Guardians of Liberty: Part 20

20.

When the Cat’s Away…

N1T3 needed two things to repair the power. The damaged main component and light to work. He had neither. Problem was, he’d thought he had both. It turned out his cache of supplies had corroded in the humidity, eroding the protective coatings on PCBs and metals.

Not a problem for higher grade parts, but his were cheapest-grade metals. Stuff mass-stamped and printed in low-grade metal and plastic. Cost-effectiveness: double-speak for the most money with the least cost– ie, the highest ratio of sticking it to consumer-vs-likelihood of their rebelling.

Just another instance of the beast eating itself for want of control, N1T3 knew.

All the same, it meant going out again. A risk. More than that, a bad idea. No-one he knew would’ve allowed it. Corp-sec was out for blood. They had every intent and hope of taking it.
Blood. His blood; for exposing the illusion and corruption around them.

But he had to go. He knew the mistake’s repercussions wouldn’t be fully revealed for a while to come, but his gut said they were inevitable, inexorable. No human could deny that gut knowing, only defy it.

He had no choice.

The server fluxing meant it was just a matter of time before power went down. Even if he hadn’t been reliant on this and another hidden server, he’d have needed to come out and repair it A-SAP. It was almost unbecoming of his skill that he’d missed it thus far.

Forgivable as it was, he hadn’t checked his remote back-end. Not after Riter’s, losing the pier by luring Corp-sec there. Ket’s. He always knew it would be impossible to recover fully, but he’d had to give Ozell something to lead him to Ket, whose hands were all over this.

N1T3 had known the moment Ozell caught his scent, he was living on borrowed time. Getting caught in should-be-needless maintenance was taking more of what he already didn’t have. He needed time– to find some. But how?

He shuffled back and forth in the flat’s rear-room, prepping himself for the run and knowing any mistake could cost him everything. He ran through the plan’s broad-strokes, knowing the run would take him into populated areas.

Head down. Face hidden. Hands and creds only. Lift what’s too suspicious. Pay for the rest.

He grabbed an empty pack, jammed a couple essentials in it just in case, and started out.

Ostensibly, he’d placed himself to be separated not only from the general populous, but also, easy discovery within the place he’d sequestered himself. He’d managed not only general obscurity, but finer obscurity via exploratory disincentives.

As before, true security. Not an illusion of it. The only kind you can have; from confidence, and in having done all you can. The rest was knowing you must simply await the dice-roll.

He slipped into the empty street and dropped into the sewer. His server alerts had pinged him just after he’d fled Riter’s. He couldn’t have known they’d pinged, but he had worked out their cause. The broader one, not just the cheap components.

Word was getting out: through Ket first, her fountain. Then, $trydr’s servers. Riter had the whole place wired for personal surveillance. It would’ve been rolling during Corp-sec’s inspection. He’d run a search once he was back, but a growing number of power-hungry systems accounted for the flux.

Rome was coming online.

Weakened or cheap components often failed from unexpected voltage or amperage fluxes. It was the reason common PCs had used surge protectors for decades. Stress on a component, even if previously untouched nor taxed, fluxed from the grid’s excess draws. The fluxes themselves outright destroyed cheap or weakened components. Rather than a riding a steady strength of current, his had alternated minutely, frying a component’s conduits.

The why was the important part. Simply, more people were connecting to the grid and it was stressing what was already connected. What wasn’t prepped for it, was dying off.

Had to be net-based. Electronics usage didn’t double or triple without good reason. Nothing apart from the net was worth so quickly and cheaply tapping into.

N1T3 breathed, almost relieved; it was spreading.

He hesitated at a corner of a sewer line, angled right, and followed it into London’s populated outskirts. Auto-cars and non-drone delivery vehicles rumbled overhead between occasional, vibratory whirs of pub-trans vehicles.

The increase overhead came with the deafening roar of better-maintained sewer-lines. Still large enough for a man, but only just. N1T3 had to crouch, half-squat as if stealthing in-game. He kept his mind off it searching the echoes for water beneath, otherwise meditating on his revelation.

Fountains were spreading because digital information had pipelines. If it didn’t, he couldn’t have built his fountains, the repository-aquifiers that were his (and other hackers’) servers. They were the ones leeching the flow of power. He’d check later to verify, but the draw on the source would be equal, if so.

As water could not be drawn on without also draining it, one could not use the net without sucking power. Neither could not function without the other. That was the essence of postdigital reality. Innate as it was for N1T3, extending that knowledge to both micro and macro-level scales ensured he understood fully; the idea was spreading.

And Fast. The heat doubled with it. Again. He’d have to move even faster now, or he’d fail them all. The idea was spreading. Power was being redistributed to the people, but it needed proper dissemination to complete the vision. Postdigital reality required disseminating any accumulated resources immediately to those around, beside, above, and below. It was the automation of automation. If it did not function thus, it was useless, and so was he.

“He” however, also happened to represent true resistance to oppression. Recognizing it or not, everyone would be effected by his successes and failures. Fear brewed in his gut, quickly replaced by far more powerful forces of determination and conviction.

Reinvigorated, he doubled his pace.

The ever roaring cross-rumble above made his teeth begin to ache. Ahead, the line would split, turn him from sideline into mainline as the ground sloped and the pipes grew larger. When they leveled, allowing N1T3 to stand once more, he kept his gait short.

He knew better than to move any faster. He’d breached the perimeter of mainland populous, but he wouldn’t stick around or go deeper than necessary. That was why he’d come here.

The only inconspicuous street-access near anything resembling civilization was just beyond the edge of a piss-reeking alley. Mold, mildew, grime and soot climbed the alley walls, painting them a unique brand of filthy that smeared fine details into obscurity.

Civilization was deserted, yet-busy enough not to notice him. Even in the off-hour. He could grab everything he needed from the nearby convenience store.

He followed the alley toward a corner, beneath a small, lighted alcove; a routing area for the above-block’s power cabling. Situated in the zenith of the Alley’s grade so as to always avoid standing water, it was yet another necessity of concrete jungle-living. Though more primitive, these systems and pipelines more or less mirrored that of the net itself. Rather than supplying it directly however, it supplied its backbone; electricity.

It was the sign of its permanence. That such a spine existed meant tech was part of the landscape. That wasn’t changing anytime soon. N1T3 just needed to ensure it was known and capitalized on by the right people.

He made himself scarce; if he were cut off of caught near the entrance he’d have to find another way past corp-sec, their swarming loyalists.

N1T3 scoffed to himself, then rounded the alley corner for the street. Nobody was a loyalist to a system. Loyalty required connection on a level systems simply couldn’t contain. Though Humans and their love for pattern recognition allowed them to be enthralled by them, their nature remained unchanged.

What it amounted was the only person loyal to a corporation was either a fool or deeply confused. More often, the latter; however loud and voluminous the former.

Really, what people were loyal to beyond themselves, were ideas. Their own, reflected ideals of them therein. Any self-aware Human that took the time, saw that in an instant. Even if put it to different terms, “mine first” was the mentality.

N1T3’s vision so encompassed that idea, thereby affirming it via his own success, that he’d taken it the next logical step. Mine first, but after everyone’s we was ensured. The reason why was obvious: there wasn’t a guarantee of anything for anyone otherwise. That needed to change.

He kept his head down the block-and-a-half it took to reach the shop. He slipped in, careful to flip his hood off and shake the cold from his hair. Any more or less was suspicious. He kept his back and side to the cameras he knew were covering the entrances and exits, hid his face from the clerk by checking a pocket.

He hustled away, hidden in plain-sight. Careful of the occupied aisle, he sped past. Someone there; obvious in dreadful hints of desperation and shitty, night-shift coffee. Wage-slave, pseudo-loyalist folk; male by N1T3’s guess at the store’s layout. In its ol’ fashion, wannabe porn-mag aisle. The one its society was too polite to admit to having.

