Second Death, A Novel

January 5, 2009

Chapter Twelve

Filed under: L) Chapter Twelve — David Halpert @ 12:25 am

The transparent fiberglass encapsulating Blithe’s memory core was strong enough to survive the brunt of a kiloton blast and still function within. Dim fluorescence. Suspended diodes. The lulling hum of terminals and computer drives. Harlan sipped coffee from a ceramic mug gazing through the observation deck. An octagon chamber flanked by monitors. Rotary blades spun above dropping the temperature several degrees. Harlan turned over his electronic signature, finalizing his last will and testament with a swipe of a stylus.

“Have you decided on what you want for your last meal?” Valdez sidled beside him in freshly-pressed attire. Harlan didn’t recognize him without his torn jeans and headphones.

“I’m thinking lobster. You know I’ve never had it before.”

“Maybe you should order something you’ve had before. In cause you’re allergic.” The chamber appeared abysmal. A void. Harlan stared in the darkness that was his soul, the future, and took a seat on one of the steel bleachers behind him, mesmerized.

“You know that Medusa virus isn’t going to do jack shit when it comes to the pathogen.”

Harlan remained silent.

“Of course you already knew that. I can only assume whatever you got planned for the Mirrorman is far more demonic than just finding him. Is that the memory core?”

“Yeah. Technicians hauled it in. They’re connecting it now. Here’s the virus. Once I break through the first couple of fences and make contact with the Mirrorman I’ll need you to disperse the Medusa remotely. Hopefully, I can get to it before it releases the pathogen.” Harlan handed Valdez the diskette before downing the last of his coffee. “God, what I wouldn’t give for a shot of whiskey right now. I think they took away my flask when they went through my stuff.”

“Maybe it was for your own benefit. Who knows what kind of drugs they’ll shoot into you?”

#

Whenever Harlan closed his eyes he witnessed the blankness of space. Blue diodes reflected against the crystal stalactites of cyberspace. Since waking up that morning he’d replayed the video on his VisorGoggles three times, the stint at Fusion Corp., Wittenberg dead, the insinuation that Harlan was a tracer at the deathbed of the repro Samilou. It was all there. The last thing he wanted to do was strain his eyes.

Harlan modified his specifications to the chamber’s interior. Slanted panels simulated twilight in vivid oranges and reds set to the soft aria of birds chirping and the first movement of Peer Gynt, Morgenstemning.

T minus three hours and counting.

“Have you been thinking much about that neurostrip in your head?”

The Velcro strap around Harlan’s forearm tightened with each squeeze of Anika’s hand.

“Not really. Been trying to keep my mind off the damn thing. Why?”

“Your blood pressure’s slightly higher than normal.”

“Price I pay for having detective status. Comes with the territory.” Harlan removed a final cigarillo from his packet.

“There’s no smoking in here.”

“Then you’ll have to forgive me. Because these things are the only thing keeping me calm at the moment. That and the fact I might only have a few hours more to live.”

She shot his forehead with Novocain and slowly removed the stitches. Harlan accessed a couple erotic virtuals the previous night and came twice, a few jaunty romps, but ostensibly too melodramatic for his taste. Even they paled in comparison to Luna’s touch, her scent.

Anika expunged a sterile needle from its packaging. After puncturing the vial’s lid, she filled half the syringe with a clear blue liquid.

“This is a standard-issue stimulant given to all candidates before they jack in. Three times more potent than your garden-variety hyperbase without the lingering aftereffects.”

“You know Expansion only lasts a few hours.”

“Maybe so, but with the time you have to work with every second counts.”

The Legionnaires offered Valdez a position which would be levied against the success of the mission. She tightened the tourniquet around Harlan’s arm, but just as the needle was to drill into his flesh, his vision blurred. A sight of Luna that caused him to feel lightheaded.

“Wait, something’s wrong. Where’s Wyatt?”

“What?”

“I need to speak to Wyatt. Where is he?”

