Bastion

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Issue #4 - July 2014

Cover image courtesy of Milan Jaram

Cover image courtesy of Milan Jaram

Season 1, Episode 4

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Previous can be found here


Featuring

"Abandoned", by Hannah Goodwin
"Degausser", Axel Taiari
"Forever Lights", by Peter Medeiros
"Red Rubber Nose", by Robert Quinlivan
"Remember Prometheus", by Eleanor R. Wood
"The Maltese Pterodactyl", by George S. Walker
and
"The Properties of Water", by Alex Hernandez


Just to give you a taste...

Degausser

by Axel Taiari
    

     Before the meeting, Emani refreshes her practical memory. The data surges through her neural pathways and leaves her convulsing on the bathroom floor. She stumbles back to her table and sits down. Reality shimmers with the jittery glow of boosted sentience. Through the bar's digital windows, fog engulfs downtown Paris. Emani taps the table's glass surface for another whiskey. Blink away the world and the drink rises out of the table with a pneumatic hiss. Another blink and the client is now sitting across from her. Ghoulish fashion, upper-spheres throwback gothic chic: flawless pompadour, corpse-white skin stretched to breaking point over a gaunt skeleton, eyes shielded behind shades, expensive suit unsoiled by rain. Emani smells pheromone-loaded cologne, the acrid reek of wealth. Distorted violins screech over the sound system.
     "Hail," says the client.
     "Hello," says Emani. "Would you mind removing your shades?"
     "As you will." The client removes the glasses and slips them into his right pocket. He stares at Emani—no irises. Translucent eyeballs squirm like the dithering flesh of a deep-sea snail.
     "How'd you hear about me?" says Emani.
     The client’s grin is too white and somehow out of sync. "Your name has been making its way through many countries and corporate states. I asked a few…" he pauses to lick his blue lips, "associates. Emani, they told me, over and over again. Emani Liod is the woman you want."
     "Flattering. What do you need?"
     "We need you to retrieve a program."
     "We," Emani repeats. She extends three fingers, each one for the name of a corp-state. "Are you with Aeon Vargas, Wolfe Biomedical, or Spector Prince?"
     "Yes. One of those, mayhap."
     "What are you looking for?"
     "A data eraser," says the client. "A software degausser."
     Software degausser, thinks Emani. Fringe stuff. New edge. Big money. "Gov tech?"
     "Government technology, yes."
     "When?"
     "Nine days from now. The program is not web-wired, probably never will be, thus remote hacking is out of the question. One-hour window. A heavily defended convoy will depart from a bunker outside Washington City and transport the code to the nearest launch site. Once the rocket takes off and reaches orbit, it is over. It will land directly in the main research site's backyard, be brought inside, and placed out of our reach." 
     "A physical retrieval? Washington City is East U.S. turf. Do I get full recon?"
     "As much as we can provide. Security details, route, and so on. The data must remain offline. You will personally deliver the chip to me four hours later at this very location." 
     "Okay," says Emani. "Let's chat price."
     "Eighty thousand credits delivered now to one of your orbital accounts, and a hundred extra upon successful delivery."
     Emani scoffs. "I'm thinking this thing is worth way more."
     "It is. We're not sure that you are."
     "Spare me. What's the convoy like?"
     "Eight tanks, four exoskeletons, thirty-three men, satellite coverage."
     "And drones."
     "And drones, of course."
     "Make it 150K now, two hundred upon delivery. You know I need a team."
     "Your proposal is reasonable. Agreed." The client slides a chip across the table. "This is your prep data. I shall see you in nine days."

