Elle sourit en apprenant que la fin du monde approchait.

Has no one told you he's not breathing? ==>

The world disappeared. The boy’s cry cut short. All about him was glow, soft like a sunlit morning. He could not tell the passage of time and it didn’t matter to him. The absence of pain and panic was revel enough. Gradually, he realized that he couldn’t feel his body at all, senses contradicting one another. He could see quiet and taste light and hear coolness, all at once and not at all. Somehow, it was calming. So this was heaven. He must have died. Probably someone had given him a kick to the head and that was it. But he still couldn’t remember anything about his life.

The realization destroyed his content. Why couldn’t he remember? He had to have existed before the policeman found him; people don’t just appear in public terminals. And there were so many other things he still didn’t understand. The flickering figures among the crowd, the little girl who had skipped right through him, the bleeding wires; he didn’t know how he knew, but these things were not natural. With no other recourse, he gave timid voice to his thoughts. “Hey… God? Are you there? I’m… umm, I’m still really confused about all this. Could you please give me my memory back? God?” He waited. Nothing. He tried again. “I know this will sound kinda silly to you, but I’d really like to know what happened.”

What if he was the only one here? What if he would be trapped forever only with his own thoughts? The possibility terrified him. Was this hell instead? “God? If I did something wrong, I’m really sorry. I don’t know what I did, but I’m sorry. Could you… send me home?”

There was a rush of air. He felt as if he was being tugged from all sides, moving in every direction at once. Then it ceased. He was standing. Opening his eyes, the boy looked about him. He had been taken to a giant mezzanine. Its structure was a bewildering flow of curves and pinnacles. The walls soared upward to a spine spanning the length of the hall. At its very end was a giant window upon what looked like a galaxy of stars. Before he could get a chance to take this in, other elements grabbed his attention. The whole building was lit with a thousand floating screens, some merely frameless windows in midair, others geometric bodies of all shapes filled with swirls of light. They were connected to one another by fine multi-colored strings, a latticework that seemed to import meaning in a language he could not understand. It was the most beautiful thing the boy had ever seen. Manipulating these windows were a hundred or more people. They glided through space in a manner distinctly inconsistent with the laws of gravity and momentum. Their features reflected every race known to the Earth and some that surely were not. The only consistent trait among them was wardrobe, a uniform shared by men and women alike of a dark green hooded robe that billowed about them as they moved.

The boy looked down at himself. His own clothing had changed to reflect that of the others. In fact, many things seemed to have changed. His proportions felt different, something about the balance of his limbs and the weight of his body. Before he could test his intuition by trying to move, one of the flying figures paused, then dove for him. A young woman with aggressively short hair who looked for all the world like a blending between Scandinavian and Asian landed directly before him. Her face was filled with grave concern.

“Contreraz, I’m glad you could make it on such short notice. It’s all we can do to keep the Enclave up right now. We shut off all non-vital Supernet interfaces and called every distro out from reserve, but connections are still patchy. They could really use your help over in routing.” She gestured with a broad sweep of the hand toward one particular corner of the mezzanine some distance away, where many had gathered among a cluster of windows and larger shells of light.

The boy tried to pick apart her last sentence. Perhaps if he thought about it for a moment, it would make sense. Contreraz. That was probably his name. One question answered. ‘The Enclave’ didn’t sound familiar to him. Nor did ‘Supernet’, for that matter. Apparently he had a job here of some sort, but for the buzzword impaired it was incomprehensible.

“What’s,” the boy began to ask, but he stopped upon hearing himself. That wasn’t his own voice. Or rather, that wasn’t the same voice as the one he’d spoken with in Times Square. It was quite deeper. Distractedly, he finished the question, “… going… on?”

The woman looked positively dumbfounded. “You mean… you don’t know?” she asked incredulously. Afraid of any more surprises from his new identity, the boy just shook his head. “Oh my God,” she replied, simply staring for a few moments. She then raised a hand, hovering between a few colored strings before choosing one to grip. The window to which it was connected slid from a position near the ceiling to a place between them. She seemed to pull a collection of semi-transparent controls out of the window and fitted her hands within them. Making a series of baffling gestures, she spoke quickly, “Protocol Supernet location Morpheomania route vlog forum Newscap format Synergy vidstream prepackage New Years Bombing First-Hand.” A series of text messages flashed across the screen. She cursed, then yelled, “Einarsson!”

Another window materialized in midair with a string of its own extending off somewhere into the vastness of the mezzanine. A rather harried looking man paused in the middle of some activity to turn to the screen and address her.

“What?” he asked curtly.

“Where the fuck did the Newscap stream go? I thought I told you to keep this line dedicated.”

“Thimmisch finally snagged the file, so it’s on the intranet now.”

Instead of looking relieved, she grew more livid. “How many times have I told you not to steal files we can get perfectly well legitimately?! I will not have this organization court the government’s attention any further than necessary!”

