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Words and Images

Fibres stretching and compressing
Sodium and Potassium creating potential
Dendrites detecting metal
Round-wound around a hexagonal core
It’s rote muscle memory
B flat, C, B flat, A flat
Mucosa shedding epithelial layers
Cytoplasm rich with saline
Void of mitochondria
Carrying hemoglobin within plasma
Dermal corruption treated with Hydrocortisone
Glycolysis using Glucose rings
Producing Adenosine Triphosphate
Ribose sugar forming the backbone
Of the amino acid codons
Microglia macrophages using phagocytosis
On my shadow
Paranoid delusions created
With ersatz Serotonin and Dopamine
And ion pumps
Receiving auditory messages
Total bypass of the tympanic membrane
A sinister cochlear silence
The phantom in the Inferior Colliculus
Lets us speak without speaking
Reminding me that I am not alone
In the body which I inhabit
Waking dream in the Cerebral Cortex
Amygdala triggering memories
The phantasmagoria of her
The doctrinal schism
Conscience inhibiting actions
Or behaviourally conditioned
Desires emotionally driven
A protein rich conveyance
That is her lover
Layers of emulsion and dye
Capturing this moment forever
A key to a forgotten lock
Now kept safe within my heart
A consolidated area of neurons
Or the very essence of myself
Filled with regret
A temporal rift between us
And the fragile bridge
Made of words and images

Torpor

Chapter I – “My Wetware”
Chapter II – “C++”
Chapter III – “The Players”
Chapter IV – “The Cutter”
Chapter V – “The Fortress”
Chapter VI – “Ben”
Chapter VII – “A Strange Protocol”
Chapter VIII – “The Halting Problem”
Chapter IX – “Torpor”
Chapter X – “The Compilers”

I’m in the shower letting the hot water warm my bones. I’m on complete auto-pilot, my mind wandering. Why do insects sleep? I mean, aren’t they just a collection of impulses responding to external stimuli? It’s not like they can commit things to memory, dream or anything like that. “Oh man, oh man, oh man” my mind is hijacked by these words, repeating themselves over and over. I don’t know where the hell they came from, maybe my deep subconscious. Do you ever wonder if our brains are able to receive external thoughts?

After my shower I dry myself off and get dressed in my pyjamas. I haven’t slept all night. That’s alright I think I’m operating on a surplus of sleep anyway. I don’t know why, but I suddenly feel a crippling, crushing loneliness. This happens from time-to-time. I want to call her and hear her voice, but she doesn’t respond to my phone calls, they end up in voicemail, or maybe they’re completely blocked. I can’t think about calling her, the Babel Fish might interpret it as an outgoing call.

Usually when I feel this way I turn on the radio and enter the sonic world of a disc jockey. Music is highly emotional, and I get lost in it easily. I have a couple of radio stations I have relationships with; I mean I listen to them very often, but there’s one I primarily listen to. Both of them play similar songs, so they’re targeting the same audience. There used to be only be one, but then there was this big change in management and some of the disc jockeys were let go. They eventually moved to a new radio station, and they started playing the same music. It’s like the station was riven, and a new station emerged from the chaos.

So I follow these two radio stations, but I mostly listen to the newer station. They’re playing a song about pining for a lost love. It soothes and warms my soul, an emotional resonance. It makes me feel less alone, you know, that someone else out there may feel the same way I feel, at this very moment. Even if it is just the disc jockey, that’s a connection that I would not trade for anything at this moment.

I need to load the programs back onto my deck and customize the UI again. I hate mixing logic with emotion, I feel like I should be able to compartmentalize my feeling when I’m working, but I can’t. It’s especially hard with this emotional language entering my mind. I like a challenge though, I am masochistically drawn to suffering, it makes me feel alive.

The old Sony unit is a few years old, it’s water cooled, and these units were notorious for being hacker friendly. Suddenly a song comes over the radio that I don’t particularly like. I think about changing the station to the secondary station, but I resist, it’s momentary, the song will be over in a matter of minutes; I can tune it out for the most part while I work. I know they’ll fall back into emotional resonance with the next song.

I used to only listen to the bass lines in songs, trying hard to learn them regardless of the lyrics, but that all changed. Now I am drawn to the message of the song as much as the bass line. Yes, I can hear the bass in most songs, which I know most people can’t do. The bass is a rhythmic instrument not often demanding attention from the listener, not like the electric guitar. I don’t know why I chose bass, I like the visceral character of the lower frequencies, and I always wished my voice was deeper, more sexual. At any rate, four fat strings in my mind can do as much for a song as the modulated and manipulated sounds of six thin strings.

As I connect my deck to my terminal I am focused on my task. The UI doesn’t readily allow access to programs, I need to use widgets downloaded from the old internet, which is still frequented by pirates. It’s very important that I have access to Silver Angel, and the Apple Decryption programs. I still need to download all of my other programs, like traceroute detection, to my deck. This process takes a few hours of typing and gestures.

I tune into the radio when I hear something that catches my attention “You just sit there wishing you could still make love”. It’s an ancient song, but it’s still played on this radio station. I wish everything was the way it was when I was a teenager, everything worked when I needed it to, but not anymore. It’s like I’m on drugs that control pleasure. Maybe it’s better that I don’t drag anyone else into my problems, after all, I don’t want to be a burden on someone I love.

After the programs are loaded and the UI updated I take a break to listen to the music being curated and lay back on the floor with my my hands behind my head. Ahh. I can completely lose myself in the emotional waves crashing against my one good ear. I think there’s a mod that uses the microphone on the cellular receiver to allow you to hear from your cyber ear, but I can’t afford to buy another modification.

I think “Call indie radio station, call indie radio station, call indie radio station” and the Babel Fish appropriately responds “Call Indie Radio Station?”

“Yes, yes, yes,” I think. I’m going to request a song. Maybe other listeners will feel connected to me when the song plays. I’ll be less alone knowing someone out there is comforted by my selection.

“Congratulations! You are caller eight! You have just won tickets to see ‘The Compilers!'”
“Wha-What?”
“YOU just won tickets to see The Compilers at Terminal 5.”
“What? I didn’t want to enter a contest, I wanted to request a song…”
“You are caller eight! You are our winner!”

A winner, that’s not something I’m used to hearing. There must have been an announcement I tuned out while I was working. The Compilers are a totally hot group in the indie scene. I like some of their music, a mix of electronic and traditional rock, kind of like that old group Nine Inch Nails. I haven’t been to a concert in years, should I go?

“Yes, yes. That’s great news!”
“Can we get your name and email address so we can send you the tickets?”
“Sure!”

This is great! I haven’t won anything in my life. The Compilers. What a trip. They have that song “Into the Machine” that is always played. It’s about a love lost and the resulting descent into the machine world that results from the void left by your love. Awesome. The show should be full of cool people, I mean, as long as their fans aren’t aggressive.

After I relinquish my personal information I receive an email that blinks on my deck. It’s the tickets I was promised. Wow. I can’t believe I’ll be seeing a live band that I like. It’s been years. I’m still laying there with my hands behind my head. Maybe I can meet the band backstage, I think these contests include something like that, a backstage pass.

My deck is completely set up to enter cyberspace, but there’s nowhere I want to go at the moment. I can’t access another pirate server for the fear of being caught again by the New York Cyber Division. What will they think when they find out my plug has gone missing. That’s their strongest form of defence against Cyber-Terrorists. Kagi. Oh Kagi, you beautiful saviour. I can’t believe the plug is gone.

The concert is two days from now. I need to choose something to wear and lay low until then. That’s not a problem, I’m used to being a hermit in New York.

The Halting Problem

Chapter I – “My Wetware”
Chapter II – “C++”
Chapter III – “The Players”
Chapter IV – “The Cutter”
Chapter V – “The Fortress”
Chapter VI – “Ben”
Chapter VII – “A Strange Protocol”
Chapter VIII – “The Halting Problem”
Chapter IX – “Torpor”
Chapter X – “The Compilers”

The Chinese and Japanese have been competing in what some would call the Cyberwar. They have unprecedented knowledge of the human nervous system and therefore have been able to develop the most advanced cyberware. The wetware is cutting edge, years beyond what North America now produces.