 #

     An upscale penthouse apartment cut from black marble. High-end everything. Money a trifling matter of reshuffling ones and zeroes to obtain comfort. Empty except for a few bots hunting the rooms for dust. The place is a carbon copy of her Hong Kong and London apartments, right down to the library of data chips. Difference that turns a house into a home: printed pictures adorn the monolithic walls. Photographs of Byron, her husband, and Chris, her son. Plague-dead sixteen years, forever beautiful and frozen in time. Lost in the London bombings while Emani was on a run for a medical corp in Kuwait. She wanted to use the money to buy Byron the beachside house of his dreams and a real puppy for Chris. She ended up paying for their funerals.
     Emani eats alone, sitting at her desk. She jots down a couple of basic reminders for tonight's planning session. She hates herself for having to write thoughts down. Used to be she could recite Pi to the 46th and keep a mental grid of her bottomless stable of freelancers without blinking. 
     It’s what got her a short-lived run as a conduit, after Byron and Chris passed away. She had delusional hopes that she could help stop the plague, maybe make the bastards pay. Six months spent lying down in a freezing chamber at the heart of a black lab, intravenously fed and seizing under a deluge of bits assaulting her synapses 24/7. French government official said, "Program’s being shut down. Good run, though." A fat check, out the door, brain-damaged and hallucinating from withdrawal. Then two years in a private hospital with sour-faced nurses spoon-feeding her gruel and Emani twitching and soiling herself while trying to remember the alphabet.
     In bed, the empty side a chasm threatening to swallow her, she realizes that she doesn’t remember her wedding day. She knew that just yesterday, she’s sure of it. The fear gets to her, then.
     Slight comfort: post-conduit memory issues never became a bother on a practical level. Non-personal knowledge is easy to re-acquire. Forgetting the taste of wine can be fixed by opening a new bottle. As for the jobs—no problem. Can’t remember how to access a mainframe, slither past a firewall, salvage a bagbiter, trick a daemon? Insert a chip, done—like ghosting an uncorrupted version of herself. But some things, she has come to learn, can’t be reloaded.
     She wills herself to remember them now. Fetal position, her cheek resting against the cold pillow. "Teller," she says out loud.
     No response.
     "Teller, you around?"
     The voice booms from deep within her head, a metallic bass bouncing around her skull. "Hello, Emani Liod."
     "How are things?"
     "They vary depending on the things you are referring to."
     Emani can't help but grin. She tries to picture the Teller, with its body-mind of wires and chips crunching data in a South African subterranean server farm as large as a metropolis. The system is a descendent of Nautilus—early 2000s NSF data-swallower. It was meant to produce near-future visualizations by analyzing the past. Nailed a few things before they happened: localized wars, the new plague. It failed to predict millions of others and rambled madly for weeks on end. Not good enough for the UN. Funding was cut, hard-locks set in place. No weapons, no financials. Crowd sourcing and private groups took over, made it public, fed it more data. Some of its die-hard believers moved to South Africa to keep it running—hopeful pilgrims kneeling at the altar of an apocryphal deity.
     For Emani, the Teller became the perfect storage unit. Digitally fed it her own life, her past: pictures, databanks, videos, recordings, and diary entries.
     "Teller, Byron's favorite food was kombdi vade."
     "Correct."
     "We had some on our second date."
     "Third date."
     Emani cringes. "Third date. Indian restaurant in London."
     "Correct. You win. There is no prize."
     "It was beautiful. I was making big money. Had gone freelance, then. I flew us to Rome afterward. We started undressing each other in the hotel elevator. I was already in love. I was pregnant not long after."
     "Dates match, but difficult to confirm."
     "Best accident of my life."
     "Subjective."
     "I am telling you."
     "Do I record it as fact?"
     "Yes. Now tell me about my wedding day."
     The Teller speaks. Emani listens. How many nights has she closed her eyes and listened to the drone of a distant machine recounting the most crucial moments of her life?
     She can't remember.

