Short Story: Snowbound

Tufted fur of an emaciated snow hare tousled in cold wind, its slow half-hop betrayed its own hunger and exhaustion. It had been a lean winter. Made leaner still by the utter lack of break between driving and falling snows. Even if the hare didn’t know, it was currently three-feet taller than it should’ve been.

It hopped a short distance to the edge of a tree trunk. Tension stiffened it. Its ears twitched and tuned like parabolics. The muscular kneading of all small creatures pulled and dropped at its face to sniff the air with foreboded curiosity.

For a long moment, all was still.

Instinct passed and the forager returned its face to the snow to will something from nothing. Background wind ensured it never heard the whistling shaft. One minute, it was living: the next, dead. Its hunger forever sated by the nothingness left over.

Izrik didn’t breath. He let the last of the bow’s vibration dissipate through him, admiring his shot with a professional pride. He had true skill as an archer. Shame it alone could not guarantee him a meal.

He eased from his knee, slinging his bow around across his chest and starting for the carcass. It lay, leaking steam and blood into frigid snow. If nothing else, he’d have a new wrap for his sword-hand. The last was frayed from hiking and walking sticks, rather than battle. He’d almost longed for battle. It was practical: he’d been crossing the tundra-wastes over a week now, each day signs of habitation growing sparser.

The birds had disappeared first. Even the Winter Raptors hunting wider-ranges were gone.

Izrik recognized the encroaching of a no-man’s land. The Tundra held no life beyond a certain point, but he was determined to cross it. To reach the lands beyond in search of food, Humanity… anything. He’d rationed just enough meat to get him through a few days of would-be hunger, was already used to sleeping in the permafrost after perfecting the art of iglooing.

Yet, the waning game and growing hunger in his belly nagged him. He knew he could not eat more than enough to sustain himself. Beyond wastefulness, it was dangerous to become fatigued from a full belly, but it made him tired not to eat too. Worse still, it made him weaker. Barren land or not, that was unacceptable. He’d need all of his strength to make it through.

He set camp for the night to eat what he could and preserve the rest. In the morning, he rose, leaving the igloo as he’d built it for someone or thing to find it useful. He picked a petrified limb from an ages-dead Hickory, more than adequate for its purpose and solid enough to give even an acolyte’s staff a run for its money. Then, used it to test the deepest drifts and set out.

Especially in clearings, there was no telling whether snow had formed coverings for pitfall traps of old-era buildings or machinery. He couldn’t say for sure of any around, especially given the snowbound terrain, but the petrified trees led him to doubt it. His usually-acute instincts were proven wrong moments later.

Izrik poked his hickory into a drift, felt it sink a few feet and thunk. Satisfied, he stepped into it, felt his legs sink the two feet to the hardened under-layer.

He’d not walked a half-step when he heard the crack! He leapt on instinct, sensing his mistake. His reflexes were good, but not enough. He fell downward, twenty or more feet, banging along smooth, thin metal with the violent ruckus of a bag of hammers poured over an anvil.

He tumbled downward through enclosed nothingness, fighting to right himself and keep his legs beneath him. The echoes were deafening, leaving him even more spun than lost gravity. He was soon sliding downward at impossible speeds, darkness swallowing him.

His senses sharpened. Leathers worked on order of muscle to slow him down. In a moment, the slope leveled out. Izrik was moving too fast. He burst from slatted sheet-metal that covered the shaft’s terminus. He burst out, catching himself on its edge with one hand. The other dangled, jammed with inertia over distant, clanging metal in pitch-blackness below.

His plight took only a breath to confront him. Straining groans of metal forced his arm up. He felt the shaft flex, scrambled to climb too-smooth metal. He’d only just clasped the edge again when a metallic snap cut the air. Gravity jerked downwardwith folding metal. The shaft’s underside slammed a concrete wall, looking distantly likea wilted metal flower touching its own stem. Izrik’s body followed through, slamming the wall front-on.

Wind knocked from his lungs, he lost his grip and fell into darkness.

