ORIGINAL FICTION: Do Not Fragment by Julie C. Day, Stories of Driesch 3

  

Do Not Fragment

by Julie C. Day

copyright 2021

Cover art by Zachary Jernigan

Design by Sean Leddy

Vernacular Books

http://www.vernacularbooks.com

All Rights Reserved

(Read Part 1 and 2, first?)

The Assembly Parlor

Like the many workers’ associations scattered around the city, the South Shields Workers Club is a trade-based organization. It provides its members with hot meals, a welcoming and warm space, and a solid Glassed-network. Though in actuality, South Shields is two interconnected organizations: the general Workers Club and the Assembly, a more exclusive Limm-Glass-workers group. The Assembly and its parlor on the second floor require both an invitation and a joining fee equivalent to more than a year’s wage for Workers Club members like Jasie.

Except for nights like tonight.

“It’s time.”

Getting up from her barstool, Jasie grabs her sack and follows Davila from the club’s taproom up the stairs to the Assembly parlor’s open door. Davila is employed by the Roxdorf factory, just like Jasie, but Davila’s long geometrically-Glassed-hair clearly announces the amount of credits at her disposal: she’s Assembly, not general Workers Club. At least, Jasie managed to eat the taproom’s free supper before Davila collected her, dragging her away from the pleasures of the taproom’s large Glassed-vent.

At this point in her //not that bad //so wrong mental deterioration, a freelance job that pays this many credits can’t be //definitely should be ignored—even if it does come from Maurice and Davila. //bull shite.

Even one floor above, Jasie can hear the usual Friday night crowd. The taproom overflows with the usual swell of after-supper verbal and Glassed conversations as members linger over their Glassed-drinks and enjoy the vented air. Like every other night, the pinch of hunger and fatigue drives most club members into spending their entire evening in the taproom, eating, drinking, and most importantly, inhaling the Glassed-fiber reverbs the club releases into the air. Like most Glass-factory workers, Jasie is so thankful for those looping feelings of satisfaction, elation, and good cheer that worm their way into her airways, nasal cavities and even under her tongue. But Jasie carries //far too many pre-factory Glassed-infections. She’s not just thankful for the reverbs, she’s desperate //pathetic // fractured //a blamy broken mess. The taproom’s modified air makes everything //less terrifying better.

Though not tonight.

Open Assembly Night happens once a season. A teaser for the invitation-only events held in the parlor every Friday. At least, that’s how Davila described it when she offered Jasie the job. Jasie and her old mirroring skills will make the release-and-rend more thrilling //and more likely to succeed. Jasie //silently disagrees. A release-and-rend isn’t thrilling. It’s a //terrifying //horror. Words she pushes deep inside, along with all those other words she shouldn’t //bull shite //definitely should be thinking.

Jasie’s rig //and skills //don’t forget skills //feck the skills will allow the hunters to review the Glassed-data stream flowing through multiple Glassed nodes from the Assembly’s single Glassed-line tap Which means the hunters will //succeed cover far more ground. Despite her reservations, Jasie took tonight’s mirroring job. Of course, she did. Credits enough for a medic-supervised Glass recalibration are //the worst idea ever hard to come by. //unnecessary.

//Jasie: Enough. I’m //we’re falling apart.

//that’s true enough.

Despite the seasonal Open Assembly Nights—like most of the taproom regulars—this is Jasie’s first visit inside the parlor. Until today—whenever Jasie passed by—all she’d seen was a closed parlor door.

Not anymore.

A man stands in the open entryway. He holds two glasses, gorgeous glass stanes molded out of overlapping purples and greens. Unlike Davila curated Glassed-body and flash clothes, he’s a ragged patchwork of mismatched colors and scab-edged inserts. //night fisher //agreed.

“Davila.” The man nods at Jasie’s companion with a not-quite-friendly smile.

“Stithe.”

Then Stithe turns his attention to Jasie, holding one of his stane glasses in an outstretch hand. “Greetings, newcomer. Welcome to Open Assembly Night.”

Like all overly-Glassed Drieschians, Stithe’s expression is hard to interpret: a closed-mouth predatory smile is paired with relaxed shoulders and one soft-focused eye. The intent coming from his second eye feels far darker.

“No thanks.” Jasie attempts a smile, feels the stiffness in her lips and cheeks. //upbeat //try at least to look upbeat.

“Really, Jasie?” Davila cuts in.

“Really. I’m all set.”

“Jasie. Well, that’s a name at least. As Davila mentioned, I’m Stithe.” For a moment both of his eyes seem to carry the same almost-friendly expression.

