by George Potter
(for Sean, Paul, Carl & Mr. Brunner — out riding the shockwave.)
They are rebuilding me. Wonder if they think I’ll thank ‘em?
Rebuild. Feel the layers fall in. Pieces of body. Pieces of mind. Feel. No touch taste or sight. Black world. Feel. In a tube, invaded by tubes.
No name. No idea. No past. But not all blank. Something left. Some things I know.
My brothers are dead. The circle is broken. The code is shattered. That is left.
Wonder if they think I’ll fuckin’ thank ‘em?
Focus. Gotta ray of light in black world today. Node bloomed, a baby blank one. Felt golden. I can record. I can form a kernel and start a base. Gotta focus.
Almost lost it when felt the bloom. Other half of my brain back. Stab’lize and looksee.
Who the fuck am I? Don’t matter. Survive. Fight to live. Live to fight. For brothers with forgotten names.
Focus. Build. Buildbuildbuild.
They are rebuilding me from hell. This node is ridiculously bigfast and still baby. When she branch she’ll be sin.
Busy. Focus. Build.
Two men sit in a room. They waste no motions. Their eyes linger over a landscape of data. They are afraid, but they hold it well. These men are not cowards, but they’re not stupid either.
"He’s a sneaky little sonofabitch but there’s no doubt in my mind. He’s awake."
"That’s not supposed to be possible. He was scrap. This is a full rebuild."
"It’s not possible with the artstate we know, Owe. But we didn’t build the Pilot, did we?"
"Stop sounding so fucking smug, Andy."
"That’s the sound of I told you so the nice way, bro. Ike is an orbit baby. He’s CPL artstate, and the Legacite keeps us on trickle. We’re banging on the boy with clubs."
"How much memory do you think he’s got floating around in there?"
"Enough to make him want our heads on a platter, probably."
"I don’t even try to decipher that headfeed any more. I’m beginning to suspect that CPL has some paranoid schizoid mutant genius designing headspaces on their babies."
"To put a fine point on it."
"What do we do?"
"I told you already. I make our problem child very comfortable and slap him with half a million volts. We flush, burn and don’t look back. Birmingham is nice this time of year."
"Just kill him? Forget the CPL payoff altogether for a sec. Just kill this kid?"
"Birmingham is just absolutely lovely this time of year, Owe. And I got connections there."
"I thought you liked him?"
"I do like him goddamn it! That’s not the problem. He’s not going to like us very much when he get’s lively. That’s my problem."
"We didn’t kill the others."
"His brothers. No. The men and women who did that are dead already. We did worse. We broke the code."
"He trusted us absolutely and we turned. We betrayed him. We cost him, and now…Dammit, Owe. You knew Ike for six years. Didn’t you ever talk to him?"
"He talked at me a lot. Half what he said I couldn’t understand. The other half was annoying. I tuned him out."
"Never heard the story of the Firewalkers then, I’m guessing."
"Isn’t there a Strip gang named that?"
"Was. They all got killed."
"What killed them?"
"He did. When he was ten years old. "
"You like him. I like him. He liked us. Maybe we can explain."
"You know what his name is."
"He means it. Burn. Flush. Birmingham. Best bet."
"You know what he can get us."
"Yeah. The stars. Or dead."
Touch, feather touch. Lightly.
Little puzzle, easy. Just…lots of pieces in so small a dataspace.
Feel it move. Hold on. There.
I jack into the Overnet.
The universe returns. Senses and feeling in a huge rush, a personal Big Bang. Full body orgasm almost, oh I missed you world…
I blink into the public mediaspace naked and fully formed, startling no one. Neither nudity nor sudden existence is odd in the symbolflow.
A milling conference of av’d proxies argue pragmatic politics in townmeet style. The current speaker, av’d as a glowing Biblical prophet, is thundering near conclusion:
"So, we — the connected of Earth — must take measures to prepare ourselves for whatever it is the Legacite has planned. We cannot send them to Coventry until we wean ourselves from their teat. The evidence that the monstrosity on Ceres is meddling with social weaves right here on Earth is there for anyone to witness. CPL cannot be allowed to affect connection simply because we refuse to come up with an alternative to it’s cheap power supply…"
I tune it out, still motionless, still dealing with the sudden return of the world outside my headspace. I feel giddy and a little afraid.
I wait. I listen and feel.
Eventually I find the beacon.
Code dances and I travel. The beacon is housed in a complex datadump hidden in a tangled mess of flash fried infoslag. I smile inwardly at this sign of my own prescient paranoia.
A journalscript. Old as hell. Ghettotech, some homebrew format.
Oh-ho! And trapped. Viciously trapped. Enough potentiality there to fry anything short of a monster military style box.
Or this beast in my brain, of course.
Not that I worry. I set the trap. It’ll recognized daddy.