He landed on his side on something heavy, coughing and scrambling for breath. On his hands and knees, gasping, he finally looked around: The darkness was thick, but the thing beneath him was heavy, wooden, smooth but unnaturally so.

Izrik managed enough of a grip on himself to stand. In a flash, he was blinded by a sudden, intense, light as which he’d never seen. Thousands of lamps and overhead lights flickered on. With them was the obvious whirring of something neither man nor animal. Machine, he guessed.

And in a moment, he understood the machines were all around him, connected to glowing panels.

His attention however, was drawn to one side of the room. A massive stockpile of metal cylinders spackled with pristine, colored paper lined the wall. He knew what it was without having to guess; food. Canned food. Old world, but good forever. His feet carried him with ethereal disjointedness but a large, colored emblem on the floor caught his eye mid-way.

He’d yet to grasp the whole of the room, but there on the floor, words he could read but didn’t understand; “Seal of the President Of the United States.”

President” was the only word that made sense, but it suddenly struck him. All of the Empires’ lies: from the Rebellion’s so-called pseudo-evidence. It was real. He alone had proof. Now, food enough to last in relaying it to another.

He circled a small gait, viewing the damage of the serendipitous– rather than unfortunate, tumble he’d taken. It was only then that his mind stopped swirling, and the immensity of what lay before him locked him still in the symbol’s center.

He could only breathe, “Woah.”

Guardians of Liberty: Part 7

7.

Old Friends Conquered

“I knew An33$a,” Ket said.

They were riding through town in the back of an old, blacked out delivery truck. It’d been upgraded to run on electric engines, rigged to roll out at a moment’s notice. More a thing of convenience rather than malice though– however intimidating.

Ket had learned to keep lines running through various, networked connections. Connections that included black-market contacts and rendezvous-points; first-name, former-Darknet associations; right down to local restaurateurs.

These were exclusive clubs, even for the excluding.

Playing the part of eye-candy, even for a single, proper night, meant making connections to webs most thought myth. It was the realm of doorways; a nexus point of paths she frequented, was traversing one-by-one, had been her entire life.

Fact was, born there or not, it was as close to predestined for her as was possible. The black-market, eye-candy burlesque-headliner: that was her niche. Her element. Force that she was, she was drawn to it; as water to a whirlpool or air to a cyclone. She dazzled…

And N1T3 he reveled, as allowed his momentary fascinations as any could be.

They emerged from one and he spoke on cue, “You were saying?”

She let a small, warm blink acknowledge his poise. “I knew her. Most did. We didn’t know it was her.”

He knew then whom she meant. The local hacker-ring was small, always had been.

“Small world.”

“These days, it’s smaller.” She lit a cigarette, offering him one. He took it, lit hers with a flip-top, then his own.

He slipped the lighter back into his pocket, “Making it more so only makes it more dangerous.”

She batted smoke toward the cracked, blacked-out windows hidden beneath dark, heavy curtains. They let in the sound of traffic riding bump-and-wave asphalt like oldschool surfers on low-crests. Their passing Doppler punctuated an already-humming soundtrack.

“The nature of a system dictates its likelihood to continue producing output, regardless of function. In essence, a system threatened with power cutoff continues to act as it does, regardless of its impending doom. It continues trying to revise itself or prolong itself.

“It’s not a thing of emotion,” she reminded. “But the culmination of successive revisions converging to another point of reference. That reference-point’s anything the observer of the system deigns when designing it.”

She took another, long drag, fingers near the window. They gave a delicate flick, disintegrating ash into a moving air-current before reeling back. N1T3 ashed beside his seat, in a tray velcro’d to a tabletop.

“You’re speaking of context; the purpose for any system’s use.”

“Precisely,” she said with another flick, keeping her ash in the wind.

Now that he fully understood her actions, he was curious why she cared to help. It was an earnest question. One he was equally entitled to, at least now and in said-context. He’d not been the most gracious loser or indeed, the most reliable partner, business or otherwise. It only made some sense to wonder what she saw in helping him.

