^
||
Elle sourit en apprenant que la fin du monde approchait.


like broken light decorations in our crystal meth tuxedos ==>


A tall man broke away from his group of friends, disturbing the smooth snow layered across the road with his footprints. After hesitant confusion, the other three followed him. The man stopped and kneeled at the head of an alleyway.

"Seamus! What're you doing?" Sarah asked as she came to a stop. Dan and Seung caught up beside her. Seamus had his hands extended before him. They shook.

"This kid... he's... he's bleeding everywhere. Christ, I think he must've been in the explosion. How the hell did he get over here?" Seamus mumbled. He turned for confirmation from his friends, but found only expressions of discomfort. "We've gotta.. do.. something...?"

No one spoke. The three cast quick glances amongst themselves. Sarah asked gently, "Who are you talking about, Seamus?" His eyes widened in disbelief. Extending his hand behind him impatiently, Seamus exclaimed, "This kid, who else?!" He turned away from them again, continuing rapidly. "I think... I think the blood's coming from his thigh. That's where the clothes are stained the most. He's gonna catch frostbite out here in like five minutes, we've gotta move him." They could hear the creeping panic in his voice. He started to slide his coat off.

Sarah spoke again, feigning cheerfulness. "Seamus, I think we need to get you inside." She placed a hand on his shoulder. "There's no one there. Come on, let's..." He wrenched his shoulder from her hand and jumped to his feet. "What the fuck is wrong with you guys?! This kid's gonna die!"

Sarah flinched, backing away. Seung stepped forward defensively. "Hey... Seamus... cut it the fuck out. I know you're tired and you're worried about your brother, but... shit man, you're starting to scare us. There's no one there." Seamus's ears buzzed with anger. He grabbed Seung by the collar and shoved him against the alley wall, yelling, "This kid's gonna fucking DIE!"

Seung's vision went white as his head smacked the brick. Startled, he exclaimed, "Jesus, Seamus!" and grabbed his friend's wrists. He felt something warm and slick. Opening his eyes, Seung looked down. The hands that held him against the wall were covered with blood. Yelling in shock, he jerked himself free of Seamus's grip and stumbled backward, tripping over something soft. He fell sprawling to the snow. Pushing up, Seung saw that he had tumbled across a young teenage boy curled into a fetal position, who let out a loud, pained groan. The bangs of his messy black hair lay across his eyes, small halos of blue around severely dilated pupils. He shivered violently. The snow about him was stained dark red. None of this had Seung seen moments prior.

"Fu..fu..fucking hell, where did he come from?!" he stammered as he looked to Dan and Sarah. They returned only puzzled, slightly frightened faces. Seung asked, "Can't you see him?" and pointed at the boy. Sarah shook her head slowly. Dan just stared. Somewhere within the interiors of Seung's skull, a cool female voice related, "Unable to contact emergency services. Network connection unstable."

Seung's eyes trailed upward to the sky, a dull grey-orange of clouds and reflected streetlight glow. "Hey Sarah? Turn on your wearable."

"What?"
"Just do it."
She dug her right hand into a cargo pocket and flicked a switch. Her eyes widened.
"Oh my God..."
One second later, Dan sucked in a breath and stepped back.

Seamus was down on his knees again beside the boy. The others joined him. Sarah immediately took charge, all traces of fright obliterated by the resolute set of her face. She tried to place two fingers below the boy's chin for his pulse, but he jerked his head away clumsily. "I think he's going into shock, he's lost a lot of blood. Seamus, could you gimme your coat?" Seamus handed it to her without comment. She folded it a few times, then wrapped it around the boy's leg. He let out a sharp cry of pain, which she ignored. "Dan, hold this as tightly to his leg as possible, we've gotta stop the bleeding." He did as she told him. Turning to Seamus, she asked rhetorically, "Your apartment's near here, right? We have to get him inside and restore body heat. If you have a first aid kit we can close this wound up temporarily. Two of you lift him, but carefully. Try to keep his legs higher."

Seamus looked at the boy, then back at Sarah. "We have to call an ambulance," he declared tentatively. Seung shook his head, explaining as he moved to one side of the boy, "My wearable turned on because the AERA was trying to call emergency services. It couldn't get through. We can't wait for a path to open."

"Even if we could, the hospitals are gonna be overloaded and the streets are shut down. They couldn't get an ambulance out here and there'd be nowhere to send him," Dan added quietly. Seamus said nothing further. He looped his arm beneath the boy's knees while Sarah cradled the boys face and spoke softly. "You're alright. Everything's going to be fine. This will hurt, but we have to get you inside. Be strong for me, ok?" The boy didn't seem to comprehend, but Sarah would delay no longer. "Ok guys, on the count of three. One, two..."


