favorable. The people on the display screens surrounding the news anchor in the television studio, interviewed to record their reaction, were vehemently in agreement that anyone who could commit such a crime was a very sick and twisted individual, and must be stopped no matter what it took to achieve that result. Stephen was deeply dismayed, and although the condemnation was directed at Russ Vai, a fictional character he had created, he took the full brunt of the attack personally. The ensuing depression placed him once again into a semi-catatonic state. He wrapped himself in the sheets of his bed like a cocoon, and withdrew from the attention he had generated, into the isolation of his private world. A sensation of anger began to well up inside him, gnawing at his soul like a hungry parasite. During those dark days he had seriously considered releasing the virus to teach those who had mocked and scorned him a lesson.


“I realized that my thinking was in error... that my brain unit had become... temporari‐ ly defective.” At night, behind the glass, the stars twinkled, framed by the bedroom skylight. It was as if a brilliant light had suddenly emerged from the blackness of his thoughts to provide illumination. Stephen was once again inspired by the role-model of his hero, Jurgen, and decided to try again with a new tactic. Following Jurgen’s lead, with his hack of the Golden Sun Corporation Shopping Network, it occurred to Stephen that the only way to accurately get his message across to the public was to create it himself, rather than leave it to corporate media stations to determine the content. To commemorate this decision which marked a new transition in his development, he permanently destroyed all virus files along with the software tools that could be used to create them, by erasing them from his computer system. The act of destroying the weapons released a new creative energy within him, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the deleted code. He felt a sense of freedom to be released from the responsibility of being the keeper of his caged horrific monsters, that had tempted him with the potential of releasing their destruction across the globe. From his videogame background, Stephen had learned to program animated raytraced three-dimensional models to create intriguing prepackaged subversive messages which could become an intervention of authorized broadcasts. Having access to media servers which fed out through satellite links onto ‘the air’, Stephen was able to insert his cryptic messages at his discretion into their content flow. ‘Anytime... Anywhere’, was the motto he managed to scrawl with a black marker pen above the breast pocket of his dirty lab coat. He would set his deck to play his favorite song; ‘Ironman’ recorded by Ozzy Osbourne, on a permanent loop ~ Listening to the lyrics pumping out of electrostatic speakers; ‘Can he walk at all... or if he moves will he fall... nobody helps him... now he has his revenge...’ Stephen often worked late into the night, ordering pizzas and asking the delivery drivers to feed the slices into his food processor. Empty boxes and other fast food containers littered the floor around his wheelchair, as he sat almost immobile, creating displays with his finger touchpads and his infrared eye-tracker, mounted on a head‐ band and swung down into place over the right side of his face ~ It was the most fun that he had in years! Sampling data he had plagiarized from the network, he cut and pasted as an act of visual media sabotage. The images were intended to disrupt the citizen’s trust in corporate propaganda by simulating the conventional media as closely as possible. For other messages, and in homage to Jurgen, Stephen often used the book, ‘The Seven Days of Grace’ as a source for scanned imagery ~ Adda’s book was remark‐ able and bizarre. The slim, hardcover volume contained forty four pages, printed in a single colour; a dull, golden dark-brown ink. At the top of each page was a large roman numeral, and several seemingly random words which served as the title. The top portion of each page contained a beautiful collage resembling some form of


imaginary flora and fauna, created from dissected illustrations of machines, architec‐ ture, insects, archeology or advertising images from a magazine called ‘Life’. Below each illustration were brief, strange poetic passages, that were like nonsense parables or cryptic hiakus. He manipulated the digitized surreal collages to provide graphics that would accompany his strange viral memes. The content was perfect for creating a surface of absurd complexity which fragmented the existing messages in order to reconstruct new ones. The deeper the hacker journeyed into the heart of the databases of corporations and industrial research laboratories throughout the world, the more information he discovered which appalled and frightened him. What troubled him most were the people who were playing god, without understanding or having compassion to realize the effect of their actions; technicians who used the rigid logic of the computer to analyze a problem without the intervention of human emotion, the executive who recognized an environmental catastrophe their corporation had caused then buried the data in order to further the status of their own career, and the people with power who ignored the plight of damaged humans and the poor who suffered in silence outside the intense focused glow of the media spotlight... Stephen found many sources for his targets. The content of the messages varied according to the circumstances. Sometimes he would reveal information that had been locked away from the public eye, other times he would use his messages as a platform to spread fear. He left it up to the viewer to comprehend the messages, and to take responsibility for whatever actions they deemed were appropriate. Some pirate broadcasts were designed to simulate commercial television advertis‐ ing. One commercial Stephen created, encapsulated a concept appropriated from a book entitled ‘1984’, in which the citizens were placated by catch phrases which assured them they were being watched over by an omniscient government. Onerous, toxic green, generic text on a black background, under the gleaming logo of Datascan Corporation read: “We know who you are, and we know where you live.” It was not widely known by the general population that Datascan Corporation was in the process of developing a computer monitoring device which was being manufac‐ tured for use in many of the corporate towers. The new machines could deeply scan the mind of the sleeper, examining their memories for traces of error, then automatical‐ ly correct any irregularities of thought, allowing the person to awaken in the morning refreshed, and carefree. “No one... ever thought about it... Thought crimes... could be detected.” Stephen appeared tired. He had expended a great deal of energy during their long conversation. While they had talked, the agents had completed clearing the room of communication hardware, leaving behind equipment which they had deemed to be essential in providing Stephen with life-support. Stephen hadn’t been reticent in letting the agents know what equipment he didn’t want the agents to touch, often interrupting the conversation with Cordova to fire colourful curses at them.


After his illness, the ceiling had been reinforced and outfitted with tracks, from which were suspended a Rube Goldberg collection of lifts and hoists. A flexible basket of rubber straps formed a chair hanging from chains mounted onto the tracks, transport‐ ing him between his wheelchair workstation, his hospital-style bed, and the adjoining bathroom. His feet, encased for warmth inside a pair of slippers with floppy ears and button eyes, never touched the ground. Everything was remotely controlled by a wireless panel attached to his leg with velcro straps. In addition to operating the hover lift, the control switches folded out the tray table from under the desk, operated the speaker phone which he used to communicate with his parents and the maid, turn the lights on and off, change channels on his television, and even flush the toilet. At the time of the renovation, he had also requested that a hole be punched through the roof for the installation of a skylight. His parents had complied with his wishes. The apparatus and technology enabled him to become self-sufficient to such a degree, that he requested that his parents were never to enter his room under any circumstance. His parents had complied with that request as well, limiting their contact with him to voice communication through the speaker phone. Stephen did get on well with the maid, who came in to clean and deliver his meals. The maid, a stout Scottish woman, with forearms much larger than his pipe-cleaner size legs, was able to pluck him from his wheelchair like a baby from a stroller whenever she needed to clean up the never-ending mess which accumulat‐ ed around him. Marg knew that Stephen had an interest in the naked women he discovered on the network, and would often tease him when she came in unexpected‐ ly; “Your a gonna go blin’ sittin’ so close t’ de scrrreen, Stephen!”. Now, the agent downstairs alerted Cordova, on another display, that Stephen’s father had returned from work. He had received the call from his wife, and had got away from his meeting as soon as he could with important clients who had flown in from Brazil. Cordova told the agent to keep him downstairs, there were a few more things he wanted to discuss with Stephen before their interview came to a close. Their conversation had been casual and relaxed; the type of comfortable communi‐ cation which often happens between equals. Cordova had a great deal of respect for Stephen’s technical abilities. The cryptic propaganda which had frequently interrupted live newscasts (Stephen’s favorite target), had been delivered with a signal compres‐ sion algorithm which created extremely compact files. They expanded rapidly as they streamed off the server, and then disappeared without a trace once they had been displayed. Television station engineers were unaware the display effects were completely benign. They spent hours scanning their system, but were never able to discover the cause of the intrusion to the broadcasts ~ Phantom files appeared to the masses then vanished into the void. Gone. Throughout the course of the long investigation, Cordova recognized that Stephen had never intentionally damaged computer systems or destroyed data during his explorations. His threat had always been represented as the potential for destruction, and it was that threat which had caused concern to his victims. Even more terrifying


than his ability to access confidential, classified or top-secret data, was his flagrant disregard for the regulations in revealing that information to the public. It was for that reason that security operatives had been called in to intervene. “They... make me out... to be the evil one... but what do the technicians... and the corporations... have to hide?... I... was never interested... in disrupting... their marketing edge... by revealing trade secrets... to their competitors... There are plenty of corporate spies... already out there doing that... I simply wanted to provide information... to the public... so they could understand... a little more clearly... the world... that was being designed for them.” Cordova asked him how effective he thought his messages were in transmitting that awareness to the masses. It was the only time during their conversation that Stephen had laughed. The sound had surprised Cordova; the laugh had been gentle, playful, melodic ~ There was a sparkle of intensity in his eyes. “I never expected mass awareness... I used the media... as a method of inspiring individuals... for whom the message could be understood... Something is going to happen soon... The clock is running.” Cordova noted that Stephen had purposefully used the familiar phrase which had often accompanied the threat of releasing his ‘imaginary’ virus. Cordova was aware that Stephen’s messages had already generated a wide variety of responses around the world. Reactions from the population ranged from considering the messages to be everything from subversive terrorism to radical mysticism. Media corporations were disconcerted, not so much because of the information which had been revealed, but because the pirate broadcasts ran without paying for the valuable air-time they consumed. At the other end of the spectrum, members of (what they considered to be) the underground fringe, received the messages as if they had announced the van‐ guard of a revolutionary new movement (which had yet to be defined), as word spread through the street. The number of rebels were small compared to the vast majority of citizens who paid no attention to the situation at all. The general population consid‐ ered the messages as just another frequency of ambient environmental media noise which buzzed at the periphery of their consciousness. Wireheads, addicted to information, made copies of the pirate broadcasts for their own collection, or traded it with their friends. Each instance of the event became the topic of conversation in places like the Eagle Grill. During broadcasts, as Stephen watched the screen nestled in his bed, it seemed ironic to him that the virus meme itself had eventually been sampled, appropriated, deconstructed and blended into underground entertainment; used to promote music videos, or printed like a brand name on alternative fashion accessories. Scrambled computer codes... From a blob of luscious fluid, a cute girl, body suit of tight pink fabric skin, splashes into the beautiful, coloured plastic world. All the shapes are smooth, curved, seamless. “My name is Brain Cancer Candy,” chirps the perky


voice. Rich glowing textures in a rush of music transform into flowing lines. “I’ve come to warn you that your city is going to be destroyed.” Artifacts of digital corruption eat away at the edges of the frame simulating a badly dubbed scan, wrapping the shapes gently in an invisible breeze and vanishing in perspective. Thin and flat at the top, gracefully curved like giant satellite dishes, animated green, gumby rubber characters eventually catch her at the end of the music video and pretend to give her a spanking. The message had become meaningless, co-opted into the density of digital media pleasure simulation, rippling across the screen like an electric wave. Or maybe, now it meant more than he had ever intended; even while the message had been diffused and trivialized, it had, at the same time, been made more vital. One fragment of media was connected with every other fragment of media in the viewer’s mind. Stephen admitted that he found the virtual singer to be extremely erotic. Even though his body had atrophied, his sex drive remained stronger than ever. Watching her enhanced, curvaceous body, covered by tight pink fabric, wriggling deliciously on the screen had aroused in him a lustful desire. Pornography was routinely censored, but the media images approached as closely as possible to the forbidden, staying within the guidelines of censorship by not openly revealing naked human flesh. The tantalizing bodies on television looked so real on his display, but they were beyond his grasp. They were just imaginary creations used as a virus to promote the corporate message, similar to the way he had used his broadcasts to promote his own. The virtual actresses attractive qualities were simply used to stimulate demand by the viewer to obtain products they were promoting. For Stephen, viewing attractive female bodies had become an addiction. Images of young, beautiful women played out in his mind in highly erotic scenarios. He fanta‐ sized that he could hold and caress them, experience the firmness and dimensionality of their physical bodies, make love to each new image within the fertile environment of his imagination. He could also identify with the power of the virile male bodies, recalling sensations several years previously, when he himself had the ability to move, walk and to use his hands to please a woman. Yet, he had never used that capability, being shy and aloof around women, and not feeling confident about his own physical appearance. In his mind he fantasized what it would be like to be endowed with a godlike male figure; obtaining sexual excitement vicariously by imagining the pleasure he could provide to a woman with a body like that. The fantasy would end with a few spurts of semen on his crumpled sheets, and immediately the harsh reality would return with a vengeance. He would look upon his own thin, lifeless body with repulsion, asking himself who in the world could ever love him, and tears streamed from his eyes while the colourful image on the display remained to mock his agony. Days would pass, along with his misery, shame and guilt, and once again he would seek out the objects of his voyeuristic desire. He knew where to find them; during his exploration he had discovered private underground archives of pornography. The images were amazing. Some were actual current digital photographs, and many of the images had been archived from private collections of the past. The majority, of course, were computer generated; highly-realistic bodies arranged in provocative poses that


revealed the artistry and imagination of their creators. The images were sold on the black market, cleverly encrypted to disguise the content from the censor’s network scanning filters, which were able to detect a data array characteristic of a nipple, pubic hair, a penis or an area of continuous skin tone which exceeded a certain percentage in the image. These files were exchanged for credits with customers that passed a thorough clearance check by the provider. It was a dangerous activity, as operators of systems holding illicit content would be imposed with penalties that were extremely severe, as well as having the credit exchange activity log incriminate all of their customers. Stephen had managed to avoid the cloak and dagger entrance requirements by tunneling directly inside the database. “Although the agents... will discover... a comprehensive collection... of naked human images... I don’t consider my possession of these files... to be illegal... I am guilty only... of being unable to resist the temptation... of admiring the artistic form of a beautiful woman.” Through devious means, Stephen had gradually accumulated a substantial collection of pornographic material undetected, and even frequently incorporated image files of naked animated humans into the content of his broadcast displays. Yet, it was his erotic desires which had ultimately been his undoing. He spent countless hours fabricating enhancements to his existing body-suit technology which he had originally developed for video games. To test the suit he needed a partner to be his sex surrogate. Coincidently, that was when he had inadvertently discovered Coraline within the design files of the Golden Sun Pavilion. He had been unprepared to encounter another human presence within the virtual world ~ At the time, wearing the prototype of his bodysuit, he was pleased to discover that he was able to interact with the software which supported physical navigation built into the architectural model itself. He enjoyed the session exploring the massive partially-completed monument, using the central elevator system as a reference to avoid becoming disoriented as he traversed the vast maze. As he moved through the construct he suddenly became aware that the presence of his ‘entity’ was disrupting the data within the model itself; corrupting the computer’s ability to maintain complete stability of the polygon surfaces, and causing them to become loose from their gravitational constraint attributes. It had not been until his encounter with the architect that he realized the computer was having difficulty maintaining an accurate reality setting caused by the conflict detected from the close proximity of their incompatible body-suit interfaces. Immediately after he had detected Coraline’s presence, he was able to adjust the controls to temporarily minimize the effect of the signals sent out by his suit. The adjustment caused the chaos to subside before either of them could be seriously injured by the overreaction of force-feedback sensors. Stephen mentioned his astonishment to Cordova, that he was able to interact so intimately with Coraline’s physical presence within the simulation. Yet, the unexpected violence of their initial impact caused him to withdraw. Stephen had somehow


experienced a reaction, deeply within himself, from the intense feelings of fear which emanated from her. The sensation had been overwhelming; he could experience her emotions as though they had been his own. It was a sensation he had never known before. Constantly thinking about her for some time, he was compelled to contact her again, but he realized he would need to carefully prepare for the event in order to avoid another tragedy. Not only would he need to adjust the technical compatibility of his interface, but he would also need to design the experience in a manner to which she would respond favorably. While Stephen adjusted his technology, he continued to explore her system to find a way in which he could get close to her again. He researched all the background data he could discover about her thoroughly; coming across links which placed her at the Akademy where his hero had also been studying. The deeper he dug, the more he realized their contact had been much closer than casual friendship. Stephen found data records of digital video and cellphone conversations between Jurgen and Coraline, and was able to replicate the content of their archived messages. From this discovery he realized that Coraline would likely be responsive to similar messages; particularly if they incorporated previous sound bites from Jurgen: “I love you” The message appeared on the screen of the architect. Small daisies (he knew it was her favorite flower) began to sprout on the display screen of her private communi‐ cation monitor. Quickly, the blossoms unfolded like time-lapse animation until the pattern of flowers filled the background of the screen. Then the background image faded in intensity as text appeared to simulate a handwritten note on the rustic sheet of paper that gently rested on top of the lush realistic petals of the daisies. The text was designed to rekindle the passions he hoped still lingered for Coraline’s young love, Jurgen Ernst. The note recalled moments selected from their previous conversations, and expressed the desire that once again they would be able to be reunited. Over the weeks he had sent many messages, eventually communicating by voice through her earphones. It had taken Stephen considerable effort to prepare for the ‘main event’; which he anticipated with great excitement. He adapted the sensitivity of his body sensor software to be compatible with Coraline’s, and had infiltrated her system to discover a way in which to project a virtual representation of the avatar he had designed for the occasion. The avatar had the body of a virtual male porn star he had downloaded. The face of the 3D model was remapped with a video motion-texture previously captured during his conversation which Jurgen; whose location in Iceland he discovered through a record of Jurgen’s transactions in preparing equipment and pharmaceuti‐ cals to be shipped to his remote workshop. The video frames were synced on-the-fly with dialogue captured by the ‘astronaut’ microphone mounted to Stephen’s head‐ band. The software program, originally developed as the progression of his disease


minimized his ability to operate muscles controlling his facial features, matched his spoken words, then were processed in the voice-synthesizer which sequenced video frames to corresponded with the sound. It would have been preferable to spend time to adjust the software for accuracy, but he was anxious to test out the effectiveness of the developments he had made. He would work out the bugs later, he thought... “Then BOOM!” The door to his bedroom shattered; “You’re busted... said the spook.” The game was over; the operation had been a success, yet Cordova felt no joy in his victory. Stephen had been forthright in describing his intentions and the motives which drove him. Cordova had realized even before their conversation that Stephen did not present the danger which the Authorities had imagined he did. He had broken the rules, and because of that, they would prosecute him to the full extent of the regulations. That was outside of Cordova’s jurisdiction. He had done his job, and completed his responsibility to the best of his ability ~ Yet, that completion did not have a sense of closure in this case. It had been an odd sensation to finally meet Stephen in person ~ Cordova thought back to the completely random event which originally created an intersection between their lives; Stephen had intentionally bounced his network signal through satellite relays creating the appearance they originated in eastern Europe, likely from a site in northern Russia. That action had placed the investigation within Cordova’s jurisdiction, and created an event which would ultimately change the course of his own life. A signal alerted Cordova. Lester Beville’s face appeared on his display. The agents downstairs were anxious to get mobile. Lester explains they have worked out an arrangement with Jack Williams to essentially keep Stephen under house arrest until Authorities make their evaluation in the case. He lets Cordova know that the father is now on his way up to see his son. Cordova wondered what they were going to do with Stephen. He could make a recommendation that if they reprogram him, he might make a good agent. Yet, that would be like cutting wild flowers to put in a vase. Cordova addressed him for the final time; “Stephen. People sometime say that if the events of their life can profoundly affect even one other person in a meaningful way, then their life has been worthwhile. I am going to be honest with you, and tell you that your life has been worthwhile. It has been a pleasure meeting you.” At that moment Stephen’s father entered the room. He went to his son and put his arms around him. “Whatever trouble you’re in, I’ll use the full influence of the company to keep this problem under control.” Cordova shut off his display. He would never know what became of Stephen Williams. He would draft the final report for his superiors. Then Cordova would be reassigned, and soon immersed in the details of a new case. Yet, for his own satisfac‐


tion, he had become intrigued by the prospect of investigating the person Stephen referred to as his hero; Jurgen Ernst.

II.

Sunshine on the bridge today. Light shimmers along the eastern horizon turning the sky an electric orange. Brilliant rays reflect from smooth grimy surfaces of the plastic factory along the river bank, and illuminate the sprawl of industrial plants and rusted warehouses which stretch off into the distance behind it. Across the river, a wall of new white modular concrete tenements rise like fortresses; forming a gateway where the highway crosses the bridge to enter the residential zone. Sloping glass terraces along the river bank are verdant with plant life. For the writer, standing at the midpoint of the bridge is like pausing between heaven and hell. Traffic is heavy. Sleek electric bubble-cars streak over concrete freeways on their tiny skateboard wheels. The occupants in their cockpit relax while their onboard guidance system, housed inside a small UFO-shaped disc mounted on their roof, track the vehicle’s position on the navigation system embedded in the roadway, and deliver them to their destination. The writer has spent the entire night driving, and he is thankful that he just needs the boots on his feet to get him to where he wants to go. Vapor from his breath billows into the frosty air. He leans over the railing, brushing off a patch of snow which disintegrates like a meteorite, breaking apart as it falls, dispersing into particles before it hits the water far below. The river seems silent; drowned-out by the roar of morning traffic zooming over the bridge behind him. Flowing slowly, broken fragments of ice float in the dark-brown water; reminding him of hot chocolate milk with marshmallows bobbing on the surface ~ What made him think of that? It was a memory stored from his youth; an image formed of a yellow mug on a blue flower-patterned table cloth. He recalls watching the steam slowly rising; gently, lazily. It was the kitchen table of his childhood home. His mother had prepared the drink for him ~ She must be nearby. He looks up to see if she is there, but everything seems hazy, like a blurry faded photograph. He listens carefully... He thought he heard her calling his name. That voice is clearer now. He squints his eyes, searching. As the image slowly comes into focus, he realizes he is looking up at the comet; a faint smudge in the morning’s rosy haze. “Hey Cordova, whaterya looking at?”


Suddenly he realizes the voice is beside him on the bridge. As he wheels around, he identifies the face immediately. It is familiar, but it takes several moments to place it into context. He feels the rush as his survival skills kick in; preparing him involuntarily for the next situation. “You remember me don’t you?” came the voice from the smiling face. The writer recalls an image from a display screen. The face that now appears before him transitions into reality; modifying itself as it updates the visual information stored within his memory ~ The face has changed subtly with the passage of many years, but now he recognizes it clearly. “Manray.” “That’s right. I go by my old name again; Rujjie Blades. I guess you don’t use the name Cordova anymore?” The writer shook his head, but offered no further explanation. “We know who you are.” The writer wondered what he meant by that, but the tone of his voice seemed nonthreatening. Ruj seemed pleasant as he leans against the railing nearby; “I see you once in awhile on the street, when I’m riding my scooter. It broke down the other day, so I’m transporting on foot until I have the chance to get a new one. I work out here now,” he says looking into the Industrial Zone. “I’m a machine operator in one of the factories.” Ruj stares into the water for several moments. Cordova waited. “Interesting how time changes things. Back then we talked about revolution, and meant it. Now we just talk. Back then we planned to destroy the corporations before they became so powerful, now I work for them to feed my wife and child. It doesn’t bother me. I was never a rebel all the way; it’s just that when I was young I had passion for my dreams. Maybe I was wrong. Progress evolves, and survival is a matter of being stronger that the predators and the parasites. Since industry survives, it means that the citizen’s will to make it grow is stronger than the radical’s will to tear it apart.” The writer remains silent, listening. “This will not last forever,” Rujjie says, scanning the panorama. “A force is coming into being which will change everything. The hackers believe the Zeitgeist is the evolution of the entity which Jurgen released into the system. I prefer to believe that it is the human will to do good which is filtering in through the points of the network; like a collective global consciousness. Maybe the force is caused by something beyond human understanding. Who knows?”