He knew her well enough to know, but wished it clarified for posterity. In writing, so to speak– if only to the extent it could be, and if only for he alone to better understand.

“I care now for the same reason I cared then; potential.” She met his eye carefully. “Martin Black had potential. He did not live up to it. N1T3 has that potential now. And more.”

He said nothing. Their thoughts were aligned: other matters to attend to.

“I’m open to suggestions,” he said placidly.

“That’s not how this works. Not yet.”

He understood, “You want me to prove it.”

She didn’t need to nod. He saw it anyhow, suddenly understood where they were going, why.

“Anywhere I know?”

“No. Old storage unit. Meat-packing. City-Hub infrastructure.”

He nodded, knowing where she was headed, “Public. Relatively speaking.”

She smiled, “Rome conquered the public. They did it through toilets and water fountains.”

“I can do it with data-servers as aquifers,” he assured her.

There was no reason not to. Data was now a thing without existence. It had transcended time. Could not be lost. Not really. Only forgotten, then rediscovered. In a way perhaps, it had always been like that, because it couldn’t exist. Not physically. It was a realm without manifestation.

There were no digital borders.

Without a border, data was more than a single resource. It was every resource through its links to them. It was information. Vital. Equally powerful. Necessary; like water. Both a thing and a force. Like Ket.

Digital paradise was the next evolution of man’s social yearnings. One you could indulge regardless of reality’s shortcomings or luxuries. But it was absolutely out of reach in a world of Corporations. Especially, when those Corps owned the only true data-hubs and information infrastructure, were responsible for them.

If the Empire had done to Rome’s waterlines what Telecomms were doing to the Net, people would’ve lined up to punch holes and install taps without fear of reprisal. Not after the flow had been so obviously narrowed just to gouge people already working– or paying— to upkeep it.

Because of data’s reality too, every drop became as important as the next or last.

Thus, it became infinitely more important the pipelines were properly tapped and regulated. For now, N1T3 and Ket knew, they couldn’t be. The only pumps and lines in existence were locked behind fortresses, buried in Earth, and owned by sniveling heirs former Kings and Titans of Industry. Those old-timers had learned money-games played by different rules from a different world. However newer, more subtle their approaches, there were always the same strategies.

The fundamentally dissimilar nature of the old and new games though, dictated they were fucking up the boards. Irreparably.

In the end, who wouldn’t do it, with the skill and know how? Sure. It cost money, but money was a resource. Like with every flourishing resource, you stock-piled for leaner-times and drew down later.

There was no leaner time like one’s possible death-bed.

Why not try it? If it were crazy, he wouldn’t be here. Or at least, Ket wouldn’t be too. More than that, he had a plan for success far more powerful than any chances of failure. Even then, if he died before he completing his mission, he might at least succeed through others.

And it began here.

She led him into the warehouse, the truck still idling outside. Cheaper to let it run than start and stop it– long term, anyway. That was an electronic reality. Standby modes were easier than power switching. More stable too. Postdigital thoughts from postdigital children; the technological equivalent of sleep; the reason to never power down, but rather mete-out power into flowing or being stored for when needed.

But never did the power get cut. Powerlessness was not an option.

That was one thing imparted from Humanity’s rise from the muck: the reasons rape and molestation were capital crimes even in shadow societies. More-so, often, because of their need for discretion, to discourage future violation of its sanctity therein.

Shadows thrived on Honor Codes.

Making one powerless un-leveled the playing field everyone needed to be level. Otherwise, turbulence was felt. It was the reason the Mafia families put aside their differences after prohibition to fight the system– even if while still killing one another– the reason corps forced laws to change, made police obsolete; people needed each other even if they didn’t need other people.

Eternally, the problem was of relatability, familiarity.

Datum transcended that. It was a byproduct of Human existence. One Humans mistakenly thought of as passing– like waste, or semi-renewable, like water. It was needed, but what could be done of its properties? Their inherent corruptibility or susceptibility to manipulations?

