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.

Tuesday, November 15

Fragment 18

The college where she worked was no help. She died years ago, if she did die. But why would she fake her death? Did she start losing time, just like me? Is this thing hereditary?

It was raining. The rain was falling on the roof in morse code. My head hurt. The morse code read I-A-M-R-E-T-U-R-N-I-N-G. 
Canto said that seeing codes everywhere is another one of the symptoms of the Slender Man meme. There are no codes. The rain wasn't coming down in morse code. That would be silly. My mind was just making me think it was. I don't even know how to decode morse code. 
We were waiting. We were waiting for the power to go out. The code Guillemet put into motion would happen soon. The power would shut down in a certain section of the Pinnacle City and we would move. We were going to break into the pharm. 
We were going to break into one of the most secret places on Earth. No pressure. 
<<The code is working,>> Guillemet said in my ear. <<Power is down.>> 
We moved. The rain made pattering sounds as it hit my face. The pharm would have information. Information on what we needed to stop Arkos. To stop the Slender Man meme. It had to. It was his base. Wasn't it? Am I remembering this incorrectly? 
Canto said that memory loss is another one of the symptoms. I hope I don't have that yet. 
Even with the power down, it took us hours to break into the pharm. Hours to bypass manual security systems, self-powering security drones, and everything else. And then we finally got there. And, just like Canto said, it had its own generator. It still had power. Good. 
Breaking in is no good if we can't get what we came for. The systems were encrypted, but Guillemet wrote that encryption. He had his fingers in a lot of pies, I know. I'll have to ask just how many one of these days, but not today. Today he was being helpful. 
Encryption bypassed, the system loaded all information about "SLM MEME" onto our drive. It's large. Very large. It finally finished loading and I grabbed it and left. 
And just like that, the power came back on the rest of the building. The sensors found us and the drones surrounded us. 

Sunday, November 13

Fragment 13

I didn't see my grandmother die. I didn't even see her body. It was already cremated by the time I found out. What if she's still alive? Can she tell me what's going on?

Am I going crazy?

The cloudsite had our names and faces. Our list of crimes included theft, grand larceny, treason, and identity theft. 
Canto stared at the screen with obvious worry. He couldn't go back to his place now – too many people knew where he lived. He had to stay at my safe house. He closed his eyes and sat down. "So what's next?" he asked. 
"Next," I said. "I have no idea what's next. What's next depended on having the Archive. We don't." 
"But," he said. "But there has to be something we can do." 
"There's lots of things we can do," I said. "None of them helpful." I sat next to Canto. "Do you know why your father would want the Archive?" 
"He sent me to the pharm to learn about it," Canto said slowly. "To learn about the memetic monster, the Slender Man. With those stories, he could try making another one. Another weaponized idea." 
"Could he?" I asked. 
"I don't know," he said. "The Slender Man wasn't made by any of us. We don't know how it was made. All study of it was fruitless. But he could have had a breakthrough." 
"He was the one who hired me," I suddenly realized. "He was the big boy. The information was for him. That's why he hired me." 
"What?" Canto said. "And you just happened to work with his son? That doesn't make any-" 
"He hired me because of you," I said. "Probably knew you worked with me. He was waiting for us, remember. He knew where the data was kept. He knew you would keep it there." 
Canto lowered his head again. "Bastard," he whispered. 
"If he hired me, though," I said, "who hired the Golconda? They weren't after the Archive – they were there to destroy it." 
I looked at the cloudsite feed, the streaming information listing all the facts about my life. I looked at my face on the site and said, "How many people are playing us?"

Saturday, November 12

Fragment 11

I found a note that I wrote. Just says "Find Sophia." Sophia, my grandmother. My grandmother who is deceased. Somehow this makes even less sense than before.

Next fragment:

"I took the data, son," Arkos said. "I took it so you would be safe. No more needing to worry about meme warfare for you. All of that is safe now." 
"We need to go," Canto turned to me. "We need to run. Now." 
"You can come home, son," Arkos said. His voice sounded modulated, like a hypnotist's voice. He was changing it with some device around his neck. It sounded so soothing. So peaceful. "You can come home again." 
"Stray!" he shouted in my ear and slapped me. That knocked some sense back into me and I grabbed Canto's arm and ran down the hall. 
Behind me, I heard Arkos speaking to Security on the coms, telling them where we were. They would be waiting for us in the elevators, waiting for us to go down. 
Luckily, I had an escape route already picked out. 
Beneath the servant's uniform, I had a brand new harness. I activated it and then pulled out a brick I had brought specifically for this scenario. 
I threw the brick at a window and it shattered into a million little pieces. "C'mon, Canto," I said. He nervously looked outside at the clouds as the wind whipped our faces. "You can hold onto me." 
He swallowed, then looked back to see his father slowly walking towards us. Arkos apparently didn't care that we had broken a window. There were no platforms for the harness to hold onto up here – only the Spire itself and they had that locked down. 
Canto hugged me and I wrapped a net around him so he wouldn't come loose – then fell out the window and let gravity do the work. 
I felt the rush of air again. Only this time, I wasn't twenty feet in the air, I was two hundred. I felt the precipitation on my face, only kept out of my eyes with goggles. I felt the wind and the pull of the earth. I felt Canto grip tighter. 
And I let the harness go. It was a balancing act: too close to the Spire and we would be caught by Security drones, too far away from the Spire and the harness would have nothing to attach to and we would be splatter on the ground. I needed to find the sweet spot, the Goldilocks line. 
I was good at that. 
We slid down the air, the harness slowly our descent until a platform appeared and I disengaged the harness from the Spire. We were clear. The Security drones at the Spire would think we had died. It would take actual humans to realize that we were alive. 
But we still had a problem. Arkos had the Archive. 
And I had no idea why.

Thursday, November 10

Fragment 10

I found as many chapters as I could. And I called my work - apparently, I hadn't gone in for four months. I am definitely unemployed now. My landlady says I haven't paid the rent in four months, too. And I still have no idea what happened to me.

The chapters I found were scattered around the room, under the bed, stuck in the drawer - some of them even in the Gideon Bible. I put them all in order, but there are still a lot missing. I don't know why I would have done this. I don't know anything anymore.

