Saturday, December 3

Fragment 85

Not many left. All going, going, gone.

We were too late. We were always too late. It was as if the universe dangled hope in front of our faces, only to cruelly snatch it away at the last moment. Guillemet had found the Surgeon and the Surgeon had found him and then trapped him in a neverending loop, where his only escape was erasure. If AIs could die, he would be dead. 
Another friend dead. No time to mourn. 
We had the location of the Surgeon. We found her alone, sitting on a chair, waiting for us. 
She was a woman with dark chestnut hair and deep red lipstick. I gathered that she had a history with Omega. Omega certainly looked at her with deep anger. 
"You can't stop it," the Surgeon said. "He is returning. The church was a joke. It didn't want Him back. It only wanted to use His name. I am bringing Him back." 
"You are insane," Omega said. 
"Perhaps," the Surgeon said. "But He has been asleep for far too long. The world is sick, you know it. The world is sick and He is the cure." 
"Why hire the Golconda?" I asked. "Why try to kill us?" 
She shrugged. "Isn't that what I'm supposed to do?" she said. "Aren't I the villain?" 
She was insane. She thought this was all a story. 
"What have you done with everything that was in the Archive?" I asked. 
The Surgeon smiled, her lips the color of red roses. "They are in a packet," she said. "A single packet of information. It's being distributed into each cloudsite as we speak. A single packet that will unload and unleash everything He has done in a single stream of information. Everyone will see this and then they will see Him." She leaned forward. "It will be better than the old days. In the old days, only a select few could see Him. Very soon, everyone will see Him. Everyone." 
Omega placed her blade beneath the Surgeon's neck. "How do we stop it?" she asked. 
"You can't," the Surgeon said again. "It's already done. He is returning." 
I sat down. "I don't understand," I said. 
"He is-" 
"Yeah, yeah, I get that part," I interrupted her. "You want him to return and cleanse the world, blah blah blah. Arkos wanted to keep it safe, you want to use it so that everyone gets infected. But you said he's been 'sleeping' for too long. That no one's seen him. Right?" 
The Surgeon, confused at my question, simply nodded. 
"I've seen him," I said. "He saved my life now, on two occasions. Why is that?" 
"That's..." The Surgeon started to talk and stopped. "That's impossible. You're lying." 
"Why?" Omega asked. "Why would she lie?" 
"He's been sleeping," the Surgeon said. "No one has seen Him. You are lying." 
"You don't know, do you?" I said. "For all your talk about him returning, you have no idea what he really is. You don't know if he's going to 'cleanse' the world or if anything will even happen when the packet opens. You don't know anything." 
"I know you're all going to die," she spat. 
"I knew that," I said. "Everyone dies sooner or later." I stood up. "Personally, however, I would prefer later rather than sooner. I'm going to leave this room now. I'm going to leave you here with Omega. I assume she has things that she wants to do to you and I would prefer not to see them. Bye." 
I walked away and pretended to ignore the screams.

Tuesday, November 29

Fragment 64

I'm running out of fragments. I'm running out of dreams.

I could feel her disapproving look. 
"I didn't have a choice," I said. "I couldn't save him. I couldn't." I sounded as if I was trying to convince myself.
Canto was dead. Our only lead was empty and my only friend was dead. 
I could feel Omega's stare. 
I refused to look at her. Instead, I turned to the empty Archive. 
"What happened with it?" I asked. 
"Someone took what was inside," she said. 
"Yes, I got that," I said. "Did you find anything more specific? Anything that, I don't know, points to the person or persons responsible for this latest disaster, since I think it's probably the same person who hired the Golconda. You know, those assassins who killed your entire clan or whatever?" 
I looked at her with my tired eyes and saw only contempt. Meanwhile, I was holding back tears, trying my hardest to stay hard. 
"We'll mourn later," I said. "Information now." 
"Do you still have access to your AI?" Omega asked. 
"Guillemet?" I said. "Yes, I do." 
"Good," she said. "I have a name. This work was very good, very clean, but I've seen it before. I know where it came from. I need to find them." 
"What's the name?" I asked. 
"The Surgeon."

Sunday, November 27

Fragment 60

"Help me," I asked her in my dreams.

"I have given you my help," she said. "I have given you everything I had."

Another fragment.