In truth, Datum was Rome’s plumbing on a scale unseen since its literal era. Worse, that it was being ignored was sending humanity back to that time in history with its utterly-obvious and ignored toxicity.

Way N1T3 saw it, the bloodiest revolts had happened for less. One would happen for this, but it had to happen right. Otherwise, it would only restart the cycle.

History was a system, out of control in all but retrospect. Therefore, to correctly distinguish the causes of historical errors required examination, breakdown, and reverse-engineering. Only by then applying the learned information to the roots of historical errors’ manifests could history be engineered.

As it was, History was a complex record of Human social-interaction boiled down to its simplest form. That boiling meant reducing it to a series of reference-events, each with listed variables and constants– 0s or 1s– that retold its story the simplest way possible: in concepts at a time.

At its essence, History was a program eternally live, and always running in debug-mode. Therein, it was only ever possible to anticipate or react to problems, never prevent them entirely. Only a post-digital child could have understood that while Existence was binary– either you did or did not exist, people were not.

People had more states than Power/no-power. In/out. Off/on.

N1T3 once believed himself alone in the knowledge of this complimentary duality, its yin-yang of Human existence and their contrived reality. The truth though, was that everyone saw it, felt as he did. Some simply had not realized it yet or made the connection of what it was they saw. Some, never would.

That became dangerously apparent during the maturation of his generation– and thus, N1T3 with it– proving the collective consciousness had manifested.

Like all networked entities, it communicated as a group, as well as an individual. Another sign of its inherent binary-duality in its systemic redundancies. Difference was, these groups were cells, commands in code; comprised of people, individuals, their links through others whether personal or social.

That, N1T3 knew, required one thing above all else; datum. Information. Exchange of bits, or bytes; 0s and 1s; the essence of every measurable item in existence. More than that too, because of Human Nature, it needed to be nomadic.

In other words, Rome’s water needed public controls and access for anyone in need of, or willing to fix it or maintain it. Tampering with it was never a question because it rose above the need of even a great many to become universal. Ensuring it flowed right was the only thing that mattered. It was a human duty, an obligation, because one expected the same respect against powerlessness– and thus contributed too.

That the taps in this respect were digital simply meant anyone could learn to use and install them, regardless of status. So long as the interface were properly prepared and presented, it would function.

Like a public water-fountain.

In the end, that meant all anyone needed to ensure fountains caught on was a well-executed opportunity to prove their worth. After that, and if only in a niche, they would catch on. Even if Ket had planned to murder him immediately after, she would help N1T3 ensure it happened.

It was that important.

Short Story: The Treatises

And on that day, the skies thundered and the Empires’ death-machines soared overhead. And on that day, came rest to millions; dead. And on that day, the post-Human dream; bled. And on that day, arose a great evil incarnate from its bed.

Man, but not man. Human, but inhuman.

But too, on that day, was born something greater; a seed tempered in fire. Though lain dormant in the cold despair that followed, it awaited only a spark to ignite.

And so, it did.

She held it as if precious, but sentimentally so. Its covers were worn, but for certain, it was the fabled Treatises on the Empires’ Rise. A collection of so-called “heretical” works outlining the laborious details of the rise and fall of previous civilizations, their way-paving for the Empires’ rise.

The last, true-history book known to Human-kind. Likely, the last printed or distributed before the Empires’ rise, it was beyond myth. Afterward, information was too closely-guarded and censured for any truth to be printed or distributed. Since then, things had only gotten worse.

A lot worse.

Myna knew Humans could adapt to adversity, it was the only reason she– or they– were alive. It was as simple a principle to her as stepping over a fallen, petrified limb blocking one’s path. It was an inevitability. Yet, nothing had prepared her for this. She’d only been on the scavenging run two days now.

Over the century, people’d been working themselves ever outward from the Empire’s main settlements. They trickled out, thronging this way and that like water through weakened stone. Smaller villages and settlements were appearing here and there, but nothing substantial enough to be permanent in the way the Empires seemed to be.

That was important; so close, yet so far.

