Apex Cypher (Prequel to The Techxorcist series)

BOOK: Apex Cypher (Prequel to The Techxorcist series)
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Contents

Apex Cypher

The Techxorcist Prequel
by Colin F. Barnes

Colin F. Barnes’ Website:
www.colinfbarnes.com
Newsletter:
http://eepurl.com/rFAtL

All Rights Reserved

This edition published in 2014 by Anachron Press

This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this work are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication maybe reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission of the publisher. The rights of the authors of this work has been asserted by him/her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Part 1 - The Journey

2153, Post-Cataclysm — Outskirts of Baicheng, China

It was a fool’s errand to cross the Baicheng expanse, they said. The radiation will kill you, they said. Gabriel was prepared for the risk. One didn’t survive by staying still. Inaction made you easy prey for the grim reaper. You kept one step ahead of him, remained a moving target.

Gabriel pulled the collar of his duster coat close around his neck, shielded his eyes by pulling his padre hat down low over his dreadlocked head. The ash particles, reflecting in the weak light, bathed the expanse of desert before him and his companion in a wash of dark vermilion.

The Geiger counter chirped like a schizophrenic budgie. Each beep stabbed yet further at his gnawing anxiety. Every step took him farther away from the tented shelter, the relative safety of the handful of survivors, and closer to a future, that much like Schrodinger’s cat experiment, could reveal either their survival, or their death upon observation.

“Is it bad out here, Gabe?” Petal said. “The radiation, I mean.”

“Yeah. Jus’ look around, girl. Tell me what ya see.”

Petal turned her head. Her pink mohican rustled in the wind. “Nothing,” she said.

“Exactly.”

The counter clicked still faster. Gabe headed away from the radiation. It was how he knew they were on the right track, on the right route to find the Tinker.

Since roads and landmarks had been destroyed by war, and ultimately nukes, traversing the desert plains wasn’t so easy. Large areas were still too contaminated with radiation to casually go trekking across.

There was a pattern though. You had to stick to it.

‘You just follow the clean spots,’ the Tinker had said in a voice recording Gabe had received the day before while at the tent shelter. They had just one working computer there: an ancient pre-quantum unit belonging to the tent-town owner, Xian.

Using his system, Gabe discovered another node on an ad-hoc network, picked up by Xian’s ancient microwave transceiver, recovered from a downed bomber some years previous. The node was the Tinker’s computer and the message was a job request.

A deal was struck between Xian and the Tinker.

Only Xian was quite happy sitting beneath his tarp tent on the coast, while he worked on making a boat from washed-up debris and eating the few sickly fish that found themselves in his ragged nets—the consumption of which were no doubt responsible for Xian’s legion of multiple idiosyncrasies. In truth, Xian was completely nuts and he didn’t want the job.

Considering Gabe and Petal didn’t want to go any more nuts than they already were, they chose to leave the poisoned fish behind and seek pastures new with the promise of better food. They accepted the job offer on Xian’s behalf.

The voice recording explained the task and the payment. To find her, the voice advised: ‘Just let the Geiger counter lead you. Eventually, you’ll see it.’

By ‘it’, she meant the graveyard—her home, a scrapyard for planes, trains, and automobiles.

Gabe would have liked something a little more concrete, perhaps some landmarks. The only information he had indicated her place lay a few miles outside of the former transport city of Baicheng. The job was to find, secure, and return to the Tinker a cache of electronics from somewhere in the ruins of the city.

Given how the despicable organisation known as The Family, the world’s largest—and now only—company and military superpower, had ended WWIII, and everything else on the planet with nukes and EMPs fifty years ago. Very few working electronic items remained.

Those who could find them could earn a great deal of money, and more importantly, food, water, and shelter. All of which were of great interest to Gabe and Petal.

Gabe strode forward, his long coat flapped against his jeans, dreadlocks brushed against his face. His heavy boots clapped against the dry earth. He chewed on a sugarweed root he found earlier. It was one of the few things that grew on those dead lands since the nuclear cataclysm. It wasn’t tasty, but it filtered the dangerous isotopes and provided the chewer with glucose; albeit not much, but beggars couldn’t be ungrateful swines.

“I miss the mountains,” Petal said, absently brushing the dust from her leather biker’s jacket. She won in a bare-knuckle fight back on the coast. Poor bastard who challenged her didn’t know what had hit him.

She played up being a tiny, innocent-looking punk girl to hustle the meatheads on the circuit. Although before the last fight, Gabe noticed a few of the organisers had recognised her. It seemed rumours and descriptions of her had got round. Meant that gig would soon be over.