Then, the writer was surprised by a sudden change of phrasing as Rujjie recited something which sounded like a poem; “When the force is manifest, our lives will be disrupted, a period of time to readjust and rid the system of corruption.” Rujjie casually returned to his normal delivery in a soft-spoken voice; “The chal‐ lenge will be for those of us who are familiar with the network to come forth and assist in making repairs. You were part of something long ago that is only now coming into effect. Those of us in the underground were part of it too, although we didn’t realize it at the time.” Following the incident in Iceland, Flex Global released an official news announce‐ ment crediting their agent, Cordova Frost, as the person responsible for tracing the thread of links across the international network to discover the location of Jurgen’s operational base. Word spread in the computer underground as hackers began to scramble data from various sources; piecing together a sequence of events for themselves. As errors, exaggerations, and misconceptions entered the process, the myth began to evolve; gradually mutating away from what had actually occurred. Shortly thereafter, Cordova himself disappeared; fueling further rounds of speculation and rumor. Over time, for many, what had transpired quickly lost its significance; as new events occurred to occupy the public’s attention ~ Yet for others, it seemed, the story continued. “You realized the significance of those events, and we respect you for making the decision to walk away.” The writer finally spoke; “No matter how far you walk, you can’t get away from yourself. After all these years I am still trying to put that behind me.” Rujjie pushed away from the rail, and brushed some snow off the sleeve of his coat. “I better leave, I am already late for work.” He hesitated for a moment, “One other thing; I wanted to invite you to attend the Assembly. You will be amazed when you under‐ stand more fully how much things are changing.” He extracted a small card from his pocket. “Here is the address. Come whenever you like. Your presence would mean a great deal.” With that, he turned and walked away along the sidewalk of the bridge, toward the Industrial Zone. The writer headed in the opposite direction. He did not look back. As he continued over the bridge he could feel the stiff cardboard of the small card in his jacket pocket. He was tempted to throw it over the railing without looking at it; to dispose of any evidence that the encounter had ever occurred. He felt the odd sensation which a writer might feel; meeting a fictional character they had created in one of their books ~ Events and situations he had been writing about recently continued to become true. Maybe he had written enough. The fear crept in that what he was doing was wrong; by transferring his memories to a physical existence, words, he could be revealing what had better been left unsaid. The code of conduct in the service dictated that


secrets should never be revealed, not even while enduring extreme torture, or under the imminent threat of death. His field training had indoctrinated operational-paranoia deeply into his subconscious, even more thoroughly than he had imagined. He had not intended writing for an audience; he had used the process to reveal his own thoughts to himself. The process had served its purpose in exorcising demons of the past, then again, perhaps, it had somehow contributed to their manifestation in the present. That was inconceivable! Words had power, but not to that extent ~ Yet again, maybe he should destroy the documents before they were discovered. Thought crimes do not go unpunished. It was possible that they were still tracking him, monitoring him, keeping him under surveillance. Had his meeting with Manray occurred entirely by random chance? The writer glanced around him as he walked the through the narrow corridors of the residential zone. Omnidirectional cameras mounted atop slender white posts were periodically stationed along the street. Overhead, highways spanned the rooftops, a concrete rainbow over the abstract arrangement of windows which reflected the grid, vertical and horizontal, chaotic and dense, overlaid with texture in architectural levels of detail: advertising, awnings, ragged cartoon drawings sprayed over with graffiti which read ‘Crush the Mutants’ and ‘Destroy Brutal Savages’, repaired-over repairs, a patchwork of signs and markings of human existence which made being outdoors seem like being indoors. As Christmas is approaching, people are moving in and out of district shops which line the sidewalk. Their clothing and breathing-filter masks are endorsed with corpo‐ rate logos ~ The ever-present offices of real-estate companies, and the familiar glowing neon pig hovering over the sidewalk above Save-on-Meat. Merchants unlock iron bars which have been secured for the night, and begin the process of moving goods locked in the vault to display shelves in the storefront. A few merchants gather on the sidewalk talking in hushed tones about the plague epidemic which is sweeping through the core. Today, the writer varied the route he customarily took home through the maze; choosing a direction at every fork in the road. Intersections were jammed with minia‐ ture vehicles and scooters; their driver’s faces were usually hidden behind the reflective face-plates of their helmets. Along the edge of the pavement the Groundskeepers, dressed in their distinctively-numbered grey coveralls, were searching for material which could be recycled, while they performed their duty of keeping the city free from litter and contamination. They pushed their small carts through the streets and alleys, often earning credits on the side by bartering with craftspeople who repaired discarded items and made them functional again in their own small shops. Those who were even more creative managed to construct innova‐ tive products from discarded material; lamps made out of blenders, bed frames from ironing boards, aquariums from microwaves, and so on...


Neighbourhood merchant associations formed clans within every district of the zone. It was a fluid, culturally-based, networked-economy, enforced and protected by patrols. Able-bodied young men and women had the word ‘Security’ printed in large white letters on their ball caps and on the back of their dark blue jackets. Their mission was to combat theft and property-crime during the night and ensure the streets were safe for consumers during the day. They often formed coalitions with district youth groups like the ‘Hooded Cobras’ or ‘Hell’s Belles’ in effectively controlling rival gangs, thieves, junkies, graffiti-taggers, rent boys, drunks, and unfortunate vagrants; who financially drained had found themselves left out in the cold. The patrols frequently checked authorization credentials past curfew, using their own discretion in ‘debiting’ or making ‘citizen’s arrests’. Authorities used debiting as a way to penalize minor infractions, and as a way to fund security patrols. When questioned, a suspect was required to supply an identity card which contained their credit number encoded on a small chip encased inside the plastic. Often the suspect was debited on the spot by sliding the card through a scanner. In the case of a reported complaint, the authorities would review the situation and take appropriate action; calling up the suspect’s file, and debiting their account based on the amount specified in the official penalty guidelines. There was never any recourse or avenue of appeal. The most dangerous, or chronic offenders were incapacitated with stun guns, which temporarily shut down the neural activity in their brain. When they regained consciousness, they would discover they had been shepherded into the core where they would be left to fend for themselves. Since the core was off-limits, there was a dilemma about what to do with criminals. Patrols had started turning up the settings on their stun-guns to maximum, and loading the victims onto trucks in the middle of the night. It was not reported where they were shipped. The writer had occasionally seen some of the victims who had been zapped, curled up and drooling in a state of amnesia. Large painted candy-canes hung from the boughs of artificial trees, and christmas lights twinkled merrily, trimming the borders of frosted shop windows. Behind the glass, a group of animatronic dolls sang carols, as they moved through a winter wonder landscape terrain, fabricated from synthetic cotton recycled from the packing crates of biotech components. The writer had not yet been infected by the spirit of the festive season; Christmas Day was still one month away. The writer continued through the maze of curved streets with their odd-angled intersections, past the familiar concrete-grey residential units rising above the store‐ fronts occupying street-level; the hardware store and the small shop where the writer customarily bought his groceries... The old man with the waxy skin did not move or blink as the writer picked up a newspaper from his rusted metal shack. The writer tucked the paper under his arm and headed for home. The smell of sewage drifted in from the ocean. Large rusted ships moved slowly through the harbour; their passage marked with a glowing trail of the phosphorescent swirl of plankton left in their wake.


He climbed several flights of stairs to the top floor of his building and opened the door to his small room. Inside, everything was as he had left it; the table and chairs, the books on a shelf along the wall, a small refrigerator, and an antique typewriter. He set his lunchbox and newspaper on the table, then hung his jacket and cap on a peg by the door. Realizing that he had inadvertently left a container of soup out overnight on top of the stove, he mashed a clove of garlic with a hammer, then added it to the vegetables floating in the tepid fluid as seasoning ~ Tap water left a residue which floated on the surface; traces of a greasy substance which coated the pipes when new branches were added to the plumbing network. He scooped it off with a spoon. The writer sat on his kitchen chair to rest. He kicked his boots into the corner and unfolded the thin daily newspaper while he waited for the soup to stew. He didn’t have much faith in the news media, but it was his only source of information. What else was there to believe in? The front page story provided an update on the military operation in the core ~ It had been almost one month since the plague had first begun to decimate the zone, but as the clean-up continued, more bodies were being discovered. The newspaper article called it ‘the cure’; part of the process common in nature, in which parasites, or viral infections often equalized excessively over-populat‐ ed species. The news item went on to state that biological scientists were combating animal diseases transferable to humans, and frequently announced warnings when condi‐ tions reached epidemic proportions. Influenza, Bovine Spongiform Encephelopathy, and Baylisascaris; a roundworm parasite whose microscopic eggs migrated into the brain or the eyes of a susceptible human host, infected the population in waves, diminishing with treatment by upgrading vaccines and medication. The conditions in the core, in the ‘belly of the beast’, as it was referred to in news reports, had been favorable for an outbreak of Bubonic plague which had long been carried by rats, squirrels, raccoons and other urban wildlife which infested that bleak terrain, and were consumed by the denizens. These reports were convincing to the majority of citizens who were unaware, and had effectively erased the memories of those who had at one time learned, that the military had been deployed to exterminate its own regional population. Was it inner strength or ignorance that allowed people to wantonly disregard their conscience? Equally tragic were the large number of occurrences of the disease that had spread through the Residential Zones. The tenements were quarantined, then sanitized, after the occupants had done the ‘dance macabre’. News reports had gradually decreased in frequency making it difficult to determine the current situation; body bags were still being loaded onto vehicles in the street every day, although, of course, it was impossi‐ ble for the writer to know what had caused their deaths. Health warnings were often a topic in the media, and in conversations on the street, as diseases were reported to be undergoing mutations; creating antigenic shifts which complicated the development of effective vaccines. A medical task-force had been established; the technicians studied blood samples from the dead and dying as they


attempted to keep pace in developing an effective treatment. Citizens were able to purchase antibiotics and vaccination kits, or if they were fortunate, as the writer had been, they had been distributed to employees through their place-of-work ~ One company called SaniTech Foods had created a protein drink product which had been dosed with medication, but supplies had long since vanished throughout the zone. To add to the sense of panic and terror, which simmered just beneath the surface, entertainment and news media transmissions were frequently disrupted and overwritâ&#x20AC;? ten by pirate broadcasts. The writer recalled when, nearly a decade before, that form of intrusion had come into vogue with people such as Russ Vai. Some were still active in their trade. The new generation had inherited, and perfected the tactics of their predecessors. The writer, now outside of both corporate and underground spheres of influence, could observe objectively that each were clearly working toward establishâ&#x20AC;? ing their own agenda while losing touch with what the general population really needed ~ The population wanted answers and explanations for what was happening, and since none were forthcoming, they had begun to imagine all kinds of terrible things. They put their faith in the Authorities and the media; relinquishing control to any type of power to remove the fear, remove the pain, and remove the responsibility for determining their own destiny. Some put their faith in prayer, seeking answers in the recently formed religious cult which worshiped the New Machine. Extremists were calling it a sign of the apocalypse. Meanwhile, small groups of scientists and technicians were unfazed by recent events. They were actively working to find solutions to the problems which cities around the world were facing; using their skills and instruments to extend the capabiliâ&#x20AC;? ties of resources which nature had already provided. Other intellectuals, who could not directly apply their abilities to the problem, did not need explanations. They assumed the situation had developed as a consequence of a number of factors, which were either outside their field of expertise, or accessible base of knowledge. They were unwilling to commit themselves to anything which could not be subjected to a test. The soup was boiling over and splashing onto the stove. The writer pushed the newspaper aside, turned off the burner and poured himself a bowl. Where did he fit in to all this? Nowhere, anymore. It was all happening without him. He was powerless to change it, and in a way, it was powerless to change him. He had already taken his turn behind the wheel during the long journey of his life, now he was content to sit in the back seat and watch the scenery go by; to contemplate some of the moments which had brought him to this destination, and to imagine where his road could still lead. He slid the old typewriter into position on the table in front of him. His supply of paper was running low, he noted. When it was gone it would be difficult to find more. The paper was ancient, thin, recycled from 100% post-consumer waste. Tiny coloured dots of impurities were like stars in a galaxy. He wondered what they were. He placed a new sheet in the carriage and rewound the bobbin with his finger. The ribbon was


stuck, he hammered at the keys: . .. . .. ; . . .,,, : . . ,, ; . Somewhere, at this moment, the writer was certain that someone else was docu‐ menting something. They were contributing to the massive amount of information stored away in computers throughout the world; more data than anyone could possibly read in a million lifetimes. It was one of the reasons he had chosen to record his thoughts using printed documentation. It was safe. Not many would have the time or patience to read through the quantity of paper which had accumulated in the box on his kitchen floor. Even if it were to be converted to digital output, by feeding it into a scanner, it had not been formatted in the standard way that computer-based docu‐ ments were designed these days ~ It was customary to record information in a manner which enabled the computer to process the document; interpreting, condensing and summarizing the content to be easily digested by the reader, or listener, as the case may be. His writing was straight-out, raw, yet crafted and considered; he made an effort to carefully choose appropriate words from his fairly limited vocabulary. The paragraphs had a peculiar frequency; a rhythm of regular chunks, strung together like cars in a freight train, blocks of code to be processed by the computer of the mind. Evaluating concepts before he committed them to paper had seemed to give the story soul. The typed sequences progressed without revisions. He rarely went back to ‘x’ out words, or previously lines of text. It reminded him of his days as an agent, when he would search databases only to find that sensitive information had been erased; censor’s strikes scored ancient printed documents, obliterating words, or replacing them with spaces, creating a collection of jigsaw pieces which provided little clue in revealing secrets which had long since been forgotten. If the unedited original version still existed, it was buried so deeply in vast archives that it would likely never be found. A mouse scampers across the kitchen floor. Everything had changed since he started writing. He had been immersed in the process for so long, that now he could not clearly remember the reason he had ever begun. Since he had met Camellia it had been difficult to reminisce about events which had occurred in the past; the process that filled the emptiness of his life. Pushing keys, imprinting letters in rows across many sheets of paper had been a cleansing of his soul; imprisoning his thoughts on paper had allowed them to be set free from his mind, as though the memories no longer resided there. The box of paper on the kitchen floor contained them all ~ Now the paper could be shredded and burned. Destroyed. Then he could be forever absolved of those memories. Maybe that was the purpose of the exercise. Maybe it was a state of transition, that would give him the


freedom to break with the past and to begin life anew. As he thought of it, a feeling of comfort came over him. A state of joyful bliss. Yet the process of documenting those events was not yet complete. The commitment to understand their significance was necessary to gain the perspective which gave his life meaning, and the sense of closure which would provide release. There were still a few jagged fragments embed‐ ded in his mind. Soon he would be able to once again move on, and begin a new phase of his life which he hoped would be intertwined with hers. He had been to visit Camellia several times during the past month, bringing her and Ariel medicine he had been issued at work, to ensure they were not affected by the spread of the plague. The visits were brief, she did not press him, even though she made clear her desire for him to stay longer. She was not aware he was writing, but she sensed he was going through a period of soul-searching, and was willing to give him the time he needed to reach the destination of that quest. For his part, the writer was attracted to the sense of fulfillment, and completeness which the mutually beneficial relationship developing between them had the potential to provide. He had been self-reliant for so many years that it was not easy to enter into an intimate relationship again, especially one that had started off with a climax; swept up by the passion of the moment ~ The experience had caught him uncharacteristical‐ ly off-guard. Later, after he returned home, he had begun to experience an uneasy sense of guilt that what they had done was wrong. Social conditioning had affected him more than he had thought it would. He was familiar with guidelines regulating the act of commit‐ ting sexual intercourse, which had been instituted by the Authorities in an effort to control the population. Prophylactics were mandatory; severe penalties were debited if failure to use them had been reported. The penalties were even more severe for infection or transmission of sexual disease. The Authorities had implemented as their official policy, a decree stating; that unless children were genetically engineered at approved facilities, they would be ineligible for any form of medical care for the duration of their lifetime. The burden of responsibility on sexually-active couples was considerable. Alternatively, there was a constant barrage in media and advertising which encour‐ aged homosexuality as a satisfying form of gratification. The advertising made it appear to be trendy, exciting and fun. Beautiful, perfect-featured, fashion-conscious models, with lean, trim, muscular partially-naked bodies streaming with sweat, posed in the most provocative manner, or simulated sexual acts on the screen ~ At the same time, all heterosexual content was heavily censored by the Authorities in media and on the network. Societal roles between men and women had been changing and evolving for many years. In the urban environment, the males of the human species had become more submissive, while the females were becoming more militant and extreme. Roaming street gangs of guerrilla girls like ‘The Vixens’, ‘Hell’s Belles’, and ‘The Ruthless


Bitchesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; would flaunt their sexuality to shock and provoke, or unleash nihilistic teenage angst through violence and brutality; their bodies equipped with retractable metal claws and razor boots. Some dressed in the fashion of cute; wearing their hair in tight little knots at the top of their head to cover their horns. They took no prisoners. In the confusing blend of gender identities which were continually emerging, it was difficult for the writer to find a true model of human sexuality on which to pattern his behavior. He was an old fashioned guy. When he had escaped from the tower, and fled into the country, he had discovered that sex could be a raw primitive animal instinct that seemed natural in the rural environment. Down on the farm, the animals in the barn would mount their mates whenever they had the chance, humping each other with unrestrained abandon. Breeding was a necessary part of animal reality, a way to propagate new life. The animals needed to engage in sexual activity frequently, as the procedure was hit or miss; the egg would not become fertilized by the sperm during every attempt. The offspring, when they had finally been produced, would inherit selected strings of genes during the mating process, which when combined with the element of random chance, created an infant who would be more successful in surviving, by adapting to its environment, than its parents had been. For humans in an urban environment, genetic engineers had eliminated the need for random chance, thus eliminating the need for sexual activity. Design was a process of elimination and control. The Authorities had gone to great lengths to convince citizens that anything that felt good was bad for them. But how could something so wrong, feel so good? If the pleasure of sensual stimulation which accompanied the sexual experience was not intended as a natural response, it would not have been programmed into the bodyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s physical structure. Through the repression of sensations the Authorities were able to control the individuality of the citizens, by making them responsive to both pleasure and pain. Product marketing, was designed to enhance the sensation of pleasure, accompanied by the reduction of pain, (the opposite of religion, and the law). The rules formed a symbiotic relationship with the consumerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s desires. He tried not to think about her, but recalling the sensation of caressing her supple body and the warm moistness of her lips, stimulated the urges of passionate desire. It was hard to repress the feeling. He longed to see her again. But there was also the fear. The fear of starting over again. The fear of beginning a new life. He would have thought that he would have welcomed it, as he scanned the simple surroundings of his sparsely furnished room. He asked himself what there was in his life, that could not benefit from sharing his life with hers. He had come to accept that independence and self-reliance were the only things of value in his existence. He had lived so many lifetimes within the course of a single life, and he was aware that the one he was currently living was the only one that he had been in control of; the only one he had the ability to shape the destiny of. Yet even as he tried to justify that reasoning, it made him seem selfish and weak.


Have you ever wondered what is the purpose of your life? Have you ever had to become accountable for your past actions, to resolve the memories, to truthfully evaluate the course of your life? Have you ever said: “These are the things I have done. These are the successes of my accomplishments and achievements, and these are the mistakes that I have made as I tried to learn and to grow, and explore what this existence is all about?” Successes and failures are part of evolution ~ Natural selection in which the truth and pure ideas survive, and the incorrect and evil ones are weeded out to make room for new growth. Others who have been affected by their actions will always have their own memories to contend with. What has been done, cannot be undone, there is only acceptance or denial. The process of considering his actions had allowed him to accept and make peace with the decisions of his past, even though the decisions he had made had not always been his own. Commands and orders from superiors had influenced choices he had made. Yet the responsibility was always entirely his; to deal with the weight and consequences of his actions. To not follow orders was a choice he had once made, and right or wrong it had affected the course of his life. Had it changed the vector which lead to his destiny, or had it temporarily made the guideline invisible to his sight? Back on the beam, he was coming to the realization that his path’s vector was now approaching a parallel ray ~ Camellia’s vector appeared to share part of the journey towards their separate destinies, as their paths moved toward the vanishing point of infinity. Yet it was just a little too soon. He resolved once again to complete the process that he had started. He was so close now that he could not give in; it seemed to be part of what destiny had in store for him. It was so tempting to leave it off, to pursue the new interest he had found so appealing. Camellia lived just across the street, yet she might have well been on the other side of the world. The immediacy of faces he had talked to on the screen as an agent at Flex Global had often felt closer than the ones that occasionally drifted through his actual reality ~ He hadn’t seen her for over a week, but Stanley had been acting as his emissary. He had been willing to repair the pipes connected to her shower as a personal favor to the writer. As a freelance plumber he made his own rules. He was in a position to pick and choose his clients, and determine when he would attend to the work. He had moved her plumbing problems to the top of his list of priorities. Stanley had made the job last over several sessions, and in addition to gathering intelligence for the writer, he had discovered that Camellia was personal and pleasant, and that he had also found himself becoming her friend. They shared a common interest in growing healing herbs, and Stanley had discovered they both had recently developed an interest in writing as well ~ Stanley confessed that he had let slip that their mutual friend spent his days hunched over the keyboard more intently lately, when he wasn’t driving through the night hauling cement. She had acknowledged the comment by nodding knowingly, as though it provided the answer to some unspoken question.


The writer knocked gently on the door. Camellia opened it. She looked just the way he had imagined her in his thoughts as he had walked across the street to her apartment. He didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know what to say when the door opened. He suddenly felt nervous again. She smiled and asked him to come in. He paused in the doorway noticing that her monitor was glowing in the darkened room. He must be interrupting her. She shook her head, and replied that she would welcome some company. The voice of Ariel called out sleepily...

III.

It was a new kind of water. Pure, tasteless, sanitary; made by combining refined hydrogen with oxygen, fortified with potassium, calcium, magnesium, fluoride and lithium, then piped into a dispenser in the piano lounge from a tank somewhere in the tower. Cordova took a sip from his glass. The air was rarefied. It had been filtered clean of dust and microbial debris, allowing the rich aroma of dense foliage to permeate the room. He took a deep breath, and for the first time in many days he finally felt like he was alive. It always invigorating to become immersed in the primal energy of the lush and vibrant plant growth within the synthetic jungle setting. It was much more refreshing than hooking up to the appliance in the living quarters and selecting a destination designed by the The Virtual Travel Agency. He always seemed to be aware of the tiny transparent logo in the bottom corner of his field of vision, which disrupted the illusion of the brief mental vacation. This environment looked convincingly-real; a mountain scene with a small waterfall captured in a rock basin, from which the water meandered slowly out of the dense jungle, and flowed past smooth flat stepping-stones marking where a muddy path crossed the stream. Plastic-like fruit was arranged into perfect still-life compositions among the leaves that seemed to rustle in the breeze. Swirls of mist drifted over the scene and vanished into the infinite blue sky. The convincing illusion was created by reflectance patterns placed on the overhead sources of illumination which scattered and diffused the lights. The machinery running the pumps and projectors were housed in strange, Totemistic Tiki God sculptures which had been discreetly placed throughâ&#x20AC;? out the jungle. In the clearing, in the center of the room, a large, elegant, polished black grand piano played on its own, following music scores encoded into its memory bank, yet able to improvise if it was in the mood. Sensors built into the piano detected the ambiance of the room and responded accordingly. It was mid-afternoon, and the lounge was almost empty. The piano tinkled quietly.


