third installment into my cyberpunk/sci-fi universe
I : a rainy day in heaven
“It’s a simple fact that first impressions matter; don’t let circumstances dictate who you’ll become! Everywhere in life you’ll find people judging you based on appearance and intelligence, speech, etiquette, and other factors.
“Don’t give anyone an opportunity to judge you—or your loved ones—negatively: visit EGO on the Net, or at a location nearest you on the colonies to learn about our life-quality improvement services, that include: gene therapy, cybernetic implants & transplants, brain augmentation, and many more services. Tell an associate about this ad, and receive exclusive APR financing on a fifty-year loan for gene modification and enhancement for your future custom babies: give them the best life possible!”
The conventionally handsome man smiled—tall and clean shaven, in business attire—and stood next to a conventionally beautiful woman—also in business dress—and two children, who also beamed smiles from the screen. Raven hurried past the advertisement while composing a message to her Net friend.
She spoke contemptuously. “You’ll like this ad. Remember the City Circle Massacre?”
She sent the message as she pushed her way through the commuters on the walkway.
Tengoku1 was a Net metropolis that saw traffic in excess of one-hundred-thirty-billion people a day. People disconnected and came here for their business deals and careers; they came here to try to make any kind of future that was possible for them. A lot of people came here to get lost in the out of way places that catered to the interests and indiscretions of a virtual civilization. Corporate superstructures ran upwards, breaking through the dark rain clouds and far beyond what the eyes could see. The pixel-gray cloud canvas alternated occasional advertisements for games, vehicles, bots, restaurants, and other popular products and services.
The avenue walkways were filled with people and bots, and above them were floating highways that wrapped around superstructure storefronts and displays—glass and steel valleys and mountains that pulsed to interactions of commerce. People and vehicles streamed to and from buildings and up and down the walkways and highways while the digital rain poured down. The streams of commuters glowed in a multicolored array of HUDs2—notifications, messages, data exchange: the lifeblood of Tengoku was information.
The digital rain was just the result of weather simulation, so the commuters never got wet. Raven walked past another store display that blared out electronic music; the refined voice of a man narrated:
“Yuki-hyaku3 is a revolutionary servobot4 that will simplify your hectic life. Functions include errand-running, messaging, cooking, cleaning, tutoring, and chauffeuring; completely customizable and variable-gender. Disconnect capabilities standard. Limited supply. Schedule a consultation with a Digitech representative to build your Yuki-hyaku.”
Raven was on a job for a client. Net crime and Rogue activity on the level that she operated at would likely get her killed, or blacklisted by Enforcers, if she got caught. She spent most of her time on the Net, and was an expert on vicarious forms of crime. She preferred to do her work by hacking bots and controlling them for tasks. Or, she’d use one of her own, if the job called for it. But that was trickier: if the encryption was broken and the ID spoofing of the bot was uncovered, Enforcers could trace the bot back to the real, and that was game over.
An icon flashed on her HUD and she prompted the message to display.
Envy: Yes, love. I remember you telling me about the Circle Massacre. A gene-designed perfect girl didn’t live up to her parents’ expectations; performed two per cent lower than the threshold on the outgoing university exam—did less than expected from what her parents designed her to perform at when she was nothing but a bundle of chromosomes. The poor girl went on a rampage in City Circle with a stolen military assault weapon and killed ninety-three people. That’s quite the question, isn’t it? When you’re designed to be perfect, what happens when you don’t meet those expectations? I suppose I would know better than most. Ah, the weight of expectations—so burdensome. Meet me at Hikari’s5 when you’re done. I’ve got to talk to you. Oh—lovely ad, by the way. It reminds me of my childhood days. Bright days those were.
The message window closed. Raven didn’t keep friends; Envy was the closest thing to a friend that she had. He considered it a friendship, but he had a tendency to be more positive than she was. Raven saw him as a convenient source of reliable information jobs. She was much more amiable with her bots than she was with other people. Bots, she figured, couldn’t betray you because they didn’t have it in their programming. People, from her experiences, weren’t reliable in the long-run and couldn’t be trusted in the line of work that she was in. She was already bound to Phoenix, and the last thing she wanted was to be killed, or further penalized by being thrown into one of the pits of despair that were prison facilities on Phoenix.
Her job, one that she had taken from Envy, was to access the database—through the secure network—of the Unmei6 Corporation. She needed to find a specific program within that database, and get out before security quarantined the area. It was evident that this job higher priority than a simple data-grab.
The Unmei Corporation held a defense contract with the government. They developed bot operating systems, cybernetics, and weapons for enforcers; they also developed classified military-grade technology. Breaking into a government-supported facility was suicide for most people, but she saw this as a test. Taking security head-on wouldn’t be viable—so she’d have to find a more discreet means of getting to the database. The fact that this was a defense contractor meant that Enforcers would be present. Raven never tried to take on Enforcers, and before this job, she never had a reason to remain in the vicinity of Enforcers.
She stood before the entrance of the Unmei Corporation. The wind rustled her black jacket and dark matte-blue hair; commuters streamed past her. The building was a typical corporate superstructure; she’d have to locate the database on one of the probable two thousand floors. A Yarou-sama7 ran up and barked at her before the owner signaled it away.
Her olive-colored pants were worn and tattered. Given that this was the Net, she could’ve worn any other attire, but she liked worn out things—things that weren’t flawless—frays and rips had character, she thought. She signaled off her jacket to reveal her charcoal gray tank top that showed the tattoos that covered her body; images of demons and lost souls in the afterlife.
She checked the area to be certain that no one else was entering the building before she approached the entrance. Once there, an automated greeting welcomed her, “Welcome to Unmei, Thomas.”
Thomas was the best level of clearance she could obtain from her attempts at ID capture; staff with higher level clearance had additional biometric verification processes that Raven couldn’t steal, or duplicate. The lobby was vast and lined with glass walls—a large fountain, that held a chiseled stone Unmei corporate logo, stood just beyond the entrance. Stairs led up to the reception center. Raven walked over to a pillar and typed commands into the terminal located on her left arm. She took on the appearance of a grey-suited and brown-haired businessman.
Under the disguise of Thomas, a bot Operating Systems Development Manager, she proceeded to the reception area. A bot at the reception desk welcomed her. “Good evening, Thomas. Is there anything I can help you with today?”
“No thanks. I’m just checking development progress on a project.”
“Have a wonderful evening, Thomas.”