We found Canto with his father. Finally, after all these years, he was confronting him. 
Too bad there was an army on the way. 
"Where is it?!" Canto yelled, his voice cracking. "Where are all the stories in the Archive? Where did you put them?!" 
Arkos looked sad as he gazed out the window. 
"I didn't put them anywhere," he said. "The Archive...was empty when we opened it." 
"I don't believe you," Canto said, practically spitting. 
"I'm not a mad architect, Canto," Arkos said. "I wasn't going to give it to the pharm. I was trying to keep it away from them. Trying to keep it away from everyone. But I was too late. There are others, Canto." 
"You're going to do something with it, I know," Canto said. "You pushed me my whole life to go to the pharm." 
"I wanted what was best for you," Arkos said. "I've always wanted what was best. I'm afraid I bit off more than I could chew though." He turned and we could see the device. It was black and white and strapped to his chest. "It was empty when we opened it," he said. "Empty except for this. A trap they set. Get out, Canto. Please get out." 
I tried. I tried to pull Canto away, but it was no use. He rushed forward, trying to diffuse the black and white bomb. 
I left him there and ran. I left my friend behind. Of all the things I regret, I regret this the most. 
It wasn't a normal bomb. The Spire has sensors for those. It can smell explosives. Instead, the black and white bomb, as I've now learned, creates a miniature black hole for a fraction of a second. Enough time to create a sizable vacuum, a implosion. 
I heard a rush of wind and suddenly felt gravity pull me back. It was too late, I was too close. Canto and Arkos, at the center of the implosion, were already dead. Omega had vanished with the empty Archive and I hoped she was still alive. 
And I was fighting against gravity itself. And I was losing. 
Suddenly, I felt something grab my arm and pull me forward. It pulled me more and more until the effects of the black and white bomb no longer had any affect on me. I collapsed on the floor and, tiredly, looked up. 
The Slender Man looked down at me. His arms were tentacles. The tentacles that had gripped me. 
The Slender Man had saved me. 
He gestured upward and I looked up. The ceiling above me was gone. I could see drones arriving in the sky. I knew what he wanted me to do.
I ran.

Thursday, November 24

Fragment 46

"What story are you writing?" my grandmother asked me in my dreams.

"I'm not writing the story," I said. "You are."

"No," she said, "I already wrote my story. You must write your own."

Another fragment.

Our assault on the Spire ended pretty much how I thought it would: a failure. The Spire was one of the Pinnacles. The Spire was untouchable. All the drones were had reprogrammed were quickly and easily defeated. 
Just as we had planned. 
They traced our hacks and found our location. They moved in with assault teams and police companies. 
The only thing they found were a couple of mechanical Japanese body dolls. The dolls waved at them with jerky motions. 
We were already inside. 
Omega led us directly to the Archive. We were ghosts to security - Omega was such a good hacker, she developed a worm that blurred the screens every time we were in front of them. 
They never saw us coming. 
And yet we were still too late. 
The Archive was empty.

Tuesday, November 22

Fragment 27

I've hit a dead end. I don't know where else to look for my grandmother. I don't know anything. All I have are these fragments and starting here, they skip around a lot. I don't know if I can make sense of them. I'll try.

I ran through the stacks to see what had made the noise, why Canto had yelled out. Was it the Slender Man again? Was I running right towards him? 
No. As I emerged into the center of the library, I saw him. The man from the pharm, the man who had saved us from the drones. He was standing in the middle of the room looking at Canto and I saw that there was a symbol on the back of his jacket – the same symbol that was on the cover of Beware of Faded Giants. A circle with an x through it. 
"Can I help you?" I asked loudly. 
The man turned around and suddenly I realized my mistake. In the pouring rain, I had looked back and seen a man, but right here, I can could tell she was female. She was tall and thin, with black hair cut short and with her hood up, she could very easily be mistaken for male. 
She also wore a hard expression and held a curved sword in one hand. "Are you the Stray?" she asked. 
"You know who we are," I said. "You helped us back at the pharm. You've been following us. Why?" 
"I am Omega," she said. And if Canto looked shocked before, this expression made that one seem calm. 
"Holy shit," he said. "The Omega? I mean, we were told stories, but I thought you were dead. I mean, there was all this contradictory stuff, but-" 
"It's a title, not a name," she said. "I've been following you since the Church. I was a member there. In fact, I installed the computer you hacked." 
"And you call yourself Omega?" I said walking around her. 
"It is to honor the original Omega, the Alpha Omega," she said, still holding his sword sideways, as if anticipating an attack. "A group of us who meta at the Church decided to live like he lived. We called ourselves Omega. And we helped people. Until last week." 
"What happened last week?" I asked. 
"Our group was slaughtered," she said. "Every member was killed by men in bowler hats." 
I looked at Canto. "The Golconda," I said. "We've had problems with them, too." 
"Good," Omega said and lowered her sword. "Then we can help one another. I have information you need and you can help me to get vengeance." 
"We don't know who hired the Golconda," I said. "And I don't know how you can help us." 
"I installed the chemical computer," she said. "You don't think I didn't take precautions? How do you think I found you here? There were nanotags on the computer itself. And a tracefile in the Archive." 
"You know where the Archive is?" I asked. 
"At every single moment," she said. "You will help me and I will help you." 
"How do we know you'll keep your word?" I asked. 
"I'll keep it," she said. "Because I am the last Omega."

Saturday, November 19

Fragment 23

I visited her grave today. Or at least the place where I scattered her ashes. I think I visited it before, during my lost months, because I found another chapter there waiting for me. This one.

