CW: American Balkanization, guns, open carry, racialized paranoia, armed intimidation, combat, mind-body separation, sex trafficking, coerced sex work, deepfake porn, dehumanization, animal masks, organ trafficking, doppelgänger
floes of the wired sweep activity across the globe into delocalized coordinates, continents sunk under the flickers of data until their jagged shores recede like frost on a window, shores melt into the warmth of unseen summers until even the land became these small instances that flashed between the transfer of electric signals such as the ones that sent us to the American frontier whose states formed server spaces out of their bandwidth similar to local bbs systems with their own user types and inhabitants based on sects of Christianity or ideas of American identity from wild west saloons to mortared inner cities. others made their way to that continent to form small communes in the middle plains replicating that american dream of the first discovery of shores and green fields torn out of the turbulent static whose images swayed until they arrived, emerging from the radiant darkness within virtual space as they set up mobile residence cubicles with 9g modems whose antennas spanned out in crosses like hands open towards the signals that crumbled the pieces of the sky until they consumed the vision within internal operating systems, hearing the faint melodies of old songs somewhere out there in the receding glow. There was no longer any past of decorated podiums and marble pantheons as many became the serfs and nomads once regarded with indulgence and longing in this return of the so-called old world unlike the cities within the continent whose streets hardly saw anybody wander them as their emptiness stared at anyone who trespassed it, their reflections warped across the smooth faced buildings as it could soon stain a distant part of another’s world that we can’t access past the surface.
A consultation job for a development of an artificial landmass that carved into grottos underwater rooms whose doorways poured down balcony decks that swirled around the underground complex, the feel of being underwater replicating the sensation of the wired, floating within this blue that stored up all the dreams so far away from us until we only saw ourselves crumple in its oceans or disappear entirely in the sky whose nights serrated off the streets in one of the glamourous cities once known as atlanta. apartments fashioned in grey blocks with cornices, entryways, arches and emblems embossed on them, sometimes catching the sunlight or the flicker of signals around us bathing the streets within the clouds spun from the tires of a sports car, its flat hood undulated to the roof that spread out around the rear engine bay, circular tail-lights blushing across the air as if even the moon in this night could still unveil colours with its rays shot until even the buildings around us glowed slightly from it. people around us parked at the sides of the street in a variety of sports cars and luxury sedans, some lining up to the intersection to pay tribute as its own sign of the cross within its own motorized rhapsody. even those on foot found each other within the smoke that unfurled into their encounters bursting with chance meetings that bathed the commotion of users and inhabitants on the steps or near cars, others making small circles to drink or eat at the curb or on the beach chairs and tables brought outside. In this kaleidoscope of life and intersections between these passersby, did it seem like the beginnings of the wired started here with individuals as a single node whose rays then crossed another and as they gathered in this communion, assured that no matter how far they were, they were always connected and that in the lakes of motion and signals, we appeared somewhere within it for an instant, even as one catches up to a group who slows down and nods to them in approval, another ripple within the weaves of encounter..
I sit on the steps of one of the buildings to watch the festivities, nodding my head to passersby, some raise their bottles or shout towards us and I maintain a soft smile, and i enjoy this momentary appearance in their lives thinking this the kind of formal informality would be nice to inhabit once in a while. viper keeps a constant distance, appalled by the loud displays around him, and despite the insistence from tai shu that it wasn’t high risk, still took to heightened security measures with a concealed alka mod 93 sub-machine gun to which some people around us must have detected, turning towards us while others swung their hand to their sides before i take viper and walk off, only waving towards them. even sitting down, he still got looks from people and as he stared back, they must have appeared momentarily as walking silhouettes that would turn suddenly, snapping his palm into the curve of the grip, as his fingers would find themselves pulling the sub-machine gun’s slab like frame upward until the short barrel faced the target, the muzzle flashing from 120 rounds a minute illuminating its pincer-like iron sights but he only opened and closed his hand, coiled up in silence as the backfires from the lines of cars and whoops from the crowd would close in and he’d spring into this encounter that he’d view as an inevitability like a clock’s rotation that would soon reach the second, exactly like a wind-up toy.
‘hey, can you come here please?’ I sigh to him.
‘I’m only taking security measures.’
‘man, you already had the clients at the underwater district on edge a little.’
‘I read this place has got open carriers everywhere and there’s things they aren’t telling. you can’t be sure.’
‘ayo, these guys are just chillin’ man. it’s nice that they celebrate’
‘have they never considered it being a bother, all this gasoline and noise? None of this would pass where we’re from. They’d have to stay in the wired.’
‘yet people still come here sometimes.’
‘no offense but you’re just a consultant. This is the real world and you have to be on guard at all times. Besides, you, like too many, stay in their rooms and go out via the wired anyway.’
‘yeah, what else you wanna extol on me?’
‘I’m just saying, to be careful of any and all threats’
‘whatever you say spook cowboy,‘
Viper returned to his guarded pose that clutched at him, keeping him at bay with a distance that he could pretend formality, especially optimal for a spray of the sub-machine gun to clear a combat situation that never happened. Especially as a few people join us at the steps. One of them approaches with a wool vest with leather sleeves, a satchel bag strapped at his chest.
‘hey dior-man let me talk to you real quick.’
‘by all means’ i invite him to take a seat as he slides next to me, his friends also sit around me, those at the periphery take glances at viper while I send him messages from our line to hold back.
‘I’ve been seeing y’all around the vicinity on non-client status.’
In this state, visitors originating from the wired were on client status which only allowed them to interact with the areas within their internal os’ but full transfers for consultants needed their own screening process and recommendations from residents. Being under tai shu and with saturna’s own projects done here, they were quick to get us access.
‘you can tell? That’s quite impresseive’
‘it’s a feeling, you don’t give off the feeling of being wired bound. You here right now, same with the snowman back there.’
‘I apologize on his behalf, snowmen get really funny around uh, non-standard climates’
‘non-standard huh? the arctic’s gone years ago, man’s dreaming of a foregone world huh?’