This war drew in many corporations and took place on a global scale. R&D departments still try to get an edge on their competition in an attempt to create the newest, hottest chrome for their customers. The two powers have also been instrumental in the development of cyberspace.

Some of the big players, American corporations, have moved their headquarters overseas and settled in China or Japan; their American ties now just a distant formality. Apple was the biggest company to move, taking their Design department out of One Infinite Loop and settling in mainland China. They said it was to get closer to the manufacturing, but everyone knows it was because of the Cyberwar.

During this time people with skills in Coding, Design, Engineering, Medicine, etc. all became very desirable to corporations. It was also during this time that hackers started to emerge, and form their own collectives. At first the hacking groups were property of the corporations, creating new technologies through highly synergistic teams. But that all changed.

When the corporations tightened their grip on their most valuable assets, their employees, there was a counter movement to become free from the bonds of gainful employment. Soon hacktivist groups formed that fought against the desires of the large conglomerates. Freedom fighters…revolutionaries. You know, the morally gifted. Still, this wouldn’t last and there were eventually those would would seek to undo the cogs of the mighty machine, and be labeled terrorists.

This is when the Lords of Karma first appeared. They leveraged the bad relations between the two competing countries and handed over valuable Japanese intelligence to the Chinese Government. This, as I’ve said, lead to Japan paying reparations to the Chinese Government for their past War Crimes. Kagi claims to be a member of the Lords of Karma, wouldn’t surprise me, she seems highly intelligent and skilled at what she does.

Regardless of these tensions, cyberspace still continued to develop and grow. From a place where your consciousness could freely browse data to the avatar dominated representation of the world it is today. When you plug in, a digital projection is generated– a representation of your consciousness in cyberspace. There is a bond between this digital projection and yourself that cannot be removed. Everything that happens is fed back into your central nervous system. All the pleasure you feel when you’re in a brothel with a prostitute, all the pain you feel when ICE is operating on you, and even the temporary loss of consciousness that occurs when a program prematurely terminates.

All of this digital activity points directly to the major lobes and structures of the brain. Everything except the motor cortex, you can still move in the real world while you’re plugged in. You also receive simultaneous inputs from the real world and cyberspace, although I bet they can make it so that cyberspace hijacks your entire nervous system. I don’t know why you’d want that though.

Somehow all of this is accomplished while avoiding the Microglia’s natural response to destroy foreign bodies. The neural implants that make jacking in possible are a very advanced combination of neuroglia and electrodes. Some ICE are modelled after the Microglia’s phagocytosis response to invaders. To be honest, I don’t fully understand how it all works.

Cyber implant operations are extensive, requiring a lengthy stay in a hospital and a lot of credits. You can have surgeries performed all over the world these days, and aren’t limited to China and Japan like you used to be. Chinese/Japanese corporations have arms in all countries and hire the best medical professionals, leaving the trauma centres very understaffed. We call trauma doctors “vets”, because that’s essentially what they are. “Don’t make me send you to a vet” is something you hear quite often on the streets.

I think about placing a call to my parents, and the Babel Fish interprets the signals in my brain and translates them into a digital response. I think continuously about this one thing and finally I hear the words “Dial Parents?” Yes. That’s exactly what I want to do. I think “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes” and nothing else until my desires are recognized by the software inside the Fish. It’s crude technology, but it works all the same.

The cellular receiver starts to dial and I hear a ringing. “Hello” my mother answers.

“Hi Mom, it’s me. I need to come home and pick something up. I’m in Toronto for the night.”
“Will you be staying with us? Please say you’ll be staying a while.”
“No, I can’t, I need to get back to New York.”

There’s silence on the line for a few seconds. Must’ve hit an infinite loop. I’m sure the subroutine is her heart breaking, over and over. I don’t come home often, and when I do I don’t stay very long. I don’t call home often either. I know you must think I’m a terrible son.

“Okay…” she finally responds.
“Great, I’ll be there soon.”

I think “End call, end call, end call” It only takes three consecutive thoughts to prompt the Babel Fish’s voice:

“Terminate call?”
“Yes, yes, yes” I think.

Finally the sound of an open line is gone. I’m deaf in the ear the implant is installed in, you know because the Fish’s tail goes directly into my Organ of Corti. I don’t mind it though, one ear is enough to hear plenty. It’s just like living with one kidney. Everything still works just fine.

Conversations ultimately suffer from the Turing halting problem. Never know when or if they are going to end. I don’t know how my parents are going to react to seeing me in so many years. Will they continue to talk my ear off? I don’t know how desperate they feel. I know my two brothers don’t visit often. They’re busy with their girlfriends these days. I’m the only one who isn’t coupled, and that’s a problem in their eyes.

My two younger brothers are in happy relationships. They have been for a while, and I suspect they will be getting married soon. Married before me, their older brother. But they’re waiting, waiting longer than they would usually wait. Maybe it’s because I am not yet married and they don’t feel the pressure because of it. My parents are concerned only about me being alone.

I hop on the subway and head North. When I reach the end of the line I hop on a bus that heads east into the suburb of Markham. I could have taken the light rail instead, but the long bus ride gives me an opportunity to look out the window at the streets, at all the cars and buildings.

Soon I’ll be at my parents’ house. It’s an older house in the suburbs. Not ancient, but pretty old. It’s a two-door garage attached to a 3000-something square foot home. Nice for a family, a little large for a couple. My brothers have moved out already, I don’t know why my parents stay in such a large home.

I hop off the bus and walk a short distance to the front door. A trip I used to make very often when I’d return from downtown Toronto. I used to ride a bicycle a lot, all around the city. Exploring, you know? Looking for something, but I wasn’t sure what. Anyway, I’m soon at the front door and I ring the doorbell.

“So, how are things in New York, you have lots of work, yes?” My mom answers the door and immediately asks.
“There’s some work, but not as much as you’d think…”

They think I’m a freelance writer living in New York. What a dream. Most writers live in abject poverty. “Yes mom, I’m doing fine” I lie. I just need to get my deck and I’ll be out of here.

“Say, you kept all of my old stuff, right?”
“Yes, it’s still upstairs in your room.”
“Good, good. I just need to pick up something before I head back.”
“Stay a while, we will feed you and take care of you.”
“No, I can’t stay, I need to catch a train tonight…”

I can tell they’re both upset by my impatience. My father standing by the stairs with his arms crossed. The Planets by Gustav Holst is playing in the background. I can’t tell what planet, but I definitely recognize the music. I can’t stay long, they’ll start asking questions I don’t have answers to. Like where is “she” and why aren’t you married yet. We can find you a lovely girl, don’t you worry. You know how parents are, always worried about your life, sometimes even more so than you are.

“I’m just going to grab some old equipment and I’ll be leaving.”

I head upstairs, undisturbed, and turn into my old room. Everything is how I left it, as though they were hoping I’d return some day. My old deck is in my closet, and I walk over to it and open the door. It’s cooler in the closet, cooler than the rest of the room. There it is. Right where I left it. Right beside my beer brewing kit. Homemade moonshine, those were the days. I pick it up carefully and remove it, hanging it under my arm. Okay, now I’ve got a way back into cyberspace.

I’ve got to load all my programs onto it, and I need to re-customize the UI. That shouldn’t take more than a few hours. At least I won’t have to see a dealer to try and get a second-hand deck of some kind. This old Sony unit will do. I head back down the stairs and see my parents waiting at the bottom, holding each other.

“Well, I got what I came to get…”
“Are you sure you won’t stay?”
“Yes, I have a train to catch.”
“Oh…okay.”

Their guilt permeating every fibre of my being. Shit. I can’t stay I need to get back on the trail of the Seraphs. I need to make sure my old job is still secure. I need to contact my boss. I have a lot to do.

“I have a lot to do, I can’t stay.”
“That’s fine dear, come back to visit soon…”
“I will, you know how writing is, there’s always deadlines, you know…”

I walk out the front door and am back on the street. I feel relieved that I got through my parents. I didn’t think it would be so easy. Soon I’m on the bullet train back to New York, the train is almost empty at this time in the morning.

