The Autumn Queen No. 23 – Twenty Years Gone

This is a part 23 of an ongoing Serial currently named The Autumn Queen. If you want to start from the beginning, go to the Serials page first.

PREVIOUS

* * *

I realized, at one point, the time that had passed, and wondered if I had been forgotten by all but the guards.

Twenty years gone, and I had not seen the stars.

When the guards came, when Kellis came, I no longer waited at my cell door, hoping for anything more than terse words and the day’s rations. Instead, I sat on the floor and leaned against the back wall, and with all my candles gone, I was little more than red dust, as everything else was. That time, however, the door was unlocked, and opened, and rather than coming in, Kellis motioned me out. I walked on trembling legs, followed him without words, shoulders bent, head bowed. We passed a long hall of empty cells; I had been the last in the dungeon, left to rot. All others accused of treason had either died, or been released.

I was walked up impossibly long staircases, and as we reached the topmost landing, coming to the surface, I felt the outside air on my face, and for one moment, I nearly threw all caution to the wind and ran for the doors. When I paused, looking with longing toward the way out, Kellis did not turn around, but said softly, “It would be a pity even I would cry for, if you would die before seeing the sky again, and an even worse pity if you would die before seeing the reason for your release.”

I turned and followed at Kellis’s heels; if I had not been broken after all those years, the ice of his voice would have felled me then and there.

He brought me into the throne room itself, and led me toward the dais — when we came to the steps, I lifted my bowed head so that I could see the sky, but before my eyes could find the heavens, Kellis’s boots found the backs of my knees. I dropped to the marble without looking up, and put my hands to the tile. “I beg your mercy,” I said. “I–”

“Silence.” The command from Herself was quiet, but impossible to ignore. I shut my mouth and closed my eyes, hanging my head.

Footsteps, down the dais, then, light boots, stepping right up to my hands.

“Rise.”

My heart stopped, if only for a moment. That voice–

“Rise, Elodie.”

I stood up, then, and he steadied me — not Kellis, but the one who had walked down the dais, the one who told me to rise. When my eyes found him, I nearly fell again. The world spun, and I could not find my voice. How? There he stood in all his glory, pale skinned and silver-haired, looking at me with eyes that had never been ruined.

The ghost of my brother stood before me.
* * *

NEXT

Disconnection No. 5 – Anomaly

This is Part 5 of the Serial called Disconnection.

PREVIOUS

* * *

They weren’t on maneuvers; these days were mostly spent in training and observation — in the silent zone, you had to use your augments in different fashions. Here, it wasn’t always about the soundstreams, datalines, grids, connections, or anything like it. They were used, but with inconsistent feedback, messages sent out piggybacked on the transmissions of anyone and everyone else. Ops who were in the silent zone were forbidden from initiating com to main host, save for emergencies. Often, they’d go for weeks without a single blip to or from anyone, which was why the sudden sharp tone of a summons, via the soundstream, would catch the triad off guard.

Earlier that day, the three had decided to do more than simply ‘observe’ — they made the rookie mistake of being damned sure they could handle themselves. Every triad does it at least once, and most are lucky enough to come out of it with minor scrapes and a few blown augments here and there.

This time, however, the triad containing the top three of the most recently advanced class was not precisely lucky. They sat in a dingy corner table of a ratty old bar, eavesdropping on conversations and communicating with one another via gesture and expression. Right around the time one of the three clicked up her audio augment past what could be considered sane or safe, and began to record, (across the bar, there was a conversation going on that she was fairly certain everyone in Nex would want to know) Runig opened wide his own comstream and transmitted a high-pitched shriek of interference. Normally, such a sound would be painful, but not damaging even to the most sensitive of ops.

This time, hearing such a thing at an amped volume was bound to be more than painful — receiving such a signal right then would overload the augment, but not before it flashfried what systems it touched — it would be like a surge, except small, precise. And slow enough to be agonizing before it got fatal. The receiver would no doubt hit the floor before she realized what was happening, tendons strained in throat and jaw, eyes wide and unseeing as blood poured, thick and red from now-deaf ears. Except that the augments are inside, and stimulate the brain still, convincing the op that the roaring noise hasn’t gone. She’d claw at her ears, her face, muscles jerking as her own voice lifted in a howl of agony. Such behavior would betray the three as a triad to the entirety of the bar. In the silent zone, they’d be decimated and likely strung up as examples.