‘don’t let him hear that’
‘I can hear you, you know!’ viper shouts and the group around me parts as I slap my hand his direction.
‘hey man, don’t you know about client confidentiality?’
‘our business is confidential, we don’t have time to be fraternizing’
A girl with curled hair and a blouse with an overcoat pulled down her shoulders rolled her eyes with the shaken heads and sighs of her friends before turning to the one with the satchel.
‘spider, these people got no sense sometimes, we got enough going on with all these client servers and all’
‘yeah man, we just brothers and sisters out here’
‘right…’ he narrowed his eyes.
‘it’s too damn nice of a day you know’ spider said.
‘in any case, you got a lotta visitors out tonight?’ I ask.
‘yeah, well, not full transfers but things still need a handle on as all. lotsa people wanna experience the real and suddenly it’s like it’s on us. there’s a lotta people trying to move here too.’
‘yeah, it’s a complex process i heard’
‘too much, too much’
‘hey’ the girl said. ‘you’re from the consulting group. Outta tai’s?’
‘I know you. saturna talks about you a bit’
‘oh, you know saturna huh? yeah, she mentioned someone who spooled up like a cassette player, turning out gears.’
‘damn, you talk like that and you might as well put me in a museum’
‘hey!’ viper calls. ‘so explain something to me…why do all this here. aren’t there injury risks out in the real world?’
Spider looked to his group before chuckling, the girl pulls her neck to the side and stretches it to both sides.
‘is there enough bandwidth?’
‘sure, it’s looking good’ spider glanced around as the cars blushed through the smoke, some had geometric line decals shot across their doors, others sparkle paint, the signals turning each flake into stars, skies that turned out sports cars, their large rear fenders fell like waves but at a raise of the girl’s fingers, the stairs underneath us glowed until their light carried away all the commotion until the pavement remained in a square as she walked up, wavelengths emit from her palm as the signals dancing of my arm dull slightly as a second version of her appeared, this time with curled hair and grey jacket with stripes but this version of her arrested the signals across her skin as if the various colours flickering eased to their brown hue surfaced out of the blurred spheres of my vision blanched in the concrete melted into the space like fluorescence.
‘yeah, this is something that’s been here for a long time. avatars on the wired that felt like actual people. Things like weight, height, dimensions can be replicated but the real needs a lot of signal strength, hence why your vision might be blurry. Vr had something similar where everything within your peripheral vision isn’t rendered unless you’re looking at it.’
‘I think saturna knew something about this, she had the ability to change bodies on the wired, I saw her do it from the footage of the castle forest raid’
‘you saw that huh? yeah, she did it through disassociating herself, in the feeling, spawning the second body. There’s a calibration process within one’s avatar so having multiple versions to sync up to in an emergency is possible’
‘but this must be difficult to maintain isn’t it?’
‘well, to make these avatars, it takes a lot of concentration to map the different calibrations’
She sat in the middle of the square and even in the wired, her movements while languid did not diminish her presence that stretched beyond into the closed space, unlike the kinds that rendered 2 dimensional schematics that wrapped around my contours. i was in her world beyond just the boundaries where the soft pink ether enveloped us as her eyes saw everything from the faintest ripple in my psycho-sphere as Her own could grasp each nerve or flashes of touch within unseen fingers to arrange them into the structures within the avatars as did the light shone across her knuckle imagining the bone or perhaps inhabiting one’s own body but once I blink, chatter flushed around me, a bosozoku ambassador sedan with a rear spoiler like a popped collar drummed its exhaust notes with backfires and I heard spider talking to viper.
‘so because of the stratification of reality, we figured we could take on this last bit of the earth. it had been a long time since then, you know, seeing things like it’s out of a cartoon.’
‘the real world has limits. This is just a zero sum game’ viper countered.
‘zero sum, yeah there’s some zeros alright amidst the tons of em in the sum of how many people still show up here.’
‘hmph, that’s not indicative of anything. People just flock to whatever new thing there is.’
‘well more importantly, thanks to the wired and reality going their separate ways…it’s like we finally got an exit.’
‘exit? hmph’ viper scoffed but viper shrugged, slapping his hand on his knee before turning to us.
‘aight dacia, I’m done doing educational duty. You done here?’
‘yeah,’ she said before nodding to me. ‘tell saturna we said hello.’
‘yeah, and tell that dude’ he said pointing to viper making sure he knows he’s being referred to. ‘not to watch so many cartoons.’
Viper merely struck up the middle finger to them while they laughed and I waved to them, thinking that in these exchanges, the least I could do was see them off before they entered into the clouds of signals, transferring out to different servers. It was a kind of tribute to all the users that we’ve encountered at that moment, wishing them peace on the wired.
‘these guys.’ Viper shook his head. ‘are we done here?’
‘are we done here?’ I laughed. ‘I know operators say that after their ops or whatever but damn…’
‘laugh it up laugh it up.’
‘alright let’s stick around a bit longer and try to look like you enjoying yourself.’
We walk along the street, users flit through the clouds, swimming through the gasoline mirages radiating from the asphalt as if they swam off the bodies of the cars beside us, a little kei car with full moon and red trees across its side but as I turn, a man steps out in front of me, eyes narrowed towards us, the tail-lights flashed beside him wash off his dark skin like a tide, revealing him with a maroon vest comprised of polygons connected together around his shoulders and under his arms but what strained underneath was obviously some kind of a2 class body armour.
‘you Foxtel, right? detective off eastern continent?’
I look to viper for a moment who only insists I answer him as he steps back to walk to the side, only imagining where he’s gonna place himself, watching for that sudden violence that supposed haunted these streets break out that would prove his reproach.
‘speaking? Is this a telephone conversation?’
‘well we wouldn’t wanna be getting anything we wouldn’t said on tap’
‘what, someone following you around?’
