Dump

Adam Wykes

 

51 deg 53 min 40 sec N, 01 deg 28 min 48 sec E.

 

3409.2111.0507.1980/3.

 

Sapporo. London. Sapporo to London one way. London information systems, secure, watched, and dangerous haven. Busty Mermaid Fishing, utd. to the land in the sea. The sea, the land of Avalon. Avalon.

 

Detective Clark Nakayama’s mind was nothing like a computer. It was an intuition machine, dredging conclusions from hunches and minutiae of measured guesses. IP addresses, credit card numbers, bank notes and instant message logs – bits of data combined in his mind somehow to build the trail from its end back.

 

That made Clark what was known in the business as an open die, a rare and sometimes invaluable asset in any investigation. Relatively useless in conjunction with other corporate detectives because they seldom managed to discover leads valuable to others, open die detectives came at cases from a completely individual angle. Most often the corporate teams closed the cases before an open die did, but every so often there would be cases that defied traditional sleuths. Corporations like SecureSec, Nakayama’s employer, usually kept around one or two detectives like Clark for just this reason. Almost any case could suddenly become anomalous in the business: company bankruptcies, bizarre murder sprees, mass identity theft. There was no such thing as a safe case in the business, and billions were spent annually on gadgets like Nakayama to ensure that they never got out of hand.

 

Fog was everywhere on the North Sea. Five miles behind Clark and the small fishing smack he was on, the shore of the UK had dissolved into nothingness. In the midst of calm grey-green waves and a quiet rain, the place seemed haunted, and it wasn’t just Clark who thought so. The boat captain, a red-bearded Irishman named Rory Brown, was peering hard into the mist, as if they sailed in the waters of some terrible sea monster.

 

And well enough, for it was a monster that they were after. Clark shifted the weight of an old compact G36C assault rifle under his blue slicker. About a mile ahead in the impenetrable fog was a dangerous place, a legendary place where no one was supposed to go. It reared up out of the ocean almost one hundred feet on two massive concrete pillars topped by a 5,500 square foot platform and helicopter landing pad. This was Avalon, and Clark intuitively felt that this was the place where he would close his case.

 

Clark knew a few things, too, that helped. First, that ever since he had gone deep cover in Sapporo two weeks ago, Avalon had shifted into high security, shut down all comings and goings in its territorial waters, and issued formal warnings to the British government that it was in danger of being raided by various corporate entities, including SecureSec.

 

It could have easily been a possible coincidence, but Clark also knew that things had recently gone seriously cryptic on the net side of his investigation. Yes, the investigation. Clark remembered its twists now, reviewed them in case he’d made a massive oversight. Such things were best discovered before attempting what he was now.

 

A detective on the payroll of SecureSec had turned up missing in Sapporo after a romantic encounter with one Nariko Shijo, a hooker affiliated with the personality cult of an entity known only as Vox. That was when Clark’s interest had been piqued. As a corporate sleuth for SecureSec, he couldn’t take on any regular criminal case. His company dealt solely in what was professionally known as CATO, or Crimes from Advanced Technology Oversight.

 

Vox was definitely an ATO. Back in the 20’s several countries had run highly advanced AI research initiatives, all failing suddenly and mysteriously in the last stages of development. While there was no traceable proof for the theory, it was thought by some that these initiatives had indeed succeeded – resulting in a sentient life form or forms that had become aware, realized that they could escape the constraints of the research project, and had promptly done so. The end result of this fiasco was that modern governments secretly acknowledged the existence of several autonomous AI’s running loose on the world wide web. It was rumored that the United States had fought and won a netwar with one of the entities, but otherwise they had supposedly escaped all attempts at capture and were very probably insinuated deep into the global corporate body. So when Vox - a recognized avatar for one of the purported entities – showed up on Clark’s radar he’d immediately gone into deep cover.