N1T3 loved the juxtaposition. The wannabe-exemplar and would-be smut. It was the essence of postdigital living. The duality of life. Of binary idiocy and indifference– because it was both and so much more.

And about to bring him to the precipice of death.

N1T3 slipped past the occupied aisle, completely unaware of the utter boredom of the wage-slave. To his credit, the guy was lucky to have seen him at all. So absorbed was he in his pseudo-culture, he’d been obsessing over Martin Black since his appearance in the media. He was fascinating for all the most mysterious reasons.

But because of the wage-slave’s system, interesting was bad. It had been hammered into the drones of corporate-moulding that anything wishing so intimately to be known was a bad thing. That was not exactly the case, N1T3 knew. Rather, it was the thing’s methods, the avenues it took toward infamy and fame, that dictated whether it was a “bad thing” or not.

The man was a dormant, would-be N1T3, catching the actual N1T3’s passing.

Before N1T3 had even rounded the next aisle’s corner, the man was carefully fleeing to alert his overlords.

N1T3 wouldn’t have blamed him, even if aware and given a chance.

Instead, he grabbed his purchases, subtly palmed and pocketed the rest, and approached the clerk. They avoided eyes as long as possible, said nothing as the few, minor items rang audibly through the silence.

Then; sirens screaming. Buzzing drones. Heavy, armored vehicles roared into earshot.

He eyed the clerk, instantly knowing he’d recognized him. More than that, the lightning exchange between he and N1T3 confirmed he’d not only pegged him the moment he’d come in, but hadn’t exposed him.

The place was one body less and the clerk’s eyes said it.

“The back. Go.”

N1T3’s eyes met the man’s, exchanging volumes. He knew him, if only by reputation. It wouldn’t have taken much to connect N1T3 to Martin Black, the two to him. The tacit admission of dire kinship was enough. Yet his gratitude could never be repaid.

He fled for store’s rear-exit, grabbed a pair of heavy, glass bottles as he passed. He jack-rabbited into the alley behind the store. Corp-sec’s first commands fanned out man and drone alike. Boots and shouts surged for the shop. Drones soared upward. N1T3 caught a flicker of one just as he dove into cover beneath an awning and behind a dumpster.

The sky was hidden, but any chance of escape meant moving. Fast.

He chanced a peek around the alcove’s corner. Saw drones pass the alley. One broke off to investigate. He shrank back behind the dumpster. The giant, buzzing bee lumbered overhead, looking for all the world like a drink-carrier had fucked an RC-plane. Funny as it looked, N1T3 wasn’t laughing. No-one would have. Not when the Bee’s belly was loaded with dual 20mm cannons.

He took a deep breath and shrank further from sight. The drone hovered 6 meters up, its optics and software working to scan every inch of the visible area ahead. It could’ve easily entered the narrow space of the alcove, found him behind the dumpster.

He relaxed.

It hadn’t, likely wouldn’t. Its code didn’t require it to in this instance. For now, there was an acceptable margin of error. That wouldn’t last if the drones went on-alert.

The heiress to the drink-carrying fortune finally lumbered past, continuing along its path to scan. He waited until it was safely behind him, then bolted for the alley-exit. He hesitated there, peering out; Massive, turreted APCs and ninja-treated SUVs blocked the roads nearest the shop.

Bodies were already moving about, forming up at various points. They hadn’t reached the alley yet. Didn’t think the clerk would play them.

N1T3’s jaw set; Militarized tax-payer dollars could never have funded this. These weapons of war were made from corporate dollars, and the only kind of war corporations waged was for their bottom-line– against anything. The only reason for such weapons, N1T3 knew, was to fight the very people funding their construction; corp-consumers.

He felt bile rise and made his move.

N1T3 skirted the street in two, long strides, intending to cross into the next alley. He’d go into one; round for the other, then swing-back around for his entry point. If he found others before there, he’d drop in.

The middle of his first stride, a faint shout. Young. Male. Some punk-kid still shooting blanks. Then, chaos. Madness. Screams. N1T3’s. Passers. Corp-sec’s. Sprinting, panting. Gunfire.

N1T3 found himself tumbling into an open sewer-line, completely unaware of how he’d gotten there. He’d managed to seal it up on the way in but hit cement with wet knees, his hands working but vision fading.

A moment later, he was against a wall and darkness was taking over.

His head fell to see his legs splayed awkwardly, wet knees barely visible in darkness. His hands were covered in more darkness– warm this time. He looked down to the darkness as it grew in his hands and over his eyes. Some seemed to be originating from his mind, some where leaking out into daylight.

The rest leaked from his abdomen, trickling from expanding tufts of white gradually darkening to red.

Then, nothingness.

Short Story: Natural Forces

Culture killed the corps. Lack of it, really.

Culture never fit with the rest of the Corporation as an entity. In retrospect, it was the tell-tale sign of their self-awareness. Culture’s a byproduct of collective, self-aware entities and their existence. Corporate culture though was bland and cold. Real culture was far too vibrant to be mistaken for the non-entity that was Corp culture.

It was night and day.

And in the minds of most people, that’s what it became. The cold, bland, workaday world for wage-slaves and sell-outs. The rest was night. And because of light pollution the corps sold us with bullshit lies, the nights were getting brighter and longer.

It wasn’t ’til Web 2.0 fractured that any change really became apparent though:

Digitally, Humanity had always looked like one, prosperous group formed of a melange of diversity. Fractured though, the two groups didn’t fit. Simply, one was much smaller– far too small to be doing what was being done. That defied visible reality.

Then came the black-market and the bit-currency boon. In the corporate world, the biggest fish ate first. For once though, the corps weren’t it.

Cameron Mobility sold the world its first Augment, but it was people that designed and built it. Specifically, black-marketpeople. In the same way open-source software was designed; in revision-states to rapidly hone designs through the dual forces of need and skill.

It was that same market, firmly ensconced in shadow and belonging to the palaces of thieves, hackers, fixers, their nets of scum and villainy, that finally did the world good.

Yes, the other bazaar. The digital one. Of blacks and whites. Ones and zeros. Where only desire and money existed. And only to serve one another. The same market that once pilfered tea, ran moonshine, hired out hitmen, and sold illicit goods globally.

It was the all-encompassing culture of need/want/payment. One of a new age going nowhere but forward and regardless of its supposed amorality. Nothing would stop it.

The why was simply; the culture really killing the corps was their own. Or rather, the veneer of one they’d formulated from the requirements for complicit employees. Corporate culture had no personability to it. At the end of a long day of number crunching, between work and dinner, no corporate occupier remained to cling to. No external influence for those few times it was needed.

Living without that inspired no security or comfort, and Humans rejected the unfamiliar.

The inherent flaw in the corporations’ system was that their sole concern was only and forever profit. It wasn’t profitable to be clung to; to keep the lights on after 5. To man the sails for the few nights that weren’t calm for the people temporarily below-decks.

After all, profits can’t be maximized with skeleton-crews costing the ship hazard-pay. Those were premium rate-times! Electricity was worth more then. Keeping lights on and people working thinned the margin. No matter how little the consumer needed them. That wasn’t the corporate way. Corporatism was living and dying by the dime, being always and forever in the black.

People didn’t get that guarantee, because they couldn’t give it.There was no corporate-prayer service for when baby’s diaper exploded across the kitchen, and parents need a solvent to clean with. There was no corporate-barricade barring the front door against their own, unwanted intruders. There wasn’t even a corporate-identity. The thing simply existing as part of an individual’s designation. Their actual titles were designed as reflowable to adjust to ever-shifting political-correctness.