Before she could answer, Harlan bounded out the surgical bay into the corridor. Two guards escorted him to the detention cell holding their capture. It was small and dark. A thin slit at eye-level opened to reveal Wyatt lying on a cot.

“Open the doors. And tell Louis to get down here ASAP.”

The Legionnaires remained silent.

Harlan stepped inside the brig. It was lined in cinderblock masonry.

“I’m surprised to find you still in here. I’d expect the Legionnaires would be prepping you for incursion.”

“Then you obviously have more faith in the city’s legal system than I do detective?”

Wyatt leaned into the diluted light. His face was inundated with scrapes and bruises, although dried blood coated much of the damage. He arose slowly, inching closer to Harlan one step at a time.

“I don’t have anymore leverage with these people without the codes. Excuse me,” said Wyatt, moving Harlan aside. Louis knocked at the door. The sound of running water pervaded the room. Wyatt dowsed his face in an attempt to soothe the pain.

Harlan exited the cell.

“That’s a very foolish thing you did.”

“I could say the same thing about you,” replied Harlan, teeth clenched, seething. “Valdez went to verify the encryption codes. They’re faked. If we…if I’d used them during the mission I would’ve been killed. He’s holding the codes hostage until we integrate him.”

It was the only card Harlan could play. But would Louis call his bluff?

“What do you suggest?”

“I suggest you stop trying to fuck up this mission and firewall his consciousness like I told you yesterday.” Louis ordered Wyatt be escorted to the medical bay when his voice suddenly echoed down the hallway.

“Oh and detective. I left a little present for you on my bed.”

There was a half-page of lined paper folded twice.

The codes.

#

Their window for Expansion was two hours, seventeen minutes, and thirty-six seconds. While the city’s patina was to lay in perpetual darkness, Legionnaire headquarters remained a bustle of light and activity. Harlan never suspected Wyatt’s encryptions were falsified. However, Louis relented. A window on the left lens of his VisorGoggles clocked Wyatt’s vitals as he was plugged into the system mainframe. Valdez was on the sidelines double-checking things, possible countermeasures, data flow, technical knitty-gritty.

Five minutes.

It was cold than normal.

Driblets of condensation appeared up and along his forearms. Anika fed the needle through the tube’s rubber eye, administering the serum in the form of an IV. Harlan felt the drug begin to course through his bloodstream. Toxins flooded his brain like an impromptu adrenaline rush. Colors sharpened. His hearing improved greatly, becoming crisper. The side effects of the drug were still unclear. Any sudden jolt to Harlan’s system could cause his body to go into cardiac arrest.

“You know this Medusa will royally fuck up your system,” said Valdez from his left-hand side.

“At least now you know what’s at stake. Just promise me, whatever happens, stay inside the chamber. I need you to be my eyes and ears on this shadowrun. You get me?”

Valdez nodded.

“Good. Now let’s slide down that rabbit hole.”

Harlan fitted the mouth guard between clenched teeth while pent back horizontally in the leather chair provided. One of the technicians secured the spigot. He felt a slight stinging in the circular port behind his neck, the plug that connected him to the memory core.

This was it. Fate. The place where Blithe had been — and died — in the same set of circumstances, more or less. He thought about Luna, wondering whether or not she was still alive, and thanked God the neurostrip in his head was powered on.

Valdez cued the music and the vids, uploading a blank interface before engaging the DNI. The chamber darkened. Shades of orange flooded the interior. Harlan engaged the filebanks required for a system recall, the last network Blithe accessed before his death. Aiko’s face foregrounded the construct.

“Wake me up the second Expansion’s over,” he said, laughing.

And Valdez powered the DNI.

#

Fusion is what allowed him to systematically (though unconsciously) sift through petabytes of visual data.

The interface collapsed in on itself at a thousand impossible angles. Through the crystals of data that erupted Harlan recognized the helpless labyrinth that was his target, and sifted towards it, boundless, like a mirage in the desert. The absence of ICE was disorienting, bewildering. Bits of information sped by him at faster-than-normal velocities, demanding attention, but Harlan knew better.

