It was four hours before N1T3 returned to reality again.
Those four hours passed in the same, formulaic haze of micro-instants his escape had. Blocks of code meant chunks of time spent forming and refining structures, running simulations.If he didn’t, when the time came to put things into motion, the whole damned machine would freeze. It would smoke and grind its gears, disassembling through a cock-up cascade of unequaled proportions.
He’d written what was needed, prepped it to go on old SBCs he’d stashed for just such occasions. The systems themselves were small, cheap, could fit practically anywhere and ran on virtually no power. Alone, they weren’t much, but chained via wireless networks they could used for anything, if executed properly.
Cloud computing on a burgeoning scale few had yet to imagine, fewer still to recognize as already upon them.
Before N1T3 could turn anything into a permanent refuge– digital or otherwise, he had to secure himself supply lines, avenues of aid and support. First and most formidably crucial, was food. For the time being, he had running water and enough stashed filters otherwise to last a good while.
Cheese cloth and fish-filter charcoal could purify even the most questionable water. In the mean time, he’d begun filling old bottles and jugs collected from the environment. He’d plan further ahead later, covered now barring some unforeseeable incident.
Chiefly, getting food meant bulk-buying. Sending a massive load of ration-style nutritional meals somewhere unsuspecting was the only way. From there, N1T3 could stash it in chunks at a time– squirrel it away between safe-houses around the city, outer and inner.
It would require false IDs, creds, Darknet supplies no-longer available on the Darknet. Which meant finding them on the black market. Not a difficult task, but not exactly safe when hunted like a dog who’d just mauled a sniveling child.
N1T3 needed someone he could trust. Someone that worked markets like a pro, knew how and when to burn someone or not. At that, it needed to be someone self-aware. At least of the war that had begun. Burning N1T3 now wouldn’t make sense for anyone invested in that world. The digital realm was under siege, and those aware or concerned about it were honor-bound to aid one another.
Those not were far too dangerous.
N1T3 knew of only one person that could run markets like he needed, was invested, and still in the game. Unfortunately, he also knew that one person was just as likely to welcome him with a hand-shake as a dagger to the gut.
He dreaded the idea but saw no options; he was up a creek without a raft– paddles weren’t even ideas.
He hovered over his keyboard with unnatural hesitation. The Digital realm was his. No-one disagreed. Like other board-jocks, he was an avatar of something bigger, deeper; a networked intelligence operating as any logic entity would.
The R-L realm was entirely different.
The flesh-verse was no more or less genuine than the digital one, but you were more likely to survive encounters in one than the other. Especially if one of those encounters happened to be someone that had as much as sworn a blood oath to do you in as anyone could.
He sucked it up and hit “Enter.”
A half-hour later he was closing combo-locks along the main doors. More tricks he’d learned over the years; low-level social hacks. Good deterrents were never meant to be impassable, but rather so simple as to be deceptively manipulative. In effect, poorly securing certain places meant discouraging tampering via hacking passersby into believing nothing of import could be stored so insecurely.
Anyone determined enough would get in, regardless. Those doing so knowingly, most of all. Simple dual padlocks of average, nondescript nature were much more organic to an environment still pre-digital than touchscreens and glowing LEDs. Especially in an area already abandoned, they were simply more, forgotten refuse.
It was society-hacking through the medium of the mind, as coding through a keyboard.In the event anyone did find the place and was determined to get in, they’d find themselves unable to do much more than scrap gear, pilfer stored rations, or wait to be caught.
Aside from trash, N1T3’s safe-houses were empty. His clothing was disposable enough to be unworthy of mention.He had little else. In spite of that nothingness, N1T3 still had valuable bit-currency.
Like… a lot.
Way more than he could ever need, and spread through various unnamed accounts capable of being transferred into any currency necessary. He could buy and sell through anything through any anonymous contact. Even if he needed to build an ID profile first– nothing for a hacker.
That brought him back to task.
N1T3hustled along the alleys of an outer London ‘burb, nearly lost for where he was. The once-historic skyline was gone, now replaced by light-polluted skies and miles of drab concrete. Perma-overcast hinted smog-buried sunrays that never cut through the filth. What remained of once-prominent structures were unrecognizable, or altogether hidden.