‘call it, nature of confidentiality…’
As we spoke, viper appeared on the steps but the man before me didn’t pay him any mind yet the signals around him tensed, caving slightly around viper whose hands neared his sides in a pose of non-chalance. The man’s fingers curled and like dacia, the signals around me shrank slightly in the virtual space just waiting to pour around us yet the man smirked, his banded dreadlocks at the back of his bald scalp, bobbed slightly.
‘heh, ain’t this some timing, see I was looking for you, got something I need help with.’
‘with what?’ I asked before viper interjected.
‘if you have a case, put it through the forum.’
The man rolled his eyes.
‘damn man, haven’t you heard of client privacy?’
‘you gave it away, those guys back there were checking us out?’
‘nah, I just figure someone interjecting just has no sense, Partna’
‘I ain’t your partna’ I suggest you walk before I make you crawl’.
‘crawl? Sounds like you need a lesson in humility and uh…what’s it they call…mindfulness?’ he turned his head slightly toward viper yet he only kept his hands half open as if holding onto an invisible rope and viper grins. Eyes piqued, I lean to viper, the raised concrete square catches me underneath as I’ve step-transferred behind him as he just grabbed the alka mod 93, yanking his hand to the side, until he toppled to his knee while I press the magazine release, throwing the magazine away before pulling the charging handle that spat the round out of the chamber,
The man slightly closer opened his hand full but in the next moment, light slunk up the steps before the he surfaced in front of viper, rolling him to the ground and I pull back, away from the man’s hook, blocking it with the back of my hand snapping to rotate it in its wing, realizing the density within that wrist, some kind of prosthetic underneath flesh and I seized each vein in my arm channeled in my breath and it gives to this movement, my arm catches his within its flight before we both pull back and I glance behind only to see a hand within the air dissolving into the crumbs of virtual ether.
‘step-transfer and a neija practioner huh? you also got a vp70 and g3ka4 carbine as well’
‘how’d you know this?’
‘this arm conducts signal information. With just a touch, I can get a read on all kinda things. I even know that guy, viper, he’s into all kinds of freaky shit.’
‘data through contact? That sounds like something that’d be a thing here’
‘trust, I got surprises for you.’
‘alright, well, I don’t mind hanging around a bit longer, although I think viper needs to be hung up. he got strung out a little’ I said looking at viper still dazed.
‘aight, maybe the roller coaster was enough for him’
‘roller coaster? I think you gave him a whole drama since he thought he was about to shoot somebody’ I said before I sit up viper and I ask him ‘you alright?’
He sighs and gets up, walking to take his submachine gun, feeding the discarded round into the chamber manually before putting the magazine back in, almost in a demonstration of the technique.
‘You’re lucky kunakida wasn’t here to see this’ he said before disconnecting, transferring himself back to tai shu headquarters.
‘what a guy’ the man said.
‘yeah, he likes to play soldier’
‘man, he’d fit right in in the other states. They really love his kind, you know, tragic figure in pose or whatever’
‘so what’s this case you got for me.’
‘yeah…well. You know with the wired out here, they called it the new sun because after the old climate disasters its rays spread out onto these streets with their blessing, that was the wired and everyone could appear within it for just a moment’
‘like the sky’s the last bit of earth.’
‘mhm…’ he nodded. Within the clouds, manors burned in flames flashing between the headlights as a car swept past doing donuts in the intersection before veiling itself in smoke again. ‘it seemed the apocalypse finally gave us back the world in some way and we wanted to get ourselves together but even in the wired, you notice when things are absent, not in a way that’s normal but leaves things desolate.’
‘a missing persons case’
‘sorta but the thing is, they say they been seeing themselves before they go missing. That’s the only rumour I got.’ he says before he invites me to his server and we walk up the steps to the building, the door slides open and we appear within walls fuzzed with static to which at his touch he could conjure menus in front of us where he spun a matrix of his existing leads, portraits tap across the electric signals before lines connect a list server spaces , one of them floated off the side, an interior loft with an l shaped kitchen and a large common space where residents could lounge at the center to the windows blinking with signal lights.
‘a real estate firm?’
‘they been poaching on the empty rooms left by those missing. But something ain’t right about it. they wouldn’t be purposely kidnapping people to create vacancies.’
‘it’s too obvious, everyone notices things like this. it looks suspicious, but I don’t wanna put that as something that they’d do, as unscrupulous as it may seem.’
‘so why do you need me? am I famous or something?’
‘a little, besides, you provide some invisibility for me. your consultation and material procurement on contract role lets you slip into machinations that I can observe’
‘what like a puppet?’
‘nah, nothing like that. think of it more being like another set of eyes. You see what I can’t see, and I’ll see what you can’t.’
Going out into the real world, feeling out of place in it, I asked saturna once about it watching the sky that seemed so smooth even far away, the wind felt more like distortions, sunlight flitted through the clouds until the warmth receded into a chill no different than the air conditioning unit. she then turned to me, her hair swept with the wind that nearly blew her hat off but she caught it in her hand and smirking, she said.
‘no matter where you are, I’ll be here at the edge of the static’
As she looked at me, there was little verve that trembled as electric signals do on my skin but more of an ebb that allowed us both to stay here and even as we might soon leave, we knew that when we entered the world, the wired or the real, we’d catch each other somewhere out there. The man played with the lattice structure, rearranging them to find any parts that pull from the note on possible sex trafficking networks to inter-state conflict to a note asking about facial recognition patterns, leaving a droplet of fluorescence across his eyes darting between them.
‘hey man, I didn’t catch your name?’
He turned to me and raised his eyebrow.
‘I thought your internal os would be running to tell you that information’
‘I needed to go without it for a bit. over-use is affecting cognition.’
‘hm, sounds like you off balance’
‘maybe a little’
‘well, they call me alleppo’
‘yeah, let’s go with that for now’
Opening the os, I sift through the files, the glow off the windows casted off my eyes until the text strained inside the profile. All of them listed in the hospital.
‘their psyche’s been separated?’
‘yeah, if they gone too long, their psyche might suffer decay creep.’