I'm looking for Thang Kim Hyunh.
He was at Times Square,
using the remote host
us.ny.columbia.tkhyunh.wr                                       Request cannot be completed.
last accessing through this node.                             Maximum allocation of bandwidth exceeded.
I can't get a connection.
If his address shows up anywhere
or you hear something from him,
please please please
contact me immediately.                      President Luévano just declared a national state of emergency
Thank you.                                      They're trying to shut down the high-level routers until
                                                  they can get some bottlenecks set up to monitor the traffic.
                                             We're trying to mirror a few before his thugs nuke 'em. You in?

I'm not shitting you! No one's heard from Geoff
               and it was taken down off Kryptyfryn
                            but FreudianTypo and graygreen mirrored the vid.
                                      You gotta take a look at this.
                                           Same location, same timeframe, but look!
                                                 Nobody there! The only difference is this guy
                                                     was relaying to a private intranet.
                                                       You can see people reacting to the kid nonetheless.
                                                        It's completely fucked up.
The prophet has arrived.
Behold the omnipresence.
                                                        It's commandeered pretty much everything,
                                                       including the quantum array. I had to hook up
                                                     a new system and sprinkle it with fucking holy water
                                                 just to get a little processing power.
                                           Its gonna be infected any minute,
                                      but I just traced the virus's send route...
                             it's hitting at least several thousand other intranets
                 before it disappears.
This has to be a distrobug.

It's evolving as it goes, discovering new weaknesses and using them.
The thing's fucking unstoppable.
                                                      A cracker broke into The Enclave
                                                      around three. A few of the admins
                                                      are currently trying to reverse engineer
                                                      his avatar so we can give you all
Hello? Anyone?                                            a good look. For the moment, if you
There are ghosts in the wires...                               see Contreraz, assume it's someone
he's... he's a boy...                                       else entirely. There was a DDOS attack
and there's a shadow                                        shortly after the break-in that we think
chasing him.                                              was government in origin, but keep that quiet.
They won't go away.                                         The last thing we want to do is get between
Make them go away.                                          some fugitive scriptkiddie and the feds.

...

Something's changed.


He rubbed gloved hands together to reawaken the cold-numbed nerves. The surrounding air seemed to suck the heat right out of him. The boy turned his eyes skyward. Tall pine trees with snow-laden boughs filtered the dark grey clouds above. It seemed near sunset. He brought his gaze back down to the forest around him. As far distant as he could see, all trees, the land's contour flowing slowly downward into what seemed a valley. Wiping a watery trail of mucus from his nose, the boy turned in a circle. This wasn't exactly a clearing, but there was a slight thinning of the trees.

Behind him he found a lean-to, looking rickety with the weight of snow. It struck him suddenly as familiar, but he couldn't place how. He approached it slowly, his feelings uneasy. Inside the ground was relatively dry. Near the trunk of the supporting tree sat a backpack, left open. The boy crawled inside and examined its contents. There were two general-issue school ebooks. There was also a regular book, a red hardback with faded gold trim patterned around the edges titled, "The Annotated Alice." The boy thumbed it open to a random page. He couldn't read a word. He closed the book, noticing as he did a piece of white cloth lying on the ground. It looked like velvet. He reached for it.

Unwrapping something heavy, metal, letting it fall into his hand. A loud bang. The forest spinning and rushing above him. Everything faded, only a pain in his head growing duller by the moment. Darkness.

He dropped the cloth like it were a dead thing. His heart pumped furiously. Taking deep breaths, he turned his head to look outside. Someone was standing there now, a woman, glossy black hair spilling down her back, turned away from him. She didn't start at the rustling sound he made as he crawled out of the lean-to. She didn't move at all. Standing, the boy watched snowflakes rise from the ground and drift slowly toward the sky. It was almost night. Speaking softly, he asked, "Excuse me? Ma'am? Do you know where this is?" She remained still. The boy walked toward her. He followed footprints already impacted into the snow and left smooth drifts behind him unmarred by any human step. "Excuse me? It's getting late and I need to get home. Could you tell me which direction it is? I've forgotten." He stopped directly behind he. "Ma'am?"

She turned. Her face was crushed and deformed; jaw bone shattered, eyes missing, torn away nose, lacerated cheeks, all swollen. She screamed through a hole that he couldn't call a mouth. She was screaming and holding onto him and he couldn't tear away and there were explosions all around and the air stank of smoke and...