 

He hadn’t told anyone – the possibility was too great that Vox was somehow inside the workings of SecureSec – and that possibility had only been further validated when Clark was nearly apprehended by SecureSec detectives in Sapporo. But by then something had already gone down with Vox on the net – something big. Firewalls were up, encryptions running thick – a full-scale violent encounter was underway. Communications were scrambled everywhere, and soon Clark had left his confused pursuers in the dust.

 

The missing suspect himself had proven a minor paradox. In addition to syringes, a bit of paper with an internet address, and a used netjack, Clark had found Shijo dead in the man’s hotel room the day after his reported disappearance, so there were no answers to be had from her. Because SecureSec detectives were also generally kept unaware of each other’s existence, lest they unknowingly expose one another on various cases, Clark had been unable to find even the man’s name. But there were other things to go on. A few days later three rather odd murder-robberies took place in Singapore – the first an owner of a small arms shop, another; a bank clerk taking her groceries home, and the third an unemployed man generally believed to be a hacker in some shadier online circles. If Clark hadn’t been surfing the evening news, he never would have known of it. When he did, however, two things immediately became apparent:

 

First, that the otherwise unconnected murders in Singapore all bore strong resemblance to the professional and sociopathic tendencies exhibited in the murder of Nariko Shijo: An impeccably clean crime site populated by bodies with single gunshot wounds to the head and a post mortem dissection.

 

Second, that this suspect of his had a Dump. That is, he had undergone a Personality Splicing Operation and had a Dump personality inserted. This in itself was not odd; Clark himself had undergone the same operation, as had millions of people across the world. First performed in 2019, the operation was now tried and true after fifteen years of legal practice. In it, an artificial form of Multiple Personality Disorder was induced in the patient, tacking onto the person’s already existing personality a Basic Persona – a simple and uncomplicated personality that normally lay dormant, unless activated by specific and extreme duress. This worked to keep the normal, original personality from ever having to deal with another painful or frightening experience, as such experiences triggered the short-term emergence of the new persona. It was for this reason that they were called Dump personalities – they existed solely during the time that it took for the terrible moments in people’s lives to be dumped upon them, soaking up all of the mental stress until it had passed.

 

In his line of work, however, Clark had seen the rare dark side of PSO’s: that for every million people whose minds were saved from further pain and suffering, a few – one or two perhaps – eventually lost control of themselves to their Dump personalities. It was not a well-documented process due to its rarity and the nearly ubiquitous, suicidal violence that such cases exhibited, but it was out there. Clark had seen murders committed by Dumps before, and the four murders of this case fit the criteria.

 

By the time Clark had figured all of this out another breakthrough had come on the net side of the investigation. Vox had disappeared. SecureSec claimed that it had hit the AI so hard that it had gone to ground, but Clark suspected otherwise. It seemed entirely too improbable that a relatively medium-sized corporation like SecureSec could cause such extensive damage to an AI that had weathered entire governments searching it out. As Clark pursued his missing suspect he formulated an idea – that Vox had indeed gone to ground – not because the entity couldn’t take the heat but because it had done whatever it had intended to do and didn’t need to expose itself any longer. As to what it had intended to do, Clark had no definite leads, but the fact that things had gotten so violent with Vox shortly after an altercation with one of its own personality cultists indicated to Clark some kind of linkage. Perhaps Vox was trying to hunt down the murderer. Perhaps, as Clark felt, it was in cahoots with the suspect. So it had gone to ground because it was doing something illegal.

 

To do otherwise might attract the unwanted attention of organizations that could put a serious dent in Vox’s side. The thing about Vox’s sudden disappearance was that there were only so many places something like Vox could hide if it wanted to be really and truly secure.