She was going to need to find a networked terminal to access the schematics of the building. Security would have appropriate clearance. At the security office, at the northeastern end of the building, another bot stood at a terminal. Raven sat on chair in the lobby and pretended to be accessing a message. She typed more commands into her terminal, and the security bot was now under her control. She accessed the networked terminal and began typing more commands through the bot.
She saved a copy of the schematics and began running through them. The database was located at the center of the building, but she was going to need clearance to access it. Simple access codes weren’t going to get her in this time. Unmei had to be audited by the military in order to qualify as a defense contractor. Raven was going to need to need biometric verification—in addition to a random access code, generated from a PAN8 that had clearance—to get into the database room. She knew that she had few options.
The database existed on a separate and secure network from the primary corporate network. She knew that when she took the job, but she underestimated how layered security was.
It was past business hours, and she needed it to be this way—if more staff were in the building, response to the inevitable security trigger would be too soon for her to get the program and escape. IT9 personnel would need per-basis clearance from an executive to gain access. During these hours, only officer-ranked Enforcers would have access to the database room.
She was going to have to abandon the job, force a high-ranking Enforcer to access the database room, or coerce a member of IT into convincing an executive that it was necessary for them to acquire access.
She muttered to herself, “Social-engineering, strong-arm, or give up?”
Raven didn’t abandon jobs. She wasn’t going to be able to intimidate an Enforcer, and there wasn’t any way she could harm one of them on the Net. She had a plan, but now she needed to find a viable member of IT to execute it, but her window to execute the plan would be small.
Looking over the schematics, she located the IT office on the Eighteenth-Hundred floor. There were Twenty-Three Hundred floors total, and she would have about ten minutes after her contact with IT to find an officer-ranked Enforcer, get to floor Eleven-Hundred-Fifty, gain access to the database room, and hack the database.
Once she accesses the database with insufficient privileges, security will trigger, and every Enforcer and security personnel in the building will make their way to the database room. After ten minutes, the security response would be heightened, and there’d be no escape.
She smiled slightly. “Suicide mission.”
The most probable place to find Enforcers would be on the Research and Development floors. Certain of her plan, she stood up and walked towards the elevators.
I.two : outcome engineering
Floor Eighteen-Hundred was an open space that was lined with aisles of maintenance bots and servers for non-classified data. The servers droned ever-constantly, and the cooling system chilled the air; the bots carried out general maintenance without regard for Raven, who made her way to the adjacent IT office.
At the last aisle before the office, Raven took cover; she typed commands into her terminal and scanned the two IT personnel that were just beyond the glass wall. After reviewing their IDs and clearances, she snuck into the office, and hid.
One of the personnel, a man with an orange faux-hawk and glasses, spoke emphatically. “Look, Katie, I’m just saying that we’ve all got no damned objective in this great big mess of a civilization. Look at what we’re doing as a species. We’re just out there searching and gathering resources, so we can do what? Half of our species just wastes their lives away on the net—the other half is involved in our massive fucking around in space. What’s the great plan for us as a species?
“What’re our immediate goals? The continuance of the family system—so the next generation can do the same shit we’re doing, so the generation after can do the same thing? Gods—where is the meaning in any of this?”
Katie rolled her eyes. “You could always kill yourself. Life is what you make of it. It’s really that simple. If you want to steer the course of humanity, perhaps you shouldn’t be working in this particular career field, Mark?”
Mark sat back in his chair and laughed loudly. “Hah! Does it look like I work? R&R on company time. That’s how I roll. No point to any of it, anyway. All this defense bullshit—they’re so neurotic they’ve gotta try to micro-manage the lives of everyone and everything. I bet the assholes are listening right now.”
Katie’s hair was blonde; she adjusted her glasses, and responded. “Well, can you put your vacation on hold and help me finish up these maintenance checks? I need to leave as soon as my shift ends because I’m going to watch “The Massacrist,” with Abaddon.”
Mark made a goofy face. “Oooohhhh! Abaddon—so big and tough! What’s with you broads and uniform fetishes? That Abaddon dude is a jerk. He wants to do some “enforcing” on you—know what I mean? I think I’m going to become an Enforcer. I’m going to go by the name “Annihilator.” I’ll have women swooni—“
“Excuse me.” Raven interrupted.
Katie turned around to find Thomas standing behind them. “Sir, can we help you with anything?”
“I think these are malfunctioning, so, I need to test them. Play a game with me?” Raven asked.
She handed a pair of large dice to Mark and Katie.
In that instant, both of them vanished. The dice broke their login to the Net; the “severance package” as Raven called it, was programmed to mimic a junk-information10 attack that was pinned on the target user. The system would force log off the target user and prevent them from disconnecting to the Net during the cool-down period of ten minutes. Raven had assigned a persistent dummy ID to Katie that would last for the duration, while she borrowed her ID and appearance for the hacking.
Under the disguise of Katie, Raven hurried back to the elevator. The R&D floors were located on floors four-hundred through four-hundred-ten; officers were most likely located on weapons testing, floor four-hundred-seven.
The Weapons testing floor was designed as a large corridor lined with glass-walled rooms that served various functions, from firing ranges to combat simulation courses. Raven scanned the area for an officer enforcer, but she only saw the black heavy-armor of enlisted Enforcers. Her heart began to race; every experience with Enforcers in her career up to this point had always involved her escaping from them. She was sure of her ID spoofing and ability, but her gut instinct told her to run. She closed her eyes briefly while she found her resolve, and proceeded into the room.
She made herself look busy while avoiding eye contact with each Enforcer that she walked past. Every step felt deliberate. She only saw the enlisted Enforcers. The clock was ticking; as far as she could discern, there were at least twenty Enforcers on this floor. When Katie and Mark were able to log back on, they’d alert security and every Enforcer on this floor, throughout the building, and from a heightened response team, will be searching for Raven. She needed to find an officer as quickly as possible.
Raven picked an Enforcer and ran up to him, with a worried look on her face. “Hi! I realized that I didn’t run all of the maintenance checks on yesterday’s database records; the executives are going to be very angry with me, and I’m supposed to go to the theatre with Abaddon tonight; I need to leave as soon as I am able to. Please help!”
Raven continued with her impression of a worried Katie. The Enforcer acknowledged. “Don’t worry, doll. I’ll ask Oni11. If Abaddon isn’t happy, he’s going to make our lives miserable.”
Six minutes. The Enforcer radioed Oni, an officer Enforcer. “Ma’am, Abaddon’s girl needs access to the database room. Says she needs to check the records from yesterday, and that she needs to do it now ‘cause she’s got a date with him soon.”