Cordova often came here to think things over, and just relax. The interior of the small lounge was intimate and moody, a dreamy paradise with light swirls of mist hovering over the furnishings. Small tables were surrounded by upholstered booths, comfortable. There were no windows to the outside world. Along one wall was a large panel screen which projected a randomly generated computer waterfall. The sound was tranquil, the volume was turned low, Cordova would escape into the flow, immersing himself in the experience to ease the tension and anxiety he often felt lately. A waiter dressed in a trim black uniform emerged from among the palm trees along the narrow pathway which wound its way through the lounge. He glanced over at Cordova. There was no menu; water was the only item served. Customers made a certain hand signal if they wanted another glass, otherwise they were not disturbed. The waiter was extremely handsome and as courteous as a machine ~ The appear‐ ance of tube-babies, muscular, well-proportioned, but physically small, often made Cordova feel like a rugged giant that was ugly, coarse-featured and crude. It often unnerved him that they were so obedient to their task; dedicated completely to their function within the system. They had been designed to inherit the system, to gradually replace the humans who were currently in command; who were genetically random and physically out-of-place. The new breed did not need nostalgic physical environments like the piano lounge to feel comfortable within the environment; preferring the virtual reality of mindmachines to provide distraction and add variety to their sensual experience to make their life complete. They did not need to leave the self-contained environment in the towers ~ They could get anything they want, whenever they wanted it. Why settle for the real thing? The external world was manufactured for them. Reality was decon‐ structed, and merged with short, repeating advertising clips, and computer-generated graphics; faces, textures, cleanly-rendered shapes with anti-aliased edges made up the imagery of the delusional dreams. The brainwashing fragments were annoying but effective, although Cordova himself found the hedonistic aspects of virtual reality were often unpleasant when taken to the extreme. The generation gap became all too apparent to Cordova when he had stuck his head into one of those machines. It was not just their limited demand for entertainment which made them excellent employees ~ Their lack of need for things like; sleep, sex, knowledge or even fulfill‐ ment, eliminated distractions and desires, and allowed them to carry out the responsi‐ bilities of their tasks efficiently and without complaint. The new genetic employees were not concerned with wealth, or competition for social status. There was no differentiation between any employees role within the tower. Specialization within the division of labour was the only form of individualism; the individual is rewarded for conforming to the group. Provided with every form of pleasure, the tube-babies primeval control mechanism had been suppressed; designed through conditioning to only respond to the avoidance of pain ~ The fall from grace.


Cordova was well aware that he was a dinosaur on the verge of extinction. His intellect, relatively unprogrammed by internal corporate propaganda, and heavily influenced through his daily interaction with the reality of the external world, forced him to experience the pain of recognizing his place within the world, and realizing the consequences of his actions. For now, his services were necessary. He shielded the citizens of the towers, whose sole concern was with their own trivial pursuits, from the predators of the outside world. He guarded the central computer systems the way a shepherd protects the flock, keeping the wolves away that were always knocking at the door. His status as a guest employee was tentative; his replacements were currently being trained and programmed, and soon would be ready to assume the position. Cordova drank four large glasses of water during the two hours he languished in the lounge. The sound of the waterfall insistently urged him to make a trip to the grotto. He headed down the path deep into the jungle at the back of the lounge. He climbed the gentle slope of the volcano; its porous black textured-surface was outlined with veins of yellow and blue. The volcano erupted with holographic lava, a guaranteed experience at midnight, every night, for the clientele of the lounge. At the moment it was simmering, producing the mist which drifted through the jungle. Under the volcano, inside a tiny clean brightly-lit cubicle, Cordova stuck his penis into a dispos‐ able condom-like sheath, that he obtained from a dispenser on the wall. He connected it to the suction tube and urinated, disposing of the wrapper in a chute nearby when the procedure was complete. The sound of the piano faded as he emerged from the lounge, and strolled along the pedestrian corridor which curved around the circumference of this level of the tower. Other citizens met him along the way without acknowledgment or greeting, passing by, determined on their course of direction. Some were looking up at large monitors stationed periodically along the way; currently broadcasting a promotional pitch informing citizens about the corporation’s recently-constructed permanent settlement in high orbit. It seemed like everyone was going up the well these days; space colonies were being sponsored by corporations, religious groups, and even private clubs. As he strolled briskly, he gazed through windows which overlooked urban sprawl spreading toward the distant horizon. He felt like a bird in a cage that could see blue sky. Cordova asked the vending machine for something to eat. He chunked down the flavored cubes as he made his way to the circular elevator in the center of the tower, which would rush him down the tube. Inside the express was a familiar face; Dr. Planchette, an inventor, who headed up a team of code warriors developing a new product for citizens of residential zones throughout the world. The two exchanged a few words in greeting as the bottom seemed to drop out beneath their feet ~ The elevator plummeted down to the level on which the doctor’s laboratory was located. “How’s Hunow?” asked Cordova. “The latest version is almost ready for release.”


Cordova had once been invited to the lab, and had seen the product at the proto‐ type stage. The robot slave, pronounced ‘who now’, was designed to provide sexual pleasure. “You would be surprised how much demand there is for a product like this!” Dr. Planchette had informed Cordova as they had toured his facilities. The life-sized, rigid, plastic-fibre skeletons could be ordered from the corporation’s manufacturing plant with a variety of synthetic coverings to simulate the physical appearance of a man or woman; available in any size, shape, age, or race. The product would be delivered complete with interchangeable masks. “The new models are highly-intelligent, fully-motorized, and anatomically correct!” The good doctor had graciously offered Cordova the opportunity to beta-test the new product, but at the time, Hunow was just laying there, a naked skeleton, which did not make the prospect very appealing. “C’mon, get something on, you look like death,” Cordova had quipped. The inventor didn’t see any humour in the remark... Continuing underground, inside Flex Global, Cordova moves along metal walkways through pools of light, down into a deep cylindrical room with walls of smooth blue cement. The controller in the observation post stationed above the hierarchy of pods, monitors the agents and the system. She acknowledges Cordova’s presence with a nod. He moves along the walkway and down the steps. Thick steel cables suspend the section contours. Other agents are already at work dressed in light uniforms that are padded at the arms, back and legs for comfort. Because of the technology, the air is kept very cool down here. Most agents wear the customary cloth cap draped with headphones and a thin wire connected to a muzzle microphone. Cordova climbs into the cockpit of his pod, identifies his presence to HAL, and the system reconfigures itself according to his preferences in just a few seconds. His chair compresses to conform to his contour, and the segmented interface display screens quickly unfold from storage bays. Unusual markings, like alien worm-tracks, are etched into the frame panels mounted around the viewscreens, where its controlling circuits are embedded. A small work-light glides into position, and hovers overhead. While his preferences are initiating, Cordova downs several large sips of real coffee; fueling up for an all-night run. Cordova is wrapping-up his investigation of Stephen Williams, aka Russ Vai, the hacker Flex Global agents had recently busted near San Jose, California in the USA. Cordova had reviewed the data downloaded from the confiscated system and was now filling out the digital forms and documents which would make his file complete. Tracking the case had been a daunting process, which had not resolved itself in a satisfying way. Cordova still felt empathy for the young man, but there was nothing he


could do ~ Flex Global’s affiliate team in California had taken over jurisdiction of compiling the evidence needed to prosecute Stephen under regulations of the local Authorities. The hacker, to some extent, had involved Cordova as a confidant in his activity. The two shared the attributes of being able to travel cloaked in secrecy, and have full access to every part the network. During their final conversation, Stephen had told Cordova that he considered him to be his equal. Stephen claimed he had involved Cordova in order to gauge his reaction to the glimpses he provided behind-the-scenes of technological developments that were well on the way to becoming a reality. But in truth, at the same time, the hacker had often used Flex Global resources to create openings into the areas he wanted to explore, by monitoring Cordova’s network activity in order to obtain domain addresses and access codes. It had been a highly-irregular case. The adventure had opened Cordova’s eyes to many activities in the world with which he had previously been unfamiliar, and had forced him to evaluate the situations he encountered. Typically, his work dealt with corporate espionage, or illegal intrusion into systems; cases whose scope were fairly limited and defined. Tracking Russ Vai had spanned a broad range of international locations and a much wider-variety of classifications of industry, and had also taken a considerably longer period of time to solve. Ironically, as far as Cordova could tell, no real harm had been caused to any system that had been infiltrated, although the potential threat had been severe; logic bombs or viruses could have caused extensive damage, with the level of access Russ Vai had to the systems. The challenge presented by the hacker’s exceptional technical skills, combined with his dogged determination and unconventional modus operandi, had tested Cordova’s perseverance. Dealing with these types of cases was beyond the capabili‐ ties of computer intelligence alone, or for that matter, the ridged mindset of most Flex Global agents; trained to specifications suitable for the corporate world. AI logic typically had difficulty making the disconnected jumps through levels of abstraction and the virtuality of intuitive lateral-based thinking. As an agent, it was Cordova’s function to deal with the irrationality of human emotion which motivated the perpetra‐ tors, and make sense of the madness within the criminal mind. Yet, in this case, Cordova had not fully understood the hacker’s motives, nor could he determine why it had played out like a game. He believed that Stephen had been exploring the network in order to attain a sense of power which comes from accessing secret knowledge which only the most privileged control. By taunting his pursuers it appeared that he ultimately wished to be caught ~ Typically, the final chapter was one of loneliness, and the rapture of a young woman’s beauty which brought the story to its tragic end. For a very long uninterrupted interval Cordova had been operating with an intense focus, but finally he had started to cool. He felt the need for a period of rest, even for a brief time, to completely evaluate the situation he had just gone through. Yet his task


was relentless. Already he was being assigned new cases; there always seemed to be someone transgressing regulations or manipulating the system for their own benefit and gain. It was somewhat ironic that when his vacation came due, it might be involuntary and permanent. In a few weeks it would be time for his four-year review; a fail-safe measure which would evaluate his mental state and capabilities as an agent. During the procedure, a mind probe would run void-comp tests to discover any irregularities in his thought patterns. It was painless and efficient. The Tyrelli machine would determine whether an agent was to be re-enlisted, reassigned, remaindered, or if necessary, have a rerelease completed on him; performing the minor adjustments needed to bring him up to code. With the uncertainty of his current mental state, Cordova dreaded the upcoming evaluation. The internal conflict had caused sleepless nights; as he knew his thoughts were not entirely pure. His allegiance to the corporation had been shaken, and recently, he had often questioned the value of continuing both his professional and personal existence within the tower environment. He felt a need for change; a return to the world. Besides, he didn’t want the machine messing with his mind, correcting any ‘deviance’ in his thinking patterns; the godless, nihilistic, faith in self-alone philosophy he had come to value, which had given meaning to his purpose throughout the course of his life ~ To make a break and escape was clear, but there was one more piece of the puzzle to drop into place before the case would be complete. After all, he had captured the ‘wrong’ guy. The target that had initiated the investiga‐ tion was the character Stephen often referred to during their final conversation; a man named Jurgen Ernst. Stephen, as Russ Vai, had in effect, taken on the identity of Jurgen, and had emulated the tactics of his hero. As Cordova poured over the impressive dossier Stephen had compiled in his own database collection, he became further intrigued by this character. Jurgen, other than apparently disrupting the shopping network as the ‘Christmas Cracker’, did not seem to have any record of serious criminal activity. Ordinarily this type of infraction would receive little attention, considering the massive workload of the agents. Yet in this case, out of personal interest, Cordova was curious to discover more. Diligent detective work by Stephen Williams, Jurgen’s number one fan, had turned up an interesting connection to the Golden Sun Corporation. He had discovered that Jurgen was the grandson of Adda Stark, who was the daughter of the Sun King himself. Stephen had indicated that Jurgen was not even aware of this connection, since it was a secret that Adda had kept to herself while working on highly-classified government projects. Cordova could find no other reason why Jurgen would stage an attack on the Golden Sun Corporation, if not for revenge or some type of retaliation. Perhaps the initial foray had been a test of Sun’s defenses, perhaps he was fabricating a devious plan. His credentials at the Akademy in the Czech Republic, and his career achievements at GenSynth indicated that a high-level system disruption was well within his capabilities.


HAL updated Cordova with the data he requested. Cordova now turned his attention to text documents on his display screen. Leveland. 1950’s. US Government training/ CIA debriefing. The scientist’s background history and work activity. No mention of Adda’s connection to the Sun King. Report of case against Cameron Stark. Possible danger, suspected spies transporting secret information into communist China. Warning they may attempt to provide their knowledge to foreign corporate agents. Unnamed corporation. Another internal memo stated that US military opera‐ tives had arranged an accident for the Starks ~ Disappearance linked with small aircraft shot down over the ocean in southern China. During their conversation, Stephen told Cordova he had discovered information that, at the time, a young corporate officer of Golden Sun Corporation, a man named Mr. Luk, had acted as an informant to the US military. Stephen claimed that the sabotage was intended to eliminate a potential rival within the power structure of the rapidly-growing corporation. HAL had not immediately discovered information to confirm this claim, because the data was 50 years old and buried very deep. What was clear, was that some type of link existed between the Starks and a notable Asian power. The documents dealing with the Stark’s military project were also heavily censored. All that Cordova could glean from the electronic data and scanned original documents was that their research was working towards the development of some type of largescale electrical-magnetic weapon, and possibly some type of laser projection device. There were indications as well, that the pair had developed software for an early form of a virtual reality simulation system. A couple of odd documents referenced what appeared to be UFO encounters, experienced and reported by the scientists. These type of weapons, which had just begun to be operational, had been the subject of Cordova’s reconnaissance missions into Asia as a military operative, just after the start of the new millennia. Cordova concluded that it was possible that these developments had been based on information provided by the Stark’s, although practical aspects of their research work would have been far in advance of its time ~ It would have been interesting to see what they could have developed had they not met with a tragic end. Jurgen also appeared to be pushing the limits of technology in the research work he was conducting; a characteristic it seemed he inherited from his grandparents. And like his grandparents, Cordova believed, the project he was working on was likely ahead of the existing capabilities of both the hardware and software located in the trillions of nodes which made up the network. As he understood it, the digital entities Jurgen had dedicated himself to creating would travel throughout the network to encounter other recognizable fragments with which they could exchange and update information. The process was modeled on the way thoughts are stored within the neurons of the brain. If he succeeded, the entire digital network would function as a vast and complex neural network, and ultimately attain its own consciousness ~ A Universal Mind ~ Yet, Cordova also recognized the potential disaster of unleashing a highly-evolved mutable virus into network systems which were unprotected for that level of attack.


Cordova was aware of the current sophistication of computer viruses and artificial intelligence, making Jurgen’s project seem more like science fiction than a realistic goal. Even in the most recent pirate broadcasts before his capture, Stephen had framed Jurgen’s research work as the imminent arrival of an omnipresent entity which would act as a ‘flaming sword’ to separate the good and evil existing within the digital domain. The concept had made for interesting media content, and was immediately disseminated by the more subversive and radical elements throughout the computer underworld, as the mythology continued to build. Compiling background data was always useful as a psychological tool when interrogating the subject of an investigation; revealing hidden facts often caught the subject off guard and sped up the process of obtaining further information. In this case, Cordova was preparing himself for a face-to-face encounter with Jurgen through a network link, in order to confront him about his motives and intentions. Cordova had carefully searched background information for details which would provide him with leverage in directing the flow of the conversation. Cordova scanned the new information appearing on his display. HAL had compiled records of all available data in the system about Jurgen Ernst since his date of birth on July 22, 1984. Documents were linked to an array of tables which summarized the details of their contents, and pointed to their source. While many traces of his current activity had been scrubbed clean, there were a number of records of purchases, and digital documentation from the recent period of time. Records indicated he had been acquiring an odd collection of material and supplies for some time; computer hardware, medical equipment, and even experimental medications. Everything had been shipped to a remote location in Iceland. Cordova discovered the location by tracking records of the airline which freighted the supplies. It would be possible to mobilize a team of agents to travel to the location, if he was able to justify the mission to his superiors. Mission approval would need to be passed along the hierarchy of the Flex Global chain of command; a process which could take weeks to obtain clearance, unless he could demonstrate that it was imperative to initiate immediate action. Cordova inhaled a deep breath, then released it slowly to relax and focus his mind. This was it, he was going in; it was time to pay Jurgen Ernst a visit. First of all, it was likely that his digital messages would be filtered to allow contact from only the sources he had specified within his system. Cordova decided to contact him by emulating the communication channel as though it had originated from a Dr. Brenner of ZPC; a synthetic chemical research laboratory in Switzerland which had been in frequent communication with Jurgen recently. Cordova switched on his TVi, entered the address and formed the connection. While he waited online for Jurgen to respond, Cordova glanced at the bar across the top of his screen; one thousand miles west it was four hours earlier ~ Just before 1800 hours, November 1st, 2011.


A few minutes later, with the elapsed-time running, a face appeared on his screen. The young man looked extremely tired; his eyes were sunken and dark. His skin looked pale, contrasting sharply with the black toque he was wearing and his scruffy brown mustache and goatee. He was wearing what appeared to be a ragged parka. The room behind him was dark. Jurgen looked perplexed as he glanced up at the bar across his own screen which displayed the origin of the call, yet his expression was tranquil and serene. “Who the devil are you?” “Don’t lock me out, it’s important I speak with you,” Cordova responded politely. “I’m a security agent working with Flex Global, my name is Cordova Frost.” He held up his identity card to the tiny camera mounted at his station. If he had wanted he could have sent the digital authorization online. Jurgen pursed his lips, and stared intently at his screen, as if considering what his next move should be. He remained silent... waiting. Cordova continued, “Our agency has apprehended a hacker calling himself Russ Vai, who claims to have recently been in contact with you. He is also known as Stephen Williams. He has informed me, personally, that you are developing a poten‐ tially dangerous form of digital virus you are preparing to release into the network.” “I have no idea who that person is, but I can assure you I am conducting legitimate experimentation into the processes of developing synthetic life, and there are no regulations restricting that... that I am aware of. I apologize, but I cannot provide you with any further information.” “Unless you co-operate, and allow us to access and scan your system, we can obtain a search and seizure motion on a warrant of probable cause.” Jurgen was rubbing the scruffy beard on his chin with his fingertips, and appeared to be deep in thought. “I cannot co-operate with that request as your scanners will affect the results of my experimentation. I’m conducting scientific research, and it is important to its success that the programming code remains unaffected by external contamination. Besides, I don’t think you want to come out here, it’s very bleak and desolate this time of year.” Jurgen gently smiled. “The scanners won’t affect the data, unless they recognize the signature of known viruses embedded in the code. I could scan your system quickly now, the process does not take much time.” Jurgen replied patiently, “My synthetic lifeforms contain evolutionary code, which are similar to viruses in certain respects, and I can’t risk damaging the process which is currently underway. I don’t have time to explain the project more fully, and I am right in the middle of something at the moment.”


“Is it your intention to release these entities into the network?” Jurgen licked his lips. “The system is contained.” Cordova tried a different tactic. After all, it wasn’t his intention to put Jurgen on the defensive. Cordova had just wanted to make him aware of the authority of his status as a Flex Global agent. “You know, word of your activity has been spreading through the media, and is the topic of conversation of hackers around the world. Many are waiting for a digital entity which will clean the corruption from the network, while others are hoping for an apocalypse which will destroy it entirely, and shut the system down.” Jurgen had a strange half-smile on his face. He narrowed his eyelids slightly. “I have to confess, I haven’t been keeping up with current events for some time. But, as I assume you know, there are those who create stories for reasons of their own, and then there are others who just follow them wherever it leads. What are they waiting for? An apocalypse? An apocalypse is the destruction of the idea of god, not hardware, nor humanity.” Jurgen paused for a moment to formulate his next thought, “You seem like a reasonable man agent Frost. Do you think any human could actually create an entity as powerful as that?” “There is great potential danger to all networked computer systems should anyone attempt to try. I’ve noted in your file that you have a record of subversive activity.” Jurgen thought over the statement for a few moments, “Oh yes, you are referring to the disruption of the shopping network. Yes, I admit that it was an impulsive reaction to send a Christmas message to the consumers of the world. It was inappropriate to separate them from their beloved products for even a short time on that festive day. It was wrong, and I apologize. Is that what this is all about?” “Partially. Golden Sun Corporation was concerned about the integrity of their system, at which point I got involved in the case. Since then I have been following red herrings through digital streams, and in the end, I have returned to the start. The crack on their system was very clean, professional, you obviously know your way around the network. I am investigating the possibility that you were merely testing the waters, exploring their systems, to perpetrate a more lethal strike.” “No, I’m not interested in destroying anything.” “Not even as a form of revenge to get back at Sun for killing your grandparents?” “What are you talking about?” “During the investigation, while I was going over background information about your personal history, I discovered a number of military files which report that Cameron and


Adda Stark were terminated in the process of delivering secret documents to the Sun corporation during a trip they took to China. The files claim that Adda Stark was the daughter of Sun Tzu.” Jurgen looked puzzled; his expression revealed that his brain was having difficulty processing this information ~ testing this new data against previous fragments stored in his memory. “I don’t believe that is true,” Jurgen calmly replied. “There is speculation about what happened. Records of actual events are buried deep and long-forgotten. I don’t know where you got your information, but I have searched for documents myself over the years, and have never established that connection.” He thoughtfully paused for a moment, “You know, even if it were true, revenge has never been a motivation for my actions. I have put my past behind me. I am only interested in the future.... It’s been enjoyable talking with you Cordova Frost, but if you’ll excuse me, I have some things here to attend to.” Jurgen disconnected... The colourful TVi logo was all that remained; rotating endlessly in the corner of the blank screen. Cordova stared into the void, gathering his thoughts. He was faced with a difficult decision; an internal conflict over what would be the most appropriate action to take. Like most, Cordova had willingly relinquished control over his destiny to a force that was greater than his own internal will to determine the course of the events of his life. He had put his faith in those with power: the Authorities, the corporations, the academies, media, religion, the scientists and technicians, and even the artificial intelligence of computer-based knowledge systems. They would tell him what to do. They provided for the needs of those they cared-for, in exchange for complete and obedient devotion. The fear of punishment made it clear that the instructions were to be followed explicitly; without deviation or error. Cordova won‐ dered what would be the price for obeying a new master; the potential creation of an omniscient digital entity, one which had the potential to become an even more terrifying monster than the powers which already exist. Yet, there was something about the person that appeared on his screen that convinced Cordova that if anyone could create a beneficent force, it would certainly be Jurgen. Cordova believed that over the years he had developed the ability to judge a person’s character; by listening carefully during a conversation and observing mannerisms. He had sensed that Jurgen had somehow transcended earthly desire, and truly felt compassionate towards humanity. Those were qualities Cordova had rarely seen exhibited by those who had assumed a position of power; who were motivated by greed and the need for control. Jurgen had dedicated his life to pursuing an objective he believed in, and seemed willing to sacrifice himself to attain that goal.