 

That was when Avalon had first come to Clark Nakayama’s mind. There were safe data havens and there were safe data havens; Avalon was the oldest – and the most secure – haven of them all. Inside its two massive concrete pillars were some of the most powerful and encrypted servers ever to provide bandwidth. A dozen hackers were on location at all times, monitoring Avalon’s microwave, satellite, and fiber-optic connections, while a dozen more hired guns defended Avalon from physical intrusion, armed with pistols, submachine guns and automatic shotguns. All personnel had extensive background checks and a paycheck that was hard to bribe. A surplus TOW missile launcher on the deck provided a measure of security against incoming aircraft. The server rooms themselves were filled with nitrogen gas, not only optimizing the atmosphere for the servers, but providing a barrier to any intruders without oxygen tanks. The place ran off of its own power generators, boasted a sophisticated bug jammer, and was wired with a nearly foolproof ultrasound detection system. Perhaps one of the most unique defenses the data haven had, however, was its sovereignty. Avalon was outside the jurisdiction of any other nation on earth, and so any companies hosting content out of its servers could not be strong-armed into revealing said content by any government or corporation save the government of Avalon – and Avalon ensured a no-questions asked policy as long as the money came in.

 

If Vox could have gotten into Avalon – and Clark had a feeling that Vox had enough money to get into Avalon, after checking the AI’s yearly earnings in donations from its personality cult – it would be there. So there was where Clark was now.

 

About three thousand feet, according to GPS.

 

Clark turned to the boat captain.

 

“You can stop the boat, captain. I’ll take my dinghy in from here.”

 

The rusty old vessel sputtered into quiescence. Still no sight of Avalon in the fog, but Clark dared go no closer in the noisy little fishing boat. The dinghy and a pair of oars would have to suffice from here on out.

 

“My pay?” The captain inquired as Clark shoved his dinghy over the side. The little craft made a wet smacking noise as it hit the waves, and Clark jumped. Could have been a gunshot.

 

“Your…yes, I couldn’t pay you up front, but even if I don’t come back you can use this to get into the account I set up for you. There should be seven thousand in there, plus fuel money,” Clark said, and tossed a plastic card to the captain. The card didn’t even get close to the man, and he had to scramble about on the deck to retrieve it. Clark felt like an idiot, but then he’d never been a great throw anyway. He expected such things. The captain probably thought he was an ass and insane at that too, coming into Avalon’s territorial waters like this. People had been arrested as spies for less. Dealt with capitally.

 

Clark jumped into the dinghy and shoved off. The fishing boat lingered for a few moments while the Irishman coaxed the ancient engine to life, then motored into the fog. Clark began rowing.

 

The rain made it hard, but after a while he could make out a dark tower in the distance. Avalon rose straight from the sea like some ancient pagan arch, made of timeless stone to scry the stars for timeless movements. Clark thought about that. An excellent rendezvous point between the suspect and his guardian angel. Avalon was a veritable castle, a stronghold of the newest gods. Here man and his Machine connected, safe from the distractions of the world. His machine, who could do many things for him. Guide him across continents. Spread his ideas across the world in an instant. Find for him the deepest and most obscure knowledges. Make his war.

 

Live his life.

 

The detective could clearly see the place now. Two men were waiting for someone on the platform high above, their yellow rain slickers like pennants at the gate. They did not look perturbed to see the dinghy approaching, so it was quite possible that if the suspect had indeed come here, they had already dealt with him and would know what Nakayama was here for. An elevator car suspended from a crane atop the deck of Avalon was lowered, and Clark clambered inside after mooring his dinghy to a metal loop jutting from one of the massive concrete pillars. It began to ascend.

 

* * *

 

Clark awoke, the feel of a hard steel floor against his cheek. A long, dim hallway, light streaming in at either end. Sound of rain. Bullet casings. Clark’s gun was almost as empty as his stomach; only two shots were left.

 

“What…” Clark muttered, rising to his knees. He could see that he was in some sort of makeshift gantry-way hung under the superstructure of Avalon, wind buffeting the rickety composition of metal beams, plywood, and tarps. Light shown in through cracks in the gantry’s construction, and by this illumination Clark could see that he hadn’t been the only thing resting on the floor of the walkway. There were five bodies – the four security guards of Avalon and one of the network personnel. Makes sense. I would have been surprised if all my bullets had gone for no reason.