A Strange Protocol

Chapter I – “My Wetware”
Chapter II – “C++”
Chapter III – “The Players”
Chapter IV – “The Cutter”
Chapter V – “The Fortress”
Chapter VI – “Ben”
Chapter VII – “A Strange Protocol”
Chapter VIII – “The Halting Problem”
Chapter IX – “Torpor”
Chapter X – “The Compilers”

What would anyone have to gain from impersonating Kagi. Besides, the protocol to contact him (or her) is the same, albeit the machines are different now. I remember long ago having to contact him to create access keys to a private server, before encryption was easily circumvented by the average hacker.

Still, she could be taking me to a secondary location to steal my organs. Healthy organs sell on the black market, as does stolen cyberware. But she seems too innocent to be involved in a scheme like that. The gatekeeper is a Schizophrenic old man with a penchant for the Necropolis, and she’s a, well I don’t know that much about her.

“What is it you do Kagi, when you’re not being Kagi.”
“I work at Google. Unofficially, I install back doors in servers and spy on users. Anything to gather keys. Keys are my fetish.”
“A fetish? You mean they turn you on?”

She remains silent. In the array of streetlights I start to get a look at Kagi. They must be hooked up to a centralized power source, all on the same circuit. Although each seems to be controlled by its own ambient light sensor. Not one of them is off, all reading the darkness of the cool summer night.

She’s walking beside me. The breeze blowing her hair back slightly, sending out tendrils that dance in the light. She’s beautiful, you know, in a way that memories are beautiful. She reminds me of her. I want to be holding her hand, but I don’t even know her. I’m so lonely. She has red hair, not bright red but a more natural red. I wonder if it’s her real hair colour. I dare not ask another stupid question.

We walk a way down Sumach Street. We stop at a little house I don’t take notice of the address, I should have, but it’s something I forget to do sometimes, my mind racing with thoughts. The front door is on the left side of the house. There are circular windows, at the very top of the house. There doesn’t seem to be enough room for an attic but that’s what I imagine they open into. She says “This is where I live.”

Why would she take me to her house? Doesn’t she know it’s dangerous to invite strangers to your dwelling? I could be a murderer for all she knows. Maybe it’s Ben, maybe he’s the moat to her castle. Still, it’s awfully stupid to bring someone to your residence. A strange protocol.

“Why would you show me where you live?” I ask.
“You aren’t going to hurt me, that much I know.”
“How do you know that? I could be out to murder you. To murder Kagi.”
“You don’t seem the type. Not an American Psycho, just an ordinary hacker looking for a way out.”
“Who said I’m American?”
“It’s a figure of speech.”
“You can never be too careful. I mean you could be out to steal my organs, I don’t know yet. But I’m ready to run.”
“I have my ways.” She says.

We walk up the stairs to the front door, she opens it with a touch of her finger. An old biometric lock. “Come in” she welcomes. It’s an old house, stairs on the left leading to the second floor, a hallway to the right opening to a den and terminating in the kitchen. “Take your shoes off” she requests. I do as she asks. The Japanese always request that you take your shoes in the genkan. I’m not used to a North American requesting this of their guests.

“You live here alone?” I ask.
“No, of course not, such a big house to myself?”
“Oh, just wondering.”
“That plug in your head, who put it there?”
“New York Police.”
“New York…Okay. That’s not a problem.”
“Oh?”
“Yeah, most of the Great Cities use similar plugs, each with their own customizations. New York is no different, we have unlocked their plugs in the past.”
“We?”
“Yeah, me and my associates.”
“Kagi used to work alone.”
“Well things change, and I’m Kagi now, and I don’t work alone.”

I take in my surroundings as we’re walking through the house. It feels ancient, everything is made of wood and the hardwood flooring creaks under our feet. We go through the kitchen which is tiled and into a locked room. Inside there are screens glowing and a rack of servers in the far left corner, network access lights flashing constantly. An old HTTP server array. Nothing to do with cyberspace, the machines are too old. Really ancient technology. I wonder why she’d be running servers and why they would have so much traffic.

“Really old equipment you have in here.”
“Yes, it’s ancient but it serves our purposes.”
“You keep saying ‘our’, and ‘we’, who is it you’re working with?”
“That’s not going to get your plug out.” She responds, pithy.
“Fine.”

“Sit here,” she pulls out a chair it’s got casters and no armrests, the padding visible through the fabric covering. I sit in it. “Let me see…” She tilts my head forward and looks at the jack behind my left ear. “It’s blinking red. This is one of the newer plugs.” I have no idea what she’s talking about, it’s news to me what colour the LED is.

“Do you think the bees are sleeping tonight? Tired from gathering pollen, you’d think it would be more efficient to have a night shift of nocturnal bees. Why haven’t they evolved to have bees that see in the infrared spectrum that follow the aromatic hydrocarbons created by flowers? The Benzene rings. I think they’re Benzene derivatives. And you’d think they would have heard of Herschel’s work by now.” Her words a koan in my mind.

I hear a muffled conversation begin upstairs. There are other people here. “Say, who is upstairs?” I ask. “My associates, but don’t worry we won’t need them for such a simple request.” I am ready to get out of this chair and bound out the door, through the kitchen and hallway and out the front door. I see it all in my mind. I look around the room for anything that can be weaponized. There is a pen on the desk in front of me. I’ll grab that, and stab it into their eyes. The provocateur awakened, injecting his venom.

My heart beings to race, and I my hands become clammy. “How long is this going to take? And how much is it going to cost me?” I inquire. I should have asked the price upfront instead of waiting so long. Shit. “One thousand credits,” she responds “which is reasonable, if you shop around.” That’s close to a month’s rent. I can afford it, but since I’ve probably lost my job it feels like a huge dent in my savings. “And to answer ‘how long’ it should be out in a matter of minutes. Just relax.”

I can’t relax, I still think those “associates” upstairs are going to come down and restrain me while they inject a tranquilizer and then I’ll wake up on the street, with my organs missing. Or worse, I may never wake up and be dumped like trash. “I can’t relax, I still think you’re going to steal my organs,” I blurt out. Something about her makes me trust her. I don’t know what I’m thinking, but being honest can have its benefits. At least it’s out of my mind and in the open.

“Don’t worry, we aren’t animals.”
“How do I know that, that’s exactly what an animal would say.”

She walks over to another desk and opens a drawer and pulls out something that looks like a large pistol-like soldering iron with a screen attached to it. It glows and comes to life as she touches it carefully. “Don’t worry. Just relax.” She repeats. I sit there, a nervous wreak. What is she even holding, it has wires all over it, they couldn’t hide them inside a friendly looking interface? Do they know anything about Design? Maybe it’s stolen from the New York Police department. Who knows where it came from, all I’m sure of is that I hear people walking around upstairs.

She walks over to me, staring at the screen on the device and I begin to hear a sinusoidal frequency rising and lowering in pitch. It’s a dark song, syncopated and frenetic. I feel and hear a click with a wet sounding slide. “It lubricated your jack, how nice.” I feel behind my left ear and I feel as gooey shaft with a familiar head protruding from my head. I pull it out carefully and bring it into vision staring at the shaft and head, very phallic. “It’s phallic” I say.

She remains silent and walks back over to the desk, replaces the device after turing off the screen and closes the drawer.

“I mean, thank you, is the lubricant dangerous, can you clean it out?”
“No it’s not dangerous, but you can clean it with any degreaser you can readily purchase from almost any shop. I’m not entirely certain why it releases it, but maybe it’s like coming inside your head.” She made a sexual joke. I am caught off guard and don’t have anything witty to say. “How gay.” I say.

She remains silent and finally says “that will be one thousand credits.” I take off my backpack and unzip the secondary compartment and pull out a credstick, I slot it into the Apple jack behind my right ear. “One Thousand Credits,” I think and the number 1000 flashes in my minds eye. I unslot it and hand it to her.

“Domo Arigatoo,” she says. Japanese, everyone knows what that means.
“Dou Itashimashiite” I respond.
“Been to Neo Tokyo?” She asks.
“Never been, just interested in languages.”
“Oh…well I’ve never been either, but you pick it up on the streets.”

I like her. There isn’t some complicated neurosis to deal with, she’s direct and apparently good at what she does. “Thank God you got this thing out. I don’t know what I would do without access to cyberspace.” I’m genuinely thankful, but I knew Kagi would be able to open such a simple lock. That’s what Kagi does.