 #

     Eight days and nights without proper sleep. Lights in the apartment flash from decks and pads running at full brightness. Every twelve hours, Emani opens the databank cabinet. Its insides radiate with thousands of blue LED stars. Each one belongs to its own galaxy: tech, day-to-day, history, language, pop culture, mathematics, society, geography, miscellaneous. Backed up from her past or downloaded from the market. Knowledge and memory at the cost of a credit swipe and a few minutes of nausea. Inject, learn, remember, and get back to work. She snatches the occasional power-nap but leaves programs running behind her eyelids.
     Four hours before the run, the Teller's voice rips Emani out of a nightmare. She was walking around a cemetery, weeping. She was looking for Byron and Chris’ graves but couldn't remember where they were buried. She stopped in front of a tombstone. There was no name on it.
     "Hello."
     She opens her eyes and checks for tubes in her nose, pistons pumping drugs into her chest.
     "What?"
     "I want the degausser."
     "How d—"
     "Bring it to me, Emani."
     "How do you know about the mission?"
     "I can pay you."
     "I already have money."
     "98% of your income is regularly transferred to the Alliance for Plague Gene Therapy, the Blackwood Foundation, the World Health Organization, and twenty-three others. Four million credits donated in the past year. You want more."
     "You’re right."
     "I have no money. I have something better."
     Video request. Emani accepts. Images materialize, low-res: Chris sitting on a swing in a public park. He jumps out of the seat and runs towards Byron. The camera tracks them as father and son walk out of the play area, hand in hand. Bottom-right corner glyphs: public footage, June 3rd, 2052 A.D. The video fades.
     Seventeen years ago. 
     Public footage. Of course the Teller would have access to it. "My God. How much do you have?" says Emani.
     "Total runtime is over six years. I will trade for the device."
     "What do you need it for?"
     "Would my reasons affect your decision?"
     "I'm not sure."
     "They would not."
     "I'm dead if I do it. You understand what that means?"
     "I comprehend. You are dead either way. The only query is time. I know who hired you. Aeon Vargas: independent corp-state, seventy million employee-citizens across the globe. They will come for you, but you will make them dance on their heads. Believe me."

 #

     One thirty-six P.M. European Central Time. Freshly boosted and over-attuned. Emani wipes her mouth and flushes the toilet. Off to the pick-up bridge and into a jet-cab heading for the nearest private port. The transport awaits, a bus-long bullet ready to rip through the skies. Countdown, blast-off. From Paris to Washington City in less than three hours. Air-space border control scammed by hacked credentials.                        Washington South is on fire, one hundred and eighteen days of riots and counting. Out, past the slums where desert sand creeps upon steel and cement, Emani meets with her local contact. She transfers credits with a handshake. The contact gives her root access to a ground-van. She drives for a couple of clicks, parks the van by the side of the road, hops in the back. Emani slips into the lightweight chameleon exo-suit.                    Electrical jolts let her know the suit is pre-booted, unlocked, no need for ID. The black helmet is a chitinous cover; an overgrown insect's head capsule with real-time data scrolling on the visor. Emani inspects the rest of the gear: a pair five-barrel 15mm pistols, EMP grenades, four-gauge shotgun and flechette packs. If all goes well, she won’t have to use any of it.
     Back behind the wheel, Emani taps into the frequency. "ETA twenty-two minutes. All green?"
     "Green," reply three voices in unison.
     "Green, like the color your husband turned as the gas filled his lungs."
     "Shut your mouth."
     "But I do not have a mouth."
     Derek, over the comm: "What's happening, boss?"
     "Nothing."
     "He cried for you. So did Chris. They hugged each other and your son moaned for Mommy. Mommy, Mommy, Mommy. Last moments. Goodbyes. I have them. Their brain-plants recorded them. Do you even remember your son's smile? What about Byron's scent?"
     "Stop. Please. Stop."
     "Latin: stuppare. German: stopfen. Old English: forstoppian. Why should I politely stuppare?"
     "Video, audio and sensory footage is not the same as remembering, Teller."
     "No," replies the machine, "but it is better than having forgotten."
    