After a moment, the Enforcer winked at Raven. “Doll, Oni says she’ll meet you at the database room. Go get your work done and make Abaddon happy for us, I’m beggin’ ya. I’m just hoping he doesn’t go on his man-period this month. It ain’t easy having to take orders from someone else all the time. Especially if that someone is a moody guy, like Abaddon.”
Three minutes. Oni had black hair with two pigtails. She wore a large katana on her back and two wakizashi12 at the base of her spine.
Oni focused her large brown eyes on Raven. “Hey, listen. I’m getting my weapons frequency attuned13 again, because they’re still not cutting as well as I want them to. If you need me, contact me directly this time.”
The database room ran fifty yards in length. Rows of overflow servers ran up to the main database server, which sat at the far end of room. The mainframe hung from the ceiling, and was in the configuration of an inverted cone, comprised of three tiers. Data-feed screens encompassed the lower tier of the server. Raven had two minutes.
She hurried over to the server, and typed at her terminal, and a bot wearing a tuxedo materialized next to her. The bot was designed to look like an older man, with a gray moustache.
It turned its head to her and spoke. “Manfried is at your service, Madame. What do you require assistance with today?”
Raven walked over to the mainframe, and stopped. “Access restriction. You’re going to construct and maintain a layered firewall. I want you to alert me the moment the firewall begins to fail. There’s going to be a ton of hostiles—that firewall is your highest priority.”
She typed at her terminal, and Manfried walked over to the entrance of the room; he held his hand up, and a red barrier was formed in the shape of the door. “The Firewall is ready, Madame.”
Raven paused for a moment, to think. “No. Not enough.” She entered more commands and a bot with long, black braided hair, black lipstick and eye shadow, a tattered black Victorian-fashioned dress that went to mid-thigh, torn stockings, and knee-high combat boots appeared. The bot stood motionless.
After more commands, the bot started towards the entrance while speaking, “Understood. Marionette will assist.”
Raven looked at one of the screens, and made a gesture. A keyboard display appeared before her, and she started typing.
And then, the alarm sounded.
Her heart was racing. There was a first time for everything, she thought; but she never imagined she’d be fending off a building full of Enforcers the very first time she decided to stand her ground.
The database password was easy for Raven to bypass, and she had access to the files. Envy had given her the name of the program she was looking for: “Soul Purge.”
The database door opened and an Enforcer slammed against the firewall.
“What the—“ he exclaimed, before raising his rifle to the firewall and began firing.
“Firewall is holding, Madame.” Stated Manfried.
More Enforcers were arriving. “Quarantine the entire goddamned block!” One of them yelled.
Her hands were trembling, but she navigated the database without mistakes. The gathering Enforcers were trying to brute-force their way through the firewall. Manfried and Marionette stood before the horde of Enforcers, seemingly undaunted.
“Madame. At the current rate, the barrier is sustainable for thirty more seconds. Perhaps a contingency plan is in order? However, I do not believe Marionette is assisting as well as she is capable of.” Manfried glanced at Marionette, who was at his side, and then turned up his nose.
Raven’s eyes were focused on the datafeed. She responded. “Both of you, get out of here once the firewall is no longer sustainable.” She hit a button on the terminal access on her left arm.
The database room was filled with the deafening explosions from the barrage of focused firepower on the barrier. The entire block of Tengoku that held the Unmei building would now be quarantined; no one would able to log off, or leave, until the Enforcers lifted the quarantine order.
Raven’s Katie disguise vanished; that meant that the IT personnel were back online and the security response team would be arriving shortly.
Raven heard Oni shouting for an ID trace. She obscured herself from the view of the enforcers. She smiled as she located the program. After more commands at her arm terminal, a mech14 that stood about ten-feet tall appeared behind her. On the front of the mech was a cartoon drawing of a pup with x’ed out eyes, and tongue sticking out. The text next to the image read, “Puppy-Killer.”15
The barrier went down and Manfried and Marionette disappeared. At that instant, the horde stormed into the room. Raven jumped into the pilot’s seat of the mech and fired smoke bombs before the oncoming horde.
Oni rushed through the smoke, unfazed. She yelled, “Arrogant girl! You’re going to get yourself killed!” But as she exited the smoke screen, an explosion stopped her in her tracks. Raven had used the mech to blast a hole in the wall of building. Oni started forward again, but the mech leapt through the blast-hole, eleven-hundred-and-fifty floors up, and into the rainy night of Tengoku.
I.three : the flight of the black bird
Now it was matter of discretion. Raven pretended to look at data screen on her HUD as a group of Enforcers slowly walked by, scanning the crowd.
“Hey, assholes. Go get real jobs. You’re holding me up here and I have business to do!” Quipped a commuter.
“Taxes aren’t enough. Now they want more of our time.” Stated another snarky commuter.
Once the Enforcers walked past her, she started through the crowds towards the transit terminal. She was going to have to leave the district the old-fashioned way. Once the quarantine was lifted, the Enforcers would be monitoring the access logs and tracking IDs that signed off from the quarantine area within a given timeframe.
Small Enforcement airships hovered over the crowds and emitted scanning lasers to log and review the crowd IDs. Security was tighter than Raven had anticipated, but she was confident that they didn’t have a profile on who they were looking for.
Time seemed to slow down; she imagined that she could feel each drop of rain that hit her skin, magnified, and cleansing her of emotion. She came to a stop amidst the crowd and closed her eyes. Taking a breath, she focused away the noise of the complaining crowd. She heard the beating of her racing heart, and felt it as it pounded against her chest.
She opened her eyes once again to see a dripping-wet canvas of life. She saw glowing reds, blues, yellows; ever-persistent in their chromatic waltz. She felt a symphony of the pulse of civilization; and listened to the narratives of lives around her.
She took another breath.
Looking up, she saw the rainy night sky fading to light. The mirrored-faced superstructures acted as witnesses in testament to a new day in their reflections. She felt the dawn winds sweep around her. Closing her eyes, she listened again.
The quarantine was lifted.
II : waiting for life
Hikari’s was an arcade and store owned by Envy that many disenfranchised people frequented. Escaping the world was an industry, and people tended find their flavor of distraction and stick to it out of habit. The constant noise and rapid-paced visual distractions offered them reprieve from having to think about reality.