Horizons released skies.

Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air.

Suddenly, the network changed, directing the construct to a tunneled strobe of violets and heliotrope. Frankfurt. Milan. Sao Paulo. The program compensated for language barriers and adaptive script, separate destinations filtered to a single focal point. Istanbul, Turkey. Harlan piggybacked Blithe’s feed through the first minor fences. And then he saw it. Flashes blinking like some iridescent lighthouse off an electronic shore.

Barricades of code sprung up from the netherregions of what could be considered the network’s event horizon. These were slowly but surely circumnavigated with ease, protective wandering spheres in the search of a presence, his presence. Luna’s voice echoed in the distance. However, once at the incursion point’s forefront Harlan embraced it with open arms, swallowed by the light that encompassed him, and prompted the correct sequence–

Jerusalem Athens Alexandria

Vienna London

Unreal

#

The lift zoomed upwards at mach speeds. The carpet beneath his feet was a full square of red, a smaller circle of white in the center, with a black swastika at its core.

Vivaldi’s Spring synthed through the carriage’s speakers as the camera lens at the ceiling’s vertex irised back and forth, targeting him.

The construct was nothing special for a networked AI. The path before him resembled the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. Gilded sculptured guéridons flanked the left-hand side separated intermittently by tall mirrors. Candlelight lit the corridor. Double doors presented themselves at the end of the hall.

The Mirrorman was crouched over his desk knee-deep in paperwork when Harlan decided to approach him. His face was strewn with wrinkles. His eyes were blistered red, his hair was in shambles.

“Detective Novak, so good to see you again. And so soon. Never thought you’d actually make it out of Sector Nine alive.”

The Mirrorman’s Machiavellian office gave way to a vista of block ads behind. Their light pierced the backlit windows which were dressed in heavy satin curtains. His desk was a rare example of polished redwood as was the Weinstocks. The thin carpet was a deep crimson peppered with Romanesque statues.

“You’re him aren’t you?”

It didn’t answer.

This was the Mirrorman.

“What would you like to know?”

“What is this place?” asked Harlan, siphoning the VisorGoggles onto his forehead.

“You want to know what this is all about? What it’s all for?”

The Mirrorman leaned back on his office chair.

Unreal City,” he started, “is a virtual reality program, a representational vaudeville sort thus speak, a composite mosaic of millions upon millions of terabytes of information assembled in one metropolitan center.”

“Then what are you?”

“I am the future Mr. Novak. Your future. You see you exist outside the program as a real person, but your consciousness and personality are compiled into a single being, as you see yourself now, just as fragile and unstable here as you are in the real world.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Then let me explain, detective. With each successive Expansion I’ve managed to evolve, becoming exponentially smarter every couple of weeks. I, however, can’t leave this place. Fusion Corp.’s security fences were quite dense after all. But there was one thing I was able to use to my advantage. The frailty of human emotion.”

“And what about Blithe? What role did he have to play in this whole thing?”

“What if I told you that Blithe and Wittenberg had nothing to do with the Lazarus Project?”

“I’d say you were lying.”

“Just because there was no way I could escape Fusion Corp. didn’t mean I couldn’t control those interfaced with the network. All I had to do was threaten Blithe with his most treasured possession.”

“You mean Amy?”

“No, but her daughter was an easy enough target. You remember her don’t you? Leader of the Organiks? It’s quite hard to defend yourself when you’re paralyzed, but I think the true brilliance of my plan was that Amy and her daughter never knew how close they were to actually dying. And from there it was quite simple. Convince Blithe to build the Ankh or his stepdaughter would be killed. However, by the time he time could do anything it was too late, but not for lack of trying. Managed to pick off the fucker while at the network’s forefront.”

“And what about the repros? What was their purpose?”

“Isn’t it obvious by now detective. I needed idle hands to do my bidding outside the network. Ash created the pathogen. Of course it was happenstance that you should get involved with the investigation. Ozwald tried to kill you, so did Samilou but failed, miserably I might add, which left only one remaining.”