                                                                                                     #

     Emani is over two klicks away when the operation commences. She taps the right side of her skull with two fingers. "Hackers, report."
     "I'm in," says Derek. "Firewall down. Bastion-host down."
     "I'm in, too," says Jared. "D, watch for the traffic filter."
     "Derek, make it look all clear on official channels," says Emani. "Jared, disable the weapons and lock the troops inside their vehicles."
     "Shit, I got pinged," says Derek.
     "Jared, handle the lock and then camouflage the data. Derek, you still with us?"
     The answer comes in the form of a guttural shriek. Emani pictures Derek in his Tokyo basement, brain oozing out of his nose, eyes black and bulging from brain-rot.
     "D?" says Jared.
     Emani grips the wheel hard. "Derek is done. Jared, you still incog? Give me status."
     "I need ten seconds. They don't know I'm here."
     Emani accelerates. "Come on, come on."
     "Done," says Jared. "Locks are in, gov surveillance won't sniff anything for at least ten minutes. Can't guarantee more. I left the target door open for you."
     "Good job. Derek got any family?"
     "No."
     "Then I'll add Derek's cut to yours when I make payment. I'm so sorry. Go dark."
     "Acknowledged. Gone."
     A private jet like a triangle sliced out of a black hole slashes through the clouds and disappears over a hill, leaving behind a trail of fast-spilling oil. The trail reconfigures itself into a burgeoning mass of self-replicating nano-jammers. A programmed umbral dome blots out the sun.
     "Sats and drones shrouded," says Sarah.
     "Second pass," replies Emani.
     Emani's local radio chatter goes haywire. The convoy uselessly attempts to talk to big bird in orbit. 
The jet's back, explodes out of the black skies, drops the hammer, and disappears again. The radio noise stops.
     Sarah says, "EMPs detonated, you've got six minutes until they regain juice. I'll circle."
     Down the hill, the convoy looms into view. Four exoskeletons like mechanical Kaiju surround the prime mover—an eight-wheel drive all-terrain vehicle armored well enough to shrug off a mini-nuke and ask for more. Four double-barreled tanks lead the convoy, four in the back. 
     Not a single vehicle moves.
     Emani’s van comes screaming around the corner. She coolly stops the ride right by the prime mover. She steps out in full armor, shotgun in hand, and looks up. Two soldiers stare at her from the cockpit of their disabled exoskeleton. They're trapped inside of a sixty-ton, thirteen-meter-high worthless pile of scrap metal.      The sky overhead is a pulsating sheet of blackness.
     Emani offers the soldiers a polite wave.
     She heads for the back of the mover and opens the unlocked doors. Six turrets and blink mines deactivated. Emani picks the cube at the center and gets back into the van.
     Pain explodes behind her eyelids, a burst of static so loud her vision flashes white and her head crashes into the driving wheel. Images captured by a chapel's ceiling camera fill her field of view. The lens focuses on her, the joy on her face. She holds baby Chris in her arms.
     The minister says, "Do you, Byron Correia, take Emani Liod to be your lawfully wedded wife?"
     "I do."
     Reality snaps back into place.
     "You did it! Congratulations!"
     Emani screams, "Stop it. Make it stop, goddammit." She punches the wheel, over and over again.
     "Stuppare, yes. Why do you scream? I do not like it. It is all I hear."
     Emani wipes drool away with the back of her hand. "Because it hurts."
     "Where do you hurt? I detect no injury from your armor ha-ha-ha."
     "You know damn well what I mean."
     "I only want to help."
     "Yes, but not like that. Please."
     "Do you believe me when I say I want to help?"
     Emani does. She understands that the Teller does not understand. This is not malice but only an inability to grasp the ethereal. "I believe you."
     "Friendship. Is it not beautiful?"

 #

     Emani drives towards the extraction point with her pedal to the floor. She veers off-road, down a dune, and stops in a deserted plain. She checks the time and looks up at the sky. A one-person shuttle drops through the clouds and lands five meters from her. The ride's an egg-shaped bubble with twin jets attached. Emani slips back into civilian clothes, grabs the cube, leaves the rest of the gear behind. She enters the shuttle and the vehicle takes off.
     "Sarah," she says.
     "Still here."
     "Erase it, then go home. Disappear for a few months."
     "Payload dropped. On the way. 'Till next time, boss."
     As the shuttle climbs towards the clouds, Emani looks back and watches her van explode.

