Chapter 5:


Archangel Accelerate

As the sun set over the colonial-style brownstones, Aurora hurried towards the humanities building. It was her first attempt at getting into an extracurricular activity, and she was late. From an outsider’s perspective, it was no big deal. To her, it was like a chance to reinvent herself was slipping through her fingers. The calm fall winds gently swayed the sidewalk trees around her as these melodramatic thoughts stewed in her mind. Her nervous temperament stood out against her relatively preppy look, but even that was somewhat crooked. One collar of her white dress shirt tucked itself under her navy sweater, while the other collar seemed to just flap in the wind aimlessly. Her ruffled, gray skirt creased and folded as she hastily crossed the street, brown and orange leaves falling onto her long brown hair from the sidewalk trees.

As she slowed down to catch her breath, she saw a glassy, modern-looking building in front of her. Its sharp edges and lack of wear gave away its recent construction, sticking out against the pastoral autumn scenes on the outskirts of campus. This must be the humanities building, she thought, clutching her black handbag as she walked up the stairs.

Heading up towards the hallway where the meeting would be, she found herself facing the long glass windows that covered the side of the building, with afternoon sunlight peeking out from the outside foliage. This was it. Her moment to reveal the new Aurora to the world, hopefully, more outgoing this time around. After planning out her stealthy entrance to hide her lateness, she walked in.

Only to discover an empty classroom, and that her watch was accidentally set an hour ahead.

“Great,” she said, fanning her sweat off while leaning against the wall.

Well, it’s better than being late. Just calm down, it’s no big deal. First meeting of the semester, it’s not like there are any expectations or anything, thought Aurora. She began to stare off into space.

“Hello there. Are you here for the SDA meeting?”

Aurora lept back in shock, pressing her hand against the wall as she was snapped out of her trance. She clutched her bag.

“Oh, I’m sorry, did I startle you?”

A young woman sat on the bench outside the door. Her large eyes, tinted with a slight eyeshadow, stared at Aurora.

“N-No….. sorry.”

“That’s ok. Are you here for the meeting?”

Aurora looked down, embarrassed.


The stranger rushed forward, snatching Aurora’s hands and clasping them together.

“Yes! I’m so happy to hear this. New members are always an exciting thing! But wait, you’re like an hour early, why are you here now?”

The girl stared straight into Aurora’s eyes, her subtle black eyeshadow surrounding her wide-open eyes. Embarrassed, she found herself unable to look back.

“Oh, uh. Sorry. I uh, set my clock back an hour, so I wouldn’t be late.”

The girl paused for a second, her face deadpan. After a moment, she soon gave a big smile, letting go of Aurora’s hands.

“You’re funny,” said the girl. As she let go, Aurora worked up the courage to get a good look at her. Her uncut bangs and long raven hair illuminated her piercing gaze. The ribbon on her blouse was neatly tied into a bow, somehow not becoming undone by her quick gestures. There was something refined about her, offsetting the impact of her strong personality. Her drive and passion immediately read on her face.

Aurora blushed, and look away.


The girl stepped a little closer, her large eyes staring deep into Aurora.

“I like you. I’m excited to have made a new friend. I’m Bernadetta, what’s your name?”

Bernadetta’s directness took Aurora aback. She was direct, in an almost childish way, which combined strangely with the intensity in her deep, brown eyes. She switched from mature eloquence to childish candidness rapidly, making her difficult to get a read on.

“Uh, Aurora.”

Bernadetta looked up. Hand on her chin, she appeared lost in thought for a split second. Her inquisitive face was almost silly. Aurora giggled.

“Aurora….. cute name.”

The two acquaintances sat down on the bench. Bernadetta smoothed her monochrome checkered skirt as she sat down. Not allowing her a chance to catch her breath, she broke Aurora’s planned silence.

“You know, this is going to be a great year. New members, a new plan, we can finally start pushing for some changes around here.”

“Uh-huh, that makes sense,” said Aurora meekly, pretending to understand. It wouldn’t be long before her facade was shattered.

“So, my new friend, what made you want to join SDS?”

Shit. I picked it out of the catalog. I think it’s like some, volunteer group or something?, thought Aurora, her confusion immediately reading on her face. Bernadetta smiled.