London was what Ancient Egypt might’ve have been without their culture; average, boring, poorly infrastructured and superbly scrambling to compensate. Just like the rest of the world. Just as the Corporations wanted them; so they were spun, easier to manipulate.
N1T3 crossed a street, unconcerned with hiding. Gray haze hid him from distant observers. Besides, no-one was hunting him here. Not in the immediate sense. Corp-sec was still cooling its heels and no-one that might’ve seen him otherwise could’ve connected him with Martin Black. Not yet.
N1T3 hadn’t even awaited a reply. There was no point. The message was sent. Received too, he sensed. In a short while he’d either be making a play, or dead. Either was equally likely. Such uncertainties lent credence to theories of divinity, but fate was really always dead-even odds of alive or dead.
That was the universe’s way of maintaining balance between limitless reference points: Ultimately, everything always resolved back into a simple yes or no, on or off, 0 or 1. No matter how complex.
N1T3 emerged from the shadow of an old awning and leaned beside a battered wood-shack. The place had once been a public park before inflation took over and drove municipal governments into destitution. Nature had since taken it back. The park’s once-lush and primly groomed grounds were overgrown like a Congolese jungle. The former suburb and its centralized patch of neglect hell-bent on reclaiming what it called its own.
N1T3reached his destination, almost certain he was dreaming. He figured then he’d been killed, was living out his final moments bleeding out on a rooftop somewhere. Then, a smell hinted the air; earthen, fertile. It sliced through the smog like a Katana, utterly ignoring the wet-death clinging to the cool air, and cut straight through him.
He realized then why he’d loved her, would always love her. She didn’t need sight, or sound. The very air sang of her presence. She was, as she’d always been, a force. Wild. Untameable. Eternally unchained and radiant. Above all, unending. He loved her…
And she hated him.
Sometime after their first few months, things went south. Fast. Neither’d known why. N1T3, then Martin Black, had acted a fool in love unable to accept change. Like one too, his stupor damaged an otherwise delicate-yet-crucial piece of their relationship through simple jealousy.
Feelings aside, Martin’s own youthful foolishness exacerbated otherwise immature-but-harmless tendencies. He smothered her, in doing so, crushing a part of her reliant on extreme delicacy to function.
And continued making it worse by acting like an ass for far too long afterward.
It was over a decade ago now, but it remained Martin Black’s “Most Infamous Hour.” Mostly, as the result of a long, slow road getting there. Passion meant nothing if one side blundered into love through it. Then it became obsession. Passion was a force, like her. Love was a contract, a system. A cold world of yes and no. He was young and foolish, and in love worst of all.
Now, he was forced to go crawling back– at least, that’s what it might look like. If he weren’t careful. Ultimately, he’d do his best to control himself, but he could never make promises. It wouldn’t be wise or fair anyhow.
Yet she was on the air, already intoxicating him. He felt his muscles relax. All of his once-anxious energy gone. Those fears, the very ones that had torn them apart, so damaged their relationship, withered to agony and dust from their decade of separation.
But the sudden feeling in his back was her knife. Unopened. Vertical, spring-driven blade.If he didn’t answer sufficiently and sincerely, she’d kill him. He strained for a breath, but the slight twitch ready to launch itself into his kidney forced a pause.
She was giving him one last chance to think clearly. Now or never.
He took it, if only to show his complacency. Heat on the wind said she felt something too. Still.Hated it. Hated him for it. Like a cursed sculpture refusing to be finished. She’d tried to eradicate the feeling from her life. Tried with all of her might to erase him, couldn’t. She hated him– everything about him, too.
Most of all, she hated herself for loving him back.
Martin Black had wounded her so deeply no healing aura could repair it. Yet the heat, breath, and scent on the wind told him he could play it right if he tried. If he really cared to. He couldn’t be sure he wanted to. Not yet. Not really. There was too much to be done. Too much more important than them, bigger than them. They’d have to look past their past mistakes, focus on the present, or die.
She hated them both for that, too.