Origins and Arrival

Admiral Feyessa was glad to get the spike out of the back of his head. He had been dimly aware of its presence throughout the virtual meeting but it wasnt until it was out and he’d scratched his scalp all around the neural-port that he really appreciated how good it was to be free of the thing. It was like the moment that the A/C system cut out and the background hum and hiss of air goes silent, the realization of how good it feels to be rid of it. The doctors never could explain how the extra neural connections inside his head could mean that the scalp on the outside would develop such an itch after a session in VR. He scratched with a satisfied sigh.

“All done Admiral?” Captain Lansdowne asked with an eyebrow raised.

“Not even close!” he laughed, still scratching, “So, mind explaining who those folks are exactly?”

Lansdowne nodded, “My apologies Sir. I should have briefed you ahead of time but I think it serves to underscore the abilities of such a team. They cracked a military grade encryption and apparently back-traced your signal to even know that you were there. I had no idea.”

Feyessa wriggled in the conference chair and reclined it, “I could get used to seats like these. Comfortable as all get out.” He closed his eyes with a long sigh. Tension seemed to ooze out of him and he relaxed into the chair’s embrace.

“Could get used to a half-million of top-of-the-line electronics and neural circuitry, you mean?”

The admiral cracked an eye open, “Only a half million? So, tell me about these freaks. Start with Harris. Who, or more importantly, what is he?”

Lansdowne sat nearby, “Of the three he’s the easiest and strange as it might seem, from the things he says, the most committed of all of the team. In the earliest days of the project there was a leak. Our firewall was crashed repeatedly and with it, half the network. Each time there was no damage and no data was stolen. We kept hardenning the firewall and the attacks came in initially weaker than the previous time, then escalated, until they overwhelmed us again. It took a fight but a young engineer convinced the brass to weaken the firewall after an attack, citing the attack vector as proof. Several iterations later the intruder was careless and left us an identity. Well, no, not an identity as such. More of a digital fingerprint as far as the techies could explain it – a globally unique network ID.

Lansdowne pulled a small PDA off his belt and spun through files, finally finding the one he was interested in. He showed Feyessa the fingerprint


“And how does that relate?” He asked.

Lansdowne returned the PDA to his belt, “One of the tech folks nicknamed the intruder harris after drawing the 7’s the other way around – something to do with ‘net based hacker speak. I didnt see it, to be honest, but a name was the rosetta stone in solving the problem. As the team begain anthropomorphizing the attacker, they read in motive and attitude, they tried communicating with it rather than trying to block it. Hell, blocking it was impossible anyhow, the attacks adapted to everything we threw at them anyhow. First thing the team did was to create a honeypot server to attract the attention of the intruder with a bunch of public domain files we hoped would give it context for what we were doing. Some wise-guy included Sun-Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ among them for some reason. We equated the fingerprint with the name harris in the data. It took another two firewall crashes and network rebuilds but we had an answer when the intruder was careless again and this time identified as Harris.”

Lansdowne rubbed at tension in the back of his neck, “Soon after that the vast data-streams that were crashing our firewall slowed down to a manageable dribble and we established a meaningful connection through an established firewall port. Scans of the data showed it to be a rich VR signal, a streamed VR conference connection. We wrapped a bland VR environment around the signal and a volunteer stepped forward to jack-in and meet our intruder. Midshipman Carter Roberts.” A shadow passed over Lansdowne’s face, “A good man, and sorely missed. We were too eager. We should have learned from the firewall, but, no. Curiousity killed the cat, or, the midshipman in this case. When we reviewed it afterward it looked like the VR stream swept into what it thought to be another, newly connected, computer network. The network interface was overloaded, burned out the neural port and Roberts lost his higher brain functions. We used VR avatars and a far more disposable laptop computer. Millions of dollars of firewall, network reconfiguration and a human life and what did we get? An inept emmisary from the Machines claiming to be her to help us. With all of the human-machine interface research that had gone on, you’d have thought they would have sent a better ambassador. It took months more research and working with Harris to humanize him to the point you encountered in the VR today.”