“Well, you know. I just think it would be cool, you know. Like, community service, and stuff like that.”

Her answer couldn’t break the cheeky smile off her companion’s face. Aurora thought she could read her mind, until she realized how oblivious her answer came off.

“Sorry. What do you guys do?”, admitted Aurora. Bernadetta’s eyes lit up, ready to give her favorite speech. Luckily, she found her latest victim.

“We’re SDA. Student’s Democratic Assembly…. mildly generic name, but it stuck. We advocate for student’s rights, and more democratic control over campus institutions. We also use our club to push for worker’s rights, attend protests and strike action, and for general mutual aid. We’re still small, but we do the best we can.”

“I see. That seems a little much for a student club. I don’t know much about politics.”

Aurora looked down, filled with anxiety. It all seemed to be a little much right from the gate. She sighed, wishing she had chosen anime club or something more relaxed. But she didn’t feel like she could back out now, with her new “friend” gawking at her. Bernadetta stood up and put her hand on Aurora’s head, almost like an older sister messing with her sibling.

“Don’t worry. You will soon enough. Anyway, I gotta go get some stuff ready in the clubroom. See you in a little bit.”

It was difficult to get a read on her new acquaintance. Her typical anxious thoughts swirled in Aurora’s mind. Is she trying to get something out of me? Is she making fun of me? But she couldn’t shake the feeling of comfort and acceptance, as if she was a moth attracted to a flame. Sitting in silence for a few moments, she felt a new resolve to push forward and realize her desire to make new friends. It was a good sign to make a friend so quickly.

Sneaking into the back of the room with the crowd, Aurora took her seat. The rolling chair was small and somewhat uncomfortable, accidentally sliding to the side when she tried to grab something out of her backpack. Compared to the clean, sleek look of the rest of the building, the club room looked worn and lived in. Posters with various slogans laid around of sides of the room, with a peek into the storage room revealing a hoarder’s nest of trinkets and supplies, often falling out when the door was opened. Aurora stared at the signs, reading their aggressive writing.

2000 CC CitiDiv Payment NOW! End Algorithmic Admissions!

Bernadetta hurried out of the storage room while members strolled in. The room gradually filled with chatter as old friends caught up and club officers set up equipment. It was hasty and disorganized, but you could feel the passion, as gritty and unrefined as it was. Aurora stared as a member stood over the projector, trying to get it to turn on.

As the room settled down, the club leaders began to give their opening spiel to new and prospective members. It was a student political advocacy group, just like Bernadetta said, and the concerns ranged from small campus concerns to country-wide social problems. When it was her turn, Bernadetta stood up to speak to the room.

“I’m Bernadetta Aurelio, first secretary. I’ve been with this club since I was a freshman, and recently got elected last year. I love this club, and want to help move forward and continue to make the impact that we owe to the community. As the chairman said, we’ve had some rough years, but I really feel like we’re in a perfect position to start pressing for change. The issues at stake are too dire for us not to.”

As Bernadetta sat down, Aurora got a look at the club members. Some were bored, looking like they’d heard this speech multiple years in a row. Some, however, had the same kind of passion she saw in her new friend. The youthful drive for change bled through their facial expressions. After the committee finished their daily housekeeping talks, one member began to immediately talk politics. Some members showed their discomfort, perhaps wishing to keep the opening meeting light, but they would not be swayed.

“Rumors are going around. They’re gonna roll out UNI within the next year. No staggered trials either.”

A few members looked shocked, others rolled their eyes. The new members seemed either confused or disinterested at this point.

“They’re rolling it out now? Why? Even they can’t do that, it’s way too risky!”

“It is, but they’re more afraid of the unions getting eyes on it. They figure if they try to roll it out gradually, they’ll be enough time for dissent to build up. If they roll it out quickly, they’ll have it entrenched enough to handle resistance when it eventually arrives."

Another member chimed in, incredulous at the rumors.

“Let them try it. They don’t even have most of the pieces together. Look at how spread out the cities are around the channel, some areas don’t even have CCTV. Without the infrastructure in the economic zones, their system is just dead weight.”

Bernadetta stiffened herself, and leaned forward. She pointed at a member’s phone.

“They don’t need to build anything new. All the pieces are in place, and we carry them around every day.”