But some part of me is saying that it's important that I keep posting these fragments. So here we go.

The heist went wrong almost immediately. We knew we probably couldn't find "genuine 20th cent garb" in time for the party, so we decided it was better to dress up as staff. There are always staff in those parties, human waiters instead of bot-waiters to show just how classy and rich the place is. All we had to do was steal a couple of uniforms and sneak in. 
Which was easier said than done. The uniforms were easy to come by, but getting in required clearance passes. Canto's ID-chip would get him anywhere, but it would also alert everyone that the son of Architect Arkos was in the building. And we didn't want that. In fact, Canto wanted to stay as far away from his father as possible. 
So we had to forge clearance passes. Luckily, Guillemet came in handy with that. He still felt guilty over the Golconda incident, so he helped out with the passes, inputting all the relevant data that he skimmed off of the cloudsite. And so we were in. 
And we were immediately overwhelmed. There were so many people there, I didn't know how the waiters were even able to walk around. They covered the floors and the raised platforms and even some super-expensive elevator platforms that used cushioned air to lift the guests high up, so they could look down at everyone. 
We slipped away, through a corridor, and then into a regular elevator and went up, up into the top levels of the Spire. 
Getting the information should have been easy. Canto opens the room, scans his ID-chip, and the information is immediately downloaded into his system at home. 
Unfortunately, when we got to the room where Canto had stored the Archive information, there was a slight problem: it was empty. 
"I don't understand," Canto said. "It was here. Twenty databanks of information. No one would have moved it. No one even knew it was here. I even had this room blanked on the map." 
"It doesn't matter," I said. "Someone took it. Maybe they knew what it was, maybe they didn't, but it's not here anymore." 
And that's where things went even more wrong. 
"Hello, son," a deep voice said. Canto and I turned to see a man in his late forties, black hair with graying temples. The Architect Arkos. Head of the Assembly of Architects, creators of the Pinnacle City. "Glad to see you again."

Wednesday, November 9

Fragment 113

I don't know what happened. I don't remember what happened. I'm in a motel room. My phone says that it's November 9th. The last date I remember is July 17th. I was getting ready to upload the next chapter. But. But something happened. I don't remember.

There's a few ripped pages in front of me. The first says "Fragment 113." What happened to the rest?

The Slender Man loomed over me. I cursed him. I spat at him. "They're all dead," I cried. "They're all dead because of you." Dead bodies littered the ground beneath me. Some had been trampled in the panic, some had killed themselves, others had been killed just because they were in the way. 
But all of them had been killed by me. I was the cause of their deaths. I was the cause of the death of the Pinnacle City, the death of the sprawl. I looked up and saw the Spire burning. The Slender Man looked where I did, mimicking my movements. I had seen it rip apart hundreds of people today and yet it still moved like a child sometimes. 
"I did that," I said. "I did all this. I let you loose. I let you loose." 
The Slender Man looked at me without eyes. I knew it wouldn't kill me. I was the reason it was alive. I was the reason it had spread. 
"Please," I said. "I just want it to be over. Please." 
The Slender Man, having understood my pleading or not, approached me and placed one hand on my chest. He reached inward and

The rest of the page is gone. It's been ripped away. Did I do that? Why would I do that?

Where have I been for the past five months? What happened?

Friday, July 15

Fragment 9

So I finally finished transcribing this chapter. I kind of got preoccupied reading these blogs about the Slender Man. Some of them are really, really well written. And very interesting. And very, very creepy. (Thanks a lot. As if my insomnia wasn't bad enough.) Anyway, new chapter:

Canto told me his story over a cup of pitch-black coffee. He needed a stimulant, I think, to keep talking. He was hesitant at first, scratching at the ID-chip, as if he wanted to pull it out, pull out his past and be free from it. 
But we are never free from the past. It always pulls us back. 
Canto told me that his great-grandmother was one of the first Architects, then his grandfather, then his father. His father has aspirations that Canto himself would become an Architect as well, but Canto insisted on getting a well-rounded education. From what he told me, he was pretty straight-laced back then. His father sent him to the pharm to learn, but he ended up learning things he was never meant to. He didn't expand on that and I didn't ask him to, but I could guess - those "secret black classrooms" he had mentioned sounded like they revealed secrets long buried, secrets that the Architects tended to keep well-hidden. Like the meme warfare, like the Slender Man. 
Canto told me that after he had been exposed to those secrets, he couldn't look at his father again. There was something he wasn't telling me, I knew - perhaps he learned a secret about his father - but I knew better than to pry. "One night, I packed my stuff and took off," he said. "Didn't tell anybody where I was going. Left a note tagged to my father's cloudsite. Just said 'Bye.' Never looked back." 
"If you never wanted to go back to that life," I said, "why choose a server in one of the Pinnacles as the infodump site?" 
"I didn't have time to set up a proper site," he said. "You wanted the kernel next day and I knew you were going to do the job soon. I don't like to disappoint you, Stray. So I used one I had set up a while ago. In the Spire." 
I looked down at him. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, while I sat in a chair.  
"Can you still just walk in there?" I asked. "No complications?" 
"I should still have access," he said. "They don't revoke it when you leave. It's just...there's a lot of security. Lot of floating cams around. No privacy." 
"So taking something away could be difficult," I said. 
"Could be," Canto said. "Could be easy, could be hard." 
"I don't like walking blind," I said, but kept my voice from being too hard. He looked like he wanted to sleep a million years, even with the caffeine he had consumed. Like talking about his father had drained him. 
"We can scout it," he said. "I mean, they're always running parties in there. Top-tier parties. Could slip in one, scout out security." 
"We could," I said. "Let me check the cloudsite for the Spire and see if there are any parties upcoming." 
I switched on the cloudscreen I kept in the safehouse and one wall immediately burst into a harsh blue light. "Dim," I said and the light dimmed. A static-crawl immediately appeared and some of the preprogrammed cloudsites I set opened up. 
" celebrity Hegemony Williams found dead of overdose from new drug nacio7, known on the platforms now as 'bleech.' A wildfire in the forestry region consumed over thirty-five percent of the saved redwoods, something which anti-tree activists are now lauding. And the splitter party in congress has stated their agenda that Washington be split in two, one side being Washington, DC, the other Washington, AC. This is the Thundersite, opiate for the masses..." 
I turned the volume off and then switched the browser to the Spire's cloudsite. Images jumped out at me of clean white rooms and beautiful smiling people. Part of the Spire was living quarters for the obscenely rich, while another part actually served a purpose, like the rest of the Pinnacles. The Spire's purpose was newsmedia. Everyone had access to cloudsites, but it was the Spire that gave you a rating, allowed your cloudsite to live or die based on that rating. In this way, they effectively controlled which cloudsites could operate. 
"There's a party in a couple of days," I said. The Spire's static-crawl asked that participants dress in "genuine 20th cent garb." I wondered if I could pull that off. Go without my harness. I guess I would have to. 
The cloudscreen fritzed, the image jumping upward, with a burst of actual static blaring across the screen. "That's not right," I said. 
"What?" Canto asked. 
"Just some distortion," I said. "Though this cloudscreen is mint. I never used it before." 
"Distortion?" Canto stood up. "Stray, that's another symptom." 
I looked back at the cloudscreen. It was fine now. No static, no jumping. But there was something on the edge of my vision. I blinked and the screen went dark. I closed my eyes and when I opened them, the screen looked fine. I turned to Canto. 
"Did you see that?" I asked. 
He swallowed and then said, "Yes." 
"Shit," I said and turned back to the screen. "Guess we're both infected. Or this is a crappy cloudscreen." 
Canto went laid back on the bed and closed his eyes and I quietly turned off the cloudscreen. Nothing was ever easy. Time was always running out. And we had angry assassins and an impossible idea after us. 
Hope seemed almost cruel, but that was what I had. Hope that I lived to see next week, hope that Canto would be fine, hope that I could someday see my brother again.  
Perhaps hope is the cruelest idea of all.