Feyessa nodded, “So he’s here to help then?”

Lansdowne laughed, “He’s here to defend the machine’s turf. This entity, this blight on the face of humanity and machine, threatens to dismantle machine and human alike. It makes no distinctions. It. Simply. Kills.” he emphasised the last three words but Feyessa had already seen the effects first hand. He still had nightmares about Doctor Sangeer’s melted face.

“Harris is here pursuing a machine agenda that happens to line up with ours. I dont think for a second that he limits himself to a data-stream that’s a mere dribble compared with the full firewall-destroying bandwidth he prefers because he wants to make it easy for us. He never gives us more than absolutely necessary, never voluneers a thing. Oh, he’s polite and we are all making progress, sure, but I dont think he’s here to work with us. He’s here because we are expedient to him fulfilling his own function and in the process he’s gathering intelligence for the machines.”

Jay woke up to the sound of CaraBelle screaming. There was something cold and unyielding underneath her. The air on her skin was cold and when she licked her lips there were ice-crystals. When she moved her hands from her sides she found that she was completely naked, and that there were unyielding metal walls to her sides and above. She guessed she was in some sort of box. When she wriggled her feet there seemed to be a tag tied onto her big toe and a cold wall beneath her feet. It was useless to open her eyes, there was absolutely no light. She blinked switching to viewing through the green and with that she joined CaraBelle in incoherent screams.

There was a huge pile of manilla folders waiting for Feyessa when he returned to his room.

“Personnel records, background checks all that jazz. It’s everything we have on the conference attendees and the support personnel, for your review.” Lansdowne explained.

Feyessa sighed and began leafing through them. Several hours later Lansdowne returned, “Getting anywhere?”

“You’re kidding, right?” he said throwing the file onto a small stack that he’d already processed, “You think a mile of paperwork and extreme boredom will defeat the entity?”

“No, but I thought it would occupy you while the team went to work. So, who’s next dfor review?”

Feyessa lifted an especially thick pair of files, “These so-called twins, Sean and Maxine. Is there a better way to get through this stuff?”

Lansdowne nodded, “If you dont mind it, we have an accelerated learning program that drops data through your neural port. Takes seconds to deliver a datapacket and your brain will have to assimilate it from there – takes minutes to hours depending on the data and the brain in question.”

The admiral sighed. More neural port activity than he’d seen in months, all in the same day. Once a month or so he would update his online VR avatar that the Navy was using now to train recruits. Once a month he updated it, and if he could avoid those few minutes, he did. He nodded and followed Lansdowne back to the conference room and settled into a chair.

“Alright, hit me.”

The VR slipped into place as an overlay over the normal world he was in. Overlaid on the conference table were controls, virtual files and a few other icons he was unfamiliar with. When he concentrated on a given item it glowed briefly and activated. Opened personnel files moved from the “unread” to the “read” stack with pulse of activity in his head. It was a strange sensation but he got the hang of watching the file move across the table concurrent with a swift awareness of knowing the person in question. He tried to access the file on the twins and it wouldnt move. He looked at Lansdowne.

“What’s wrong with that one?” he asked.

“Its compressed, too much data for an immediate download. You’ll need to stream it. Here … sit back … I’ll activate it and you can simply observe, process the stream. If at any time you have questions the VR will answer as best it can, drawing on the files themselves, or running queries in related databases.”

Feyessa was about to say something sarcastic about already laying down, but found himself swept up in a secondary VR simulation. He was standing outside a small house. He frowned and looked around, all of the houses were the same, pre-fabbed and rundown concrete structures with metal chain-link fencing and scraggy grass in their front yard. He returned to looking intently at the house he stood by and yellow lettering appeared to tell him the address, asking if he wanted to research prior owners. He declined and waved a virtual hand to dismiss the letters from the air. Current occupant was listed as “Sgt. Zach Lemand”. There was no car in the driveway and no garage attached to the house, so Feyessa assumed the house to be unoccupied.