The Never Connected were a furiously vengeful sort — just as religiously psychotic as those who refused to detach from their sync points and rejoin humanity — instead preferring to waste away, atrophying in the chair.

Before any of that happened, however, Autorun detected an anomaly that would’ve registered as incredibly similar to one years ago (and several, in between, really) had the original (or any of the subsequent) signals been recorded. Less than a second after the anomaly was detected, Autorun deleted it (as it always had) and kept on going with its routine, which would be unremarkable, save that it stands to remark that Autorun was never supposed to delete anything. Ever. Not a mistake, not a keystroke, not a wrong turn, not a number, not a character, not a line, a feed… nothing. So to cannibalize an entire possible compromise was simply… unheard of. The anomaly caused the comstream’s signal to be balled up and kept from the listening op, as though it were being collected, and stored for later.

* * *

Back at Central, Runig knew that his message hadn’t gotten through, and he was about to rethink his entire strategy on making the op an example, when the triad pulled its next stunt.

* * *

NEXT

Disconnection No. 4 – Triad

This is Part 4 of the Serial called Disconnection.

PREVIOUS

* * *

“Autorun’s your mother,” came the audio clip. The soundstream’s transmission was perfect, but there was still a tinny, crackling quality to the bit, one that he couldn’t analyze and it left him wondering just what sort of device had been used in the recording. The voice wasn’t one Runig recognized, which also set him on edge; it meant that somehow, the com had managed to slip a thread in with a triad’s report string. Whoever that was, in that particular group would have to be punished.

His blue gaze darted left and right as though he were in REM, augmented eyes sucking up a datastream, tearing it down to the pertinent lines while his own mental net fished through memory, trying to match ID tags from academy records to com logs. A positive came up on a young woman, part of a new triad. The best of her class.

Disappointment gave way to disgust as he realized that the particular triad was in a silent zone; there hadn’t been the need to discipline an operative for such a thing in so long that it felt like forever.

Usually, such discipline would be carried out in private. Usually. This time, however, since now and then, an example had to be set, he thought he’d make it public, from the lowest nets all the way through Nex and even til the main host. This wouldn’t be just a ‘talk’ — best in the academy had to stand for something, right?

* * *

NEXT

For a Long Time

Cold fingertips
I’ve been dead for a long time,
little more than a gift
for the field mice,
for the beetles and rooks.
Cold eyelashes
I’ve been down here
for days and weeks,
while everything is
thinner on my bones
than it had been.
Cold everything
I’ve been singing,
but maybe the language of ghosts
is harder to understand
than I’d ever imagined.
Save me; I’m hungry, and alone,
and I don’t plan on
being either for long.

Disconnection No. 3 – Blake

This is Part 3 of the Serial Disconnection.

PREVIOUS

* * *

The wars between those who ran the net and those who considered it the most vile thing one could do to one’s own body were bloody and savage. Humanity had at one point nearly defeated war, poverty, famine, and in some cases, it seemed like death as well; people who died online stayed ‘alive’ within the confines of their memories — people could visit loved ones for years after their demise, though such a thing made the Never Connected even more furious. The damned Net had corrupted humanity enough that their souls were no longer safe, and what made a person unique could be captured digitally and made to parade around like some false puppet.

The first reported deaths came one snowy night when the offline people stormed an online convent. Those who had declared the Main Host to be a form of God were busy in worship, singing gloriously while they filtered through the knowledge and let all information pass through them. While their consciousness delighted in soaking up everything their chosen deity had to offer, a man named Tobias Blake backfed a full generator into the church’s power supply, bypassing its modulator.

113 members of the clergy and the six hundred orphans in the choir experienced a Surge. The church became a museum, with syncpoints set up to experience the last recorded song, a version of ‘O Holy Night’ that allows the listener to feel as though they were their in that moment.

Tobias Blake was immediately labeled an enemy of the State, and it was commonly agreed that that was the night that a revolution against anything networked was born.

In reality, the first death was Tobias’s son, who was killed by someone who’d had a sync installed into their car. Cars were allowed to have sync points, but they were to be locked out if the car’s transmission was engaged, for safety reasons. This one had been bypassed, and the driver was testing out a new dating simulation. He had just managed to get his virtual date’s panties off with his teeth when he felt something go under his wheels.

During the trial, the man’s lawyer had pled that he was addicted to syncing — he ended up in a rehab facility with what amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist. Tobias Blake used up the last of his money on court fees, and burying his only child.

That was when the revolution was born.

* * *

NEXT