“Say, you wouldn’t happen to know anything about ‘Gabriel’ would you?” I inquire.
“Where did you get that name?”
“A ship being sucked into the Maelström.” I respond.
“What did you find out?”
“You know, that will cost you…”
“Five-hundred credits, if it’s worth my time.”
“Fine. It lead to a server called Moskoe, but the New York Police knew about it, and questioned me, before they put this plug in my head.” I throw the slimy plug on to the desk in front of me.
“Must have been a Police server.”
“Yeah, no shit. There was a librarian there, it responded to input and was scanning books–”
“They are watching him.” She interrupts.
“Who Gabriel?”
“Yes. Gabriel.”
“He your boyfriend or something?” I ask, like a juvenile.
“Don’t be crazy, I’m a Lord of Karma. He’s one of the Seraphs. But the Police know about him and are apparently spoofing messages from him.”
“Yeah, apparently.”
“Look for Uriel. He can lead you to the Seraphs, if that’s who you’re looking for.”
“Yeah, that’s who I’m after. So are you going to give me my five-hundred credits?”
“Yes.”

She slots the credstick behind her left ear and a moment later removes it and hands it back to me. I take it and slot it behind my right ear and the number 500 flashes in my mind’s eye over and over. I think “transfer” and it disappears. I remove the credstick and replace it in my backpack, and zip up the secondary compartment.

“It’s best that I don’t know your name, so please don’t tell me,” she says. Well how will she ever be able to look me up, you know, if she’s interested. Don’t fool yourself, Kagi wouldn’t want to associate herself with such an average hacker. I know I’m not the greatest, I know I’m not the best at what I do…I know I’m just average. My ego isn’t that big.

“Fine,” I say. “That concludes our business, unless there’s something else you’d like to discuss…” I am fishing for any feelings, anything that will indicate she finds me the least bit attractive. “Yes, that’s all” she responds, “you can leave, I’ll show you out.” Shit. She’s not even the slightest bit intrigued by you. Where did I go wrong? I thought I was being mysterious enough. Shit.

I get up and stare at the plug sitting on the table in front of me, the LED no longer blinking. The slime, the lubricant, pooling on the desk. “Sorry about the mess” I add. “Don’t worry about it,” she responds. “If you ever need the services of Kagi again, don’t hesitate to contact Ben using the same protocol you did.”

That’s it, our time together is ending. I want her to think about me. I want to be the dark under-song in her mind. “I’m mostly nocturnal, and I only collect pollen from the sweetest of flowers. Yours being the most coveted of all,” shit why did I say that. She remains silent. She raises her hand gesturing to the door that leads into the kitchen. I walk towards it and open the door, the kitchen is quaint, not much counter space for the preparation of food, but a double sink for cleaning up dishes.

I walk out of the house regretting what I’ve said. Why did I have to make a reference to the bees, couldn’t I think of anything original to say? Whatever is said is said. I need to leave a lasting impression. “You know, I really like you, Kagi, better than the other Kagi.” I say. “Thank you,” she responds. I’m out the front door and back facing Sumach Street. “You know, you remind me of someone I once loved. I mean I still love.” I tell her. “You’re confused, and you need to check your head.” She closes the door and that’s the last interaction I’d have with Kagi for a while.

The stars are coruscating. The air fragrant with summer flowers. This new Kagi is going to keep me up all night. I know how to contact her now, and that’s subject to abuse, especially if I let my impulses get the better of me. No, I can’t make myself seem too desperate for attention. So needy. Shit, what about her, what about my love. I am riven. There’s the past and the future.

A Skylark In My Care

Inspired by The Crane Wife by The Decemberists which is far better than this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPOMHM6waxk

The contours of this earth, in a white embrace
And the trees they stood, buffeted by the North Wind’s face
Peculiar in their posture; boughs were so bare and barren
Oh the sweetest name, the sweetest name Karen
Who was to become, the reason for much depression
A skylark, a skylark in my possession

Oh I am a poor man, I’m without wealth or fame
I’m skill-less, and not a thing to my name
When this chapter, the chapter on my youth
Came crashing down, came crashing down to truth
And the time it came, to become a fine man adorned with carnation
I knew inside, with me you would only live in privation

What was I to do, with a skylark in my care
My heart never before, so heavy with despair
I was never meant, no I was never meant to keep you
So my loving hands, I so painfully withdrew
And I set you free, and through the Winter you flew and flew
A voice so soft and so fragile, and a love that was so true

But the Winter’s chill, it was so bitter, and so cold
And the distance, you alone were to hold
Your memories of me, to forever be erased
From your heart, a painfully complete waste
Oh how I selfishly wish, you could have stayed
You always stood to fly away

And where once you, would sing and sing
I would never again, feel the spring
Because of the timeless Winter, the Winter in your heart
That may, that may now forever keep us apart
After many a year you must be, better by now
As a free bird, no longer a slave to our vows

But I do long, and I do yearn
To feel the sun, upon my heart burn
Like once it did, when I kept the skylark
When we long ago, on this journey embarked
I can still hear, your beautiful song
But the Winter’s so, the Winter’s so long

Dear Bruce

You are short and stout, black and white
Barking at what the doorbell portends
Showing us you are a protector
But we all know you are kind inside
You communicate by whining so endearingly
And I can’t help how I feel inside when you do
Giving you small morsels of food brings you joy
It must, or you wouldn’t beg so
I’m eating a banana and I give you the ends
Sitting expectantly you barely chew them
When our exchange is over you sniff around
Evidently looking for something
Or in an elaborate attempt to illicit empathy
Asking me to drop something on the floor
If sunlight is to be found you will lay in it
Sunbathing is one of your cherished pastimes
We play with a chewed up toy of yours
You drop it on the floor in front of me
Expectant, you then wait for me to kick it
Chase it down you gladly do and return
I go back upstairs and you watch me
And drop the toy, I think you’re heartbroken
Whenever I pet your head you reel
You seem annoyed by this and I wonder why
Instead you present your hind haunches
And tailless rear end to me
I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me
So I pet you along your sides and back
And under your chin along your neck
Guiltily I throughly wash my hands afterwards
With dish soap or shampoo
Because they’re the best at removing oils
Know that you are loved by all of us
In your relentless quest for more food
Please excuse my use of enjambment
Oh, who am I kidding, you won’t care.

Ben

Chapter I – “My Wetware”
Chapter II – “C++”
Chapter III – “The Players”
Chapter IV – “The Cutter”
Chapter V – “The Fortress”
Chapter VI – “Ben”
Chapter VII – “A Strange Protocol”
Chapter VIII – “The Halting Problem”
Chapter IX – “Torpor”
Chapter X – “The Compilers”

I’m on the midnight bullet train on my way to Toronto. The train is speckled with passengers, some reading, others asleep, and some conversing with each other. I’m in all black, people don’t usually come up to me to strike up a conversation. I don’t think I look very approachable or even interesting.

Not everyone has jacks in their heads. It used to be popular with the 18-30 crowd, but they’ve continued to age and so there’s a wide rage of people with wetware. Whenever we see each other, there’s a silent exchange, a mutual respect and understanding. We don’t understand people who can live exclusively in the meat world.

I see one interesting person on the train, a girl with pink hair. She is standing, I wonder why she doesn’t sit. She is wearing black skinny jeans and a leather jacket. She has a chain hanging from her belt loop, attached to what I imagine is her wallet in her back pocket. She’s wearing some sexy looking boots. Fingering though some Microsofts and plugging them into a jack behind her ear. I wonder what’s on them. I’m intrigued. She hasn’t noticed me, she seems oblivious of her surroundings.

I stare at her for a while, expecting to make eye contact and give her an approving nod. She must feel my eyes on her, she glances over and does a double take. She smiles at me. I give her a nod, and she goes back to her Microsofts. Girls don’t usually give me looks, or even smiles. I wonder what was going through her head. Maybe I look interesting to her, maybe I’m just a welcomed sight in the meat world.

The lights outside streak by in a blur. The interior of the train is well lit. The cars aren’t divided by barriers, instead the whole entire train is a contiguous cabin. I don’t like sitting between cars, where you can see the seams. I’m paranoid that the train will come apart and I’d be the first one to die. Instead I sit in the middle of the car. The girl with the pink hair finally sits as someone is coming down the train checking tickets.

