Oblivion (29)

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Fuuuuuuuuuuk 2048: Cyber Errrth

Emil.i.o. scanned the horizon. The hypercity of Megalopolis shone like an electric jewel next to its sister city, the megacity of Hyperopolis. Smog covered the city streets and the skies above were choked with pollution but the cities themselves were a pair of perfect sparkling neon diamonds. Even surrounded by the environmental devastation of the world around it, the Twin Cities were a sublime sight. A triumph of Man over Nature.

Emil.i.o.’s cyber senses picked up a disturbance coming from behind him. It wasn’t Waste Bandits like the kind he was waiting in ambush for. It was… Emilio?

“Wow, you look fucked up,” Emilio said. Emil.i.o. detected an obscene amount of alcohol on his breath.

“Identify yourself,” Emil.i.o. ordered, arming his wrist cannon.

“Come on. You know me,” Emilio said, grabbing a giant wrench from behind his back.

“Negative. This is impossible. Im-im-impossible,” Emil.i.o. glitched.

“Is it? Or is it… inevitable?” Emilio said, making his eyebrows dance at his self-satisfying quip.

“You have five seconds to surrender before you are executed.”

“Execute this, motherfuuuuu….. oh god. Hold on,” Emilio said, hands on his knees.

“Five. Four. Three.”

Emilio magnetized his wrench, which pulled Emil.i.o. toward him, tripping him and knocking him to the ground.

“Surprise, fuck face!” Emilio said, pouncing on the cyborg.

Emil.i.o.’s right arm was crushed by the assault. Emil.i.o. super heated his chest and pushed the heat through his sternum vent, forcing Emilio back. Emil.i.o. fired his wrist cannon. Emilio blocked it with the wrench. Then, from seemingly out of nowhere, Emilio threw a white crystal blade at Emil.i.o. severing the cannon, and his wrist, from his arm.

“Error. Error. Eeeeee^*#+rrrrr*+*+*+*+*”

Emilio brought the wrench down on Emil.i.o.’s brain case, caving it in like a watermelon.

“Gross computer shit. Fucking… floppy disk motherfucker,” Emilio grumbled as he dragged the meaty part of Emil.i.o. behind him through the wastes.

HELLO? IS ANYONE THERE? 882: Syncro Earrtthh

Julio couldn’t sleep again. Of all the side effects, this was the one that bugged him most. Sleep was his escape. Sleep was his fortress. Now he couldn’t even have that, on top of everything else. It had been a week. A week of classes and training sessions and aptitude tests. His muscles burned and his head ached, but still he couldn’t sail those black seas of Oblivion toward the dreaming world no matter what he did. He couldn’t do this for much longer. Didn’t matter how tough he thought he was, if he couldn’t sleep he was going to die here.

He pulled the pill bottle from under his pillow and rolled it over in his hand.

Septapenedrine. 10 mL.

Green gel capsule.

Once a day for best results. Twice for a good time. Three times if living life from the inside of your skull got too boring.

He’d heard stories about people on this shit. Most of them were nightmarish. Lots of folks ended up as scorch marks on the sides of buildings. Those were the lucky ones. Some people completely lost their minds. There was a famous story a couple years back of a guy who ate another guy while tripping on the pene. The news got it wrong, though, calling him the zombie cannibal killer. He didn’t eat the guy like a mindless zombie. He ate him like a snake. All at once.

Another chick jumped off a building, convinced she could fly. The problem wasn’t that she couldn’t; the police clocked her going Mach 2 at one point. The problem was that she wasn’t very good at it and ended up as a smear of red on the side of a mountain.

It was risky taking this shit. Too fucking risky. But he didn’t have a choice. The answers he needed were here at this stupid school and they didn’t accept normies like him. The most he could he do before the ‘Drine was guess people’s favorite foods. But now… Now he could pretend to be a sync. At least this way he had a chance. That’s what he kept telling himself. He just hoped he had enough septy to last the month. If he couldn’t figure it out by then… well…

He felt a presence downstairs. He didn’t want to rock the boat anymore than he already had, but if it was that ‘Amanda’ girl again… In the end, his curiosity got the better of him and he decided to investigate.

He tiptoed downstairs, looking for the tell-tale sign of a flashlight zipping back and forth. Instead he found the Club President, waving her hands around in some sort of way that could only be described as sacramental or liturgical, if he were a nerd. Her aura glowed bright enough to light the whole downstairs level as she did her work. Julio decided he didn’t care and turned to go back to bed.

“What are you doing out of bed, Mr. Valdez?” Melissa asked.

Julio froze. Then he sighed. “Can’t sleep,” he said, approaching her.