Monday, July 11

Interlude 1

Sorry for not posting the next chapter - work again. However, I found this written in the back of the first notebook. I googled it and it turns out that it's a poem from Emily Dickinson:
The Future — never spoke —
Nor will He — like the Dumb —
Reveal by sign — a syllable
Of His Profound To Come — 
But when the News be ripe —
Presents it — in the Act —
Forestalling Preparation —
Escape — or Substitute — 
Indifference to Him —
The Dower — as the Doom —
His Office — but to execute
Fate's — Telegram — to Him —

Also, on an impulse, I googled the Slender Man and it looks like my grandmother was using some sort of internet urban legend for her story. I started reading some of the blogs about the Slender Man, because they look interesting. (You may also notice I changed the look of the blog - I like it more monochrome.  It's noir-ish.)

Sunday, July 10

Fragment 8

I'm trying to post the fragments more frequently. I may even divide up some of the longer fragments so I can post them more quickly. Anyway, here's a new chapter for your perusal.

My safehouse was in the middle-stories of Malak. We took several platform-cars there, switching back every few miles to make sure nobody was following us. Being outside, walking around, it felt like the world was watching me. Like I had done something very wrong and everyone was going to turn their heads to look at me at all once. It wasn't a good feeling. 
I was getting paranoid. Canto said that was one of the symptoms of the Slender Man meme. Paranoia, hallucinations, sometimes even physical sickness. A cough or a headache. I asked how a meme could cause a sickness and he replied that it was "psychosomatic." A psychosomatic illness caused by a idea monster. Great. 
I also asked how long I had. "I don't know," he said. "It varies. Sometimes people go for a long while before succumbing. Sometimes the meme gets through a person quickly and then leaves them alone. I was told there were lots of pharmers who tried studying it, but nothing ever came out of it. It was dormant for a while." 
Every shadow made me jumpy, every person on the sliding streets made me flinch away. I knew this probably wasn't the meme working, this was just myself, my own fear working against me, but it didn't help. 
When we finally got to my safehouse, I pulled out my extra harness I kept there and put it on. 
"You going out?" Canto asked. 
"No," I said, "I just feel safer with one on." Having a harness on meant if you fell, you could catch yourself. Up in the middle-stories, you didn't really need one, because there were so many platforms and the platforms usually had emergency cables you could catch. But up high, in the pinnacles, and down below, on the harsh ground, the platforms were few and far between. Better to have a harness, latch onto a building or girder and let it lift you up. 
I always felt better with a harness on. 
"So," I said, "what should I do?" 
Canto shrugged. He was quiet for most of the way here. He answered when I asked him questions, but other than that, he wasn't his normal self. I hadn't seen him imbibe any drugs or take any with him. There was obviously more to this Slender Man thing that he wasn't telling me. 
"Canto." I took his hand. "It's okay. I just need to know what I can do. To stay safe." 
He looked at me and then said, "Sometimes it does good to read more about him. Read the stories about him, about the people he followed." 
"The archive," I said. "Good. The original was destroyed, but I rerouted all the information with your kernel. Maybe I can even use it as leverage against the Golconda. Threaten to make it open source. This is a good thing." 
"Sure," Canto said, but he didn't sound convinced. 
"I just need to know where the server is," I said. "Where did the kernel reroute the archive, Can?" 
Canto was looking down again at his hands. "It's in a safe place," he said. "An office building. In the Spire." 
I looked at him. "The Spire?" I lifted a palm up to my face. "Canto, the Spire's in Shekina. The Spire's one of the Pinnacles!" 
"I know," he said softly. "It's a safe place." 
"We can't just walk into one of the Pinnacles," I said. 
Canto was quiet. He shuffled his feet and then said, "I can." He rubbed his wrist and then pulled up his sleeve - revealing an ID-chip. The chip's hologram jumped up and displayed Canto's picture (from when he had much shorter hair) and his full name: Canticle Gerard. Son of Arkos Gerard, Architect. 
Canto was the son of an Architect, the kings of the sprawl, the masters of the Pinnacle City.

Wednesday, July 6

Fragment 7

Man, I suck at updating. It's just become so hot here and I've been so tired lately. Gah. Anyway, I transcribed this next part. It's kind of weird, but I guess my grandmother kept up with current scientific theories and stuff.