He was wrapped in blankets. The room was dim, though he still had a terrible time keeping his eyes open. He never imagined it possible to feel so tired. The mere thought of trying to move exhausted him. It took a good few minutes before he could summon the energy to turn his head. When he did, a young man sitting by his bed came into view. His hair was dull brown and fairly long, looped behind his ears and just barely touching his shoulders. He was wearing old-fashioned black rimmed glasses. His chin rested on folded hands, balanced by an elbow on each knee. He stared intently at the boy.

"You were moaning in your sleep." He said it with a somewhat wondrous tone. "Don't try to talk right now, just rest awhile. I'll go get you some water." He stood slowly from the chair and turned to leave through an open door. He heard a woman's quiet voice ask, "Is he awake?" There was no reply, just the clunk of footsteps fading down the hall. Too weary to think, the boy turned his head forward once more and stared at the ceiling. He could faintly see a crack or two threading across it.

The boy swore he had only blinked, but the room was dark now. "You fell asleep again. I'll help you sit up," the man beside his bed explained as he slipped a hand under the boy's back and with the other gripped his arm. The boy made to object, but found there was now more strength in his body now, enough at least to get up to sitting position without too much difficulty. He took a chance to examine the whole room. The window opened out onto a snowy evening, flakes flashing through streetlights. In the corner opposite his bed was an imposing apparatus of glowing screens, wires, machines, and controls making a semi-circle around an empty space. There was a desk set off further to the right piled with sheets of epaper and empty cartons of take-out food. A small pile of clothing sat beside the closet. Certainly a bachelor pad, but not obnoxiously so.

The boy returned his attention to the man, who offered him a glass of water. He took it with both hands and sipped carefully. The first drop of liquid sliding down his throat awakened a sudden, intense thirst, and the boy drank more quickly. Before he could finish the whole glass, the man placed his hand on the boy's and gently guided it away. "If you drink too fast, you're gonna puke. Wait a little while." With some hesitance, the boy let go of the glass and let the man take it. He held it before his eyes as if examining some rare find from an archeological dig. With one hand he removed his glasses and continued to study it. He placed them back on again, set the glass aside, and with astonishment murmured, "Incredible..."

"What is?" the boy asked weakly, not sure if he even had his voice yet. The man didn't reply. His expression was vacant in thought. The boy waited, then timidly tried again. "Umm... I'm sorry.. but... who are you?" The man looked up as if surprised, then smiled awkwardly. "Oh, sorry, lost myself there. My name's Seamus. I guess I should explain what happened."

Someone knocked on the doorframe. A woman with short, bright red hair and deep bags under her eyes stood hovering just outside the room. "Seung went to go get Dan," she explained in a careful tone of voice. Seamus looked from her to the boy. "This is Sarah. She's the one who took care of your leg."

His leg? The boy lifted the covers slightly. He still had on boxers, but the rest of his clothing was gone. One of his thighs was wrapped tightly with gauze and tape, a spot tinged with red. Sarah said quietly, "We found you out on the street, bleeding. You were going into shock. I did what I could, luckily Seamus had a first aid kit with clotting agents." There was a uncomfortable pause. She continued haltingly, each word growing weaker, "Still... as soon as possible we need to get you to the... to the hospital... so they can..."

She turned suddenly, stalking down the hallway. Seamus grimaced and mumbled, "Back in a sec," as he stood to follow her.

Their voices were muffled, but the tones came through clearly. The boy ceased trying to follow the conversation. He didn't care. He couldn't stop thinking about the mangled face from the bombing. His mind seemed tethered to it. It was about ten minutes before Sarah and Seamus returned. She appeared to have been crying. Seamus retook his seat while Sarah pulled a chair from the corner. The boy merely stared at his hands, folded across the blanket.

"So... what's your name?"
"I don't have one."
"What?"
"I don't have one. And don't ask me who I am, or what happened to me, or what I'm doing here or what's going on, because I can't tell you. I don't remember anything."

His fingers tightened around the blanket as he spoke, eyes never wavering. He wasn't grateful for their help. They should have let him die. Now he was left with more questions, questions upon questions, like a stack of pages from twenty billion different stories.

"Umm... Sarah might be able to help with that."

The boy's head shot up. He stared at her eagerly. She rubbed her eyes a bit, then raised her hands and gestured in the air, gaze distant. The boy tilted his head slightly. His eyes narrowed. Just barely, he could see shifting lights beneath her fingers. Controls. "What are you doing?" he asked.

She paused to look at him, hands frozen in midair. "Dan used your image to start an identity search. Nothing turned up on Statcent, so he started digging. I picked up where he left off. I'm compiling the info so you can see it." She made a few further gestures, then flipped her wrists in the direction of the dormant terminal. The screens emitted a sudden glow, filling with pictures and text. Making to slip his arms around the boy, Seamus mumbled, "I'll bring you over there so you can see."