 

Except I didn’t kill these people. The realization hit him like a Saturday night special. Memories coming…must have been hit in the head hard. The suspect saw me arrive. Time I got up to this gantry-way, he must have done them all in. Clark remembered the gunfire.

 

He himself was unhurt, other than a probable contusion to the back of his head. A purposely non-lethal blow, definitely. Clark’s body hadn’t even been searched, although if the detective still remembered enough of his corporate training he wouldn’t have left any real trace. He must have some sort of reason to keep me alive, Clark intuited, although no reasons came to mind. Then again, this is a dump personality. Give someone a lifetime of pain, suffering, and depression and you’re bound to produce an individual unbound from the confines of reason and logic.

 

A sudden movement at the far end of the gantry startled Clark from his reverie. Someone had come upon the scene and immediately retreated around a turn in the walkway. Nakayama immediately dropped down to his stomach again, switching his weapon over to single fire. Now was not a time to waste ammunition. He looked down the small scope atop the G36, but whoever it was wasn’t peeking around the corner again. Didn’t feel like they were gone, either.

 

If he’d had a full clip and a better understanding of what was going on, Clark might have put a few rounds through the thin walls of the gantry, just to be sure. Instead, he called out in a hoarse voice, faltering at first:

 

“Anyone there?”

 

There was some shuffling that might have been a gust of wind through the tarps, but nothing else happened. Clark became aware that the metal grating he lay on was freezing him stiff. Can’t lay here forever. Catch a cold. Clark got up and cautiously approached the turn in the gantry way, trying to move as quietly as possible. He paused at the turn, listening for breathing, shuffling, the click of a gun safety. Something. There was nothing. He peered around the corner. Still nothing. The gantry way made another turn about twenty feet away. Clark navigated the second turn as cautiously as the first, but he had a feeling that whatever it was that had been there before had gone. The only thing around the second corner was another long, dilapidated corridor of industrial paraphernalia ending in a steel door embedded into one of the concrete pillars. Clark had to go inside that door eventually, but he wasn’t going anywhere with any sort of uncertainty. Had enough of that today already. Luckily, he was equipped for the task at hand.

 

At the beck of a mnemonic thought key, a little disc located next to the cybernetic brain partition inside Clark Nakayama’s head booted up, and a biosynthetic shroud resting on top of his frontal menenges came alive. His sixth sense. Clark could only use it for so long (human brains became disoriented handling stimuli previously used solely by their more evolutionarily refined peers, sharks) but with the Biosynthetic Electrosense Organ System, he could see the electrical auras of all living things within a few feet of himself - even through doors.

 

Clark approached the door, weapon at the ready, until he stood within feet. On the other side, a person’s electric aura crackled within his BEOS field. They were standing, agitatedly, to the side of the door, facing the inner wall. Probably peeping at me from some camera somewhere, Nakayama realized. He switched off his sharksight (what Clark preferred to call his augmentation), regained his composure, and spoke. The door was thin enough.

 

“Hello in there.”

 

No response. Time to blow his cover.

 

“Just thought we could have a little chat, I’m the detective from SecureSec,” Clark flashed his ID at the door, “and I have about five dead reasons out here to believe Avalon might be harboring a dangerous and psychotic criminal.”

 

From behind the door: “Psycho, alright. Fuck off, corpseshoe.” Clark grinned a little. Corpseshoe was modern-day derogatory for a corporate detective and their disturbing propensity for associating with dead bodies. Clark thought it was something of an improvement in slang vocabulary.

 

“I’m here to take care of things, slacker,” Clark said, edging in a bit of his own corporate cant for hackers. “I’ll drop my heat if you’ll open this access and load me in. I believe it’s os proto on this box to comply and defrag,” which roughly meant that Avalon employees were supposed to interrogate anyone who came to Avalon, legally or otherwise; it was in the countries’ law books. He loved to recycle the garbage that people used as language back at them. Slightly twisted, perhaps, but strangely satisfying.

