Chapter 15:


Only in Chaos Are We Conceivable

[22:51] * Rejoined channel #Clouds
[22:51] * Topic is ‘...’Bookmark here

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[22:52] <moffi> what the hell are you guys doing?
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[22:52] * newuser87 (~newuser@irc-82C4WNCVM.IP) Quit (Remote host closed the connection)Bookmark here

⁂⁂⁂Bookmark here

A self-ascribed prophet planted himself on a podium he made from discarded wooden pallets and read his improvised sermons to the mob.Bookmark here

“I present to you, the Truth!” he exclaimed, holding a stack of stapled papers. “These are the findings of astrologists at the local observatory, images that were taken just three days ago. Look at this radiation spike! What did I say? This fits the profile of a collapsed neutron star, and the gamma storm born from its extinguished corpse is hurling towards us at unimaginable speeds. The end of the carbon plague by cosmic pesticide is at hand! Human extinction is imminent if we do not embrace the path set forward by Reverend Eichenbaum! We must hurry and procure the masks of our salvation and escape to our digital paradise.”Bookmark here

Few in the mob were interested in manic ramblings, but nonetheless, their immediate interests aligned with his. Onlookers, watching behind their closed windows in the apartments above, wondered how could such individuals turn to petty crime, but they underestimated the fanatical persuasion of an impassioned and myopic crowd, where all reason and logic were flushed away by the comfort and security of being part of the many.Bookmark here

Of course, not everyone had come to steal. Some, infuriated that those who would call themselves fans of Maya Kandinsky would resort to theft, arrived to blockade and protect the vulnerable stores. But they were few in number and often overpowered. Eventually, consistently battered and bruised, they resorted to walking alongside the instigators and yelling derisive insults instead.Bookmark here

Already, this growing crowd had looted a half dozen games and electronics stores, moving from block to block, stealing whatever virtual reality devices they could get their hands on. Some individuals who had managed to snag a helmet fled home, but more stayed behind to continue in the hunt, consumed by an intoxicating fervor. Others began to loiter on the sidewalks, trying to configure their newly acquired helmets on their portable computers or even their phones.Bookmark here

Those who successfully activated their helmets downloaded and logged onto Vigil of Venus. Once in, they collapsed and fell under the same trance as Arthur Belona, their eyes blank and transfixed by an infinite loop of the same apocalyptic message. At first, many expressed shock and horrified confusion for their friends who suddenly entered that unresponsive state. The crowd threatened to dissolve itself in fear. The phone lines were flooded with calls to local hospitals. Bookmark here

But the prophet saw and seized an opportunity to solidify their resolve. At the sight of a few passersby attempting to yank helmets off of those affected, he jumped to his sheep’s defense. It was all performative of course. Many Fukuyama models came with strong magnetic locks that could only be deactivated by those wearing it. It was a controversial measure, designed to bar intruders from interrupting someone’s immersive gaming experience. Bookmark here

“Wait my friends!” he declared. “Do you not see the message embedded on their screens? Don’t you recognize the language of our dear Reverend? ‘Judgment day is coming.’ Right there, right in front of your eyes and you still refuse to believe? What do you think is happening to our fellow initiates if not awaiting judgment at the gates?”Bookmark here

“Then why aren’t you submitting yourself to this ‘judgment,’” a voice in the mob sneered.Bookmark here

“Does a shepherd lead his flock from the front?” he implored the dissenters. “Of course not, he leads them from the rear, to ensure meandering sheep are not lost or picked apart by wolves. When the sheep have safely returned to the pen, the shepherd is the last to enter, locking the pen behind him to secure the safety of the flock.”Bookmark here

As if to showcase his sincerity, the prophet presented his own brand new headset above his crown. “Rest assured, when you all have gathered and assembled at the gates, I shall be at the rear pushing the hesitant forward, so that we all enter our safe haven together.”Bookmark here

His critics didn’t say any more. Perhaps a few had been convinced. After all, the crowd kept moving. In spite of the many prone bodies now lying on the sidewalk, on public benches, slumped against brick walls, the mob ultimately advanced undeterred. Disciples stepped forth. The rest begrudgingly allowed their shepherd’s presence at the back of the rabble. More and more individuals, many furious at the abrupt disconnection of Maya’s broadcast began to leave their residences. In droves they piled onto the streets. The prophet ushered them into the fold as they arrived. Bookmark here

It was not difficult for these sheep to find the main herd. They followed the broken store windows, the cacophony of yells and chants, torched vehicles, billowing plumes of smoke. Most of all, they followed the trail of inert bodies, left behind like bread crumbs.Bookmark here