I take mine out of my pocket. A rectangular piece of plastic with silicon embedded within. Contains a bunch of data pertinent to security or something. The ticket inspector, or conductor, I’m not entirely sure of his title is checking the girl’s ticket. He strikes up a conversation with her. She gives terse responses and says “Look, I’m really busy, could you leave me alone?” He laughs. I can’t really make out the conversation over the noise of the train and the air rushing by.

He finally makes his way over to me and I give him my ticket. He slots it into a handheld device that then projects my three dimensional portrait and information.

“Thief, huh?”
“That was a long time ago.”
“Still on your record.”
“Yeah. Government. What can you do.”
“Don’t steal anything,” he laughs.

I place my face in my palm as he removes my ticket and hands it back to me. This happens every time I travel. It’s always the same. They bring up my past as though I’ve forgotten. They never let me forget. Whatever, it’s not a scarlet letter or anything.

I cross my arms and slump in my seat and close my eyes as I hang my head. I’m going to try and get some sleep before I arrive in Toronto. 3 A.M. Kagi should still be awake, I’ll be able to contact him. I won’t have to wait until tomorrow evening.

I don’t fully fall asleep, I’m too high strung to let my defences down in public. I can’t imagine being unconscious with other people around. At least it looks like I’m sleeping, so if anyone tries anything I can catch them in the act. That will show them.

. . .

“Now arriving in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Now arriving in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.” I hear over the speakers. I lift my head and open my eyes. I take my backpack that’s sitting beside me and get up. The girl with the pink hair gets up a moment after I do and begins walking towards the doors. I follow her, putting on my backpack. The doors open before I reach her and she steps out of the train. I walk slowly as I feel the plug in my head. I futilely try and pull it out but it’s stuck in there.

There is a short ride to Wellesley station on the subway. After that I walk east for a while, there are cats on the street. I don’t know why there are so many or what they’re all doing in such a big group. They turn and look at me, and freeze when I approach. I don’t want to get attacked. They seem docile, and well fed. Maybe they’re just outdoor cats.

After what feels like half an hour I arrive at Sumach Street. The houses here are small, quaint. The neighbourhood has a charm to it. I walk a while in silence. Everyone is asleep. The only thing I hear are my footsteps. I turn onto Winchester Street and walk towards the entrance of the Necropolis. When I get there the gates are closed. Great.

Someone behind me yells “Hey! Stay out of there! Get!” It’s someone sitting in the park. I turn and walk towards him. “Sorry, I’m just visiting,” I tell him. He approaches, he’s homeless by the look of him. Wearing rags and a large beard, he looks like he smells most foul. I keep my distance.

“The gates are locked” I say.
“Yes, the Necropolis isn’t open at night.”
“Do you have the keys?”
“W–what? Why would I have the keys?”
“Kagi told me you’d have them.”
“Ahh. Kagi. You’re looking for Kagi. She’ll be here soon.”

He takes something out of his pocket and taps away on it, the screen glowing, illuminating his tired looking face.

“She? Kagi is a man.”
“No you’re mistaken, Kagi is most definitely a young woman.”

What the hell. I’ve known Kagi for years, when did he become a woman? He didn’t seem the type to have a sex change, or even be confused about his sexuality. The homeless man returns the device to his pocket and grunts as he turns and begins to walk back to his bench and lay down.

“You sleep here often?”
“Everyday in the spring and summer. It’s too cold in the winter and autumn.”
“Yeah, that makes sense. So when did Kagi become a woman?”
“She’ll explain it all to you. I just watch over the Necropolis at night.”

I stand there in silence for a few minutes, waiting. The homeless man begins to snore.

“Hey are you asleep?”
“No, I’m just pretending.”
“Oh…why?”
“The art of conversation is lost on you.”

Yeah, he’s right. My social skills are seriously lacking. I can’t hold a conversation to save my life.

“Yeah, you’re right.”
“I know I am. I usually am. Good judge of character.”
“So why are you homeless?”
“When my wife was laid in the Necropolis, I lost all interest in life. I began seeing her in my mind everyday, when I was at work, when I was busy. She’d come out of nowhere and it would make me cry. I began to hear her voice. She was haunting me, and I loved it. I felt less alone. When I told my doctors this story they put me in the mental health ward of the hospital. I was there for months as an inpatient while they observed me and spoke to me about my ‘visions’ and the voice of my deceased wife.”
“I’m sorry…”
“You don’t have anything to be sorry about. I was away from work for months, and was fired while I was institutionalized. They diagnosed me as Schizophrenic. It’s on my government file now. Nobody would hire me, so I took whatever savings I had and sold our house and began to live on the street.”
“That sounds terrible. Is your wife here now? I mean, is she still haunting you?”
He laughs. “Yes my son. She is with me always. When I see her I feel as though she is alive once more and I no longer feel alone in this world. She may be in Nirvana now, never to be reborn and here to keep me company.”
“You believe in Buddhism?”
“I believe there is more to this world than what we can physically touch. And I believe life begins anew once it has left the physical world. The way we have lived determines where our souls end up.”
“Karma, right?”
He laughs again. “You could say that.”

I see a distant figure approaching through the park. It looks like a woman, shorter than me, maybe five and a half feet. As the footsteps become audible the homeless man lifts his head and looks towards them. “She is here.”

“Hello Ben” she says. Her voice is like music. It reminds me of her. Tears well up in my eyes. I haven’t heard a voice like that in years. The man rises from his bench and she slips off a backpack and unzips it, removing something from within. It’s a sandwich. She hands it to Ben and he opens the zip lock bag and begins to eat.

A muffled “Thank you,” his mouth full.
“You’re welcome Ben. Is this the guy you were telling me about?”
“Yeah” he says, not stopping to swallow or anything.
“So, what happened to Kagi?” I ask.
“He retired. Someone needed to pick up the mantle. That someone was me.” She responds.
“Retired? We were the same age. There’s no way he could have retired.”
“He was Kagi. You don’t know how well that pays. Anyway, what do you need?”
“I have a plug I need removed.” I say as I take my hand and touch it.
“That shouldn’t be a problem. Goodnight Ben. You, come with me.”

The Fortress

Chapter I – “My Wetware”
Chapter II – “C++”
Chapter III – “The Players”
Chapter IV – “The Cutter”
Chapter V – “The Fortress”
Chapter VI – “Ben”
Chapter VII – “A Strange Protocol”
Chapter VIII – “The Halting Problem”
Chapter IX – “Torpor”
Chapter X – “The Compilers”

Why I went back up to my apartment is something I’ll always wonder. I have no idea what I was expecting to happen. A part of me thought there must be a reasonable explanation to the light being on. Maybe my landlord was there, maybe they were questioning neighbours of someone who got busted. I always cover my tracks, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. You have to be in order to be in this business. Maybe it’s because I was too cocky.

I live on West 110th, and I just got back from the café on the Columbia University campus. I spend my time between New York and Toronto where my parents live. There’s a bullet train that connects the two cities, it takes about 3 hours to go between cities. Not as good as flying, but it’s much cheaper. My apartment building has been around for ages, it has got nice units though, for the price.

I take the elevator up to my floor, as the door opens and the bell dings I hear my landlord and the machine modulated voices of Police. Shit. My heart starts pounding and my stomach is in knots, my mouth goes dry and I don’t know if my voice will even exist when I try to speak.

Stepping out of the elevator I see my neighbours in the hallway, there are two drones hovering and scanning my immediate neighbours and asking questions. It’s hard to focus on one conversation to try and find out what’s going on. The police turn and look at me as I’m standing there, as though I’m naked.

“You!” a modulated voice shouts and a Police officer comes walking over to where I am standing, frozen. A drone on my left stops its questioning and turns toward me and begins to scan my face and eyes. No sooner does the Police officer arrive than I hear the drone say “Citizen, don’t move. You are under arrest.” I dare not move, I don’t want to get tased or tranqed. Shit, what did I do wrong, I bounced my requests off of multiple networks around the world. I was running a traceroute detection program. What the hell.