Two children, two identical boys, boisterously walked right through his avatar from behind him. They looked to be about eight years old carrying school bags. Above their heads the VR painted the labels “Sean” and … Feyessa took an involunary intake of breath in shock … two labels for identical twin boys, “Sean” and “Max”.

Time seemed to run faster with hours compressed into seconds of viewing time. Feyessa watched cars appear and disappear from houses along the street but Sean and Max were left alone. A little after two in the morning, so the VR informed him, a battered dodge pickup rolled into the driveway narrowly missing the corner fencepost. A man in marine uniform tumbled out of the driver’s seat and threw up noisily into his neighbours front yard. He cussed loudly as he noticed some of the drunken vomit still clung to his neatly shined boots. He slammed through the front door muttering to himself, “Where are those good for nothing kids?”

Feyessa indicated to the VR that he wanted a change of perspective, and found himself inside the living room. Details were missing, the VR was filling in around the known facts, attempting to comply with the Admiral’s request. The drunk marine sergeant was shouting for Sean to come clean his boot. There was movement in the children’s bedroom and Feyessa heard muffled conversation. One of the twin boys came out and was promptly cuffed around the ear for taking too long, “When I give you an order, you jump to it, you hear? Now clean this shit off my boots. Shine them up real good, you hear?”

The boy vanished and returned with a ratty old rag, a set of brushes, polish and a polishing cloth. His father was sprawled on the couch. His left leg was up on the arm of the couch, the right was hanging. The twin labelled as Max began cleaning the left boot while his father snored.

When he got to cleaning the other boot his father woke and he whispered, “What the hell are you doing down there shrimp. Put the rag down and give your daddy a hug.”

Max moved up and found himself bundled into a fierce embrace by his father. Afrer a moment his dad was asleep again. Max quickly move to polish the other boot but was too slow; in his sleepy, drunken state Lemand snarled, “Get the hell off me you little runt, ” and launched a kick in the direction of his son catching him squarely in the ribs.

Feyessa paused the playback and called up the military record of Lemand, finding him to be a solid and upstanding member of the marine corps with a few minor infractions on the books. His medical records only showed mild diabetes and an alergy to broccoli. Feyessa sighed and skipped forward in the stream. He found himself inside the boys room. There was a furious banging outside as their father arrived. An indicator in the VR indicated that he was in an advanced state of intoxication. He called for Max to come help him undress and keep him company. He slipped out and ran to his father.

Another night he called for Sean who was about to go out when Max stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Dont go. You dont have to go through it. I’ll go for you.”

Sean slipped into Max’s bed when he left the room. Max returned later with a black-eye for a slow appearance and not following orders. Sean cried himself to sleep. Max always was the strong one.

Feyessa couldnt watch any more of the sadistic sergeant’s child abuse. He spun the VR record forward dipping in at random here and there. Without warning the boys were living in a foster home. He rewownd the history … there … the boys sitting in a police car, talking to the investigator. He paused the record and asked for a police database inquiry while he waited for the query to run he slowly wound events backward until he could pick up any record of the father.

Six days before he was on the scene, large as life and twice as ugly. The boys had gone to school. He checked school records. Both boys were top of their classes with a focus on math and computer science. Sean had been late to a religion class, following a free period in the computer lab. Feyessa frowned. He asked the VR to run another query against Internet Service Provider logs. What had he been doing?

After school the boys had walked home, “Max, you wont have to cover for me much longer. I’m going to make things right. Just you see.” They had hugged and done their respective homework. While Max studied, Sean answered the door and received a package from a FedEx delivery man. He smiled and slipped into their bedroom with it.

A small blue icon began flashing in Feyessa’s peripheral vision. He nodded, the police query. The icon glowed once and downloaded the results: Sgt. Lemand had fallen into a diabetic coma and died quietly in his sleep. Police investigators had found no evidence of intentional foul-play. A lawsuit was filed on behalf of the two boys later, alleging the drug company QA process had failed, resulting in a bad batch of insulin. They’d settled out of court leaving the children with a tidy trust fund to pay for far more than their college education.

