The Runner, Part II
Silas Vessel No. 387, code-named Vanaheimr, launched from under the North Docks at approximately 23:34 pm. The long and narrow submarine, which was built like a tank but had the capacity of a full-sized luxury cruise liner, the kind you only saw on holograms at the Veritas Museum of Remembrance in the Chrome District, was dressed in seaweed, coral, and other dead and decaying sea life, aimed at protecting the vessel from the pirates, an old name for the digital hackers that roamed the oceans. Built for speed and power, it would makes it destination to the East Coast, and Ikarizu, the main port capital in the East, in a matter of five days under even the worse conditions.
Dev, sweaty and still shaking from her close call with the Watchers that nearly prevented her from boarding, was hidden in the compartment that Draya had pointed her to. It’d take a few tries, and a few more close calls with the ship’s crew, to find it, as it was six levels below the main deck, but she made it safe and sound, plugging in her adaption augmentation into her cranium to help make the rest of the trip more feasible. She knew from stories, mostly from Veep, that the launch could be rough, and using the augmentation could help with any feelings of nausea.
When the vessel dropped into the ocean, Dev managed to bury her surprise in the black bag beside her, letting it take the full force of her yell instead of letting it echo in the long and narrow spherical tube she now sat in. After the initial thrust into open water, Dev could breath a sigh of relief and look around.
Draya was right: her hiding space was used to store life vests and hazard mat suits, the kind that were made specifically to keep the ocean, now toxic to all life on Earth, from making contact with human skin. Surprisingly warm but quite dark, it could easily fit four grown adults with plenty of room to spare. It was bigger than she initially thought it would be, which would have been bad for Dev because for all her love of running in the tunnels back in Proyia, she was claustrophobic.
Not that it would have kept her from shutting herself in.
Because Dev had taken a peek at the city before sliding down the porthole into the vessel, and what she saw made her realise that the city, Proyia, was actually dead.
It had already begun to burn, from the center of the city, massive rings of fire floating outwards, licking at the buildings, sliding through streets, taking out everything that was in its path. Buildings were on their way to falling, moving straight down, erupting into dust, removing the city skyline the city was famed for. She could even see part of the East Bridge, to her right, and its columns go to a watery grave, and even that didn’t stop the fire. It just jumped into the river that separated the city, catching fire in green and purple flames, then seemed to clamber up the wall to the Chrome District.
Dev had seen photos of nuclear bombs from the Old Days, and the path seemed quite similar, so similar in fact, that it brought back that image from the book she once had – an encyclopedia? That’s what she remembered it being called – and seared the image into her brain.
Then she turned her head, listened for the guards, and slid down the railing to the main deck.
She knew it was the last time she’d ever see Proyia, not that she had a lot to miss of the city. Born an orphan, she never had a family, and the only one she did have was Veep, who’d been dead for nearly six months. If he was alive, he’d have taken her and ran already, but he wasn’t himself the last few months before he died, so he wasn’t thinking straight.
Maybe it was a virus in the city, maybe it was his time in IB, or maybe it was that he knew what was coming and he didn’t want to face it.
But Veep was gone and Draya had sent her on. Dev found the coins in her pocket and knew that no matter how much she would need the money in the future, she’d always keep at least one to remember Draya, just in case she didn’t see her again.
Draya was all she had left, and even if it was a memory, one that she could replay on her monitor, she wouldn’t let her go.
The first few hours of the trip were uneventful. She’d heard enough stories about the journey to know that it didn’t really start getting bad until 5km off the West Coast, so once the vessel was in those waters, she could relax a bit more.
Which is when Dev began being curious about the bag.
Long enough to cover her back, but still a bit narrow, it was light; maybe 5 kg, but no more than 7. It was made of Tray-Ex, a material that was used by the military to combat any type of environmental – or manmade – chemical or material made to destroy organic matter. It was namely used for wearables, providing cut outs for monitors and augmentations, and was routinely customized to fit the wearer on a case-by-case basis.
But this bag was specifically made from the material. It wasn’t a deconstruct; it was made by very skilled hands. It also had hidden pockets, which Dev could count at least ten of, but there could be more.
Each pocket held an augmentation. It was hard to tell what they did; Dev was in the dark and the only light she had came from her glasses, built with a night vision module that had recently been developed by the Gorgon Girls, a biohacking group that had moved into wearables a few years back. But the augmentations were made of a dark, reflective material that obscured the Silas Corporation numbers, which were normally written in white across the front, but here, they were written in dark grey.
Dev put the augments back where she found them, opening the bag and pulling out the black box.
She didn’t have a lot of time to take a look at in the column on the bridge, but even by touch she knew the box itself was worth thousands of platinum coins.
It was made of stone.
The smooth texture was nearly alien to Dev; if she hadn’t been on that gig to the Iron District last year, where black market blacksmiths, or BMBS, worked, she wouldn’t even know what it felt like. But it was cool to the touch, smooth with slight imperfections, and smelled…clean.