‘how long we got?’
‘let’s move out then’
‘well, if they got psyches they might chase the bodies next. We’ll look into the sex trafficking part of things.’
‘what are they gonna do? with these psyches? Don’t they tune the sensation based on the avatar? why even bother with other users.’
‘the psyches linger like a ghost, and it breathes in these avatars. Besides, it’s something you’d think they’d have abandoned but they didn’t’
As he mentioned this, I remember during the climate crisis from years ago, there were rumours of villages so destitute that they cobbled together a 9g tower to retreat into the wired, preserving their bodies somehow but this was before the discovery of decay creep. Unable to find refuge, they transferred themselves into their avatars until small pieces of themselves remained in those bodies, bodies people claimed to feel human.
‘so we gotta sift through them? that’s a wide area to cover’
‘the good thing about these is that they have meta data. Matching meta data is the easiest way to find them and narrow the zones.’
‘still using the ancient databasing method?’
‘yeah, this was from the days of silk road’ he said talking of the old days of grey html sites with photo and text attachments, their lack of adornment spoke to a kind of pragmatism, focusing on function way before it became its own aesthetic in minimal designs and sweeping banners under headers. This carried over to the old silk road businesses with tables shrouded in darkness, letting the user enter a place completely cut off from most public bandwidth circles.
Alleppo loads two firearms before him, an hk45 handgun, the rugged slide seated a long slab that bulged out like a shield, the threaded barrel extended out , his fingers seated into the serrations on the grip. After holstering it, he checks a modified akms. An assault rifle with a wooden grip swung out into his hand as he pulls back the charging handle on the side, before it sprang a 7.62x39mm round into the chamber as he grabbed the lipped handguard, wood rolled around the gas tube that lowered itself like a stiletto from a black heel onto the barrel.
‘ayo, take some of these’ he said slapping the back of my shoulder that transferred a few files: a kill-switch chaff grenade, and an exfil thread.
‘I thought these places would have clearance ware.’
‘they will which is why we’ll need dacia to get concealment material. Coating inventory in this stuff will alter its make-up and pass through easy.’ Alleppo says setting up a connection to another server space where a scene of a forest slides over us as if in high speed until the shadows spread out to into darkness sculpted in the radiance of neon light where mannequin limbs lay on the ground.
‘yo! Dacia.’ Alleppo calls and one of the plastic hands on the ground shook before retracting into the wrists of a headless mannequin that walked towards us, the face sculpted itself in the darkness in a blank faced seed like the shell of an insect where the soft neck throbbed under to produce a voice uninhibited by static.
‘sorry I can’t see you two in person. I’m a little busy with something’
‘first I gotta deal with missing people, now I gotta contend with people not being here when I need to talk to em’
‘life as a detective is hard alleppo, you ought to schedule’ dacia said.
‘right, well, we need to check out some silk road areas we’ll need some conceal gel for our inventory’
‘help yourself, there should be some in the back’ she said. in the distance, another mannequin walks up with two vials of translucent syrup that slid down our throats that pinched at the two capsules within it. our minds cleared slightly as I could see the tube of the bulbs the neon emitted from, my inventory nearly non existent as the movement of my steps felt smoother. ‘this should not only hide your inventory for a minute but it should also help with fatigue on the wired and other things. of course, don’t stress yourself too much’
‘those silk road guys will have guys waiting at the wired and at your exfil so be careful’
Alleppo nodded and we transfer out, looking at the metadata to transfer into a plays server which was usually something like a club with glass flower candles illuminating each table in the dark, the other sources of light radiated from the various models, men and women idled taking drinks or having conversations with each other but each would respond once the client entered their radius. This old pickup method was centuries old and this silk road server must have catered to the nostalgia of chance meetings at night where the couples would meet, drinking and heading to either their places or a hotel. Being a consultant made this scene all the more conspicuous as all of us seemed like office workers after a late night looking for some distraction that briefly took us out of the work days in the warm darkness of another, closed eyes and embraces that stained bedsheets, bruised us up in desperation not unlike the sudden jars of recoil from firing a weapon and I thought the real world similar to that kind of force that trembled across the body until it rooted itself into the ground, limbs near weightless floating within the hands that clutched the grip, the trigger the only surface that remained.
meta data scrolled through different individuals that walked in and out of the club until one of them matching the description appeared and approaching her, she smiled and turned to me.
‘hey there, I haven’t seen you around. would you like to drink with lil ol’ me?’
‘that’s why I came here tonight’ I winced a smile before taking a seat next to her.
‘that jacket of yours is interesting. Are you from a mega corp?’
‘I just work for them sometimes’
‘oh! that’s just so freeing isn’t it?’
Viper in this situation would have extolled something about contract work here, both him and this girl seeming like performers in this.
‘hey it’s alright’ she reaches over to my knee, a slight husk in her voice. ‘there’s no one else but us’
As she hovered close to me, there was a warmth in the pulse of her neck, in fact this proximity felt as if the signals that comprised my body, my psycho-silhouette could rest itself somewhere in her flesh that wasn’t like the static that planed into flesh but rather, it was almost a complete incarnation so powerful that every other being around us suddenly became little more than shadows. She then takes my hand.
‘I think we should talk somewhere more private, don’t you think?’
She led me to the exit, green shone from the sign above, us appearing spilled on the metal surface until she opened the door into nothingness. Soon she walked ahead, darkness that lightened into blue from a soft raspberry tearing itself out of the ground and as she walked into its light, her clothes dissolved and she turns towards me, arm concealing her breasts looking shyly away sometimes in an affectation that contrasted her forwardness, also part of the metadata based on the descriptor of ‘shy in non-public situations’ a pluck at the exfil cord within my inventory surfaced just slightly but I conceal it, flattening my nerves by walking towards her.
‘mmm…a gun? So you like that kind of stuff huh?’ she said.
‘n-no…i just have these as personal defense, I guess you can say I’m a little nervous. Mental fluctuation I guess.’