“I’m surprised to hear that. Most people are zonked out after their first week,” she said with a warm smile. She flicked her left wrist, shooting a spray of golden dust at a nearby display case.

“What are you doing?” Julio asked.

“Well, someone has been poking around here at night so I’m strengthening the defenses.”

“This place has defenses?” Julio asked.

“Of course.”

“When were you going to tell me?” Julio asked, exasperated.

“I did. During the orientation tour,” Melissa said, arching an eyebrow.

“Right right,” Julio said, looking away.

“Are you okay, Mr. Valdez?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Answer the question,” she said in a doting, big sister kind of way.

“I don’t know. I’m not used to this place. It’s so crazy here. But, like, it’s crazy all at once? So I don’t really have time to be overwhelmed. I don’t think I’m making any sense.”

“You’re making perfect sense, Mr. Valdez,” Melissa said, smiling again. Too sweet.

Julio wiped his brow and cleared his throat.

“Yeah, well, you know.”

“Uh huh,” she said, holding back a chuckle.

“So what’s here that’s so important, anyway?” Julio asked.

“What do you mean?” Melissa asked.

“Well, you said someone was poking around so obviously that means there’s something here they’re poking around for.”

“An astute observation, Mr. Valdez,” Melissa said, spraying more golden dust. “This clubhouse is full of priceless artifacts. Club Tildi was founded on the principles of Past and Future knowledge. That is why we study the history of the last Technic Age while also creating the next generation of Technic applications. Like the Selector, for example.”

“The spider thing? Someone from Tildi made that?” Julio asked.

“Yes. She created many technologies that governments and private interests the world over use on a regular basis. She’s probably the brightest mind to come out of the Potter School since its founding. Maybe as smart as Caroline Tildi herself.”

Melissa nodded to a portrait hanging over a mantle. It depicted a young woman with ebon hair, thick round glasses, a lab coat and a small mechanical bird on her shoulder. Beneath the portrait, a small plaque which read, Dr. Kelly Kirk. Founder of Tension Motivators Inc.

“So you have old technology… and super advanced technology here?”

“Yes. And old writings. Technical manuals. That sort of thing.”

“Are these things, like, really valuable?” Julio asked.

“Depends on who you ask. To us it’s priceless. For others… well, there are some people who’d pay a lot of money to get their hands on this stuff.”

“How much?” Julio asked.

“Like I said. Depends on who you ask,” Melissa said. She sprayed an arc of gold dust overhead which completed the circle of protection. “There we go. Any pokers coming around here are going to have a real hard time getting through.”

“Cool. Oh, um, I promise I won’t tell anyone about the defenses.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it. They don’t start teaching you the basics of Reinforcing Imbuements until Year Three.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Shouldn’t you be getting back to bed?” Melissa asked, again in a doting sisterly way.

“Um, yeah. I mean, sure. Uh, actually I have a question,” Julio asked.

“Okay.”

“Um… was there a… a big accident last year?” Julio asked.

“There are accidents all the time,” Melissa replied matter-of-factly. Julio’s wide eyed look prompted her to continue. “It’s a hazard of putting a bunch of young syncs in the same place. Weird things happen all the time here. Lots of accidents.”

“Doesn’t that seem, I don’t know, fucked up?” he asked. Her surface thoughts buzzed with activity. Something in his words had triggered a rush of memories. She thought for a moment, then placed her hand on his shoulder.

“It comes with the territory, Julio. But it’s worth it for our education. After we graduate here, we get to go out into the world and make a real difference. Not a lot of people can really say that.”

“Are we making a good difference? Or a bad one?”

“That depends on you.”

She was telling the truth, or at least the truth as she believed it. Hers was a good natured soul, full of warmth and light. And… secrets. Personal. Academic. And floating within that tangled ball of secrets was a bright red strand. Julio recognized that energy. That strand was a clue. The clue he’d been searching for! If he could just reach out and grab it! But already her mind was closing, tucking her deeper thoughts away. He needed to keep her talking. If he could do that, then he’d have it.

“Um, Miss Club President?” Julio asked.

“You can call me Melissa. It’s fine.”

“Right. Melissa. So, um, what’s the deal with the last Technic Age, anyway?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I didn’t pay much attention in school when we covered that topic so I was wondering if you could give me, like, a quick rundown of… um… all of it?”

Melissa’s face lit up. Her inner fan girl came out in full force as she grabbed Julio’s arm and dragged him with her.

“Oh. My. God! I would love to tell you all about it. The transition from the Last Technic Age to the current one is the subject of my major thesis,” she said.

“Ah shit,” Julio mumbled. He hated history. But he had to do this. He needed to know what happened last year and the answer was right there in her head. He just had to snatch the bright red string while she was distracted.