“Oh for fuck’s sake Jane, nobody’s going to notice right now. I’m trying to get a connection to a couple vlogs that supposedly caught something on the ground that was real fucked up right before the explosion. I need the bandwidth. Just take this file, we’ll delete it later.”

A small, blue cube popped out of the message window, then the connection severed. Jane looked like she would benefit from giving someone a nice kick in the groin. The boy edged a little farther away. After fuming for a few moments, she took Einarsson’s parting gift and merged it somehow with her own window. A video filled the screen.

“This was taken from someone who was vlogging the New Years party in Times Square, apparently from her apartment,” she commented. The camera swept across a crowd filling the streets below to a giant platform at the end of the avenue. A globe of lights sparked to life. It fell to the muffled sound of a countdown, at the same agonizing pace the boy had seen from his place on the ground some time ago. But there was no bloody rain in this picture, nor a mass of ghosts roaming the crowd. The clock struck twelve, the globe hit bottom, and a sudden flash of light rocked the picture. The boy looked away.

“You’re probably aware of the time zone differences, but this happened about three hours ago,” she explained apologetically as the video looped to the beginning. Three hours? He had floated in the glow that long? “It’s impossible to know how much damage was caused yet, but so far we’ve gleaned that the explosion itself took out a two city-block radius and at least several thousand people died instantly. They’re trying to evacuate Manhattan, but they might as well wish for pigs to fly. The traffic’s impossible to manage. Around 11:20, someone launched a virus that’s wreaking havoc with Supernet nodes. Normally it’d be no problem gathering info after a catastrophe like this, but with the bandwidth this bug is eating up plus all the people hitting the nets to try and contact loved ones, we’re barely operational. Faster than anything we’ve ever seen before. Ninety-nine percent guaranfuckingteed the two are related, but right now we’re just trying to find out what happened with the bombing.”

The boy was in shock. He had been there. His body had to be somewhere in that smoke and rubble. But now he was here, watching it from afar. How was that possible? Furthermore, where was he anyway? This was clearly someplace outside reality, but its purpose or relation to him was lost amidst all the other missing memories. There were so many questions he wanted answers to immediately, but each question invited another hundred. Jane watched him expectantly. The materialization of a new window saved him from having to say anything just yet. It was Einarsson again.

“Hey, I finally grabbed one of the streams on the ground I was talking about. There was this really weird disturbance that caused a bunch of people to start uploading vlogs all at once. The synchronicity caught my attention. Looks like some kid was going nuts in the crowd. The audio’s patchy, but…” Einarsson looked thoroughly confused, “I don’t know what was going on, maybe it was some kind of elaborate practical joke or flash mob, but anyway it happened right before the explosion. Might be relevant.” Einarsson disappeared and a new video took his place. Jane turned away to watch it, her countenance severe.

The boy sucked in a breath. He was there, in the window, with the young woman who had accosted him. He watched himself stagger away from her and spin about wildly as the crowd started to argue whether he actually existed or not. His doppelgänger clapped hands to ears, crouching low to the ground. The picture went black.

“That’s me,” he muttered in awe.

“What did you say?” Jane asked as she turned her attention from the window to him. Her face went from mildly annoyed to startled. She backed away from the boy slowly. Around him, an uneasy stillness set in. Other people were noticing now, their windows left unattended. “What?” he asked Jane in a puzzled tone, then gasped. His voice was back to normal. He looked down. So were his clothes. Something told him that he now bore a striking resemblance to that figure in the window.

“Contreraz… how did you do that?”

The boy frowned, confused. “Do what?”

“Change your avatar like that.”

There was an uncomfortable number of people gathering, all their stares directed at the boy. While he apparently had a unique talent for attracting stunned crowds, he would’ve gladly traded it for the ability to just disappear. He spoke, addressing no one in particular. “Look, I’m really, really confused right now, ok? I’m sorry if I did something wrong. I don’t know how I got here. I woke up in Times Square right before the explosion and I can’t remember anything previous to that. I was seeing… stuff. Really fucked up stuff. Like the wires were bleeding. And there were ghosts.” He felt on the verge of tears to hear himself babble such nonsense. It was all so absurd, like the product of some raging fever dream from which he couldn’t wake. He just wanted the confusion to end.

Jane stepped forward again. She had regained her composure. “You’re not Contreraz, are you?” The boy shook his head. “How did you get his avatar? How did you log on here?” Her tone was cool, but tinged with anger. He could feel his shoulders hunching. “I’m sorry… I don’t remember. If I did I’d tell you, but all I know is that I was in Times Square after the explosion, then here.” He wasn’t even going to try to explain the period in between. She moved closer. “That’s bullshit. The Enclave is a distributed intranet within the Supernet. You connect to its structural interface just like any other location: with a terminal or a wearcomp. Of all the times to pull such a childish stunt, what possessed you to choose now? You fucking crackers disgust me.”