Envy and Raven were on the rooftop promenade that connected the arcade to other buildings in the Yume16 district of Tengoku. Envy wore a black suit, and was a neatly-groomed and handsome man. He leaned against the railing that was overlooking the city below, with the sun glinting off of the buildings just across the highway. High-tempo music from below them, inside the arcade, occasionally shook the rooftop
Looking at the commuters and people on the highways and walkways, Envy spoke. “Humans are a peculiar species, aren’t we? I like coming here to ground myself, sometimes. Everyone likes to look down on the hikikomori,17 playing those games, downstairs. But coming here reminds me that we’re all ill-perceived, in some way. Without them, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
Envy was an intelligence operator. He connected clients who needed information, or jobs done, to people who were willing to take the risks in exchange for compensation. Raven started working with Envy after he was referred through word-of-mouth by other Rogues. He only worked with people he trusted, and Raven was quick to gain his. She wasn’t much of a person to put on theatrics, and was always straight-forward; Envy valued that honesty in a duplicitous world.
Raven agreed. “It’s a pretty cozy operation you’ve got here. No one cares about hikikomori enough to suspect them of being complicit in a crime ring, and you get to harvest them for information and clients. I think you might be worse than they are.”
Envy looked at a passing-by woman with neon green hair, and spoke. “We’re all worse than we’d like to think ourselves to be. Why are you in this field, Raven? You can’t tell me you do it just because it pays well—no. You get something more out of it. I don’t picture you ever becoming some prim woman walking from store to store with her shopping bags. You love to fight. Something in your past?”
Raven said dismissively, “You know that pasts don’t matter.”
“You’ve much to learn in this life, love. You are the person you are today because of your past. Our personalities—who we are—are the culmination of memory of experiences and responses to those experiences.” Envy smiled at a doe-eyed woman who was staring at him from across the promenade. “I was engineered to be perfect—and I was disowned by my parents when I started to develop my…preferences. Can we ever fight who are? Love, I spent many sleepless nights in my past wondering who I was, and why I couldn’t fit into the world, like all of the normal people that were around me.
“These broken people, look. We’re in simulated reality, and even here they run from it.” Envy motioned downward below, to the arcade. “They’re running from their lives. Who they are. They let the world tell them who’ll they’ll be, and if the world told them they weren’t good enough, they hid. They’re content to give up their lives because they see no place for themselves in the world.
“The beauty of people—of personality and identity—is that no matter how much we pretend to be what society wants from us, our genuine selves can’t be extinguished. One day, we’ll be free to be ourselves. Imagine civilization on that day.”
Raven was leaning against the rail, and had her eyes closed, imagining that she was experiencing the heat of the sun on the rooftop. “But, we can’t let the past dictate who we are.”
“Look at this.” Envy handed a locket to Raven. “That’s a photo of my parents. It’s about choices. The world can spit upon us and stomp on us and break us—if we let it—but if we have it in us, we’ll always stand again to face it. Some people let themselves be guided just as much as some will decide to hide from circumstances. At the end of it all, will we continue to hate ourselves for our emotions?
“My parents expected the world from me, and when I didn’t fit their definition of perfect; I was no good to them. I was orphaned, and they designed another child. That’s the reality of it—I was a throwaway failed thing.
“But—I don’t hate them for it. We’re all playing along to what the world wants from us. Under better circumstances, I might have been a more suitable set of ideas for them. But, they’re just as much victims of the expectations of society as I am, and you are.”
Raven looked at a group of hikikomori coming up from the arcade down below. “But, people are weak. Some people can’t help but break under their circumstances. The past is just information memory and it means nothing in determination of the future, if you don’t want it to. Why be held captive to just memories? Why regard the abstract standards of a society that operates under the pretense of objectivity?”
Envy looked out and onto the streets of Tengoku. “That’s because we’re human. Love, we’re not machines. It isn’t just information. What makes us human is emotion and memory. Save the logic and information for the machines. What connects you and I to this world of ours? By chance of mere information and memory retention, we should all be content to exist and live as machines, but there’s more to it—there’s got to be. My thoughts and memories can be transferred to a machine intelligence, but would that alternate set of information be me? What separates me from that machine? We play to these standards because people need familiarity. For all of our logic, we need the comfort of predictability. Where’s the logic in a smile? In happiness? In love?”
Raven passed the locket back. “Perhaps one day we’ll be better people, but until then, I will continue to view society as a product of consensus determinate; rules that can only dictate you if you agree to them—just like here on the Net. You’re right—one day we’ll be free to be ourselves, one day. But, for now, the past and all of it is just information to me. To give it power is to allow it to control you. What concerns me is the future. I make my own future.”
Envy looked back at Raven. “Sometimes the past needs addressing.”
A waiter brought Envy a bottle of de-Stim18. He took a drink from it, and then spoke. “And now, let’s get to business? That program that you obtained from the database, it’s called Soul Purge. It’s a very useful program, but our client can’t use it until it’s compiled19. Unfortunately, compiling it here on the Net is not going to be an option—that program is part of a high-level government project, and will be traced if you’re disconnecting. And, from what I understand, you were using your toys to hold off a building full of Enforcers? You won’t have time to pull that stunt again. You’re going to have to compile the program off of the Net, in a discrete location.
“Take a look around the Phoenix colonies; if you can find an old bot manufacturing plant, you can probably patch up the old systems to function as a makeshift super-processor to compile it.”
“And—” He leaned in towards her, with a smirk on his face. “I’m sorry, but you’re going to need to make contact with the client. Because you’re doing this outside of the Net, the client is going to need to take physical possession of the compiled Soul Purge when you’re finished.”
Raven looked at him with disgust. “You know, you’re such an asshole, sometimes. How long were you holding off on that one? You know I don’t make contact with clients. That’s your job.”
Envy spoke in a requited tone. “People-skills, love. You’ll come to understand the value of theatrics of sociability sooner or later. If anything, let that be my single gift to you in our friendship. The truth of a situation doesn’t matter so long as it’s presented in a pleasant manner. You don’t need to be disguised, and taking jobs to realize that. But, regardless of an effort at sincerity, I trust this client. Don’t be too much of a bitch, please?”
Raven gave a slight nod, and then scanned the cityscape of Tengoku. “One day, you think we’ll figure out our roles in this thing called life?”
Envy also looked at the city. “I think that’s a decision we’ll need to make as individuals when we’ve come far enough along. We’ve a will to fight, to want, to desire—to improve. It’s a defining human characteristic. We’re ever-changing, and feedback from experiences in life—coupled with the capability of learning—means that becoming a pseudo-objective unchanging thing is as good as death. Live, love. Live.”