Treatises was a direct contradiction that the Empires had been formed as believed. History went that the Empires came of lands once in chaos and madness, to aid in bringing them order. After civil wars tore the world apart, there was little more that could be done than try to rein in the madness.

No-one was sure what had really happened anymore, so far as Myna knew. She doubted even the Emperors knew what really happened. What’d it matter anyhow? The damage was done, the past, past. All she or anyone else knew was what lay ahead.

Now, what lay ahead was utterly shrouded in mystery.

The book had already decided that. She wasn’t sure how she’d first heard of it, but she knew from whom. That fact alone caused her to wrap it in a fur pelt she’d been working with after dinners and before sleep. It would keep the book safe from the elements while she decided what to do with it.

She spent the night meditating on what she knew of Treatisesand roasting the day’s large hunt. She’d have to start rationing soon with the land as petrified as it was. The game,disappearing with it, was thin as it was. It would only get worse. Soon, she’d reach the barren lands.

Her mind wandered, inexorably drawn to the book’s mystery: Myna first heard of Treatises as a child. Her mother and uncle were arguing about something.

“It doesn’t exist, Turel. This is an obsession!” Her mother hissed in angry hush.

“Treatises does exist, I have the proof!” Turel argued, thrusting something in a hand at her mother.

Myna remembered little else, save that her mother tore the object from his hand and immediately cast it into the fire-pit. He’d wailed something angrily as the page formed ash, then stormed away.

Myna couldn’t recall the last time she saw her uncle, but she knew it was sometime around then. He went missing not long after, and although Myna’s mother assured her he was fine, had never returned.

Through the years, there were times when her mother would stare blank-faced into the fire, hypnotized by it. It was different than the usual hypnosis of a full meal, or sickness, or fatigue. It was deeper, pained, as if guilt seized her.

Myna was determined not to wile away her days in that same despair.

She broke camp for the outer regions the next morning, managing to procure more game than she should rightfully have found. A day and night thereafter, she returned home with little more than a few, old-world trinkets barely enough for a week’s bread. Next time, she would have to choose a better direction.

Until then, she was preoccupied.

She stood beneath the hanging candelabras forming the poor-man’s chandelier over IzKie’s table. The woman had evidently not expected her back yet, else-wise Myna doubted she’d have found her in such a state. Papers and books were always strewn across every surface– of which there were an inordinate amount in IzKie’s home, but never before had Myna seen her table so piled.

Usually, it was set for tea, dinner, or any of the number of activities the two had planned.

All of it would have been frightening to an average person, so much so-called seditious materials, but IzKie was authorized them. Apart from making her incalculably smart, it also made her a pariah among most villagers. Myna’s association put her on the fence herself. Even leaving her worse-off in negotiations at the bazaar, for fear too much haggling might kill a sale.

When trading for food and survival, that was unacceptable.

Yet Myna’d never have it another way. She admired IzKie too greatly, had learned to read by listening to her quote passages from memory while following along in silence.

But she had not opened Treatises.

It was dangerous. Not knowing what lay within, no matter its power, meant it could not be properly handled… but it was also dangerous to know. If only because it might make her disappear– like Turel.

IzKie offered her tea to soothe her aches after the recent journey. She accepted, but remained distant, speaking little.

IzKie noticed, her voice soft and sweet, “Are you unwell, Myna-bird?”

It took a moment to respond, IzKie’s words contending with a fog, “Hm? No… Yes. I’m… not sure.” IzKie’s walnut-dark eyes brightened in the excess light, turning to warmer woods. Myna could have lost herself in them, wanted to. Instead, she sighed and sipped tea, “I found something I can’t do anything with.”

“On your run, you mean,” IzKie assumed, settling into her listener’s-role; perfect-posture and pointed shoulders relaxed but disciplined, like Empire Guards at-ease.

For a moment, Myna hesitated; she loved IzKie. Probably more than she should. There was something intoxicating about her. As if her intelligence enthralled certain types, Myna’s most of all. Probably, Myna guessed, it was the intelligent ones themselves– or, those capable of it. Like how every had various uses, but only some made for proper bows or arrow-shafts.