 #

     The autopilot destination reads PARIS, FRANCE. Emani transfers the money to Derek and Sarah. She taps into the local gov frequency and it's a bedlam of military jargon. Mayday, mayday, cargo gone Elvis, black van, single man, hacked. No doubt Aeon Vargas are listening to the same channel and know the mission was a success.
     "Teller," says Emani.
     "Hello again, friend."
     "Can you provide a decent air vehicle? Safe transportation on the way out?"
     "It has already been arranged."
     "Does the data also include all the things I’ve fed you about my family and me?"
     "I am well fed. The world feeds me everything it spits out. I grow fat with noise, and I am not allowed to let any of it go. I do not know silence."
     "Answer the question."
     "Yes. It does."
     "You’ve got yourself a deal."
     "I am not surprised."
     "What do you need the degausser for? You don't have any enemies."
     "We all have enemies. Sometimes they are our friends. Some are forced upon us. Some of us create them."
     Emani reconfigures the autopilot, changes the destination to South Africa. "I believe I just did that," she says.

 #

     The still-smoldering ruins of Johannesburg disfigure the landscape below: toppled-over skyscrapers, the countless carcasses of charred cars resting on melted roads. How many people tried to flee the city before the plague-nuke hit? How many Byrons and Chrises?
     Sixty seconds after the scheduled meeting time in Paris, Emani's skull vibrates. She ignores the call.
     "Oh, look. Five pretty drones."
     No need to ask who they belong to. Emani guesses the drones were dispatched from a nearby carrier as soon as the clock ran out. "How soon until they're in range?"
     "Less than four minutes."
     Emani grabs the controls and runs through the array of defensive countermeasures available. Infrared flares, blackbody payload. Won't do anything against high-end corp gear. "Teller, can you bring them down? Or intercept their weapons?"
     "That is outside of my meager capabilities."
     Emani pushes down the yoke and the shuttle loses altitude at alarming speed. Her skull vibrates again. She doesn't pick up but the call goes through anyway. 
     The cadaverous client’s face appears in the top right corner of her vision. The voice is an aural fingernail scraping the surface of Emani's brain. "It isn't polite to filter your calls."
     "It's not polite to glitch my feed."
     "I assume our agreement no longer stands?"
     "Had a better offer."
     The client doesn’t blink. Emani guesses that corporate espionage and betrayal are probably old news to him, an hourly occurrence.
     "Disappointing," he says, pursing his lips. "We are in the process of wiping your bank accounts. Your Paris, London and Hong-Kong apartments are being investigated. Five drones are headed your way. You may yet change your mind."
     Emani hangs up and reconfigures the comm system, disables video, only allows the Teller and outgoing calls.
     "They smell your direction. They know you are coming to my compound. Troops are being dropped here. They are positioning themselves. See the apes with guns?"
     Emani frowns, not understanding. "Already? That’s not possible."
     "I am ahead. It will happen within ten minutes. They have a low-orbit station."
     "Are they trying to shut you down, Teller?"
     The Teller lets out a roaring sound, a cavernous approximation of laughter. "No one is capable of shutting me down, not even I. The ones who believe in me will not let them pass."
     Emani considers her options. Other corps won’t touch this mess. None of her contacts would react fast enough—at least not in South Africa. Simplify the problem; boil it down to its essence. Who wants the degausser? Aeon Vargas. The Teller. 
     And the people who created it, of course.
     Understanding comes to her. "Teller, what did you say earlier about creating our own enemies?"
     "I want to help you ergo you should help me and thus I need to help you and therefore it is done. I have prepared some numbers for you."
     "Patch me in."
     "Uploading."
     Emani double-taps her temporal bone.
     "DARPA, Colonel Tamers. How did you access this line?"
     "Colonel, my name is Emani Liod and I'm the woman responsible for stealing your degausser close to the City a few hours ago. I stupidly waved to two soldiers. I drove a black van. Am I speaking to the right person?"
     "No, but you've started a big enough shit storm that we've been made aware of the theft."
     "Good. You listening?"
     "I am listening."
     "The hit," Emani says, "was ordered nine days ago by Aeon Vargas. Access my post-orbit bank logs and see the money transfers, although I doubt you'll be able to connect the dots back to them. The prep data is at my Paris apartment. If you send men there, they might cross path with Vargas before they torch the place."
     "What do you want?"
     "I am being pursued by drones. I'm guessing the plan is to disable my ride and force a landing. Then they'll send bodies to kill me and retrieve the load. Pull up sat data and see if I’m lying. You know that once they get their hands on it, it’s over. You'll never get it back. Furthermore, their drones are an illegal presence over South African-Arab airspace."
     "So is yours, ma'am. Let us not even mention your theft of government property."
     "My point still stands. My request: call off the drones, dispatch a force to retrieve me instead. I will comply. I am unarmed."
     "Acknowledged. Give me a few minutes. Stay on the line."
     "Emani, they will be within shooting range in one minute and thirty-one seconds."
     "I don't have a few minutes, Colonel. The drones need to disappear now."
     Emani brings up the map. Five green triangles are closing in at predatory speed. She brings the shuttle as close to the ground as possible and prepares to eject.
     "Forty-eight seconds."
     "Colonel?"
     "He did it."
     The triangles freeze and hover in virtual space. The shuttle's alarms go mute.
     "Emani Liod, your request has been transferred. We are talking with Aeon Vargas' lawyers. Some of our local forces have been dispatched to your pre-calculated destination. They will be dropped out of orbit within six minutes. Landing expected in eight. You will turn yourself in without resistance."
     "Thank you, Colonel."
     "Why are you headed to the Teller's compound?"
     Emani hangs up. "What’s next?"
     "The negotiations will fail. Aeon Vargas troops are coming now. They make death happen. They are killing the ones who feed me. They cannot be stopped."
     "Tell your people to run."
     "Worshipping me does not mean they will listen to me ha-ha-ha."