II.two : compositions
The minutes dragged, and her eyes ached. She lay in her bed and listened to the hum of machinery and passing-by traffic of the highway just outside of her apartment on the residential superstructure. The room was dimly lit by the glow of electronics. If she listened carefully enough, she could hear the ambient noises of the dome of Phoenix Twenty-Three expanding under the heat from the fiery atmosphere. She thought about disconnecting. She could find some distraction on the Net until she was able to sleep. But, she laid there, closed her eyes, and pushed the thoughts from her head.
If she thought enough, she felt that she was able to make anything seem distant, and she liked living that way. If she understood everything as information to be taken in and analyzed in requisite to action, she didn’t have needless complications. But, she wanted to feel at that moment. She opened her eyes and then got out of bed. The tattoo imagery of torture in the afterlife ran up her legs, torso, and arms. Death and suffering, in presentation, weren’t indicative of her state of mind. Her body felt tired, but another part of her persisted through simple biological mechanisms and longed for something more.
She walked over to the windowed wall on the far end of her apartment and drew the shutters open; she sat down before the window, in the darkness, and closed her eyes again. The glow of the night of Phoenix shined through the window and into her apartment. And thoughts didn’t matter to her; time didn’t matter to her. She felt the light energy of civilization showering onto her through that window; the energy of ambition and will to cast aside suppositions of standards and realize, from within, a different form of consciousness.
On the new day, she would have to take up her role as a throw-away on the colony of Phoenix Twenty-Three, but right now, circumstances seemed contrived. The people of Phoenix, operating in their daily lives, were irrelevant in their inability to transcend their programming.
Sitting there, with her eyes closed, she was filled with an energy that absolved her from lesser trivial emotions she would have to think away once her role-reprisal happened. She felt that energy on her skin, and running throughout her.
Nothing mattered at that moment. She was alive.
III : in silico conscientiae
Raven looked at the pale green lighting from the former industrial zone that was just ahead. ‘Background people,’ as she called them, carried out their routine tasks with mechanical redundancy. There were scattered industrial sectors on Phoenix, before sociological factors forced businesses to shut down their operations and work from Terra and Ascension.
The former industrial sectors now housed crime-lords who operated rings that included illegal arms, bot production, trafficking, and drugs. Daydream20 and CerebroFuck21 were mass produced in facilities in industrial zones and sold to those who were desperate to find alternate ways to escape.
Enforcers didn’t bother crime-lords as long as they didn’t carry their operations onto the Net, but they did so with the knowledge that they outside of the reach of the law. The crime-lords kept the lesser criminals in check in a hierarchy, so, in this special relationship, Enforcers ended up with fewer inconsequential disciplinary measures. The crime-lords used heavy assault machinery, and veteran Enforcers knew their lives were on the line if they decided to develop a moral foundation during their careers.
Occasionally, rookie Enforcers would think that their new-found strength and ability would be enough to send the Crime-lords running, but the rookies usually paid with their lives. Raven kept her distance from these gang-run areas of Phoenix. Garden-variety street criminals weren’t an issue for her, but she never attempted to take on gangs. She had done jobs for gangs in the past, and she knew what they were capable of. Credits bought them immunity—granted by politicians, and in the world of people, money always spoke louder than words, or actions.
Raven knew that Envy wouldn’t be happy with her trying to make use of a gang’s production facility, but it was her best choice. The facilities would be maintained as opposed to her searching the colonies for a derelict bot production plant that would need an unknown amount of repairs to begin to compile the Soul Purge. She thought that a few gangsters weren’t much of a deterrent for her; she would just sneak into the facility and compile the program, and deliver it to the client after she made contact with Envy. However, sneaking around in reality was different than from being sneaky on the Net; she didn’t have the ability to borrow anyone else’s appearance on-the-go.
The Simula bot manufacturing plant was a state of the art facility when the industrial sector of Phoenix Twenty-Three was in its heyday. Simula was at the forefront of anthropocentric robot development, and was a major player in transforming the standards for consumer and service level robot production. The theory was that people reacted more positively to robots that looked just like humans, so, over the period of decades, robots became increasingly more human-like in appearance. Currently, the majority of robots that people interacted with were the products of this design philosophy.
True artificial intelligence had already been pioneered in the distant past. Giving “life” to a robot was reserved only for government use. Sentient robots existed on the colonies, but the unlicensed ones always existed just out of view of enforcement. For them, life, given to them by idealistic and imperious creators, was seen as a crime.
The Simula plant would have facilities that could be modified to compile the program, but it was under the control of the Zombies, a gang that was higher up on the pecking order of the criminal underworld. Raven’s research on the gang showed that they had access to higher quality weapons and technology; they were part of the gang/Enforcer paradigm that kept a semblance of order on criminal activities on Phoenix. Thousands of murders and kidnappings had been attributed to the Zombies, but due to the lack of willingness to investigate the cases, the important operators of the gang didn’t worry about facing the law.
Smoke rose from sewage grates on the streets. Raven looked at the superstructure that was the Simula plant. Once inside, she’d have to locate the mainframe and begin modifying the systems. Lower-ranking criminal flunkies would be carrying out their duties at the facilities, which included production of “D,” and “CF,” and bot [mal]programming.
At the facility, she moved to a window, and took a cutting tool from the side-pocket of her pants. Going through windows was easier than sneaking past traveled areas of access. Inside, the floor was filled with boxes waiting to be shipped out. Two armed flunkies were talking over at the cargo elevator; Raven moved in closer to hear the conversation while hiding behind shipment boxes.
A man with yellow hair spoke with dutifully. “After the bots load up the shipments, we need to escort them to site seventy. The Leopards have been hitting shipments lately—I don’t need to have Vixen22 going ballistic on us for losing a shipment. We’ll get the others when we’re ready for the escort.”
The other man, orange-haired, and livelier, responded. “Yeah. Anyway, after the delivery, we should go to Avidity23 and do some CF. I’ve got a chick there that I’m workin’ on. She wants me, man. All I’ve gotta do is get her to take some Daydream, know what I mean?”
“Damn junkie. I can still work after a hit or two of D—but CF? Shit wrecks you. Come on, time for another patrol. We’ll go after we make the delivery.” The yellow-haired man walked off, and the other man followed him.
Raven took the cargo elevator up. The maintained D and CF processing labs stood in contrast to the derelict backset of the plant that was held together by only-necessary patchwork repairs. Gang flunkies and bots carried out their duties on each floor in an unrushed fashion—the kind of work you did during the middle of a shift when there was nothing to look forward to. Past the labs were the bot facilities, and the mainframe was located somewhere on these floors. The elevator ran past floors that were lined with row of bot parts that glowed green from the lights outside, and resembled piles of body parts; eyes peeked at her from between arms and legs and torsos; detached faces were locked into lifeless gazes.