When I blacked out, I dreamed. I dreamed I was back in the home I never had, back with my brother and my mother and father and everything was alright, everything was fine. Hec and I chased each other through the house while mom and dad watched over and made sure we didn't hurt ourselves. There was a darkness though - in the middle of the house, there was a darkness, like a crack in the wall. "Don't touch it," my mother warned, but we weren't listening, we were too busy having fun and so we ventured too close. And the crack widened and a man made of dark stepped out, arms longs like the branches of a tree and needles for eyes. And he caught us and we screamed and our mother said, "I warned you. You should have run. You should have run away." 
I woke up in Canto's liar, on the lonely mattress. I tried to sit up, but pain shot up my leg and made me scream out. 
"Hey, hey!" Canto entered the room. He looked more bedraggled than normal. "Don't move, Stray. I just injected the liquid splint an hour ago." 
"What," I said and then laid back, trying to ignore the pain. "What happened?" 
"Your AI bossman called me," Canto said. "Told me where to pick you up. You had a nasty fall from grace, Stray. Took a look at your harness - someone emped the bastard. Wiped it clean and cut all your strings." 
I gritted by teeth. "Golconda," I said. 
Canto took a look at me and for a moment I was afraid he was going to kick me out, but he didn't. He sighed. "That's what your AI was afraid of telling me. He seemed wormy. Don't worry, Stray. You can stay here while the splint kicks in and then I'll help you get to your safehouse." Every thief has a safehouse, whether your a grifter, conner, or lifter. You never know when you might steal from the wrong folks and end up without a safe place to stay. 
"Thanks, Canto," I said. 
"Not a blem," he said. "This have to do with the kernel job I helped you with?" 
"Yes," I said, unsure whether I should tell him the entire truth. 
"Must've been some bad info," Canto said. "Worth rolling the die with the 'conda. They are not a light bunch." 
"It was..." I hesitated. Should I tell me? "It was an archive of stories." Canto laughed and then I added, "Stories about the Slender Man." 
He stopped laughing. He looked at me and I could tell from his face he knew that name, knew something about the Slender Man. "Stray..." he started to say and then stopped. "Stray, what do you know about the...the Slender Man?" It was almost as if he was afraid to say those words. 
"Not much," I said. "Some storybook monster. The place I hit was the Holy Church of the Thin Man." 
Canto sat down on a stool next to the mattress. I tried to ignore the stabbing pain of my leg and waited for the splint to kick in. I could have asked for a painkiller, but I knew Canto often mixed up his drugs, so I could get a hallucinigen instead, which wouldn't have been good. I do not trip well. 
Canto, on the other hand, didn't do sober well. He looked like all the drugs had been flushed from his system and maybe they had. Maybe I had caught him at one of those times when he was periodically purging himself of drugs, so he could take a whole new batch clean from the start. But then he started to talk and I realized it was something more than that. 
"He's not a storybook monster, Stray," he said. "He's a memetic monster. We learned about him in the pharm." The pharm - the establishment where all pharmacologists and pseudopharmacologists and therapharmacoligists and whatever else learned their trade - was notoriously hard-edged. That Canto went there didn't surprise me; even under a heavy drugload, he knew his stuff so well that he had to have learned it at the pharm. But what did surprise me is that Canto visably flinched when he said the name, as if he didn't want to remember his time there at all. 
"A story?" I asked. "Why teach a story at the pharm?" 
"It's not just a story," Canto said. "I told you, he's a memetic monster. You know what a meme is? An idea-gene. Where genes spread genetic information, memes spread cultural information. It's a thought contagion. Someone next to you hums a song and suddenly you start humming it, too. That's a meme." He took a deep breath. "The ultimate idea was to make a memetic weapon. Insert an idea into an enemy territory and suddenly all your enemies have the same idea to kill themselves. Meme warfare. Never really took place, though, because no one could figure out a way to make it work. You could make a song get stuck in someone's head, but not the idea that they should commit suicide. That would take generations and generations of instilled cultural ideas and no one was willing to do that." 
I noticed that he was looking at his hands, moving each finger around, trying to distract himself. But he went on talking. "There was this story, though. Of a successful meme weapon. They called it the Slender Man. A person would read a story about the Slender Man and then days, maybe weeks later, that person would become convinced they were being stalked by it. By him. It would...consume them. They were compelled to spread the meme, too, writing everything down into a story and passing it on, so others could be infected." 
I swallowed. "So, someone made the Slender Man meme?" 
"Yes," Canto said. "Well, no. Someone made him, but it was never meant to be a meme. It spread on its own. It...took on a life of its own. Or it was older than anyone else knew, older than we even thought. The pharm-professors wanted to make another one, but I learned. In the secret black classrooms, I learned that it wasn't a meme weapon at all. Weapons do what you tell them to do. Pull a trigger, shoot a bullet. Press a button, send a bomb. The Slender Man wasn't a weapon. It was a monster. It was uncontrollable. Everyone that tried to control it ended up infected or dead or both." 
"How would it kill you?" I asked. "If it's just an idea?" 
"Ideas are worse than bombs," Canto said. "Bombs kill you quick. Ideas can kill you slow. It starts off seeing him out of the corner of your eye, in windows, next to trees. You hallucinate that other people look like him. Some people can't take it and off themselves then. Others stick it out and experience it fully. Go right through the madness and come out the other end." 
"But the church," I said. "Those people knew about it and they didn't look bad." 
"It's been gone," he said, looking down. "Dormant, I think. An idea sleeping furiously, you might say." 
I took a deep breath. "I saw it. Before I blacked out. I saw it." I didn't tell him that I saw it kill one of the Golconda, because how could an idea do that? 
Canto closed his eyes. "Guess it woke up then." He started to cry quietly. 
[this part appears to be written later] 
Canto. Canto Canto Canto. I wished I had hugged you then. I wish I had never told you I had seen it. I wish so many things. You were a good friend in a bad world. I'm sorry, Canto. I'm so sorry.