Feyessa watched the usual pattern of drunken abuse play out that night. Max was about to take Sean’s place but he insisted. On his way out he took something small from his nighstand. Feyessa asked the VR to enhance it but all he could get was a spray of pixels. What was it? Sean had endured his father’s violence, his amorous advances, and when he was ordered to he slipped out of the bed and found where Lemand kept his insulin supply. He put on latex gloves, loaded the syringe and injected his dad as he’d be told to do. There was a note in Lemand’s employment record indicating that he’d not arrived at work the next day. After an absence of several days military police were dispatched and they found him dead, laying prone in his bed. In the intervening days the twins had attended school as normal.

The ISP records search flashed for Feyessa. He opened the datapacket and downloaded the contents. Someone from the school had been researching diabetes for a school report. A single credit card transaction in the name of Zach Lemand had been logged the afternoon that Sean was late for religion class. Feyessa dug deeper. A medical supplies company, an overnight shipment of glass vials containing a harmless glucose solution. He followed the order’s tracking number, Sean’s signature was on file as receiving it. Then it dawned on Feyessa what the small item was that boy had picked up from his nightstand. It was obvious why he insisted he must help their father that night. The police investigation that followed never mentioned the possibility that the boys were suspects. Death was logged as accidental, a missed insulin dose due to extreme intoxication.

Feyessa whistled in amazement and let the VR run on at an increased speed. The boys were shuttled from one foster family to another all the while gaining excellent grades in school and being placed into an accelerated program. They immersed themselves in school and the world of computers, living their lives as much online as in the real world. Just after they turned seventeen there was a brief run-in with the cyber-crime department of the FBI, but other than that their record was spotless. He could smell a cover-up, so Feyessa began digging and it didnt take long before he found they were responsible for cracking a number of foreign government miliary installations. It was only the break-in to the US government that had got them into trouble … the break-in where they uploaded sensitive documents they’d pilfered from a number of rogue nations states worldwide.

College passed in a blink of Feyessa’s digital gaze: their nealy perfect GPA coupled with a reclusive nature had left them outsiders. After college they’d joined the Air Force … no … they were recruited by the Air Force and their bland service records told him that the work they did was highly classified. He didnt bother to look, it was obvious. The twins had parted company after an angry exchange, Sean trying to convince his brother not to throw away his military career. There was no digital record except for credit card transactions to an airline as Max booked a flight to Thailand, and a withdrawl of cash from their joint account.

Sean’s career progressed in the Air Force while his brother was away, promotion followed with postings in bland locations that betrayed his far more exotic life online, a front-line commander in the cyber war being raged in the digital space. He was the one who had convinced his military chain of command to hire expert civilian security consultants. Records in the digital record indicated a firm in Thailand was the first hired but others followed. A year later, Sean took early retirement and joined his brother … Feyessa corrected himself as he saw the name of the CEO of the Thai security company … Sean joined his sister Maxine and they contracted for the government’s cyber security division. It was that relationship that had brought them to the fore in the fight against the memetic entity.

Feyessa checked for a current address on file. Nothing. Their access to the conference had been through a highly encrypted link that had been routed through a number of anonymous proxies before it had ended up with him. Where were they now? He left a search running but he doubted it would tell him anything, why should it? If they were good enough that the military had hired them back, if they were good enough to break the encryption on his own VR signal, a mere search would be swatted out of the ether in a blink of an eye. He sighed and closed his eyes, letting the download finish and his brain assimilate the full details he’d only skipped over.

Jay heard a siren and the sound of several sets of rushing feet.

“Which ones?” a male voice shouted.

“314, female. 159, also female. 265, male. Let’s extract them, NOW!”

There was the sound of metalic doors opening, of metal sliding against metal, and CaraBelle’s screaming stopped. Sudden light flooded into Jay’s small prison and she felt herself slid out and lifted of the metalic slab and onto a wheeled gurney. Two men in hospital greens checked her and she was wheeled off. She tried to lift her head and see where she’d come from but one of the men laid a hand on her forehead, “Shhh, it’s going to be OK. Just a few tests to run and we’ll have you up on your feet.”

“Where’s my friend?”