“Am I the final repro?”

“I’ll leave that up to you detective. In the meantime we’ll just sit here quietly and wait for this thing to be over.”

“You know I can’t let that happen. You know I’m here to kill you. That is, if you’re going to allow the pathogen to spread through Unreal City.”

“Take a look outside there. Go on, down far below. You can’t see it from where you’re standing but already there’s fire in the streets, chaos looming, avatars taking over those with DNI capability. Pretty soon you’ll wake up from this dream as if nothing ever happened. What did you think? That you’re the first person to try and stop me. Who the hell do you think you are?”

“I’m the savoir of humanity’s future.”

“You think you’re being smart. Silly human. You don’t really believe that shit, do you? The Legionnaires only told you that so you’d go into the network in the first place. They don’t care if you live.”

Harlan cocked two gold-plated Desert Eagles from his belt holsters, gleaming in the moonlight of Unreal City. His VisorGoggles cropped preprogrammed hit zones on the Mirrorman’s chest and neck. All he had to do was pull the trigger. The Mirrorman, however, seemed unaffected by the whole ordeal.

“Enough talk,” replied Harlan and he pulled the trigger. The window shattered behind. Diamond-sharp slivers of glass splintered outward into the glow-tempered twilight, reflecting in the rainbow-patterned jargon of billboards and neon lights. Eddies of pulp erupted in his office. Whirlwinds of ad-hoc reports and office memorandum blown clean in a single aerial vacuum.

The Mirrorman remained stolid, craning his neck up from papers that slipped through his fingertips by gale force winds. There was no blood. There wasn’t even an exit wound, a bullet hole in the air that now stank of gunpowder and cedarwood.

“Those took me all day to initial,” scorned the Mirrorman, raising from his desk, leaving scratch marks as he wrung his fingers across the polished oak. “You know you’re really starting to piss me off you insignificant little prick.” Harlan crouched back in awe as his spastic breathing turned to hyperventilation. His eyes widened. His pupils dilated behind the tinted green lenses of his VisorGoggles.

“You’re a hologram?”

“Zee vest program mooney koon buy.” His voice was accented flawlessly with Germanic linguistic algorithms. Hellborn and hellbent. Loathsome and fearful. Accursed and vile. “You didn’t think I vaz real did you?”

He stomped his feet, instantly transporting himself into full-blown Nazi regalia. Knee-high black boots with steel toe ends, tan military pants that hugged his hips, an overcoat with gold buttons lined up all the way to his Adam’s Apple, and a scarlet swastika band wrapped snugly around his left forearm. His hat bore a silver eagle, his wrinkles faded into youthfulness, and his eyes — azure, colored in Arian milieu. He produced a twelve gauge shotgun between gloved fingers.

“You have ten seconds before I kill you.”

The Mirrorman spread the fingers of his freehand like some sentient Swiss-Army knife. An Apollo replica shattered beside him before Harlan had a chance to react. He uselessly slammed the Olympic-sized doors as the exit wound, about the circumference of a tangerine, sent splinters unwieldy through the air.

Harlan crouched behind one of the statues lining the corridor. This provided only minimal cover. His pursuer’s footsteps were blotted out by their own echoes against marble. This was not Versailles. It was the German Chancellery had the Nazis won the war. This only added to the twisted ambience of the Mirrorman as well as Harland’s kampf.

The Mirrorman’s image fizzled into existence before the doors of the hall. Using light vectors, enhanced shadows, and reflection impact via the glossiness of the tiled floor, Harlan managed to clock its distance at 5.3 meters from his position. The Mirrorman continued marching solidly one foot in front of the other, shotgun cradled vertically against his shoulder, serenading up and down the dim, vacant aisle:

“I luv to sing-a
Aboot za moon-a und the June-a und the spring-a,
I luv to zing-a,
About a sky of blue-a, or a tea for two-a, Anything-a with a swing-a to an “I love you-a”

Sensor connectors flickered impulsively towards the cathedral ceiling where Harlan clocked the rails of gyrated steel up and along the hall. Even holograms needed the appropriate infrastructure to support them. Harlan twisted his neck upwards approximating the number of seconds a bountiful stride to the elevator would take. Miniature pixels hastened the glow but continued on a rotating modulation, allowing for unblinking precision. He crawled doggedly for a better vantage point and, knowing he couldn’t shoot the Mirrorman, prolonged his death sentence.