But… how much about IzKie did she really know? Was it enough to trust her with this? Could IzKie disappear her? Would she lead someone else to? Or, would she disappear herself? Myna didn’t think she could handle that. She was too attached.

But, IzKie had appeared around the same time Turel disappeared. Was it coincidence or design?

Now IzKie was looking at her, watching her. Expectantly.

Myna reached into her pack. One of IzKie’s brows twitched, ready to rise, but held before it could. Drawing forth the fur-wrapped tome, Myna set it upon the table and began to unwrap the corners. IzKie’s eyes widened, then narrowed shrewdly; the left-one half-squinted as an archer’s mid-aim.

A powder cask lit behind them. They exploded to triple sizes, confirming Myna’s fears: she had procured what she believed. IzKie was up, shutting her windows and drapes, locking her doors and windows. It all happened so fast Myna was still trying to catch up when IzKie whirled and grabbed her shoulders.

“Whom have you told of this? Where did you get it? Who saw you? Does anyone know of this!?”

Myna was stunned, thrown for a loop, wishing to answer but spinning. IzKie’s bony fingers dug into her shoulders. Apart from hurting, it grounded her. She attempted to find her voice, seeing the walnut eyes now almost deep-black in the new darkness.

“I– I…”

“Speak, bird. Speak!”

“I told no-one,” she swore. “I hadn’t even opened the furs until now. I swear it, Iz! I swear it!”

IzKie straightened, slowly releasing her. She was swept away by a mental whim and began pacing the kitchen’s open length, swaying the racks of drying herbs with each passage. A long while of silence passed beneath the rhythmic tamp of IzKie’s feet. Then, on compulsion, Myna sighed desperately.

At that instant, IzKie appeared beside Myna, kneeling, “Myna-bird, you are my angel and Humanity’s redeemer. You know it not, yet, but I love you deeply and what you have found is a treasure for all.

“But I must go. And you must stay.” She began wrapping Treatises with the fur. “Keep it hidden and avail yourself of my home. Or if you desire, return to yours. I only ask that you do as you have done thus far and keep it hidden.”

“Where are–”

“No time, bird,” she said firmly, halting any further conversation. She wrapped herself in a light-cloak and draped a pack across her breast, immediately setting out. “I will return soon.”

She pecked Myna on the cheek as she bustled past and out the door, shutting it with speed. Myna sat, spinning again, this time from the kiss radiating along her cheek and IzKie’s hurried departure. Wherever she’d gone, Myna decided, wasn’t worth knowing. Not yet.

But a very real dread was inching along her spine, decidedly sourced in the book beside her. Already, she wished she’d never found the damned thing…

Short Story: Ar-Mur of Ganymede

Arthur “Ar-Mur” Martin was the angriest-looking Chimpanzee the Evolved had yet to produce. Like most species, Contact had forever altered Ar-Mur’s people. Mostly for the primates, it just pissed them off– after mutating them into super agile, ultra-intelligent murder-machine adrenaline junkies.

They weren’t all that way, of course. Ever were the outliers– though even they were afflicted, however carefully restrained or reserved in their demeanors otherwise. The plight of the Evolved was really that most were still coming to grips with their own existences. To say nothing of the chaos of finding places in Solsian society.

Still, few were forced to come to terms with what their own cousins had done to them.

Humans had exacted the most terrible, irreconcilable and awful horrors imaginable on every species in their environment– and the environment itself at times. Everything from cannibalism to enslavement, with no modicum of depravity missed en-route. Their only saving grace was that they’d done all these same horrible things to themselves.

There was comfort in that for some, if not all. None would have entertained it in Ar-Mur’s presence. Even the most blithe, belligerent idiot would’ve gone silent with respect.

Ar-Mur was a chimp not to be fucked with.

Like similar-minded Evolved, Ar-Mur dwelt with a subset of dregs in one of Sol’s least orderly communities; Ganymede. His hard-won respect, wealth, and power there, stemmed from extensive mercenary and smuggler work. Highly skilled in martial combat, he’d procured every luxury one could desire– to say nothing of the vast necessities stockpiled for health and occupational-hazards.