"Err, actually, I can probably stand fine," the boy said hastily. His leg certainly didn't hurt. He squirmed out from Seamus's arms and slipped his feet to the floor. Standing was effortless. Sarah looked like she wanted to say something, but remained silent. Seamus merely scratched his head.

"That doesn't hurt?"
"Not at all."
"And you don't feel woozy?"
"Nope."

The boy took a few careful steps, then walked at normal pace to the terminal. He stood within the semi-circle. There were newspaper articles, a view on a homepage, a home, documents within some high school's intranet, government registries, and pictures. The faces looking out at him were his own. Oddly, none of them were smiling.

"Your name was... is Logan Polinsky. The government records say that you were born November 5th, 2014," Sarah explained. Logan. My name's Logan. "It also says you died... eight months ago." He turned to look at her. She wouldn't meet his eyes.

"That's not me."
"The biometrics scan confirmed it. 97% probability it's you."
"Then the stupid biometrics scan or whatever is wrong. I'm not dead."
"YES YOU ARE!"

He jumped back at her scream, bumping one of the monitors. Sarah herself looked a little surprised. She was trembling. Her eyes were finally focused on him, almost glaring. Seamus stepped forward awkwardly.

"I know this is going to sound really odd, but if I take off my glasses like this," he said quietly as he did so, "you disappear. It's like you're not there at all. That glass of water over there is full. The bandages are still sitting in the first aid kit." He slipped the glasses back on. "If I leave them off too long, I start to get a really bad headache. The same thing happens with Sarah."

She looked up. She seemed to have regained control of herself. "I took out my contacts to try to get some sleep on the couch. I started dreaming things... that didn't make any sense. It was like I was on the net, but it was all happening at once. And I heard voices. Ghosts' voices." She crossed her arms as if she were trying to ward off cold. "I still heard them when I woke up. Until I put my contacts back in."

Logan frowned "I don't understand. Why would it matter whether you have your contacts in or out? And what is the Supernet anyway? People keep talking about it."

Sarah and Seamus glanced at each other, than at Logan. "So... you don't remember what the Supernet is? Or a wearable?" The boy shook his head. Seamus took on an irritating expression as if he had just been asked to explain something any four year old would know.

"The Supernet is, well, sort of an overarching framework for a whole bunch of different networks. It allows you to navigate between individual intranets and subintranets etc. The interface can be just static, but most people navigate it through sensory perception. Hence the glasses," he said quickly while pointing to his. "I've also got very small speakers stuck to the bones above my ears and a little sensor on the nape of my neck that detects the signals being sent back and forth along my spine so it knows where all my body parts are and such. I think the old term for the whole spiel was virtual reality, but that sounds kinda dumb these days."

"Anyway, a lot of the content on the net is in media or document form, rather than any physical construct. And while the network itself is groundrooted to fiber optic lines, everyone can still connect to it over wireless pretty much anywhere using wearable computers. So you can browse it while you're doing other stuff. The slang term is ?tasking'. Some people even tweak their physical interfaces so that they can navigate constructs while still moving about in the real world. Looks kinda weird from the outside though."

Logan recalled the Enclave. A construct? He had been somewhere in the Supernet? Now things seemed clearer. He could follow Seamus's explanation, in fact it didn't seem all that foreign. He tried to extrapolate.

"So, basically, you're saying that you can only see me when you're connected to the Supernet?"

Sarah spoke up. "Not just see you, sense you at all. It's like reality completely warps itself to fit around your existence as soon as we connect. And if we try to disconnect, things become increasingly disorienting."

"So... what, I'm a technoghost?"

She didn't reply. Sighing, Logan turned back to the screens. He picked one of the articles and started to read. His eyes widened.

"It says here that I killed myself!"

Seamus shifted his weight between feet uncomfortably. "Yeah... there was a bit of a scandal. You apparently were bullied at school, or at least your note said so. You shot yourself out in the woods behind your house. The fuss came up because you were one of a couple thousand participants in the Neuroscape project." Logan cast an annoyed glance back at Seamus, who understood after a moment and added hastily, "Basically they were making maps of complete brain development from birth. Total sequencing of the neurons. It was a few years after quantum arrays had been introduced, so they finally had the processing power to do so. I remember when I was a kid they said it was the next Human Genome project, or whatever."