Wednesday, June 22

Fragment 6

Woke up this morning and I just wanted to go back to sleep. Unfortunately, I need to work and I had a dentist appointment to boot. Anyway: another thrilling chapter in the life of a cyberpunk thief.
When I stopped for breath, I called Guillemet. <<Hey, Stray,>> he buzzed in my ear. <<How did the job go?>> 
I took a deep breath and then said one word: "Golconda." 
<<Fuck.>> I rarely heard Guillemet swear - sometimes I thought cursing wasn't programmed into his motherboard - but this time it was justified. <<Okay, you've got to get out of there.>> 
"No shit," I said. "I ran like hell. They'll still come after me though." 
<<Of course.>> He was silent for a few seconds and then said. <<They can track you.>> 
"How?" I looked up at the cage of girders in the sky. "I wasn't tagged by anything, I would have felt it." 
<<Nanotags,>> he said. <<Specifically designed. They have implants in their eyes. They look at you, they can track you.>> 
"Fuck!" I said. "They saw me!" 
<<That's not good,>> he said. <<You're going to have to ditch the clothes. If its attached to them, once its gone, they can't track you. If it's on skin, you're screwed.>> 
"Thanks," I said, starting to unbutton my shirt. "You want to tell me how I'm going to get around while naked?" 
<<This is the sprawl,>> he said. <<There are at least half a dozen religions who require young women to go around naked. Pretend to be a Nudianist or something.>> 
"Great," I said as I stripped. We were both silent for a few seconds and then I asked, "Hey, G, how did you know about their nanotags?" 
He didn't answer me and for a moment I thought the connection was lost. Then, he said, <<I designed them.>> 
<<They paid a shitload, Stray,>> he said. <<And you don't say no to the Golconda. Please, I'm sorry.>> 
I was silent as I stripped, angry that Guillemet had basically engineered my own downfall. "Not your fault," I finally said. "You didn't know they would show up on the job. It would help though if you sent me some new clothes." 
<<Can do,>> he said. <<If you can make it to corner of Diom, Navaa, and Siosp, I'll send out one of my drones. With something extra, too.>> 
"Thanks, G," I said. I took off my shoes, balanced myself on a girder, and started to run. I pretended I was twelve again, racing against my brother, chasing each other on girder after girder, ignoring the angry shouts of our father. It brought back memories I thought were long forgotten - sliding in the rain, laughing as we tripped each other up, as we fell and gripped the harnessed our mother had carefully made for us. 
I finally made it to the corner of Diom, Navaa, and Siosp and found G's drone - a gray spidery thing that gripped the path with six limbs. Its center opened up to reveal a new set of clothes - all black, thanks G - and something else. A very expensive present from Guillemet. 
I hurriedly dressed, then slipped Guillemet's present into the back of my pants. I didn't like holding it, but it was a necessity. 
"Hello there," a voice said behind me. I turned and there was one of them - the first of the Golconda. If he was here, the others wouldn't be far behind. Perhaps they were already here, waiting in shadows. 
I didn't give him a chance to speak again - I turned and ran, making sure my harness gripped girders and rooftops that were high above me. They could follow, but it would be difficult. I felt an adrenaline rush as the wind whipped past my hair and then... 
And then I was falling. My lines had been cut, my harness was dead. He had done something, disabled my harness somehow. In the sky without a harness was deadly and I was in the air, in the wind, and then the wind was rushing past in the other direction. I watched the city above me grow smaller and then I slammed into a platform, my leg bearing the brunt of my weight. I could feel the crack in the bone as I screamed. 
"Now, now," the first of the Golconda said. "That's no way to treat a guest. And here I was, all ready to let you go when I had what I wanted." 
"What..." I winced and said, "What do you want?" 
"The information," he said and smiled. "Where did you transfer it to? Where is it now?" 
"Will you...will you let me go?" I asked as my hand slowly slid behind my back. 
"I promise," the first of the Golconda said. "Cross my heart, hope to die-" 
I pulled out Guillemet's present, the needlegun, and fired. The needlegun was an unusual weapon - designed at first to be non-lethal, each of the needles it fired was equipped with an electrical charge that would stun whoever was hit. Weapons dealers soon figured out a design flaw though: the space where the battery that sustained the electric charge was held could be modified and retrofitted to contain other things, specifically tracking systems. The needlegun had become a smartgun, capable of hitting whatever target you wanted. They were strictly controlled, not even given to the skypol anymore. 
Guillemet had already programmed the needles in this needlegun it looked like. It curved from the direction I had fired (probably wildly missing anything) and directed itself towards the only target it could find: the first of the Golconda. And then it hit its target square in the eye. 
He screamed as the needle penetrated. "You stupid bitch!" he said as he pulled it out. "You think that would kill me? Tear out both my eyes, I will still carve you up, you fucking b-" His voice trailed off as he looked upward and the angry expression on his face turned into fear. 
I ignored my own pain and turned my attention to where he was looking. There was a man, a very tall man, standing on one of the platforms. He wore a dark gray suit with one long white line down the center and his face...his face was as white as snow. My pain must have been too much, because I couldn't see any features of his face. 
"No," the first of the Golconda said. "No, it can't be you. You're not here." For the first time, he looked afraid. I prepared to fire another needle, but the tall man looked at me and suddenly I found that I couldn't pull the trigger. The tall man turned back to the first of the Golconda. "Can't be you. Can't be," he repeated. "Operations must commence. Operations. Can't be you." The tall man walked forward, closer and closer, as the first of the Golconda fell to his knees. "Can't be. Operations. Commence." He was babbling and crying. 
The tall man lifted one arm and I could see if it was abnormally long and it seemed to stretch out as I watched it, twisting and turning in unnatural ways. The tall man reached out with the arm and stuck it down the first of the Golconda's mouth and I could see him squirming, writhing, wanting to get free, but unable to move. 
Everything seemed to be still at that moment, as if time itself froze. And then the first of the Golconda collapsed to the ground and the tall man removed his arm. He turned to look at me and I knew then that it wasn't the pain making me see things. He had no face. 
And then I remembered. I remembered Father Caulis's mask and his stories. The Slender Man. This was the Slender Man. 
He seemed to regard me and then he turned his gaze away from me. He picked up the first of the Golconda's body as if it was nothing, then started to walk away. He stopped, though, and turned back to me and nodded. 
And then darkness enveloped me as I passed out.

Saturday, June 18

Fragment 5

Sorry for not posting lately. Work has been very hectic - we're moving into a new office soon, so I've been very busy getting everything ready. And I haven't been sleeping that much, so I've been very tired at work. But this next chapter is a doozy, so it's worth the wait.