Ar-Mur’s little corner of the Ganymeden skid-row was a compound disguised by foggy, sweat-lined streets and the general obscurity of poor infrastructure. It was anything but, and prepared for war by any whom might try take it. Whether the Cougar-fuck Saffron’s anti-wank goons or Emperor-Asshole himself, Lord Snow; he’d fight for what was wrongfully his.

Yet presently, a punk-kid stood before him. And wasn’t going away. Worse, a Human.

His tattered leathers said he knew all about the darker-side of Sol’s social necessities. And, Ar-Mur postulated correctly, knew all of the rumors about himself and likely many truths, too. The smug fuck was just standing there, grinning smugly.

A scarlet and teal mohawk stabbed the air with short, lethal-looking spikes. Ar-Mur’d hated the disproportionate state of the human-head already, never knew he could hate it more. Plus, the punk’s black-mirrored lenses hid his eyes, meaning– Ar-Mur guessed, he was technically blind.

The elective kind.

He’d have had his optic nerves re-geared for neo-vision. For punks and hackers, it was like seeing the world through a 3D matrix-space. The punk would see as a bot-might; digitally. Ar-Mur didn’t like it, but cared only that the punk had breached security. He’d made it in undetected.

That was bad. Catastrophically so.

Ar-Mur refocused; the punk’s hands were bound pointlessly behind his back. Ar-Mur’d already caught the gleaming chrome beneath the leather overcoat. More electives. The scent of new, illegitimate money was the only reason Ar-Mur hadn’t immediately killed him. He was up for hire.

Hiring was always better than murder, if only because it decreased turn-over.

“You gonna’ say sumfing?” The punk asked.

Ar-Mur’s head tilted sardonically, a corner of his mouth rose to bared a few disgruntled teeth. Enough to shut the kid up again.

He waited a few more minutes to say anything, allowing himself to indulge in a drink in the meeting room. It was a throne room, really; though Ar-Mur never called it that. Everyone else did. Probably, because it contained a single chair embedded with countless screen projectors, function switches, and plain ‘ol comfort.

It wasn’t a throne, Ar-Mur knew. Nor was Snow or his rivals’. They were simply the command-chairs for their armies’ compounds. From there a Commander was scanned, their genetic markers verified, and access granted or authorized. The actual workings were technical, and unimportant to the Chimp or Wolf commanding them.

The less he knew needlessly, the more he could devote to important matters. Chief among them, how the fuck this pip-squeak pissant creature’d found his way in completely undetected. He knew he had, too; that he’d only been caught from dumb-luck. Shianni would still be howling if a medic, hadn’t drugged her to sleep.

Lucky bitch.

Simple curiosity might have been enough to indulge in an interrogation– advanced or not. Curiosity came second to security though. He found his in. He’d get the truth out of the kid one way or the other.

“Perimeter sensors encircle our entire block, from sewer-to-sky. If an ant sneezes a thousand feet above me I know it.”

He rose from the throne on lean-muscled limbs, their speed and agility obvious even through the layered clothing, armor, and cloak he wore.

He stopped just before the punk, “I will ask only once or I will kill you; how the fuck did you get in here?”

He grinned from ear-to-ear, “Li’ kis.”

In a blink he was gone. Ar-Mur stiffened up, listening. No sounds. Only a vague, mammalian scent. Foreign. Nearby. Ar-Mur closed his eyes. A not-quite light enough step. Ar-Mur spun, grabbed the punk by his throat and threw him against the floor. Still invisible, the kid’s astonishment was mired beneath a choking fit and groaning pain.

Ar-Mur drew his plaz-pistol, leveled it on center-mass, “Shut it down.”

The phantom coughed and choked, but reappeared in a blink– as he’d left.