But people were all of those things and more.

The mistake was moulding people to an existence between 9AM and 5PM. That world’s totality at your voluntary request, but nonexistent otherwise. And when it did not exist, you did not exist. It was no different than being released from chain-gang to pass time, too tired and battered to do more than daydream, intentionally.

And why wouldn’t people be so battered? Two generations of corporate formation and overt political-correctness had dulled even the sharpest wits. People needed only accept the bargain was good enough for slaves. Since slaves were good and slavery bad, it was good for you, right?

Most people swallowed it without resistance. The chains came later; after compliance but before realization.

The manipulation was obvious. More-so from the outside. Unfortunately few were heard through the din. General insanity had filled the world, post digital-age. Sheer-will oozed enough through to the more enlightened among them. Those few, also broken and damaged, saw no peaceful strategy remaining.

The message for them was clear; run.

The few whom did eventually became the Resistance’s spine and the nerves along its central column. They were more fortunate than most. No more or less intelligent, just aware and better-positioned. They saw enough of the barrel aimed at them to know to duck.

They jumped ship right up ‘til the war, ensuring the survival of the culture they defected to. Their own immortality assured therein. Living as they did ensured they remained important symbols, even if it was all they knew of how, why, what for.

Nowhere was this more obvious than the Aug movement, whose champions themselves formed the very leadership of Corp-Resistance. The results of those champions eventually led to the Fall. They’d begun the right way, simply shifted their focus after circumstances allowed– or rather forced, them to.

That base strategy was straight from the Corp-playbook; re-branding. It had another name too, one far more powerful to a disenfranchised group seeking something more; Evolution. The one the corps had used time and again to validate their actions. The difference was, the scale would allow change in totality, and with utterly no chance or path of reversion.

Of course rallying around Lemaire’s death was convenient; the Paris Incident and its ignition of the Two-Week War forced the few undecided to finally choose sides. The unfortunate side-effect was untold deaths from Corps bombing civilians and rioters alike. Basically, a tantrum of epic portion.

A toll that might’ve been entirely avoided was laid at the feet of every person, man, woman, and child for seeing the injustices and not fighting back. No matter the side of the fence, Lemaire’s death signaled people were no different to Corps than any other expendable resource.

Between rumored brain-hacks, the car-bomb, and the scapegoating of Aug aggression as its cause, it was a wonder the fuse burned so long between times. That it did was a testament to the kind of change people needed, hoped for. It was hesitation that admitted they didn’t want to fuck things up, were damned well working not to, but that peaceful routes were running their course.

And they did.

The fuse burned down, sparking a global implosion that resulted in total collapse of Corporate existence. Culture did that. Or the attempt at one. People were objects; materials, resources. That wasn’t right. Ethics aside, it held no logic.

People weren’t meant to be resources bought, sold, traded, or exploited– they weren’t supposed to be consumed; they were supposed to consume.

But they weren’t consuming and only a few others were. A very select few. So few, in fact, even fewer could overthrow them en-masse no matter their own power. If played right, they needed only tease the promise of what Corps had yet never offered; personalized personability.

The tailoring of anything to one’s desires and without judgment or restriction formed the true foundation of the Resistance. The cultural renaissance that followed saw the futility in things like market-power over-regulation and censorship, because markets regulated power naturally once large enough.

The only barrier to accepting it at the broadest level was feeling outside of it. One could refuse improving a systemic culture more easily if they were part of it themselves. Especially if that culture needed no foundational improvements.

Later, of course, the truth of the illusion was revealed and people had no reason not to accept the new culture, but the totality of the corporate collapse by then, had little to do with the war itself.

It was the people fighting that mattered. Each had their own ideas and visions of a place in this potentially open and globally-connected world. Whether that was through innovations in tech or philosophy, there was no reason people couldn’t negotiate compromise, save competition.

Competition though, no longer needed to exist. In the postdigital age, everyone was equal. The resources were all there; scattered, certainly, but there and only in need of re-distribution. Competition wasn’t necessary anymore, only intelligent planning.

The former was a remnant of the Pre-Human era that survived because of its robustness and ubiquity in a fear-driven world. No longer required, competition could be officially relegated to an exercise in adrenaline, or for conflicts on scales larger than yet-Humanly possible. Those involved in it were glad to have it, while the rest were glad to be rid of it.

Competition could survive as little more than a new-age art-form and thus had no reason not to.

It was simple physics; paths of least resistance. The more a thing clamored to fulfill its role, the more energy it expended and the less effective it was at survival, if only rhetorically.

In short; Evolution was the process of honing biological life to perfection through the mechanism of adaptation. The same went for revision with software, and could go for change with Society.

In other words, constant, minor adjustments and refinements ensured survival. Whether from intent or will, nothing need be handled differently anymore because everything could be quantified, somehow. Quantity itself then became an art; of machined numbers and datum, but an art nonetheless.

Most importantly, if input into the right system, such principles of postdigital progress could do anything, anybody wanted.

In that way, Lemaire’s Resistance wasn’t a resistance at all. It was simply a majority overthrowing a former minority. The newly-dethroned disseminated power gained and lost by the likes of snake-oil salesman, brill-creamed con-men, and dark-spectaled suits. They’d formed pacts to better position their marks to buy and sell them back and forth en-masse, and panicked to death when people finally realized it was happening and ended it.

It took time though– and because of the severity of the grievances, blood.

Yet the foresighted once more led the way to light. It just so happened, that light was also the Resistance, thereby bringing to the fight many whom might have chosen pacifism for sake of family or obligation. That same devotion however, then allowed those lost to become paragons to those that remained.

As if through sheer need of people, the remembered became symbols to rallyboth groups and individuals. It was in this way Lemaire’s death had caused the Paris Incident.

The truly egregious trigger-point for outrage was the volatile mixture of changing culture meeting the bombings that followed.Lemaire was corporate, but human. Used and discarded. She was, like all peoplenow; just a resource, a statistic. One who’d outlived her time in the black, was now in the red from the media-risk inherent in her. Therefore, corporate culture dictated she be zeroed-out as quickly, quietly, and cleanly as possible.

The cheapest, most effective way required exploiting her death at larger scalesto maximize effectiveness. The corporate way dictated a car-bomb to suittheir desires. In one move, they could placetheir currently-manufactured scapegoats– Augs– from the news of the week (Aug aggression) in bed with long-running narratives against conventional fuels and private transport.

That idea secure, they buried reality beneath vague reports, inconsistent datum, late retractions, and less-publicized revisions– for clarifications no less vague but masked as natural fog.

And it backfired. In Totalilty.

People had been at odds with the cultural-divide too long. Nothing remained to cling to of the corporate entity. Money was killing everyone. Any residual effects and influence of corporate veneer too weak to distract from that. Rose-colored glasses could no longer be any less-jaded. More than, that they could now take off the glasses, see the vibrant world beyond.

Ultimately, what killed corps was a simple reality: Corporate culture was a construct. Culture was a natural force.

Short Story: The Babel Problem

Some things, you can never really expect; car accidents, terminal disease, mental collapse. Usually, too, the most innocuous offenses have the greatest effect; Little Timmy Traydor’s flu, disguised as seasonal allergies, spreads. A week later, coroners are rolling Grannie Hestor down the driveway in a vinyl bag, dead at 83 from pneumococcal complications.

Again, some things, you can’t expect. You can, however, anticipate others. Sometimes. If you’re careful. Most aren’t. Not enough time, really.

However, no-one ever expects or anticipates a radically-public return from the dead.

Even the corps knew that feat was unattainable, reserved for Heroes of myth, religious icons, soaps with revolving writers and no budget.

But she came back. And it changed everything.

