Tom found himself in sub-division 6, or Block-6. He was strapped in full hermi gear, standing on a roof looking out over Sydney towards Block-2.
How do I get to them?
,The numbering meant nothing to anyone but presumably did to those who had assigned them. Everywhere had old names, historical names, that you had to try hard to read under coatings of graffiti. It only took a couple of generations to scar away the branding of the forebears. Jack’s war against everything wasn’t a war he fought alone. His anger towards the past he pined for, was shared by millions. Each chipping and chewing away at anything they thought restricted them, including the hard and real history of buildings, monuments and signs. He remembered Feng, his second in the security detail saying ‘nobody worshipping ancestors anymore.’
As if erasing the past could change history — which, in a way, it was. History was rewinding, stepping backwards, civilisation crumbling away just as it had accumulated. The disparate towns that had grown together over centuries were separated once more and the spaces in between turning feral, then wild.
Divided partly by geography, where the fires of past seasons had torn through, leaving patches of buildings that then became the locus for the new districting. Those that could took from those who couldn’t stop them.
He’d been been waiting all morning for the soft vibration under his feet, as even all the way up here he could feel the train pull in, and then predict how heavy his ration pack would be by how long it paused at the station underneath. Today there was no vibration. Not by seven thirty and not by eight. He looked out the edge and watched people pulling back curtains and looking out their windows. He saw them look up and made eye contact.
‘?’ he indicated.
‘?’ one replied. ‘??’
Tom shook his head, seeing others across the way doing the same. All staring out of a rectangle of glass, shaking their heads.
He switched his visor to a drone patrol circling their Block. The barricades were being rushed by waves of quarantined outsiders. They pushed themselves into the tunnel mouth, tighter and tighter they crammed in as they were chewed by gunfire until finally the passage was blocked by meat.
His heart rate accelerated and his TCS implant activated. Calm returned.
He joined a crowd of people at the delivery dock waiting for something to arrive. At first it was peaceful but when no guards emerged to stop them shaking the gates they found ways to pry it up, smashing rubbish bins into it until it was dented off its rails and could be lifted enough for them to scamper beneath.
It was dark inside, people switched on their torches and began rummaging through the store of boxes, taking anything edible. Soon tussles turned into fights. Tom found his way to a quieter corner and watched the shadows tear at each other.
‘Jove, where are the police?’
‘I have no data on that.’
‘Can you connect to Orakel?’
‘No connection can be made at this time.’
He made it back to his apartment with a bag of dried noodles and an extra large fruiteen water.
‘Can you connect me to Amber?’
‘I’m sorry, Tom, there is no connectivity.’
Tom felt nervous and manually tweaked the implant to change his mood.
He was sitting on the roof, stroking the bones of a dead garden when all the lights went out, the aircon units shuddered to stillness and Jove stopped responding.
‘Jove? Are you there. Jove?’
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The city around was as quiet and dark as he’d ever seen. Tom paced to each corner to look out. The air in the wasteland between the Blocks was blue and chalky with smoke. It was blackout everywhere.
Tom stayed on the roof as night fell and the fires started. At first the view was unsettling, with smoke pluming from every Block and a dull roar drifting to his ears. His panic lasted a split second before his TCS autoed on and the burning roar seemed more like a choir of throat singers than impending doom.
He pictured Amber running from flames – the TCS stimulated his cortex and the thought mutated to her dancing with the fire. Tom let the memory go and it was instantly replaced by another. He was in the nannybot and had wheeled quietly into Amber’s room. She was sitting at her table. A smooth visor of matte gold covering her eyes and matching gold circles over her ears.
‘Amber?’ he whispered.
She didn’t turn. He rolled closer and reached out to touch her shoulder then hesitated. His puffed arm hovered and he stared at it. He pictured himself, in his unit seated in his inflated armchair, his own visor a gloss black hemisphere that went over his eyes and ears. Both of them sat alone in their rooms, seeing and hearing things that weren’t there.
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He panned serenely, absorbed in the smoke pluming in complex plaits, the beauty of the roiling brown and black clouds as they rose and spread into the sky, lit from beneath by a romantic glow and flare of combustion. Arhythmic gunfire and crashing explosions harmonising with the visual cacophony.
As the TCS tuned to a higher level he felt his love for Amber knocking on his heart, remembering all the times they had played together and he had soothed her to sleep. He knew that she was out there now, surrounded by that beauty of destruction before him and cranked the TCS up until he cried at the joy.