Ar-Mur began to circle, examining the kid as if seeing him in a new-light. He knew the kid was a hacker, had gotten past security by hacking it digitally or physically. All of it, and there was a lot, layered like clothing one atop the other, atop more, and so on. Each layer scanned for specific parameters; body heat, odor analysis, power, motion– so many in fact, Ar-Mur had lost track.

That had been his mistake. He knew it now.

“You’ve come all this way and survived. So, speak.”

“E’re comin’. Alluv’em. The Zelphod, the Anti-Humanists. Lackeys.”

“To Ganymede,” he surmised, circling back to his throne to stop before it.

The punk nodded, “Comin’ to take it. Know it’s a clutch. That Sol relies on its mines. That it may not soon, but this’ the best time to weaken it.”

“So these… intruders,” Ar-Mur crossed his arms. “Want it for themselves. They’ll have to go through me first.”

“They will,” the kid said, recollecting himself and rising once more. “Already got agents on-site. Been workin’ for months.”

Ar-Mur’s brow lifted, “On?”

“Puttin’ ‘emselves next to power-centers– you, Snow, gangers, HAA and ISC. Everyone.”

“And this intel, it is credible?”

At that he produced a small disk from beneath a sleeve, offered it to Ar-Mur. He took it, slotted it in his chair, and an encrypted communique opened to play to the almost-empty room. The holo-image immediately strained the Chimp’s self-control. His fury visible enough that even the punk cringed, stepping backward.

“Snow, Emperor-Asshole in the fur.”

“Ar-Mur, as my emissary has informed you, we have a problem.”

“I’m talking to it.”

Snow sneered, “We’ve never seen eye-to-eye on anything, save that maintaining Ganymede’s sovereign anarchy is best for us–”

“You’re about to propose an alliance,” he anticipated.

“I am,” Snow replied without missing a beat. Ar-Mur laughed aloud. “No matter what trickery you may think I’m playing at, bear in mind I am known as brutally and bluntly honest, even in murder.”

Ar-Mur said nothing, his silence agreeing and allowing Snow to continue.

“Ganymede is being infiltrated. Contact may have ended, but the war wages on where we cannot see it. Until recently, it was a pot warming over fire. Now, its contents are rising to a violent boil. If we’re to have any hope for Ganymede or Sol, Evolved or not, we must join together and prepare ourselves for what is to come. Only afterward can we return to civil matters, else there’ll be no home to fight over.”

Ar-Mur bared his teeth again, but remained silent.

“I bear no ill-will for your presence on Ganymede. Else we would war. Thus, this presents us an option; the enemy of my enemy is my ally, if not friend.”

“Or the one to put the knife in second,” he remarked.

Snow tacitly agreed, “Consider my offer, if only for your people’s sake. The Zelphod would see us all exterminated to take what is rightful ours. The same is true for all of Sol. I ask you humbly, consider my offer. I will return to Ganymede within the day to begin preparations. I hope you can put differences aside and aid me. If not, we may never survive what’s to come. Any of us.

Snow winked from existence. The Human watched Ar-Mur carefully, expecting an outburst. Instead he found a tired, Evolved Chimp running on less steam than even it realized. He needed a top-up.

“Why send you?” Ar-Mur asked finally.

“Knew a ‘uman would stay your hand long ‘nuff to lis’en. You torture, not murder ‘em.”

His upper lip curled satisfaction, “Very well. But I require your assistance and name.”

“Suus,” he replied.

“First, Suus, reply affirmative to Emperor-Asshole.” Suus nodded. “Then, show me everything you did to bypass my protocols.”

The hacker’s jaw clenched, “I can’–”

“Your only choice in this matter is whether you wish to be hired as a consultant, or murdered and burned to dust like a lame horse’s carcass.”

Suus swallowed hard, but he liked the sound of payment. Especially against death.

Ar-Mur closed his eyes, resigned to cleaning yet another bullshit-pile dumped on Evolved by Humanity. If it came to it though, Ar-Mur of Ganymede would die defending his home, his people. Obligated or not, his duty to his world and people was too central to his being to walk away.

So, they started off to retrace Suus’ actions… at least they wouldn’t be bored.