I told Canto eight am sharp, so of course he was ready with the kernel at ten. Surveillance hadn't shown up anything other than what I had already seen, so I managed to pull in a good six hours of sleep the night before and I was ready and rested. Of course, robbing the Church of the Thin Man during broad daylight was too risky, so I was going to have to wait until nightfall. 
Canto told me how to use the kernel. Just inject it into the chemical computer and he set up the relay station where the information will be rerouted. He gave me a tracker that tracks how much of the information has been rerouted - I think he just likes making things. 
That left me with time to kill. I didn't have anything else to do and I didn't just want to sit around doing nothing - doing nothing before a job was bad, it made you nervous. The more free time you had, the more chances you had to make yourself completely paranoid. What if this, what if that, what if things go wrong. 
Nine times out of ten, things go wrong because you expect them to go wrong. People sabotage themselves, my mother used to tell me. She was talking about my father, but I didn't know it at the time. 
So I went to an abandonded library I had discovered a few years back. It had fallen into disuse some years ago, but nearly all the books were still on the shelves and I sometimes liked to walk through the stacks and pick a book at random to read. Old and musty tomes that had never been opened in fifty years. That occupied my time until the sun dipped below the horizon and night descended. 
My scouting of the Church had shown there was an access duct that led into the control room containing the chemical computer containing their archive. Normally, these sorts of ducts would have been miniscule, allowing only the smallest of bots to crawl through, but this was an old building. Air was pumped in via large ducts attached to the ceiling which could clearly be used as an entry point. The only reason they weren't secured was probably because Father Caulis didn't believe anyone wanted to steal his information. Even I was starting to wonder why the stories in the archive were so important to my employer. 
Seven pm and I observed no one within the church. I slid onto the rooftop and then into the panel leading to the air duct. It was times like these I was lucky I was so skinny. A more, well, voluptuous thief might have been trapped in the duct. 
Once I got inside the computer room, I opened the vent and repelled down. The chemical computer was waiting for me, sitting in the middle of the room like a throne. I removed Canto's kernel and injected it into the bag of gooware. Then I waited. Canto's tracker told me .2% of the information had been rerouted. 
It was then that I heard a voice. "Hello? Is anyone there?" It was Father Caulis. I flattened myself against the wall and stepped slowly to the door to the next room, the meeting room. Father Caulis was standing there looking around. "Hello? I know I heard something." Had I made any sounds? Any at all? 
Then, another voice. "Hello, Father." Cold and monotone. Three men emerged from the dark shadows of the room and surrounded Father Caulis. They wore dark overcoats and bowler hats and carried umbrellas. "How nice to see you," the first one said. I shivered involuntarily. 
I knew them. Everyone knew them. They were the Golconda. If you wanted someone dead and you had enough money, you went to them. Sometimes they would do it. Sometimes they would take your money and kill you. You never really knew about the Golconda - hiring them was like playing Russian roulette. 
"What- why are you here?" Father Caulis asked. I wanted to know the same. If they were after the same information I was, I was screwed. 
"He is returning, Father," the first of the Golconda said. 
"Wh-who?" Father Caulis whispered. 
"He is returning," the first of the Golconda said again, "and we can't allow that, now can we? Operations must commence." 
"Op-operations?" Caulis tried to back away, but he was surrounded. "What operations?" 
"Can't go around telling people about operations," the first of the Golconda said. "I mean, two can keep a secret if one of them is dead, right?" He smiled.  "But then I guess you'll know all secrets soon." He lifted his umbrella and I saw the glint of a blade as he swept it and Caulis fell down, his blood spilling onto the floor. 
I covered my mouth and tried to take deep breaths. I hadn't seen someone killed in a long time, but that feeling of helplessness never really left you. 
I needed to get out of here. My harness was still hooked up to the duct, so I pulled myself up and managed to get inside before the Golconda came into the computer room.
They didn't say a word, just lifted their umbrellas and slashed the bags of chemicals, spilling everything onto the floor, like strangely colored blood. Two of the Golconda were carrying cans and as they poured them on the floor, I realized it was gasoline. The spread it around, making sure to soak all the puddles of gooware. The first one took out a lighter and opened it. 
And then the tracker I was still holding beeped. I looked at it and it said "Information Reroute 100% Complete." Goddamn Canto and his goddamn gadgets. All the Golconda looked up and saw me through the vent. 
I crawled as fast as I could. I had the advantage that I knew where all the vents went and was able to get back to the roof quickly. But they got there soon after me and I could see on their faces, I could see that they wanted me dead, they needed me dead. I was a loose end and one thing the Golconda do not have, it is loose ends. 
There was only one thing to do and I did it: I ran. I knew they would catch up to me eventually, but I ran and ran and ran. Past steel girders, past the skypol stations that were empty for the night, right into the heart of the sprawl itself. 
I ran and didn't look back.

Tuesday, May 24

Fragment 4

Sorry for not updating in a while. Been a bit busy at work. Anyway, onto the next chapter.
Even in fifty feet up, there are alleyways. There are places where the walkways are shrouded in shadow, where the skypol never patrol. These are the places where people go when they need something to escape from life. Nanodrugs that could induce whatever hallucination you wanted. Chemicals that could send you up, down, and sideways.

This was where I found Canto.

"Hey, Stray," he said. He placed a patch on one arm and sighed. "What's the...that thing, you know. Has letters in it?"

"Word," I said. "What's the word?"

"Yeah." Canto was in a perpetual world of his own. Life was what happened to other people - Canto lived in the delicate balance of brain chemicals, creating moods that varied from ecstasy to existential dread. "What's the word, Stray?"

"I got a job in Ophan," I told him. "Big one. Problem is, it's a chemical computer."

Canto opened his bloodshot eyes. "Chemcom? Well, fuck me gently."

"Some other time, Canto," I said. "You got a solution?"

Canto smiled. "I got plenty of solutions, in a variety of pretty colors. But for a chemcom...well, you're going to need something else." He cracked his knuckles separately and then said, "Follow me back to my lair."

I wasn't surprised he called it his lair. It was basically a room with a bed in one corner and what looked like a "My First Chemistry" set in the middle.