‘I’m not scared. you can cut me, you can even kill me. you can do whatever you want here’ she said in a low sultry voice that becomes a whisper as she blew on my neck. she moved around me almost as if watching her from behind a screen, her touch flattened against it until they left these vague traces across the surface in my mind yet they reached through, , her fingers flattening the lances of signals that coaxed the shape of my face in her hands even as I tried to fortify my psycho-silhouette, but its glow merely warmed her half-lidded eyes, as she moved her hands to flow down my neck that felt, with no exaggeration, real in the way the smoulder of her veins left a coolness around us, her flesh dyed purple in the light as if flickers of past bruises and she lowered us onto the raspberry whose soft beads sank under our knees. When I became a consultant for tai shu, it gave me this model of a person who could drift coolly across servers or the real world, glimpsing them before moving in waltzes between buildings and she leaned forward into me until I couldn’t move, this immobile body docile to her touch that confirmed us as exactly the same being as her, no, as data that made a person that resembled her that only knew how to act within these compromised positions. Throat caught until the next breath activated the kill-switch chaff grenade, pulling the pin as if plucking a flower, a sudden motion, ceasing everything as feathers flew around in the end of a dream.
Signals atrophy and I used the remains of it to slide away from her, and spawn the g3ka4 in my hands, grip cradled my fingers and i extend the collapsible stock until its pick-like heel seated itself in my shoulder and lean into it, taking hold of the grip and handguard. The woman fell back, eyes widened, lips agape in horror spiking while she covered herself. darkness slipped away to unveil various users in animal masks who had the same properties as the woman, half moons shone across their chest, the throbs in them nourished by the necks tightened to siphon blood that coursed throughout their body as they lifted their legs until they stampeded towards me, a tepid heat consumes any ozone that cooled us of these exertions.
With a swing of my arm, I send out several magazines of the g3ka4 sliding across the floor until their spring loaded plates kicked them upright, 7.62 x 51mm rounds sat at the top, sunrises within the night torn by the limbs of the approaching creatures, swinging in pendulums as I breathe out of its swing with the handguard flat against my fingers beamed under the shaft of the g3a3, its rear sight like a tooth as the rounds within were about to engorge into the flesh from the approaching onslaught and swept under their arms, coils of muscles like clouds, the front sight stretches its shadow across the chest of one from the muzzle flash, a 7.62 x 51 mm round drilled through their flesh, detonated into viscera, from their ripped limb, the bullet continued its trajectory to spear another user behind them, the single spoke within the sight’s halo tracing the axis that swam around the pounces of the other users until the air coated in red iron burnt up in the haze of gunpowder, and I’m merely a ghost flitting within their unseen irises from each pull of the trigger and they chased that figure, trying to claw at it but their hands seized nothing as wounds bloomed red petals within the leathery air steeped in the oil of their latex animal faces. My steps, each shot from the g3ka4 weaved a truss of 7.62mm x 51mm rounds that constellated them in smoke unravelling into the silver air, sculpted in the detonations of gunpowder whose light carved torsos, arms and animal heads amidst these expulsions of spilled veins and haggard breaths, the sobs of the woman crouching, trying to hold the heat of her limbs intact much the same as my own hands grasping the battle rifle, the seed of an ejection port bursts into ghastly roots of a world that reduced us to whispers in the choked expulsions of rounds loaded into the chamber, severed flesh blushing the motes within the powdery air cooling as ripples of smoke fall on my skin like snow.
Ejecting the final shell, the g3ka4 locks empty, clawed hands thrust toward me, a horse mask’s snout crushed against the air and I step around them swinging the barrel into their inner knee and the horse head caved, whipping my shin into them, the kick sent them to the ground, before they can stand I rip the charging handle back, pulling the paddle to lock the chamber open and slide the magazine from the ground into the bladed opening of the magwell jutted down the receiver and I slap the paddle, the charging handle slides above the handguard to shove a round in the chamber as the impact reverberates this new found heft into the grip before taking hold of the rifle within the throes of recoil from the 7.62x51mm round shredding through the head of another creature, this infinite distance and these bodies whose little deaths and throbs of life ripple towards us. limbs little more than an instrument as even its leg’s rotation pivots me towards the other beasts gathering. pulling the trigger contracted all movement and I simply eddy amidst the dim arms shattering before me yet heat rose within me like tar wrapped around my legs until I stumble slightly, holding myself still as I dispatch a few more creatures before diving out of the way, hauling myself out of the wake of the flesh peeled back from the bodies rolling beside me tripping from the impact of the 7.62mm x 51mm round upon their centre of mass.
Aleppo had not arrived, the small amount of signals could not facilitate anything like step-transfer or loading more ammunition. strain unwound at my limbs until aches wracked at me. even the g3ka4 would be victim to its recoil in my limp hands but I had to maintain this signal, almost a prayer, something that would form the curvature of my skull and therefore trace the endless turns of this world and even across the wired some grace that pulled from one signal to another. muzzle flashes breathed smoke from the barrel as my fingers twitch out of the pool of recoil enveloped around me until signals wrap under my feet allowing me to haul myself as virtual space spreads around us, surfaces fold into a box around me, the woman and two users within its dimensions. step-transfer propels me away from the chicken mask and the dog mask standing within the sights of the rifle until all lights cut out and I could no longer hear anything but a slight tremor. Soft Muzzle flashes but I couldn’t see any flicker of the users in them, being more of an application of force that throbbed inside this box, only imagining the mechanics within the unseen mechanics of the unseen suppressed rifles whose bursts eviscerated within its range engulfed them into the dust of gunpowder and it seemed this network of smoke was enough to whisk us away, its heat already receding into a warmth that could seemingly hold the world, or better yet ordain it in a netted cradle whose threads all connected somewhere, pulsing rhizome of all the life that we hoped to live in, holding close even amidst the things that break and crumble within it, stars flashing out of discarded shell-casings, their chime tolling throughout space from the unseen collisions on earth.