⁂⁂⁂Bookmark here

After a bickering about nothing important for another short while, Jay and Helena stepped back inside the living room together. The doorbell rang. Dojo’s ears perked up. He stood up and stretched, jumped off the couch, and walked towards the sound of the bell. Bookmark here

“More unexpected visitors at this time of night?” Helena wondered aloud. She called out. “Yes, who is it?”Bookmark here

“It’s me, Ms. Lin,” the visitor grunted in response, as if lifting a heavy object. Helen froze for a second. “I have Mr. Fukuyama with me. He’s hurt.”Bookmark here

“Mr. Fukuyama? Ryu? Hurt?” Jay raised an eyebrow. “Helen, what’s going on?”Bookmark here

“Be patient, I’ll explain in a minute,” Helena whispered. She took a deep breath. “Alright, come along, Jay. Help me with our guests at the door.”Bookmark here

The two of them walked back to the entrance, where Dojo was already waiting. When Helena opened the door, Jay recognized Sasha Ivanova from earlier that evening, standing on the porch with an unconscious Ryu draped over her back. Ryu’s entire left arm looked like it had been put through a grinder, and if Sasha’s pained countenance was any indication, she wasn’t in much better shape herself.Bookmark here

“Hey there Detective Sakamoto,” Sasha grinned weakly. “I assume you got my message.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, yeah. Less talking. Come inside,” Jay stepped onto the porch and lifted Ryu off of Sasha. Sasha lost her balance and stumbled forward. Helena caught her mid-fall. “You got her, Helen? Alright. Miss Ivanova, if it doesn’t hurt too much to talk, how long has he been out?”Bookmark here

“Just Sasha is fine,” the investigator winced. “But he was asleep shortly after we got on the motorcycle. He didn’t really pass out so much as it seemed like he shut down.”Bookmark here

“Probably some sort of. Calculated deactivation,” Helena groaned, closing the front door with her foot while her arms were busy supporting Sasha. “What happened?”Bookmark here

“Blew my cover,” Sasha said. “Had to ensure Mr. Fukuyama’s safety. He’s aware you’ve got a mole in StateSec now Ms. Lin. I’m sorry.”Bookmark here

“Nonsense. You did the best you could,” Helena reassured. She shook her head at Jay who widened his eyes, now filled with even more questions. “Jay, just stop it for a second, alright? Can you set Mr. Fukuyama on the couch over there first, please? Alright, you see the bathroom? It’s by the kitchen. There’s a first aid cabinet below the sink, so can you fetch that for me? Alright Sasha, where are you hurt?”Bookmark here

“I got nicked on the shoulder,” Sasha groaned as Helena set her down on a reclining chair. “Mr. Fukuyama’s broken arm might have cut me a few times with its sharp edges, but otherwise, I just need a moment’s rest.”Bookmark here

“And Mr. Fukuyama?”Bookmark here

“His left arm’s completely busted, but that’s about all.”Bookmark here

“He passed out shortly after you fled the scene? At the bar, I presume?”Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

“He might be awake soon then,” Helena speculated, pacing around the living room. “Maybe after his mind sensed the danger had passed, it shut him down to regulate his epinephrine levels. Probably to prevent some panic induced self-harm.”Bookmark here

“Or maybe, he’s just tired,” Jay returned from the restroom with a black bag. “Here, I found the kit.”Bookmark here

“I can handle myself,” Sasha reached out with one arm to take the bag. Bookmark here

“Sasha, you’re hurt.”Bookmark here

“It’s a flesh wound, Ms. Lin. I’ll live,” Sasha sifted through the contents of the black bag with one hand. Dojo leaped onto the recliner and sniffed the bag. “We have bigger problems anyway. Miles intends to initiate the Edge Protocol tonight.”Bookmark here

“Edge Protocol? What’s that?” Jay asked. “What does Investigator Gregory have to do with it?”Bookmark here

“So he’s decided to show his hand, finally,” Helena ignored him. “Why didn’t you call earlier?” Bookmark here

“I’ve been calling. You weren’t answering.”Bookmark here

Jay and Helena exchanged awkward glances. Helena picked up her phone. Sure enough, there were just under a dozen missed calls placed in the last half hour. “Oh,” Helena mouthed. “Sorry. I was. Distracted.”Bookmark here