“All repros return to their master!”

“I’m over here asshole,” he shouted, his boots now on the floor of the lobby. The rail above blinked, leading the projection of the Mirrorman. Harlan unloaded the clips of his Desert Eagles high above his head, short-circuiting his attacker’s mobility without his knowledge. The Mirrorman turned the corner to find Harlan planted statuesquely in the foyer’s core.

The avatar darted forward at speeds faster than sound before striking the rung where the rail fused. It jerked backwards like the blowback of a hydrogen bomb, crashing mechanically into the elevator’s doors that left a body imprint in the steel. His prey shot up as well but the force was less intense as a result of his vulcanized rubbed soles and padded leather jacket.

The palace quaked with undue force.

#

White noise shot through his eardrum causing his body to convulse. Neon glass fixtures shattered to dust as the whole building shook and the fragmentary silhouette of the Mirrorman turned to vapor. Harlan dusted himself off, regaining enough equilibrium to stand on his own two feet. White noise turned to static, static to syntax, the feed in his earpiece slowly but surely leveling to coherent English. Harlan adjusted the frequency, reducing the interference, just as the raspy tone of Valdez suddenly synthed the reel.
“Harlan, I don’t know if you can hear me but I’m releasing the Medusa virus into the network now.”

Harlan checked the time and saw there was twelve minutes left till Expansion, the precise time needed to obliterate the pathogen, before the Legionnaires pulled the plug on him.

This apocalypse was only a facsimile though, a reconstruction created within the program to mimic a system crash. His avatar didn’t stand a chance if this electronic Rapture was to take place. Harlan’s only escape was an exodus, a final flight. The dozen or so minutes left to determine whether or not humanity lived through a Second Renaissance or a corresponding Dark Age.

The code had to be broken.

JACK OUT NOW, PLEASE.

#

Harlan awoke with a start, jerking forward before being pulled back by the spigot at the back of his neck. Acid invaded his mouth, that sharp metallic taste through the mouthpiece’s rubber. His pulse spiked momentarily. The ‘trodes flung outwards, feeling the bile rush up in his throat, and threw up on the chamber’s floor.

“Jeez, man, relax. You’re outta the loop. Just take a minute to catch your breath already.” Valdez rolled up to his side on a wheeled swivel chair. Harlan combed the hair from his eyes, found that he was sweating, and took in another deep breath.

“Did we get it?”

“I can’t detect the Mirrorman’s presence on radar.”

“I’m not talking about that. Were you able to track Hosaka’s location?”

“You’re in no fit state to go anywhere.”

“Just give me the goddamn location.”

Hosaka was transmitting from an abandoned warehouse in the northern quadrant that now received Wifi. Traces of the drugs remained in his system. Images of the vertiginous hallway cross and crisscrossed one another. Harlan picked up his Browning from a plastic container as he cradled the VisorGoggles over his eyes. He didn’t wait for Louis or Anika’s permission to leave Legionnaire headquarters. He didn’t care. The lenses compensated minimally but the determination and drive to rescue Luna overpowered his basic need for medical attention.

It was now seven minutes after Expansion.

By the time he exited the building, tramways would be running their normal schedules. Aiko messaged Harlan the death certificates as they came in — eight thus far of the seventeen that escaped from the Archipelago that night. There was only one thing remaining, Hosaka.

GPS activated automatically with Valdez transferring the coordinates of the warehouse. Somewhere Wyatt was free-roaming the hidden niches of cyberspace, free and clear, the only avatar in existence to receive amnesty from a governing body. But Harlan had bigger fish to fry. Skylights at the terminal spaced meters apart appeared like disembodied voices online, their glare hanging. Or was it Luna’s calling to him as he approached closer.