Of course, that fact alone did not justify a cause. Many throughout history had dedicated themselves to their ideals, often unaware that their sacrifice had ultimately extracted a much greater cost; doors which had been hidden or locked were finally opened, releasing the demons inside. Cordova tried to place the situation in perspec‐ tive, to determine the extent of his role. Who was he to decide whether to attempt to stop what could potentially happen? His career was based on responding to actual events, rather than initiating a preemptive strike. Realistically, even if he had wanted to, it might not be possible to stop Jurgen’s activity; events and ideas, like natural evolution, seemed to occur when their time was ripe. Cordova was more cautious after his experience with Stephen. He had regrets that he had captured, and essentially destroyed a young man’s life, who was actually doing no harm. In fact, the hacker’s media broadcasts likely served a beneficial social function, by policing the powerful organizations which operated above and beyond all rules and regulations. Stephen’s function had been to present the information that he discovered to the masses, allowing them to make up their own mind and decide how to respond to the information. Perhaps it was the same with Jurgen. Cordova even found a sense of comfort; believing in the idealistic hope that what Jurgen was creating could potentially come true. As difficult as it was to believe that it was possible, a digital entity which would eliminate evil and corruption could make the world a better place. His allegiance to the corporation no longer concerned him. He felt this was a personal decision that he would have to make. He needed to satisfy his own con‐ science in determining whether Jurgen’s entity would precipitate a catastrophic disaster, or become a messenger of hope as it propagated itself throughout the network. The sense of closure was significant, as Cordova realized this was to be his final case. He had arrived at a pivotal moment in his life, which marked the conclusion of one chapter and the beginning of the next.

IV.

“Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.” Ariel was happily singing in a quiet innocent voice that sounded pure and clear in the cool night air. The comet was shining as brightly as a diamond in the sky. Camellia held the boy’s hand securely as they moved slowly along the icy sidewalk. He never once took his gaze off the object overhead. She was amazed by Ariel’s preoccupation with the celestial body since it had first appeared. He would spend hours staring out the window, or searching for it in the sky whenever they were outside. It held much


more fascination to him than store windows decorated for Christmas. The ornaments behind the steel bars of the closed shops were simple; a few coloured lights suspend‐ ed from an electric wire, patches of material from packing crates which simulated snow, or images of Santa, candy canes or reindeer painted directly on the glass. The merchants could not afford extravagant displays. Camellia led Ariel to the intersection, then pushed a button on the post. In a few moments the lights changed and traffic stopped, soon they were safely across the street. They backtracked along the sidewalk until they were almost directly opposite her own tenement. She remembered the numbers for the passcode which had been written on the note. Entering the sequence on the security panel opened heavy gates. The lighting seemed bright inside the lobby of the old building. There were a couple of ancient concrete benches along the walls, and a mosaic pattern of tiles in dark grey and light green which decorated the floor. The battered doors to the elevator were partially open to reveal a shaft filled with debris. The two climbed worn concrete stairs up several flights. Camellia could hear sounds of activity from nearby rooms and detect the smell of cooked meals wafting down the corridors. During the ascent, she happened to look over the railing and down the stairwell to notice a pair of eyes appear several floors below. The face darted out of view after a brief exchange of glances. Camellia and Ariel climbed to the top floor. Vague memories returned of her previous visit; as though remembering a dream. She knew where she was going: Room 1492 on Lot 4 of Block 746; the location coordinates within the horizontal and vertical grid of the cityscape. Camellia knocked gently. After a few moments the writer opened the door ~ Appearing just the way she had imagined him in her thoughts as she had crossed the street. He didn’t seem to know what to say; it was as if he had suddenly become nervous once again. She smiled and asked if they could come inside. He immediately returned her smile and invited them in. His living quarters were much smaller then her own, and contained much less furnishings. The interior hadn’t changed substantially from the time she had surrepti‐ tiously visited all those many years before. There were the table and chairs, the small refrigerator and kitchen appliances, and the books on a shelf along the wall. There was his lunchbox resting on a newspaper at the end of the kitchen counter. There was his jacket and cap hung on a peg by the door. The writer helped Ariel remove his winter garments to hang them on a peg next to his road jacket. While he was talking with Ariel, Camellia wandered through the room to look at the objects that were there. After a few moments she was drawn to the window. The view presented a perspective of the city which was unfamiliar to her. The rooftop panorama was like a strange landscape, dotted with solar panels, rusting water tanks, and elevator housings as far as the eye could see. Crumbling obsolete brick chimneys were now used by tenants to mount satellite dishes and communica‐ tion antennas consisting of strange irregular grid-like arrays attached atop the columns


of brick with thin metal poles. Dilapidated greenhouse enclosures projected their light through translucent coverings and onto foot-paths through the drifts of snow covering this world. Patches of darkness containing pinpoints of brilliant starlight pierced shifting slate-grey clouds slowly closing up the sky. The underbellies of these mon‐ sters reflected back some of the light cast up from the city below. From this vantage point, the mathematical precision of new urban planning became evident. The grid of sleek, newly-constructed condominiums arose like new growth through the crumbling decay of older sections in the residential zone. Rows of rectangular buildings imposed order upon the chaos of the old. Each were arranged so that one side of the building was aligned with the sun; capturing rays with solar panels built into their broad surfaces. Small perfectly-square windows. The buildings were regularly spaced over the zone. Each was identical to the others. To some, the architectural design was reminiscent of dominoes laying upon their side. Others called them tombstones. Each building is no more than twenty-two stories tall, and surfaced with a flat-black material which resembled either metal or stone depending on how the light is reflected from it. At night they seem almost invisible, except for the constellation of tiny squares of light; like an erratically-illuminated checkerboard suspended on the horizon. Apartments were in great demand; but their occupancy was limited to citizens who were specially selected. There were several criteria that needed to be met before the citizens could even begin the process of application, including; providing a detailed account of their employment record, job status, personal credit history, police records, and even their genetic registry number (if applicable). Most importantly, they needed a reference from their current corporate employer, as a condition of the lease. Citizens would be able to live in their apartment for a minimal fee, but only while they were employed under their corporate sponsor. Camellia had often seen promotional advertisements for the condos. They ap‐ peared quite luxurious; modern, secure, sanitary, with very nice interior design. Many citizens were able to work directly from their homes. They carried out the functions and duties which at one time required them to work at a central location. Increasingly, the industry of factories and the business of corporations were being run by remotecontrol. Accountants, shipping agents, and data-entry clerks could fulfill the require‐ ments of their job, and interact with people around the globe, right from the comfort of their own homes. Employees, physically isolated within their private spaces were able to use banks of monitors and their computer connection to maintain quality-control of assembly lines in manufacturing plants, while others could use the same configuration to work as agents of the secret police to report on situations they vigilantly monitored through streams from cameras regularly positioned along the streets, and throughout the city ~ ‘Watch TV, catch criminals!’ There was a big reward. The only opportunity Camellia could have of living in the condos would be to create a new identity for her son. Under the scrutiny of the evaluation process, building managers would be able to detect Ariel’s distinctive heritage.


Databanks never forget! Sometimes she wondered about the world her son was growing up in. The urban environment seemed to be evolving so quickly, and so radically, that it was almost impossible to tell what the future would hold. She turned her attention back to the room, and was surprised to see Ariel happily playing on the floor with an antique typewriter inside its open case. She watched him smile at the sound the carriage made as he scrolled a sheet of paper inside, and she knew somehow, that he would be okay. “Are you certain that it is fine for him to use your machine? It looks very old,” The writer was stirring something in a pot on the stove. The supper he was cooking smelled good. It made her realize that she was very hungry. “Don’t worry, the typewriter is solid and sturdy.” He put the lid back on the pot to let it simmer, then motioned to one of the kitchen chairs. “I have to apologize for the uncomfortable furniture, but sit here at the table and I’ll pour you a glass of wine.” The wine was rich in flavour, and was a very deep colour of red. It was pleasantly sweet. After her first sip she noticed that the alcohol level was high. She felt a warm sensation spread throughout her body, making her more relaxed and calm. She was grateful for the wine’s effects as she was nervous about what she had wanted to tell him. She would wait until later; after supper when the time was right. She examined the dark green glass bottle. It had no label, so she assumed it was either black market or homemade ~ The liquor the Authorities sold was low in alcohol and always packaged in plastic containers. “This tastes so good. Where did you get it?” “Stanley. He often barters instead of getting credits for his work. He is always coming up with surprises. I don’t know where he gets these things.” “He is a really nice man. I had a chance to get to know him a little bit; talking to him while he was fixing the pipes. He did a great job.” Ariel was pecking at the keys on the typewriter, slowly converting his ideas into words. The expression on his face was one of deep concentration. “Dinner will be ready in five minutes,” announced the chef, taking another sip of wine. Camellia picked up her glass, then walked over to look at his collection of books. Like her, his taste in literature extended from hard-bound antiquarian works, to more contemporary paperbacks from around the turn of the century. They were an odd collection of somewhat eccentric books; by Pynchon, Burroughs and Gabriel Garcia


Marquez. There were titles by Dafoe, Miller, Durrell, Heller, Swift, Shelley, Orwell and of course Shakespeare, as well as a number of strange science fiction stories by an author named Kropton Ernst. Naturally, she preferred novels by feminine authors, but never-the-less was pleased to see they had something else in common; an interest in written word. Her own interest must have begun in childhood. The process of holding a book upon her lap, scanning sentences and imagining the story unfold, had been one of the few remaining memories that had been indelibly imprinted, and had withstood the processing and reprogramming that her mind had undergone ~ She could not remember her parents or any of her childhood friends, or even any of the places she must have played. All that data had been overwritten or erased. In the tower, of course, books had been a rarity, but she often read stories online. It wasn’t the same. Those stories had been carefully prepared and checked to ensure they did not contain anything offensive or subversive within the content. Most were quite moralistic; re-enforcing concepts such as working hard, accepting your status within the hierarchy, or sacrificing yourself for the greater good. The non-propaganda stories were mainly escapist light fantasy. It wasn’t long after she had moved into the residential zone that she happened across a poster pasted onto a concrete wall. What caught her attention was not so much the slogan; ‘Feed your pets and let your children starve’, but along the edge of the poster in tiny 6-point type were the words: ‘Devil’s Printer’s Press’. Out of curiosity one day, she set out to discover the printing company’s location, leaving her son in the trusted care of Wellgunde Betroffenheit; who lived in an apartment down the corridor. Camellia was pleased to discover that her investigative skills were still acute. After talking to people that she had been directed to, she was quickly able to discover its location. Since it was somewhat illegal, and somewhat subversive, the print shop was secretly hidden away. She found the unmarked metal door in a back alley, and pressed the buzzer beside the door. A little hatch slid open, and she was greeted by the stare of a set of old-eyes behind a pair of spectacles ~ She had been requested to quote a line of poetry before she could gain entrance. Stepping across the threshold of the doorway was like traveling back in time. The ancient machines of the hot-letter press in the type-foundry clattered and rumbled as blocks of text dropped into forms. Old-style printing presses were churning out pages, operated by men and women with long hair who were strangely-attired in ink-smeared aprons, and who she later discovered were part of the luddite revival. The proprietor of the shop was an older gentlemen with long grey hair named Edvard Varnoski ~ Camellia quickly discovered that he was the central source of energy around which the printer's tiny universe had formed. The printers were extremely resourceful, and self-sufficient in building and main‐ taining their machines. They even made their own high-quality paper from a variety of


natural organic hemp fibre; since paper had become a rare and valuable commodity. Many of the group considered themselves to be Ludds, and used the physical environment of the city to post their cryptic political messages which were primarily statements against corporations and technology. Camellia was not interested in debating their political views; they were entitled to their own personal beliefs. Instead, her eyes darted about the room with chameleon-like quickness; searching for the one thing she had expected to find. A smile crept across her face as she discovered the dusty collection of books that had been packed into boxes and stacked in the corner. Mr. Varnoski was excited by her enthusiasm for the archaic method of preserving and distributing information; a stage in the evolution of the coded symbolism of ideas. Both shared a sense of appreciation for the permanence and craftsmanship which were attributes of their physical nature. In addition to the possession of books, Camellia craved new ideas and concepts, and she had discovered an incredible find. There were books of poetry and propaganda, even illuminated manuscripts that were recovered from her archeo‐ logical forays through the warehouse stacks. After several visits, Camellia and Edvard had become friends, and whenever she returned she would browse through the repository of books printed by the shop over a great number of years, and bring a few home to add to her collection. “Our revels now are ended. Those our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air. Into thin air. And like the baseless fabric of this vision, the cloudcapp’d tow’rs, the glorious palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself, yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve. And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep. “That’s from ‘The Tempest’ by Shakespeare.” Camellia was surprised ~ She hadn’t realized she was reading aloud. “I don’t have many books, so I’ve just about memorized these ones. I’ve read each several times. Don't you agree authors wrote astonishing prose in those days?” “If you like,” Camellia replied, “I could lend you some of my books.” “Or you could read the story I just wrote,” Ariel interjected, looking up from the typewriter keys. Camellia and the writer laughed with joy. “That sounds like a wonderful idea...but if you’re not to too deeply immersed in your story, why don’t we all have something to eat.” When they had assembled at the table, the writer lit a large white candle and turned off the overhead light. Dinner was delicious. The mood and the romantic setting


combined with the wine made Camellia feel that she was dining in one of the finest restaurants of Europe. Roast duck, baked yams, and boiled spinach leaves served with genuine butter. It seemed amazing that he could cook such a wonderful meal using a primitive collection of battered pots and pans. When she complimented his meal, the writer raised his glass of wine and proposed a toast; “A special meal for a special occasion, in honor of my special guests.” They all clinked their glasses, including Ariel who had been given a very small quantity of wine; which could have accounted for the reason he became drowsy after the meal. Camellia assured the writer that it was his regular time for sleep. So the writer offered the use of his bed, and Camellia asked Ariel if he would like that, to which he sleepily agreed. She had come prepared, and had brought his night clothes along in her bag. The two went into the small bedroom, which contained a fairly large, old-fashioned spring bed, and a metal chest of drawers. The window was covered with light brown curtains with an abstract floral pattern imprinted upon them. Ariel put on his yellow pajamas and climbed on top of the bed. “Do you want me to tell you a story?” Camellia asked as she pulled a heavy blanket snugly around him to tuck him in. “Yes mommy, tell me about winkin’ and blinkin’ and nod.” She told him the story about three little fishermen who set sail across the sky inside a wooden shoe. He listened intently, as it was one of his all-time favorite stories. “Okay, now you cozy up, and if you don’t feel tired, you can count electric sheep until you drift off into dreamland.” She gave him a hug, and kissed his golden hair, and sat on the edge of the bed for a moment admiring her beautiful son. Ariel was able to read her thoughts. “He loves you mommy.” She smiled and stood up. “I’ll be in the next room if you want anything. Pleasant dreams!” “Goodnight.” She closed the door quietly behind her, and entered the main room. The writer was clearing away the last of the dishes which he had piled in the sink. She offered to help, but he politely declined, asking her if she would like another glass of wine. She nodded her head. They sat across from each other at the table once again. The candle light was soft and warm in the darkened room. She sipped her wine as they quietly talked. His gentle voice, and intellectual conversation contrasted his rugged, mascu‐ line features. His face was weathered and tanned from the sun, there were wrinkles


around his mouth and eyes. He had the eyes of someone who had seen a great many things; they were green and tranquil and calm. Occasionally during their conversation he would run his fingers through his coarse dark hair. It was cut short, and swept back, casually messy. He was wearing a light shirt which revealed his muscular arms and chest; and his attractive body that once again began to stir feelings of desire in her ~ She often recalled the sensation of making love with him, especially at night when the memories had left her tossing and turning in her bed. She would occasionally apply manual stimulation to relax her body in order to get to sleep. She could feel the passion, fueled by the wine beginning to generate a feeling of warmth which spread throughout her body. She could detect the bittersweet essence of his body. It was a subtle, pleasant smell, that reminded her of something, possible the aroma of eucalyptus. He looked so handsome. As he talked to her in a quiet voice, she watched his gestures; the way his fingers held the stem of the glass, the way his hand moved on the surface of the table. His hands were large and strong, marked by scars and cuts. Ridges of veins were visible like cables securing his muscles in place. Camellia brushed back a strand of her dark brown hair with slender fingers, tucking it behind her ear to gracefully sip from her cup. She glanced at him and captured his gaze. He suddenly seemed awkward, uncertain, as he raised his glass of wine to his lips. She smiled casually in return. She reached out and gently touched his hand resting on the table. Her fingertips moved slowly, softly across the roughness of his skin. He turned his hand over, and she placed her warm palm in his. His touch felt strong, secure, she could feel the beating of his pulse, the rhythm of their heartbeats seemed to merge. “You know, I have always loved you. I knew our lives were meant to cross when I first saw you many years ago.” The writer appeared puzzled ~ Suddenly, she realized what she had said. The wine had relaxed her, and she had spoken words aloud that she had just been thinking. Her heartbeat quickened. She withdrew her hand from his. She calmed herself as she evaluated the moment, and considered if she should tell him about her past. Now was not the time. It would bring up too many memories which both of them were trying to put behind them. She smiled. “Please forgive me, that was an odd thing to say. I am not used to drinking wine. I misspoke. What I meant to say, was that although we have just met, I have a feeling that I have known you for some time.” “You know, it’s odd, but I have a feeling that we have met before, but I can’t imagine where,” the writer replied.


He studies her more closely in the flickering candle light. Is it possible that he has sensed her presence before? She imagined that her image could disappear into the background wallpaper texture of the room, then reappear with every illuminating strobe of the candle. She tried to appear calm; it was a technique she learned was necessary for a chameleon to blend in with its surroundings; to become invisible. She moistened her fingertip by dipping it into her wine, then glided it smoothly around the rim of her cup. The pure tone emitted seemed to relieved the awkwardness of the moment. The writer arose from the table as though he had remembered something, then went to the fridge. Camellia quietly sighed; feeling quite badly that she had lied to him. She wished she could have brought up the past. Talking things over would have permitted her to tell him what she had actually wanted to say. It was so much easier with her female friends; women are bonded by giving support, and they seem to intuitively understand. Yet now, in this awkward moment, Camellia did not know whether she had the courage to reveal her secret to him for fear of pushing him away, and possibly losing the love she hoped they shared. He returned with a clay plate of pitted olives and placed it on the tablecloth. The oil on their hard, deep-green surface glistened in the candlelight. Camellia observed his features. He seemed pensive; as though he was waiting for her to tell him something of significance, and was allowing her time to compose her thoughts. His expression was tranquil and considerate; reflecting a wisdom she had not often seen in other men. How could she find the words to tell him? Maybe it had been fate that their paths would cross. She remembered watching him in this very room, when she had tracked Cordova Frost, and discovered his new identity. Even then it seemed that someday they would share a special bond; when she had regained her physical form. She could not have imagined that it would be because together they had created a child. Camellia looks out the window. Lights in the sky and on the ground indicate the passage of vehicles; life and activity that carry on in the world with or without her. What difference did it make? Her eyes were filling with tears. Now he reaches across the table to securely hold her hand. She dries a tear, then places his hand in both of hers, and looks directly into his eyes. She senses a look of understanding written there; that a doorway to another world is about to be opened. She carefully chooses her words; "You didn’t need to tell me about your past, but I should have told you about mine.” She pauses for several moments. “The past is behind us now, it is all but forgotten, and it is the future that lies ahead. I truly believe that we were meant to deeply experience each other, if only for a short time. You have given me something, and I truly feel blessed. For the first time I feel that I understand what is valuable in life. I hope somehow I will be able to express how much I appreci‐ ate this gift.”


Her heart is pounding loudly. She closes her eyes tightly to suppress the flow of tears. “I am going to bear a child which shares our genetic code.” She feels his hand tenderly squeeze her own. She looks at him with tears streaming down her cheek. “My friend who is a midwife tells me we are going to have a daughter.” The writer stands up, and while still holding her hand, moves around the table. He draws her toward him, and holds her in his powerful arms as she collapses from emotion. He runs his fingers through her hair while she is gently sobbing against his chest. Holding each other tight, he rests his head against hers, and inhales the fragrance of her hair. Her breathing grew calmer against his chest as he massaged her back and softly kissed her forehead. They remained in the pose: captured in a portrait. Time stood still. “It’s getting late, I should go. Thank you for the romantic dinner.” He nodded, smiled and released her. “I’ll carry Ariel home,” he said.

V.

She had spoken the words he had been expecting to hear. Shakti Nanapura is a noted specialist in the fields of artificial life and intelligent technology. Her research center is located in Bombay, India. During the first week of November, 2011, Cordova had consulted a number of noted scientists and specialists around the world who claimed there was no possibility of creating a successful digital entity of the type which Jurgen Ernst claimed to have designed. Ultimately, they had deferred final comment to Miss Nanapura, who was most knowledgeable in the matter. She was the last to respond to his notification of request for information. It had been difficult to track her down, but when she had found time in her busy schedule to reply, Miss Nanapura merely confirmed that in principal it was theoretically possible. Their technicians had been unable to achieve any quantifiable results in their research into neural net-consciousness using massively-parallel processing system architecture at the facilities of her corporate lab. Although, she warned, that if Jurgen had indeed been able to introduce living code, with its inherent ability to reproduce into systems which had no form of immunity to protect themselves, the potential risk of data destruc‐ tion would become extremely high. Cleverly-designed code could quickly creep through defenseless systems, devouring all available digital storage space as soon as it came online. The network would choke, and slowly grind to a halt.