Light blinks on and alleppo stood amidst the aftermath. Bodies of the users bled on the ground peppered with red dyed petals of flesh torn from 7.62 x39mm rounds. Glancing each side of the box, figures in grey sank behind the surface. Alleppo checked the woman who shuddered to his touch as he placed his hand on her shoulder.
‘you aight?’ he asked.
signals sealed off a triage area that encompassed us. This was something familiar for recon teams back when black-boxing was still common, using these triage structures they could inject themselves in a server space with a kind of structure that could absorb the host’s information and whereabouts should the operator be able to control the space. With the weakened signals, alleppo must have been easily able to take it over with his own psycho-silhouette rendering it impenetrable.
‘you know, I used to live out some of my life in this triage structure. I’d walk but I’d only go so far. Then when I’d touch the surface, all it did was press into my flesh. There was a limit to me in the same way all this data don’t reach anyone. All it does is point…’
‘yeah, things are references. I guess in a way, signals are more than just the pieces of virtual space but our own experiences’
‘somehow, the only thing untouched is this so called human that everyone keeps putting away from the wired. This supposed figure. In this triage space I wondered what that was. Even in the conflicts, I wondered about it too…’
Aleppo put his hand on the wall and glided it off its surface, his iris spread the luminescence apart into twin crescent moons that bounded the night not unlike fluorescent light in my own room that, upon entering the wired, carved the virtual plazas into these familiar public spaces with channels through rooms, booths, tables or even on the steps where users gathered, their connections bounced off each of them in bright rays off their contours glazed in light that already flickered past where we stood amidst it all, dimming just the slightest as they got further away. saturna taught me as I attempted to thrust my strikes, she raised her elbow until these strikes were like retreating umbras to which with the rotations of my limbs and from the receding impacts against them I could slip around and she smiled saying, ‘yes a little bit like that’ where our strikes were forces spreading to each other, emanating off of us.
‘alright, let’s introduce ourselves to the silk road client’
‘hope they got some chairs or something’
‘knowing them, we probably have some lawn chairs out in some bombed out ruins’ alleppo laughed setting up the triage space to send to the hospital while the dimensions of the triage grows in size, speckled in glints off a fluorescent light above drenched the empty room in white.
‘what the hell is this?’ I ask.
‘no bigs, they probably left signal traces, he said as he shared his os with mine, brushing aside white foams until the shadows unveiled familiar looking limbs with fingers, several threads and innards hovered in the air around us until a faint scent of flesh ranked the air. ‘oh shit…’
‘this place, it’s an organ dump.’ I said.
‘fuck…’ alleppo managed uncovering more marks of viscera across the walls and floor, wireframes tracing several carts, preservation jars and cadavers that could incarnate themselves out of the signals into the images of torture livestreams, gore posts and extreme fetish content that stained the wired’s blue light that tattered into scars and viscera that peeled themselves from the static of smooth limbs like pale rivers frothed in red that sent sobs stabbing into one’s chest until it just felt like watching fruit get cut and the endless light burned up figures in its glow just waiting to swallow up everything whether through gunshots or blades, victims simply bowed over after facing a firing squad in a row of constant tragedies under a cyclic sun that we seemingly had to extricate ourselves from until its glow merely grazed our limbs carving themselves from this world even as it permeated into ours, sometimes forming radical splinter groups that would raise entire orders against the wired but merely become nodes. This separation of the user from the activity of the wired was how the psycho-silhouette would be formed within individuals and how things such as atrocity or violence swept over us, leaving its marks or becoming a looming figure that flitted across our light that could grow and manipulate signals around us, our own territories that expanded underneath us and in them, would we begin to understand another. But alleppo merely investigated and I step outside the door, drawing the vp70 , white light dipped atop the stock aiming the machine pistol, an arch ramped into the shaft of the slide until it domed into the hull of the muzzle, the only thing that kept me stable was the sights like staring between buildings. signals sucked onto the wall like sand in undertow while we checked each empty room, the hallway a spine of a milky invertebrate and we white blood cells that navigated its marrow, seizing upon any shadow that encroached upon it, yet the fatigue within my body did not subside as even the pistol in front of melted into black smeared on my vision as I try to force myself to move, climbing out of the maw of this encroaching heat.
Clearing up a moment, shadows emerge out of the wall, two operators in faceless masks bespectacled by spider eyed goggles wearing body armour open fire with sub-machine guns of an unknown make but their long tubed recievers and short barrels with ergonomic grips that slithered into their gloved hands.
Pulling myself into one of the rooms, i lean out to pull the trigger, the burst fire drove the stock in my shoulder but I was on the defensive as this was only a futile attempt to keep them back as they had more than enough ammunition to make an approach. Glancing to the corridor I leaped and a step transfer threw me forward but as I get up, a single bullet embeds itself in my body armour pushing me to the ground, the reaction causing me to pull the trigger of the vp70 as I kept pulling the trigger to unleash burst fire vollies that could push them back, a silhouette appeared momentarily in front before disappearing in smoke as the operator stumbled back into cover as did i.
‘hey, now, you know it’s hard to think with all the noise’ alleppo said walking to the hall with his arms out, the two operators leaned out with their grease guns upon their so willing target yet as they pulled the trigger, the ratatat of their weapons sank into a faint beat as the first bullet whizzed past alleppo but the subsequent hail of 9mm rounds slowed down around him until they melted into orbs of light that shone on his brown face lacking the lustre of an avatar as he walked forward, weaving past the ghastly rails behind the bullets while the operators still fired as if nothing happened but as their weapons locked back empty to reload, they must have thought something amiss or perhaps waited for alleppo to collapse unable to stand against 9mm rounds that should’ve pierced him several times but as one of them turned, alleppo’s psycho-silhouette surrounded them, the first operator taken by surprise, attempted to pull the trigger of his grease gun but his finger only hovered in the air unable to move, alleppo slid his arm underneath the inner elbow and in a single tug, the barrel of the grease gun turned upward. Realizing what was happening, the other operator drew back, signals carved his shape out of alleppo’s grasp as his own movement started to break slip out only for to hear the roar of the .45 acp round that entered his shoulder, tumbling to the ground and alleppo completed his maneuver with his hk45 held askew around the first operator’s head pointed at the doorway whose frame provided all the space he needed to hit his target, grey ribbons unravelled from the threaded barrel as the slide sprung forth again like a sword withdrawn.