Still: Canto was the best. If anyone knew how to hack a chemical computer, it would be him.

He stumbled around the room for a few minutes, looking through various boxes and moving books and vid-chips out of the way. "Where are you, where are you," he repeated. "Ah, here." He triumphantly held up a syringe. There was nothing in it.

"I think if you inject that you'll die," I said.

"Not gonna inject it," Canto said. "Hate injects. Only patches for me." Canto periodically switched the way he took his drugs - sometimes it was pills, sometimes dust, sometimes patches. Whenever he offered me any, I would always politely say no. "This is just the carrying system."

He walked to the chemistry set in the center of the room and fiddled around with things. He hmmmed and hawwwed a lot, until I finally couldn't stand it any longer. "So?" I asked. "Chemical computer, remember?"

"Oh, yeah," Canto said as his eyes lit up again. "Sorry, was thinking about something else there for a second. It'll take about a day."

"For what?" I asked.

"The kernel," he said. "Gotta make a special kernel. You inject it into the chemcom, it reads the gooware and transmits it to a secondary source. Gotta make it special though. Gonna cost you."

"How much?"

"Twenty percent," he said. I had no room to haggle - I needed the kernel in order to do the job. If there was someone else I could go to, I could bargain him down, but Canto was probably the only one insane enough to think of a way to hack a chemical computer. So I said yes.

"Thanks, Stray," he said. "You're a pal."

"Remember," I said. "Eight am tomorrow. I'll pick it up and then, when the job's finished, you get your twenty percent."

"I trust you, Stray," Canto said. "The kernel'll be ready."

"Good," I said and then left. When I looked back, Canto was already fiddling with his chemistry set, doing things I didn't even want to imagine.

Twenty-four hours and I would have my way in. I could almost taste the money from this job. If I played my hand right, I could bargain the score up higher - whatever was in "the Archives," as Father Caul put it, was worth enough to steal, so my employer could afford to pay me a bit more.

As I thought about that, my feet led me back to Ophan. I had twenty-four hours to kill and I was back in the hellhole at the center of the Sprawl. Oh, well, more surveillance couldn't hurt.

[This passage seems to have been added later]

If only. If only I had seen it. If only I had seen it before. Before they died - they all died, Caulis, Canto, even Guillemet. Even me.

If only I had seen if before I died.

Wednesday, May 11

Fragment 3

I couldn't stay awake at work today. Kept falling asleep. Anyway, you didn't come here to read about my day, you came to read the next chapter in the continuing saga of the Stray. Awesomesauce.

I'm sitting on the roof of the world. From here, I can see almost the entire sprawl. From Ophan to Chayot, from Arel to Malak, even to the center, to Shekina, the Pinnacle City itself. Before this place was the sprawl, before the architects decided to keep on building and building forever, this place was called the Angels. At certain times, when the sun is just about to set and the light is reflected off a million beams of metal, the city almost lives up to the name.

Back to the job.

"What's the Slender Man?" I asked Father Caulis.

"I'm not surprised you haven't heard of Him," the priest said, removing the mask completely from his head. He was bald, but I could see stubble growing back. "It used to be that everyone knew who He was, but that was a long time ago. Barely anyone's heard of Him these days." He seemed a little miffed about that, but then smiled at me again. His teeth were crooked, which somewhat ruined the effect, but still it was a warm smile. "Would you like to see the inside of our church?"

I was leading up to asking for a tour, but this was better. "Sure," I said. As we passed the door, I saw another sign, but this one was missing letters. It read THE HOLY CH__CH OF THE THIN MAN.

"You like that?" Father Caulis asked. "I put that up and then ask the congregation what's missing. Do you get it?" He seemed pleased with himself. "They always love a bit of a puzzle, though I was never very good at them myself."

He led me through a small hallway and then into the main room of the building, the place where the kneeling had taken place. I looked around and gasped - legitimately gasped. There were beautiful pieces of artwork arranged around the room, each one depicting a different scene. "Ah, I know you like them. I'm much, much better at painting than puzzles. They are scenes from our canon." He pointed to one. "That's the Saint of Nothing with his broken sword. And that's the many battles of the Longest Night. And over there, we have the Saint of All Runners and the Trickster Saint." There was a line of text underneath the picture: if He catches you, He will kill you. But first He must catch you. Father Caulis was still pointing at the paintings, which populated each wall. "There's Saint Ezekial the Bull, unstoppable, and there's Omeg-"

"All these people followed the Slender Man?" I asked.

Father Caulis looked at me. "Oh no," he said. "They all fought against Him in their way."

I looked around again. "Then why are they all saints?"

"Because," he said, "He was meant to be fought. Without them, He would be nothing more than a simple story. With them...well, He was epic."

"Oh," I said. I still didn't understand, but I didn't need to. The paintings were beautiful, but in all likelihood, they were made up, stories retold generation after generation, becoming so degraded that there probably wasn't even an inch of truth left in them.

Father Caulis could see that I wasn't very much interested in his stories, in the canon of the Slender Man, so he started his other pitch. "We offer services every Wednesday and Saturday," he said, "and I can assure you, any information you provide to us will be held with the strictist security. Our archives are unhackable."

"Really?" I asked. This was like saying your ship was unsinkable. "Could I see your archives?"

He smiled again. "Of course," he said. "One of our congregation is a member of a tech-herd, so he was able to get us some top of the line equipment." He led me to a door in the side of the room, which opened up into a small area adorned with cables and monitors. "Here is where our congregation can read our canon. And there-" he pointed to the center of the room "-are the archives."

My mouth watered. When he said top of the line, he wasn't kidding. This was better than top of the line, this was over the top of the line. The archives were in a solid tower made of gleaming chrome. However, I could see through the gaps inside - there weren't any motherboards or circuits. This wasn't a normal computer. I could see the soup inside. This was gooware. This was a chemical computer.

This was going to be very, very difficult.

Tuesday, May 10

Fragment 2

Another day, another soulcrushing eight hours of work. Well, at least I can provide you guys with another chapter. Enjoy!

I'm writing this on paper. Dead trees. It feels weird. No haptic feedback except the pencil in my fingers.