Aurora quickly covered her smartwatch and thought to herself.

UNI…. wait. That’s that new government system I’ve heard about. I’ve read a little bit about it, guess it’s supposed to help with the bureaucracy, moving things online and whatnot.

One member put his hands on his head, clearly distressed. A few committee members looked agitated, wanting to steer the conversation from such a complex topic immediately.

“What can we even do? We’re not engineers, you’re talking about a system that is completely beyond our power, even with community organizing. Besides, the unions don't even care. Without them, what can even be done?"

An awkward silence pervaded the room. New members were confused, some were agitated, and some just wanted to move on from the topic, probably fearing they were making a bad first impression. Before long, the silence was broken, and one of the members moved on to a more palatable topic. The conversation was often broken up to look at Bernadetta, usually a lively participant. But today, she wasn’t. Gloomily staring out the window, she pressed her hair against her neck, lost in the breezy fall tress.


As the meeting ended, Aurora found herself slipping out of the small crowd towards the stairs, exhausted from the conversation. She made one friend, and to her, that was good enough for now. But still, the meeting left her with much to think about, opening up a world that only existed before on the periphery of her thoughts. The world of politics. Stepping out the back door of the building, she found herself facing the river flowing through the school. She sat down on a bench, looking down the long valley towards the cities by the coast. They were a refreshing change of pace compared to the pastoral suburban scenes around her.

“Found you.”

“Ah!”, said Aurora, jumping off the bench towards the riverside ledge. She put her hand on her chest, trying to catch her breath. There stood Bernadetta, with a cheeky grin on her face.

“Sorry, did I scare you?”

“Ah, no. Sorry, yes. You did, haha.”

Instead of a response, the strange girl in front of her leap onto the bench, balancing on the top. The burning light of dusk shone onto the river, illuminating the theatrics.

“Pretty cool huh? I used to be a gymnast in high school you know.”

Aurora stared back at Bernadetta’s circus routine, incredulous.

“A gymnast? Are you sure you’re not gonna break your neck? I don’t wanna be the only witness.”

“Ha! I knew you had some snark in you, I could just tell!”, said Bernadetta, sliding herself down onto the bench. She twitched in pain.

“Ow. That hurt my butt a little bit.”

Aurora laughed. It seems she drifted from being cool to being somewhat goofy in the blink of an eye. Shifting her bag, Bernadetta placed her hands on her thighs, and stared up at Aurora. Her face was like a child nagging a parent.

“…. Yes?”, said Aurora.

“How what it?”

“How was what?…”

“The meeting! Don’t tell me it was that boring!”

“Oh, right. The meeting. It was…. interesting. It got a little intense for a moment, but…. I can’t say I disliked it. I just don’t know much about politics and whatnot.” Aurora sat down beside Bernadetta as she spoke, and looked off into the dark shade of the valley.

“Hm. I see. I hope you’ll continue to join us then. I prefer the meetings to be… substantial, regardless if they might scare some people off. What we do is for the betterment of everybody, but we need the right people. Kind of a contradiction in a way, be exclusive to build a more inclusive world.”

But she was so welcoming. What’s her deal?, thought Aurora. Night fell around them. As she was lost in thought again, she didn’t notice her companion jump onto the ledge of the riverside, walking alongside it back and forth. It was a long concrete slab parallel to the river, wide and utilitarian like a rectangular tank trap. It stuck out against the neatly designed space of the campus behind them, of which they were on the outskirts.

“You were friendly enough to me, I’m not sure I buy this “exclusivity” business. You just let anybody in, and assume that the people who aren’t a fit will be filtered out?”

The pacing and skipping stopped. She looked at Aurora, with a blank expression.

“Yeah, basically.”

“But you went out of your way to talk to me, why?”

“I just know who’s gonna be a good fit for the club. I can’t explain it, just a sixth sense perhaps.”

Aurora was immediately annoyed by that comment. It was all so confident, but so vague.

What is she trying to pull? That was barely an answer. Aurora, you gotta say something now, who knows what this weird girl is up to, she thought. Her vagueness and carefree nature was making Aurora anxious, which quickly turned into annoyance. She stared at Bernadetta for a moment, before beginning to speak.