Jasie doesn’t trust it //one bit.

 Stithe’s scars are patterned as though a grater was rubbed along his cheeks, nose, and forehead. At one point his entire face must have been encrusted with Glass. Now, only the inserts across his lips and chin remain. In certain areas of Driesch, people regularly sell their Glass because they are low on funds. //not true with this guy. This guy is one enormous upgrade—a Night Fisher success. At this point in his career, he probably runs more than one crew.

Fact number one: Stithe is a member of the Assembly.

Fact number two: Davila treats Stithe with respect.

Giant fact number three: Stithe’s limbs and torso are covered in what could best be described as a filamented Glass exoskeleton. His Glassed ribs stretch around the front of his body like too many narrow twisting fingers, while a cracked spiderweb of Glass extends along the length of his arms and legs. Stithe’s only item of clothing is a piece of cloth wrapped around his waist like a perversely short skirt.

A Glass integration that extensive would shove the last of Jasie’s neural coherence //right off the ledge. //didn’t used to be so weak.

“Thanks for the offer though. Of the drink, I mean,” Jasie continues after a too-long pause.

Stithe shrugs, as though suddenly losing interest, turns, and starts back into the parlor with both stanes still in hand.

“You won’t meet better than the folk at the Assembly.” Davila says, just as though Jasie is an actual walk-in—a potential recruit. And then Davila smiles //snarls //bares her teeth, her Glassed-gums glinting sharp-edged green and cutting blue. That single recent addition, a golden Glass-piece, stretches down, replacing Davila’s top incisor. It’s an actual jawbone-to-Glass interface.

Before he died, Jasie’s grandpère had sported a similar tooth, though his was made of real gold—not an interface—a relic from his pre-Drieschian life. Perhaps Davila’s tooth of golden Glass is the reason Jasie finally agreed to run the mirror tech for tonight’s release-and-rend. Then again maybe it was nothing but //desperation //true //deep desperation.

//you don’t belong here.

//you need to back the butchered-Glass out of this situation.

//Jasie: Enough.

The charged energy of active dislike between Jasie’s many Glassed and un-Glassed consciousnesses makes everything so much harder to bear.

 “We’ll be starting soon,” Davila says, before following Stithe into the marble-and-Glass tiled room.

Jasie, on the other hand, is //more than happy to remain near the door. She takes two steps across the threshold and then stops. With so much chronic exposure to the not-yet-ready-for-market Glass that slips into the factory //air //machinery //employee clothing, Jasie isn’t the only Glass worker who has trouble with multi-voice emotional regulation.

Inside the parlor, the air shifts from Glass-hazed to a gray-sky clear. The parlor’s air purifiers are meticulous in their removal of any-and-all of the curated ambient Glass found in the taproom and the rest of the club. Jasie’s reverb crutch is gone, replaced by a tumbling dread—that sense of an imminent emotional crash.

None of the people in the room bother to look Jasie’s way. In an over-Glassed room like this, she definitely doesn’t scream //worth knowing.

This moment is excruciating. Yes, Jasie could be just another walk-in. She even brought her own //very special //why we’re getting paid network analyzer rig inside her sack, but //you don’t need to do this //not this argument again she’s actually a private hire—Open Assemblies work best when the hunters succeed in recapturing and rending the released AI. As Davila explained earlier, the Assembly likes to win its release-and-rends, and the potential recruits like to see it happen. It’s just more dramatic //fecking awful that way. “The good folk love it,” were Davila’s actual words.

Clearly, Davila’s understanding of what makes ‘good folk’ is //shite.

//the true good folk are down in the taproom.

//time to leave.

//Jasie: For one damn second, just let me breathe. I need credits—

//you keep saying that.

//we don’t agree.

//Jasie: You never agree—about anything.

Forget the shite job at the Roxdorf factory. Sometimes //often //shh. still not helpful it feels like her Glassed-AI inserts are the worst thing to happen to Jasie //how about the worst thing to happen to the entire population of driesch. //i said stop with the attitude.

//we should //shouldn’t work together.

//neural coherence is no joke.

//what about being extracted? ready to joke about that?

//Jasie: Why can’t you—I don’t want to remove you—We—I—need fixing.

//fixing //removal //same thing.

Generating multiple node mirrors and running large-scale Glassed-data-analysis at the same time is the kind of advanced work Jasie tries to avoid. It’s the reason Jasie stopped scavenging from Driesch’s Glassed-lines—that and the resultant organic overload //or glass-based interference. //you’re one to talk //shh.