Few wars had the effect of this one. The 20th century had shown Humanity war could be profitable. Only decades later did they learn the terrible truth; only true war could be profitable. And true war couldn’t be manufactured.

World War II had spurred Humanity toward a global golden-age for nearly a half-century before its momentum thoroughly exhausted. Therein were born profiteers of every booming sect of society and economics. Some unions, their politics. Some military arms.Others, medicines or technology.Most saw no connection between any of the afore- or un-mentioned.

Then again, how could they? History’d proven itself repetitious, why would that change? History, after all, was a force. As unstopped and inviolable as Nature. Right?

Wrong. She came back and it rallied a part of every. Living. Human. Not just Corp or Reb, or Aug. And not just a few, but every. one; Corp-execs, loyalist jack-boots, the lowest boot-licks— and obviously everyone else. They all had some stake in her side’s fairing, because she’d done the impossible and come back.

Admissible or not, every Human knew it; through those first hints of collective-conscience forming. Like any social group in need of leadership, its source required rigid morality, lest group survival fail. But what could be that source? Politics were a joke.Peace-keepers corruptible. Courts slap-dash, ancient systems from more-ancient eras. Its descended system and components, too,were relics; museum pieces long before even the pre-digital world existed.

Humanity was now living post-digital though. Everything a 0 or 1 within layered levels of parameters and reference. The only differences were subject, context. Even if mostly-blind to it, Humans recognized their need for decentralized guidance.

Like everything of that time, it formed of collective will and need, through sentinels. Guardians physical and digital.Neither doers nor teachers, players nor coaches, but referees and watchers. The same side-liners never bothering to de-bench but still wishing to contribute.

So, they became the ones drawing and tracking lines and rules. Rather than consciously though, it occurred randomly via the same happenstance as all life’s attributes; Black. White. Gay. Straight. Old. Young. All parameters and references, layered or not. In the end, their system was what mattered; systems were malleable. Allowing the watchers to be fed simply ensured the systems continued functioning and improving.

It just so happened, most of those watchers– the Guardians, also happened to be Au-teurs. Creative-visionary, post-humans specializing in thoughts, ideas, and treading the footsteps of Verne, Da Vinci, Tchaikovsky; their descendants Asimov, Van Gogh, and Zappa; so-on, until webs of influence formed from their own immersion and intimacy withing their worlds.

They were stop-bits. All of them, each a facet of Human culture or the apex of a generation’s feelings on a matter. Bird was the word and it stopped with them;filtered from the insanity of the postdigital age into footnotes, referential layers,choices; 0s and 1s.

When she came back though, every watcher– every stop-bit flipped to 1. Together.

Every Human to ever live was with them.

That moment was immortality; fleeting as it seemed, it was. A moment outside time so powerful it would reverberate forever. It was a moment of adaptation that made for Humanity’s first, true evolution since its origination; its first and last. From Human to post-Human. A shift that would remain ’til the end of existence, because the species in question had beaten back something always existing before.

Her return broke new ground in reality,existence. Without so deep and primal a fearas death,even the most meager existence could become enlightenment. Her return, that moment, made it possible. Immortality,resurrection, radically shifted human existence.

Even if more tech and chrome than not, she remained Human. Especially after the Incident, that was important. While no-one saw it that way then, as they too busy fleeing for cover, it was no less accurate. The war that came with her was Brutal. Atavistic. Devastating. Though Few died relatively speaking, each was felt intimately; the resulting turmoil, total.

Every Human alive felt each death stronger simply for being alive. The truth appeared then:

Humanity was experiencing a total mental-awakening amid a self-inflicted violence so shameful and harmful, a counter-balance was not only impossible to avoid, but inevitable and necessary. What that came to be was an idea, simple yet immeasurable in its effect; competition for resources was no longer necessary for survival.

Resources were finite, certainly, but properly divided were more than enough. It was time to stop, think, then act; all the while recognizing that what set us apart from animals wasn’t clothing, organization, or even intelligence. Rather, it was the grasping and manifestation of concepts so abstract they could only arise from one source; imagination.

An animal knew only it’s immediate point in space-time. It could be conditioned through binary emotion– warm or cold feelings– to react as per instinct and reflex. Ultimately though, it could not think long-term, nor plan its future beyond a few, select moments.

But Humans were different now.

For the first time, they were forced to pause and engage what they’d created via collective will. In that came the obviousness that the struggles underlining society were pointless, because they were solvable. Certain parties simply weren’t doing there part to solve them.Her return, the war that came with it, made one thing clear: it was time for that to end.

Far bigger concerns existed. Thus, so could things to fulfill even the wildest dreams of the most wild dreamers. Humanity simply required a slight extension of patience, one considered unobtainable from life’s demands.

But that belief was dictated by elderly ideas and systems of even older ideas. Ones formed with hope of a so-called “perfect” world.However, the world needn’t be perfect, only that Humans have a goal to keep them striving, reaching, and staving off stagnation.

Pre-digital gave way to postdigital, the actual digital age merely the transition between; a Human process of realization, that of not only their place, but perfection’s. The latter as an abstract construct meant as a guide-wire to be always expanding, growing. In effect, an info-virus seeking to rectify a Babel problem that wasn’t a problem, but a consequence of nature and human existence.

If allowed and harnessed, that same consequence was its own force to be reckoned with.

She returned, and everything changed. The stop-bits flipped. Alarms went up. And all hell broke loose. The rest is history. The resurrection. The second coming. It was there, but only because Humanity willed it. It– she was salvation, because Humanity needed one, willed it possible. She just happened to be convenient.

On one level or another, people suddenly agreed with her revolution; all people.Immortality was a living being’s concern, and she’d defied it. In doing so, she sealed the Corporations’ fall.

No-one wanted ’em anymore. They weren’t good enough, purpose aside. They were the first, rough-draft systems of a newly foresighted species; learning-software output of child-students of the universe learning to multitask any goal, aligned or otherwise.

It was only after things truly began for Humanity, its progeny, their affected. Now that they knew how to do it right, it could be magnificent. And it was.

Short Story: Citizen’s Memorial

If those rat-bastards had known what they were starting, would they still have started it?

That’s the question that can’t help being asked. Fact is, the Paris Incident wasn’t the start of it. The start of it was those pansy-ass ultra-liberal extremists masquerading as good, decent-minded folk. That they’d managed not only to succeed, but also manipulated others into believing their bullshit was more astounding than the cluster-fucked war-zone or its aftermath.

That war-zone, of course, was Earth. Who doesn’t know by now? Those cheap-shit Clinkers and their aluminum guts. It was a wonder anyone ever wasted time or money on them in the first place. Who knew what we were setting in motion when that Cameron-bitch did her thing.

Cameron Mobility my ass. It was the black market that really did it.

Course… we did sort of fund that one too, so maybe we’re to blame there. Then again, no-one blames us anyhow, so it’s moot.

Problem was, those pansy-asses had gotten their tits in a twist over something. Again. Like they did, the media arms of Info-corp, GNN, and the other Big Five went into gear, spinning and spinning. Until they’d formed another of the threads woven day and night into the masses’ fates.

That thread was one, unbroken stream-of-consciousness for an entire global culture. It had stretched on, completely unprepared for Cameron’s sudden revelation to be added to the mix.

Augs appeared and it was like every extremist’s wet-dream; an army of disenfranchised for the picking. Right place. Right time. Funny two wrongs never make a right, but two rights can make a wrong.

Pricks.

Everyone, corp and not, knew the protesters were never there as Augs or sympathizers. Augged or not, they only cared to use the situation to their advantage, forward their agenda. Whatever it was, it was all that mattered. A new arm to jerk at a thousand-Gs was just a bonus.

And why not? Never know when you might need to.

