Alice had seen so many different anticultures rise and fall that she scarcely remembered any. They were flashes in the pan, eye-blink moments of contextual mass pregnancy, nothing more. They rose and vanished in a matter of hours. The longest she had seen was a “connector” culture that had managed to last all through the night – people tying themselves to others by alligator clips attached to their earlobes. It had to do with “vibing” on the same wavelength with the reinforced physical connection (which was as detailed as anticultural manifestos went anyway) and it had taken TechNo-R, and most of Virusalem, by storm. It had lasted through the night but come the next day, nobody remembered connectors. That was how it went.
In all her years immersed in the fickle, evanescent culture of the metanet, Alice had never seen an anticultural revival, even in the seemingly more all-encompassing ones. Becoming the architect of one was a more exciting prospect than she was willing to admit. The one issue she had was time: Mitchell and the others would be waiting to cross the promenade until she gave them the go-ahead. Enough saturation would allow them some protection, or at least until they got to one of the Penance Roads.
All they had to do was wait, if they could. The latter part was what made Alice nervous.
This would require a bit of precision. She had stopped ghosting the Alex Nothing misadventure as it had petered out, but putting it back on the map was sure to attract outsider attention – the whole point in executing a revival was to draw attention to it. Mainstream attention wasn’t the best, sure, but it could help her cut down on exposure time.
Now all she needed to do was to find the right netsphere, the right remote corner of the metanet to drop the first seed in. She was perusing quickly, moving from contextual node to contextual node: in her sacred space, clustered around her was an entire galaxy comprised entirely of the blinking, small globes of netspheres. As she moved among them, hearing the cooling systems tied to her solid state processors in the back rows of her awareness, she expanded the universe she was a part of.
The edge Alice had, something that mad her suited for tasks like this, was her (deliberately hidden case of) acute apophenia. It gave her a leg up on other codifiers who could only perceive patterns that did form in the fabric of the metanet. She, on the other hand, could see patterns that didn’t yet form and from there, could gauge where any given set of unrelated variables would converge. She now needed-
There. Right there.
“We really need to be moving, LG.”
“Just a second.”
A conspiracy netsphere, on the fringes of subterrenea, with tenuous and strong links to an entire cluster of other netspheres, some of them above the surface. A potent supernova. She accessed it, overriding its security, and immediately piggybacked on an admin account. She found the relevant subsphere, found her spot and dropped off the information, like a small seed or a grenade. She leaned back, feeling the leather crunch under her IRL and folded her arms. She smiled.
This was going to be absolutely beautiful.
Before her eyes, the view count of the post started to rise. Geometrically at first but in ten seconds of realtime, it was starting to take leaps and bounds. The neon red string shining like a halo around her post expanded to encompass the netsphere and quickly began to spread. It shot up, enveloping the constellation of netspheres clustered around her target, and began to expand to others, reach other galaxies.
Twenty seconds of realtime.
The neon red hyperlink was spreading out, jumping into more contextually open netspheres. Rising above the surface.
“Don’t rush it, Mitch. It’s going to take a minute.”
Gunshots, muffled by the static in Mitchell’s comm-link mic. She heard Mitchell curse and glanced at her drone feed: Mitchell had the assassin and the flesh engineer they had picked up in front of the van, hugging the wall. In front of them was the gurney housing the unconscious form of Alex Nothing.
Thirty seconds of realtime.
“Alright, fuck this, we’re going now! Move!”
“There’s no time!”
Thirty-five seconds of realtime. Alice watched as her little revival spread across the vast expanse of the metanet, burning bright, contagious, but there wasn’t enough time. There wasn’t enough realtime to deliver the results they wanted.
“Best of luck!”
Alice watched the little seed grow and kept her eyes on the drone feed.
The promenade was thick with bodies, a dense river of people, shuffling in every direction, trying to find their way. Tall and short, greyscale and colorful, mostly flesh or mostly augmented, of all ages and priorities filled the promenade. The assassin didn’t like the way the Yakuza seemed to be nowhere to be found, concerned more with how limited he would be in his movements if they were, as he expected, hiding out in the open, ready to strike.
“Thanks, LG! Let’s go!” Mitchell said and pointed the way.
Richard pushed, the IV bag wagging with every inch as Mitchell fired off the last two shots he had. He holstered the handgun and drew his jian, eyes scanning the crowd the best he could. All he could see was the regular wide-range palette of Virusalem with their usual, off-kilter appearances and proudly displayed augmentations. Cameyes, eareceivers, scalpseeders, neon-colored bioluminescent vessel visualizers all painting an eye-puncturing burst of color and melding of flesh with tech.
They stepped out of the alley, flanked on both sides by shops.
Mitchell saw the movement an instant before it happened.
A flash and two kyotai leapt off the low roofs of the shops, katanas drawn. Richard bent down and pushed the gurney forward as the assassin used it as a jumpoff point. Mitchell parried a blow as the assassin leaped onto and then off the gurney with a flip, razor shining. He landed and immediately went for the throat. Richard felt the arterial spray paint him, warm droplets rushing in through the gap in the back of his neck, as Mitchell made short work of his own opponent.
It was as if a trigger had been pulled. The crowd suddenly opened up in a panicked semi-circle, creating empty space, an arena. Richard, pushing Alex along, checked their perimeter and saw kyotai emerging from between the bystanders, elbowing and shoving their way through, monomolecular katanas ready. The assassin felt a measure of satisfaction at having predicted this. A public execution.
That’s what they think.