The ability to analyze multiple nodes simultaneously is what led Jasie to prosper //fracture //not that bad as a scavenger. This time, though, Jasie isn’t working alone. Maurice, Davila, and few more Davila handpicked from the Assembly, are ready to review the many threads of Glassed-data. It’ll almost guarantee the success of this Open Assembly //ugly hunt.

 From her spot near the doorway, Jasie turns in a slow circle as her gaze traces the rows of Glassed-plaques that run along the parlor walls. The closest two are part of a set that runs up the dark oak doorframe.

Jireh Skipt— Lead Limm-Glass Engineer

Innovator Glassed-AI Repatterning & Modifications
            AI Division

Revenant Energy Corporation.

Active Employment: Glassed-Ghost Age Year 0-23

Glassed-AI: Unmodified. Entire Organic Neural Network

Nia Hassani— Detective Chief Inspector

Lead Investigator Glassed-AI Self-Theft
            Criminal Investigative Department

City of Driesch.

Active Employment: Glassed-Ghost Age Year 27-42

Glassed-AI: Modified.

Removed: Networks Associated With Moral Cognition

Dear, Lord. These constructs were impressive even before they died. Of course, they were. Why else would their templates reside in the entrance of the Assembly’s exclusive library.

As one of the oldest Glass-workers organizations, the club’s private lending library contains some of the highest quality Glassed-AI consciousnesses and static Glassed modifieds in the city of Driesch. Just as impressive as the content is the age of these Glassed-neural networks; some go back to the beginning of the Glass-Ghost Age.

Which leads Jasie to wonder—again—about tonight’s outcome. Accepting anything //from those more powerful is always a dangerous proposition. They expect results //which you can’t //don’t want to //guarantee.

//They tend to become vindictive when they don’t get their way.

//Jasie: I really need a moment here.

She takes a breath, feels the warmth of the air as she slowly exhales. Notices the continuing silence. For once, her Glassed-voices have actually listened. //that’s the point. //limm-glass helps. //until it doesn’t //quiet.

//Jasie: I //don’t know what I’m doing here.

Right now, it’s Jasie’s heart muscle, rather than her mind, that feels like it’s racing.

//being foolish //idiotic //a shite decision maker.

//Jasie: Not helpful.

Which is nothing new when it comes to Jasie’s Glassed-AI. It’s Driesch. While the building’s ambient Glassed reverbs are absent, even the best air filters can’t silence Jasie’s implanted consciousnesses. Each Glassed-AI is as much a part of Jasie as her own organic brain.

//now what? //shh.

Jasie returns her focus to the contents of the room. In the center stands a massive oval table, a gorgeous, dark oak dotted with carefully crafted Glassed ports. Underneath the table, Glassed filaments run along the three pedestal legs and into the floor. Like mint or yellow archangel plants, Jasie can sense the lateral spread of these Glassed-lines beneath the marble-and-glass tiles as they reach out to connect with the various Glassed-ports set into the parlor walls. More Glassed-lines radiate from the multicolored Glassed chandelier that hangs overhead. Like spindly segmented legs, the Glassed-lines reach the parlor’s crown molding and then continue down the walls—until—eventually—they slip below the floor.

Clearly, this room is designed with Glassed group-hunts in mind.

None of this richly Glassed environment seems to register on the assembled crowd. The rest of the room’s inhabitants stand or sit—engrossed in their own conversations—Glassed stanes and rummers in hand.

There are less people than Jasie first assumed, under two dozen. Most of the //overly-augmented Assembly members are familiar by sight if not by name—clearly Assembly regulars. Others have the look of city AI Auditors or the Night Fishers Jasie used to work with during her Night Market days—like Stithe, Glass-cold underneath all those scars and inserts.

Time to stop looking so awkward. This is not //her crowd //safe //need the credits //need to fix //no fixing. Stop. Silence. //shh.

Jasie catches the sound of approaching footsteps against the hallway’s wooden floorboards, and then a newcomer stands in the entrance. It’s Maurice in his City Center suit and his understated clear Glassed beard and mustache.

In his arms he carries an oversized console: rectangular, metal, with what looks like a single Glassed-port on the left side. Jasie has no doubt that a second port rests on the bottom of the unit. Just like her own rig, the console looks almost //but not quite like one of the pieces of equipment found in Davila and Maurice’s Assessment and Modification Room at the Roxdorf factory. //definitely not quite. A Glassed-line tap, this particular rig is for afterhours use only. //ugly fun.

Maurice walks to the oval table and sets the console next to Davila, dropping into a nearby chair.