People’d been trained too well in that case. Each one had been turned into scheming bastards. Corps spent decades being scheming shits. Why couldn’t people be too? In the end, that was why the Corps fell; shadow games couldn’t be run if the shadows were full to brimming with wannabes.

The Big 13 had unwittingly spent decades teaching their enemy to play their game. It is always inevitable that the student become the master. It is the natural march of time. The only reason corporate culture’s thrived so well on those Eastern philosophies.

Castes and cliques make system incorporation easiest to limit. Controlling what is already self-limited and self-controlled is inherently easier.

On a human level, what delineated those organizations was culture.

Corps didn’t understand their own culture well enough to maintain control in a crisis, how could they ever become eternal, as they were wont to do?

Culture is a concept that adds social redundancy to various levels of a system. In the case of corporations, it’s the sense of Corporate security. Ensuring Corps maintained morale and proft-margins was the first level of corp-sec before men were ever involved. It was inherent and intuitively established in the concept’s existence.

Corporate safety and sovereignty could be assured simply by understanding that, so long as the actuators in the system were allowed their leeway to work, they would. The actuators further up, in this avaricious executives blood-thirsty for money, were thus supposed to allow that leeway.

But the shit hit the fan, and they ran. Instead of stepping up and getting splattered.

As they should have.

That was what the Execs never understood; Eastern philosophies and, thus Corporate culture, dictated all fuck-ups be accounted for. In effect, some entity was required as sacrificial lamb.

Until the Fall, not one of them knew that.

By then Execs were third and fourth-gen buy-ins. Their qualifications were theoretical, more or less guaranteed by their great grandfather’s skill in their field, rather than their own proficiency. The Fall’s seemingly unendingness was necessary.

However long-coming, it was the result of corporate and true-realities clashing.

Reality was, Corps were as much living things as any multi-celled organism. As capable of corruption as anything, but moreso inclinded toward it because of their great propensity for effect.

Corporations were human-body cell divisions; each level a title. Each marking some region along the body. Cells were grouped within and by them. Mostly, for the purposes of efficient division of labor and resources to meet demand, but each individual was therein motivated differently.

Each level of cells had its own inner divisions too. If only in two lines of actuators– or people, shuffling boxes in unending Conga lines. The trick was keeping that going for ever without any, one conga-er being without its every need and reasonable desire.

It was a delicate balance that required occasional sacrifices for the same reasons all sacrifice is required; because it was fucking required. Sure, CEOs were least likely but so long as no-one was immune to the purge, it was no more or less fair. So long as heads still rolled at every level, no-one was the wiser to the actual statistics.

Besides, numbers didn’t matter. Not really. Only preservation of the system. The resistance succeeded for the same reason. Especially in the beginning, their leadership was entirely nonexistent. Then, entirely fluid. Whomever had the best ideas rode lead. If someone failed to produce after a while, they rode backseat again.

Revolution made people feel useful again; as individuals, in addition to a disenfranchised group.

The individual was what really fucked Corporations. They didn’t have time for it. Patience did not exist in corp-culture. Only two things did: time and money.

The goal was achieving the perfect fusion of the two. The cold-fusion, if you will, of time-money synergy with the least interference between A and B.

Only what was necessary was allowed there. It was an attempt at statistical harmony, to be maintained indefinitely. True Fusion would be perfected harmony between the forces of labor, cost, and output allowing for total, eternally sustained growth. That was the “nirvana” of the Corporate entity.

And it would absolutely never have room for the individual.

Impartiality aside, those fucking liberals knew that. Maybe not all of ’em, but the ones stirring the shit and priming the fan, so to speak. They knew the system for what it was; that just waiting a few more generations might sort the last bugs out as intended. And they weren’t satisfied with that.

In the end what’d we get? LeMaire’s future? The resistance? Still living in fucking shit and squalor decades later; some places worse than if we’d left well enough alone? For what? No corps

Yeah, and a fucking barter economy, too. Turns out when you surgically remove the largest– and only– Global producers of services, goods, and employment, things don’t just balance out. If they’d just shut their mouths, the eventual cock-up cascade might never have occurred. At least, if it had, it wouldn’t have rivaled the damage even World Wars couldn’t top.

In time, things might’ve worked out. Little by little. Shit always shakes out. Eventually. Our species’ survival’s taught us as much.

Usually, without nearly destroying us in the process.

After The Fall, most people began seeing that but the screaming wasn’t applause. It was the fucking bloodbath going around everyone. Everyone’s agreed on that; the Two Week War, was war. The Revolution, was a revolution and it did occur globally.

Global war. Plain and simple infighting. Not a sovereignty war. Not even a civil war. It was a Corporate war. A real one. Not the kind run in boardrooms and through ad-campaigns, for figures on paper. It was a war for ground, for bodies, for hearts and minds.

That was the one thing the resistance got wrong– not that it mattered in the end. They were fighting a war on two fronts they could’ve easily won on one alone, if they’d been smart enough.

The sheer strength of the message that rallied their people attested to that.

Instead, they waged a bloodbath of corporate war for nearly a decade. All that time, conditions worsened for corp and wage-slave alike. The cities turned to ruins from constant exodus of war and attrition shrinking borders and collapsing what remained of the economy.

By the end, no-one really cared that the last corp exec was tried or executed. We’d lapsed back to normality. A new normality, but a normality nonetheless.

The only real, net differences were for those on the sidelines, counting the losses sustained. Bits are still cash. Folks still earn ‘it, with or without the sweat off their back and brow, but everyone needs ’em when suddenly no-one’s got ’em.

People though… they don’t grow back. You can’t take on an extra helping just to get back some that were lost. A lot of people learned a lot the hard way from that war. Some learned of their own mortality, some learned of others’… but I’m not bitter.

Hard Lessons: Part 11

11.

Walk the Walk

Angela sat in yet another filthy alley awaiting Titus’ contact. There was no question as to his arrival, only how long. He was as likely to show early as late. Dealers were like that. Most times, it couldn’t be helped or blamed.

So, she sat, helmet on and arms crossed atop her bike. She’d pointed it for an exit in the unlikely event a fast getaway was needed. The rain made sheets of low visibility between here and there. Good; better prepared than trapped.

Rain drummed on her helmet, perfectly blended with external mics feed environmental sounds to her aural implant. It gave rhythm to her thoughts, forced her to face facts; Crystal and Arthur had been right.

Right or not, Lucas was her brother. She had to help him. At least try. Their conversation replayed in her head endlessly, examined for selfish intent. Over the rain pelting her and the morning thunder rattling her chest, one question he’d posed rang true; why hadn’t she gone back for them?

Truthfully, she couldn’t be sure. She’d left her siblings to criminally overbearing parents a decade ago. Wrongful as Lucas’ accusations were, she hadn’t attempted to re-establish contact. After Julia, she could easily have transplanted Lucas and Alison from their parents’ dangerous invasiveness.

Then again, whether Ali could be saved most pressing. She’d grown up almost entirely without Angela. The teen-aged girl might not remember her beyond photos together. Angela couldn’t bear the idea of having left her behind, alone.

At least Lucas went through the worst of it with Angela. They were together when they’d first learned of the cult-mentality of their parents and their religious groups. They endured an utterly nonexistent privacy brought about by a so-called open home for precisely as long as they had to, then fled.

Angela was certain her parents’ surveillance cameras and intrusive snooping trained her to be the thief she was. It gave drive to violate that net of security, regardless of where. Or, at least, it made it more bearable and natural to do so.

As soon as she could, Angela put the past to work for her. She’d never have known anything about herself or the world were she there much longer. Sexuality, adrenaline, success; all “improper” for a girl of her stock. So, she fled to the streets and ended up stuck there.