The elevator eventually came to the floor that held the mainframe. Bots were on processing lines that ran to the mainframe assembly where they would be programmed to the general roles they would fulfill for the Zombies. The system was automated, but seemed to be on standby; the Zombies probably manufactured bots only when they needed additional manpower, or on a set schedule.
Raven walked past the suspended mechanical bodies that hung from the processing lines; their hollow eyes filled with fading green impositions.
The mainframe spanned the width of the room droned under processes and cooling. It was a pieced-together unit from parts of dozens of other mainframes that the Zombies used out of necessity. Unshielded wiring ran from circuit-boards to interfaces and data-transfer arms over the conveyor belts. The Zombies were more concerned about having the mainframe in a functional state than having it look pretty. Whenever a part broke, they’d find necessary parts, or forcefully obtain it from another gang’s operation.
At the access terminal to the mainframe, Raven began typing. She would need to discern the operating system, and rework the processes to begin the compile. After examining the code, she concluded that the system would be fairly simple to modify; but she’d need to cover her tracks. She had an idea of what Soul Purge may be, and if the source got out, implications could be very severe.
The mainframe was prepped; she copied the program over, and typed a while longer before the mainframe’s humming grew louder under the load.
Now, she just needed to wait for data to compile before finishing, but everything went black.
III.two : it’s just business
She leaned against her high-caliber rifle; long blonde hair flowed around the weapon. Her gray eyes were locked onto Raven, who lay on the ground, as if she were studying her. The woman sat on a red leather couch, and wore black knee-high boots, red miniskirt, and a black top. Her body was covered with tattoos; a succubus on her left arm, skeletons and undead on her legs, an angel hanging by the halo on her right arm.
“You seemed confident, but that certainty has left you; are you afraid?” She leaned forward, with her weight still on the rifle.
Raven couldn’t focus her eyes with the pain radiating from the back of her head from being knocked unconscious. Her hands were bound, so she forced herself to a sitting position. She was just able to make out the blonde hair of the woman sitting before her.
The blonde woman continued. “So frail. You’re going to learn why you don’t fuck with The Zombies.”
She took a handful of pills from a tray that was on the coffee table to her left, and held them in her open palm before Raven. “This is an overdose of CerebroFuck. You’re going to test the new batch for me. And then, you’re going to finish the compile of this program, “Soul Purge.” If you play nice, I’ll let you live.”
The woman stood up, her eyes were still on Raven. “So pretty. I might put you to work for me. So, be a good girl: don’t make me hurt you.”
Raven regained her vision, and she looked up at the woman who walked over to her, and spoke. “Soul Purge is a program that can delete and rewrite memories. I am going to rewrite your memory once the compile is finished, and I’ll own you. This program was only a rumor on the streets, until you came along.”
She pulled Raven’s head against her thigh and then pushed the pills into her mouth. “Don’t spit them out. I’ll break you.” And she grabbed her jaw. “Swallow them.”
Raven drew panicked breaths. She didn’t have any options, and she was alone. She had to listen if she wanted to get out of this alive. The woman stood over her with those gray eyes that never shifted. Her face was emotionless, and her grip drew tighter.
Raven swallowed the pills.
The woman signaled two flunkies over to Raven before continuing. “Soul Purge proves that the concept of self is superficial; a person can be made and remade as seen fit. These people out there, any one of them can be modified to suit our purposes. And so, the reality of it is that people can be programmed just as easily as any machine.”
Her gaze unwavering, she spoke again. “The CF will start affecting you shortly. You’ll start to hallucinate. If you don’t have a tolerance to the effects of it, you’ll experience anxiety attacks. You’ll be dead in two hours.”
The woman motioned to the flunkies and they cut away the rope from Raven’s hands. “You’ll feel nauseous and dizzy; finish the compile and you’ll be okay.”
Raven stood up, but her legs felt weak; her vision was hazy. She walked towards the terminal carefully, steadying herself. The world seemed unhinged, and the blonde woman still stared at her.
She started to sweat; she told herself that she needed to focus.
A patrolling flunky reported to the woman. “Vixen, ma’am. Transport of the shipment is underway. The Enforcers are here, and they’re ready to negotiate.”
Vixen acknowledged the flunky before setting her eyes on Raven once more. “Life is about control. Our clients depend on us for their fix. The government works with us because we have the ability to make life miserable for them. There’s a balance that must be achieved—until you are able to take more by means of force. Soul Purge is going to shift the balance of power.
“This is the how the world works. These Zombies work willingly because we are dominant; provided the opportunity, they’d work for any other more powerful gang. People understand control because it is easy for them to comprehend the choices involved. People accept control because they don’t have the ability to fight back.”
Vixen stood stoically, watching Raven as she struggled to the terminal and leaned on it for support. She took a few breaths before entering commands that animated the mainframe.
Vixen pushed her hair over her shoulder and walked towards Raven. “You think you’re clever. You snuck into our facility without so much as a care. The fact that you have that program is a testament to your ability; but, I stop clever people.”
The mainframe grew silent, and Raven typed at the terminal. Her hands shook, and sweat ran down her arms. Vixen looked almost like an approaching demon through the hallucinations.
Vixen approached expectantly. “Your work is finished, for now. Hand over the Soul Purge.”
Raven closed her eyes, and concentrated. A loud crash came from the elevator, and more than a dozen bots—armed with weapons—rushed towards Vixen and the flunkies. The flunkies began to open fire on them.
Raven opened her eyes. “Don’t fuck with me.”
And in that instant, she lunged towards Vixen with her fists clenched as tightly as she could physically make them. Raven landed two body shots and a cross before she drove her knee into Vixen’s face, which sent her falling backwards.
She grabbed Vixen’s rifle and dashed toward the elevator.
III.three : something like lucidity
Raven needed to buy time, and to do that, she found the busiest place she could have under her circumstances. The bass from the music felt like slabs of concrete being slammed against her ears. The walls rippled like free-flowing and glowing liquid, radiating throughout Avidity under dim spectrum impressions.
The ground under her feet didn’t feel right, each step took a kind of courage needed to step off of an edge and plummet a thousand feet. Shadows engulfed figures that were moving in a loosely organized fashion; her hallucinations were becoming stronger.
She made her way to the restroom, and once inside, she forced herself to vomit into the sink. She heaved from bitter mixture of stomach acid and CerebroFuck. The drops of sweat were lit brilliant under the restroom lights. Looking into the mirror, she noticed pieces of flesh peeling from her face. She told herself that they were just hallucinations. Just information.