“You, don’t move!” the almost robotic voice tells me. Two other Police officers come over, they are all holding SMGs, Heckler & Koch MP series. They are each customized with the officer’s own flavour of attachments, flashlights, sights, grips. One of them even has a magazine taped upside down to the loaded magazine in his gun, for quick reload I guess or maybe one contains lethal rounds.

“Come with us peacefully,” the one on the left says. Yeah, no shit. “Turn around” says the one on the right. I turn around and feel my hand being taken behind my back, then a bracelet put on it and tightened– a zip restraint. They take my other hand and place it into the other loop and tighten it. I don’t dare say a word. They aren’t being overly aggressive. That’s what happens when you don’t resist and keep your mouth shut.

“Thank you for all your help,” I hear one of the distant officers say to my landlord. “Yeah, no problem officer, anytime” my landlord says. He’s an older balding gentleman with a food baby, a wife beater on, barely containing his gut. “Gluttony” I think.

“In to the elevator” a voice behind me says. Police voices scare me. They all are wearing gas masks and they’re talking through their modulators. It makes them more frightening, you know, when they don’t seem human. We walk into the elevator, me and three Police officers. I turn around and see one of them press the button for the ground floor.

The elevator ride is long. Two of them play with their SMGs, a series of clicking and sliding noises. I have no idea what they’re doing. “Thank you for not resisting, citizen,” one of them says. “We’re taking you to the Fortress for questioning.” Shit, thats the large towering structure you can see from everywhere. The place where the drones come from. Don’t they have local Police stations. What the hell.

The elevator dings and the doors open. The three officers step out first and wait for me to exit. I walk out, not wanting to keep them waiting. Two of them walk out in front of me, and one behind. They push the front doors of my apartment building open and hold them open while we walk out into the vestibule. Then again as we walk out onto the street. The officer behind me has a hand on my shoulder now and is guiding me to the back of their black truck.

“Get in,” he says as we approach the back, doors already open. There is a single Police officer inside standing guard, he is holding a shotgun. Probably for the spread, at this close distance it would be lethal. There’s usually someone at the rear of SWAT groups that wields a shotgun, to cover their ass. I get in without a word. “Sit” says the Police officer with his hand on my shoulder.

We wait a few minutes and I hear boots approaching and their modulated voices talking to each other and laughing. I can’t make out what they’re saying, it’s muffled. A group of Police pile into the back and they shut the doors. The one with the shotgun bangs on the wall between us and the cabin and the truck fires to life. Soon we’re at the Fortress.

When we’re finally settled two officers stand and open the back of the truck and hop out. We’re in a parking garage. All the officers pile out and the officer puts his hand on my shoulder once more, silently instructing me to keep seated. Once the truck is clear he instructs me to get up. I stand and walk to the back of the truck, taking in its shiny metallic interior with grip texture on every surface.

I hop out and am followed by the officer who replaces his hand on my shoulder. We walk through some automatic doors. The whole place smells so sterile, all the boots making squeaking noises on the floor. There is a group of officers in front of me. We walk through a busy room, officers without their masks off quiet down and take a look at me as I walk past. Two of them having coffee on the right, one behind a desk with a holographic projection in front of him. Others at their desks doing paperwork or conversing though cyberspace.

We walk further down a long hallway filled with doors. We stop in front of one of them and one of the officers opens the door. They don’t enter, they stand out of the way. I’m guided into the room, an interrogation room. I’ve seen enough movies and television to recognize one. “Sit” says the officer with his hand on my shoulder.

I sit in the metal chair, it’s hard on my butt. There is a camera in the right-most corner of the room and a drone floating within. I guess for those times when someone acts up. All the officers haven’t entered the room except the one who was instructing me. He sits across from me, a stainless steel table in-between us. He wastes no time.

“Do you know why you’re here?”
“No.” I say, parched, my voice barely projecting.
“You. You were searching for Moskoe.”

Shit. How does he know that? I was careful.

“Oh, no I wasn’t.” I blurt out.
“Don’t you fucking lie you piece of shit.”
“Yeah, I did search for that…but I haven’t done anything illegal.”

I start to sweat. They are serious, the drone in the room could tase me if I resist. I don’t want to know what it feels like being tased, I’ve seen videos and it looks painful. I have an aversion to pain, I’m a very sensitive person. The librarian…It must have been a police program. The whole Moskoe server, entrapment. Entrapment isn’t illegal in cyberspace, servers run by the Police are plentiful, you have to be really stupid to connect to one.

“Where did you get the name ‘Moskoe'” he asks, his robotic voice chilling my very soul. I don’t know what to say, I need to lie. I can’t tell them about the pirate server I connected to, that could lead them to hackers. It’s hacker code to never give up other hackers or their haunts to the Police. Shit. There’s a pause, I might as well have fallen asleep, it’s so long.

“I– someone told me about it.”
“Who?”
“A homeless guy.” I lie.
“A homeless guy…Where was this ‘homeless guy’?” he asks.
“He was talking to himself on the corner of West 110th and Amsterdam” I lie.

The drone remains quiet. I’m so nervous, it must mask my lying. I did actually see a homeless guy talking on that corner once, but he was talking about being saved by God’s messengers. You know, the ramblings of a schizophrenic mind.

The officer turns towards the drone which is just hanging in the air, scanning my face constantly.

“Come in here” he stays.
“What?” I say.
“Not you shithead.” he responds.

I turn as the door behind me opens, another officer. He is holding a box in his hands. He places it on the table. He takes one look at me and leaves the room, closing the door behind him. What the hell is this. Are they going to torture me? Shit, the Police scare the shit out of me. The officer in front of me puts a hand on the box and asks:

“Do you know what’s in here?”
“N–no. What?” I respond.

He lets out a modulated laugh, I hate the sound of Police laughing. It’s ominous, it’s like death itself is laughing in your face. His gas mask hides any humanity. His black uniform might as well be the reaper’s robes. I’m so scared of the drone’s countermeasures. This one time I saw a homeless man get tased, his entire body going stiff and shaking like a fish out of water. I imagine the electric shock created an action potential in all of his muscles, telling them all to contract. You know, the nerves. Even in his brain, a trillion synapses firing “pain”. His jaw clenching, his teeth sending “pressure” to his mind.

You know, the funny feeling you get when you receive a shock, except all over your body, the pulsing muscle contractions, the foreign feeling you get that tells you something external is causing it. Shit, the tranqs are better, they just put you to sleep and you wake up not knowing what happened to you. The police wouldn’t molest you, or pull your pants down and laugh at your genitals. They aren’t like that, are they?

He opens the box in front of him and inlaid in foam is a familiar looking interface connected to strange device. It’s a cyberspace connection on one end and on the other end…I don’t know what the hell that is.

“This is a ‘plug'” he says.

Shit. A plug. They install these in hackers sometimes when they get caught. It slides into your cyberspace jack and can’t be removed without setting off an alarm. Like house arrest, but for cyberspace. You can’t hack with one of these in your head.

“You are having this installed” he says as he pulls it out of its foam cutout. He stands and walks over to me and pushes my head down onto the stainless steel table. It’s cold on my face. He’s being forceful and aggressive. I feel something in my cyberspace jack and then a flash of the last thing I saw, the librarian, with her stacks of books, scanning each one methodically.

“Forget about cyberspace, you’re a fugitive now.”

I say nothing. It’s best to say nothing and not resist. Be passive, they won’t be so aggressive. They hate it when you resist, or question their authority, I’ve seen it in many vids, the suspect says something that triggers the officer and the drone tases them to pacify.

It feels like my emotions are gone. I can’t feel pleasure, at all. I think about her. My heart fills with love and longing. I remember kissing her and holding her close to me. All those times we took pictures of ourselves, the feeling that she’d always be there, that I’d always be there. Everything was okay. Everything felt like it fell into place. Why didn’t I hold her close to me more often? Why didn’t I kiss her beautiful angel-like face more? Why wasn’t I more loving? I’m filled with regret.

“We are taking your ‘deck’ and you are free to go.”

What the hell. My deck, it has all my programs on it. It has the UI I designed. It has Silver Angel on it. What can I expect from the Police.

“You will not be able to enter cyberspace any longer, not until we decide you have been rehabilitated.” He laughs again.