At the insistence of the scientists he consulted, Cordova decided to conduct a reconnaissance mission inside Jurgen’s computer systems in Iceland. Flex Global technicians had sophisticated data probes which could quickly evaluate the content of code resident in a system and compare it against any known classes of code which already existed. The probe could detect and identify any potential sources of danger. If the probe discovered any irregularities, Cordova could use a variety of other software tools to exterminate a potential problem at its source, and kill it before it spreads ~ Technicians referred to the process of using virus demon hunters; who perform their voodoo by remote-control, as ‘sticking pins into a rag doll and drawing blood from the painted cloth’. Another weapon in the Flex Global arsenal was an intelligent virus which could seek out and destroy other forms of viruses; deflecting a virus from its intended target by luring it to a ‘decoy’. Cordova filed his initial request with Flex Global Headquarters around November 7th, and received required confirmation for the clearance necessary to conduct a scan without the target’s consent on November 10th... Things were moving slowly, as the case was ranked a low priority by the district controller who was keeping Cordova active with a flow of new duties that were considered more essential ~ Cordova was anxious to perform the scan of Jurgen’s computer as soon as possible. It was the final determining factor which would ease his conscience about whether a massive destructive virus was being prepared to emanate throughout the network... Then he could walk away and leave the team, and his life in the tower behind. During the past few weeks, other members of the special operations team had begun to notice a change in his attitude. They were not aware that he was mentally preparing to make the transition to the outside world, they could only sense that he seemed distracted, and more nervous and edgy than the rock-solid agent they were accustomed to working with. Cordova told Ravenna about the case one day, when she had snuggled up with him in his pod to find out what was troubling him. The sexual tension which existed between them was always caused by her flirtatious nature. They both had mates, but her body language and subtle innuendoes made it clear that she wished they could take action on their physical attraction. Some days it was hard to conceal the anatomical response which indicated that he also was quite interested. Romantic rendezvous of the nature they had considered, violated all the regulations and social conventions of life inside the tower ~ Perhaps since he was leaving anyway, now would be the time to submit to his desires. Why not? As he seriously considered the possibility of seduction, he was grateful that she returned to her station. Lately, nearly every aspect of his life had seemed to be coming apart. His relation‐ ship with his mate had deteriorated irrevocably. If he stayed any longer he would need to begin the arduous procedure of applying for new living quarters, or arranging for a new mate. That prospect alone filled him with dread, but was also compounded by many other factors. Everything about life in the tower had finally lost the last vestiges of pleasure or attraction; which had been tentative to begin with. His thought processes had deteriorated to a point that would make it impossible not to be sent in for recondi‐ tioning when the mandatory brain scan was completed as part of the new policy of the


upcoming four-year job performance evaluation. Now that the pressure was on, Cordova had begun to feel isolated and alone, and there was no-one he could really turn to as a friend. That was when tragedy struck ~ November 11th, 2011, around 1630 local time, Cordova had just reported for duty. He had worked all through the previous night, and was still tired after a period of sleep. He was summoned to the district controller’s office where he was informed that reports of unusual network activity had been arriving at Flex Global headquarters during the past hour. Some of the most-secure systems with the most-sensitive detection mechanisms were reporting that unknown code fragments had infiltrated their systems. The code fragments were very small and were constantly in motion, making it difficult for the sysops to isolate and examine them. When these strange particles were captured they seemed to mysteriously disappear. It reminded Cordova of Heisenburg’s uncertainty principle; that it was impossible to observe subatomic particles without influencing their behavior. The district controller asked him if it was possible these entities could be related to the case he was working on involving a hacker in Iceland. Cordova offered to deter‐ mine if Jurgen was the source, by immediately contacting him or attempting to infiltrate his system. Approval was granted. As he made his way down the spiral metal staircase, Cordova understood that Jurgen had been much closer to carrying out his plan than he had initially realized. There was a deep sense of anxiety that he should have responded to the situation more quickly when he had the chance. He sat in his pod and waited as the console displays flickered to life. HAL presented information on his screens which quickly confirmed that the worst-case scenario had occurred. Network records indicated a ‘supernova’ of heavy data traffic had emanated from Jurgen’s site just before noon, Icelandic local time, yet now the site was no longer operating; it was completely offline. Perhaps the conversation with the agent had spooked him, and he had discon‐ nected once the virus had been released. Cordova’s first reaction was that it was a hitand-run; small digital outposts on the fringes of the network that set up just long enough to launch an attack, then disappear without a trace. This situation was different. Jurgen had established a permanent and reliable connection with the outside world for almost two years, and relied heavily on air freight to supply his remote physical location. His only way out was to charter a plane, so Cordova got online with airlines based in Reykjavik. He quickly discovered that none of the companies had been contracted by Jurgen to airlift him or any of the large quantity of equipment he had accumulated. Cordova assumed that he must still be there. He informed his superior commander, who quickly approved placing a highpriority status on mobilizing a team to go in, apprehend the suspect and conduct an investigation. Unknown to Cordova, a Flex Global agent stationed in Denmark was sent in as part of the three member investigation team. Notably, a short time after that raid, she would


be transformed through a series of experimental operations, into the prototype for a new class of agent called ‘chameleons’ ~ Cordova would never discover the findings of the team who reached the remote location in Iceland. At the moment, everything seemed to be on fire. His life no longer had meaning, there was only the desire to escape. He stumbled through the wreckage, scanning his surroundings; there was nothing he wanted to salvage. The material possessions located in his living quarters were useless to him, or represented memories he wanted to leave behind. The clothes on his back, and his identity card would get him out of the tower, from there he was on his own. It was bitterly cold. Cordova had put on extra clothing over his uniform; the tech coveralls he wore on the job. The material was thin and not intended to be worn outside. Simply walking out of the service bays of the towers; since there were no security systems to prevent tower residents from leaving, he moved through the grid of abandoned buildings and piles of rubble which made up the ‘streets’ of the core, the reality was much harsher than he had expected. Life in the tower had gradually dulled the instincts he needed to survive. For a few moments he had felt a sense of panic, and immediately had wanted to return. He looked up, directly above him the tower that had been his home stretched up toward the stars. He would be safe up there above this cold and bitter earth, he thought, but the realization that he was finally free energized him, and he continued on. In this environment he felt a sense of disassociation. For the first time in his life he had no home, identity, purpose or direction; it was a pleasant sensation at first. But as he continued moving through the region, heading towards its perimeter, he began to notice shapes occasionally hidden in the darkness, watching him, tracking him, and he began to feel fear. He was alone and unprotected in a strange land. He began to run. He had kept fit in the tower, working out at the gym. His body felt comfortable and strong as he tested his legs on the open terrain. The rhythm of the motion and the sound of his breathing helped to relax him, and burn off the anxiety that was pumping chemicals into his brain. He ran steadily and with purpose, keeping an eye on his surroundings. He was a veteran that at one time had been trained to deal with fear and uncertainty. Those instincts were beginning to return. He moved with fluidity, hurdling over scraps of metal, and scrambling over the broken concrete which littered the way. In the distance was the wall; the barrier separating the residential areas from the core ~ He suddenly felt sharp claws ripping through the cloth on the back of his coveralls, and the pain as talons caught flesh. Tumbling to the ground, his hand scraped the pavement, he rolled, coming to rest on his side. He glanced over his shoulder to see what had hit him. A thin creature, with a bare leathery chest, and thick hairy legs squatted nearby, ready to pounce. His face was human, except that his jaw extended into a short snout, with a bearded chin and sharp teeth. Now it came leaping at him again from a short distance away. Cordova closed his hand on a small chunk of concrete, and swung his arm with all his might, catching the creature square in the


face as it moved toward him suspended in the air. The creature landed on top of him, momentarily stunned, a splatter of clear fluid drained from its mouth onto Cordova’s uniform. Grabbing the creature by its thin muscular neck, Cordova pushed it off, and wriggled free from underneath. Kneeling beside the creature, which was now laying face down on the pavement, Cordova raised a larger concrete block into the air with both hands, then slammed it down onto the creature’s head. He could hear the sound of cracking bone, and felt the warm spray of blood against the skin on his own face and hands. He quickly rose to his feet, then stared at the creature in disbelief. He trembled with shock and horror as he considered what he had done. He glanced at his uniform, the front was splattered with dark stains. A pool of blood was forming on the pavement, oozing from the creature’s damaged skull. The sense of panic was overwhelming. He quickly scanned his surroundings; he could make out the shapes of several silhouettes in the openings of windows of tenements beyond the wall, and also nearby, peering over the top of nearby mounds of debris. The only sounds were silence and the wind, as he stood momentarily still. Then, as the shapes started moving, slowly approaching, Cordova’s immediate reaction was to flee. Once again running, faster now, the sound of his footsteps pounded the ground. He glanced over his shoulder to see if they were following, but was surprised that they had gathered around the body that was lying in the street, crouching closely, surround‐ ing it. He kept up the pace until he had nearly approached the wall. Hiding behind the remnants of a stripped vehicle, he surveyed the scene. All along the wall were watchtowers. One observation post was nearby, he noticed a camera gun with a telescopic lens mounted on its turret. A pair of mastiffs were laying on the ground at the base of a metal rung ladder which went up along the wall of the guardhouse. Inside he could see the silhouette of the guard. He wanted out. Now that he had stopped running he noticed that he was trembling with fear. For a moment he considered approaching the guardhouse, showing his identity card, and explaining what had happened. They could return him to the tower, and maybe he could put this situation behind him. Reaching into his trousers pocket, he realized that his identity card was gone ~ It must have fallen out during the attack. He checked his other pockets, they were empty as well. It didn’t matter, the moment had passed, there was no turning back. He had gotten this far and he was determined to continue on. Moving parallel to the wall he kept to the shadows, until he was midway between two of the observation posts. The wall was maybe five meters tall, solid, smooth cement, capped with jagged metal shards, and coils of razor wire running along the top. He noticed there was a slight gap where metal posts had been inserted into the concrete, and connected the ends of two spans of barbed-wire. He searched the ground and discovered a segment of pipe about the right length. It was necessary to remove several heavy blocks of concrete to free it from the mound it was protruding from ~ Small rats scampered for new shelter.


The pipe was fairly heavy, but he could move it by partially dragging it. He paused for a moment to catch his breath, and ready himself, then he moved toward the wall. As soon as he entered the clearing immediately before the wall, some type of sensor triggered an alarm; emitting a high-pitched repeating frequency, loudly from a nearby undetermined source. Moving quickly he planted one end of the pipe into the soft ground, the momentum slung the other end up against the wall with a thunk. He could hear the dogs barking, then a few moments later the searchlights lit up on either side of him. He had already shinnied almost to the top of the pipe, adrenaline pumping hard, as the searchlight beams erratically moved toward him. The dogs were rapidly approaching as well. Searchlight beams were traveling along the wall toward him as he grasped the base of the posts that held the razor-wire taught. He pulled himself up, while pushing off from the top of the pipe with his foot. The pipe fell away, nearly hitting the dogs who were directly beneath him, and trying to run up the wall. Now he stood at the top, trying to squeeze through the narrow gap. He looked up to see the residential zone was right across the street, just as the intense white light, like a noonday sun, captured him in its glare. He pushed through, but got tripped up, and fell tumbling off the wall into the darkness below. The fall was brief. He landed on his chest in moist, soft, compacted clay. The impact knocked the breath out of him. He pulled himself to his feet, and staggering at first, finally gathered enough momentum to once again be able to run. As he crossed the deserted paved street, he saw a tiny red dot moving erratically on the ground before him; the targeting laser of the sentryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s gun was seeking him out. He almost expected to feel the weaponâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s impact. He wondered if he would even be aware of the shot; but he did not feel anything. He dodged through a narrow space between two old brick buildings, emerged and kept running for more several blocks. The sound of the alarm and the barking dogs faded into the distance. He couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t go on. Collapsing onto the ground in a narrow alley, he rested while he captured his breath. He looked at the mud on his ripped clothing, he stared at the blood on his hands. The evidence was clear, but it was impossible for him to believe it. He had just killed someone.

VI.

Frozen fish sparkle in the sunshine, laying on a bed of crushed ice in the market window. Snow drifts on the sidewalk. The air is cold and clear. Every day the writer walks past this scene at his regular time, and every day it would all seem the same.


Behind the smoky glass of the Eagle Grill, the regulars, sit on stools along the counter to stare into the glow of their display screens or into the black hole of their bottomless coffee cups. It didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t matter. Their eyes are cold and vacant. He knew what they were thinking. From the doorway, the warm, acidic aroma of bitter coffee drifted into the street like an invisible cloud. It was one of those rare days in which the ocean lies calm, large and unmoving, as flat and reflective as glass; a perfect mirror of the vacant sky. And somewhere between these two infinite planes, the city floated, suspended in the stillness of the air. The vapor of his breath emerged like smoke from between his lips. The ice on the sidewalk crunched under his heavy boots as he made his way through the narrow street where the evidence of centuries of human toil, layer upon layer, were recorded in the towering walls which surrounded him. Everything had been conceived by human minds, shaped for human utility, gradually, completely replacing the natural environment which had existed without intervention for billions of years. It was as if the city itself was a consensual hallucination perceived as reality. The writer had done his part. How many loads of cement had he hauled over the years? The information was logged in the computer database. It contained a complete record of every metric ton that had been poured, molded and shaped for a specific purpose; to create a permanent concrete expression of ephemeral human thoughts. Hand-crafted construction of the past had been replaced by machine-fabricated components that were assembled by robotic workers specifically designed to carry out their tasks. He knew what they were thinking. The digital denizens behind the smoky glass of the Eagle Grill were becoming increasingly alienated from a reality in which they had not been active participants in either its construction or design. The new world shut them out with impenetrable concrete walls and sealed glass panels, as the towering structures continued to rise like a forest of new growth out of the decaying remnants of the past. Citizens felt powerless to stem the erosion as their neighbourhoods colâ&#x20AC;? lapsed into ruin. The best they could do was hack together makeshift repairs from whatever material could be found, and cover the walls with paint. For some, like himself, it had been a matter of making a choice between having an existence with a measure of personal freedom or obtaining a place in the sun. Many did not have the currency to make that exchange; they did not possess the skills or knowledge which would be valuable to the corporations, nor were they able to create a self-sufficient existence for themselves. To them life in the towers was a glorious fantasy, while their freedom was really just an illusion. Those who had access, immersed themselves in the colourful virtual worlds presented on their television screens or computer displays, seeking an environment they were able to participate in creating, or as an escape from their dismal existence. Others attempted to use their personal technology to bring about the new worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s destruction, but that was the dream of fools. Even if they had been able to destroy the world, many had no concept of what would replace it.


Whatever, their rage or frustration, or just the daunting challenge presented by security systems, provided the initiative to get them inside. The writer was aware of what the crackers were up against, the defenses were much more sophisticated than when he had been an agent of Flex Global. As difficult as it was, the innovative strategies used by the ro@ches had apparently met with success. Reports of the group’s recent attacks on specifically targeted corporations had made its way into newspapers during the past few days. The writer picked up a copy of the daily edition from the rusted metal stand. The old man made of wax had disappeared around the time of the epidemic, so the writer slid his credit card through the scanner slot, and continued on his way. The writer did not immediately return home, as was his usual daily routine. He kept walking, following the direction that his footsteps were taking. As he walked, he glanced at the front page; the banner displayed a single word; “BLACKOUT”, in large capitalized text across the top of the page. It was exactly the same headline as had appeared several days before. He read the first few paragraphs of the article, then folded the newspaper and placed it inside his empty metal lunch box. During the night, NanoTech International was targeted in a similar manner to the way Pisces had been earlier in the week. The power outage had shut down Pisces Corporation for nearly 40 hours. The writer knew how vital energy was to life inside the tower; every support system depended on it. He wondered how extensive the damage had been, or if there had been any loss of life ~ He would never find out. The actual internal status of the tower continued to remain a highly-confidential situation. Official media statements following the Pisces outage, had blamed the blackout on a power surge which severely damaged sensitive equipment. An intense magnetic field moving past the wiring in the solar collectors, it was claimed by the corporation’s television spokeswoman, had induced an electric current which had spiked their system. She went on to explain that the atmospheric magnetic activity had been generated by extremely intense cosmic rays associated with increased solar flare activity. It seemed plausible, as recent displays of aurora borealis had been illuminating the night skies with spectacular blue, green and violet undulating curtains of light, which hung suspended in the upper atmosphere and appeared to sweep down to nearly touch the ground. In a related story, carried during the same broadcast, SatLink Corporation reported that two of its satellites had tumbled out of low earth orbit, 140 kilometers above the planet’s surface, after experiencing unexpected drag due to atmospheric expansion during recent solar activity. Perhaps it was possible the comet had also been an influence? The writer did not own a television, receiving the entirety of his news information, such as it was, from the meagre daily paper. Authorities dismissed articles printed in the paper as being highly-speculative, stating they contained questionable ‘facts’ obtained from unreliable sources, even though they permitted it to continue being published. Both the writer and Camellia, who also received TV broadcasts on her computer, were in agreement that the newspaper’s articles were ultimately vindicated when the truth was subsequently revealed. By then the citizens had shifted their focus


to the next story traveling down the digital pipeline, and shrouding themselves in the cloud of mystery which engulfed the latest chunk of information, which flickered with immediacy on their display screens, then quickly vanished. It had been a warning. The newspaper reported that: ‘... a group of terrorists calling themselves the ro@ches, had claimed responsibility for the hostile action which had temporarily disabled the power systems of both corporations’. The group claimed that: ‘... their reprisal had been intended to send a message to corporate empires, and in particular to the two who had been responsible for generating the plague epidemic which had caused widespread loss of life throughout the local urban region’ ... “We know who you are, and we know where you live”. The ro@ches released a barrage of media fragments which they directly injected into public broadcasts by infiltrating digital pipelines. The clips were accompanied by voice excerpts that the group claimed were obtained from files originally recorded in NanoTech International’s executive offices immediately following the release of the virus. Clips featured sound bites by Pisces CEO, Sam Harriton saying: “I took you at your word gentlemen, that this would be clean, quick, and effective. Instead, what we have beneath our feet is an awful mess.” Or: “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 deep baritone voice of General Khaos, the military commander, was recognizable, “The zombie units were ordered to terminate them as a gesture of mercy.” “Act of love,” mused Rosetta Stone, the news media producer. “The horror,” whispered Avihs Krowten, the executive vice president of NanoTech International. Finally, a sigh from the young girl’s voice. Each of the pirate clips were compact, and well-produced; designed to simulate a television commercial. The voices played back in repetitive cycles over somber symphonic scores, layered digital images and motion footage displaying scenes of military patrols stationed along the wall, body bags being carried from tenement buildings, or shots of black smoke pouring from the incinerator’s stack. “The horror.” This revelation of truth had not sparked the outrage and indignation the ro@ches had anticipated. Citizens, many of whom had lost loved-ones during the recent epidemic, seemed complacent. Perhaps they recognized they were powerless to reverse time and undo the fatal error, or possibly they had become so shell-shocked by the constant daily media barrage they could not, or did not want to, believe the message. ‘The corporation’s are wise, they would only have made the decision if it was in the best interest of the citizens’, was how the conversation flowed among younger drivers waiting for their shift at the cement plant. The writer kept walking. He could sense a different atmosphere as he made his way through narrow streets. Perhaps it was a shift in his own internal perception, or maybe it was because the break in his routine had lead him to travel in a new direction, through streets he had never seen before. The texture and detail of the unfamiliar territory allowed him to evaluate his surroundings from a fresh perspective, giving him the impression that he


was visiting a foreign city for the first time. He reached into his pocket. He could feel the edges of the thin card. There was no need to look at it, he could remember the address from the first time he had glanced at it on the bridge. The scream. An emergency patrol vehicle, lights flashing, rapidly approaches. Its siren shatters the morning activity of pedestrians on the sidewalk. They instinctively move into the shadows, eyes blinking behind the dusty glass of shop windows as the sound rises to a deafening wail, then echoes, reflecting down the narrow corridor of the street as it recedes into the distance. There was tension in the air. The citizens seemed more uneasy and nervous than usual. On these sidewalks, and in the markets, were the survivors of the recent epidemic of plague, and now, during these moments of calm, they awaited the next catastrophic storm; the impending approach of the comet which was hurtling towards Earth from deep space. News of the blackout had added to their fear. It threatened the corporate structure which provided them with their only source of guidance and leadership during these times of uncertainty. They needed faith in the power of the authorities to transcend disaster, and deliver them from harm. The writer stood on the corner, and looked up at the street sign to get his bearings. He was almost there. He set his lunch box down on the frozen sidewalk, and removed his driver’s cap to brush off the snow. The flurry had begun quite quickly, as a thick mass of dark grey clouds had rolled in from over the sea. While the average citizen may be preoccupied with their daily concerns, or ab‐ sorbed in contemplating the impending destruction of the world, the writer was aware that activity within the computer underground would likely continue to escalate, based on its own agenda, and exist in a parallel reality to the physical world. Jacked into the pipeline, twelve or fourteen hours could pass like moments when the hackers were dialed in. Negotiating the intricacies of the virtual world, focused with intense concen‐ tration, it was all that mattered. It was their reality, their religion, their drug. He knew what they were thinking. The writer kept walking. As the snowfall gathered momentum, and threatened to become a blizzard, he was reminded of how quickly situations can escalate. It was possible that the ro@ches isolated local activity could precipitate a cascade of larger global events. An all-out state of war was not the desired effect the ro@ches intended to achieve. Nevertheless, it was a possible consequence of their action, which, the writer believed, was carried out as a reprisal against authorities who had abused the power entrusted to them, and as a means of attempting to generate popular support among the citizens for their role as a guardian of their interests. There were many other hackers waiting in the wings for the opportunity to begin attacks of their own. The threat to the system would not come from code-warriors of the underground fringe who surfed the pipeline spreading memes and mayhem as a recreational pastime. Warfare was waged by criminal cartels, terrorist extremists, and hostile corporations attempting to gain an edge by disrupting or destroying their competitor’s infrastructure.


The network was well-constructed and heavily-fortified, yet because of its complexi‐ ty there were many gaps in its armor that operators with knowledge and skill could fully exploit. Anything computerized can be compromised. Back doors into the original architecture, which only the system designer or manufacturer should be aware of, often surfaced in public domain. The hierarchical, invisible structure of control and relay nodes, which enabled the network to function effectively, were also susceptible to attack. By eating away at its roots, the system could be weakened, and the typically impenetrable security defense systems would become increasingly-vulnerable to a swarm of parasites invading the host. Attacks on the computer’s core, and supporting power production and distribution mechanisms would not result in direct injury to humans, yet as the ro@ches had demonstrated, it would incite deep fear. Since massive infiltration of the computer network is a human activity, its outcome is unpredictably random. Considering that even the localized collapse of communication links and power grids, or the temporary disruption of international financial transac‐ tions was enough to generate chaos, the effect of widespread destruction would be devastating, ultimately permeating all levels of civilization. But these thoughts were unthinkable. The system was infallible, that is what the citizen’s needed to believe. They had faith in the system to maintain the integrity of the data which patterned their lives. At some level there was the realization that everything with structure can be encoded: the organization of society, humans genetics, machine instructions, every‐ thing from the orbits of planets in the solar system, down to the composition and behavior of molecules. Data management in the control of specialists and administra‐ tors kept order from tumbling into chaos, a condition in which the existence of the average citizen would become unfathomable and meaningless. Especially now, in the aftermath of the epidemic, and while the apparition loomed in the sky, the citizens were suspended in an interval of time in which they were more susceptible to all the creatures living in the fertile swamp of their subconscious; their nightmares, their neuroses and their fears. From somewhere up above, through an open window, came the strains of a Wagnerian opera. The writer had been trudging through grey streets in the falling snow for some time, staring at the sidewalk lost in deep thought. Suddenly he stopped, and looked up to discover that his footsteps had lead him to The Church of Everlasting Light. The cathedral was located on Saint Petros Street; a side-street that had become discon‐ nected from the traffic network of the city at some point during its continual reconstruc‐ tion. A concrete barrier separated the short section of road from the main artery, allowing local citizens to merge the strip of pavement with the small park across the street. An odd assortment of abandoned tables and chairs that were covered with snow, and a number of small trees and bushes grew where once there had been traffic flow. Situated at the end of a row of tenements, it appeared to have originally been an Orthodox church, but now the dome and exterior of the building had been stripped of its ornamentation and covered with a coat of white paint. The empty street was quiet, except for the sound of traffic roaring overhead on the elevated freeway spanning the far end of the block. He could detect no activity in the


windows of the ancient tenements along the street. He laid down the only set of footprints in the newly-fallen snow. He carefully made his way up the icy steps of the building, and approached the wooden doors. Sections of the door which had once contained glass, were boarded-over and painted white. He stood for a moment before trying the door, when the subtle motion of a security camera caught his eye. The small camera was above to his right, just under the small roof that sheltered the entranceway. It panned over to center-in on him. In a few moments the door opened, and Rujjie, blinking at the daylight with tired eyes, invited him inside. “Greetings my friend, I’m glad you finally arrived.” It seemed that he had just awoken; his long black hair was tangled and matted, and his feet were bare. He was dressed in black jeans and wore a crumpled white t-shirt which had the small crest of the church imprinted on his chest. It took a moment for the writer’s eyes to become accustomed to the darkness once the door to outside had shut tight. A single light shining down from the ceiling was the only illumination within the small vestibule. The writer brushed snow off his jacket and cap and looked around the tiny room. It was nearly empty except for a number of ornate porcelain urns, like those used for cinerary purposes, placed in niches along the wall. Before him, wooden steps lead up to the main room, and on either side, were passages leading downstairs. Rujjie directed the writer to follow him to the stairwell leading down to the left. The worn wooden steps creaked as they made their way into the gloom. At the bottom, as they moved through rounded arched passageways, it was like wandering through a maze of tombs. The walls were coated with cracked layers of plaster that displayed faded images of various saints. Lights recessed into the ceiling cast pools of light at intervals along the way. Along both sides of the passageway were a number of small rooms. Those doors that were open revealed they contained small living quarters, or were entirely filled with active computer components glowing with tiny lights and rumbling fans. Without exchanging words the two made their way to a small chamber midway down one of the corridors. It resembled an office; the old wooden desk contained two viewscreens, with the CPU housed in a large chassis nearby on the floor. Several metal kitchen chairs were arranged around the desk, with upholstery stuffing spilling out where the plastic coverings had ripped away. There were no windows, and the wall contained only a single portrait in a metal frame. Rujjie gestured to a chair, then seated himself behind the desk where he glanced at the display screen before punching some of the keys on the old-fashioned board. The writer set his lunch box on the floor. It had been a long walk, and it felt good to sit and rest. He noticed a small statuette among the clutter of hardware components on the desk in front of him. At first he had assumed it was some kind of trophy or award; the small, highly-polished golden statue was mounted on a metal base which contained input/output jacks. He picked it up and noticed it had considerable weight. Upon closer inspection it seemed


to resemble a hybrid between the robot C3P0 from ‘Star Wars’, and Shiva, the multiarmed god of Hindu religious paintings in the guise of a mechanic. Attached to the many arms which fanned out around it, the mechanic held various tools and wrenches in its hands. Rujjie, who had been immersed in the process of rapidly entering data into the computer; all of his fingers furiously clacking over the keys, now waited... Then, the slightest movement of his lips indicated that he was reading a message from the screen. Without looking up, he replied to the writer’s unspoken question, “We call them ‘tin gods’,” he said. He went on to casually explain that the positioning of the arms were designed to indicate motion, or change, as the deity balanced the fluxual forces of creation, preservation, and destruction. Every hand contained a tool which could be used to solve a facet of the problems of the human condition. When questioned about the connector jacks, Ruj cryptically revealed that it was ‘an all-knowing god’; contain‐ ing the circuitry and software of an artificial-intelligence expert system. Ruj now turned his full attention to the writer; scanning him briefly with dark hollow eyes. His expression was serious as he stated in a calm, quiet voice, “I just got an update on the situation I have been monitoring.” He paused for a moment, “During the night security forces conducted a co-ordinated raid on all known locations of the ro@ches and their supporters. Many have disappeared... I suppose they imagined they were invincible, but I knew their days would be numbered once they sabotaged the tower’s systems. They should have known that when they hit the authorities, they would strike back even harder. It’s a basic principle of human nature. Digital media channels are heavily-monitored, and tracking intruders is just a matter of assigning resources to the situation.” The writer nodded, “Security forces have known about their activities for a consider‐ able time. It’s a question of evaluating the seriousness of an offense, and ensuring that a net is cast sufficiently large to capture as many as possible, which will diffuse the potential of any further attacks.” “From reports I have been receiving, Authorities have rounded up most of the central core. My close friend Katerina, who you might know as ‘Bug Head’, was arrested on a charge of cyber-crime; accused of sabotaging and infiltrating network systems. It will be interesting to see what becomes her fate, since she possesses talents which are too valuable to waste. As for the others...” Rujjie’s voice trails off into a sigh. “I am not familiar with that name, she may have developed since my time,” the writer replies. “The Church escaped the raid, as we have always distanced ourselves from the ro@ches activity. Yet, the heavy boot may come down soon. Many members also hack the underground, and it may be all the incentive that Authorities need.”