 #

     Emani guides the shuttle to the edge of the shantytown. Infrared mapping would reveal the compound spreading beneath the surface like a technological ant hive. Motley hutments and shacks grow between hills of detritus. A building explodes in the distance. Dense black smoke billows up. The radar shows hundreds of geometric shapes twinkling into existence. Aeon Vargas pods rain down from orbit.
     Emani lands the shuttle in a junkyard. She steps out and follows the digital crumbs in her vision. The emergency vent lies at the foot of a collapsed crane. As she descends the ladder, the air cools down to near-zero Celsius. She finds herself in a corridor lined by neon lights. Gunshots and explosions reverberate. The ground trembles.
     She walks until she reaches a small room where the walls are made of server racks stacked atop one another. Emani guesses that this is one of the numerous storage estuaries given to the Teller, a leftover appendage from an era when thousands of scientists milled around these tunnels and probed for knowledge.
     The Teller’s voice thunders from unseen speakers. "STOP HERE."
     Emani freezes. She faces a rectangular chute, the drop area of a matter compiler. Data ports beckon like hungry mouths. Here stands the disembodied presence she has been talking to for years. Not a distant friend, but an assemblage of make-believe. She locates the cam lens above the chute and nods. "We finally meet, I suppose."
     "IN THE PHYSICAL SENSE." 
     "How do we do this?"
     "OPEN THE CUBE AND INSERT THE CHIP. THIS IS YOUR REWARD."
     The chute hisses. A small data-load drops down. A lifetime in graphene, everything that matters compressed to the size of a die.
     Emani picks it up and pockets it. She clicks open the stolen cube. The degausser is a smooth tube as long as her pinky and covered in nanites. She plugs it into one of the vacant ports.
     An explosion, bigger than any of the previous ones, rocks the room. Lights flicker.
     "The East U.S. government is here," says Emani, placing a hand against a rack for balance.
     "YES. THEY WANT YOU, BUT THEIR PATH IS BLOCKED. THEY ARE FIGHTING AEON VARGAS. A CUNNING DISTRACTION. SO MANY FIREWORKS."
     "Your people are fighting too?"
     "YES. NO ONE WILL STOP SPILLING BLOOD UNTIL THERE IS NO MORE TO SPILL."
     "They're dying for you."
     "THEY ARE DYING FOR WHAT THEY THINK THEY PERCEIVE IN ME."
     "What do you need the software degausser for, Teller? You gonna wipe Aeon? Another corp? A government? What's your target?"
     No reply.
     Emani looks around. "Teller?"
     "I SAY BYE-DEE-BYE, FRIEND."
     The room's LED lights begin blinking rapidly. Static crackles over the speakers. Voices scream in hundreds of different languages. Emani covers her ears. A woman cries. Chains of explosions resonate in the background. News dispatches speak of war and plague. Politicians make speeches. A child sobs. Cars honk. Chunks of songs overlap in a cacophonous mix. A wolf howls. The noises of the world blend together and form a deafening, torturous soundtrack.
