Down the Line
by Brian FH Clement
I need to start with a disclaimer. By reading this, you're consenting to have your brain altered. That's as alarmist and extremist as I can make it sound, but in the event you don't want your brain functions reprogrammed, it's best to stop reading. After this, I'll take it as your consent, and you won't know the full details until you reach the end. I'll also need to be brief. I've got a character limit that this interdimensional communiqué has to follow or there's serious signal loss.
I usually keep an internal memo journal. I stopped doing that recently because it was so likely that Hul-net was monitoring my Telemplant activity, and the last thing I wanted was for any of my internal memos to be accidentally broadcast by way of Instant Thought Message to my personal network. I don't have too many friends - not many of us in logistics do - but I really don't want them to be compromised, or come to harassment by Ordex security because of some stray ITeMs. I know exactly what 'Dex goons can do. I work on deployment protocols all the time.
Full disclosure: it's my job. I plug myself into Hul-net as one of their many enhanced organic components and work on Ordex Conglomerate security detail logistics program maintenance. The CANDY tech in my head is what allows me to spot errors so easily. Unfortunately, Computer Assisted NeuroDYnamics are also tempting to Hul-net as a surveillance resource. You might say Hul-net has a sweet tooth for CANDY. So instead I'm sending this information out interdimensionally. If it works, I mean.
Sorry, let me back up a step. My name is Zada Buchi. I was born a human woman, so don't let the name fool you. I'm not a mutant. You probably don't have mutants the way we think of them, at least not for a few more years. My parents weren't infected by the Mutation Plague that turned so many people into humanoid variants of the species. One of my coworkers is amphibious. He's a decent guy, and fun to chat with. I know he was traumatized in his youth by the way his parents were treated at the hands of Ordo Sanctus troops (before they folded into Ordex), but everyone had it rough during the Strife Years after the plague. It was only really a plague because so many mutants went immediately feral, and the Ordo Sanctus tried to make things a lot worse with their death squads. Hul-net is like the brain behind Ordex, which wants to be omnipresent, but it still lacks the infrastructure and power.
Actually, "brain" isn't really accurate. It's more like a stomach and digestive system that consumes information and resources - by "resources" I mean people as well - and converts them for its own purposes. I guess this is what we get when a cult starts a Mutation Plague using interdimensional organisms and a secret society of religious zealots tries to stop them with a cybernetic nano-virus that vaporizes hundreds of millions of innocent people as collateral damage. Now Hul-net's everywhere, and people - by that I mean humans and mutants alike - are just trying to live their lives. Ordex keeps getting more powerful and reaching further around the world. You think you've got it bad with greedy corporations and foreign powers undermining democratic elections, so I hate to break it to you but it's going to get a lot weirder and scarier. That might sound awful, but stay with me.
I have it relatively good where I am in Vancouver, and being human I'm not subject to daily harassment by Human Supremacist gangs. Occasionally a Purist will make a snide remark about the I/O ports in my head, but it's nothing, and nearly everyone has them. There are parts of North America where Human Supremacists do much worse than harass people. They form heavily armed lynch mobs that sweep towns to torture and murder any mutants they find. And that's outside the dozens of Hazardous Exclusionary Zones sealed off by Ordex decree, after bombings, or earthquakes, or waste spills in urban and suburan areas. That term, "HEZ," was a combination of "Exclusion Zone" and "Exclusionary Zoning," like some kind of civic planning in-joke. What you used to call "NIMBYs" - well, it happened in their backyard during the Strife Years. If this all sounds post-apocalyptic, I can at least reassure you that the world isn't totally laid waste by the Strife Years. It can be really bad, but people survive, things change, and life goes on.
I had been wanting to quit my job for a while, but it isn't easy when you're literally plugged in to the network. Where you're from, you have to make ends meet, right? I had to make domicile payments, feed myself, and have enough left over for new work clothes, and I really wanted to watch the new season of my favourite immersion drama Improbabilia, when they travel back in time to the Second World War. I started to see too many frightening deployments by Ordex as its strength increased. Along Robson street by the old Art Gallery there was a demonstration headed by the Interdimensional Workers of the World, trying to organize human and mutant labourers, but Ordex troops moved in and crushed them. They used non-lethal force in public, but I saw the reports of how many of the organizers "disappeared" afterward. It made me sick. So I authored a report analyzing the security logistics of the situation, and intentionally caused temporary internal damage to my Telemplant, with the understanding that the report was time-sensitive and that I'd have to deliver it to the "core" personally. I'd get a look inside the heavily-guarded facility that housed one of Hul-net's major processing centers. With luck, I'd be able to examine restricted databases, even rewrite my own network permissions.