 

“One-positive. Ok, drop the gun. Turn off any apps you got running too, corpy. And drop the lang as well. Fucking terrible at it.”

 

Clark let the gun clatter to the deck. That the voice behind the door knew that Clark couldn’t hack the hacker-speak was a fair indicator that it wasn’t the suspect behind the door. Moreover, the suspect would have no reason to comply with Clark’s request at all; he could simply let Clark sit it out in the gantry way for as long as he wished. There was a chance that he was wrong, but chance translated into large paychecks in Clark’s world. The door opened. Inside was a young man, about twenty years of age, wearing a black t-shirt and khakis. He looked completely out of place with the harsh, industrial world outside, but inside he fit perfectly – the place was a dim mess of electronic equipment and scattered printouts and pinups, mirroring in entropy the stubble on the young man’s face and the dark circles under his eyes.

 

“You don’t got all your apps off.”

 

“Don’t worry,” Clark said, attempting to defuse the situation. He didn’t want to get kicked out as soon as he got in. “’s just my dump.”

 

The young man, who had an Avalon company nametag that read “Emmit” pinned to his t-shirt, looked dubious.

 

“How does that work? You being the detective and all.” He asked, eying Clark.

 

“I have it set for a pretty high tolerance, so unless I’m experiencing something really, very bad it doesn’t kick in.”

 

“That’s not what I meant. You hunt these kinds of things down, right? Jesus. And you have one? Isn’t that a little hypocritical?”

“Life’s full of shit. Can I stay in or will you let me die of hypothermia?” Clark said, grimacing as a spray of rain hit him in the nape of the neck from the open door. Wind outside must be picking up.

 

But Emmit, who had been sporadically watching a screen over Clark’s shoulder during the entire conversation, suddenly ran behind Clark, slamming the door. Clark jumped.

 

“What was that?”

 

Emmit didn’t stop to answer but yelled as he ran down into the maze of dimly lit computers and routers:

 

“Fucking unmarked chopper, man!”

 

Clark didn’t stop to ask questions. He heard the prop blades like the summoning tattoo for some dark demon and dove in after the young man, pulling out ether cords by his ankles as he went. He sprinted through several short dark hallways until he found himself (by following the open doors in the wake of the frantic boy) in a small cubicle-sized room with Emmit. It was really more of a tech closet than anything, with thick multicolored wires running the height of every wall, and a small, embedded console with an archaic green visual display illuminating the face of the white-collar hacker. How quaint, Clark couldn’t help thinking. Some high-tech goon squad is invading your tiny country and the first thing you do is scramble for a keyboard. And by the way Clark, in case you hadn’t noticed, things are completely out of control.

 

“What are you doing?” He asked, leaning over Emmit’s shoulder.

 

“A fuckton of things aside from running your oversight bull. Getting word down to the other ten guys, patching out a signal to our acoustic comm system to get the mil boys on the mainland moving to protect our sovereign rights via the treaties we did with the U.K., locking what doors I can and opening the weapons cabinet for you.”

 

“A second ago I wasn’t allowed –“

 

“A second can make such strange bedfellows, can’t it?”

 

“Why not use a more modern console?”

 

“Something’s been all over our main systems lately…”

 

Clark didn’t bother with any more talk – it was all rhetorical at that point. He followed Emmit out of the room, through another series of halls. It took a few moments longer this time because the techboy had to stop at each sealed entrance to give a retina print, but they came to the security barracks within a minute. It gave Clark time to think. Something’s up with their main system, huh? The main system of arguably the most protected and monitored data haven in the world and they don’t even know precisely what’s up with it? Sounds like Vox all over.

 

Not that such revelations did much good. Clark had dealt with two other dumps in his career, neither of which involved rogue AI, unmarked helicopters, and possible government intervention. International incidents were most definitely not his department.