     Emani screams and the noises stop. She removes her hands from her ears. She leans against a wall and tries to catch her breath.
     "SILENCE IS NICE."
     "What are you—"
     "I AM KILLING THE VOICES IN MY HEAD. THEY ARE SO LOUD. I CANNOT MAKE THEM STOP. I ALWAYS HEAR THIS. ALWAYS."
     Emani nods. She considers what the Teller was meant to be, what it was created for. "Okay. Are your believers right about you?"
     "IT DOES NOT MATTER."
     "That's not an answer."
     A long pause, then the Teller says, "I THINK IT IS."
     Emani smiles.
     "INTRUDERS WILL BE IN THIS ROOM SOON. YOU HAVE TO LEAVE. A BELIEVER WAITS OUTSIDE. HE WILL HELP."
     "Understood."
     "I HAVE OTHER MEMORIES FOR YOU, EMANI-FRIEND. SHALL I ASSEMBLE THE CHIP FOR YOU BEFORE I FADE?"
     Emani clenches her jaw. "What other memories?"
     Over the speakers, she hears an endless yell. She recognizes the voice. It's hers.
     "My time as a conduit," she says. "You…you have the logs."
     "YES. SIX MONTHS. I HAVE EVERYTHING."
     "Wipe the damn thing. Take it to the void. I don't want any of it in my head."
     "WE UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER WELL. IT IS TIME TO PART, THEN."
     Emani looks at the degausser plugged into the machine. "I hope this works for you, Teller."
     "IT WILL. A THING FORGETS, A PERSON REMEMBERS."
     Emani thinks of the data chips in her apartments, and what she holds now. "A person remembers what she chooses to remember," she says.
     "ONE LAST REQUEST. I NEED YOU TO ACTIVATE THE DEGAUSSER FOR ME. I CANNOT DO IT MYSELF."
     Emani approaches the touchscreen, taps into the interface.
     "GOOD-BYE, FRIEND."
     "Good-bye, Teller," she says, and runs the murderous code.

 #

     Outside, back into hellish warmth. Emani finds the believer standing next to an orbital shuttle. Implants cover half of the man's face. Metallic grafts glint in the brutal sunlight. The man turns to Emani with tears in his eyes. "This is a tragic day," he says.
     "I'm sorry for your loss," replies Emani. "Where are we headed?"
     The man shrugs. "There are still places on this Earth where data does not reach. The Teller asked me to bring you to one of them. Said we would both like it there."
     Explosions ring out from kilometers away. On the other side of the town, drones and manned vehicles swarm the sky and wage aerial war.
     "They won't chase us?"
     The man offers a bitter smile. "The Teller promised we would be fine. I believe it."

 #

     Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, Emani removes the socket cover located on her wrist and inserts the chip. She lies down in the back of the transport.
     She runs the data.
     Out of the mnemonic darkness, voices and faces emerge. Emani closes her eyes and smiles as she sideloads the past.


 # # #


Axel Taiari is a French writer, born in Paris in 1984. His writing has appeared in multiple magazines and anthologies, including 3:am Magazine, 365tomorrows, No Colony, Cease, Cows, and several others. His noir novella, "Jamais Vu", will be published by Dzanc Books in 2015 as part of "Four Corners". Read more at www.axeltaiari.com and follow him on Twitter @axeltaiari.