“It all starts here,” Melissa said, standing in front of the purple vellum page from before. Its silver text shone in the low light of her illuminating aura.

“The… codex?” Julio asked, trying to remember the name.

“You got it! The Codex Transitore details the precise moment when our current Technic Age began. That object, the one floating in the center there, is the artifact Arlo the Saint discovered in the centuries old ruin of Maeljanista.”

“Maeljanista?” Julio asked.

“The capitol of the old Maelgan Empire. 1600 years ago, that artifact fell from the heavens, striking at the heart of Maeljanista and devastating that ancient metropolis. They called it a blow from God. That strike was so ruinous, catastrophic and calamitous, that the Earth’s climate shifted for decades afterwards, causing crop failures, mass migration events, and cataclysmic weather disasters. I’m talking biblical stuff here.”

The red string began to push loose. Keep her talking, Julio reminded himself.

“Wait, so are you saying that this… thing here started the Dark Ages?” Julio asked.

“It was one of many factors leading to the time period we call the Dark Ages, but it was certainly a major one. For almost six hundred years, the Maelgan Empire unraveled until it was little more than a puppet state to bigger stronger empires. People dared not venture into the ruined capitol for fear of incurring God’s wrath. Then, about a thousand years ago, Captain Arlo Brukes got separated from his unit. Wandering for days, he stumbled upon the overgrown ruins of Maeljanista. He found the artifact quite by accident and in so doing, changed the course of fate forever.”

The red string began to flail left and right. Almost there.

“Did he know what it was?” Julio asked.

“He had no idea what he was looking at. He was the first person to lay eyes upon the artifact in five centuries. But it was clearly not of this world,” Melissa said, stroking her chin. “He did, however, recognize its essential function. It’s shape, while alien to his sensibilities, was undeniable to a soldier like him.”

Julio squinted. The black artifact didn’t look like anything before, but now he could discern a shape. It looked like…

“Armor?”

“Precisely. It fit on him like a glove. And just like that, Arlo Brukes became Arlo the Saint and the first Cosmic Warrior in history.”

“Wait wait wait. This Arlo guy was a Cosmic Warrior?”

“The first Cosmic Warrior, yes.” She led him to another display case showcasing the earliest Technic prototypes from that era. A crude illustration of Arlo the Saint in his Cosmic Warrior vestments slaying a mighty dragon adorned the top of the case. “With the artifact in tow, Arlo rejoined his unit, who were caught in the midst of a deadly ambush. Newly empowered, he was able to single handedly fend off the barbarian attackers and save his men. He returned home a hero and a celebration was held in his honor by the king.”

The red string was just outside his grasp, awash in a tornado of other memory strings. Closer. Closer!

“So that armor is where we get all of our technology from?” Julio asked.

“Not quite. What it did was allow scholars of the time to work out the basic principles of the various trees of technology we use today, the most important being the transistor. Thanks to Arlo’s teachings, the King’s men were able to advance the fields of chemistry, physics, and engineering to heights that hadn’t been seen since the fall of Maeljanista. Within a century they had fabricated light bulbs, batteries, the first crude steam engines and even mastered the use of gunpowder in warfare.

“I didn’t know any of that. Why the hell aren’t we conquering space right now if we had tech like this all the way back then?”

“About four hundred years ago, great religious wars swept across the Old World which devastated the whole continent of Europa. They lasted for years and years and at the end of it, much of Western Civilization was a smoldering cinder. It took a long time for them to rebuild and it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that our current Technic Age was able to get back on track.” Melissa sighed at the thought. “Who knows what could have been if those wars hadn’t happened.”

Julio reached out with his mind, pushing the other memories away and grabbed the bright red string flapping in the maelstrom of her excited mind. He tugged, but it was stuck. Fuck.

“The Cosmic Warriors, they were the basis for the Sycamore Knights, right?” Julio asked.

“That’s right, Mr. Valdez. Very Good. Yeah, the Order of the Cosmic Warriors were founded upon the death of Arlo the Saint in order to carry on his legacy. They still exist today as the Ordo Mundi Bellatores, though they’re a more ceremonial organization these days. But it was from the Cosmic Warriors that we got the blueprint for the Sycamore Knights, the first all sync law enforcement organization.”

He tugged just a bit harder. Melissa looked over her shoulder, confused.

“Uh, is something wrong?” Julio asked, beads of nervous sweat gathering on his brow.

“No. Just got a weird feeling,” Melissa said.

Ah fuck it.

He grabbed the string with both psychic arms and pulled as hard as he could.

Melissa’s memory ball exploded in a million pieces.

She collapsed face first on the ground.

“Oh. Oh shit. Oh fuck!” Julio hissed.

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