“Well it doesn’t matter,” Sasha said, tying bandages around her shoulder. “There’s been riots sprouting up throughout town. Everyone’s breaking into stores to steal VR equipment to log into some game, and it’s been doing something to them. Paralyzing them or something. I’ve tried calling Cozy. See if she knows anything. But she won’t answer my calls either.”Bookmark here

“Who the hell is Cozy?”Bookmark here

“You think he’ll use this as a pretext to deploy Edge?” Helena narrowed her eyes.Bookmark here

“I have very little doubt,” Sasha affirmed. “But who knows how many cybernetics are out on the street tonight? It could be a bloodbath before we know it.”Bookmark here

“Can someone just tell me what ‘Edge’ is?”Bookmark here

“What about the old world? Did you find any evidence of it?”Bookmark here

“Oh come on...”Bookmark here

“Nothing,” Sasha replied. “StateSec archives are just as bare as anything else. If Miles is getting his information from some covert source, I can’t find them.”Bookmark here

“What happened to ‘I’ll explain in a minute?’”Bookmark here

“Okay fine, Jay, here’s the deal,” Helen sighed. “Investigator Gregory, as you call him, has slowly been amassing millions of a non-fungible digital token, that he refers to as Edge.”Bookmark here

“What’s that? Some kind of currency? How much is Miles’s Edge worth?”Bookmark here

“Nothing at the moment. It’s worthless,” Helen explained. “Edge is special and a close kept secret. The only reason we know it exists is because Sasha hid in his inner circle. Edge houses a unique digital signature unlike anything we’ve seen before. I don’t know where Miles got his hands on it, but he thinks Edge was hidden old world technology.”Bookmark here

“What like, leftovers from the old colonies?”Bookmark here

“Allegedly so,” Sasha took over the explanation. “Long story short, Edge is configured to verify whether you’ve ever done any artificial or synthetic enhancements. If you do, then Edge jumps to the next available person until it finds someone it can verify as fully organic. Once it does, it transmits its unique digital signature so other Edge tokens don’t validate a duplicate person. This process repeats itself until the only people who don’t have an Edge token...”Bookmark here

Sasha gestured her free uninjured arm to Jay, a query to see if he had been following along.Bookmark here

“Are people with cybernetics? But why?”Bookmark here

“Because Miles has an unbridled hatred for cybernetics. There’s no other reason,” Helena spat. “When ‘54 happened, Miles purposefully botched the investigation because all of the children who had been killed had augmented cybernetic brains. Once they found the only missing child without cybernetics, he called off any pursuit of the suspects.”Bookmark here

“But they told me it had been shut down. W-why wasn’t I made aware of this at the time?” Jay almost didn’t know what to say. The embarrassment in the aftermath of that horrible year, his reputation, a fall from grace. It was the fault of the investigators he had collaborated with? “Why are you just telling me this now?”Bookmark here

“Sasha was undercover at the time, I didn’t have contact for months because we couldn’t risk compromising her position,” Helena shook her head. “I didn’t find out until much later. And by then, we...”Bookmark here

She left the last part hanging in the air.Bookmark here

“Well you know the rest of the story.”Bookmark here

“Sure. Fine, we’re gonna have time to talk about that later,” Jay grumbled. “So what now? Anyone without Edge just gets rounded up and locked in prison? Let's go to the authorities, they won't stand for this.”Bookmark here

“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” Sasha corrected. “The riots will grant Miles justification to gun down anyone out there with cybernetics without recourse. But that’s not the only thing. Miles thinks the old space faring civilization is still out there somewhere. He thinks Edge is valuable to them, and if he floods the city with his millions of tokens, they’ll return to take the people who have it.”Bookmark here

Jay blinked. Three times. Dojo twirled in Sasha's lap.Bookmark here

“Oh come on. That's ridiculous! That’s just science fiction,” Jay scoffed. “How are we supposed to take that seriously?”Bookmark here

“We don’t have to,” Helena crossed her arms. “We stop Miles, and whether his theory is correct is irrelevant."Bookmark here

All at once, three of the four mobile phones in the room rang, their ringtones singing a grating polyphonic chime. Sasha, Helena, and Jay all stopped talking and stared as their phones auto answered the call on their behalves. The united calm voice of a single man sounded through the speakers. Dojo's hair stood on edge and for the first time that night, he hissed.Bookmark here

“Good evening. If you are receiving this call, then you are now under the protection of the Edge Protocol. For those who are out in the streets receiving this message, please return to your homes and wait for the descent of the old world. A curfew will soon be in effect."Bookmark here

Helen turned to her detective.Bookmark here

“Jay, start up the car, now.”Bookmark here

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