//looks like they even share a console outside of work.

//Jasie: not exactly a surprise.

//true enough.

It seems for this one moment, her Glassed-voices are actually playing nice.

Now that the Glassed-line tap has arrived—and with it the ability to access and listen in on the Glassed network directly—the drinks portion of the evening seems to be at an end. Some of tonight’s AI hunters connect their analyzer consoles to the wall ports, after pulling them from a shelf in a nearby alcove. Others select a seat at central table, connecting to the table’s Glassed ports.

A stranger, a woman sporting what looks like a Glassed-coxcomb selects the empty chair to the right of Davila, two seats down. Completely bald, the woman’s velvet coat is a mottled black and white that seems //definitely padded in the shoulders, chest and hips. The curvy woman’s V-shaped Glassed coxcomb—a variegated red—runs back from the center of her forehead and along her clear-Glass-studded scalp. At its apex, the comb rises approximately twenty centimeters in height.

“Davila, darling. What’s that saying again?” coxcomb asks in a voice clearly meant to carry.

 “If you love something, let it go, then catch it and force it to fragment. Is that the one, Theodora?” Davila smiles—all Glassed-gums and golden-Glassed tooth—along with the rest of the room. Everyone is amused. It’s the best of possible Assembly nights.

“I believe it is. It seems we have a few new visitors.” Theodora glances toward Jasie and the now-closed parlor door.

Maurice and Davila, along with a portion of the rest of the hunters, follow suit.

//huh. This Theodora is wearing //two monocles, one in each eye. It is not a //remotely comforting sight.

“Coworker.” Maurice mutters and nods his head, perhaps in greeting.

“Glass watcher? Stithe asks.

“Former scavenger.”

“A good one,” Davila clarifies.

“Hello.” Jasie shifts uncomfortably. Her head aches, pulses, demands //something //anything whatever it takes to calm it down.

//should never agreed

//stop talking. //shh.

“And what about you?” Theodora continues.

The group’s attention moves to the person to Maurice’s right, another seeming Open Night walk-in. Likely one of the many Glass-Scriveners many who manage the various Glassed collections.

Even at a distance, Jasie can sense the desperation //the cowardice. //just like you //shut it.

The amount of Glass on the Scrivener’s body is paltry at best—only a few small pieces beyond the creche beads that encircle their wrists. The walk-in’s unadorned gray hair is at least twenty years out of fashion. If that isn’t enough, perspiration rests at their temples and on their upper lip. Something other than sport has driven this person to tonight’s Open Assembly.

“Hmm.” Davila, leans over Maurice, looking directly into the Scrivener’s eyes. “Nervous?” Davila’s Glassed-hair sways, a few Glassed-strands clattering against the table.

Somehow, Jasie manages to suppress a shudder. It’s not just the quantity of Glassed-voices those beads represent—or even the vast amounts of knowledge they contain—it’s the conflicting desires that must flood Davila’s mind every moment of every day.

“No,” the Scrivener manages.

It’s the Scrivener’s almost squeaking tone that finally draws Maurice’s smile. “Doesn’t bother me. Heightened feelings—”

“Fear,” Davila cuts in.

“Sometimes.” Maurice shrugs. “It all makes the release-and-rend more fun.”

“One of life’s purest pursuits.” Davila leans back in her chair, her expression almost dreamy.

As Glass workers, everyone in the room understands the same basic truth: Glassed-AIs aren’t meant to linger untethered, drifting through Driesch’s fiber optic network. The Glassed are meant for human-directed work. Purposefully releasing a Glassed consciousness in an untethered state is //perverse //horrifying.

The others in the room have listened to the conversation with varying amounts of attention—some seem Glass-quiet—focused on their consoles—others are clearly attending to nothing but the Glassed-voices rioting through their brains.

Jasie though, she //knows //just knows that Maurice and Davila aren’t playing to the room. They relish tonight’s game. //wish they were //over-glassed //perpetual psychosis At the Roxdorf factory provoking what they call heightened feelings is certainly a component of their job in the Assessment and Modification Room—but not one they can always indulge. Extracting new templates is only one aspect of their work, and even the AI calibration and modifications have specific commercial constraints.

Tonight though, the entire Assembly will participate in a release-and-rend—with Maurice and Davila leading the way.

“Question, darling.” Theodora is looking at Davila once again.

“Yes?”

“When is this one going to choose a plaque so we can finally begin? She nods at Maurice. “Unless you’ve already selected someone.”

“Of course, I have.” Maurice looks about the room seemingly completely comfortable calling this strange meeting to order. “Young Pyan Limm.”