"Well, that wasn't much of a safe house," I said as we watched the Goon Squad (also known as the Pinnacle Police Company) march through the rooms, breaking furniture, ripping open the beds, searching for any information left behind. 
Canto and I sat on the edge of a platform two miles away, looking through long-distance goggles. "How'd they find us?" Canto asked. 
"They must have had a tracefile in one of the packets we got at the pharm," I said. "There were thousands. All that data." 
"I copied all the stuff that I decoded," Canto said. "I have it right here." He held up a portable drive the size of a fingernail. "If there was a tracefile, it wasn't in these." 
"Good," I said. "Then it wasn't all for nothing. Not yet." 
Canto looked down at the sprawl, the first light of morning hitting the gray buildings and darkened windows. "But where do we go?" he asked. "You don't happen to have a second safe house, do you?" 
"No," I said. "I don't." I turned off the goggles, not wanting to watch the Goon Squad tear up more of my belongings. Guillemet's tip-off had come in just in time – any later and they would have caught us trying to escape. Sometimes I wondered how Guillemet knew so much stuff, how far his AI programming went, but I was always afraid to ask. If I asked, he might rescind his help, no matter how guilty he felt. 
I sat and thought and then it came to me. "Come on." I stood up. "I know where we can stay." 
We went to the abandoned library, the one I had visited right before the job at the Church of the Thin Man. It seemed like I hadn't been there in ages. The building was "dumb" – no security systems, no drones to protect it, just an ordinary lock on the door. It was one of many dumb buildings in the sprawl, where the people who owned the land didn't have the money or resources to make them into smart-buildings or they just didn't care. 
The library was also in the middle of a blackout zone, so it was the perfect place to hide out. 
Canto looked at all the books, most of them unread for hundreds of years. I don't know how they all survived without turning to dust, but they did. I set up blankets in one of rows of stacks, in case Canto wanted to sleep, but he just sat down on the floor, his face blank. This whole thing was starting to get to him. 
Why wasn't it getting to me? I had the bout of paranoia, but then it went away. I saw the Slender Man again, but he didn't do anything. I blinked and he wasn't there anymore. From the stories Canto told me, some people survive with the symptoms for years, some only for days. Perhaps I was in the "lucky" group. 
I tried not to think about that as I wandered the stacks, fingers trailing the spines of old books when I came across one that looked strange. It was old, but out of place. This was the science section, with thick tomes detective to the universe or the planets. And then there was a slim volume called Beware of Faded Giants
I picked it up and started to read.

Wednesday, November 16

Fragment 19

I'm trying to sleep, but I keep staying awake. I watch late night infomercials for things I will never buy. This isn't living. I need to get back to my life. But I need to find out what happened to me. God, I need to know.

There was a flash of light and one of the drones exploded in a fiery inferno. A voice shouted, "Run, you fools!" 
We ran. I tried not to look back, but finally my curiosity got the better of me and I saw a man standing in the rain, hood over his face, slicing into drones with what looked like a sword. 
And then the power went down again. <<Sorry!>> Guillemet said. <<I thought you guys would have been done by now. The code was only programmed for five hours. I'm rerunning it from the beginning.>> 
"Thanks," I whispered. I handed the drive to Canto and asked him, "Who was that guy?" 
"No idea," he said. "I thought you knew him." 
A new player. Someone else. Someone who wanted us to succeed. Or at least live long enough to achieve an objective. I couldn't trust them. I could only trust me. Me and Canto and Guillemet. 
Just me. Paranoia is another symptom. Was it becoming worse? I looked around, trying to see if the Slender Man popped up anywhere. There was no sign of him. Good. 
Back at the safe house, we plugged the drive in. All of the data was encrypted again, this time with an encryption that Guillemet hadn't written. Canto would have to decode it one file at a time with pharm-codes he had learned. There was only one problem: the data was massive. Not as massive as the Archive, but incredibly big. It could take months to decode it all. And we didn't even know if we would find anything useful in it. 
Canto started on the decoding, while I flipped the cloudscreen on and checked if there was any updates on the hunt of the "fugitives," i.e. us. There wasn't anything interesting, except for one site that tried to interview my brother. 
"No comment," he said. Like all our history, all the pain I had caused him was nothing. "No comment." And he went back to station house and probably wrote up a report on all the criminals he had caught that day and the newsite ran some headline that said, "Criminal Mastermind's Brother Is Police Officer; Is This Irony?" Or they would have if they had any sense of what irony was. 
Canto gave out a yelp. I asked him what the matter was and he said he looked out the window and saw someone. I went to the window and looked outside. There was a man standing in the pouring rain. As I looked closer, however, I noticed that it wasn't really a man. It was too tall, too thin, its arms too long. And then a flash of lightning revealed that it had no face and I saw the Slender Man for a second time. 
"Is there anyone out there?" Canto asked. 
I looked out at the Slender Man. "No," I said.