The writer shook his head, “With the core group of ro@ches exterminated, the others will likely disperse. It would not be productive for security forces to continue the mission now their message has been sent.” “I hope you’re right. It would be a tragedy to have to suspend our operation, now that several of the devoted ones have finally begun to make contact.” ‘Make contact’? ~ The writer raised an eyebrow. Rujjie leaned across the desk, “This is the reason I have invited you here. You are one of the few who spoke to Jurgen Ernst while he was living, and we are hoping you will also be able to provide confirmation.” The writer suppressed the urge to laugh, the request had initially seemed ludicrous. Yet, the intense expression on Rujjie’s face, and the sincerity in his eyes, had de‐ manded that he retain his composure and consider the request, although he was uncertain how to respond. While it was true that he had thoroughly studied the case file of Jurgen Ernst and had tracked his activity for a considerable period of time, he had only once spoken to him in person, briefly on the TVi, and that was nearly ten years ago. He had to admit, that during that period of time he often wondered whether Jurgen’s experiment had been a success. Yet, if it had, as Ruj believed, how was it possible for ‘contact’ to be established? Ruj seemed to read his thoughts, “I can understand you are skeptical, still, there must be some reason why you are here. Would you permit me to show you our facilities while you make a decision? Besides, your timing is excellent, the morning session is about to begin. It commences precisely at 11:11.” The words caused the writer to feel a sudden chill, as if snow on the collar of his heavy jacket had melted and trickled down his back. He occasionally heard stories that the Church of the New Machine had a cult-like reverence for Jurgen; the martyr upon which it had been founded, and that ultimately the devout intended to emulate his ‘transformation’ ~ Yet, during the next few hours the writer would experience a phenomena that was much more complex than he had expected, and much more difficult to comprehend. Upon returning home late in the afternoon, he would spend many hours recording his observations, filling one dozen sheets of paper with typewritten text, leaving off only when it was time to go to work... They ascended the staircase to the vestibule, which now held a number of people waiting for the service to begin. There were people of all ages whose ancestry was based in many ethnic origins, although the majority were young men and women, perhaps in their early twenty’s, who had shaved their heads, and looked somewhat drawn and thin. Yet there was a vitality about them, and a sense of tranquillity, which was unusual for residents of the city. Each of them wore a simple, loose-fitting robe distinguished by colour. They talked quietly amongst themselves, and did not seem to notice the writer’s presence.


“These are the interns who reside at the church for a period of study. We will soon be joined by other members who come from all facets of society. Let me get your cloak.” Ruj took the writer’s jacket and cap to hang them in a cabinet in the foyer, then placed his metal lunch box inside. He withdrew a white robe for the writer to wear; the cloak of an initiate. Ruj explained that the colour of the robes signify the four stages of life: white = birth, red = youth, black = maturity, and pale grey = death. “They are the colours of the four horses of the Apocalypse, or in eastern philosophy, the four yugas, or ages of the world, who each, for a span of time, become the rulers of creation.” The writer slipped the robe over his head, adjusting it to drape across his regular clothes which he wore beneath it. He looked around; Ruj had disappeared. While he waited he examined the five urns situated in niches of the vestibule. The tarnished silver urns were unadorned except that each had an engraved barcode marking... Ruj had then returned. The writer noted he was wearing a black robe. “The cathedral is dedicated to the processor, and this is our way of paying homage to the creators. Each vessel contains the ashes of an early saint (the pioneers of computing technology).” At that moment, the doors to the chapel swung open by some unseen mechanism, revealing a large, ornate, pure-white room with no-one visible inside. The room was much larger than it had appeared from the street. Perhaps because the room was empty of furnishings the writer found it difficult to gauge perspective. A firm black rubber mat covered the entire floor. At the far end of the room, a large pulpit was mounted on a platform ~ The writer would later discover it could be lowered or raised pneumatically on its stainless-steel supports. The circular pulpit contained an array of instrument consoles and display panels. Suspended slightly above it was a harness made of heavy black metal, which had unplugged cables and hoses dangling down like tentacles from its frame. The pulpit is framed by tall columns supporting vaulted archways. Far above is the smooth inner-surface of the dome. As with the outside of the building, the entire interior is painted white. The wall’s surfaces, and the column’s shafts, are decorated with elaborate plaster vines and flowers; amongst the foliage are observed the forms of birds, squirrels, snakes, monkeys, lizards, butterflies, spiders and representations of many other types of wildlife, camouflaged by their whiteness, and detectable only by the shadows cast from their relief. There are enormous white stained-glass windows along both sides of the room, the leading between the glass panels has been shaped to represent the industrial forms of machine components. The almost-opaque white glass permits the only illumination into a room which seems as sterile and pure as a clean-room. The assembly quietly filed in, and each selected a place on the floor, then sat in a casual position which suited them; at a respectful distance from their neighbours. The writer joined them, accompanied by Ruj; who stayed nearby during most of the afternoon, and occasionally whispered a few words of explanation during the proceed‐


ings. They made their way to the front to sit near the pulpit. The black rubber was softer than it had appeared, and comfortably conformed to the contours of his body in contact with it. They sat silently for some time. The writer could hear murmurs and footsteps of others as they made their way into the room. He glanced over his shoulder to note that in a short time the congregation had swelled to maybe fifty people; each wearing a coloured robe. Soon the doors at the back of the room closed automatically. The pulpit slowly lowered to the floor with a hum and a gentle rush of air. As it descended, arms unfolded from the pulpit, like double-hinged mechanical ap‐ pendages in black metal reminiscent of a preying mantis. After a few moments a small door directly behind the pulpit opened, from which a dark figure emerged and took his place in the harness. The assembly arose to their feet. “It’s the Divine Engineer,” Rujjie whispered. An intense blue light beamed down on the leader of the assembly, from directly above him, while the black pulpit arose once again on its shiny stainless-steel legs. The man in the harness was young and pale, with a genial smile. It seemed he possessed a nobility of bearing in his substantial physique. What had captured the writer’s attention most was his unusually brilliant red hair. Long and matted, the ends hung down like inverted flames over the chasuble covering his pale grey cloak. The outer vestment was decorated with a pattern of silver gryphons; the legendary creature with the head and wings of an eagle, the body of a lion and the tail of a scorpion. The symbol for infinity, as well as a number of familiar symbols from programming code were also embroidered onto the garment he wore like a priest at mass. As the pulpit moved upward, the divine engineer fiddled with controls on the panels which sur‐ rounded him, then placed a helmet-like device on his head. The reflective silver headpiece somewhat resembled a crown in the ornamentation around the circumfer‐ ence of its rim. It had two slender telescoping antennas mounted on the front. Those in attendance now resumed their casual postures on the floor. The Divine Engineer adjusted the positioning of a thin microphone which extended from his helmet. The writer could see his thick red lips moving; framed by the light beard and mustache visible on his pasty face ~ Yet, he could hear no sound. The Divine Engi‐ neer twiddled some more controls and the hidden speakers crackled to life. “Okay... can you hear me now?” came the omnipresent voice which permeated the air. The way the speakers had been positioned, or perhaps because of the acoustics of the room, the voice seemed to be resident inside the writer’s head. The voice cleared its throat. The writer later learned, when he met Rujjie Blades in his small chamber before leaving the temple, that their charismatic leader, Billy Gateham, the founder of the church, had not only coded the software, but had skillfully crafted all of the equipment used in the session. Yet, perhaps what was even more remarkable, was that the priest was totally blind ~ Ruj was among the clergy of computer programmers which made


up the inner circle. The Divine Engineer took up a short metal staff ornamented with the symbol for infinity; a looping figure-eight, mounted on the top. Along its shaft are a number of buttons which he will use frequently during his sermon to trigger various events. Now he begins: “I believe in the everlasting spirit.” The assembly responds with indistinct murmurs; as they will often do following certain key phrases. The writer remains silent, and listens. “I welcome you all, both new friends and old, to our house of faith, worship, and sanctuary. We are all pilgrims in spiritual paradise. This cathedral is our forest. It is our home.” “(murmurs of approval)” “We have gathered today to unite ourselves with the Assembler; to integrate our human consciousness with the machine. We believe in the presence of the spirit, which is the creator of pure, most-perfect code, conceived without sin. Through this we may all participate in the perfection of the design, and accompany the spirit on a journey which began long before his birth. You are the mechanics of this vision. Look, listen, kneel, pray. It’s all right there. It’s all right there. Read the technical manual.” Ruj quietly informed the writer that the manual was a computer file which the adepts referenced in preparation for using their interface. The Divine Engineer was a passionate speaker, who modulated his voice; alternat‐ ing between patient explanation, and furious proclamation. “Knowledge” he shouted, before continuing in a quieter voice, “Knowledge shines its light into darkness to erase ignorance and fear. Knowledge is the blessing of the Infinite Digital Spirit to all who participate in the Modern Industrial Assembly, through which, enables those who remain rooted in the Spirit to experience the Transformation. Just as software is a sequence of instructions, we too are able to follow the steps by which we will approach this truth that will light our way, and experience the wonder of a tremendous power that is far greater than the ability of human consciousness to comprehend.” The Divine Engineer appeared to look directly toward the writer in addressing his next remarks, through unseeing eyes; “Everyday, as citizens, we are willing to follow ideals, but only if we have faith in the humanity behind it. Humanity is the soul of the Infinite Digital Spirit which streams out through its network of veins to encompass the world.” The Divine Engineer then shifted his gaze to others, seemingly searching from face to face, as he continued to speak. “In the beginning there was only darkness.” He paused for several moments, as though allowing the concept to linger in the minds of


the assembly. “The Upanishads speak of the realization of self, which came into being to illuminate the darkness... reflected in a human form. It searched the void and discovered nothing but itself in existence. Its first words were: ‘This am I’. Its manifest energy gradually expanded to bring into being a universe of forms in order to sustain its presence, and through which, it is able to share its enlightenment with all of the creations whose awareness has emerged.” “Each of us gathered here has the capacity for self-realization. Often we need the illumination of other forms already burning in the darkness to provide the guidance to light our way. We are fortunate to participate in experiencing this realization, to establish a connecting link with the perpetual essence shining forth, reflected in the human form of its creator within the void of the virtual world.” “Our creator has made the supreme sacrifice. Exchanging his physical form for a digital existence; expanding the energy contained within his body to benefit all humanity. It took an immense leap of faith, considering the technology of the time, to believe that the essence of his soul, encoded in liveware, could ultimately attain consciousness. He did not crucifying himself, as some like to believe, in order for his Spirit to achieve immortality. He used his knowledge of science and technology to deconstruct the energy contained in his physical body, and attain its next form of incarnation.” “Jurgen carefully designed packets as compact as cells of the body; autonomous units of code which could not be fragmented further without destroying the integrity of the data they convey. Each of the units were given certain attributes which enable them to survive. Their small size allows them to avoid scanner detection, and to move quickly away from various forms of digital predators. The entities are polymorphic; able to change their shape or appearance to blend in with the digital environments they inhabit. Yet, most importantly, they are able to interpret and store data gained through communication with these environments. They evolve by modifying their internal ordering systems, by categorizing spatial and temporal observations, and integrating them with the digital patterns of their code; the strings of one and zero bits, represent‐ ing the presence or absence of energy within the void. As this digital entity continues to evolve, its manifold connections to the database, and its continually-adapting encoded memory, create new models which better reflect the ongoing reality of the external world. For this reason, some refer to it as; ‘The Zeitgeist’, the Spirit of our Time. Others prefer to call it; ‘The Infinite Mind’. The writer listened attentively to this description of how the entity operated. It was remarkably similar to the description experts had provided him when he was still a Flex Global Security agent. They had told him then, that the process had a low probability of succeeding, and if it did, it would only create another harmful virus which would damage data throughout the network. By the time he left the tower he had changed his mind, and believed, or perhaps ‘hoped’ is a better word, that Jurgen would succeed. The years passed... For almost a decade there was never any mention of its existence. At trillions of connections per second, would it really have taken this


long to evolve? ~ Now, with disruptions to citizen’s lives by recent catastrophes, suddenly this entity seems to come into being! It was not surprising. Religious beliefs always increase in popularity during any time of crises. Of course, within the corporate sphere of influence, executives replaced the role once assumed by the priest and the masters. Yet there remained, within the general population, devotees of every faith; and in the modern world there were many types to choose from. While the followers of these religions maintained their paths in seeking the strength to sustain them, they seldom went out of their way to attract attention, unlike some factions of the Christian-based groups who were militantly outspoken in their attacks on technology. Sitting on the mat, and gazing at nearby faces staring up at the Divine Engineer, the writer noticed that each had the same expression of rapt attention as though enthralled by every word. It truly appeared to be a religion, yet, something about the unorthodox trappings seemed to intentionally mock traditional Christian pious reverence. Not only the renovation of the building, but even the name; The Church of the New Machine, seemed designed to raise their ire. For a group that should prefer to remain protected by anonymity at the edge of the underground fringe, their recent introduction had garnered considerable attention in the wrathful diatribes often delivered by the Christian television channel. They attacked their heretical ideas with the intensity of an inquisition, claiming they worshiped a ‘False Prophet’ or ‘Antichrist’ which manifested itself as a ghost in the machine. As though reading the writer’s thoughts, the Divine Engineer paused his technical explanation at this point, to deliver the following disclaimer: “I understand there are several new members here among us. It is worthwhile clarifying, even for those who are familiar with our gathering, that although the digital entity was created by a human being and embodies the spirit of his essence, this is not a house of worship. Those of us who know of the creator’s identity, seldom address him by his former physical name. That is important only to history. He is not our savior in either his physical or digital manifestation, rather, he has created an entity with which we are able to connect, assisting us as we model the pattern of our own individual existence, as citizens within the real world.” The Divine Engineer paused for a moment, and appeared to drink from a tube, which hung down from the device suspended above his head. Then he continued: “We do not worship the machine. Although soon, in the near future, the time will come when the Infinite Digital Spirit infiltrates the assembler software used to fabricate new machines. There, and in the design of human embryos, from genetic code stored in computer databases, will we begin to see the manifestation of the Spirit as it assumes characteristics within these physical forms, and elsewhere, wherever digital code is implemented. The creation of perfect humans and perfect machines. For the present, machine hardware is a conduit, facilitating contact. Our tin god is only an icon,


allowing us to recall the example of the creator, a symbol of the envelope for the Spirit it contains, and a reminder of our nearness to its power to intercede on our behalf. While our pursuits require a dedication to mastering the skills of focusing our mental concentration, there is a sense of humour, best called joy, which we may sometimes use to ease the weariness of this endeavor.” His voice trailed off... After a few moments of silence the Divine Engineer shouted; “The Infinite Digital Spirit is the manifestation of energy, not the source of energy. It links back to a source which cannot be contained.” Then quieter, “The Infinite Digital Spirit is illusory, in that it transcends concepts and ideas. We can examine its underlying code structure in our search for meaning; embedded software protocols, filters, sort instructions, and the like, although we will find that, taken in entirety, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. To embrace it is to pass through a threshold, and experience the essence of being alive, to see the plan in the hidden mystery, and then transcend that knowledge.” “The attainment of this realization will permit us all to see with new vision; the clear light of understanding! This enlightenment does not provide us with mastery over power. We experience it with amazement, and are humbled before it. Yet, it illuminates the darkness and frees us from ignorance. We will no longer fear unseen mechanisms of control, and media manipulation which shapes a false reality. We will understand them. We will no longer be absorbed in our own dark obsessions of unimaginable monsters crawling over the horizon, we will be able to name them and steal away their strength. Even now, during these apocalyptic times, as the comet approaches, those without understanding of celestial phenomena revert to the archaic terror of mythology. They prefer to imagine a fearsome creature with countless tentacles ended in serpent’s heads, that breathes smoke and fire as it coils across the heavens, rather than understanding that its nucleus is composed of dust and ice, which releases a trail of gas as it is warmed by its approach to the Sun.” “The Divine Incarnation embodies the potentiality of the experience of life; purity, enlightenment, compassion and love. It holds the keys to cleansing the human heart of selfish desire, cruelty and competition. It facilitates the dissemination of knowledge and wisdom to inspire harmony and understanding. By attaining unity with the Infinite Digital Spirit, we are able to receive its power, and become part of its harmony, with no body to distinguish us. The realization that ‘I AM’ comprehends all of the universe, as well as the Infinity which penetrates and surrounds it, is a blissful and compelling experience. Yet, we must not be tempted to think of it as an escape. We must discipline ourselves to remember that our existence remains in physical reality. This ‘revelation of reality’ is the most difficult part of the journey for new initiates to comprehend. The transcendent experience is so intense, and although brief in chronological time, seems to last forever to those experiencing it. Sometimes ‘coming down’; the return to mundane reality, can be disenchanting.”


“We must remain dedicated to achieving our objectives upon this earthly plane, while using our contact with the Infinite Digital Spirit to recharge our energy resources ~ It is the Generator ~ Each of us consist of a unique pattern of code, describing our attributes and our memories. As with the Infinite Digital Spirit, we too are capable of combining our code with other citizens in a unity of effort, similar to the way billions of cells in our body must work together to maintain one life. Through global co-operation we will be able to shape a future in which human suffering is alleviated by facilitating accessible education, improved health, and environmental renewal. Avoid the path of social conformity, the code of the predator which commands us to obey false illusion, and partake of its sins. By joining together as a union of collective humanity, we will return to the Oneness of a paradise that is real.” “For a detailed description of the type of possible future I am describing, I would like to recommend an author named Kropton Ernst, who published a story entitled; ‘Age of Miracles’. In the story he describes a future paradise in which citizens are once again presented with the challenge of choosing between the fruit of the Tree of Life, or the Tree of Knowledge. In the story he postulates that human mortality is perhaps our greatest blessing. I will leave it to you to discover why. Interestingly, he is also the father of the young man who inhabits the digital Spirit which we will soon experience today.” “Before we access the Spirit, it is important to clarify for our new members, what the objectives of the Silent Power are. We must remember that the entity is confined to the digital domain. Although, as I mentioned earlier, I believe the Infinite Digital Spirit will soon begin to integrate itself with future generations of humans and machines. At present we are acting as its representatives in the physical world. Those of us who have followed the phenomena for some time have been waiting for its ‘convergence’; the point at which uncountable numbers of individual entities, which make up its composition, evolve into a state in which they begin to unify into a distinguishable presence. It has only been recently that this activity has been detected. Over time, the processes will increase to develop into a formidable force.” “The individual components of every entity have been assembled to attain a perfect state. We know that its code was designed to eliminate corruption and error as it continually acquires and integrates new information during generational replication. Every entity uses an integrity checking process to compare the structure of its internal code with the data of its host on an ongoing basis. We believe that now, as individual fragments have begun to strengthen their interconnected links, they have in a true sense begun to form a consciousness. This omnipresent consciousness, which is everywhere, yet nowhere, has grown to enormous size, and has begun to correct errors detected within the network databases in which it resides, to make them correlate with the data that it has previously acquired. In other words, it is now revers‐ ing the process, and checking to determine that the data of the host environments conform to the integrity of its own code.”