My security clearance was high enough, so I was given access to what used to be BC Place Stadium. After passing through the checkpoint and being allowed inside the heavily shielded edifice, I went through further scans and checks. A drone unit showed me to an internal terminal to make my report. I only caught a glimpse into the center of the structure, but what I saw felt like a nightmare given life and form. Just for a second, I saw what looked like an immense wall of undulating, glistening brain tissue, interlaced with wiring and circuitry, tended to by human workers and robotic maintenance drones. I was struck with a deep sense of primitive terror. The need to flee immediately from its presence was nearly overwhelming. The sensation that shook me was like some genetic remnant of being a tiny mammal threatened with being eaten alive, as if I was inside an enormous living thing that wanted to consume me. If every processing center I'd known of was one of these, it meant these gigantic cybernetic hive-brains were being maintained all over the continent.
This all sounds terrible, right? Impossible odds stacked against every human and mutant with their heads wired to be part of an immense collective network. We can all talk to each other without speaking, but the network itself has its own ideas it wants to spread across the planet. I knew I had to get out. How to do that was the hard part.
After I left, my mind was racing. When I returned to my domicile in Ordex housing, I couldn't sleep. Not only out of dread caused by what I saw, but also because my imagination was going wild. I fell into a state of hallucinatory delirium. Images, sounds, even entire scenarios from the past played out as if I were experiencing them. It was similar to an immersion drama, but far more intense, and in rapid, flashing bouts. I saw cult members years ago, manipulating interdimensional zooid microorganisms into creatures of ideology rather than evolutionary instinct, designed to forcibly take over and mutate people. I was inside of someone's mind as their body betrayed them and they underwent a metamorphosis into a humanoid crustacean. I saw Watershed Security contractors, working for the Ordo Sanctus, taking over government buildings as the Strife Years began. I was a mutant being rounded up by Perpendex Pharmaceutical company operatives in order to sample my genetic material and use it to create cloned servitor organisms for the Ordo Sanctus, despite their public attempts to eliminate mutants. Most terrifyingly, I saw deep inside that mass of quivering, unnatural tissue inside the former stadium. It was suffocatingly real, somehow seeing within the membranes of grey and beige, intertwined with mechanisms and wiring.
I could feel what it wanted. It was as if the mutated zooid organisms had collected their intelligence, given horrifying form animated by the ideology of the Ordo Sanctus that sought to destroy them, and became Hul-net operating within Ordex. This was its grotesquely living embodiment borne of conflict and hatred, grown into a repulsive entity that now wanted to assimilate or manipulate all life on Earth. It waited, and grew, and fed. And I knew it could see me as well. It was looking back at me.
I woke up panting and in a cold sweat. I stared into the darkness, not knowing how long I had been in the state I was in. I wasn't sure if everything I experienced was partially real, or like a false memory that was part of a dream I had while sleeping fitfully. I drank water to calm myself. I realized the temporary damage to my Telemplant caused a mild bout of mental instability, similar to the way sensory stimulation can occur for someone having their brain operated on. I knew that the Hul-net intelligence had seen me, just as I saw it, in the past. It was more a glimpse of my presence, knowing that I was there. I think, somehow, I had seen around the borders of our dimension and my mind had gone to an earlier period in time, if only for a split second. I was reminded of my favourite immersion drama Improbabilia, with its plot involving time travel. I began to think that communication might be possible, interdimensionally, to a previous point in time. If Hul-net was able to observe me, maybe I'd be able to send information, or a message to other receivers in the past. I had an idea that would have sounded lethal any other time, but for some reason I hoped it would work.
Hul-net may have suspected that interdimensional communication like the kind I experienced was possible, but it didn't know for certain, and it probably thought it couldn't do so for perceivable lengths of time. I wasn't sure how I could repeat what had happened to me other than damaging my Telemplant again, and I didn't want to risk permanent brain damage or death. I knew who might be able to help. Since I worked within the security community, I'd been privy to reports of organizations outside of Hul-net's purview that were building up their own institutions, networks, even their own forms of technology and infrastructure.
I went up and down a list of possibilities. The Communants used respiration masks to breathe in performance-enhancing gases that they believed allowed them to see the true nature of the universe. They might have had the tech to do what I wanted, but their obsession with mathematical perfection made them too rigid, too fanatical. The Reconquistadors scoured junkpiles, e-waste depots, and fenced-off HEZ's for anything they could reassemble, recycle, reconfigure and reuse, so they were probably too low-tech. Purists were out of the question. There were rumours of even more secretive organizations. I had heard of mutant communities forming far outside of any urban area. One consisted of fungal mutants, but their group was in its formative stages and wouldn't have the resources I needed. Another was disparigingly referred to as Ecotopians, but they called themselves Mariners, hiding in underwater habitats in lakes and oceans, or that's what the reports said. They weren't as visible as the IWW, but they worked with and assisted them. I knew little about them, other than that they had been developing more organic-based technology for over a decade, since before the end of the Strife Years. I thought if anyone could help me with my CANDY problem, it would be them.