Yes, I'm paranoid. Every system can be hacked, no matter what security. I know this - it's my biz to know this. So if I write down my thoughts, it has to be on dead trees.

The building housing the Holy Church of the Thin Man sat like a fat, grey block in the middle of Ophan. Around it were the faded marks of graffiti, the nanotags proclaiming who wrote it long since dissolved into dust. Nobody visited this area of the sprawl anymore. Except I could see: inside the building, there were people. The building's polycarbonate windows didn't allow me to see much, but I could make out five figures. They knelt in some sort of religious ceremony.

I wasn't going to get anywhere just watching from the outside. I needed more info. I couldn't blindly walk in there to do the jump job - I had no idea of where the info was stored, what security systems they had installed.

It's at this point, other lifters might resort to trickery - disguises or holos to fool stupid people - or perhaps complicated schemes in order to get the building evacuated. An empty building would be nice, but I always found there was a much simpler way than the complicated schemes some of my peers thought up.

I strapped my harness to the line attached to the roof, then slid down to the pavement. Not a lot of people in the sprawl liked walking on pavement anymore. They used lift-lines and platforms and avoided the ground at all costs. High class was in the sky. Low class was on the ground.

The services at the Holy Church of the Thin Man was almost done, I could see. The figures inside were finished kneeling and were now shaking hands with another man, tall and thin, his arms unnaturally long. One by one, the figures shook his hand and walked out the door. I snapped shots of them as they came out (you never knew what you would need in jobs like these). Then, when it was just the tall man, I approached the building.

"'Lo," I said to him. The tall man looked up at me from where he was standing. His face was completely blank and it startled me for a second, until I realized that it was just a mask.

"Hello," he said as he lifted the faceless mask, revealing a short nose and inset eyes. "Can I help you?"

" this your church?" I asked. It was always better to ask questions - the easier the better at first - because it gave people something to answer, put them at ease.

"Well," the man said, "the Church belongs to all of us, but I am the main priest, yes. Are you interested in joining?"

"Mebbe," I said. Short slang makes people assume you are stupider than you are. Use clipped sentences, short words. "I mean, I'm not much of a religo, but..."

"I understand," he said. "We all need something to believe in in these trying times. My name's Father Caulis. What's yours?"

"Terri," I said. When using an alias, keep it short and simple, something you can remember easily. And don't try to change your personality - spying is hard enough as is without adding a whole new persona as well. "So, uh, what do you guys worship?"

"Well," Father Caulis said, "we don't really worship Him. But we do believe and our belief gives us strength."

"What do you believe in?" If only I knew then what I know now, I would never have asked this question. [This appears to have been added later.]

"We believe in black and white," Father Caulis said. "In good and evil and the thin line in between, in which He walks. The Thin Man, the Long-Limbed One, the Tallest Tree." He smiled at me. "We believe in the Slender Man, Terri, and He believes in us."

Saturday, May 7

Fragment 1

Perhaps a little back story: my grandmother, Sophia, taught Greek and Norse mythology at the local college. Why she chose to write a science fiction story, I have no idea (she never showed it to anyone, but I don't know if that's because she was ashamed of it or because she never finished it). Anyway, after her funeral, when my parents went through her big house, that's when I found the notebooks. The chapters (written like entries in a journal) are called "fragments" for some reason.

Anyway, here is Fragment 1:

They call me the Stray. That's what I am. An animal who ran away from her home. It wasn't my home though. The sprawl is my home. I can feel its fingers reaching upward sometimes. Trying to tear down the sky.
I get my jobs from Guillemet on the grid. This time, he sent me a secure flashline and when I accepted, his thin face showed up. <<Hey, Stray,>> he said. <<Got a jump-job for you. Flash in the pan.>>
"That's what you always say," I said. "Tell me it's better than last time."
<<It's better,>> Guillemet said. <<One point five petabytes.>> I whistled. That's a lot of info.
"Who's the infoman?" I asked.
<<Anon,>> Guillemet said. <<Large score, though, must be a big boy. Database can't work out text patterns, though, so nice security.>> Guillemet is an grid-based artificial intelligence. He can analyze someone's speech and text patterns to identify exactly who they are and what else they've said/written, so matter the scrambler. It's rare to find someone who can fool Guillemet.
"Okay," I said. "I'll take it. Where's the push point?"
<<Ophan,>> he said. <<Not a nice place, but high sec.>> His voice started going out and in, garbled with numerous other voices on the grid. Traffic must have been interfering. Finally, he became clear enough so I could write down the address of the jump job, then he cut out again.
As Guillemet said, Ophan is not a nice place, especially at night. It's a substructure to the sprawl, to Pinnacle City itself, but the architects abandoned it long ago. The continual building of the city stopped in Ophan. It's quiet and sterile.
At the address is a small, squat building. I can see with my grid-goggles that there's power to it - unusual, given that all the buildings around it are powerless. I set up a jump to several rooftops over to get a better view and finally see the opening. There's a door to the side of the building. And a sign:
And underneath was another, smaller sign:
Have You Been Touched By His Tendrils?
I lifted down my grid-goggles and squinted at it. I hadn't heard of this church before, but I wasn't a churchgoing person. Well, whatever the big boy wanted was in there, so I had to start going.
 [This part looks as if it was added later on.]
I could have left, though. I could have stopped what I was doing, refused the job. Something smelled like fish here, but I was lured by the large info I could obtain. I could have turned away, but I didn't.
And so the path was set out before me. The path that would lead, eventually, to the end of everything.

Friday, May 6


My name is Gibson. I'm not much of a blogger - never really had the time or inclination. Then why am I starting this blog? Well, I came across some notebooks kept by my grandmother and found that she had been writing a very interesting story before she passed. I don't know if I can get it published (I haven't even finished reading it, so I don't know yet if it has an ending), but I can certainly share it.

There are six notebooks in total, each filled with my grandmother's tiny scrawl (this is the only indicator that my grandmother wrote them - she has no attribution in the actual text). They read like a journal, but it all takes place in the future, so it's clearly science fiction.

Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to post online and see what the reactions/reviews were.

The story doesn't really have a name, but inside the cover of the first notebook was written "Beware of Faded Giants." So that's what I'll call it: Faded Giants.