Shit. I take my hand and try to feel my cyberspace jack. A cold metallic protrusion with a little LED bump in it. I can’t remove it. “Don’t worry” I tell myself, just go find Kagi, he’ll know what to do.

The Cutter

Chapter I – “My Wetware”
Chapter II – “C++”
Chapter III – “The Players”
Chapter IV – “The Cutter”
Chapter V – “The Fortress”
Chapter VI – “Ben”
Chapter VII – “A Strange Protocol”
Chapter VIII – “The Halting Problem”
Chapter IX – “Torpor”
Chapter X – “The Compilers”

I’m jacking in. My deck projects a three dimensional interface that I control with my mind. My eyes are open, taking in the information. I haven’t connected to any servers, it’s just the UI I designed with quick access to my programs. An address bar is displayed predominantly. Information architecture. A thought, “tenki”. Shit. The weather pops up. Damnit control yourself. This is normal, I’m traversing cyberspace very clumsily. It’s hot out, my ice bucket isn’t helping much, but the fan…the fan is offering a little respite.

A simple motor with three fins attached, a restraining nut to secure them. Harkening back to a simpler time. I need to stop thinking about how hot I feel, I need to forget this apartment, I need to stop my impulsive tendencies. I couldn’t have done this as a teenager, my hormones were Novahot. I know that’s not an appropriate use of the word, but it sounds cool. I would get erections simply thinking about my lover. Not anymore. Things have become tame, and I don’t seem to have control. Shit, no I don’t at all. It’s impossible to even force an erection these days. Am I broken?

No, I can’t think about making love, I can’t think about how hot it is. Nothing physical, I need to think about what I’m doing. I close my eyes. The “Maleststöm”, that’s where I need to be. On a ship circling a churning, black, foaming sea. I’m there, aboard a cutter, circling the great whirlpool and descending. There is a man attached by a rope to a barrel, he jumps overboard. What the hell? I run to the captain’s cabin and look for something, anything. Anything that could be a steg. A stack of documents sitting on the captain’s desk look promising.

I scan the small stack and look for something that references Seraphs. Damn it, what if there’s nothing here. There is an unfinished letter sitting on the desk that begins with “Dear Gabriel”. It looks like the captain was unable to finish this letter. It warns of the horrors of the sea. The stack of parchment– but I bet there’s nothing there, I bet. Regardless I take the stack with me, my deck creating copies of the files.

“Gabriel”, why does that name sound familiar. Instinctively I take the document and fold it neatly and shove it into my vest, right over my heart. My deck creates a file flagged important. There are paintings hanging on the walls. Portraits of the captain I guess. They must be. He looks familiar, damn it everything seems so familiar. It’s impossible to tell if one of them is a steg. A black market good disguised as a set piece. No, there’s nothing in them that hints at the Devine, hints at Angels or God. The perfect place to hide something. Shit.

Forget it, I have all the parchment from the desk and the seal. If there’s anything to be found it should be here, in these objects. I’m sure. Hackers want their cons to be found by other hackers. The tricky part is eluding the Police.

The cutter is slowly making its way to the center of the roaring, chopping current. I need to get out. This temporal cyberspace program is going to return soon and be freed from memory. If I’m still in it my consciousness might go with it. Pirate circles, they know quite a bit about gravitas.

I open my eyes and the familiar glow of my interface welcomes me. I made it out in time. There was probably a lot of time left to explore, but I think something I copied might be useful. If not, I can always execute the program on the remote server again and try something different. This all may be a dead end.

“Gabriel” why does that seem familiar. I navigate to the files I copied. I perform a search for the term “Gabriel”. Oh, right, it was flagged important. Damnit my memory isn’t the greatest. Did I do something that retarded it? I worry that my choices in life have had adverse effects on my development as a human being. Anyway, there’s one file.

The “Gabriel” file reads:
We are trapped in a funnel whose boundaries do spray,
And in the midway does Moskoe lay,

There is nothing more written upon the document. Moskoe, that must be a key. The address bar pops up again as I think this, and the word “Moskoe” is visible within it. Execute. A single result, a server, somewhere in cyberspace.

Connect to Moskoe, I think and close my eyes. Suddenly I’m in a library, filled with what must be thousands of books. A librarian is scanning returns into their system. A program. The librarian program. It must be running on the server. “Does it respond to input?” I say to myself.

I slowly make my way over to the desk that the Librarian is standing behind. There are stacks of books piled haphazardly, but there is an order to it all. The desk is covered in stacks. What if one of them is a con, she’d never know. “Excuse me”, I say. A beep from the terminal she’s working at, as she scans another book.

“Yes?” she says inquisitively. It accepts input. Will it clone itself now that it has made contact with a user? “I’m looking for Moskoe” I tell it. “It’s been many a year since that name has been spoken” she tells me. “Library card?” she asks. “I don’t have one” I quickly respond. “Most troublesome” she says. Shit, where do I get a library card? There’s no mention of this anywhere. I quickly search the parchment files for numerals, alphanumerics, anything. There’s nothing. “Sorry, but I can only help those with library cards” she informs me.

A dead end. I need to collect my thoughts. “Sorry to have bothered you” I tell her. I jack out and open my eyes. I am back in my apartment staring at the decking UI, an address bar displayed prominently. My mind is clear, I’m stumped. A library card? What the hell.

I get up and remove the deck from my lap and place it carefully near my terminal. Shit, I need to talk to my boss. I send him a HTTP request header with our agreed upon User-Agent string. His Apache server will grep the string and alert him. Our usual meeting place, a café.

“I can’t access the Microsofts you gave me, I had an Apple jack installed.” I tell him. His reflective silver lenses revealing nothing but a coldness and distance. He is silent. He’s going to shed this dead weight, I know it. “I found Moskoe” I blurt out. “Yeah, what’s that?” he inquires. “A library, with a librarian” I tell him. “That’s the only program running on the server” I add, expectant. “You aren’t doing the job I hired you to do” he replies coldly. I explain the Maelstrom and the steg I found, telling him I am close to finding The Seraphs. I tell him about Gabriel. He lets out a mirthless laugh. “If only you hadn’t converted…you would be a Seraph by now”. He gets up from his seat, and gives me what I can only think is a disgusted look and walks away.

Shit. He’s right. Why did I become an Apple user. All its brought me is problems. No, that’s not true, I learned to program in C++. Shit, that’s not going to get me another job. I’m a hacker, I’m supposed to trade information, easily, not be hindered by proprietary wetware. Shit. Shit. He may never respond to my requests ever again. I’ve lost my source of income. I’m going to be homeless in a matter of months. I don’t know anything else, I’m a thief. And what is a thief without a fence.

It’s dark out now, the sun has long since departed and there’s a full moon hanging in the sky. Stars are visible, even in the light pollution. I know the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. That’s it. You can find the other if you see one of them. I have a telescope, but stars just twinkle in it. Jupiter is the most interesting thing to observe, you can see the Galilean moons. What use is this, it won’t get me any credits. I’m going to starve to death on the street of this Great City.

I walk back to my apartment from the café. There’s a woman walking her dog. It defecates near a tree. She pulls a bag from her back pocket and places her hand in it, and picks up the feces. She must love this dog, that’s disgusting. What can you do, leave it there? What if everyone did that? Anarchy, that’s what. I guess its training that prepares you for children. We used to have a dog, when I lived with my parents. I didn’t have to do any of the dirty work, just petting and providing scraps.

I’m almost home. There’s a large black truck parked outside my apartment building. You know, a SWAT truck. I count the floors and look up at my apartment window. The light is on. I’m sure I turned it off. I get a kick in my stomach and my heart beats like a hammer. Why would the Police be after me?

The Players

Chapter I – “My Wetware”
Chapter II – “C++”
Chapter III – “The Players”
Chapter IV – “The Cutter”
Chapter V – “The Fortress”
Chapter VI – “Ben”
Chapter VII – “A Strange Protocol”
Chapter VIII – “The Halting Problem”
Chapter IX – “Torpor”
Chapter X – “The Compilers”

Police are the only ones known to use drones. Officers are augmented with eyes that can access their drones’ eyes. They fly around with god knows what kind of power source. I’ve heard everything from uranium to perpetual motion devices. Only the Police know. They are used to search for criminals and keep order, you know policing.

