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.
"...sex 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.