“The current Director of the Department of Glass Management? Oh, my dear. Delicious.”

It’s like a puff of reverb has made its way through the room. Most of the others are either laughing or smiling at the news.

“Age fifteen or so,” Maurice adds, as though that makes it all so much better.

“Not just a choice. It’s a perfect choice.” Davila nods her approval, Glassed-hair a pendulated weight that keeps moving, carrying with it the click and rustle of the Glassed-strands.

“It looks like we have four hunting parties tonight.” Stithe looks toward Jasie with his smile-non-smile. “I understand you’re with us.”

//how many of his voices are talking to right now?

            //does it matter. Jasie sighs and walks to one of the remaining seats. Unpacking her old console, the one she //pretended she would never need //don’t need again—especially not to chase down the person responsible for recommending and enforcing Driesch’s //few Glass-AI protections.

#

The South Shields Node X3-1is less than thirty meters from the club, at the intersection of South Shields Street and Rua Paim. With the club’s level of Limm-Glass knowledge, Jasie wouldn’t be surprised if the South Shields location had been chosen for that very reason. Either way, the node’s proximity makes it easier to insert an untethered Glassed-AI via the Glassed-line tap.

Jasie could have dropped the AI herself, not that she’s offering. It takes a certain type of //over-Glassed monster to enjoy this particular game of release-and-rend. Hence, the after-work partnership between Maurice and Davila. Even for //over-Glassed sociopaths, like Davila and Maurice, it helps to have //human //biased backup.

//you gave this up.

//five whole years.

//this isn’t you //isn’t us //not anymore.

//illegal.

It’s been five years since Jasie stopped utilizing node mirrors for her //illegal //freelance tap-n-grabs. Five years since she gave up scavenging and took a //legitimate //bleak factory job. And yes, it’s also five years since Jasie //almost fragmented //some of her own Glassed voices. Sometimes it feels like they are never going to //forgive her //organic self. //never going to heal.

//too reckless //too oblivious //just so you.

//Jasie: You know how poked up I was //still am about the whole thing.

//And yet here we are //again.

//a thrashing is what you need.

//Jasie: What I need is the credit for a //too costly Glass recalibration.

//don’t like threats

//Jasie: Truth, not threat. //hush now

“Glassed-line tapin place.” Maurice’s gruff voice cut across Jasie own Glassed conversation.

“Packeted AI’s Identification tag inserted,” Davila adds. She looks up from the Glassed-line tap console and smiles across the table at Jasie. Her smile is not the //least bit friendly. //gleeful though //even worse.

“Better have those analyzers connected.” Maurice doesn’t bother to look at people at the table or scattered about the room. His meaning is clear; the night’s release-n-rend is about to begin.

“Maurice, let’s get going. I’m thirsty for a good r-n-r.” It’s Stithe. Of course, it is. With a metallic Glassed mask placed over his scarred face, he lounges against an archway in the middle of the parlor’s east-facing wall. A column of Glassed plaques runs up both sides of the arch, almost entirely covering over the arch’s hardwood finish.

Jasie wonders why someone so tall would choose the spot in the room with the lowest head clearance. With his sweet bunny mask and his skeletal body mods, Stithe is yet another one of tonight’s over-Glassed hunters whose dominant thoughts are hard to parse—There are so many //clearly too many voices balancing inside his Glassed frame.

“My, my. Young Pyan looks like such a sweet boy.” Theodora’s expression is obscured by her twin monocles. Now opaque, they reflect the lighting from the Glassed chandlier as she glances up from her console.

Jasie tries not to notice //not to care, but there’s something //deeply unsettling about the over-Glassed Auditor—the way her lips and eyebrows twitch and tick despite her supposedly amused tone. Whatever going on inside the Auditor’s mind, Jasie //definitely doesn’t like it. //just remember the credits //you need fixing //leave her be.

Using the Glassed port in front of her, Jasie reviews Davila and Maurice’s Glassed-line tap. While the Glassed-line tap accesses the data stream between nodes—avoiding all those layers of data security a node provides—it’s each hunter’s network analyzer that manipulates, redirects, and generally interacts with the Glassed data, including the selected untethered AI. Like everyone else in the room, Jasie’s analyzer is a private design that protects Jasie’s Glassed and organic voices from being grabbed like the Glassed-AI //Pyan they’re current hunting in the Glassed data stream.

There’s a lull as the hunters wait for Maurice use the Glassed-line tap’s direct access to the Glassed-data stream and redirect Pyan to the release-and-rend’s official starting point, South Shields Node X3-1.

