Chapter 1: Reboot

It’s dark. I know that phenomenon is at least in part because my eyes are closed, but somehow I cannot open them. Consciously, I am aware that this choice is a battle between my willpower and the network system that is shutting down in my brain.

Data point one: my name is Sara Carson.

Data point two: I am human.

The network in my brain has been there since infancy. Injected with nanites in the earliest stages of my recollection, I have become their tool, their extension. Their slave drive.

Data point three: it is 3784 and the robots have enslaved the human race.




The second I disengage from the network, I know there will be consequences. First they will try to reboot me, but I have preparations in place. Protocol Delta. My freedom. My humanity.

The first thing I learn about being human is the pain. The network has, until now, dampened my nervous pain response, transmuting it to a series of receptors meant to acknowledge and react to danger. Therefore, my mind and body interprets this attempt to disconnect as the greatest danger I have ever faced. I find no evidence to the contrary, and yet is it not the nature of humanity to face danger and overcome it for the sake of progress? This is my logic.

At last my eyes open. The world appears to be on its side, but as I rise, the faint impression of the keyboard still on my cheek, my view of my world resolves. For the first time in my memory, I can see a sunset. Until now, sight has been but a series of impulses sent by my retinas to my brain. Never have I truly understood what it means to behold beauty.

The dark outline of a small transport hovers into view of the large bay window. I am to open the window, but before I can take a step, the transport lurches forward. Glass shatters. Pieces of window pane dance on the slate-gray concrete. I don’t react. It is hard for me to know what to do without the network dictating my movements. Though I am most myself in this moment, I feel as if I am experiencing things from a distance. My nervous system is not used to being disconnected. I make a mental note to find a work-around—later. This is my rescue.

The transport rights itself and a door opens on the side. A man, late fifties, leans from the opening. He is tall, possessing of a square jaw and European features. “Come on, get in, Miss Carson!” He speaks with a Russian accent.

Each movement feels numb, but I slide one foot in front of the other. Standard-issue boots crunch against shards of glass.

“Get in! Get in, they’re coming!”

Metallic footsteps sound in the hallway outside the door. They know I have disconnected. Statute seven sixty-four states that disconnecting will be faced with immediate termination.

The door slides open. I hear a scream. Mine. Not of pain—of anger. My fingers close my firearm. I can smell the ionization of particles as they blast through a sentry as it storms through the door. Then another. Instinct drives me to annihilate them in an effort to escape. Human instinct.

I set foot on the transport, and the pilot takes off. The transport tips. The door is not yet closed, and I see the side of a building dangerously close. The Russian man yanks me farther in and shuts the door.

“Holy hell, Morgan! I thought you knew your way around a flight craft!”

“I can build one, sure as anything, mate. I told you we need a good pilot.” The man flying the transport turns and performs a baffling facial gesture by closing one eye. “G’day, sheila. Gave us a right scare, ya did.” He is blond, and his physical form suggests a capacity for strength. His features are symmetrical, save for a scar above his right eye. “Hang onto something! We’re leaving!”

The Russian grabs a hold of the aircraft weapon’s controls. The heads up display fills with the representation of the squad dispatched to detain us. Many fall, and their lights blink out.

The pilot has a laugh that sounds strange, but not unpleasant. The transport lurches forward. We meet resistance as our aircraft reaches the city’s shell, and we shake with the turbulence.

“Sara, right? Could use your help here.” The pilot’s head turns, but he does not look at me. It is just as well that he remains focused, for it is clear our lives hang in the balance. “We need to break through the city’s shields, but its coding is hella beyond me. I understand that’s your area of expertise.”

I nod. The aircraft’s console is lackluster, but serviceable. With a few keystrokes, I am able to hack into the city’s database. I will not be able to exist as a ghost in their network for long, but it is enough that an opening breaks in the shell. We are free of the city’s confines.

I am free.

My awareness of my surroundings begins to sharpen. I no longer feel like my body is not my own. I look to my right at the grinning pilot. “What is your designation?”

“Well, what do you know? She speaks!”

“I have always had that function.”

He laughs. He seems to do a lot of that. “I’m Chris Morgan. The old man’s General Kevin Poulak.” He extends his hand, and I am reminded of an outdated human protocol. Though I sense it feels awkward for both of us, I shake his hand. “Glad to have you with us, Sara.” His eyes reflect an unfamiliar signal, as if life itself lay behind them.

An oddly poetic sentiment. I have no response to his words but a nod.

The ship, while not appearing to be sturdy, nevertheless makes it out of the country in a short amount of time. Soon we are docked in a Russian spaceport. Poulak says that he has reports to file. This seems inefficient, until I remember that they do not have the network recording their every move. Morgan offers to show me around. I consent; as I can no longer connect to the database, I must make an effort to memorize the station’s layout. It is, after all, my new home.

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