“She’s being taken care of, you might feel a slight pricking sensation… ” he did something to her arm, “… that’s better. Sleep now. You’re in good hands.”

Jay felt herself slipping into darkness. What she expected was to wake up in a recovery room, flowers and chocolates by the bedside. She didnt expect to find herself in a dark and featureless expanse. She squinted. Nothing. She had the sense of a huge open space but there were no features, no distance, no light sources. She tried to look through the green but it was as though she was disconnected from even that sense. Had the nurse killed her? Was this the afterlife? She doubted it was heaven and the concept of spending eternity in a featureless place overwhelmed her with its boredom. Hell then. Seemed somehow appropriate really, given her recent actions. She tried to catalogue the sins that would have landed her here, in this place, and Keisha’s face swam into her mind. It was followed by her parents and her failure to reach them in time, all because she chose to visit her brother, and yet that visit was futile also. She sighed deeply. Condemned then. If this was hell where was the devil?

She was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didnt notice the changes going on all around her. Black structures in the deepest shadow, reflecting black-on-black designs were reconfiguring themselves. The ground near to where she stood rose up and ruptured, turning outside in, fresh structure visible on its surface. Two long trenches dug themselves, deepening their already impenetrable shadow, and extruded a thick set of cables that laid themselves along their length. The trenched filled themselves in a moment or two after the cabled were bedded down in their depths. All this activity around Jay’s awareness was lost on her though. As quickly as the process had begun it silently ended.

A light appeared in the distance. Jay saw it coming and moved toward it. It accelerated and swelled. A point became a circle. The circle swelled and became a hollow hemisphere. It slammed with extreme speed all around Jay. She turnd around finding herself totally enclosed. She was in an operating theatre with a bank of high-tech equipment against one wall. A gleaming stainless steel operating table stood in the centre of the room with cables snaking back to the equipment. Jay concentrated on the cables. They ended in a junction box below a keyboard. Monitor screens showed several graphs and anatomical diagrams. A female doctor’s hands were flying over the keyboard.

“Almost done. There. Should be all better now. What got you in that state in the first place, I’ll never know.”

Jay looked back up to the table and with a shock she saw herself laying there, naked, cables snaking from sensors on her chest, her neck, her face … and plugged in through a series of long needles inside her skull.

CaraBelle was having a horrible night. The time in “The Jade Room” club was a pleasant blur, Ian had been radiating such warm emotions toward her. His touch, when it had finally come, was electric on her skin. The waves of pleasure as she’d experienced when he’d begun stroking her wings was … intense … which was why when the needles had begun piercing her it raised a scream from the very core of her being. Thousands of little needles systematically moved up her body and she found herself leached of every shred of the pleasurable experience. She felt forcably sobered up in time to be hit with a wave of anger, fear and outright panic from the club. It felt like she skin had been rubbed raw then drenched in salt-water. The raw emotion burned.

She spent the time driving in a daze, assimilating the strong emotions around her. Jay was clearly freaked out and the stranger on the back seat was pumping out waves of hatred, fear and doubt. She could sense he’d gone into things feeling in control but that was in tatters thanks to whoever had spent the time taking him apart.

Her mind was on him when the car had crashed into the invisible barrier. When she woke she started trying to get the wounded man out of the car. Without warning she’d found herself pulled through a dark space and plunged into liquid fire. The icy box she found herself in handnt managed to quench the fire burning along every nerve ending in her body. The medical staff had taken her and immersed her in some sort of tank, placed a mask over her mouth and nose, then closed a lid over her. It had filled the rest of the way up after that and she found herself bereft of sensation. The fluid was warm, body temperature, and within moments its presence vanished from her awareness. She was, for the first time, in a place of peace. She slept.

Medical staff wheeled McKenna out into the hallway then stopped. He heard two others go past before the staff spoke to him.

“How many times is this, Edge? How many times am I going to have to jump in and save your ass?”

He leaned his head back to look at the man who spoke. He pulled the surgical mask down off his face and broke into a wide grin.

McKenna sat up, turned around, and reached for an enthusiastic handshake with his old friend and crewmate, “Tattoo!”