syrupy signals around me diminish as alleppo made a call to someone from his os for an extraction but another set of steps approach. Before I could intervene, sliding on the ground in front of the operator, a shotgun blast punts the them to the ground and alleppo held his closed fist in the air as I saw a mannequin holding a Benelli super 90 shotgun, its barrel in its grey hands before disappearing into the white light. sometimes, I thought of a part of my mind that was untouched by the glow of the wired, even the glimmering limbs shorn off or the paling faces, but even then this slow creeping of life from the dying gunman soon tainted this consciousness as if a connection driving itself into me with its final twitches and I could only grasp the vp70m tighter, hoping the polymer could swallow me into a black umbra that could distance myself from everything. Lights stretched into beams that tracked scan-lines across my eyes until darkness met them, an evergrowing heat within me that perhaps my consciousness was trying to crawl out from my contours to cool itself from, the shade within my closed eyes.
‘yo, you good?’ Aleppo sent word to my internal os.
‘yeah…just, need a second.’
Soon, some individuals arrive from alleppo’s vanguard team who stabilized the condition of the operators as alleppo placed his hand on them, gaining any needed information. A familiar face walks up to me and offers their hand.
‘causing trouble out here?’ spider smiles.
‘hardly, I’ve mostly been sitting here.’
‘come on, don’t you know the most guilty parties are the ones not involved in the fighting?’
‘that’s too many tragedies…’
‘no doubt’ he said as he glanced the rooms getting the other units to clear and cordon off the area. Aleppo takes me to the elevator and we head down to the entrance, several g-wagon suv’s whose circular headlight sunk in blocks that stretched into the fenders. Just between them, the large grille sat under the hood, a tapered lid before the windshield, tinted panes along the sides. nearby Toyota land cruiser suv’s with wheel arches like the paws of cats playing with a ball parked alongside them as electric signals breathed users into the air dacia speaking with a few of them but as static foamed on my back a sudden slap on my shoulder jarred me to face a girl in a with a t-shirt over long sleeves and pants with buckles. Her hair may have been tied back but I recognized her nonetheless.
‘saturn…’ I said before realizing that she wouldn’t respond to just a normal greeting, always waiting for me to finish any kind of thought even if it was sudden, although she was probably playing as always, watching me struggle to make stiff long responses. ‘what’d you hit me for? can’t a simple hello suffice or something?’
‘don’t I always dishevel your life a little?’
‘I’m on business’
‘ooookay.’ She shrugged sending me weapon statistics on my os.
‘you always concocting something in the air ma ’ Aleppo nodded.
‘jiang hu means rivers and lakes, and they evaporate in the summer.’
‘yeah, yeah aigh ‘so what you doin’ around here‘
‘well, I heard from viper about what happened to Foxtel and thought I’d visit as all. I didn’t know they were on a case.’
‘oh…’ she said and then looked to alleppo. ‘I suppose even the crimes of the old world still linger, don’t they?’
‘unfortunately. But no regret is gonna lead us out of it that’s for sure.’
‘you’re right about that’ she said before placing her hand on my wrist and whispered ‘I’m here now, don’t worry.’
Soon she enjoined the crowd again but I could catch glimpses of her and that even on the wired, she flickered within it like an illusion but in the moments she disappeared, her breath still lingered there before her next appearance. We walked over to alleppo’s car, a rear engine sports car, sleek hood between long rolls where the headlights sat at the end, a tall windshield leaned on the slope of a glass triangle at the tip of the slanted window before the roof. Before we could slip in, someone approaches us with a sony video camera with the fold out display and I could already imagine us in its overbright screen, the jittery motions that people claimed real.
‘excuse me…you’re the military man? Mr. Aleppo?’
‘sorry man, I’m a little busy.’
Before I could call saturna on internal os, Aleppo sends a message cutting a quick glance.
‘I saw them approaching. You wouldn’t be present for an art exhibit?’
Stepping forward with enough electric signals to catch me, I appear before the reporter my hands near my thigh holster and I approach slowly.
‘he said he wasn’t interested in commenting, this is not a discussion.’
‘why? Is he hiding something?’
‘better question, why are you here.’
‘is that alertness? Is there a combat sitch in there? Why is this area constantly hiding its violence? perhaps someone should intervene?’
Realizing what he was doing, i found myself more alone as this reporter waited for me to further serve his intended purpose that even on the wired felt thick and swarming but instead, my lips close, a smirk that held itself so they could see what they wanted to see.
‘you do realize how I closed the distance between us just now? Think about what I can do to you right now. That camera has weight to it, even in a self defense scenario. all I have to do is either get close or get far enough away.’
threatening me? what do you think you'll get out of that huh? unruly behaviour must be a common trait here isn't it? this place needs proper order to sustain its business interests ' he said as he peered into his camera and i must've appeared that antagonistic, that self within the display but before I could do anything, a young Vietnamese man in a loose white jersey threw his arm around the reporter.
‘hey! You made it! I wanted to show you something!’
Despite the protests of the reporter, he was quickly shoved away to some distant bloom of light from the sculptures around the front of the apartment complex and dacia followed pointing at her eye, before flicking her finger to point at us and I simply nod, these several glances we appeared in hoping that in a few them, we would be a part of us that we hoped to be.
sparkles of electric signals left a faint mist, not enough to materialize anything but enough to keep personal interfaces active. despite this, around the corner, I see a bulge in the air parted in the middle, contracting slightly like a whisper, and two ovaloid shapes bore out of the light frequency and a mouth opens yet before I can even think to do anything, it disappears, and my hand already reached for the thigh holster which Aleppo looked over.