She exited the restroom and found the main room of Avidity as unfamiliar and alien to her as when she first entered. It looked different, with obvious signs of disrepair and rust. A fetid smell of rotting flesh overcame her, and the lights blinded her. She heard moans, and labored breathing.
When she gathered herself, she realized there weren’t bright lights. Looking out into the room, she could make out the shapes of bodies animated in stop motion by strobe lights. She forced herself towards the back of the lounge.
She looked at a woman with patches of flesh on her face—in a state of decay—on top of the body of a man, and moving viscerally. Her vacant eyes shifted to Raven’s direction, her lipless mouth showed teeth that parted and came together before she turned her attention to the body, again.
Around her were rot-fleshed bodies—foggy and vacant eyes, stripped limbs, and blood-matted hair. She pressed her way through as feeble and bony hands from the horde reached for her, ran across her body, and grabbed at her. She could make out shadowy figures throughout the lounge that were engaged with other rot-fleshed bodies, highlighted in blood and disembodied parts.
She reached the exit and pushed herself through the door.
IV : one day we’ll be better people
Envy: Love, some complications have arisen. I’ll do my best to work my way out of it, but I can’t guarantee that we’ll do business again. I’ve sent you the contact details for the client, and I’ve sent your cut—along with more than enough credits for the trouble we’ve found ourselves in.
As you’d say, this is “for the future.” You’re an honest friend, and that’s more than I could have ever asked for.
Raven’s skin crawled. She didn’t make mistakes, but it was apparent to her that she was in over her head. When she was captured at the Simula facility, they probably discovered her connection to Envy.
Now, she sat in Puppy-Killer in an old building that was formerly a museum that no longer had a name that anyone could remember. She took what steps she could to slow down the effects of the CerebroFuck overdose, but she needed to get herself treated; her hallucinations were getting worse, and she was feeling fatigued. She wasn’t able to lose the Enforcers and Zombies that were on her trail. She was going to have to fight them.
The mech sat idle in the middle of the vast space of the old museum that probably once held valuable artifacts that were relevant to the history of humanity, but had been looted, or moved out of Phoenix by the government. Raven upgraded and fitted the mech with the best heavy assault weapons she could obtain. She never needed to fall back to the use of brute force violence before, because she was too skilled to get herself into such a position; she always had contingency plans, but the Puppy-Killer wasn’t battle-tested.
A hybrid railgun and cannon were attached to the left arm, a laser gun was attached to the left of the cockpit; on the back was a missile launching system. The right arm wasn’t weaponized, but there was an anti-personnel blade sheathed to the side of the missile launcher. Raven didn’t cut corners on her contingency plan: Puppy-Killer was designed to stop Enforcers.
She picked the museum because she needed a large space to accommodate for her hallucinations. She’d be better able to discern and deal with the hallucinations when they materialized. She was going to be making mistakes, and an anti-Enforcer mech wasn’t going to save her.
Save for the distant sound of traffic, it was quiet. Raven was grateful for every moment of silence; her head resonated with the slightest sound, and she was starting to hear voices. She was relieved to be off of her unsteady feet, and in the mech. She calmed herself, knowing what was going to happen was inevitable, and she wasn’t going to change the outcome by panicking. She closed her eyes and waited. In a little over an hour, she was going to be dead if she didn’t get herself treated. Or, she was going to die in a few minutes, at the hands of the Zombies and Enforcers.
Oni was the first to arrive; she pleaded with Raven from a distance. “You can give up now…I’ll be able to stop them from killing you, but you need to cooperate with me.”
Raven didn’t open her eyes, and sat motionless.
Oni continued, “Would you like to be a Redeemed? You’re too skilled to be wasting away in Phoenix. You’d be able to see Terra and Ascension.”
She took a step forward, and Raven brought the Puppy-Killer to life.
“This is suicide; your toy mech won’t be enough to stop them. The others will be here shortly, and they will not stop short of killing you; I am sorry about your friend, but you don’t need to die, too. Be reasonable about this!” Oni begged.
Raven spoke, with her eyes still closed. “You’re a criminal, just like I am. You let gangs like The Zombies exist out of a matter of convenience? The lives they ruin on Phoenix are worth the cost of that convenience? And you go along with it because your life isn’t being ruined. You’re no better than a machine to be programmed.”
Raven opened her bloodshot red eyes; sweat dripped from her chin. “I’m going to offer you a deal. You help me fight them, and I won’t kill you. I’m offering you freedom from circumstance. I am going to leak personal data about the officials that are directly benefitting from keeping gang operations running on Phoenix. I need to get out of here, and you just became my best bet.”
Abaddon and Vixen entered, and with them were a platoon sized number of flunkies that took various positions around Raven. Abaddon had short brown hair, cleft chin, and strong features—he carried himself with an expectant demeanor: his enforcers followed his orders, or suffered the consequences.
He checked the chamber of his machine gun. “This is the girl that took the program—that stopped my Enforcers? I was expecting more. You let me down, Oni.”
Oni walked over to him, seemingly unaffected by his comment. “I’m sending you information, please make a decision.”
Vixen didn’t seem bothered by the secrecy between the two Enforcers. She took a few steps forward, and Raven reactively moved the mech back, and focused the weapons systems on her. She now carried an anti-artillery rifle, and spoke without concern. “I control the outcome. These Enforcers know who they work for, and I’ll demonstrate. Abaddon.”
He displayed a brief moment of uncertainty before he pushed Oni out of the way, took cover, and opened fire on Raven. The bullets slammed off of the mech, producing a silhouette of sparks. The flunky platoon opened fire, and Raven moved into a defensive stance against the oncoming volley. Vixen pulled the heavy sniper rifle up, focused the mech through her scope, and pulled the trigger.
There was a deafening boom, and the recoil from the rifle had sent Vixen backwards a few feet before she was able to regain her footing. They stopped their onslaught when the mech fell from the defensive position, with a three-inch diameter hole from the sniper shot showing through the cockpit.
Raven forced herself to control her breathing, and she applied pressure to the wound on her abdomen. She hadn’t been shot, but the shrapnel caught her. Overdosed and on the verge of death, hallucinating, and bleeding, her options were dwindling. The move she would make with Puppy-Killer would have to be significant; she went over the scenarios in her head, and tried to remain objective.
As some flunkies walked towards the mech to determine the outcome of the barrage, Raven began entering commands at the console interface. Vixen’s stoic expression was broken by a smile as she took aim again, and fired another shot through the cockpit.