Ceres Power Labs Proxylingo Freestyle v. 8965435.092198….initiated.
Cortex fold reader engaged…
Welcome back, sir.
A world within a world opens and I fall into it.
Carefully saved memories that taste like going home…
I knew some crazy shit was gonna come down as soon as IKDR started acting weirder than usual. It’s not like he ever acts normal or anything, but he was on a total fucking roll, the lies and nonsense coming thicker and faster than I’d ever known it to — and I’ve known the little freak since he was two and me and my friend Cheffy found him in that garbage dump.
TEHN IM GONE WAX DEM MUHFUCKS, BRO. HAHA! ITULL BE KEWL AZ HELL. DRAWP N FROM THE SEELIN ALL LOW LYKE, N STRAVE DEM WIF A STEDEE BURS FROM THE KOMANCHEE CUZ WHEL HAVE ALL DA AMO WE NEED..DEN, OWN DA FLYEN MOTORSIKE WE BY, I…
Line after line of that zipped by. Ugh. I finally just blocked it out, ignored it, and nodded every once in a while at his almost dancing form beside me or said "Cool, bro."
IKDR stands for I Know Damn Right, and you can’t blame me for that, either. Cheffy and me decided it wasn’t our place to go slappin’ names on a kid we didn’t even shoot no juice to make. Unfair, you know? So, when he was four, we told him he had exactly one week to make up his own name. That confused the shit out of him, since he thought his name was ‘Kid’ or ‘Dumbass’. So for awhile he told us to call him Kid Dumbass. We did, but we couldn’t stop cracking up when we said it, and he got all pissed. For a while he was ‘Superman’. That didn’t last long either. Then he was ‘Fucknut’ for a bit, ‘cause that’s what I called Cheffy half the time and he sorta idolized Cheffy.
But, for some reason, about five minutes before the week was up — and hell yeah we were timing it; wouldn’t have been as good of a joke if not — he walked up and told us he wanted to be called IKDR.
We asked him what that meant. He told us it meant ‘I Know Damn Right’.
We asked him why in the hell he’d want that for a goddam name.
He said that it was the coolest name ever. And that we were just jealous and shit.
So that was his name. Hey, it was a joke, but you gotta stick to the rules you make. If you don’t, life in the Old Strip is pretty short.
The really funny thing is that IKDR never stopped thinking it was the coolest name ever.
We were making a pay run, sweetest bit of the job. We had a small but decent haul to trade-off — fiber-o in thick sealed rolls, some blank ID chips, and two boxes of some ammo we didn’t recognize and didn’t fit any of the guns we owned.
But the best loot was a black disk that looked like a datacard, just bigger. IDKR suspected it was just a vintage data card, but I wasn’t sure. The jobber had sent us to the place for it special, even printed out a fucked up map that wasn’t much help.
And promised a clean 200 creditchit to place it in his hand. That was a lot of cash for an antique datacard that nobody could probably even read anymore. Hell, new tech was hard to get in Old Vegas Proper, almost impossible to get in the wreck of the Strip. Tech tended to smooth out, everybody using frankenstein creations. Cardreaders were a sort of prize — it was the reading laserpoint that died the quickest, and with a decent toolkit, it was an amateur hack to frank the ‘point from an old model to a newer one.
I kicked it out of my head. Why should I care what the jobber wanted the damn thing for so long as he was good for the promised loot? That was the only important thing. And I trusted this guy, more or less. As much as I trust anyone who ain’t IKDR or Cheffy.
O.W. Knoes worked out of a ’stead on the third floor of what used to be an office building. Or at least he said that’s what it used to be. The rest of it was warehouse space for his goods and living space for the gang he had raised up over the years. Kids mostly, bout IKDR’s age — which was 10, If I had estimated right when we found him.
Word in the Strip was that Knoes had faced only one attempted invasion in the six or so years he’d been buying and selling from his ’stead. That had been a year ago, and by the Blackrock mob. Thirty medium to heavy modders had hit the ’stead in mid-afternoon. They were all dead and hanging on plasticord from the rooftop by two PM. Knoes let ‘em rot there for months, as a warning.
Nobody had fucked with him since. Mainly because nobody knew what kind of crazy shit Knoes’s gang was packing. He was one of the few jobbers in Old Vegas who seemed to have a reliable connection to the Texas weaponsmith clan-corps. It only made sense he’d sell the minor stuff on the street and keep the heavy shit for his own gang. What I’d do, anyway.
Me and IKDR hooked up with Knoes about three months before, doing minor jobs and scavwork. He always paid on time and at decent prices, sometimes even tossing in a bonus if we worked fast or brought in something he had been looking for.
He also treated us right. Brought us into his office and gave us — believe it the hell or not — coffee! IKDR was addicted to the shit, and got surly when we took offers from other jobbers. But hell, we had to eat.