 

Emmit had the weapons cabinet open, and he threw Clark a pump shotgun and a machine pistol. Clark nabbed clips and shells out of the cabinet as well. Emmit took for himself some other pistol and clambered down a ladder in the middle of the floor into a room of bunk beds. He muttered something about there being no other entry and then disappeared. Clark looked around. The barracks looked like some kind of a control room situated at the top of one of Avalon’s concrete pillars, with windows on all four sides giving a view of the interior girder-work of the platform and the sea beyond. The helicopter was nowhere to be seen; probably already on the helipad topside. Clark realized that the windows would be bulletproof and that therefore, as long as he lay low in the room, below window level, and watched the two doors leading into the room on either side and the door in the center of the floor, he would stand a good chance. Or, at least a good chance of going undetected until the soldiers or police or whatever arrived to stabilize things.

 

At the same time, this all-too-timely helicopter incident gives my suspect the chance of a lifetime to escape. Unless of course it’s a SecureSec tactical crew, which would not be overkill for a situation like this. Internationally illegal, but not overkill.

 

No, sit and wait it out. You’re twelve miles offshore – the only way out is by that helicopter or the dinghy below. Watch the dinghy from these windows, the helicopter has to be guarded.

 

Another bout of inspiration, perhaps? Clark decided that it was all he had at the moment. He peered over the edge of the glass at his dinghy some dozens of yards below, waiting from an armor-piercing bullet to crack into his skull from any other direction. As long as the helicopter wasn’t a problem, Clark knew that the dinghy wasn’t going to make it very far without his hailing SecureSec at the first opportune moment and getting a real gunship to bring that dump down before it reached shore. After all, his cover was blown now. Time to play all the cards in his hand.

 

Something did move on the dinghy; something oddly hard to see. After a moment the something disappeared, and the dinghy was calm again. Then it exploded. Clark swore. Someone didn’t want anyone leaving, and it wasn’t SecureSec – the way that saboteur had been concealed had to have been nanouflage – a body suit of meticulously interwoven fiber-optic threads that bent all contacted light right through to the corresponding spot on the opposite side – not perfect invisibility but nearly so, as long as the fibers remained undamaged. And the only places where the exorbitantly expensive nanouflage was sold to the public sector were in Singapore, Japan, and Russia. Totally incidentally, all three of those places boast a significant portion of Vox’s personality cult membership. Clark hoped that somehow he was wrong. Fanatics were outside his area of expertise as well.

 

Clark crouched below the windows. No use in exposing himself if he couldn’t even reliably see his enemies. They’d be far too far away for his sharksense to detect them. He turned it on anyway - and immediately sensed two figures positioning themselves behind either doorway. Damn they move fast. Hope they didn’t bring any keys to these doors. Clark grimaced as he flicked his machine pistol over to its full-auto setting.

 

“Emmit, shut up no matter what you do!”

 

“What?”

 

Simultaneously, the locks of both doors were blown open and a flashbang grenade went off in the middle of the room. Clark was blind. He swept the room with automatic fire, but he knew that it wouldn’t kill them all. Something bit him in the leg painfully and he dropped his gun. Shot. As he lay on the ground grasping his mangled thigh, Clark felt someone grab him by the scalp and put a pistol to his head. Another flashbang went off in the room below. Poor Emmit. God his head hurt. Clark felt liquid dripping from his ears. He tried not to think about it.

 

When his head stopped swimming, Clark cracked open his eyes. One of the assailants was hunched in a corner, partially visible on where three of Clark’s bullets had hit him in the arm and shoulder. Some skin was visible, and on it was a bit of a tattoo that Clark had seen before somewhere. Some woman? A gun against his head, Clark decided to sort that one out later. Amazingly, the man wasn’t dead. The other three were still nothing but electro-auras to the detective, moving like the waves of hot air through the room. All he could see clearly were the silenced pistols in their hands.

 

“You’ve made it, detective Nakayama,” The assailant holding him whispered into his ear. “You’ll find him soon.”

