Waking Up - Chapter 2
Posted By: kabu<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 23 April 2010, 6:14 am
Go go go.
Memory is coming back in fits and starts, and it's stupidly frustrating. There are weird gaps filling in with little chunks, slipping into place like unruly schoolchildren being herded into a queue for lunch. I can recall, for example, pushing my little brother off of a dock when he wasn't paying attention, but not where the dock was or what I was doing there or what (if anything) he had done to deserve such treatment. Knowing him, he almost certainly did deserve it, so I don't dwell on the morality of his ensaturation but rather bask in the pleasant memory of sunlight on my skin and wind playing with a strand of hair escaping from my ponytail and --
The file was labeled "Top Secret, Eyes Only." I could be executed just for poking the stupid thing, let alone reading it. Where on God's green Earth had he gotten his hands on it?
The isolated memory of that plain manila envelope slides neatly into place with a little mental click. In this day and age, a single printed copy is more secure than digital. No matter how many firewalls you pile up, there will always be a better hacker. I don't know what's in it, or who showed it to me, or when it happened. It's just one visual memory. I can tell it's... important? Or something.
Eugene says it will be a week or so before my mind is fully settled. I have a few decades worth of memory to sort through, after all. It feels like I'm reading a really fascinating book over a stranger's shoulder but I can only catch every other word. Sensory memories are the hardest to deal with, and they come back the strongest. It's easy to get overwhelmed and pulled in. Every one that hits home leaves a little ache in my soul (yes I still have one dammit), a bit of pain that tells me I'll never let the waves lap over my toes again, never taste the salt air or dad's blueberry pie, flavors exploding over my tongue. Never run across a field to chase a butterfly, never hear crickets chirping lazily in the dry summer heat while I lie on the porch with a book and a mug of iced tea, sunning myself like a snake on a rock.
On the plus side, now I'll never trip and break my wrist while trying to walk across the kitchen, fix my hair, carry a plate of chicken and read a book at the same time. I nearly landed on the cat, too.
"Hey, Jess-, uh, Tisiphone. How are you feeling?"
Eugene is standing at a holographic pedestal. I can see him with one of my two-hundred and eighty-seven eyes in ARCHER base, each one kept clean and polished every other night at two ante meridiem by a small fleet of service bots. I like the service bots, with their little wheels and manipulator arms. They're kind of cute.
I flicker into being, tossing my pink locks over my shoulder and gripping my spear like a hiking stick. There are coded routines that mimic sensory perception. I can feel the grain of the wood beneath illusory fingers and individual strands of hair sliding along my cheeks.
"You know what's the worst part of this whole identity crisis thing is?"
"I guess I don't."
"Having to introduce myself with such a stupid name. Seriously, Vengeance? What was I thinking?"
"Well, you did get shot in the back. That'll do it."
There's a bit of an awkward pause as we both realize what we're talking about. Neither of us like to think about... that. My death was one of the first memories to come back, and it's really, well, I mean I died. That's got to be worth a few years of therapy. Everybody does it, sure, but most don't get to go around bragging about it after. Though bragging would feel a bit gauche. It really does make for frustrating conversation. So how was being shot? Not bad, not bad, wouldn't recommend it though. Very messy. It kind of stings.
They still haven't caught the guy who did it, either. They found a sniper stand half a kilometer away, but no DNA, no finger prints, no hairs, no nothing. Just some shoe prints that ended at a paved road fifty yards away, and some tire tracks that could belong to any of half a million cars. The only lead we have is that whoever did it figured out how to remotely disable the cameras. You'd have to be a damn skilled hacker to pull that off -- which narrows it down to, oh, let's say five-sixths of the thousand-odd people who toil at ARCHER base, and Lord knows how many in New Edinburgh just a few miles down the road. The working theory is that there were at least two people, one to disable security and one to take the shot.
I know this, of course, because my case file was the very first thing I hacked. It was startlingly easy to get away with, too -- I move at the speed of thought, and the police firewall was no match for me. I could get use to this, used to the sheer joy of data, the shivery feeling of ones and zeroes streaming through my conscious mind and taking shape as parsable semantic symbols. I live in a new world, now, something bigger than a world. There's information dripping from my fingertips, caressing my arms as it flows around me and carries me away in a torrent of electricity. I can see things that English -- or any language spoken by humans, for that matter -- has no words to comprehend. There's something big and twisting and made of bits, polarized magnetic sectors flipping back and forth like perfectly delineated sharkskin. I can slip between the layers and peel them apart like n dimensional branes splitting from a forming universe, each one surging through me with wave upon wave of light. It's pretty nifty.
"Did you need anything, Eugene? Or just asking after little old me?"
He looks a bit flustered, turning to one side and averting his eyes. "Well, no. I mean, yeah. Just seeing how you're doing."
"Well, I'm j-"
"And this isn't all. There's more evidence, I'm sure of it."
Eyes the color of steel stare into mine with an uncomfortable intensity. The envelope lies on the table, the "Top Secret" label blithely disregarded. It's just paper -- untraceable, easy to dispose of (and easy to fake). But obviously, somebody had royally fucked up in the shredding department.
"What am I looking at?"
"-ust fine, thank you for asking."
I'm not fine. I'm lost and scared and confused and I'll never touch somebody again. There is a buzzing noise in my "head" and I can still feel my guts leaking out between my cold hands when I don't consciously block out the memory. And what the hell is up with the spear? I'd say I need more time to think, but as a computer I guess I have as much time as I need.
I let my consciousness dissolve back into the datastream as I drift away like a sailboat with no rudder, dreaming of two-hundred and eighty-seven flocks of butterflies swarming over my eyes until all I can see is a blurry, shifting mass of orange and blue.
The air conditioning must not be working properly, because I'm sweating.
"We live in troubled times, my friends. You know this as well as any."
The Director limps around to his seat at the head of the table, leaning heavily on a polished mahogany cane. The pyramid-and-eye symbol of his office is resplendent in the wall behind him, picked out in gold leaf on onyx. Rumor has it that he was wounded in action at the end of the Covenant War, and refused to replace his flesh and blood with an artificial limb -- hence the limp and cane. Even so, he is an imposing specimen of a man, with an air of quiet power. Rather like a black-furred lion, reclining in the sun -- quiet for now, but obviously dangerous when the circumstances require it of him. Wole's voice is worn smooth with age, though he wears his sixty-odd years well.
"Sometimes, we must take action. Action that we may find, ah, difficult to accept. We are not fighting the aliens anymore, you know. Please, all of you, be seated."
I take my place at the table. Around me, half a dozen high-ranking military and government men and women follow suit while I mop my face with a handkerchief. Damn climate control.
"The insurrection is heating up. More and more cells are appearing each day, and they are too well organized. Much too organized. Men have died, for years they have died. And there will be much more death still unless we end this conflict soon. Colonel Fuchs?"
I twitch slightly as my name is called out.
"I have a modest request to make."
My handkerchief comes away damp from my brow as those black eyes bore into mine. Their corners are crinkled almost imperceptibly in a small smile. What have I gotten myself into now?