For far too long.

She’d had enough one birthday night. Childhood was excruciating. Adulthood wasn’t looking better. Street life was cold reality; day-to-day survival of eating from dumpsters, trash cans, drinking from half-crushed cans and broken bottles, choking on random cigarette butts and refuse.

No-one would’ve blamed her for having had enough.

Were it not for Julia’s timely discovery of Angela’s slow death, their eventual love, she wouldn’t be around to worry about her brother’s addictions. She wondered if that was a bad thing, but immediately recalled Crystal.

She breathed easier, if only a little.

Wet ceramic squealed from the import beyond the alley entrance. Her helmet faded and compensated for the rain and light reflected from the NSX’s futuristic angles. A skinny Japanese kid, no more than nineteen, hustled into the alley. He stopped mid-way through.

This wasn’t a dealer. Angela saw it in the rigid spine, the uncertain but shrewdly narrowed eyes. He was a courier, running any and everything any and everywhere for cash. A kid with a part time job under the table. He had no idea what he was carrying or what he was doing.

Angela swung her leg over her bike and started over, helmet on. She stopped at arm’s length. He hunched forward, cradling something.

“All here,” he said.

Angela unzipped her jacket, exchanged a manila envelope for the bag. They double-checked their swap, then about-faced. Angela zipped her coat, chest now damp from the bag, and returned to her bike. In moments, she was gliding through pelting rain.

Across town, Titus sat at the bank of laptops, increasingly more concerned that Saito had yet to show. Most of him didn’t mind, not at the thought of Crystal’s milk-white body nude beneath the blanket behind him.

The rest of him felt the same, professional agitation of any long-term job. He did his best to calm himself with that thought; just another job. He sparked a joint, deciding he could wait as long as he had to. Extra time with Crystal, wasn’t something he’d mind.

They’d tacitly agreed on no strings for now, unbidden as the future was. All Titus knew was that he’d managed a night with a woman aching for pleasure, and was now aching from his best attempts to provide it. Judging by her deep sleep, he’d done a decent enough job.

He kicked back, puffing deep on the joint to watch the various camera-feeds. Their drones were still flying pre-programmed routes, quick and easy labor he’d cooked up during job-prep. With the aid of a GPS satellite and locator chips in each drone, he wrote macro subroutines strung together in a specific structure;

A series of flight routes within a few blocks of one another. Between their size and camera feeds, they could monitor most of the area three-dimensionally, auto-adjusting against wind within tolerances to retain patrol feeds. What was more, they could be live-edited to compensate for the worsening rain as it blew in from the Pacific.

In effect, he had total command of the area. Until now, he’d only ever used components of the system, but the various drones’ programming seemed to need only ironing out, polishing. In other words, it was smooth sailing until Saito finally decided to show.

As it had been since the job had begun. Agitation was the monotony setting in then.

Titus didn’t like complications, but he liked monotony even less. It made him anxious. Mostly, monotony meant the target, in this case Saito’s hidden vault, was used to an interruption in its routine similar to his method of interacting.

In other words, that it was aware of his presence, however benignly. That problem was obvious to anyone aware of his and Crystal’s intent.

Crystal stirred amid sleep, but did not wake. He couldn’t help but glance back. The toned muscles of her back and silk-smooth skin showed the obvious commitment to making herself whole again. She’d lived on the streets long enough to know; caring for every part of oneself was as much a privilege as a responsibility.

It wasn’t hard to see how far she’d extended that mentality. Her hair was long, luscious. Her eyebrows were prim, even. Her skin was soft, clear, and clean. Her entire body, as Titus could attest, was pampered. More than that, it was appreciated, loved anew as few could be.

Crystal had received a new lease on life. Any astute observer knew that. Therein it gave her something few others had. A lust and love for life impossible without her history. It intoxicated him with his own lust for life, especially given the profound and beautiful woman few wouldn’t be enamored with.

Alarms rang in his head.

He’d kept things fast and loose for the sake of work. Letting anyone in exposed both sides to risk. Especially for two playing the game on different levels. It was dangerous to be more involved than necessary. Crystal didn’t know the extent of his role in the game. And It was for the best. Certain affairs weren’t for the faint-hearted. Even less, for those potentially vulnerable to their knowledge.

He couldn’t allow Crystal too deep in yet. Otherwise, she might end up learning things she wasn’t allowed to know. Not yet, anyhow.

Selfish as it seemed, the game took precedent in every facet of life. Everybody playing knew that. That rule extended to partners, was the sole reason he refrained from any, serious ones.

He admitted himself a bit of a romantic. Not a bleeding heart, of course. Far from it, in fact, but a man aware of a few specific things about relationships. He used them as guide-lines, nothing if not principled. A reality that made him all the more fit for the game.

Unfortunately, it also made it more difficult to admit there was more to bringing Crystal.

The thing at the heart of matters he hadn’t been ready to admit, now confronted him beneath the warmth of cannabinoids, post-coital ecstasy, and plain emotion.

He was forced to admit he liked Crystal. Liked her in a way that would lead to more.

Careful or not, it was there. The more he denied it, the worse he’d make things. Much as Crystal was right about his vulnerabilities, she’d missed the extent. His actions were entirely transparent to. He’d miscalculated, and for someone living on output, that was dangerous.

For all of his smoothness, all of his careful planning and cool, Titus was a romantic and he did want Crystal.

But those were vulnerabilities.

Forced to recall his own sentiments about vulnerabilities, he reached an epiphany; he felt a helluva a lot better off with Crystal around than not.

Hard Lessons: Part 9

9.

The Brother Problem

It could’ve been worse, in some ways. In others, it was as bad as anything that could’ve happened and didn’t. There wasn’t bloodshed, but Angela felt that would’ve been easier to deal with. Bloodshed was easy; stay alive until its over and hope you’re not on the cleanup crew.

She raced home to change into long-sleeved clothing, drop her gear from the job. She hurried Arthur out the door with her.

“How long’s he been gone?” She asked, Ferrari’s engine firing.

Arthur ducked in, careful of his stiff leg, “Left right after you.”

Her HUD read 19:08.

Lucas had been boozing and burning cash for ten hours. She’d expected as much, but her fury rose from the obvious steam rising off Arthur. Whether directed at Lucas or her, she wasn’t certain, but it prompted a small pang of guilt. That guilt combusted into an explosive rage tempered by the knowledge that it was more deadly when channeled.

Angela raced from the garage to street level, into the abandoned alley.

Arthur grumbled a command, “Find the car.”

“Working on it.”

Her HUD connected to the Ferrari’s relay, piggybacked its packets off various open-air connections, met her system in the apartment below. A small, oscillating circle pulsed in a corner of her vision. GPS maps winked on.

Jackstaff’s various cameras cycled, its regions narrowing to auto-locate her GPS frequencies. She keyed off anything in the garage. Three pips. One further along the coast near dock-warehouses; she needed to remind Crystal to mask her bike’s GPS on jobs.

The other two pips were separated by the city-proper. She cross-referenced them with live-cams nearby, knew instantly where he was, why.

And she was pissed.

“Sonuvabitch.”

Custom run-flat slicks left rubber along asphalt as they burned toward the city. Arthur eyed the car’s onboard GPS, instantly understood. Angela was properly furious now. Himself with her. Of all the places Lucas could be, the Factory was one of the worst.

Beyond it being the sleaziest strip club in all of Jackstaff, which was no small feat, it belonged to a fixer with bad blood. She’d vowed never to do business with him long ago. Worse though, the place was frequented by people with only one of two things (or both) in mind; girls and drugs.

Most often, that was pimps and addicts respectively. Knowing her brother, Angela suspected the latter.