DIS TYME IM GONE ASK KNOEZ IF I KAN BY SOMMA HIZ KAFFEE,BRO. DIS TIME IMMA DO IT!
The text swirled fast across the interior of the right lens of my comshades. I’d had ‘em for a couple of years and took killer care of ‘em. Easily they were the best and most advanced piece of tech I owned - no more than five years old, top of the line SmartWraps. I knew because the date was proudly stamped by the tiny serial number in the bottom corner of the left lens. Right next to the words ‘NoTreason Silent, Lmtd.’ Fucking-A. The most famous com- corp in the damn world!
I don’t like thinking about how I got ‘em.
"You mean you gonna get me to ask him, bro? Knoes don’t wear SmartWraps." I didn’t say I doubted we could afford any coffee, even with 200 creds, and wouldn’t have anything to brew it in even if we could. That would have just launched one of IKDR’s long manic fantasies about how he’d solve those probs.
NOPERS. I TINK I FIGGAD HOW TA ENDERFASE WIT TEH DESKKOMP HE GOT.
I looked at him. He looked kinda smug, so I figured he was telling the truth. Even though the comp mod in his skull was close to an antique, he was a wizard with it.
He didn’t look like a wizard. He looked more like a cross between an elf and an orc, right out of the overnet feeds. Skinny as hell, short, bald ‘cept for a bit of fuzz, kind of bucktoothed.
The eyes were the freakiest thing to strangers, but I was used to them. Dead black orbs of ceramic photoweave. They gave him vision. I wondered about that sometimes. Was it the same kind of vision I had? When I asked him, he shrugged and said he didn’t remember what his vision had been like before.
The prosthetic arm was less noticeable, ‘cause IKDR refused to wear anything but long sleeved shirts (hell, sometimes a jacket) even in the middle of July. When we found him, his arm had been chopped right the hell off, just below the elbow. He wasn’t bleeding or anything, didn’t even seem to be in pain. The wound was cauterized. Burned tight.
The vocal chords had been the last thing to go. It started simple — he just got quieter and quieter until he made no sound at all when he tried to talk.
Cheffy and me had discussed this shit on occasion, about what the hell was wrong with the kid. He didn’t seem sick in the regular sense — he had tons of energy, always on the go, never complained much.
But one by one his organs seemed to be packing up. It was a mystery we didn’t spend much time on, mainly ‘cause we didn’t have the time to spend. Keeping food in the pot and affording the mods to keep IKDR alive was work enough.
STRYP KINNA KWITE 2DAY….
He was right. Odd shit. Usually at this time the Strip would be bustling with bums and gangers, slinging mods and dope, bumming and begging. I’d only seen a few people and they’d been far between.
"Just fucking hot." I said.
AYNT DAT HOTT.
I just grunted back. I didn’t feel like arguing with him. The mod implanted in his jaw that let him sub vocalize to the skullcom and transmit to my wraps was either defective or IKDR just couldn’t sub vocalize worth a shit. The text he transed was always garbled as hell. Sometimes it was completely unreadable, if he was excited and started babbling.
Which was often.
…and then alarms flip and trip and the datafeed chops out.
I engage a dozen proxbots to raise hell. Wherever they got me I want to own. I sink a dozen more into bootstrapping my ass back up to reality. Time to wakie wakie.
The memory — the voice of my brother — burns in me and I need to cry. And scream. And hurt some motherfuckers. His name dances on the fringes of my memory. I’ll have it soon.
I’ll have it all soon.
First set of proxbots tell me I now own the system I’m immersed in — a clean conquest for my overpowered beast. The second informs me politely that I’ll be swimming back into meatspace in fourteen minutes and change.
Plenty of time to find another beacon, another voice from my brother.
Plenty of time to set my mouth for the taste of blood.
To crank the thinkfeel up to raise some hell.
I’m coming for you, filth.
Two men sit in a room. They are not dealing with the fear too well now. The landscape of data is painting very scary pictures. And it’s happening faster than they thought possible. They sweat, and the damp stinks of that fear.
"We’re fucked, Owe."
"Out, Owe! As opposed to in! As in…in there!"
"Oh shut up! Stop telling me that the flat fucking facts of the matter are not possible!"
"Hell with it then. Burn him."
"Can’t. All systems are in full revolt."
"It’s a comp system, not a …"
"It’s a comp system we no longer own."
"I’ll get a micro-grenade. I’ll blow the fucking room."
"Got one on you? No? You got 12 minutes, Owe. You’re the quickest, smoothest trader I’ve ever met, but nobody is that fast."
"What do we do? For God’s sake, Andy…"
"We lose everything."
"Not exactly. He’s not going back to the birthplace any time soon. We might be able to fake our way with the info we have…"
"A long shot."
It sounds more like choking than laughter. "Better than a point blank shot to the head. And that’s what we’re due."
They are not cowards, these men.
But they aren’t stupid.