It was the rain that he hadn’t counted on that was proving to be the death of them all. Feet splished through shallow puddles, rapidfire footsteps, run run running like all hell was at their heels – maybe it was. Those who were wounded already, though, took the brunt of the deluge something like vapid turkeys, pausing in their steps to stare up at the sky, dumbly smiling, faces pattered by crystalline drops. Hands would reach; he watched it from his bunker, his own hands curled around the latest hard copies, eyes glued to the screens.
He watched the networks disintegrate, thread by thread, link by link. Slowly but surely, Nex was being cut off, excised from the main host like some unwanted piece of cancerous flesh, already rotting from the inside out.
They’d stand there, staring up at the void of the sky, wondering at the sensation, and then the snipers picked them off, easy shots to wing them, drop them, leave them feeling rain pour from the sky and blood pour from the body. Cold coming down, warm coming out.
Later, when the scavenging hordes would slip out to see what could be used, he’d watch the bodies dragged away, pieces taken from them for useful gear, sometimes simply for trophies.
Already the collective that had been hundreds of millions strong was dwindling into the low thousands.
Standing behind the clear Perspex wall, he looked out over the remains of the city itself, where fires were burning near, and all the way to the horizon, dots of blazing blood and gold, grey smoke lifting toward a starless sky. The rain wasn’t doing much of a job of putting any of the flames out, but it shorted enough sparks all the same.
Word reached him through the soundstream that another three triads were lost, and he switched his vision away from realtime to the datalines, stripping the necessary information from the wave while his eyes flicked over the rest, skimming pertinent news items.
Another false offer of truce had been put out; no matter how he tried to immunize his forces against such rumors, he would lose three or four percent to the dirty tricks. Too tired (or sometimes too damned arrogant) to be wary of viruses once the gossip of peace came out, operatives would finally drop into idle, giving their grey matter a much needed rest. Too many of them were too tired to remember to disconnect. Passing dreamwards meant actual rest and regenerative sleep, but the bots lurking in the shadows of subroutines would seek out those most vulnerable, and introduce into them seeds of destruction, worms that fattened on data and shat garbage strings expansive enough to break every overflow buffer between syncpoint and the main host.
At turnover, the number of logons would be down, due to sheer exhaustion, but then there would be those who would never unidle. Lost in the network, their ghosted connections would remain, glimpses of nightmares shrieking, new obstacles for the runners to avoid.
By the time he released the datalines and his pupils shrank again, eyes refocusing on the here and now, the downpour was at its worst. Reports of the last of the wireless nodes coming down were coming in via the rest of the reliable methods, and he could feel isolation at the door, its knock getting louder. He didn’t have much time to bring them back together, if he was going to bother.
“Call them in,” he said quietly, his unnecessary voice rasping but still translated through the sound interface to various languages. His shoulders slumped; he was only a picture of a man, defeated, but he couldn’t leave them out in that.
It was over; it had happened.