Unofficially The Factory, had gained a colloquial additive as a result of the caliber of girls and patrons frequenting it. “Slut.”

In the end, all it meant was these weren’t the ideological descendants of Dutch “sex-workers” using genetics or surgeons to make a living. They weren’t even poor girls forced into sleaze by circumstance and lack of other, marketable skills. Rather, they were the types that wanted to be used, abused, and pissed on rather than think for themselves.

But it wasn’t just the girl’s. The Factory was famous for that mentality in all it’s inhabitants. It was the sort of place only the worst types ended up. In most of America, they were called Trash; England, Chavs. Aussies had Bogans.

Whatever they were termed wherever they were, they were all the same sect: subhuman scum-rings around the drain-pipe of society. As certain to contain diseases other humans had mysteriously achieved herd immunity against as to kill you with their presence. Usually, by slipping on their slime.

They were exactly the type of people Angela hoped Lucas wasn’t, but Arthur and Crystal suspected he was. The type of person she feared he was.

“How’d you know of a problem?” Angela asked, racing through a light. She drifted around a corner.

Arthur growled for more reasons than he wished. “What else would’a been the case?” She glared. “Gotta’ call from his tail.”

“What!?”

Her fury hit him with all the effect of at a pebble against a brick wall.

“You hired me for security. To protect your home. It’s my job.” She sneered. He ignored it. “Furthermore, you no longer live alone. Until you do, there are others that must be considered. You may take no issue with bringing a stranger–“

My brother!

He corrected them both, “One un-involved in your livelihood. And you cannot begrudge others their choices otherwise.” Her jaw ground, forcing her to wince. “… extends to anyone else you bring in. Crystal’s cleared. Lucas is not.”

She fumed in silence, nostrils flaring. He finished the argument with a last remark. “Anyone that walks through our door is screened and cataloged as risk or not. Relations aside, he’s a risk. You know better than anyone sometimes you need protecting.”

Angela’s grip choked the wheel. Her foot weighted the accelerator. Jackstaff blurred into colorful smears. They bobbed and weaved from her murderous attempts to defy gravity. Car-horns became mired in the guttural screams of a super-performance V8 that hiccuped into turns then mini-gunned back out again.

In moments, Angela found herself pulling to a stop outside The Factory.

Unlike most places frequented by society’s undersides, this had nothing approaching glitz or glamour. Nothing masquerading as it.

Neon glowed dimly from a once-curvaceous, naked broad on the roof. Her lower thigh flickered like an amputee pulling a prosthetic off randomly for a joke… for all eternity. The torn awning buzzed visibly from unsteady voltage. The products of sea-air on ancient wiring.

The one, non-junker in the lot that wasn’t hers was a mid-80s Corvette; paint-peeling, tires bald, and in serious need of a rust enema. Above all, the Factory was robustly doused in the repulsiveness of humanity’s most-vile scum pits; a smell unlike any other but profoundly afflicting.

Fitting, Angela felt.

She sent Arthur home, checked the ‘73 Roadrunner for damage– untouched. A mercy for all involved. Especially those subject to Angela’s rising wrath. She wasn’t sure how, but given the area, it could only be a matter of time before something happened. The sooner she got Lucas out, the better.

She double-checked her Walther, headed for the visible emanations outside the doors.

Impossible as it seemed, The Factory’s interior was worse than its exterior. Grime was layered along industrial-adhesive floors. Their stickiness was held at bay only by the foreign-fluid coating reapplied nightly. Deliberately non-UV lights scattered about seemed to ooze never-ending auras of sludge over them in metaphysical glows.

The patrons were no better, if they could be called that. A few were more or less normal. Barflies that hung anywhere close to home. Though that fact made her wonder about what they called home.

The rest were divided into the aforementioned two groups; pimps and their wannabes auditioning in booths, and addicts nodding off or bouncing about near the pulpit that served as a stage floor; an altar to sleaze and smut with none of the hold-backs that civilized those ideals in the modern era.

The latest number on display was something Angela wouldn’t look twice at. Not from hyper-focus, rather fear. Some part of her animal lust might mix with empathy, make her pity people she’d otherwise let drown as mercy killings.

Her HUD located Lucas through the grime and poor lighting. Then, everyone else. Her presence was known the moment she’d entered. Most didn’t bother, but a few of the twisted shadow-creatures watched. Intensely.

She didn’t hesitate, aimed straight for Lucas at a booth. Its near-edge was hidden from view, its far-side clearly visible. In it was Lucas, soused to the gills. Just drunk or high too, Angela couldn’t care less. She stormed over, instantly fighting the urged to empty her Walther into the near-edge of the table…

And the shit-slicked grease-ball occupying it.

“Ah, the Elder Dale,” an oil-slick bubbled. “And here I thought it was just one surprise I’d receive tonight.”

Angela cocked a half-snarl into a crooked grimace “Should’ve expected this. You’ll latch onto anything with an IQ higher than its bra-size.”

Something in his eyes delighted in disgusting Angela. It was a sickly sort of pleasure that couldn’t help but seem right at home in the hell-hole of The Factory.

“You’d certainly know all about that, wouldn’t you? Latching on to large breasts?”

She did her best not to roll her eyes; even clever, he was a moron. “Lucas, let’s go.”

“No, no. Stay,” Wyatt insisted. “Sit. Catch up.”

Angela remained still, ready to strike.

The eyes of every shadow holding burned her skin atop the cancerous lights. Grease congealed into thin air in her lungs, formed of the melange of drugs, blood-lust, and impotent sex on the air. As if a bonding compound awaiting activation at collective mental will.

She ignored it all, looking directly at Lucas. To his inebriated mind, the mix of lighting and intoxicants sharpening her visage to a serpent’s. As if some fierce, mythical creature had come for him, ready to lunge swallow him whole, if need be. Either way, he was going with it.

He didn’t so much hear her instructions as sense them. As a bottom-feeder senses a disturbance along the seafloor. There was no room for refusal to follow, because following was survival, reaction. It was this or something so awful it was best never known, so get on with it and do the thing.

Before Lucas knew what was happening, she’d slapped a handful of cash on the table and was dragging him out. He let her, confused by the sudden shifting scenery. The cool air of the night sobered him enough to keep him moving under his own power.

Angela said nothing the whole ride home. For that, Lucas was glad, if only because it put off the inevitable lecture. Beyond that, Angela knew there was no point talking now; Lucas was too fucked up.

When she finally did say something, it was after an obvious hesitation in the kitchen. Many long, quiet, and cold minutes later.

“We aren’t done with this.”

She disappeared into her room, leaving Lucas to fend for himself.

Across town, Crystal was discussing the matter with Arthur via her comm-implant. She’d called requesting an update on security before going on watch. Arthur’s opinion remained unchanged. He relayed everything that had occurred, positing it was just the beginning.

Before long, Crystal was once more present, sitting beside Titus on the cot, thinking.

Lucas was an issue. A threat. He was a risk to everything all of them had built and achieved. Everyone knew it. Everyone had said so. They’d all been careful, respectful. Angela still wasn’t listening. Or at least, she wasn’t reacting.

Ultimately, the risk was still present.

Crystal sighed frustration. Titus saw her thoughts, “Don’t worry about the workings. All you need’s to be ready to help if the heat’s on.”

“Think it’ll get that bad?”

He cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable with his own thoughts, “All I’ll say’s from here, it looks like he’s bringing heat. Little by little, sure, but heat. If that’s true, it might only get worse.”

“You mean Wyatt’s just the beginning then. Who is he? Not another Caruso, right?”

“Nah,” Titus soothed. “But there’s blood.”

“Enough?”

He shrugged. “Angela’s smarter than jumping lines between Tooler and Fixer.” He shook his head, uncertain. “Problem is, if a fight’s gonna happen, has to be between fixers. Even Curie won’t vouch for Angela if she starts line-jumping.”