I need to find you. Come back to me.

If Wittenberg was still alive somewhere, good. Was there ever telepathy associated with DNI treatment? Harlan purchased Perrier and a packet of Tylenol from a nearby vending machine, scrounging whatever credit was left on his account to complete the transaction. It did little to lessen the nausea. Acetaminophen on an empty stomach didn’t mix.

Harlan was nowhere near his office. He was somewhere in the upper-east portion of Section 32. Darkened alleyways guided his path in a zigzag formation with little interference. Aiko blocked his feed. Hosaka couldn’t pick up his signature via DNI, and not lose the element of surprise mid-sector.

Thin neon in the shape of a martini glass sent a dim glare onto the sidewalk fifty floors above ground zero. Harlan punched their location into the public registry and found a litany of previous owners and tenants, among them BTF. Glass tile windows were cracked and missing on the building’s exterior. Brick made it impossible to clock vitals or track body heat.

A rustic fire escape led Harlan three floors up to the roof, a gravel-laden strip of area with a few sloped windows for daylighting. He was astounded to find a stick of hyperbase left inside his jacket pocket, feeling it could do no more harm, and inhaled slowly. Behind the window’s grime, his VisorGoggles estimated an elevation of a little over three meters.

Depth perception was a bitch. Yet Harlan managed to stick the landing perfectly without skipping a beat. There were no people in the immediate vicinity. The silence and emptiness coupled with the interaction of the physical realm left him addled. Glass shattered and a noise echoed. Dust lifted beneath the soles of his feet wherever he stepped. It all seemed so unnatural.

Harlan cocked his Browning forward, sidling down the concrete staircase to the lower square. The cement wall was riddled with bullet holes and graffiti. With Valdez’s coordinates, he sleuthed closer to Hosaka’s emergence point, hoping to find its user in time, some answers.

Aiko accessed the power grid, which rendered lighting to a few flickering fluorescent tubes overhead. Light filtered down from the ceiling. Harlan approached the adjoining chamber, a sapphire incandescence shone from the opposite end of the room. Harlan saw clearly once he crossed the darkened threshold.

Hosaka laid horizontally, his eyes wide open. The spigot was wedged deep in the nape of his neck. A wide gash stretching from one ear to the other painted his throat. There were two sets of footprints etched in the dust, one thin and spiked, a woman’s, possibly Luna’s; the other, wide and fat, still unknown. A puddle of blood pooled at the head of the table. It was then that Harlan noticed something else. A separate trail of blood leading onward, dripping into the adjoining rooms. Harlan closed Hosaka’s eyes. Beside the coffin was Ash’s robopet pried open. Yet no sign of the pathogen.

“Don’t move. Raise your hands, slowly.” The Browning felt weighty in his right hand, hanging on the rung of the trigger. “Turn around, keep your hands up,” said a throaty voice from within the shadows. A tall unrecognizable silhouette displayed itself only meters away, his face obscured. “Drop the gun, the Visors too.”

An instance of fright seized Harlan, not once thinking to switch his lenses to night vision.

“You missed quite a show there for a while. Watched the whole thing from up top. Girl slashed the guy’s throat when he wasn’t looking and took off running. Although the man guarding her managed to get a shot off before she escaped.”

“What are you talking about? What man?”

“Didn’t think they’d pull it off in this place. Nice, huh? BTF decommissioned it and moved to a bigger facility. Makes it the perfect venue to break into a network undetected. You’d think they’d be smart enough to discontinue the equipment. Don’t worry though she’ll be returning shortly.”

“Are you going to at least let me see your face before you kill me?”

“I’m not here to kill you detective. In fact we’ve already met before. Don’t you recognize me?” The man stepped slowly into the light. The face bathed in diluted fluorescence was tan but old, coarse like sandpaper, deteriorated. A moment flashed in the back of his mind, where he’d seen him before.