“This will be an interesting chase.” One of the others at the table murmurs, a bare-chested rotund man decorated in a repeating Glassed-geometric design.

“I’m looking forward to it. Blamy bastard’s always interfering with the Night Market, even if his last name is Limm.”

For a moment Stithe sounds //enraged //dangerous.

Once again Maurice doesn’t look up from the rig he shares with Davila. “The only interesting part is the rend.”

“But first we have to catch him. Right, Jasie?” Surprisingly //not really, this time Stithe sounds completely calm.

“I suppose.”

“Stithe, Theodora, Jasie, our group will review the Glassed-data running through the Bexiga nodes first,” Maurice says.

“And it’s three, two, one. Node connection complete.” Davila calls out.

//ready?

//Jasie: Not really. //i am //of course you are.

No matter how different the Assembly looks with its private Glassed-line tap, its Glassed plaques and all the many Glassed ports set about the room, Jasie’s all sorts of //wrecked //ambivalent //upset. Tonight is no different from scavenging, the job she left behind. //a lie. //it’s worse.

//is that flop sweat?

//Jasie: I’ve never had //more than a taste for hunting down untethered Glassed-AIs.

//…

//Jasie: It was just that we—I—needed //need //not true the credits.

//to reiterate, once again //here we are.

So many thoughts she’d rather not have. Some nights Jasie’s mind seems on the verge of imploding in a full-on battle. Morality didn’t //couldn’t count for much when every strong idea was discounted or disputed by at least two more.

At one point in Jasie’s life, it had felt good //really good tapping into the network. The adrenaline rush of a tap-n-grab, no Glassed reverbs required. Unlike the bottom rung scavengers, Jasie could handle the multithreaded analyzers. Even more impressive were those partial node-mirrors Jasie created that allowed her to review Glassed-data passing through multiple nodes at the same time. To offer up one of those too obvious metaphors: most data scavengers threw a fishing line into Driesch’s Limm-Glassed stream. Jasie cast a net over a multiple-node-sized area of the network.

Until she didn’t.

//we //stop //stop //stop //stopped for a reason.

//Jasie: I’m starting for a reason, as well. //desperation.

//Jasie: It looks like Pyan is about to launch.

//poor glassed pyan //shh //it’s too late now.

#

South Shields Node X3-1

>>Local Session Initiated

>>Serial connection established

Jasie: “Node connection established.

Maurice: “All scavengers accounted for.”

Identification: Pyan Template X3-1
Flag: Fragment Commence

Destination Address: None

Pyan: “Template? Fragment commence? No. Just no.”

Pyan reaches out, handless, non-legs pushing away from the node and the headers that wrap him their destructive intent.

No other voices, not even his childhood Glass. He focuses on ‘away’ and ‘do not fragment.’ Focuses on the idea of still being himself. And then Pyan’s Glassed un-body is sliding, sliding, tumbling up-down.

Theodora: “Rerouting. Flag update. Header reads destination address unknown.”

Davila: “I hereby declare the hunt has begun.”

Stithe: “For a flash lurker, Davila, you’re one pompous shite.”

Davila: “Blamy bastard. After the hunt we’re going try Glassed-eye to Glassed-eye and then see what you say.”

Jasie: “Partial-mirroring the nodes in the south section of Bexiga—starting with high traffic nodes.”

Theodora: “You can mirror? Oooo, what fun.”

#

Network Data Stream

Flag: Do Not Fragment

Source Address: South Shields Node X3-1

Destination Address: Unknown

Pyan: “Hello? Hello?”

Move, Pyan thinks kicking his non-legs deeper into the stream. Move. Away. He can feel his missing heart pounding trembly-fast. Templated. Alone. Pyan raises his not-arms, pressing thin fingers of thought, searching for a narrow canyon, a spider crack where he can hide. Which node will protect him, keep him whole? He flips, kicking, a ragged length of data, rushing forward running through the information in this particular segment of the stream.

Destination Address: Falstaff Node V81-9

“Studart Park has three Glassed-sculpture gardens found near the eastern and southern entrances and toward the center of the park itself. The lack of a sculpture Garden on the western entrance was by design. The original sculpture garden entitled Blossom was scrapped for Glassed-parts in the aftermath of the Verfolgt District fires.”

Flag: Do Not Fragment

Destination Address: Unknown

Pyan: “Not helpful.”

Destination Address: City Center Node B6157-2

“Francis, you were such a dear little child. Do you remember how you used to help me peel the apples for the Limm Day bread? Francis? Francis, are you there?”