The shot ripped through cockpit and and Raven’ leg. She forced her eyes closed; sweat dripped onto the mech console; her jaw clenched as she envisioned herself screaming from the pain, and pushed it out of her mind. She was going to bleed out before the overdose, it seemed. It was now her move.
Puppy-killer leapt into the air, in the direction of Vixen; the missile system activated, and five missiles launched towards some of the surrounding flunkies. As the mech spun in the air, the cannon arm sprayed bullets onto the Zombies, and they ran for cover. Raven drew the massive anti-personnel blade and it sliced through the air, towards Vixen, who barely managed to avoid the it—but it caught her rifle and cut it in-two before it cracked the ground open. A series of booms from the missile impacts sent debris flying past the Enforcers, Vixen, and the mech.
More Zombies were arriving, and engaging Puppy-Killer; but Raven always had contingency plans. Flunkies from the Leopard gang were now at the battle site and engaging the Zombies: Raven had tipped off the Leopards of the Zombie’s move before she arrived at the museum.
A red laser-dot ran over Abaddon’s face, and the sniper bullet grazed his cheek as he avoided the head-shot. Raven’s bots, Manfried and Marionette, were on the upper levels of the museum, and sniping down Zombies and Leopards, but gang members were on their way up to them.
Vixen was retreating—possibly to obtain another heavy weapon. Raven couldn’t afford to let that happen. She started after her, but a rocket—from a Zombie flunky’s rocket-launcher—slammed into the mech: the explosion lifted it off of the ground and sent it crashing backwards.
Puppy-Killer lay on the ground for a considerable period of time before it sprang back to its feet, and began wildly firing the cannon and railgun in every direction. Bullets and railshot rained down on everything in the museum. The mech started swinging the wielded blade erratically, and Raven screamed.
“I win.” Vixen said to herself with her eyes widening, and stopped her retreat; she pulled a pistol from her side and cocked it. The Zombie and Leopard flunkies continued to fight one another, but the Enforcers and Vixen approached the stumbling mech.
Vixen looked over to Abaddon. “This is why we work together. I always win. Arrogant, dumb little girl thought she was better than she really was. Abaddon, call in your Enforcers to clean up these Leopards.”
Puppy-Killer came to an idle state, and the cockpit opened; Raven fell from the mech, in a contorted state, and she screamed again—either in pain, or fear, or both. Her eyes were stricken and staring at something distant and beyond. Blood ran from her side, and from the left leg that was shattered; she was covered in sweat, and now hyperventilating.
Vixen walked over to Raven, and looked down at her, with a disappointed expression. “What a waste.”
She aimed the pistol—
—But all it took was an effortless slice from Oni’s katana and Vixen fell to the ground, dead. Her blade was now at Abaddon’s throat, with blood running down the fuller24. She looked at him with certain intent. “It’s over.”
IV.two : for the future
BREAKING NEWS: AN END TO CORRUPTION
By Gunther Olersen, Solar News Network
Intraplanetary High Court, Ascension Four—In a landmark judgment, fifty-eight government officials have been indicted on charges of bribery and corruption; in addition, ten criminal organizations have been shut down in a major offensive by Enforcers. The actions were made possible through verified intelligence obtained from a confidential source. Representatives promise further government clean-up throughout the colonies, however, none were available for interview.
Authorities say that the market for illegal synthetic drugs has been crippled, and that an estimated forty-nine-trillion credits have been seized from corrupt representative and gang member accounts. A drug enforcement division is being created to combat the market; representatives state the market for illegal synthetics was underestimated until recent revelations.
Complaints have also been vocalized through the community regarding Enforcers and corruption. A spokesman for the Intraplanetary Enforcement Division has stated that they are beginning investigations on internal corruption, and that they are introducing new technology to face the rising Rogue threat.
Join me tomorrow when I investigate the prevalence of underage drinking, and how it’s tearing families apart.
Oni was in the park, under the ambient glow of Phoenix Twenty-Three. She stood before the man in tattered clothes, who sat on a bench. He skimmed through the news headlines.
“You contracted an intelligence agent to obtain a program called Soul Purge. The agent was killed, but his operator succeeded in getting the program. The headlines you’re reading are a direct result of her actions. So, you can thank her for that. She helped me. I am returning the favor.” Oni held up the drive that contained Soul Purge.
She held her hand out. “Take it. You’re infamous for what you did at Sky Cathedral, but I am not here for that. If this program gets out into the public, I’m coming after you, old man.”
He took the drive from her, and nodded. “My ex-partner. Any news?”
“None.” Oni stated. She turned around and started to leave. “You should pay the operator a visit. She sacrificed a lot to get you that program of yours, and she’s still recovering. It’s the least you can do.”
He thought, for a moment. “I will. Thank you. How do I repay you?”
She walked away, into the shadows. “Maybe you’ll get your chance, one day.”
2 HUDs: Heads-Up Displays
3 Hyaku: one-hundred
4 Service Robot
7 Mr. Bastard– A customizable robotic toy-dog popularized through media.
8 PAN: Personal Area Network
9 IT: Information Technology
12 Auxillary swords.
13 Weapons Micro-Vibration Optimization (MVO): A technology allowing for blades to vibrate at a frequency that facilitate ease of cutting through hardened objects, even heavy-armor.
14 Robotic-armored suit, typically reserved for military and law enforcement; civilian possession is illegal.
15 Puppy-Killer : Illegal mech with reality-based heavy assault capabilities and Net-based personnel-hindrance tools.
16 Yume: Dream
17 Hikikomori: Individuals who do not participate in society; hermits.
18 de-Stimulants: A variety of marketed beverages and pills that claimed to relax the mind and body.
19 Compile: Converting a program to code so that it can be executed by machine.
20 Daydream, or “D”: Hallucinogenic synthetic illegal drug that many blacklisted Phoenix residents turned to for reality escape. Hallucinogenic effects are described as mildly euphoric and lasting up to 36 hours. Overdosing may result in a permanent hallucinogenic state and inability to discern reality.
21 CerebroFuck, or “CF”: Severe hallucinogen with effects that last up to 4 hours. Users may become violent and assault bystanders. Users report effects ranging from nightmare hallucinations to enhanced reality perception and time dilation capability. Fatigue, dehydration, and death are common with prolonged use and/or overdose.
22 Vixen: Upper ranking “officer” of The Zombies.
23 Avidity: A gentleman’s club located on Zombie-controlled turf.
24 “Blood-Groove”: A beveled groove or slot in the side of a blade designed to strengthen and lighten it.