Given he was a big, dreadlocked, preacher, and she a pink-haired, goggled punk, it was kind of easy to know who they were. But that had other advantages too: it was easy to create a myth, exaggerate what they were capable of. Their reputation had kept them alive on more than one occasion, and often won them work ahead of someone with a lesser rep.

“I mean it,” Petal added with a deep sigh. “It was cool and calm there. I kinda miss it.”

“You only miss beating up the meatheads for a few bins.”

Bins were the only currency in the abandoned lands. Standing for Binary Assets, bins were traded electronically via DigiCards—a universal system of data transfer. It was an old tech, but the few computers that had survived the cataclysm had the right ports. The bins themselves allowed people to securely transfer finite pass-codes, which gave the user potential access to information—if one could find a node with its light-drives intact.

“Well, there’s that too,” Petal said. “But I miss the ambience.”

“Yeah. Well, I miss the quiet.” Gabe smirked.

“Ain’t you the comedian all the sudden?” Petal took her HackSlate from inside her jacket and gestured a two-finger swipe across its surface. “We must be close,” she said.

“How d’ya figure?”

“Signals, Gabe. Data flow. The first since we left Xian’s place yesterday.”

“Huh.” Gabe’s concentration remained on the horizon. A tiny stick-like shadow extended up from the horizon in the far distance. “Looks like ya right. See over there?”

“What is it?”

“It’s the beacon, girl,” Gabe said. “Means we’re not far from the city of Baicheng.”

Petal pushed her pair of opaque, brass-rimmed goggles up to her forehead. Her eyes were glossy, black orbs. They shimmered as if made from oil. She squinted at the shadow.

Gabe would have to get her to an appropriate node soon and download the bad, malicious code she carried inside of her. When her eyes were like that, it meant she’d reached full capacity, and that wasn’t a good thing at all.

Petal had the ability to contain artificial intelligences and dangerous viral code, while Gabe found and hacked the code in order to extract it from various computers and systems. Together they made a fine team. Their partnership came about by luck, but Gabe wasn’t one to throw away an opportunity.

Besides, when he found her, she was banging on death’s door. He felt responsible for her now. Although truth be told, she’d saved his ass more times that he’d like to admit. Despite her small stature, she had seriously impressive capabilities. But when her internal systems, those that had remained a mystery to Gabe, were full, they had to find a computer capable of accepting the terabytes of malicious and dangerous code she carried.

There was only one machine Gabe knew of in this part of the world: a small hamlet in the abandoned lands of Mongolia. A gang there had a server. An ancient one designed apparently for the very purpose of securing dangerous AIs.

It was either that, or returning to Hong Kong—which wasn’t an option.

“See?” Gabe said. “The city can’t be far off.”

“City? You mean ruins, right?”

“Yeah, but what ain’t a ruin now?”

“City Earth,” Petal said. She referred to the great Dome city in Mongolia: the last real surviving city. It was essentially The Family’s plaything. A million souls existed in a tightly controlled, lab-condition, bio-dome. Each citizen was connected to a great computer network that monitored and controlled everything. That anyone else remained alive outside of the Dome was a minor miracle, given how The Family would often send out their Unmanned Aerial Vehicle drones to scour the skies for pockets of survivors, and destroy them.

The survivor town with the server wasn’t far from the Dome. Gabe suspected they’d only be allowed to stay alive there if it was of some benefit to The Family. He thought it was all part of The Family’s experiments. They probably wanted to see how people behaved in different environments. Either that, or they were a control group.

Whatever the case was, those running the Dome, and those living in it, had everything they needed: clean water, food, education, entertainment, and safety. But at what cost? Their freedom, and free will, certainly.

He often wondered if he’d give that up and become a City Earth citizen, but that idea never lasted long. Even if it were possible for an outsider to join their society, they’d never welcome borderline psychopath hackers like him and Petal.

They never toed the line, or did what ‘The Man’ expected of them. It was the one thing Gabe knew that had kept him alive when so many of his people perished back in Hong Kong. His people populated the Jamaican quarter. They were also one of the first to be massacred by the gangs when it was safe enough to leave the fallout shelters.

So much loss and destruction, it was a miracle he could operate at all, but Petal was a driving force for him now. She gave him hope. Hope that there might still be... no, he wouldn’t start dwelling on the past again. He had a job to do.

Find the Tinker, get some food, and move on to Mongolia.