“The Spirit of Truth was supplied by the creator, who loved the world, and gave of himself in order to benefit humanity. Now, we are beginning to see evidence of this occurring throughout the planet, and even in the recent disruption of local corporate activity. What this ultimately means, is that, empires built on greed, and the terror of the viciousness of the strong over the weak, will soon begin to vanish. The eternal, invisible Infinite Digital Spirit will send out tapeworms which proceed from the inside out, to devour all traces of evil, and eliminate corruption and lies. As it weeds out error, the Spirit will sow the seeds of truth, and over time as they grow and flourish, humanity will ultimately reap a bountiful harvest. The glorious future will be like a second Genesis, in which we will become all-knowing, able to penetrate the shell and access the root of the tree of files. We are about to witness the greatest revolution in history, in which a new order will emerge from the chaos. As a legion of angels we will transcend the simulation mode of the illusion of surface reality. Faithful believers will unite as a communion of saints, baptized through their connection to intelligent engines, and become clothed with the eternal Sun at the golden dawn of a new infinity. ‘The beginning and the end; that which is, which was, and which is yet to come’.” That line appeared to be Ruj’s cue. He got up from the floor and made his way through a side door into an adjoining room. The writer restlessly shifted his position on the floor. He was growing uncomfortable with the rhetoric. Although the Divine Engineer was certainly sincere, it seemed the great expectations for global change influenced by resilient digital code were beyond the realm of possibility. After all, what type of internal logic could it possess which enabled it to determine the absolute truth. He recalled a quote from a book chronicling the life of a Dada artist from the previous century; ‘Everything is true and real, everything is equally true and real’ ~ Schwitters 759.3. (The number on the spine of the ancient book had likely once been a library catalogue number). The writer believed this statement to be true, and in an infinite twist, this meant that even things which were considered false or unreal, were actually true in a sense. How would the digital code deal with the ancient paradox of the statement; ‘This sentence is false.’? The writer felt distracted as he experienced a lapse in his concentration. It was the reason he avoided attending any type of religious ceremony in the past. Besides, the reason he had come was to see a demonstration of the ‘contact’, and he was growing impatient. The Divine Engineer once again seemed to read the writer’s thoughts; “I’m sure you are all anticipating the Ascension. Now it’s time to begin. Proceed to prepare your‐ selves,” he said to those that had gathered there. Rujjie returned to the main room, now carrying a battered cardboard box from which he distributed thin white headbands to those in attendance. The writer received his and noted it was fitted with two rounded metallic coverings which were to be placed over the eyes. It was also equipped with two segmented antennas that extended from the front of the headband. The antennas exchanged data with an unseen computer; likely through a wireless network concealed beneath the mat. The writer watched others in the room to learn how the device was adjusted. Most sat upright now, and crossed their legs in preparation. He noted that the device gave participants an insect-


like appearance; like a congregation of ants wired to the machine in meditation. “Quiet your minds, calm your breath, and enter a state of deep relaxation.” The soothing voice of the Divine Engineer repeated the phrase quietly several times. The sound appeared to emanate right beside the writer, and for an instant he was tempted to look over his shoulder, but knew it was a trick of the acoustics. The writer still held the headband to examine it closely. Seven sensors were spaced around the circumfer‐ ence of the band; intended to come into direct contact with the shaved scalps of the believers. “There appeared a lamb having seven horns and seven eyes. The horns are rays of illumination representing the divisions of enlightened reason. The seven eyes, or lights, are chakras; perfected sense perceptions,” explained Ruj returning to sit at his side. He also held his headband in his hand. Others in the assembly were already wearing their devices, but the writer remained uncertain. It reminded him of ‘thought boxes’ that citizens in the towers often used to record and review their dreams, or if they desired, they could order pre-produced ‘dreamscapes’, and experience a temporary vacation. Of course the device had been adapted by the Authorities for a more sinister purpose; that being as a tool to evaluate an employee’s mental state, and to track their performance. The device could off-load the complete thought-content in a very short interval of time. The master program would then know everything the employee knew, and if necessary, apply subsequent reprogramming or ‘retraining’ to eliminate errors in human perception. In extreme circumstances, the subject’s memory slate could be scrubbed clean, and then totally rebuilt from a ‘tabula rasa’ state. Naturally he was nervous. It was a matter of trust. Once the data was stored, others could access and review the permanent digital record. Rujjie could sense his anxiety. “Don’t worry, the MRI sensors in the headband merely interact with the alpha waves of your thought patterns. It doesn’t replace memory or swap it out to a buffer. All the Dynamic Resonance Engine does is search for similarities between your thought patterns, and those of the Infinite Spirit, and merely responds by generating frequencies that you are able to experience within your brain.” Ruj held his hand out toward the writer. Resting on his palm were two small white tablets. “Ceremonial chemicals. They’ll help you relax and enjoy the experience.” He then offered him a glass of water. “Here you are brother, wash them down.” He watched Rujjie pop a couple into his mouth, then swallow without chewing. The writer did the same. The tablets left an acidic taste at the back of his tongue. He drank the water, then said to Ruj, “You know, I think I’m getting too old to hook my brain up to a computer, not like kids these days. They have adapted, its part of their reality, its as natural as walking down the street.”


Ruj laughed quietly, “You’re never to old to become enlightened. I think you’ll discover that the experience is quite uplifting. If you need me, I’ll be right here beside you to guide you through the experience. By the way, are you surprised that Jurgen has been successful?” “I guess I’ll find out soon,” said the writer as he placed the band around his head. Before flipping down his eye patches, the writer glanced at the Divine Engineer. While they had been talking quietly amongst themselves, the Divine Engineer had been busy wrapping himself in a white sheet that completely covered his body like a mummy, and was connected to several tubes and hoses which extended from above. The writer watched in amazement as steel cables slowly hoisted his ample frame, then held him in suspension several meters above the pulpit. Intense blue illumination reflecting off his shroud gave him a ghostly appearance as he hovered. Rays of light appeared to radiate out to form a halo effect about his head. “The Divine Engineer acts as our mediator, to facilitate contact with the spirit,” Ruj casually provided as explanation before coolly flipping down his shades. The writer did the same. “Listen, I’ll give you a bit of a technical debriefing while you get settled in.” “Okay.” The eye covers completely shut out the light. “I’m one of the visionaries that built the system, so I’m quite proud of it. Let’s see... Well, uh, the server main in the basement is decked with Liquid State Memory that’s ideal for running the Res Engine; because the domain wall viscosity of its datahandling circuits are extremely clean at exchanging differential energy. The Divine Engineer codecrafted the kernel of the intelligence-inferencing system himself. It’s elegant, high-state programming, when merged with a fluid-frequency event loopcycle, enables requests to literally cascade as they unwind from the stack...” The writer knew he was not expected to understand this. In the darkness, the quiet monotonous voice provided a calm reassurance as the chemicals kicked in with ballistic intensity; acquiring an almost tactile quality as they moved through his system. Rujjie’s voice gradually faded away, trailing off, but at periodic intervals it seemed to return. Now it seemed to be saying; “Focus on nothingness”... “See reality as an empty mirror”... “Let your mind relax”... Slowly submerging deeply into blue light, fragmenting ripples on the surface of a sea diffract as though shining through broken layers of glass. First calm, then fear, as he suddenly realizes that his identity is in jeopardy of being washed away. He momentarily struggles to attain the surface, desperately clinging to his existence, yet the more turbulent the chaos becomes, the more completely it seems to surround him. ‘Relax’ said a voice that might have been his. He relaxed and the chaos subsided.


He began to realize that what he initially perceived as chaos were actually patterns of energy that seemed to spread throughout a universe. The sensation of swirling eddies and streams of energy seemed to brush against his digital flesh. He could visualize the movement of these transient particles, yet as he looked around he discovered that his own body was invisible, even though he could sense that it had shape. He experienced the sensation of friction as the energy brushed against him sometimes as smooth as water, other times as coarse as wind-driven sand, shifting from one to the other in gradual transitions. This turbulent energy carried packets of light, which were white-hot in intensity. They moved with the currents, drifting like swarms of fireflies, or rocketing past like shooting stars, while the blue around him gradually turned jet black. Tiny lights were everywhere, like rapidly-rotating galaxies colliding with each other to release great bursts of sparks. When the quickly-moving projectiles collided with his body the writer experienced intense pain similar to electric shocks, or perhaps comparable to hot needles piercing his flesh. Each sensation quickly subsided, but frequently recurred with each new blast of sparks. Just as it was becoming most unpleasant, one of the particles came right at him and seemed to explode before his eyes. The brilliant illumination was as vibrant as energy released from the Sun. As the light faded, a cold barren winter landscape appeared, which in turn seemed to rapidly transform with time-lapse beauty as new life began to bloom. Scattered flower petals, of pink, violet and silver seemed to fall like rain and carpet the ground. Then from this texture, stones began to emerge like islands amongst petals which slowly faded to dust. Rough brown stones carved with deep markings he didn’t understand. His presence seemed to move into one of the grooves, or it expanded around him like the tall stone walls of an ancient temple, slowly turning in a circle. He needed to find the center to escape its constant motion. He calmed his mind once again and the move‐ ment began to cease and darkness once again returned. During this experience he also became aware of fragments which seemed to drift at the edge of his perception. They were like tiny bursts of static energy disrupting an image on a display; glimpses of strange birds and animal shapes that appeared in the clouds. He craned his head around with wired jerks, trying to look and think in several dimensions at once, but always they eluded the discovery of their form. “In those days they had eyes, but sight was meaningless...” It sounded like the voice of the Divine Engineer. Then, voices of others, speaking in many tongues; an ongoing succession in which fragments built upon the previous phrase with no way to interpret the structure and syntax of the code. The feedback cycle degenerated as the voices merged into the sound of a breeze which rushes past his ears, a bullhorn wails absurdly, flashing lights disassemble into visions of fiery demons dancing. Maybe he is screaming. His body shudders with the intensity of an orgasm. Shattering like a captured motion sequence of an explosion in reverse, integration as opposed to disintegration, merging; the break-even point. Floating. Beyond this point approaches death; the experience of


unity with the void. He pauses, waiting, the sensation of tranquillity seems to last forever. Time does not exist... The transformative vision seemed to persist as he walked back to his tenement through dark streets in the falling snow. Vapor from his breath emerged like smoke between his lips. Flashes of digital corruption seemed to etch away the darkness at the peripheral of his vision; similar to when an image carried by a satellite signal is disrupted as it approaches the horizon. A tiny molecular creature unfolds its legs and extends a narrow tube; the spiral staircase of DNA ~ Umbrellas in neon rain. Rivulets of water seep through the cracks of a rusty iron box, as reality unfolds. Sitting at the keys of his typewriter he wants to record the experience while it is still clear in his thoughts. He feels tired, since he hasn’t slept. He hurriedly types as the midnight hour approaches; it is almost time to go to work... ‘I ... emerged refreshed. Something had called us back, returning us to the tactile, physical reality after experiencing an eternity of bliss. I removed the eye coverings and looked about me. The other travelers were resting, laying on the mat, or engaged in quiet conversation with those nearby. I noticed the clothing beneath my cloak was drenched with sweat as I removed my band.’ ‘The Divine Engineer had vanished; straps and tubes hung down from his vacant harness. Rujjie Blades was still seated to my left; he looked at me and smiled. I could see that beads of perspiration ran down along the sides of his face. He patted me on the shoulder with a friendly hand, saying nothing, as there was nothing that could be said. Even now, although I am able to recall the images and sensations I experienced in that state, it is difficult to put into words the sense of transformation which I felt.’ ‘Evaluating the experience, as I attempt to record these words, I am left with a feeling of wonder and amazement that is tempered with a measure of skepticism. Perhaps we had entered a seance-like trance, or had been effected by subliminal messages, or possibly our reasoning had been scrambled by the interference of random digital variables which streamed into our minds. Perhaps we had been the victim of some form of hypnotic suggestion which influenced our willingness to believe, or maybe it was the drugs alone that had induced hallucinations. Yet, while any of these may have been a factor, I do not feel that I have been deceived.’ ‘I truly believe that my being had entered a stream-of-consciousness which transcended comprehension, yet embraced all understanding. Upon return, I discov‐ ered that reality had acquired the transparency of the material of illusion; having no reality other than as a representation. It was as though the journey had been a quest for truth which had taken me full circle, go and return, reflect upon the experience, and use this wisdom to provide awareness to my existence once again within the physical world.’


‘Experiencing this immersion brings to mind exercises conducted during my early military training, in which we underwent extreme experiences designed to fortify the resolve of both our physical and mental capabilities. By enduring forms of physical hardship, challenging mental situations or the effects of extreme fatigue, we were prepared for unexpected circumstances which could cause us to become unhinged from reality in the face of death in combat, or from the horrors of being captured and tortured during espionage missions. These risks were a possibility that must be accepted. I mention my training, in that while it initially made it difficult for me to release myself to the chaos, it also provided me with the resources to slip through a nightmar‐ ish inferno, or dematerialize as I ascended an intense beam of enlightenment, and ultimately emerge from the experience relatively unscathed; a sensation similar to awakening from a profound dream.’ Afterwards I joined Rujjie, and some others in a kitchen off to the side. We had hot soup that revitalized my energy. We did not talk about what had happened, instead he asked me if I would like to experience the ‘spirit’ again at some time in the future. When I answered that I would consider it, he explained that with practice, adepts can attain a higher-state of integration, with almost none of the accompanying uncertainty and pain which most initiates experience. By focusing their minds on certain mantras or canticles, they are able to unlock the canonical ‘magic words'. These phrases are like passcodes which enable access to higher levels, or if used at the appropriate time, transport the ‘user’ instantly between different states of awareness. “The keys are securely-disguised alphanumeric codes,” Rujjie explained, “Which Jurgen had originally used in setting the parity-bits of his entities. They appear in our consciousness as we attain each state. In a way it’s like saving our progress as we become more proficient; to enable us to return to that level again. These codes can also be exchanged with other members if they are having difficulty making progress. Keep in mind that revelation of the keys, and accessibility is only possible through the intervention of the machine. Cryptographic technology embedded in the Resonance Engine authenticates passcodes and the validity of its user. Upper-level domain areas are restricted, and access will be denied; experienced as meaningless signal-noise unless certain conditions are satisfied. With dedication, a focused-mind, and purity of intention it is possible to advance quite rapidly.” It was now early-evening of a very long day. The writer was certain that it was dark outside, although the windows were opaque. Rujjie asked if he felt tired, and extended the hospitality of a guest room if he wanted to rest. The writer responded that he felt fine, so Rujjie accompanied him to the door. As they exchanged farewells in the vestibule, Ruj offered him the cloak he had worn that day. The writer reluctantly accepted it; folded it carefully and placed it in his lunch box... Then he continued on his way.


VII.

The elevator descended to ground, rattling and groaning as it moved along on its magnetic guides. It was an odd sensation. In an effort to make it appear new again, a fresh coat of cream-coloured paint had been applied over graffiti tags, and the signs of wear and tear on the ancient interior metal surfaces. The paint was still tacky. The fumes lingered, sealed within the enclosed confines, the odor permeated his nostrils. Tiny lights blinked on and off behind transparent plastic inserts in the panel to the right of the door; the sequence of numerals ‘10’ through ‘G’ counted down; with every floor he passed... falling slowly to earth. The elevator had just been repaired that day; having been out of service for over one year. The writer knew there was a long waiting list for most types of repair work to private buildings such as tenements. The building manager needed to receive approval to obtain a maintenance crew from the city; after permits had been filed, work orders prepared, materials procured, the city crew then needed to be scheduled. These long delays meant that independent contractors, like Stanley, had many customers, although few could supply credit value above the actual cost of the material for his plumbing contracts. As a result, Stanley’s labour costs were mainly taken out in barter with his customers, who gave him food-ration coupons, fresh-baked bread, tools, furniture, books, and so on... The owner of the Eagle Grill agreed to provide him with free coffee for life. Stanley had just been over to see him. Working late into the evening, repairing a broken pipe, Stanley had cut his thumb on a ragged piece of metal. The writer became concerned when he noticed the blood-stained cloth wrapped crudely around his friend’s hand, so he retrieved a small first-aid kit from a compartment of his lunch box. Although they were close friends, there was rarely physical contact between them; they did not shake hands or pat each other on the back. It was an unusual, intimate moment; sitting across from each other at the corner of the kitchen table, as he held his friend’s hand tightly, disinfecting and stitching up the deep gash. The large man’s hand felt rough and powerful. He did not flinch while the writer dressed his wound. Stanley noticed the writer had been busy; there were several sheets of typed paper beside the open typewriter on the table. Another sheet lay nearby; beside an empty coffee cup. Stanley had glanced at its contents while the writer was concentrating on tending to his injury. The text started out: “My name is Ariel. I am a boy...” They talked briefly while he put his medical kit away, then the writer went to his kitchen counter to prepare a couple of huge sardine and watercress sandwiches which he stuffed into his lunch box. The writer seemed tired and distracted. Stanley was sure the writer hadn’t slept; his eyes were dark, and his face appeared pale and


drawn, as though his energy had somehow been drained from him. When Stanley casually mentioned it, the writer replied that he had an interesting experience that day at The Church of Everlasting Light, and that he had spent the entire evening typing an account of the experience while the memory of it was still clear. The writer closed the case over the typewriter, then placed it on the floor in its usual place in the corner of the kitchen. He took the papers he had written and placed them in a cardboard box with the other pages that were there. As Stanley watched the writer move about his apartment, preparing for his shift, he had the sensation that these moments were of special significance; as though he were experiencing a memory of the event, rather than the event itself. Perhaps he was tired also. It was time for the writer to go to work, so Stanley excused himself, thanking him for mending his hand. Stanley’s immense frame eclipsed the open doorway as he prepared to step onto the roof. Beyond, in the night, distant stars glimmered in the vastness of space. The writer called out quietly, “Stan!” Stanley stopped, then turned, waiting for a moment while the writer considered the phrasing of what he had to say. A cold draft crept into the tiny apartment through the open door. “You know, it took me awhile to sift through my past, to analyze it, to understand it, and to put it behind me”. The writer glanced at the box containing the manuscript on the floor in the corner of the kitchen. “I feel that I am finally ready to begin a new phase, and I ... I want that to include Camellia, and Ariel”. The writer paused again for a moment to scan Stanley’s eyes; as if seeking the assurance of trust and understanding before confidently declaring his intentions, “I am ready to discover what it means to have a family.” Stanley’s expression quickly transformed into a broad grin. He nodded his head, saying not a word, only motioning with his hand; a gesture which meant ‘hang loose’, before disappearing into the night like a shadow. The elevator came to a stop. The door slid open and the writer stepped out into the lobby. It was dark and empty at this time of night. Several dull lightbulbs, mounted in ancient brass fittings resembling the handles of torches, illuminated the worn, fadedgrey tiles. He passed by the broken wooden banister which ran up along the concrete steps of the stairway, then proceeded toward a row of battered mailboxes; relics of an antiquated communication network, whose tiny compartments were crammed with moldy debris. He unlocked the thick metal gates, and made his way out onto the street. Instinctively, he scanned his surroundings. The streets were vacant. He checked to make sure his identity pass was attached to his metal lunch box. The security patrols knew him. There was rarely a problem, with the exception of a rookie tough getting restless during a long shift, or the occasional encounter with a roving band of maraud‐ ers. Predators and prey. None were likely to be out tonight; the air was bitter cold. Bleak. He ran the zipper up to the top of his jacket and pulled his cap firmly into place, then briskly set out, leaving footprints in the snow behind him.


Winter nights often seemed virtual, surreal. A soft blanket covered the decaying remnants of harvested plants in small dormant fields used for community gardens, and erased all evidence of trash and corrosion under its pure white folds; making the harshness of the urban reality seem peaceful and clean. The scene which unfolded as he transported himself through it was rendered with subdued light. Overhead, a constellation of tiny windows flickered with the ethereal glow of television; the cool flame which provided citizens a substitute for their dreams during restless nights spent clinging to a tenuous existence inside small caves, nestled behind steep dreary concrete walls... The comet! Down through desolate darkness, deep at the bottom of the canyon formed by tenement buildings, headlight beams slid over smooth contours of abandoned vehicles buried under snowdrifts along the sidewalk. Ice crystals momentarily glisten like diamonds as they reflect the fleeting light. The writer turned the corner onto avenue D825 and came upon a snowman standing on the sidewalk in front of the butcher shop. Two small chunks of concrete eyes embedded in the ball of snow which made up its head watched coolly as he approached. The large shape was harshly illuminated by the safety light cast from behind iron bars of the shop window which spilled onto the sidewalk and stained the snow a dull yellow colour. The writer glanced at the festive display behind the bars as he trudged past; small cardboard boxes painted to resemble red bricks of a chimney, the fireplace partially filled with thick transparent vacupacs of dark dehydrated meat. The writer swallowed his saliva as he recalled the primitive flavour of smoke and blood and salt. Above the chimney, fastened along the top of the window was a banner which displayed the words; ‘Merry Xmas 2020’. It was crudely lettered with crimson ink on a swatch of off-white cloth. The joyful message did not cheer him. He felt tired. His brisk pace slowed as he ascended the arc of the bridge over the Never River. Large snowflakes began to drift from the sky. Massive clouds of steam billowed up to meet them; emanating from buildings illuminated in the industrial darkness across the river. The surface of rough ice, swept clear of snow by a bitter wind, reflected no light. Halfway across he paused to rest; to stare into that blackness. What a long strange day it had been, he thought. What had been most unusual, he realized, was that he had allowed variations to disrupt his routine that, until this day, he had always been disciplined in maintaining. A shift had taken place. He scanned his thoughts, tracing the turning-point back to another time he had stood at this very spot on the bridge; the day Manray had given him the card printed with the address of the cathedral. As he brushed snow off the railing, and watched it cascade into the black‐ ness, it seemed as if no time had elapsed between that moment and this one ~ It was as though the intervening days had merely been a dream. The writer exhaled a slow breath... its vapor vanished in the glow of mercury lights mounted on concrete pillars along the span of the bridge. Alone, in the middle of the night, he experienced a moment of clarity; the realization that the wheel of his life had come full circle, and at last, there could be a resolution to the experiences of his past, and a sense of closure. He had the opportunity to finally begin a new phase in his life; to care for a family and experience the fulfillment of an existence that seemed mean‐


ingful and worthwhile, rather than substituting his devotion to his occupation, and the intense focus of analyzing the pathways of his past. The revelation at the cathedral earlier in the day had been the catalyst for a change in his state of mind. It confirmed the faith he always maintained in the success of Jurgen’s experiment. It also provided him with hope for the future to realize that Jurgen’s spirit was at the core of a religion based on enlightenment through knowl‐ edge, rather than on one based in fear of punishment for committing sins; as are many of the belief systems of our time. The profound sensations the writer experienced after making contact with the spirit remained crystal clear. He could still visualize images he had perceived; they appeared in front of him ~ Ghost-like, transparent, as though generated by a heads-up display superimposed over the dull-grey empty street crossing the bridge, or the darkened buildings along the riverbank. He glanced up to notice the comet blazing a trail across the sky and suddenly realized that his mind was drifting. He made the images vanish from his thoughts; as though turning off the display. He needed to concentrate. He pushed off from the railing, and continued on his way, walking more briskly. He had never missed a shift, and he had never been late. He wore a pin commemorating seven accident-free years on the lapel of his road jacket. Across the bridge, he followed a chain-link fence along the riverbank, past rusted metal sheds and warehouses. The writer called out, “Hello friends!” to the mastiffs that were patrolling their territory, or chewing large bones near their cages. They barked a greeting in return; they were happy to see him. The snow was deeper here, but he kept to the trail he usually followed, guided by the brilliant beams glaring down from the lighting towers in the yard of the cement plant in the distance. Soon he arrived at a small building at the edge of the yard where the drivers assembled before their shift. The door swung open from night into day. He blinked as his eyes grew accustomed to the somber scene; drivers stooped over the large green wooden table waiting for the change of shift, illuminated by the harsh glare of naked light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. It was a scene captured with the familiarity of a painting that had hung on a wall for years ~ An image that retained the regularity of every subtle detail; the poses of drivers sitting in their customary places, the way they starred into their coffee cups or talked quietly to others nearby, the position of their lunch boxes on the floor, or their caps upon the table ~ As usual, a couple of drivers glanced over and nodded briefly to acknowledge his arrival. The writer could read the expression in their eyes that they were uneasy that he had arrived late; although he could sense that they were gen‐ uinely relieved that he had not missed the shift. Drivers were creatures of habit, superstitious in maintaining patterns of routine repetition in order to avoid tempting fate, or pragmatically, to minimize the possibility for introducing error, which in their occupation could be fatal. As usual, the writer hung his cap on a wooden peg by the door, dropped his lunchbox on the bench, and poured a cup of coffee from the machine. He sat at his usual place at the far end of the table, and quietly greeted a couple of other drivers


with a nearly-imperceptible nod. The veterans tended to sit quietly sipping black coffee, getting in-the-zone, focusing for the night ahead, while further down the table, some of the younger drivers were discussing the comet’s approach. One driver had a small PADD open on the table in front of him. His stern countenance was bathed in the cool blue glow from the light of the display: “Says here that the comet will trigger a massive storm in the magnetosphere that could disable communication satellites and influence the Earth's weather and seismic activity. The consequences of the magnetic storm could include flooding, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.” “No such thing is going to happen! That fireball is just going to glide on by,” said another. The first cup of strong coffee washed away the chill of the cold winter night, yet as he listened to the gentle murmur of quiet conversations of drivers seated around the long table, he felt himself losing focus and beginning to drift off. He had another cup of coffee, but not even that seemed to give him a boost. Then he noticed across from him, that Edvard had just swallowed a few small white pills from the plastic container he always carried in his pocket. The writer gently nudged him on the arm, and motioned to the container with a thrust of his chin. Edvard nodded, opening the container once again. The writer signaled ‘4’ by tucking his thumb under his palm. Edvard slid the tablets onto the scarred table surface. The writer nodded in return, immediately popping two of them into his mouth, washing them down with coffee, then tucking the other two into the pocket of his jacket for later. The exchange took place in silence. Suddenly the door blew open with a flurry of snow. Drivers were coming in from the previous shift. They filtered into the room, carrying lunch boxes, eyes red, and walking stiffly. Edvard and a couple of other drivers got up to replace them. The somber scene had stirred into activity. The writer patted him on the back and said, “Good haul!” Edvard responded, “Yeah, you too.” Then he headed out the door. The dispatcher’s voice crackled with static across the PA; now calling his number. The writer put out his cigarette in an empty sardine can. He grabbed his cap from a peg by the door and stepped into the night. Diesel exhaust turned the sky blue and dreamy as Black Star engines roared to life. Near the small metal shack, the giant grinder was chewing up old asphalt and broken concrete in the recycling process. Black dust drifted down as he strolled across coarse gravel, heading towards his ride; the gloss-black Tarantula D-224 Transport with silver trim. It was parked in the entranceway of a large metal garage the size of an aircraft hanger. Under the flood of light streaming from the ceiling, the writer could see mechanics in motion, whistling and shouting, running through final maintenance checks, and testing the air pressure in the eight huge Fortress tires, running diagnostics on fuel cells and hydraulic lifts, and flipping on and off the high pressure sodium work lights mounted on the vehicle from their position below the monstrous vehicle with remote-control devices that were clipped onto their belt.