“We got a trace on you the moment you arrived. Had to activate a sleeper agent to get access to you, mind, so this’d better be worth it. Let’s get you out of this place. The others are waiting outside.”

McKenna shook his head, “Not without the girls. I tracked Goldie to them, whatever is going on centres around them. For the time being, where I go, they go. Go outside and let the others know … meet me in the usual bar in Southard in two days time.”

“You got it Cap’n. Two days. I’ve stashed your stuff in the locker room on this level, locker 42. Combination is 11-19-06.”

Tattoo took off leaving McKenna alone, naked, and deep in thought.

The doctor finished what she was doing at the keyboard and returned to Jay’s body laying on the table. She began removing sensors finishing by slowly sliding the long needles out of Jay’s head. She was speaking but Jay couldnt hear the words.

On the table Jay watched as the eyes opened and crying begain. The doctor comforted her, comforted the body, while it sobbed.

It couldnt be! Had the fires somehow not held? Had the weeping little girl slipped out of the prison of rage she’d been incarcerated in?

The initial shock of seeing herself laying on the stainless steel operating table had worn off and Jay could now feel anger burning in her incorporial breast. How dare she lay there and lap up the Doctor’s bedside manner and comfort! How dare she be walking around wearing Jay’s face, using Jay’s hands. How had she been released from the fiery prison cell she’d been confined to? It was quite clear to Jay that the weeping girl now controlled her body and that the greater portion of her awareness was outside and unwelcome.

“Why, the ungrateful little … ” she said to herself.

A warm female voice spoke behind her, “Well, well, well. What do we have here?”

Jay turned her awareness on the newcomer. She was a shade shorter than Jay, “At least you would be if I had a body.” she thought with a flash of annoyance toward the weeping girl. The newcomer wore a name-badge which assured Jay that, yes, she was a nurse and, yes, she was meant to be here but wasnt giving up the woman’s name. The badge urged her to overlook the blond nurse and … with a start Jay remembered her experiment with the fake IDs that she and CaraBelle had used. Was this nurse the same as her?

The woman spoke again, quietly, “I know you’re there. No, the doctor has no clue. I can help you. Do you believe me?” she paused.

Jay nodded. The nurse ignored her. If Jay had a hand she would have slapped herself in the side of the head for her stupidity – nodding – in her incorporial state? She tried again, this time speaking, “Yeah, I believe you.”

The nurse nodded, “OK, good. Come with me.” she dropped off some papers on the doctor’s electronic workstation and left the room. Jay followed. As they were walking the corridors Jay experimented. She floated higher then lower. Life without a body was fun! She sped up, racing ahead of the nurse, but quickly felt exhausted. She rested just above a waiting room seat for the nurse to catch up. She wasnt sitting per-se, how could you without an ass to put on the cushioned seat, but the action offered a symbolic way for her mind to grasp that she was resting. In the few seconds it took for the nurse to catch up Jay felt back to her normal self ready for another spurt of speed.

The nurse led her into a conference room and closed the door. She turned around and looked directly at the incorporial Jay, an action that freaked her out totally. How was this woman aware of her? The ability was uncanny.

“I’m losing track of the number of exiles I’m finding in this place.” she began.

Exile. Jay turned the word over in her mind. With the weeping girl in control of her body, Jay ws truly an exile. Unlike the prison cell she’d constructed in her mind for the other girl, Jay now found herself turned out of her own head, an exile. Fine, if the little harpy wanted it so bad, she could keep it!

“Can you help me?” Jay asked.

“No, I cant…” the nurse started to reply.

“You told me you could help me. Asked if I believed you.” Jay cut in.

“… you’re right, I said that, it was expedient. I cannot help you. I can show you the door but it’s you that needs to walk through it. I can explain but at the end of the day only you can help yourself. First of all, do you have a name? Everyone knows me as Vixcin.”

Jay pondered. A name. Such a powerful thing. Everyone knew her body as “Jay” but how many could see the incorporial piece of her awareness? She wondered what this unit of her existence ought to be called. The nurse patiently waited. It was clear to Jay that she’d gone through this loop before. It wasnt new and this step of naming seemed somehow significant.

