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?