Every smoke plume flashed with gunfire and he thought of fire crackers and sparklers. Festive, fun and unpredictable. Even though he knew it was terrible, and his feelings bounced back and forth, the TCS trying to hold down the fear that was kicking him to panic, a part of him welcoming this moment as the end. The finale of his empty anxious life. No more pain. No more waiting. No more confusion.
He decided to go to her. Today would be the day he went to his child. The walls were falling. The fences were burning. There was nothing to stop him now. In a dream-like bliss he glided down the stairwell, his head torches blazing trails in the smoked darkness. Strangers and neighbours came towards him. Happy or alarmed, he couldn’t tell as he took their hands and spun in circles and letting them go to the next dance partner. Through the gates and waving at the people shouting for him to turn around. ‘It’s okay,’ he sang back to them. ‘Today is the day.’
The virus, Frenzy as it is now known, simply creates false data. In its dormant state this effect is undetectable, making random changes at a bit level. When activated, it enters a second phase in its lifecycle where it becomes aggressive in replicating itself and its data manipulation becomes rampant and invasive.
As one of the Nerve scientists said, “No data can be assumed to have integrity. No interaction through any digital medium can have assumed integrity. We simply don’t know the extent to which Frenzy has corrupted the internet, the cloud and private servers.”
Frenzy can infect computers in multiple ways, and, for example, once activated creates Chatbot replicas of the host. And then responds randomly in the guise of the host computer to create false communications.
The shadows of the tunnel melted away in the hazy night and he found himself floating over cracked roads between crumbling buildings. Each step he took eroded the world more, pushed civilisation backwards as plants covered more of the walls and stood atop the hard surfaces of humankind. Soon his feet were on soft ground, dirt and leaves. He bounced merrily. ‘Come kick the leaves with me, Amber.’
His feet crunched the desiccated plants. He waved his hand into the dry stalks and they broke at his touch. When his calm wavered, the TCS ramped up and the warm wave submerged him until he was giddy and safe.
He looked up into the bright sky of day. Bright but opaque. He was unable to see Block 1 and he worried he would get lost until he found the thickest, blackest tower of smoke and went towards it, deeper into the forgotten parts in between.
The smoke made the trees look like they were painted on canvas and the heat made him feel as dry as paper. The smoke was getting through his gear. That sting in his eyes like the ting of eating strawberries from the garden.
He had no sense of how long he was walking until he found himself at the base of Block 1 and the biggest bonfires he had ever seen. Multiple snakes of black twisted into the sky. He could hear the pop pop of gunfire.
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All he could think about was Amber. Her little fingers curled around his hand. ‘Amber!’ He shouted. ‘Where are you my child?’
People were stumbling from buildings to the street, falling like toys from cupboards, crumpling like dancers and coughing coughing coughing.
He found her building and pushed his way up the fire escape against the shadows descending in panic. ‘Rachel! Amber!’ he called out. Eventually he found her unit and pushed his way inside.
A woman with claw marks around her eyes rushed at him, ‘Get out. Get out!’ she screamed, raising her red talons in attack, curly hair twisting like snakes.
‘Rachel? Is that you?’ He paused, looking at the face beneath the curls. The woman’s eyes were sunk in shadow, skin waxy but he was sure it was her. ‘Rachel?’
His memories of her, the younger her, with the fiery wings and rhythmically undulating figure were displaced by this new her, this ill and desperate woman.
Rachel looked up at him. ‘Do I know you?’
‘It’s me. Tom.’ He pulled the mask from his face. She didn’t seem to react. ‘From Blackheath?’
‘Yes. Where’s Amber?’ He looked around the apartment but saw no sign of her. No toys . . .no drawings . . .
Rachel turned and ran and he chased after her and grabbed her shoulder.
‘Rachel, what the feck? Why are you running?’
‘Leave me alone.’
‘Our daughter . . .’ The look of confusion in her eyes cracked him. ‘I don’t have a daughter.’
She ran and he stood still. Walls burning all around.
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I knew. I don’t know if I am just remembering it that way now. But I knew she was too good to be true.
He saw the scene play out as if it was a stream drama. The climax. The fantastic fiery end. Glorious music exalting his final dash, lifting his feet. The colours vivid and momentous, smoke blossoming to great effect.
Fire licked his back and he giggled. The hair of his arms twisted and flaked in the gorgeous heat. He hooted and howled as he ran between the burning undergrowth. Blood wild in his veins and beating a drum through his body.