‘yo you good?’
‘I thought I saw something, like a face’
‘hm…’ he said watching but nothing appears in the same spot but he enters the car as I send him the faint image off direct retinal capture. rear engines rattled, its high whinny roared from the pistons until it became pure motion that allowed us to fly through the streets.
‘sorry about all that.’ I said to aleppo regarding the reporter.
‘nah, it happens…we just ought to be careful about how we’re perceived, even as we show out, someone’s gonna get in our face about it, using it as an excuse to pry into this place. that’s why this place is so strict on visitors. we’ve already seen enough people trying to cause a scene. Now that we have this internal problem, it makes things more difficult. We can’t even track this dude or who is leaking a backdoor.’
‘yeah, I can imagine. Being put on public like that is subject to a lot of things. the wired especially’
‘well, with the wired, the creation of this kinda server state was like a dream you know? like the irradiated skies where we could actually live how we wanted, be perceived in the way that we need to be. that was what it was all about, not to be a world that simply just stared down at us getting handled over and over. It’s like we kinda got our own personhood back you know, only took a whole change in reality to do that.’
Even as I entered the real world, there always seemed a part of us that ran amok somewhere causing all kinds of malice in other people’s worlds, the parts of us we left with them but in this car I hoped somehow, we could cross through these distances between people in full even if we didn’t know what we wanted to be yet, but something that assured us that they’d be near whether in these buildings sifted through us or the nodes across the electric signal dripped on the window as if its own kind of touch.
radiated from a single rail of a signal generator behind wall panels light spilled onto brown tinted surface, the restrained glow emitted enough signals to operate simple interfaces within the hospital’s corridor. Many facilities were converted to host servers which were already based on the designs of public plazas. This conversion was done through replacing materials with signal conductive polymers, transmission beams and trusses within the walls until they webbed beneath these surfaces, these facilities maintained a sheen from the virtual spaces flickering in the signals bathing these halls and those of us that remained in the empty spaces between these beams, between these transfers that glinted from the table sattelites. i remembered reading about hospitals and offices having a similar neutrality and clinical nature with grey-blue tiles, white desks, palettes out of cubicle panels where administrators and doctors sat with desktop monitors storing patient records, hosting customers and patients alike. Perhaps, this corridor too was a leftover of that age with its light, our steps bathed in this white river but the glow couldn’t reach the vertices of each panel, shadows of the earth crept at the vertices, or better yet serrated contours of frequencies around this flow of signals.
we get to the door of the patient room and alleppo places his hand on it, tracing a sigil and patching into its comms, saying he’s here to ask a few questions from the vanguard team, we walk through a field as if we came from the soil and this was the world we could bloom into with grasses hardly resting from the wind’s throes, the woman from the silk road server stands there, wind blowing her blazer cuffs around her wrists,
‘man, can’t someone think of something original in these patient rooms?’ Aleppo glanced at his surroundings only to see holographic Van Gogh flowers with the brush strokes subtly shifting, the large afternoon blue glowing in his eyes.
‘hey…’ the woman greeted and i only nodded to her, maintaining some professional distance.
‘my name’s alleppo, this is Foxtel. I’m from the vanguard team. Can we ask some questions?’
She only looked away and nodded, I could only imagine how little she wanted to appear to anyone after seeing how her body was used in the silk road server, only having whatever she could hold on to in the real world, its solemnity and perishability of her flesh assuring herself it’s the only one of her.
‘what did you see before you were abducted.’
‘I saw someone who looked like me. it wasn’t possible but it felt real. I chased them into a room but after that, I was in darkness. I saw a face of a being that looked like this.’
She forwarded direct retinal capture and in the darkness hovered the face and it was no doubt the same face I glimpsed earlier after intimidating the reporter.
‘alright, that’s all we’ll ask.’
‘yeah. I imagine you want some time to recover. We’ve already disturbed you enough anyway.’ Alleppo wrapped up but the woman’s voice caught, her question hovered in the air.
‘are there others…?’
‘…yeah…but we’re getting to it.’
‘okay…’ she said.
‘you got friends to see you soon?’
‘good’ I said and I hoped that this was enough to assure her as I go with alleppo to the exit. At the car, I check the chamber of the vp70m machine pistol before setting it in the stock holster at my thigh.
‘that face appearing is something we gotta look into. no doubt.’
‘yeah, but it doesn’t look like its linked to an avatar, it doesn’t even have any material’
‘yeah, that’s the hard part. Well I’ll get vanguard teams to look for the recent missing people but that’s only half of it.’
‘what’s the other half’
‘we gotta consult one of the churches on this one’
‘yeah, because if there’s psyches that are facing decay creep or a user that can’t be tracked, we might have to enter the afterlives , someone might know.’
‘alright, so what do we do now?’
‘same thing, keep the thread open and I’ll come to you. but whoever they’ll copy, we’ll need to stay ready and apprehend.’
‘alright, keep me updated’
Walking the street, arches emboss the entrances of the grey buildings as if an old world encased in a block of fog where distant cars ebbed between the conversations beyond until they spilled out from around the corner, passersby threw a glance, a remote glint of light off their eye before they rotate back into the waves of the crowd, and in those seconds their faces seemed like statues carved out of static and passing each intersection, a different face appeared just outside this street that stitched the gatherings here over a wound that parted between the tire smoke, the flashes of red lights almost a kind of heartbeat and the distant users hoping to touch upon these rough expulsions of life around them. as I looked over a figure stood in front of me, rays of signal lights shining around their silhouette almost like a keyhole but soon it grew sleeves from a long foxhound jacket and as I peer into its face, my contours seize themselves as if to confirm the curvatures of my vision, staring at my own eyes, the slightest crease within the jacket sleeves as my nerves rush into the thigh holster, finger pulls the trigger of the vp70 until it was only us within the light of the muzzle flashes, recoil dissipates into us until we become mere motion gliding amidst the concrete.