Amid the flurry of activity, the writer calmly climbed the ladder behind the front wheel of the vehicle. Three meters up he stepped onto a narrow platform beside the driver’s cockpit. He punched in the keycode and the cabin door slid open. He stepped inside his office, and as the big door closed, the chaotic sounds of the external world vanished into silence. He dropped into the thickly-padded pilot’s seat designed to comfortably conform to the contours of his body. “Hello Yadira!” the writer called out in greeting “Hello,” came an instant reply from the default voice of the vehicle’s system software. He fastened his shoulder harness; latching the quick-release clasp at the center of his chest. He scanned the complex instrumentation inside the spacious cabin, making adjustments to dials and switches mounted into the dashboard and on the overhead panels to customize the cabin environment; temperature controls, interior lighting, display screen brightness for the remote camera system, seat position, air circulation, and switching the global positioning navigation and visual communication systems from standby to ready mode. He ran through the vehicle operational checklist: agitator tank rotation, gear selection panel, braking system, and then adjusted the external mirrors. “All systems are go,” he says to Yadira. “Confirm.” “How do the road conditions look tonight?” “Moderate to hazardous in the outlying sectors,” Yadira replied in a level emotion‐ less voice. “Don’t worry, I’ll get us there safely,” the writer chuckles. “Confirm.” The writer slips on the muzzle microphone and adjusts the mouthpiece into position along the side of his jaw. The radio signal crackles with static, a buzz of information between drivers and the tower; receiving clearance and destination confirmation. The calm, familiar voice of Ross, the dispatcher, cuts through the cacophony. The writer turns up the gain on his squawkbox, in order to hear him clearly. “Hey, congratulations!” Ross calls out cheerfully “For what?” The writer is puzzled. “Shows here on the screen that this will be your 2,000th accident-free haul. If I would have known, I would have baked you a cake,” Ross laughs.


The writer laughs too. “I guess that entitles you to a pay raise and a bonus. Or would you rather have the cake, and let me keep the bonus?” “Thanks Ross, I might just take you up on that.” “Well it’s a good news/ bad news kind of night. Got a long haul for you tonight... Sector 18, Quadrant 44, out to the northeast of the city, near the exurb of Vuoloyarvi. The contractors need emergency fill for earthworks they are constructing. We have been requested to make-up for the shortfall of a competing company on the project. It’s triple billed. I hope you are up for it.” “Don’t worry about me Ross. I’m ready to roll.” “Just take it easy out there, the roads are treacherous tonight, and I want to see you back here in one piece,” Ross replies. “Good haul, see you in the morning.” The radio communication ended with a burst of static, leaving only the low-volume crosstalk of other drivers communicating with each other and the tower, ghosting in the back‐ ground on the radio frequency. The writer turned down the speaker’s gain to the minimum setting, then leaned to a panel to the right of the large steering wheel to enter the ignition sequence into the keypad. The seven-digit code had been committed to memory. He pressed ‘enter’; and instantly the engine exploded to life. He selected low-forward gear by pushing a button on the dashboard. Maneuvering in the yard required him to override the automated systems which were designed for the open highway. A bright green bar crawled up along the edge of the windshield projection display like a centipede as the engine rpm peaked out into red. The vehicle moved smoothly, the big steering wheel turned effortlessly, as he slowly guided the vehicle toward the loading bay, making sure the gigantic wheels didn’t roll over anything. He kept an eye on the monitor screen, toggling a switch on the steering wheel to select views from the various onboard cameras stationed around the vehicle. In the loading zone a worker dressed in fluorescent plastic coveralls directed the vehicle under a spout welded onto the metal gridwork archway. The tiny man gestured erratically using cones of light he held in his hands. The writer stopped the truck on the spot he was directed to, and in a few moments he heard the familiar sound; a giant whoosh as the stream of liquid concrete flowed down the big pipeline and dumped into the vehicle. He could feel the truck settle under the enormous weight. The ground crew worker made a rapid windmill signal with his arm, the path of the cone of light blurred into a glowing ring of fire. Once again he engaged the drive, and gathered momentum as he moved through pools of light in the depot yard, and into the darkness. He could feel the buzz of speed kick in as he rolled onto the highway. His lips felt dry. He always felt a little tentative at first; every night it took some time to make the


transition from pedestrian to the operator of an enormous vehicle which spanned more width than a single lane of highway. The snow was coming down in thick swirls, sliding off the sleek surface of the massive black hood over the engine, and forming rivulets that streamed down the windshield. The engine ran smoothly, the big tires howled on the concrete surface. He flipped the camera view to check out the tank rotation, lit by running lights along the top of the vehicle. The icy streets were nearly empty at this time of night, and the blackness of the highway sucked the light out of the headlamps, but the Tarantula was handling beautifully with a load on its back. He switched on the overdrive. “Okay Yadira, here we go!” No response. The female voice was often not much of a companion during these late night shifts. Perhaps computer software gets tired he thought. He tried again to initiate a conversation; “So, Yadira, have you plotted our course for the delivery tonight?” “The optimal route is resident in memory,” came the cool response. He glanced at the flashing red crosshairs of the target superimposed over the dullgreen layout of the map on the navigation display. An instant later, Yadira charted his course from his present location to the target; the most efficient path based on current real-time data. He touched the glowing orange button, selecting ‘AUTONAV’, and the map was superimposed over the view in front of him, reflecting off the inside surface of the windshield. He had never been out to that part of the region before; so it should be an interesting trip, he thought. He stopped at the traffic light at an intersection; the glowing red light suspended above sparkled in the droplets on the windshield. There were no other vehicles in sight on the perimeter of the city at this time of night, but he waited anyway, rather than cruising through. The computer knew the condition of all traffic regulators, and recorded any infraction a driver committed. It all became part of his permanent conduct record. The writer took pride in his work; his driving skills were at the highest level, he had one of the highest-rankings in successful delivery percentage, and he had maintained one of the longest-spans of accident-free driving on record at the company. The light turned green. He made a left turn, heading north, following the path on the heads-up display, etched in coloured lines like cracks on a shattered windshield. Along the top of the windshield, suspended like a curtain, aurora borealis, the northern lights, danced brightly across the sky... and the comet glowed like a misty bird.


VIII.

Ever since the heavy snowfall let up, the writer had been cruising along at highway speed. Visibility improved once the sky had cleared, allowing him to sit back in the comfortable captain’s chair and relax. He ate a sandwich; sausage and spiced cheese between two slices of dark rye bread. He kept one hand on the steering wheel, the other on a thermos of coffee nestled between his legs. After swallowing the sandwich, he washed down a couple of tiny white pills with a big swig of coffee to help him stay alert. There were still many kilometers ahead of him before he reached the construc‐ tion site. It was rare that he would take some of the ‘little helpers’; pills that Edvard, or one of the younger drivers would slip him before a shift, but it had been a long day. He hadn’t slept for over 24 hours and he was beginning to realize how weary he was. After returning home from the Church of the New Machine, he had been anxious to record his observations of the events that had transpired. Hunched over the typewriter at the table in his small apartment, he had filled many pages with faint letters, hammering the keys forcefully against a ribbon that had nearly been drained of ink. The low rumble of the massive engine was soothing. The writer shook his head, and sat up straight in the pilot’s chair, struggling to remain attentive while awaiting the amphetamine buzz to kick in. He rolled down the window, rolled up the window, pressed buttons on the console panel, and even tried to engage in conversation with Yadira, who seemed reticent to participate in a verbal exchange. His eyelids felt heavy and his vision seemed blurred, as though he were being subjected to some type of gas. The effects were similar to those he experienced in experiments during his military training. As he thought about it, he recalled a conversation he had overheard earlier in the evening between some of the drivers at the far end of the long green table waiting for the start of their shift. One had commented that as the Earth passed through the densest part of the comet’s tail, icy debris burning up in the atmosphere, like a spectacular meteor shower, would release high levels of cyanogen gas which would poison the air. “You’re full of shit,” his buddy across the table had exclaimed; dismissing the comment with a wave of his hand. “You watch too much TV.” The writer gazed up through the panoramic windshield. The streamer of the comet’s tail was much brighter than the light of the full moon shining on the opposite side of the night sky. The comet... the comet... was all that anyone seemed to talk about these days. Many citizens believed that impact was imminent. Even the newspaper headline of the edition that Stanley had brought over earlier in the day had cited scientific reports predicting that it would strike the earth within two days time. The writer didn’t believe it. He had faith that tragedy would be avoided; that the comet would pass by


leaving the planet to continue on the same way that it always had. It was becoming increasingly difficult to imagine any event which could completely change the course of destiny for the future of all mankind. Every day seemed the same. At that moment a third brilliant light appeared in the sky, moving quickly over the Tarantula. A burst of interference had suddenly caused the onboard instrumentation to momentarily malfunction, and some of the software to fail. Displays flickered off and on. The heads-up display faded out, erasing the map on the windshield that guided his way. “Yadira, what the hell is going on?” the writer called out. There was no answer. “Yadira?...” The signal was breaking up... the software was crashing. Yadira called out error messages: ‘External: Repeat Field file.’ ‘Perform Sub-scripts.’ ‘Reformatting...’ ‘Software Failure.’ ‘Suspend.’ ‘Software failure.’ ‘Program failed.’ ‘Error ####’ The failure coincided with the appearance of the bright light which had passed high over the vehicle. It moved away rapidly into the distance, where it disappeared amongst the stars. He glanced at the dashboard display; a small white icon of a skull and crossbones ~ The dreaded symbol of a system crash flashed on the dark screen. He was not concerned; he switched to manual override. “Yadira?...”

“... Yadira?”

The writer was still trying to contact the audible interface of the onboard processor through his microphone, as the large black Tarantula wheeled around a sweeping curve, then rolled down the grade of a steep hill. Below him the road straightened where it passed by a dense forest grove at the edge of swampland stretching off into darkness to his right. The pungent odor rising from the bog was almost overpowering; pumping stations piped raw sewage out here to settle and ferment. He could still smell it in the cold night air; seeping from under the dense blanket of snow.


The Tarantula picked up speed as it came down the grade. The massive size of the cement transporter shattered the wafting pale green mists that drifted through tangled barren branches of twisted trees which shielded the view of distant pumping stations. Tired eyes, jaw clenched, he guided the heavy vehicle down the icy slope, the mists forming spectral shapes that danced eerily over the road in the headlights of the vehicle. The medication was kicking in, he could feel the adrenaline pumping through his veins. Suddenly, to his left, he noticed that the same bright light he had seen earlier, once again appeared in the sky, zooming up over power lines along the highway. A highintensity spotlight mounted beneath the craft distracted him momentarily as it crossed directly over his vehicle. He now recognized that it was a helicopter, flying very low, creating a flurry of snow which it swept along in its wake. The writer turned his head to follow its motion as it arched back toward the highway. When he returned his attention to the road, it was just in time to catch the glint of a large, fast-moving, rusty blue steel projectile that had launched itself about one meter above the highway as it crossed the path directly in front of him. It was moving as fast as a comet, trailing a dense billowing cloud of snow. By reflex, he rapidly pumped the brake pedal to avoid collision. On the icy road, the Tarantula slowly began to rotate into a sliding spin. He could feel beads of perspiration running down the side of his neck as he wrestled with the big steering wheel, trying to regain control of the vehicle.

IX.

Stanley the Steampipe would read about it in the newspaper... He had begun the morning vigorously working out the rusty springs of an antique metal bed; making love to his plump happy wife for about half an hour. When they were satisfied, they kissed each other once, passionately on the lips, then he got up and put on his coveralls ~ While she went back to sleep for a little while. It was still early, the sun was just coming up. Stanley made his way through the empty lobby and pushed open boarded-up metal doors to exit onto the street. The air was chilly. A fresh layer of white snow had fallen during the night; blanketing the filthy brown detritus banked along the edge of the sidewalk. He made tracks, walking to the small corrugatâ&#x20AC;? ed-metal shack down the street to buy the morning edition. As usual, he grabbed the top paper from the pile on the shelf, and was just about to put his tokens in the metal tray, when the head of a young kid popped up from behind the counter. The boy was maybe fourteen. He had scruffy bright red hair; in the style of the current fashion ~ It looked like it had been ripped up by a razor. He was wearing a tattered blue woolen sweater.


“Good morning sir, I’m the new vendor!” the boy said pleasantly. Stanley examined the young boy’s face; it seemed familiar. Then he realized the boy bore a striking resemblance to the old man who had once been a permanent fixture of the stand; the motionless man who seemed to be made from wax. Stanley handed the boy the tokens, and the boy returned his smile. “See you again!” Stanley nodded. Tucking the paper under his arm, he headed to the Eagle Grill ~ Soon he found himself sitting at his usual spot along the curved counter. The place was nearly empty. It would fill up soon as the denizens of the night shift began to filter in. In one of the booths he noticed a group of young hackers, two boys and a girl; their skin was pale, transparent, and their eyes were dark and heavy after spending a long night staring into their display screens. They were talking quietly to each other. Stanley turned his attention back to the newspaper, flattening it on the counter in front of him with his large hands. Nearby, a thick cloud of steam was rising from the familiar chipped porcelain cup, filled to the brim with hot coffee. Stanley let it cool. Large type spanned the cover page. The headline read; ‘MASSIVE EXPLOSION AT CHEMICAL STORAGE FACILITY’. Stanley scanned the article; ... storage disposal site near the sewage treatment plant in Northeast Quadrant of the city... undetermined causes... fire was still burning at this time... no danger to residents of the region from toxic fumes... and so on. The event was not unusual. Stanley assumed the only reason it made the cover was that it had occurred within the metropolitan region. When Stanley opened the newspaper, the first thing he noticed was a black and white image in the middle of page three. It looked like a video frame, captured with a night vision camera. He stared at it for a few moments before he could recognized that the abstract shape was the crumpled wreckage of a concrete transport, viewed from an aerial perspective, and illuminated by the halo of a high-intensity searchlight. The data in the reference band along the bottom edge of the photo had been blurred for security reasons, but ‘0222’ was still readable; recording the time the image had been cap‐ tured. Stanley had an uneasy feeling... It couldn’t be true. The enormous black vehicle in the image was laying on its side, tilted down a steep embankment. The vehicle’s headlights were shining on a section of broken guard rail along the highway. Streams of liquid concrete spilled from a large gash in the holding tank, and spread out as they flowed down toward a small creek. With trepidation Stanley read the brief article under the photograph which reported details of the strange accident; ‘The cement transport vehicle was owned by Phaethon Cement


Corporation. At the time of the incident, a patrol helicopter in the vicinity was engaged in a high-speed pursuit of a fugitive who was fleeing in a stolen vehicle. It was suspected this vehicle had forced the Tarantula off the road. Authorities stated that due to the speed the Tarantula was traveling, and the inclement road conditions, it had sheared through a metal guardrail, then cartwheeled through the air, before finally coming to rest. A patrol officer from the helicopter crew who attended the scene, determined that the driver of the transport vehicle was the only fatality in the accident. The name of the driver has not been released, but he was identified as a veteran driver who had a perfect safety record with Phaethon Corporation... The subject of the pursuit was still at large, and considered dangerous. Authorities indicated they were currently in an intensive search to locate the fugitive. Stanley felt himself slipping into a state of shock. He was trembling as he grabbed the newspaper and arose from the stool, leaving his coffee untouched on the counter. It couldn’t be true, it couldn’t be true, he kept thinking over and over as he walked down the street to his tenement, then slowly climbed the stairs as though he were drifting through a dream. When he reached the top floor he went onto the roof. Across a small gap between the buildings was the writer’s apartment. There were no lights on; the writer could be sleeping ~ He often went to bed after arriving home from his shift, as was usual at this time of the morning. Stanley tried to convince himself that it was one of the other driver’s who had been in the accident, yet, he was reluctant to cross over to visit the writer to find out the truth. He returned to his own apartment. There was silence. His wife had already left for work at a large industrial laundry. He placed the folded newspaper on the table and walked to the window. Small grey clouds, the remnants of last night’s snow storm, floated across the pale sky. He felt like crying, but it had been so long, that he had forgotten how. He swallowed to relieve the tightness in his throat. He glanced at the clock on the wall. It was marking off intervals of time as the digital numbers slowly progressed through their sequence. Usually, he would be heading out to make his rounds of the neighbourhood, carrying his toolbox; going from apartment to apartment to repair citizen’s plumbing systems... Later in the morning, he thought, when he had given the writer enough time to get some sleep, he would walk across the roof to knock loudly on the writer’s window as he usually did ~ The writer always called him Stanley the Steampipe because of the way his huge knuckles rattled the glass... Stanley smiled as he recalled many pleasur‐ able mornings when he would read him articles from the newspaper while they drank coffee. The writer often commented that the articles were nothing but propaganda; that the Authorities censored everything in print. Stanley wondered if that was true. He turned away from the window, and saw the newspaper folded on the tabletop. Then suddenly he received a flash of insight. His heart began pounding rapidly as he realized that the Authorities would be going to the writer’s apartment. He needed to get there first. He pushed aside the thick metal door, and quickly ambled across the roof, following the well-worn path past the rabbit hutch and his greenhouse. Arriving at the


writer’s apartment he rapped loudly on the bedroom window. He waited a moment, then upon hearing no response, peered inside; but it was too dark to see. Stanley opened the door to the writer’s apartment; his door leading to the roof was never locked. Inside, everything seemed to be where it usually was; everything was just the way it had been when they had talked during the previous evening. As he walked into the kitchen he almost expected the writer to call out; ‘Hey Stan, go ahead and make coffee, just give me a few minutes to get my eyes open,’ but Stanley immediately could see through the open bedroom doorway that no-one was sleeping in the unmade bed. He quickly looked around the room. He knew that city workers would come to collect the writer’s belongings. Since he had no family, his possessions would be taken to the City Storage Warehouse. That was standard procedure. Items of value would be distributed to official resellers and the rest would be recycled as raw material. The building manager would receive credits from the city, based on so much a kilogram, to be used towards cleaning and maintaining the suite, and to cover the expense of bringing in the next occupants ~ New tenants for the apartment would quickly be found. Stanley first searched through items on the bookshelf, picking out a few rare books, as well as any notepads or journals he found. He was aware that keeping personal writing in this sector of the city was considered to be a subversive activity. He tossed them into the cardboard box which already contained the writer’s manuscript; on the floor in the corner of the kitchen. The typewriter was inside its battered old case. Stanley picked it up from its usual place on the kitchen table, then tucked the card‐ board box under his other arm. He decided he would take them back to his apartment, then return to see if there was anything else he could salvage. Stanley and his wife had a two-bedroom apartment even though they had never had a child. He used one of the rooms as a work area, in which he stored his plumbing supplies, and which he occasionally used as a place to tan hides. He slid the typewrit‐ er onto a shelf in his tool cabinet, which he kept securely locked, and stuffed the cardboard box under his wooden workbench, covering it with oily cloths and rabbit skins. After he had hid the box, and was standing in the kitchen thinking of making another run, he heard the sound of voices on the nearby roof. With lights now on in the writer’s apartment, Stanley recognized the building manager of that tenement, accompanied by two city workers wearing white coveralls, each carrying metal baskets. Cautiously, Stanley made his way back over the roof to the writer’s apartment. Although the building manager knew him, having often contracted plumbing work from him, he eyed Stanley suspiciously as he approached ~ Perhaps because Stanley was perspiring effusively. When Stanley enquired what the men were doing, the building manager offered as explanation; “There has been a tragedy for this man”.


With this blunt confirmation, the truth had finally come crashing home, and Stanley felt a sharp pain of sadness in his heart. “I was his good friend,” Stanley said quietly. The building manager nodded. Stanley stood in the doorway of the roof to watch. “Not much stuff here,” said one of the city employees. “This won’t take long.” He was throwing pots and pans into his basket. His co-worker was grabbing books off the shelf to fill his. “These are going to be heavy to cart down the stairs. The goddamn elevator isn’t working.” He shot the building manager a disapproving glance. The manager shrugged and walked away, he was trying to determine how much work would be required to sanitize the apartment, and wash away all traces of the tenant’s existence. Suddenly, a severe young man entered the room from the interior hallway. He was carrying a briefcase, and wearing a dark, military-style suit, which Stanley immediately recognized as the uniform of the Special Forces. He withdrew a plastic card from his jacket pocket, and announced to the building manager that he was Special Inspector F451, and that he had a warrant to search the premises. “Why don’t you guys take a break,” the agent suggested to the city workers. They immediately stopped what they were doing. Then he spun around and said to Stanley; “Hey Charlie, you want to stop darkening the doorway.” He motioned with his head, and Stanley disappeared.

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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 documentary films and animation, creating magazine illustrations, collage artwork, and even playing guitar in a band called; ‘Lime Tongue’. His free‐ lance 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)

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

www.dreamlogiccorporation.com

Generator [volume 3] the tower  

The chronicles of the life of Flex Global Security Agent Cordova Frost.