So, I was running the shadows today, no big deal, a quick job for Underdog Tech, swap out a few blueprints under OmniCorp. It's easy money till you get caught. Anywho, I'm heading up the Great Pipelink out towards that small peninsula of the Forbidden Zone, where the war was a long time ago. "The Doldrums," mom used to call it at night. Nobody's been there much since the early 20s, except to do some light research. But for some reason, all of the radioactive energy made quantum computing more feasible. All you need is a source of heavy water, and about the only water left on that side of the hemisphere is the oceans and those lakes in the north. Huge facility right there smack on Superior. And that's where I'm headed now, like I have been for the past 3 years. Clockwork, see?

Now usually there's a lot of traffic with me, always heading to this one roped off area. Apparently a long time ago when the bombs first started dropping, there was this online community - "e2" - that started reporting it. Some of its members got the jump on attacks in their area. Course, some of the metros got whacked as an expense, but anyway, it turns out that they had planned for this. Now you tell me when's the last time paranoia turned out for the best? But there you have it. They'd all done this vast Ragnarok research on Peak Oil and whatnot, and they'd built this underground panopticon in Kansas - they figured it'd be the last place people would go in a crisis.

They were right. Who knew?

So now they sit in their bunker waiting out the fallout, occupying themselves by still visiting their server. The original got destroyed, of course. But they had a few runners, too, and they took over a small cluster somewhere in OmniCorp. Don't know why the OmniBots don't do anything about it - it's pretty obvious what's going on. Anyway, that part of the world, they pretty much run the show, and us common folk leave 'em to it. Bunch of xenophobic hippies.

But today was different. There wasn't any traffic heading in to their little corner of the world. I didn't care, no time to investigate, maybe one of them had gotten cabin fever and opened the hatch or something. Anyway, I slipped on by on the datastream, off to work as usual. On my way home - uneventful - I saw the traffic was still down. And now I had time to investigate, so I took a little detour. No harm, no foul.

It was really eerie, heading down a dead pipe. If it were an OmniCorp connection, it'd've been teched by now, and this place would be crawling with nanons and scrubbers. So e2 was still in the 20th century, but that didn't mean they had to make it so creepy to come a-knockin'.

Finally I got to the end of the line, the port into the system. Still using a cheap MD5 hash pass. Picked it in about 10 seconds ("soymonkey", you don't see that one everyday) and made my way in.

It was pretty much what I expected, bunch of useless data files, trivia about dead men and places that weren't even on the map any more. A few well-written theses and stories - still useless; whatever makes you happy. I slipped through a few more corridors, trying to find out any info about the stoppage. It seemed pretty pointless, and I was cursing myself for the loss of a good hour of holodecking, when I saw it.

A small red door.

Most of the times, doors led either to processing units or input output units aboard the computer, or, more rarely, some super-secret data stores crawling in the slithery kudzu of modern encryption and virtual watchdogs and fuzz. You were lucky to get in and get out of those places alive, much less touch the stores.

But I'd never seen one painted red before.

I went over to it, put my scope up to it, trying to read inside. I wasn't prepared for the mapper to explode altogether, and I dropped its flaming remnants on the file room floor. What the hell was that? Beyond my better judgment, I had to know what was there. I gripped the handle firmly, and as I turned it, it gave way, the echoing click of the bolt resonating in the silence.

I stepped inside, and saw the most horrifying thing you can ever imagine.

Lines of people, slowly marching forward, and at the front of the room, a giant squid, with tentacles ebbing and flowing in a mild wind tunnel, grabbing up the humans two at a time and devouring them in one fell swoop. The crunching of their bones in his shiny beak was soul-rattling. I turned away in horror as he scooped up two more.

Then I looked up above, and witnessed something less horrifying than it was truly chilling. Several of the humans were operating a machine by hand, turning the cranks in a macabre choreography. The gears of the machine turned slowly in their power, and I could see now that its wires fed the tunnel that generated the wind behind the squid. It must be what was keeping him alive! I thought.

I ran forward and grabbed one of the humans by the shoulder, spinning him around. He was short and his red hair had been neatly shaved almost to the quick.

"What are you doing, you madmen? Why don't you run?"

He looked at me with a look of almost benign disappointment, and replied, "Here is our only fate. This isn't madness; this is freedom." And he turned around to rejoin his place in line.

I went to several others, but they all seemed equally disinterested in escaping. The squid must have had them under some kind of hypnosis. It was terrifying, the crunching and gnawing going on behind me as I vainly tried to persuade them to leave. Finally, I could bear it no more.

I used my gravitron to fly to those controlling the machines. A few deft kicks and punches and they scattered away from the machine in terror. I grabbed my datajack (I could always buy another) and threw it into the cogs of the gears, grinding them to a squealing, electric halt. The lights flickered, and almost immediately the wind tunnel ceased producing air. The squid began to writhe in agony, its power source now completely eradicated. Its tentacles lashed out, striking some of the nearby humans and equipment. The humans themselves let out audible gasps and turned towards me. The ones I had just accosted were now rushing back to me.

"What have you done to Cthulhu?" they cried out, grabbing my arm and pulling me away from the broken machinery.

"I had to! You fools, giving up your freedom like this, destroying yourselves, I couldn't let it happen. If you're too dumb to save yourselves, then it's my job to do it for you!"

"But you don't understand. We only gave up our freedom to protect yours. The noblest of causes. You see, the books of history state that when the Great Slumbering Evil awakens, he will conquer the whole of the earth and swallow us all. He can only be sated by the constant taste of human blood! After the first bombs, we were afraid that he would awaken, and so we captured him. Of course, you cannot really capture him, and so we began sacrificing ourselves to him. Luckily, we'd found a way to revive the lost through an arduous process involving the wind tunnel you just destroyed! Now those he has vanquished will be lost forever. And what's worse, you have awakened the terrible creature! All humanity is lost! All is lost!"

Suddenly the beast stopped writhing and began to float in the air of its own accord. Its beak gnashed softly while it seemed to adjust to its new surroundings. Then it reached out with a hideous tentacle, grabbed about 15 men and stuffed them into his gaping mouth. I could see several of their faces as they met their doom. I turned and flew, out the door, down the pipes, far far away from the massacre that was about to begin.

I'm sitting now in the loneliest pipe on the system, one dedicated for an old defunct meme called "All Your Base Are Belong To Us." Nobody's visited in decades.

But someone is coming.

And e2 is down.