Using her night mode augment, Dev took a closer look. The stone seemed to resemble the qualities of the augments she found; it had a black, reflective look and there was writing on it in the same charcoal-grey as the augments.
The holes in the box were spaced in an odd geometric pattern, circular, spanning out from the centre of the box’s top, and trapezoid in shape. It was bizarre to look at until Dev understood what it was.
A puzzle. Or, a key, because as she found out, the box was definitely locked. There was no passcode chip required, no traps she could find, nothing.
The box had no opening, but still, she knew it could open. It had to. There was something inside, she could hear it moving when she shook the box.
That’s when Dev poured the augments out of their cubby holes, taking the ten she could find and holding them in her hands.
Then she placed the first one in one of the holes, not knowing what, if anything, would happen.
Frustrated, Dev held the box closer to her, using her glasses to see if she could discern anything on the stone itself. That’s when she could see that each hold had glyphs, symbols she’d never seen before, next to each side of the shape of the hole. They were all different.
Excited, Dev took a closer look at the augments in her hand.
There, on the augments, were the glyphs, carefully etched on the back of each augment.
Dev found one that corresponded to a hole on the box. When she placed it on the hole, the augment seemed to implant itself into the stone, creating an eerie teal glow.
It took Dev another ten minutes to place the remaining nine augments in the corresponding holes. Most of that time was trying to get the right augments in the right places, as the glyphs, which seemed to be some sort of language, were very similar.
When all ten augments were put in place, the light on the box turned from a teal to a black light, illuminating Dev’s hiding place.
But still the box did not open.
There was one hole left uncovered, right in the middle of the stone box.
Dev sat back, staring at the box in her lap. She was missing something, and she knew when she figured it out, it would be obvious.
Where have I seen those glyphs before? Dev knew they looked familiar, but like a far-off memory. Her memories weren’t recorded in her database until Veep found her when she was about five, so memories before that were untraceable. Her memories had been completely erased before that day. But it was nagging at her.
And then she remembered.
A woman, tall with black hair, piercing green eyes, striking looks. She was standing over her, smiling. A necklace, trapezoid in shape and cast in a shiny black stone with glyphs, the same glyphs, hung in the air, swinging from side to side.
Dev knew those glyphs. She’d been augmented several times – it was a necessity for orphans like her, they needed to stay one step ahead of the Silas Corporation – but there was only one that she had since she was a child.
One she hadn’t actually looked at in over a decade.
Dev laid on her right side, stretching out on the cool floor of her hiding space. She slid the scalpel that was connected to her left forefinger into her flesh at the top of her ribs, cutting at the flesh.
It took just a moment for the augment that was just below the surface to come undone.
Dev got a bottle of water from the sack that Draya told her would be there and washed off the blood from the augment.
It was the same as the others, same types of glyphs, same shape.
But there was something off about it.
Every augment had advantages that only worked when activated in the body. Most augments worked automatically so users could see the benefits right away. It was what the Silas Corporation called “instant rewards” and it was why it rose to power so quickly.
But this augment didn’t change Dev at all; she could feel no difference to her functions, physically or mentally, when the augment was discharged. It was almost like a relic, dormant under her skin.
What the hell does this thing even do?
Dev didn’t even check to see if the glyphs corresponded to the ones next to the center hole. Somehow she knew that it would fit.
And it did.
The second the augment touched the stone, the box became transparent, revealing a brain implant, the most sophisticated one that Dev had ever seen, translucent and shining with stones and metal she’d never seen before, nestled within some fabric.
“Please place your hand on the box.” The voice came from nowhere and had no echo, even though the space was built for such sounds. It didn’t sound like Aryia, the Silas voice command system, but Dev was sure that this implant, whatever it was, wasn’t from the corporation.
“Please place your hand on the box,” the voice repeated. It was a female, older, with a slight accent that Dev couldn’t place. She did know, whoever it was, wasn’t from Proyia.
Dev was tempted to do as the voice asked her, but she learned a long time ago not to just blindly follow orders. She didn’t know what the hell this thing was or what would happen if the box did open, so she wasn’t taking any chances.
Dev slid the box off her lap, backing up to the circular wall behind her.
“Five seconds to self-destruction. Five…four…three…” The box’s countdown alarmed Dev. The only time a self-destruction process would be enacted is if the tech was a military mod. These were extremely dangerous, not just to the user who tried to steal one – they all were implanted with the genetic code of the end user and could cause mental damage to a thief – but because the self-destruct mechanisms often had enough power to level an entire city block.
And she was in the middle of the ocean.
“Shit,” she muttered, and as the voice counted down to one, she grabbed the box, her palm flat against the stone.
“Processing identification. One moment please.”
What? Dev knew that if the identity didn’t match at once, the box would explode. She’d seen it happen enough to know that was the process.
She had been prepared to die.
“Identity confirmed. Thank you, Deveina Hermos. Your implant is ready for installation.”
Part III will be up next Tuesday, 25 June 2019, at 9:11 am PST.
Photo by Róbert Toman via Unsplash.