They have countermeasures built in. So you don’t want to mess with anything when they’re around, and you definitely don’t want to be the object of their desire, if you know what I mean. Tasers and tranquilizers make the drones efficient and effective at neutralizing targets. And their eyes, god their many eyes. Why do they need so many eyes? It’s like they can see into your mind, know what you’re thinking. Their software analyzes all kinds of biometric data. You better not let them see your face, they win at poker every time.

People are deathly afraid of the Police because of what they’ve become. Still, you hear stories of drone hacking and there are definitely criminals on the streets. The thing is a lot of the crime happens in cyberspace, and if you’re a bad hacker and get tracerouted drones become hunters, arriving at your windows and door. Scanning faces and eyes until they find who they’re looking for. If you’re a bad enough hacker to get caught, that is.

Drone A.I. is derived from ICE, but it’s modified so that programs like Silver Angel would be rendered ineffective, at least that’s what the programmers have let slip. It could be a lie propagated by the Police, but it makes sense that they would require custom software for their needs. All of this doesn’t really matter because I haven’t met anyone that has successfully gained access to a drone. It looks like they are stopping people in the streets, looking into their souls with their searching eyes.

I guess if you were to try, you’d have to gain access to the Police network, which operates as an intranet. You need to be at a physical terminal to do anything. Still, Police are somehow able to command in the field so they must be using some kind of proprietary technology. It must be developed in house by their countermeasures department. Yeah, must be. They hire programmers, scientists, doctors– just like any corporation, but they have the most sophisticated weapons guarding their secrets.

I got busted once for theft. I was nonchalantly stealing food from the supermarket I worked at, unaware of the pervert who operates the security cameras. He caught me on many occasions gorging myself on company property. I was young and hungry, what can I say. Eventually they had enough of my ungratefulness and confronted me about it. I quit before they could officially fire me. Then the police show up at my parent’s house, I went with them peacefully. It now says thief on my government file. It’s not a scarlet letter or anything.

I didn’t stop stealing, I just got more sophisticated. With paranoia on my side I learned to be careful. Living like your every action is being monitored makes you honest, or a really great liar. I started stealing data. Information has a price on the streets. I’ve taken jobs I regret, but that’s how you learn, you make mistakes and try not to repeat them. It’s not like there’s a manual on how to be a hacker, but a paranoid personality definitely helps. I don’t think I am doing anything evil, even though it’s illegal.

These days corporations employ freelance thieves, mercenaries, assassins. Of course this is done through some sort of intermediary, like my boss, to keep their hands clean. I don’t know how they can afford to pay us, I mean doesn’t someone keep track of where the credits go?

Anyway, the Corporate Wars are far from being over. You know how things are with the global stock market. It is relentless, never sleeping. And ever since the great crash, when China became a superpower, things are really cut-throat. Nasty business, you know?

I have my favourites, Apple, Google, Bell, AT&T you know, companies that survived the crash. I enjoy doing jobs for them because it helps my stock portfolio. A little corporate espionage isn’t really hurting anyone, it only effects the bottom line, and how padded my pockets get. The wars play themselves out on the streets and alleys of the Great Cities, and we are just soldiers of fortune.

On the street you will hear of The Syndicate from time to time. Whenever something truly evil goes down people are quick to blame them for it. They take credit for a lot of the meat world’s problems. Sometimes they take credit for Anarchy in general. Yeah, anarchists, that’s what they are. They tank, and I mean real aggro from governments and the United Nations. Who really knows why they take credit for the things they do, they would be better suited to operating in the shadows. They must be sadistic. They revel in really rubbing your nose in feces. They create propaganda and manifestos in many of the world’s languages. They must recruit from all over the globe.

When the pendulum swings the other way you find Fedora, a really juvenile and lawfully good group of Trolls. I mean they’re real Trolls. Inside cyberspace they take the form of large humanoids with tusks. They stick out so much they could never get away with doing anything truly criminal. Word is a lot of them work as security guards and police, you know, real paragons. At least that’s what I hear. Moonlighting to gather information on people. Trying to make their jobs easier, that makes sense, but who knows why they do the things they do. They mostly use their words to flame and incite. They are psychological hackers, not really interested in writing programs or anything like that.

Hackers everywhere know the name Black Mesa. They’re one of the best hacking groups on the planet– I mean solar system, technically. They have a space station where some of them live. They are best known for constantly hacking government and military systems. Nobody knows why they do it. Some say they are tired of politics and believe in completely open, transparent systems. The corporate wars don’t really seem to interest them though.

They don’t just hack, they manufacture things on their space station. Rumour has it they build androids, but I don’t believe it. They recruit out of Universities. The precocious, the savants, the graduate students, you know the type. Smart. Idealists who aren’t yet jaded or disillusioned like so many people become.

Internationally, if you travel to Asia, you’ll invariably hear about The Golden Wind Trading Company. There’s mention of them in cyberspace, but they aren’t exactly a hacking group– they deal mostly with the meat world. Based in China, they trade on the old Silk Road routes, mostly in manufactured goods from China that aren’t otherwise available to outsiders. They have been known to smuggle information, people (fugitives), and black market goods, things like experimental chrome, the real cutting edge stuff. A lot of hackers go there for the exotic implants. They make deals outside the purview of the Chinese government, which is a huge machine with many eyes and ears. They unfortunately don’t cross oceans.

International waters are constantly monitored by satellites these days so you couldn’t really get a boat across without being discovered. World governments invested in the project, they called it Atlantis, when human trafficking was at an all time high. Boat loads of people were being smuggled out of the Pacific Rim, the Middle East, Africa, you know, where there is still a disparity between the rich and poor. They were bought and sold for the usual things: prostitution, surrogate mothers, servants, wives. Their lives were binary, sometimes far better, sometimes a lot worse. When bodies started showing up, from suicides and murders, the government couldn’t feign blindness to it all. Ever since Atlantis was found, trafficking has gone down considerably. Don’t get me wrong, there are still prostitutes, men, women, and everything in between. I can see some on the street right now.

One of the world’s largest black markets is operated by a group called Knights of Shadow. They are a neutral group of mercenary hackers, doctors, nurses, and sundry professionals. They get their hands on corporate secrets out of R&D departments and create their own brand of chrome, real illegal stuff. I don’t know where they manufacture, maybe in small labs scattered across the globe. They are most notably known for procuring keys, keys to everything, plugs, private servers– they are like locksmiths.

All the Great Cities are hotbeds for illegal activity. Whatever your vice happens to be, there’s something for you. Los Angeles is largest. The Sprawl, some call it. So many broken dreams. Disillusionment breeds the worst in people. I wish Hollywood was less superficial, all the cosmetic surgery turns women into dolls. There’s a good hacker scene there though I hear. Never been.

Neo Tokyo has Lords of Karma. Everyone has heard of them. A group of young punks. They believe in Karmic justice and they act as agents of that Karma. Most notably when recent relations between Japan and China turned sour they stole Japanese secrets and gave them to China. I mean stuff like troop deployments, locations of military installations, classified intelligence they had collected, cryptography keys and the movements of key political figures. You know, because Japan once invaded China in ancient history. They ripped off Japan’s kimono and left her standing naked.

The Chinese, being predominantly Buddhist and peaceful, albeit paradoxically with the largest armed force in the world, quickly got reparations from Japan. This launched Lords of Karma to the global stage. It is said that the United Nations thanked them, but I heard this through the forums. The media over here is garbage.

Japan is so crowded, its the population density. It’s not as bad as India though. India has Vidmahe another hacktivist group. Vidmahe is an old Sanskrit word meaning “we”, at least I think that’s what it means. Look, I’m not an etymologist okay. Apparently some people really love dead languages. Anyway, mostly made up of ascetic vegetarians they are kind of like an Indian version of The Seraphs and many members are rumoured to belong to both groups.

They are known for attacking large pharmaceuticals, makers of beauty products, you know, makeup and toiletries, mostly because of animal testing. Doing things like changing packaging at manufacturing plants, shutting down HVAC systems, deleting databases, getting executive names and other private data, draining bank accounts, that sort of thing. All that being said, they aren’t much of a threat to the meat world, they like to stick to cybercrime. I mean hacktivism. Yeah, definitely hacktivism.