He picked up the pace and used the Geiger counter to show him the way.

A single splash of something wet hit him in the face. At first he thought it was a Kamikaze bug, but when he went to wipe it away another drop soon followed.

Petal squealed. “The rains have come early!”

That was not a welcome development, despite only having a one-gallon canteen of water between them. The rains meant more radiation, ash, and contamination. All the toxic crap that got blasted into the atmosphere by the nukes came back down to earth in the rain, poisoning more of the land, bringing disease to the few remaining survivors.

“Screw the rain,” Gabe said as he pulled the brim of his black padre’s hat over his brow. “Cover up. Ya don’t want it on ya.”

“Killjoy,” Petal said. She shrugged her shoulders, pulled a piece of plastic tarp from her battered backpack, and created a makeshift poncho that covered her head and shoulders.

The patter of drops matched their footsteps.

As they increased their speed, so the rains followed, until it became a race.

Gabe grabbed her hand and urged her forward.

The counter clicked still faster, and before Gabe knew it, they were turning in circles. An unseen enemy shrouded any clear path. There was only backwards, or dangerous levels of toxicity. Had the Tinker tricked him? To what ends? He was on his way there to do a job for her. She needed his and Petal’s abilities more than she could have wanted them dead.

“What is it?” Petal said after Gabe had come to a standstill.

“I dunno, girl. But we can’t go on, and we need shelter.”

“Go back?” she said without conviction. She knew, like Gabe, that they’d never make the day’s trek back to the shelter before the rains had come in full force. He looked up: dark clouds formed, heavy and sodden with poisonous precipitation.

Petal stepped closer and lifted the tarp poncho up and over so it covered them both.

“We’ll have to make camp,” she said.

“With what? We only have the tarp and our clothes. Not enough to make a tent.”

She shivered against him. He realised that the temperature had dropped considerably since they set out. They had no means of fire; there wasn’t anything on this dead land to set alight anyway. He pulled her in close, tried to think of a way out of their predicament.

She felt so small and fragile, but despite her small physical size, she was the strongest person he’d ever known. At times when he thought he would perish in the inhospitable lands, or he would succumb to a dangerous virus or artificial intelligence on a job, there was Petal with her uniquely weird abilities to save his ass.

Despite asking her several times what she was, she could never answer. He found her a few years previous in a place not too dissimilar to these deserts. She seemed to just wander out of the air and come across his trench shelter. She looked scared and beaten up.

The first time he spoke with her, she was covered in bruises and dried blood. In one hand she clutched a dead flower with a single petal—hence her name from then on. She didn’t know what else she might have been called.

It transpired she had incredible hacking skills. Better even than Gabe, and he thought Gabe was good as anyone. Since he met her, they’d taken on various jobs for people looking to liberate information, or destroy malicious AIs: the weapon of choice for post-Cataclysm gangsters. There were few actual computers left in the world, and fewer still on a network. What information, and access, that could be appropriated was now worth a great deal of risk to obtain. Whoever had information had power. And power meant survival.

Like the Tinker: an old recluse who had her few remaining fingers in as many pies as she could find. Now she needed Gabe and Petal—if they lived long enough to actually find her.

“What’re we gonna do, Gabe?” Petal asked.

“How much do ya trust this Tinker woman?”

“I know nothing about her.”

“Do you think she seemed sincere on that video? Do you still have it on that slate of yours?”

“Yeah, want me to play it again?”

“If ya don’t mind. I wanna see if there’s something helpful there. We can’t just stand here, but I need more info. Anything to give us a clue as to where to go.”

Crouched under the tarp, the rain coming down harder, Petal and Gabe watched the video recording.

An old woman, with wrinkles as deep as chasms, and eyes full of cataracts and rheum filled the frame. A single source of light illuminated her from behind and created deep shadows. A yellow glow rimmed her frizzy hair.

“There,” Gabe said, pointing to the light.

Petal shrugged. “What?”

“Watch.”

“I don’t see... ah, it’s dimming.”

“Not just dimming. But dimming in intervals, see? Every half-second or so it goes dark.”

Petal scratched at her neck port—a round, chromed jack plug. It was a sign of nervousness. Gabe often found himself doing the same thing ever since he met her.

“I’m not following,” she finally said.

Gabe pulled the tarp back so they could see ahead. He raised his hand and pointed to a structure some ten kilometres away. Petal pulled her goggles down and stared at it.

BOOK: Apex Cypher (Prequel to The Techxorcist series)
6.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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