“I know the game,” Crystal reminded. “Play by the rules or end up like Caruso, or Saito, or anyone else outside.”

He nodded astutely. “Bottom line, Lucas is making Angela vulnerable. Someone might take advantage of that. Best hope’s to fix the problem before there’s a chance.”

“This isn’t the first vulnerability Angela’s let slip,” Crystal grumbled, feeling more like Arthur by the moment.

“Don’t be like that,” Titus casually warned. “She’s on the level. Always. Vulnerabilities are only a problem if you don’t guard ‘em right.”

Crystal’s brow furrowed for explanation.

“Put it this way; you don’t solo well. You’re best on team jobs. Nothing wrong with it, its just who and how you are. It’s why I offered this job. Thing is, if you’re aware of a weakness, you can be aware of it.

“Take a sentimental person like Angela, wearing emotions on the sleeve sometimes. It’s not a bad thing. Case in point, you. Sometimes though, certain people aren’t aware of it, so they end up showing that sentimentality to the wrong people by mistake. People that’ll exploit it.”

“You think Wyatt’ll find some way to insinuate himself between she and Lucas to get to her?”

“Or send someone else to,” he said. “I would.”

Crystal stared off, silent in thought. Something occurred to her. “And me?” She asked almost on impulse. “What’re my vulnerabilities?”

He took a long, deep moment to think about it, then eyed her carefully, “Thinking you’ve got something to prove and carrying it like a chip on your shoulder. Problem is, you might go outta’ your range of skills to do it. That’s when you’ll hit trouble.”

Crystal followed his meaning, “Like pulling a solo job when I’m not ready?”

He nodded, smiled. “Exactly.”

She caught his eye for a long silent moment. Then kept it over a chuckle. “You think I believe that?” His brow rose. “Of all the people you know; all the middlers, fixers, toolers, you think I’m supposed to believe I’m only here ‘cause I’m good in a team?”

He laughed, caught red-handed. “Guess not.”

She grinned smugly. “And your vulnerability’s thinking you’re smoother than you are.” She leaned over, kissed him. She drew back, “And underestimating me.”

Short Story: Birth of a Tyrant

Unlike the giants of and before its time, spawned of boardroom wars and the reverse cell-division of elderly mergers, Arc Systems started in a garage with two key-jocks. Theirs was the same rags to riches tale as their one-day benefactor Cameron Mobility. A tale more rare by the day. In an era where days were already far shorter.

Night was taking over. Not true night, but night all the same. That perma-twilight hailing the realities of Sprawl living, its police-state of corp control, currency, and finally, collapse. Long before Augs and their struggle, their coder-fathers were dreaming big.

They had to be. They’d conquered the planet. Where else was there to go but parts beyond?

Countless, open-platform and proprietary systems; OS, informatics, GUIs both human and automated– all software coded for so-called next gen tech, meant to revolutionize the industry. It never did, of course, but that didn’t change that modules, portions, or whole programs of Arc’s code were running all over the world.

In short, brothers Hank and Allan Womack, were software geniuses well-placed to make change. More than Hackers, they were virtuosos. Their code backed a million computers and security systems, globally. They’d cornered market share on corporate sector when it mattered most; long before anyone else.

In their case, before anyone realized the extreme importance of software security to begin with.

Arc and the brothers were simply waiting for their opportunity, their opening. When it came, they grappled with both hands, wrestling it into submission.

An old schoolmate had seen Allan on a vacation-trip to town. Over beers, he and Allan spoke of work. Thomas Marin, former Marin Medtek CEO and now major share-holder and partner with Cameron Mobility, spoke vaguely of designing “next-gen” prosthetics.

Apprehensive but enthralled, Allan agreed to a preliminary meeting.

Truth was, everything was “next-gen” in those days. It was a buzz-word. Used by people who didn’t understand a generation was just the gap between eras. There was nothing noteworthy in the design, apart from revelations of the speaker’s ignorance.

Allan knew Thomas though. He’d never spoken in hypotheticals, was far too intelligent to be ignorant of his own implications. If he truly believed it a wave of the future, it damned well would be.

Or, at least, could be.

Thomas and his employer needed software. Good software. Cameron couldn’t risk their in-house teams knowing or screwing up the code. They wouldn’t have the chops, anyhow. They were GUI programmers, less than hobbyists in comparison to specialist virtuosos like the Womacks– Arc.

That meant outsourcing the designs, ensuring against information leaks, potential saboteurs. The best way was NDAs; small firms, a whole helluva lot of money on the line. In the end, the brothers saw no logical reasons not to pursue the contract.

Decades later, they’d remember Thomas’ arrival with the on-call Cameron Mobility Lawyer. The pair strolled into their new, strip-mall location, sat down at the six-person conference table, rented just for the occasion. There they remained…

For all of fifteen minutes.

The lawyer’s eyes said he didn’t know such squalor could exist, let alone spawn business. Hank was testy. Allan saw it in his eyes. From then on, he did the talking. Hank added only a few words for things he’d forgotten.

Intros and NDAs aside, they outlined the project’s particulars: Arc Systems would receive prototype prosthetics and comprehensive instructions on use, purpose, ability. Then, beneath corporate oversight, Arc would program them to specification regardless of time required.

Money was no object either, the brothers were assured, but the prototypes were irreplaceable. In addition, Thomas would act as liaison; the corporate oversight and link between companies, present at all meetings and often enough in the office to verify work was being done.

The Womacks received an advance, torn from a corporate check-book. The lawyer held it to himself thereafter like an undertaker his mortician’s log. Reading out zeroes but incapable of much else otherwise, the brothers Womack, Marin, and the wage-slave parted.

The rest is history. Arc Systems received the prototypes and set to work, eventually revolutionizing the prosthetic industry by forming the basis of something much larger, grander. Few innovations have had the lasting effects of Arc’s.

Even Cameron Mobility, on the cusp of every advance in prosthesis since the 1950’s, had admitted they were out of their element. Hiring the Womack’s meant bringing people skilled in tech. The same people giants and Titans of industry refused to allow pre-digital kids access to.

Ones like the Womacks, whose expertise was now invaluable, begrudgingly needed.

That collision of worlds had been long approaching, but it gave birth to bionics, Augs, everything after. Optics and mental control, though still in concept stages, existed then too. Controlled by tiny, photo-reflective rings, wire receivers, or headband-interfaces– the bases of all, optic, aural, and HUD-based controls.

The first wave of augments were designed, completed, tested. The eventual, human subjects to were merely the first prototypes of a species’ post-evolutionary dreams. Before the phenomena, the endless ethics arguments, the corporate-take over and catalysts that lead it– and the greatest mass-conflict in history…

Until then, the corporation was the future.

Arc Systems learned it first-hand, growing tenfold in its first year. By the fifth, when its contract with Cameron Mobility was finally completed, they were on-par with the Med-Tek giant. Equals, as much as two Colossi could be when not at one another’s throats.

Partnering not long after allowed the Womacks to buy out.

Selling the name was easy. In the end, it was the people that mattered. Though neither cared to anymore, nor needed to, either could have made a living working alone on hobby-projects.

Nonetheless, the two-sided blade severed something deeper, more important.

In their quest to gouge themselves on the new, black gold of trans-human and elective augments, the corporation became a monster. Each one, in its own way, contributed to the Paris Incident. Yet equally, had the brothers not contributed to the corps, history would not remember either.

The past, like the inevitability of one’s moving further from it, cannot be changed. The Giant’s birth that was Arc Systems, would one day prove more sinister than anyone could have anticipated. It would prove it was not just another giant born, but another tyrant, too.