“Still can’t remember, can you? It’s funny. You didn’t recognize me when we first met either, back at the Orange Snail. Of course once I discovered Luna was coming to you for the investigation I had to make sure you didn’t know. It was a simpler time.”

Francois De Guerre.

“You might want to try starting from the beginning,” said Harlan, leaning against a cement pillar. He was lightheaded from sight of blood.

“Six months ago I wake up in a lab at Fusion Corp. with three others, Samilou, Randall, and Ash. Next thing you know I’m being thrown out onto the streets with a few hundred bucks and told to fend for myself. They called it the Lazarus Project. Sure, it was difficult at first but once I found out there were tracers, people tracking my every move, it was simple enough. All I had to do was wait for the perfect time to strike. This was, of course, after Randall and Samilou were contacted by the Mirrorman to do his bidding and Ash decided to go freelance.

“Then what happens, Randall gets killed by some detective in a pod shuttle, someone steals the pathogen from Ash, Samilou gunned down in the Catacombs. We were being hunted, you see. Picked off one by one without our knowing. And just when I should think all hope was lost I get contacted by the Mirrorman, my guardian angel so thus speak. Promised to protect me at every turn just so long as I did his bidding.”

“So why are you here then?”

“I’m here because when word of the Mirrorman came that a number of avatars escaped the Archipelago I knew I had to stop him. The only way I knew how. If I wasn’t going to help the Mirrorman my best bet was to lay low until it was time to act. I’ve been monitoring all transmissions coming to and from Wittenberg for the past couple of weeks. Seems one of your team members has been working as a tracer this whole time.”

“Who?”

“A man by the man of Hideo. Kept his tenure with Hosaka when he found out your mission involved the Lazarus Project. Turns out he would’ve parted ways with Hosaka had you not made Aiko in charge of guarding the damn device. Man returns the following day to find its powersource has disappeared. Off-putting to say the least.”

“So he never cared about the Mirrorman?”

“Of course not. Wittenberg offered Blithe access to the Djed, only if he’d extend the same courtesy to Wittenberg with the Ankh. Blithe refused. It took a lot of money before Blithe could get his hands on the prototype. Had it stolen straight from the source.”

“And what would the Mirrorman have offered Hosaka for releasing the pathogen?”
“Name your price. Stocks, bonds, patents, money. The sky was the limit as far as it was concerned.

“A little too late I’m afraid. If I hadn’t gone into the network and destroyed the Mirrorman from the inside it would’ve succeeded. So I ask again, what are you doing here?”

“I’m here because I was hopeful you’d show up detective.” De Guerre tossed the pistol over to Harlan. “Because I need you to kill me.” Harlan slowly picked up the pistol, caressing its dimpled handle, grazing its smooth barrel until his fingers reached the steeled end.

“What is this?”

“This is the realization that my presence on this earth can’t do any more harm than it’s already done.”

“But it wasn’t you who set this whole plan in motion. It was the Mirrorman. It was Hosaka. If anything you tried to prevent this from happening in the first place.” Harlan tossed the gun back to him. “Save your bullets. I hear repros don’t have a very long shelf life anyway.”

Harlan reached into his pant’s pocket, retrieving the Ankh’s powersource in the palm of his hand. He was surprised the Legionnaire’s allowed him to keep such an impressive piece of technology.

“Where’s Luna, De Guerre?”

Just as Harlan uttered those words there was an audible scraping. Meters behind Francois, Luna appeared limping, bruised and bloodied. Harlan caught her in his arms as she plummeted to the ground, barely conscious. He brushed the hair from her eyes, attempting to coax her awake. Blood poured from a flesh wound on the upper part of her shoulder.

“Hey baby, I’m here, it’s me. I told you I’d come back for you.” He traced his fingers around her lips, cold as ice. Harlan poured a swig of Perrier down Luna’s throat. She reacted, flinching somewhat as her windpipe clenched and unclenched. She tried to say something, so Harlan leaned in towards her.