“In what way am I significant?” Jay wondered. Her body was “Jay” … she couldnt bring herself to be named that. She was an exile, the nurse (“Vixcin” she corrected herself) was right about that much. A stand alone unit all to herself. She looked at the nurse who regarded her with warm brown eyes. There seemed to be no malice there. She seemed to be genuinely trying to help.

“Call me … JayUnit.” Jay answered.

“OK, JayUnit it is. Great. Welcome to the Matrix.”

It didnt take McKenna long to find the locker room. Thankfully the building seemed to be deserted, or running on a skeleton crew, whichever it was McKenna was glad that no-one saw him running along corridors or entering the room wearing nothing but the flimsy hospital sheet that had covered him on the gurney. Locker number 42 was in a corner out of sight of the main doorway. The combination worked first time and he was glad to see a black leather jacket1 waiting for him inside. He dressed, plain back biker’s leather jacket over a deep burgundy shirt, black jeans and a broken-in pair of Doc Marten boots. Tattoo had left him a shoulder holster with twin West-Tek pistols. He checked them over, checked their clips, and sighed with satisfaction at their comfortable weight inside his jacket. The overall effect wasnt subtle but then he didnt mean it to be. He wasnt planning a quiet infiltration and rescue. No, this was going to get messy and McKenna planned to enjoy every minute of it.

“OK, JayUnit, first thing I want you to concentrate on is what you look like. I want you to think really hard about it and visualize as much detail as possible.” Vixcin said.

“Umm. What if I like running around with no body?” JayUnit asked her.

The nurse frowned. Others hadnt been this difficult. Most wanted to be solid, real and able to pass for human in the VR of the Matrix. She shrugged, “You’ll not get far without being able to interact with the physical realm, or what you believe to be the physical realm that is.”

If JayUnit had been physical at that point she would have frowned. What did the woman mean “believe to be?”

“Come on JayUnit, I know you can do it. Think hard.” Vixcin coached.

JayUnit couldnt think of anything but the body that was stolen from her. She felt cheated and angry at the weeping girl who now had it to herself. She felt jealous at the attention she was getting. The more annoyed she got the more encouraging noises that Vixcin made.

“Yes, that’s it. See – you’re doing it.” Finally JayUnit found herself bundled into a solid hug.

“Now what?” JayUnit asked the nurse.

“Well, take a look at your handiwork and see what you think.”

JayUnit looked down at herself. She knew that only minutes ago she’d been naked and laying on a metalic slab. As she looked down at herself she had the shock of seeing clothing. The pants were black and a deep purple flared sleeve blouse added a splash of colour to the outfit. She was wearing comfortable broken-in Doc Marten boots.

“The jewellery is a nice touch Jay.” Vixcin commented.

JayUnit fixed her with a glare, “That’s not my name. OK?” she said through clenched teeth.

Vixcin looked taken aback, “OK, OK … calm … an honest mistake.”

JayUnit shook her head, “Calm? That bitch stole from me!” She could feel the anger boiling inside her. How dare that little wretch do something like this to her. In frustration she slammed her fist down on the edge of the table. It cracked under the blow. Both women looked at it in amazement, then at each other.

“Whaa…” JayUnit stammered.

“Never done anything like that before I take it?” Vixcin asked.

JayUnit shook her head. As she did so, she felt the air rushing over her face. It felt different somehow … turbulent in ways she wasnt used to … she reached a hand up and with a surprise felt a pair of piercings just below her lower lip. “A nice touch” Vixcin had said.

JayUnit smiled, “Thanks” she said, indicating the piercings.

The nurse nodded, “Indulge me a moment would you JayUnit. I know that the doctor in there upgraded you, increased your data transfer rates; upgrades designed to increase your bandwidth handling capabilities. Did he touch memory or anything you have stored away?”

JayUnit looked at her blankly, “Umm. No, I dont think so. Far as I know it’s all here. Can I go now?”


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