“Look, I don’t know what your deal is, or why you’re interested in me so much, but you gotta tell me honestly what you’re after here. I don’t understand a lot of this stuff you guys were talking about. What is UNI? Why are you so interested in it?”

She stared deeply into Bernadetta’s eyes, suddenly confident. She appeared startled at Aurora’s direct questioning, not expecting her to have a temperament like that in her. She sat down on the concrete ledge, suddenly apologetic.

“My bad. A part of me understands why some members of the board wanted to change the topic.”

“Yeah. Some of them looked nervous.”

Bernadetta stiffened up in her seat as she looked out in the distance. She was trying to find the right words, something to convince her new friend to share her conviction. Some members did, but it didn’t feel like enough. To the rest of the club, it was a secondary concern, a niche issue spread by a loud minority.

“UNI is a surveillance system about to be rolled out within the next year. It’s not a new system, but more of an amalgamation of multiple systems that are already in place, with a brand new piece.”

She picked up her hand, and pointed at her smartwatch. A small etching on the side read Ilyas, one of the more popular brands. Aurora looked at hers as well, a cheaper generic model.

“Through these? I guess that makes sense, they track your biometrics and send it to your doctor’s office. What, are they gonna use it for stalking you or something?”

“Close. It’s about breaking up strikes, and harassing the organizers. It’s a democracy now, they can’t just go out and shoot people, at least not in public.”

“So why wouldn’t the club or those unions you talked about be concerned? This seems like something very dire.”

Bernadetta smirked, looking out into the distance. Slight anxiety read on her face, as if she reached a critical moment.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Aurora looked down, now a little nervous as to what she was getting at. It could either be an awful truth or the ramblings of a madman. A part of her didn’t even want an answer to the question.

“I suppose I have to hear you now, don’t I?”

All she did was tap her head. No words, no explanation, just a pointer finger to her temple.

“UNI isn’t hardware. It’s wetware.”

“Wetware? What do you mean?”

“Look, I don’t know for sure, here’s what I do know. The missing link to the system is your mind. They have the biometrics, the social media tracking, but the mind is the missing piece.”

“What, like propaganda?”

“No, I mean literally. It’s an interface between your brain and the system. We’re beyond talking about electronics, now we’re talking about flesh. If they can pull that off, they’ll be able to fundamentally change the structure of your thoughts. After that, who needs strikebreakers, riot cops? Stamping out dissent will be as easy as running a few lines of code.”

She hoped that one more person would understand her. Her face, her pleading expression, glared at her listener. If only one more person could agree, then maybe her goals could move forward, as marginal as the steps would be.

“I…. I don’t know about all this. It sounds like some conspiracy you would read about online. How do you know this?”

“I’ve read the leaks online. For all their planning, the military doesn’t have great security. They keep talking about brain-computer interfaces, and something about a neural overload. God only knows what that could mean.”

“So, you just extrapolated all of this from their choice of words? Aren’t those interfaces a biomedical thing? Could just be research into that.”

“I don’t think so. It’s in the context of cybersecurity. It’s too much of a coincidence. How else would cybersecurity relate to something like neural engineering?”

I suppose she has a point. It’s just all so…. complex. An entire conspiracy from a few papers she found. But then again, what if it’s true? And if it’s actually true, what can even be done? Maybe it won’t be as bad as she says.

The moonlight began to shine onto the river, illuminating the water’s crawling pace. Its light shimmered from behind Bernadetta, surrounding her with a white aura. As she stood up onto the concrete, she looked down on her friend as if she was her new disciple. Yet, her inner despair and fear slowly infected the atmosphere, making her shining appearance bittersweet.

“It’s things like this that terrify me to the core. When you think about how valuable life is, and how easily it can be taken away by forces totally beyond your control. All the possibilities of life, the gift of consciousness, all stamped out in an instant for stupid reasons. All the people who’ve died confused and alone, their dreams crushed. It scares me, Aurora.”

They stood quiet. It was difficult to find the words to respond after someone has revealed their deepest fears so suddenly.

“You think that UNI will do all of that?”

Leaping off the concrete slab, Bernadetta walked past Aurora. She turned her head towards her. Her determination was undeniable.

“I do. And the world will know soon enough.”