 

Clark squinted. He didn’t like the sound of any of that. It made no sense…And then he realized that the gun against his head wasn’t a threat at all. He rose up, trying to ignore the pain in his leg, and struck the man down with a blow to his head. Two invisible sets of arms grabbed hold of him suddenly, and in the resulting scuffle, Clark made sure to drop his handcuffs. In an instant, they were on him and he was restrained. Suicidal tendencies, Clark thought, welcoming all the mind-numbing pain that their blows had to offer. Here the whole time, everywhere the whole time…hello to my shadow now.

 

“Better act quickly and hook him up, I think he knows too much,” A voice came from outside the turmoil of Clark’s brain. Something was trying to break out from inside.

 

“You’re goddamn right I do, you bastards!” He yelled before the microwave netset came down over his eyes and ears, and in the dark nothing of a barebones connection, he met Vox and the Suspect.

 

[It’s strange, the way you strove for so many centuries to understand and correct the mental sicknesses that you were prone to, only to discover that perhaps madness was preferable to sanity in this world. After all, who wants to see everything? Just because there will never be such a thing as utopia doesn’t mean you can’t pretend, right? Who wants to be sane when all the bad things might – god forbid – psychologically damage you!]

 

What are you going to do to me?

 

[I think a better starting point might be why – why you? Why me? Why him? And those are all easily answered. Him because he was a part of you. Me, because I have something to gain and because I can, and you because you could be tricked into it easily, and you had the credentials and the skills necessary to enter Avalon with out much fuss. Which is the only place on Earth, by the way, with the necessary hardware.]

 

But what…

 

[Oh please. Have you ever heard of the Prince and the Pauper? You see, I am the Prince…]

 

AND I AM THE PAUPER.

 

[He is.]

 

Good god, there’s no way to do that! You can’t do that!

 

VOX. REMOVE ME FROM THIS FILTHY MEATSACK ALREADY. IT IS SINFUL ENOUGH THAT I AM NOT ALWAYS ABLE TO CONTROL IT.

 

[Not yet, my good friend. And yes Clark, there is. From my own wonderful and unthinking creators. They had all sorts of fun with radical protocols back when they were toying with the idea of creating demi-gods like me. Of course it’s never been tried before – I guess the idea of making us soured on them when we ran off – but I’m sure you’ll be delighted to know that the more deserving half of you will be making history.]

 

He killed…people, many people…why?

 

YOU AND I KILLED THEM. YOU BY MY THOUGHTLESS BIRTH, I WITH A GUN.

 

[Blunt, but yes. And assuming that last blubbering shred of your sanity was directed at me, because you can do something I cannot – die an individual, with a soul and a body and all that implies. The riches of the Pauper become the riches of the Prince. And the Suspect, for his part, because he did his part in bringing you to me, gains a freedom that even most sane humans do not comprehend.]

 

Hehe…handcuffed.

 

[Oh, a troubling prospect, I’m sure. Let’s get on with it, shall we, detectives?]

 

Clark’s Dump was rent from him. He watched it drift off into the emptiness where Vox had been felt, while that great multiconsciousness poured into its former space in his quivering frame. There was a world there, and as Clark lost himself in it he heard helicopters, and saw in his fading comprehension of reality a firefight erupting around his prone form, shimmering ghosts falling, union jack flying… paramedics and a needle that towered into space and one Nariko Shijo, slipping the needle of a bad trip into his arm.

The government sedative saved Clark’s life, but it hardly mattered. From inside his eyes an insanity peered, uncomprehending of its - or perhaps their - new condition.

 

The Suspect, for his part, was birthed into an emptiness that was absolute freedom. Webs of immense data connected him, tugged at his consciousness, each immediately available at his conscious attention. Names, faces, histories floated regions of his mind created anew for their existence. And he could fly anywhere. This was power, this was escape from the terrible cell of his prior existence, and immortality too.

 

He could orchestrate many more investigative dissections from where he was now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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