My problem wasn't finding someone who could point me in the right direction. It was having them trust me. I knew that right away anyone I talked to would suspect I was working for Ordex security, either knowingly, or more likely, without my knowledge as Hul-net monitored my activity surreptitiously through my Telemplant. Obviously the former wasn't true, but for all I knew the latter might be. I went to the Robson Market, an area that had once been a simple shopping centre, now built out to a much larger complex filled with stalls and booths for vendors of every kind, many of dubious legality. I knew of a felinoid mutant by the name of Pepin who sold fungal waste digestors that converted organic garbage into heat and power. He had been listed as a possible IWW agitator in the security database. It took three visits and my imparting of high level Ordex security files before he even gave me a contact to meet.
I went to a location on Commercial Drive, a bizarre bar based around 20th-century pop culture décor, and sat in a dark corner. After an hour of cocktails, I assumed the contact wasn't going to show up, so I decided to leave. Before I could make it to the train station, I was pulled into an alley and hit with an injector full of what must have been a paralytic agent. My body went limp, but I was still able to see. I was terrified. The hooded figure who had pulled me into the alley stood over me with two others. They all wore what looked like dark green masks that entirely obscured their facial features. One of them dropped a soft blob the size of a fist onto me. It matched the colour of their masks, but I felt it begin to spread over my body. It was warm, and strangely comforting. Despite the fact that my body was being covered over with this growing organic layer, I felt calm. It crept over my face until I was unable to see anything but darkness. I was able to breathe, but I lost consciousness.
I awoke in a shadowy space. All I was able to make out were strange, rumpled formations in front of me, with the echoing sound of liquid dripping all around me. A drop of cool water hit me in the face, and I blinked it away. As I shook off my grogginess, I realized I was lying on my back and looking at the ceiling of a cave. I wasn't bound, but the strange, dark green coating still covered my body. I expected to feel cold and parched, but instead I was suffused with warmth, and felt energized. A human woman crouched down beside me. She said her name was Saws, and explained that she was one of the three who had taken me. Saws apologized for the subterfuge, but that it was necessary to mask my Telemplant signal so Hul-net wouldn't be able to track my location. She said that we were in a shielded Mariner base but refused to reveal any further details until my Telemplant was taken care of.
I explained my plan, what had happened to me, and why I had sought out the Mariners. Saws thought on it. I wondered if she was conferring silently with other nearby Mariners via her own Telemplant, or similar technology. I also feared she or the others in her group would dismiss me outright as either dangerous or unstable. Instead, she explained to me that my Telemplant could be removed, but that the procedure was hazardous. It was only done rarely for the Ordex-engineered assassin mutants when they "awoke" - a way of saying they broke their programming - and remembered their old lives.
I told her I knew that the Mariners made extensive use of biotechnology, and had organically-based Telemplants that functioned symbiotically with the recipient's brain. Why couldn't I have my old one replaced with one like theirs? Replacement was something she'd never seen done, and wasn't sure of the effects. It was essentially replacing a piece of cybernetic technology with an enhanced piece of brain tissue that wouldn't be rejected. I told her it was essential to giving me the ability I hoped to achieve, something I had only glimpsed briefly, but knew I'd be able to use to communicate interdimensionally. Coupled with memory-examination technology they possessed, and the performance-enhancing gases used by the Communants if we were able to acquire a sample, I thought it might work. Total removal of the CANDY tech within my head would be fatal, so most of it would remain. I believed that the mixture of the new biotechnology with my existing CANDY framework would recreate the condition I experienced.
Among the Mariners were many scientists and genetic engineers, so they agreed to my proposal on the condition that they'd be able to use the results of the procedure as a starting point for further experimentation. I told them I was happy to act as a willing experiment participant. When I submitted to the operation it was nothing like having my Telemplant surgically implanted. The Mariners took me to a facility deeper underground, in which I was placed in an organic pod. Unlike the sensation I felt within the stadium, here I had the impression of being within a large, cultivated vegetable, as if I were inside a giant bean. I couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of it.