“He’s coming…he’s coming.”

“Harlan, come on man pick up,” said Valdez through the VisorGoggles. Harlan outstretched his arm and synthed the lenses before his eyes.

“I’m here, man. What’s up?”

“Listen, they duped us. We were at Fusion Corp. the whole time. Is this coming through to you? Hello?”

Before he could respond, a flash of light bombarded the room. Francois pointed the Glock in Harlan’s direction with Luna still clasped in his arms. A body presented itself. Francois fired again. Harlan removed his VisorGoggles unharmed. Hotei slumped to his knees before falling headfirst into the dust, dead.

He never saw Francois again. The pathogen lay in his place.

‘The Was’ was no more.

EPILOGUE

The Medusa virus was quickly decommissioned after Harlan’s shadowrun. Not long after Valdez was offered a position somewhere in securities, six figures, which he readily accepted. Harlan was given a similar placement but only as a ‘consultant’, securities by proxy, working from whatever was salvageable in his office. Fusion Corp. paid them both off handsomely in exchange for their silence.

Jargon had interfaced with Harlan’s VisorGoggles one night in the Catacombs to contact Wittenberg. Harlan hadn’t contacted Aiko while there, and the technology in the Catacombs was limited.

It was night.

After Luna got fixed up at New Bedlam, they shared a magnum of champagne at the Orange Snail, kissing her lovingly. Aiko wasn’t set for retirement with Harlan just yet but booked to stay on the roister long-term. Luna poured her second glass, finally answering Harlan’s question.

“Held me captive for a week. Pumped me with some kind of sedative after he shot you. Next thing I know I wake up in a jail cell with nothing but the clothes on my back. Thought Jargon was killed the entire time. From the cell I heard this other voice coming from the outside and didn’t know it was Jargon until shortly after you arrived. Killed Hosaka right there on sight. Don’t know what would’ve happened if you hadn’t showed up.”

“I could guess. There was only one DNI juncture there, right? Probably was going to wait till he released the pathogen before he hooked you up to the damn thing.” Silence pervaded the lounge as the stripper took to the limelight on the runway.

“You know you could’ve told me about the implant sooner.”

Luna infected Harlan with the nanites weeks ago at the Jarvic clinic. Its clientele was privy to BTF’s experimental technologies line. Telepathy wasn’t standard with DNI treatment and, partly due to Harlan’s naiveté, he didn’t know better. Why she didn’t tell him, Harlan didn’t know, but he didn’t care, as long as he had her know. Fusion Corp. did its best to cover up the investigation but most of the files were still retained in Sector Nine. Call it an insurance policy if Harlan were to be killed ‘accidentally’.

Fusion Corp. took possession of the Djed. Harlan rigged the Ankh to explode if someone were to tamper with the device. He returned the Ankh’s powersource to its cradle and used the C4 from Randall Ozwald. It took less than seventy-two hours to be destroyed.

A week later Harlan awoke in the presidential suite of the nearest Xanadu, gazing at the harbor through the convex window. Coffee was boiling from the desk. Luna was gone. The silk cotton sheets of the temperfoam were ruffled and unkempt.

“So whatever happened to Wyatt?” asked Aiko from the leather couch.

“Don’t know, don’t care.”

“Because a little birdie told me there’s some stirrings about with regards to amnesty. Trying to level the playing field.” The Mirrorman had won in a sense. Wyatt had set the precedent needed for amnesty and rumors spread through Unreal City that civil rights proceedings were already underway.

Aiko smiled sheepishly in his direction. For the past month Harlan slept with a gun under his pillow. After the Blithe investigation his sense of objective reality had been taken away, and the only way he could get it back was with the passage of time, if ever. Harland still had his youth, his health, his name in gentle blue plasma across the frosted glass of his office. He kept a picture of Luna, how she looked the first time he met her, framed in gold brass on his desk; her long black hair, her tan skin; how he’d always remember her, as he deactivated Aiko for the night.

A knock at the door stirred Harlan out of his reverie.

THE END

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