"A leaked internal memo said they noticed you were going to develop early on-set clinical depression as far back as age ten. Since participants were restricted from prescription drugs, the informed consent contract they cooked up stipulated they would tell parents if they spotted any mental disorders and pull the kid from the program. For some reason, they decided to skirt the rules with you and just watch it develop. They... let it go a little too long."

Logan said nothing. So he was dead, by his own hand. It didn't jog any memories beyond the scene from his dream. He continued looking over the records splayed across the screens, but it felt restrictive. He remembered the floating windows from the Enclave, how they had interconnected. He wanted that same freedom.

"Hey, is it possible to connect me to the Supernet?"
"Well, erm, I guess it is."

Seamus hesitated, then dug under his desk for something. Logan turned in the meanwhile and gave Sarah a weak smile. She didn't return it. Just in time to interrupt the awkward eye contact, Seamus emerged with a small box. He clicked open the top and pulled out a pair of glasses similar to his own and a few button sized sensors. "This'll just take a sec," he mumbled as he attached the sensors to spots above Logan's ears and the nape of his neck. "It should interface automatically with the terminal. Just tap the corner of your glasses," he explained as he slipped them over Logan's face. The boy paused for a moment, then gave a light touch of his fingertip to the glasses' corner.

A deafening whine assaulted Logan's ears. The space around him contorted grotesquely like silly putty. His body was racked by pain. With strenuous effort, he managed to tear the glasses away from his face. Collapsing to the floor, he waited a few seconds before opening his eyes. Seamus was curled in a ball beside him. Sarah, leaned against the wall and panting, managed to get out, "What... huff.. the fuck... huff.. was that?!"

Having pushed up from the floor unsteadily, Seamus stood and rubbed at his temples. "I don't know. Let's never try it again, ok?" he muttered. Logan certainly had no objections. Feeling off-balance, he also rose to his feet. A sudden realization struck him.

"Feedback."
Sarah took her weight off the wall. "What?"
"Feedback. You can only see me when you have an open connection to the Supernet, right?"
"Just call it the net."
"Fine. Whatever. Net. Anyway, you can only see me when you're connected to the net. So that must be where I'm coming from..."

"...and if you try to reconnect to the net, it's like holding a microphone up to a speaker," Seamus finished with a small grin. "I get it. Finally something that makes sense. But why did you know about that, as opposed to your complete cluelessness concerning things digital?"

Logan shrugged. "Can't remember. Some things I know, some things I don't. But the important point is; if I came from the net then I can return to the net. I think I've done so once already."

He was excited. The answers he'd received weren't exactly joyful tidings, but they were at least answers. Some of the pages followed each other after all. The change was welcome. He had emerged in a terminal, a connection the net. Some people saw him, others didn't, but it must have been because they weren't connected. He would ignore the rest of that episode, too painful. And he'd ignore the intermittent period, too weird. May not have even happened. After that, he'd reemerged in the net, though as somebody else. The people there had been looking at recordings; recordings of him that were transmitted over the net. To get away from the shadow, he'd reemerged into reality. And... the wound?

Logan suddenly attacked the bandage around his leg, frenzied with curiosity. Sarah started. "H.. hey! Don't do that! You're gonna reopen it!" Logan slipped the last of the bandage away and grinned widely. "You sure?" he asked as he turned to show her. His thigh was bare. No wound. Not even a scar. "I guess ghosts heal quickly," he commented with a giggle.

Sarah looked rather disturbed, but the boy didn't care. Things were making sense now. That's all he wanted. Now if he could just get on the net, he could find more answers. An answer to every question. He could sense the vast galaxies of information just beyond his reach, like the scent of something delicious from a kitchen's open window. If he did it before, he could do it again.

"I'm going to try connecting some other way. I think I can project myself directly into it."

Seamus bit his lip, then laughed nervously. "You know what? You probably can. I'm so bewildered at this point that I guess pretty much anything's possible. You might... err... want to put some clothes on first though." Logan looked down, suddenly realizing he stood there almost nude. He blushed intensely, throwing away all pride and diving beneath the covers of the bed.

"Could you.. get my clothes?" he asked sheepishly. Even Sarah had to chuckle. She picked up the pile from the foot of the bed. "Here. The pants have a lot of caked blood on them, though. None of us had clothes that fit you."

He burrowed under the covers to slip on his long-sleeved shirt and tee over it, followed of course by his pants. Emerging from the covers looking severely battle-scarred but at least fully clothed, Logan stood. "I'll try to come back to tell you two if this works," he said before closing his eyes and trying to calm his thoughts. There was that glimmer again, knowledge and meaning there for him to seize with a flicker of thought. He merely had to reach for it.

Logan opened his eyes.

"Bingo."

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