This is Part 7 of the Serial called Disconnection.
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Broadcasting live from the silent zone was just about the bravest, most amazing, and quite literally the most fatally stupid thing anyone could do.
Those connected to the main host, via any grid, long distance, wireless, physical lines, Nex or other routes observed with a freakish excitement; people hadn’t been privvy to this much potential in decades. Even the fainted woman sat up after a moment, and stared, enrapt, listening so intently she forgot all about her toast.
Quietly, all three of them stated their ID tags, and the whole listening world became exquisitely aware that this was no ordinary hijacked broadcast. They were getting information directly out of the pipeline — this was a triad, in the midst of an unauthorized strike.
In the Silent Zone — a place feared worse than Surges, where the Never Connected were rumored to engage in cannibal runs, stealing people off the street, just to eat them.
Runig wasn’t listening anymore, however, he was sending sets of operatives to pick up the triad, and hopefully eliminate the source of the broadcasted threats. Something felt itself powerful enough to say these things in a bar? Even in the Silent Zone? Perhaps it was just some drunk, but if that was the case, he could hardly imagine the triad — even a rookie one, at that — putting itself on the line like this.
And that’s when he saw the vidfeed. Oh so carefully, the com of the triad had encrypted this particular line and sent it in multiple streams along different paths at varying intervals without seeming point or pattern. Anyone watching would think them garbage. They would only reconnect when they met back at Central, and were caught by the right receiver.
No wonder this kid was the best of her class.
To make matters more interesting, he saw his own ID tag on the first one, and forgot about discipline and accountability long enough to be impressed, and immediately fed them to his internal display. He’d have put it up for Central to see, but since it came through such secure channels, he supposed the kid was trying to keep it quiet. At least for the moment.
Runig’s eyes closed, so that no one else could see the images move across them. The com had tinkered with it, splicing in other feeds, and for a moment, it was hard to figure out what the hell was going on. Runig, however, was the kind of man who understood things like that, and didn’t need to be told twice.
The source of the threats had a familiar face, and that was why the com kept it to himself.
Blake. The man who’d started the war. The man who’d been hidden for years, sending out his soldiers to kill innocents.
Blake was in the Silent Zone less than a klik from the uncontested borders of all that Main Host controlled.
It was a fair assumption to make that everyone in a ten kilometer zone would soon be dead; Blake didn’t do small.
Within only seconds, he called off his operatives, revoking the orders and sending out new ones, banning any and every op from the Silent Zone for the near future, upon penalty of dismissal from the corps. And then he sought to verify the com’s visual, before the triad were discovered. His work was quick and light and full of the trademark perfection for which his particular style was noted, in most textbooks, but he doubted it would be fast enough to save the three who were there, risking life and limb to break open the biggest discovery since Prime itself.
There didn’t have to be any more incriminating evidence, at this point; no one within all of Nex, or the main host, would believe that it had been a joke, a hoax or a staged thing — as soon as the source could be found, steps would be taken to neutralize it.
All across the grids, people waited, breath held, listening. One of the triad could be heard to say, “I think you’ve had about enough; we’ll have to roll you home.” There was laughter, and the feed kept running, as they made their cover, paid their tab and sought to extricate themselves from something they only recently understood was lethal.
Bright, drunken laughter, and the sound of clunking chairs, belches, boots stomping, drinks clinking, ice rattling, bottles opening — the com had nothing left to lose, and was letting everything pour through to all channels, rather than bother encrypting it to Runig, not bothering to filter out the bad music, the chatter all around; for a moment, people were there, in the bar, with her, with her friends. They could all but smell the booze and feel the thick heat of the atmosphere licking damply against their skin.
Only Runig watched from the viewpoint of the com herself, and felt the sharpening of the image–the sudden clarity of detail that came with an adrenaline dump. The com looked to her left, and the vidfeed stuttered as a moment was captured, the young blonde laughing, handsome features caught in a carefree grin. And then, to the right, where a red-headed young man had just outgrown his gangliness and traded it for grace. Another stutter. Another capture of an instant.
God, she knows, Runig thought, and he opened his eyes to look around the room. Central was as enrapt as the rest of them, some smiling grimly, readying themselves for the latest hunt, listening to the last best stunt this triad would ever pull.
Gunfire hadn’t really been heard in some time; there were a lot of new weapons to be used, instead, once Prime had been discovered, so the sudden sound of the shots startled everyone, including Runig, who snapped his eyes shut and inwardly railed against the fact that he couldn’t send anyone else in.
Autorun piped in over the vidfeed, explaining quite urgently that the source was damaged; silent alarms went up throughout Central, but nobody moved. The audiofeed kept on, and people held one another, staring wildly at the tuners or with their hands over their ears, listening intently, begging. Don’t stop. Don’t stop yet. In the bar, the screaming and shouting and begging kept up, and many a mother or worried father connected to the main host sent their children to bed.
Parents everywhere struggled to discern if their boys were the ones there. Many eyes wept, and many hands shook, but Central would confirm nothing for now. Runig was still working on Verification as everyone listened, breathless — the voice of the threats snarled something impossibly full of hate, something the whole world heard.
And then there were three more shots.
Audio cut out, and Central turned, as one, to look at their commander.
Verification was achieved right about the same time the signal crashed and burned.
As for Runig? He had heard what Blake said, because Blake had said it just for him.
“Coming for you and all your toy soldiers, Runig. This is only the beginning. Man wasn’t meant to be made of wires and noise. He was meant to see the world around him as it is.”
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