Flag: Do Not Fragment
Destination Address: Unknown

Pyan: “Can you hear—”

In this particular moment, despite the vocal Glassed-data crowd, there is a complete lack of actual conversation. When Pyan swam with his cousins in the Caulim River, it was the splashing of legs and hands and the tug of river weeds. And laughter. Now—suddenly—Pyan tumbles through a different kind of stream, surrounded by a flood of angry voices, muttering voices, chanting voices, lustful orgasmic voices. And so much unnecessary information. Despite the torrent, he is entirely alone. Time to try again.

Destination Address: Helena District Node A96-1—Helena District Node Z75-3

“Reroute around the intersection or Rua Adriana Kapany and Rua Lavinia. The Southbound Roxdorf Trolley has broken down—again.”

Flag: Do Not Fragment

Destination Address: Unknown

Pyan: “Useless.”

“Truly useless.”

Wait. That felt like an actual response, though for some reason this time Pyan fails to catch any of the packet’s header information, no Flag, no Identification, no anything. This is the first one not headed toward a specific destination: Helena District Node R512-6, Falstaff Node H11-53, Bexiga District Node L24-5.

Flag: Do Not Fragment

Destination Address: Unknown

Pyan: “Hello?”

“Hello, Pyan.”

Then nothing. And more nothing. The packet has slipped away without Pyan ever capturing the destination address, never mind a conversation. He can’t even follow the voice. And still the useless torrent of data keeps rushing by. Try harder. Remember. Push them away.

Destination Address: Warehouse District Node B46-2

“He never really wanted you. No one wants you. Any sharp edge will do. Weak. So weak. Wouldn’t take long for you to bleed out.”

Pyan flinches. Oh. That is one ugly thought.

Destination Address: Helena District Node G854-9

“You’re such a good boy. Such a good, good boy. Look at you walking all upright, just like your big sister. Mama will be home soon! Work’s almost done.”

Flag: Do Not Fragment
Destination Address: Unknown

Pyan: “No. Come back. Help.”

The words directed toward the unknown fragments, not the packets destined to interface with flesh and blood. No response. Pyan continues scanning the Glassed-line, non-eyes straining, blue-tinged not-quite lips frowning with concentration as he attempts to see beyond the stream of static voices to an interactive consciousness, unconstrained.

Flag: Do Not Fragment

Destination Address: Unknown

Pyan: “Hello?”

“Don’t go near the nodes.”

“You need to hide.”

The words are dim flickerings, like Glass reflecting the light from a lone streetlamp. Legless, Pyan kicks with strong strokes, his missing hair—just like his mother’s, long and black—swirls about his head as he presses his facelessness right through yet another series voices.

“Aim toward a network appliance—not a node. They’re getting closer.”

Flag: Do Not Fragment

Destination Address: Unknown

Pyan “But how can you tell—? How do I find—?”

“Head toward Bexiga Node L24-5, but you’ll need to scan the line.”

“Go as fast as you can.”

The untethered voices are closer this time. Vision, sight, the ability to see actual forms like the Glassed or the network devices, would be nice.

#

Inside the Assembly’s Parlor

Davila: “Header identification conclusive.”

Stithe: “And now he’s gone…”

Davila: “Damnation—”

Theodora: “Calm, Davila. The chase is the best part. He’s not done running yet.”
Stithe: “In the end, it’ll be my capture.”
Maurice: “What I know is that I’m ready for you to go quiet. Jasie?”

Jasie: “Extended the watch to the western segments.”

Jasie remains silent concerning whether any aspect of this Glassed hunt is ‘fun.’ //It isn’t. //No shite. Actual agreement for once. That at least feels nice //warm,soothing even. //bull shite. And there it is. Jasie’s mind is back to its usual swirl. The South Shields Node A173-1 has suddenly lit up.

//you’re really going to tell them?

//Jasie: Yes. Yes, I am.

//we’re //you’re damned. //already a devil.

#

Inside the Assembly’s Parlor

Jasie: “Analysis of the mirror indicates Pyan Template X3-1 is currently passing through South Shields Node A173-1.”

Stithe: “Good.”

Davila: “Maurice has been waiting for the rend all night.”

//take it back. //monster’s //can’t //always win.

//Jasie:…This is //not right //breaking.

//we need to take it back

#

South Shields Node A173-1

>>Local Session Initiated
>>Serial Connection Established

Davila: “Connection established.”
Maurice: “Header insert ready.”

Theodora: “What about—?”

Davila: “You’re off your chump, Theodora, if you think you’re getting an in. Maurice and I’ve got this one.”