Despite the small size of my pod, it was warm and comfortable. I realized this was surely intentional, to increase my relaxation, and I lost consciousness. I became partially lucid during the procedure and was aware of the operation occurring on my head. Rather than human or mutant hands operating on me, I was able to see the Mariner surgeons outside the now translucent pod, manipulating unseen controls, as thin, root-like tendrils worked on my Telemplant. As it deactivated, I was hit with the sudden intensity of silence. There was no more background white noise of transmission. No incoming voices of Items. No clutter. Only serenity. I drifted back into sleep.
I knew upon waking that I was on Saltspring Island. Saws sat nearby, explaining everything to me via my new organic Telemplant. It felt far more natural, and simpler, than my old one. The best comparison I can think of is the difference between being a fish looking out through grime-smeared, handprint-smudged aquarium glass, and being a fish looking through perfectly clear tropical ocean water. My mind felt unburdened. I reached a hand up to touch the side of my head, but rather than stitches in my skin, there was only a smooth, gelatinous membrane where the incision had been made.
Saws communicated to me silently that the patch was an organic bandage that would fall off and biodegrade within a few days. I was eager to initiate my plan as soon as I was at full health. I familiarized myself with the use of the Mariners' memory-exploration technology, which allowed me to access long-buried events of my past. My new clarity of thought was excellent, but it still felt as though I were pressing up against an invisible barrier, almost able to see what it was I had experienced in my earlier delirium.
Despite the objections of many of their team, the Mariners were able to provide me with a sample of the Communant gas Stimrax-5. I researched the substance thoroughly, enough to be cognizant of the physical dangers it might pose and addictive state it could create in large quantities after sustained use. At first I tried a miniscule dose, just enough to be aware of its effects. What I first noticed was how focused and without distraction my thoughts were. I was completely aware of everything in my peripheral vision.
When I increased the dose, all my senses were on edge, as if my brain were the tip of my toes about to plunge simultaneously into both a cold lake and a hot bath. I laughed at the thought of the Communants maintaining this as their normal state of existence, but I understood how it might become addictive. It was probably nervous laughter. I decided to couple the Stimrax-5 with the use of my new organic Telemplant under the guidance of my CANDY tech, while using the Mariner memory-exploration devices. I hoped that my plan worked, but at the same time I was frightened by what might result if it went wrong.
Of course, if it had gone wrong you wouldn't be reading this. When I engaged the memory-exploration device using everything else in concert, the past leapt alive in my mind as I'd never experienced it. I was able to observe events as if I were looking through an extremely powerful telescope in deep space aimed back at myself, and able to see the light reaching my eyes from five, or ten, or twenty years in the past. I knew I would be able to send a transmission of information to a previous point along the line, even if I was unable to physically travel there. I couldn't "change" the past this way. That would be like trying to stop an ocean wave by building a wall of cardboard. This message is my attempt to slightly alter the flow of that wave, by diverting it. To extend the metaphor, the wave may still end up in the same place, but with a slightly different current I believe it can carry with it some sand that would otherwise have stayed immobile.
As you read this, the message is already taking hold. Maybe you thought there'd be an actual line of instruction or a set of incomprehensible numbers and letters at the end of this, as if it were a line of code, and you'd snap to attention and be reprogrammed. (I'd never do something so devious.) It is the act of reading the entire message that is introducing the idea into you, something that will be carried by your neurons for the rest of your life. If you're reshaped by the mutation plague, the idea will still be there. Individually, each piece is meaningless, but as a whole, they can come together to coalesce down the line.
While engaging in my experiment, I thought I saw moments of what may have happened, what may be happening, and what may yet happen. Parts of a plan will come together - a plan even I don't know or understand yet - to use a living, organic device to deliver another message, something in my present. The pieces of ideas, held for decades, passed along from person to person, from human to mutant descendant, will influence the creators of the delivery device. It may disrupt or repurpose Hul-net's functions, to allow for something else to align and take hold. I have to believe that, or I worry my mind will wander and be lost down some dimensional tangent.
In order for that delivery system to exist, the seeds of it need to be planted in your present, so that the pieces can grow organically in the minds of the receivers, until they are carried along and link together. If this sounds like it's crazy, it's only because I don't fully understand it. I can't. Not yet. Nor can you, or anyone else receiving this transmission. We may never. It would be like asking a squirrel to understand that the seed it buries will grow into a tree, and then that the tree would be reshaped into paper upon which a book is written that someone then reads. All I can do right now is hope that these ideas I've planted will eventually grow and evolve into something better beyond the Strife and the madness of Hul-net.
Unless I've gone off-line and it's just the Stimrax-5 talking.
Continue exploring this world in Assimilation Protocol!
Copyright 2017 Brian Clement. No reprinting without permission.