She turned away from him and addressed someone in the crowd. “Heath, where’s this asshat connected from?” A voice replied, sounding bewildered, “I don’t know.” Jane frowned. “What do you mean? Can’t you get a traceroute?” The boy locked onto the voice, a young woman floating above him surrounded by a cluster of windows. Her expression was distinctly unhappy. “Of course I can, but it’s spouting back nonsense at me. As far as this is concerned, he’s coming from everywhere at once.”

Jane returned her attention to the boy, her anger fully stoked now. “Whatever game you think you’re playing, I’d strongly suggest you reconsider. We are not the sorts of enemies you want to make.”

The boy would have readily agreed with her, but another, more subtle threat distracted him. It felt like a fundamental disturbance to his inner balance, whatever core of the spirit that transformed the physical signs produced by light, pressure, and chemicals into meaningful information. The feeling had come upon him in Times Square as he stared at the wires dripping with blood. Now he could hear it in a roar of sound, almost drowning out Jane’s tirade. He struggled for control of his voice. “You need to leave here, now,” the boy pleaded.

“What?! This is my fucking intranet, asshole, and if you think…”

“Jane!” the woman from above interrupted, “we’re getting DDoSed to all hell! I think someone’s…”

Silence. The boy turned about rapidly. Jane, the people, the windows; everything had disappeared. The Enclave was empty. He called out once or twice. No reply. He felt suddenly and intensely lonely. The boy sat down and curled his knees to his chest, weeping. Without his memories, he could just as well not exist. He had no frame of reference, no context into which he could put these experiences. Lacking even such a meager base as that, how could he possibly begin to understand? He was sick of reacting.

Don't cry.

He raised his head, startled. That voice. He’d heard it before, somewhere. He couldn’t remember, but he knew it was part of his past. He stood clumsily, looking for the source. “Who’s there?”

I am who was.
You are the Prophet of the Hypostasis.
None shall stand in your way.
But you are in great danger now.

You must go.

The voice, regal and genderless, faded into the quiet of the mezzanine. The boy felt adrenaline beginning to surge. He was in danger. From what? A sound behind him like the hiss of steam from a broken pipe answered his question.

The air rippled. A black form was taking shape within the disturbance, its skin smooth and unblemished. The boy stood perfectly still, until he noticed that in place of hands, the phantom had daggers. This was all the encouragement he needed. It lunged after him just as he turned to run, stabbing dangerously close. He broke into a sprint, headed for the opposite end of the mezzanine. A shadow passed between him and the source of light above. The thing sailed over him and landed in his path, reversing direction and launching at him from a crouch with arms extended. The boy tried to dodge, but he could only manage to trip himself and tumble to the ground. Undaunted by another miss, the black shape was instantly above him, cocking its arm to take another stab. The boy closed his eyes.

His back hit something hard and rough. He sputtered, choking on his own saliva in shock. It had happened so fast that his body couldn’t handle all the changing signals. The boy, trying to cough and suck air at the same time, regained his bearings step by step. He was freezing again. On his feet. All was quiet. It was extremely dark. He took a step and heard something crunch. A damp, cold feeling entered through his leg cuff and dribbled down his sock. He must have stepped in snow. Now that he was looking, it seemed he was in an alley. Fifty feet away he could see a collection of streetlights. While he didn’t understand how he arrived here, being cold in some unknown part of a city was vastly preferable to being chased by a psychotic shadow through an empty metaphysical plane. With a sense of profound relief, he began to walk toward the alley’s end.

Hissss. Behind him. From his peripheral he could see the brick wall rippling. There was no time. He started running, desperately trying to get traction on the slippery snow and ice. Not now. He would not die moments after having escaped. It was simply unfair. He could sense the thing behind him gaining speed. Twenty feet. He wouldn’t make it. Enough was enough. The boy planted a foot and skidded to a halt, turning his body one hundred and eighty degrees. The phantom leapt forward, arms outstretched, ready to take its prey. With the feral rage suited to his role, the boy screamed. Time slowed as the phantom’s lunge was paused in midair. The boy didn’t know what he was doing, but he concentrated all the same on the shadow before him. He could sense its single-minded devotion to destroying him, and contested it with his own will to live. They seemed locked in a draw, kicking and clawing at one another in thought rather than action. The boy, feeling strangely detached, wondered at his own ferocity. Was it really worth the effort to fight so hard for a life he couldn’t remember?

Something slipped. The phantom remained still, but its arm abruptly shot free of whatever bound it, stabbing deep into the boy’s upper thigh. He was too shocked to cry out. With a last burst of mental exertion, he blew the thing away from him, back into the darkness of the alley, and fell to the snow with a moan of excruciating pain.

“Can you reach him?”

“No, nothing at all. I tried text, voice, and vid, nothing. The lag’s taken it all down.”

“Why don’t you set a program to enque you when a connection opens?”

“Already done. My apartment’s nearby, so I’ll try from the terminal when I get home."

"Ok. It's only a couple blocks more for me. I'll hit CogDiss and see if they have any missing persons boards up yet. I'm sure he's..."

"Oh my God."