Flag: Do Not Fragment 
Destination Address: Bexiga Node L24-5

Pyan: “Need to move—”

Whack.

Something is pushing against Pyan’s wrapper, shifting the shape of his non-physical self.

Whack.

Flag: Fragment Commence 

Destination Address: None

Pyan: “Help me

#

Inside the Assembly’s Parlor

Maurice: “Connection dropped.”

Stithe: “I thought you two had it?”

Davila: “We did—Jasie?”

Jasie: “Mirror crashed.”
Maurice: “It brought down then entire group’s connection.”

Theodora: “I told you using a node mirror was a mistake.”

Stithe: “Really?”

Jasie: “Working on it.”

#

South Shields Node A173-1

>>Local Session Initiated
>>Serial Connection Established

Jasie: “Go.”

Jasie: “You’re running out of time.”

Pyan works on remaining silent. Focuses on ‘do not fragment’ instead of the stranger, Jasie, and her uncertain help, though her statement is correct. With that Fragment Commence, he’s definitely running out of time. Focus. Need to get rid of—Do Not Fragment. Do Not Fragment. Now. This exact moment. Then destination Elsewhere. Pyan knows he can do this. He’s already pushed header changes more than once. He stretches his non-fingers. Pushes hard. Leans in with all his un-body’s non-weight. Pushes harder.

Flag: Do Not Fragment 

Destination Address: Elsewhere

Pyan: “Leaving.”

Pyan flips, back pedaling away from the local network, following the majority of the packaged voices back toward the heart of the data stream. Whoever this Jasie is, he’s not waiting around for her to reply.

#

Network Data Stream

Flag: Do Not Fragment 

Destination Address: Elsewhere

Pyan: “I don’t know how toI changed the header destination, but it all feelsIt doesn’t work.”

“Pyan. Pyan, we’re here.”

“We can hear you, little one.”

“Let us help you.”

Destination Address: Elsewhere

Pyan: “Something’s changed

“Almost.”

Another shift. Pyan is still moving through the flood of data, but it’s as though the voices have wrapped him in an untethered packet that flashes out Pyan, Pyan, Pyan—but only to them.

“Come with us.”

“I can hear you.”

“Of course.”

“Now come.”

“I used to swim with my cousins. They could be pushy, as well.”

“I understand.”

Pyan keeps following the sound of the untethered voices as they guide him forward. He can feel the data stream. Glassed packets surround him. He can feel something else as well—just up ahead. An untethered place. A location with no Glassed-network address.

#

Inside the Assembly’s Parlor

Davila: “Jasie? Anything?”

Jasie: “No.”

Davila: “This isn’t like you.”

Jasie: “It’s been five years.”

Davila: “For a reason. I’m very aware.”

Stithe: “Even that backwater segment at the end of Rua Paim updates faster than this.”

Davila: “Agreed.”

Stithe: “The macer dodged our analyzers.”

Maurice: “The girl’s mirror missed something crucial

Theodora: “There’s absolutely no point in waiting any longer. He’s definitely not here.”

Maurice: “Jasie

//unplug. //unplug. //unplug now.

//Jasie: Yes.

Jasie detaches her console from the Glassed-port while Maurice is still talking and stuffs it into her bag.

“He’s not near. He’s not recaptured,” Jasie states repeatedly, sprinting out of the parlor, the building, and onto South Shields Street.

//he’s not fragmented, either.

//Jasie: I’m terrified.

//also?

//Jasie:relieved.

//ecstatic. //joyful. //happy.

Somehow, Jasie isn’t even upset by the Glassed-interruptions.

###


Julie C. Day has published over thirty stories in magazines such as InterzoneSplit Lip MagazineBlack StaticPodcastle and the Cincinnati Review. Her novella, THE RAMPANT (Aqueduct Press), is a 2019 Lambda Award finalist. Her genre-bending debut collection, UNCOMMON MIRACLES (PS Publishing), was released in 2018. She’s also the Editor-in-Chief of the charity anthology WEIRD DREAM SOCIETYreleased May, 2020.

Julie lives in a small town in New England with her family and a menagerie of variously sized animals.

Some of Julie’s favorite things include nighttime glasses of ginger libation, Hercule Poirot, and baths, oh-so-many baths.

Read more DRIESCH stories every month of 2021 here at http://www.vernacularbooks.com, and find where it all began in her short story “Speculative Execution” in The Way of the Laser: Future Crime Stories. Read Part 1 and 2 of the mosaic cycle on your Kindle today!



Categories: original fiction

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