He bent down and picked up his fallen opponent’s katana as the kyotai surrounded them.
Mitchell felt the last of that night’s adrenaline peak. It was fire in his veins, hot and volatile. He twirled his sword and gripped it tightly.
“Alright, fuck it – come on, then!” he shouted at the Yakuza, under the bewildered gazes of the crowd and Richard, “Rich, keep moving and don’t you dare stop! You fuckers – bring it!”
Nobuo still wasn’t up to a hundred percent. The nanointment had taken care of the worst of it, but his wounds were far from fully healed. He knew that the rest of his kyotai were dead, as well as most of his gumi. Having heard that their oyabun had been killed had been the last straw. If it had been the Lord of Virusalem, then Haruka-gumi was no more. He knew what tomorrow would bring, if he could make it there.
However, seeing the one-armed mercenary standing side-by-side with that yaro assassin, openly challenging them… honor demanded more from him that night.
He was the first one to charge, rushing straight for the assassin, prompting the remaining kyotai to follow his lead. Swords raised, they swarmed their target as a mess of swirling colors and flashing blades. The assassin and Mitchell countered, furious and fast, flitting in and out of their attacks. The assassin was a picture of finesse and technique, moving fluidly through multiple blades, countering and counter-striking with ease.
Nobuo swung at the assassin, for the second time that night and for the second time, the assassin blocked and struck out with the razor. Nobuo drew back, back foot sturdier this time, preparing to strike back.
You’re not getting away this time, was the last thought he managed to shape before the assassin, unexpectedly, spun. Nobuo saw the move a second before the blade tore through his throat. The assassin moved forward and continued his work, cutting a swath through opponents that he had gauged enough to know had only experienced street fights and, at the most, formal duels.
It was an uneven match, but he knew that when he had a target, it was hardly ever otherwise.
Three minutes and fourteen seconds of realtime.
As the scrap enveloped the open space, blades and struggling bodies merging, the neon red string finally started to pull geographical context together. Cameyes directly looking at the fight began appearing, right next to comm-traffic from nearby comms. The revival had finally taken root and judging by the amount of comm-requests that were flooding her, mostly from hackstars and anticulture updaters, it had caught on just as she had intended.
Alice smiled and enjoyed her handiwork. Maybe it wouldn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but being the first codifier to start a full-on revival was more than enough for now.
As the gurney cleared the halfway point, Richard was sure that he was going to need a good, solid bath if he made it through alive. Yet, he didn’t falter, slow down or speed up – he just kept pushing. Just as it had been drilled into him, time and again: just the path and the patient. Nothing else.
Mitchell let his instincts drive. He focused on maintaining a mobile target and putting all the force he could into his strikes, seeking to overwhelm rather than outmaneuver. He rushed in, quick and powerful, darting in and out of singular confrontations and trying to keep one step ahead of his enemies. As often as he cut and slashed, he got cut and slashed – his weak side was taking the brunt of the blows, but he was aware that the more he was cut, the faster the stim drained.
A particularly slippery kyotai managed to execute a feint that Mitchell fell for, swinging too wide, allowing his opponent to squeeze into the gap left in his defense. He twisted his torso to avoid the blow he knew was coming and only managed to avoid getting a blade between the ribs: the cold metal still tore through his clothes and flesh without any obstruction. Mitchell groaned, catching his opponent’s chest and main vein with a back-swing of his jian, repaying him in kind. But the damage had been done and that wound would need some tending to. He couldn’t tell if it had hit something vital, but it meant a change in the dynamic of the fight.
Another kyotai took the fallen one’s place, prompting Mitchell to groan and throw a kick in attempt to intercept him. His opponent dodged, side-stepping, and swung. Mitchell blocked, but the angle threw him off. He stumbled, keeping up his guard, and leaned over the gurney.
The assassin came rolling over Alex Nothing and caught the kyotai in the back. As he howled in pain, his razor came around and slashed his throat open, finishing the job. Mitchell straightened himself out, hand going to his side, to feel for the wound. The assassin gave him a curt nod.
Four minutes and two seconds of realtime.
Alice watched as Mitchell put one hand on the side rail of the gurney, leaning onto it and stepped over a twitching kyotai. The assassin, now on his side of Alex, was glancing around, trying to glean if there were any threats left. Alice’s eyes spied a trail of blood left by Mitchell as they walked onward, crossing the remaining space between them and the Penance Road they were headed to.
She also spied the shatei, right at the exit of the alley her targets had emerged from earlier, holding onto their rifles. They hesitated, as if trying to discern if they could get to the gaijin. Reading their body language closely, Alice didn’t need softs to tell her what she knew: they wouldn’t.
They didn’t. Their shoulders slumped, their heads hung and they disappeared into the alley as Mitchell and the others disappeared from the promenade.
Alice glanced at the metanet map she had created. The neon red wormhole connecting all the universes tied to the context pulsed beautifully, outlining with its mere presence a simple message, old as time and twice as powerful: ALEX NOTHING LIVES.
Thank you for reading!
Below you can find a glossary of terms for clarity purposes. Above that, you will find the previous entries.
This is the first time I am doing the A to Z Challenge – I tried last year, but couldn’t get the A off the ground, let alone continue. This year, I came with a bit more preparation, and am hoping to make it to the end in one piece. Well, okay, making it to the end – one piece is optional.
This chapter, I wanted to give an idea as to how an anticulture (as you’d recall, I pointed out that it was a kind of hyper-meme) takes root and evolves. It is a subversion of the very idea of culture, positively overwhelmed by its inherently memetic qualities that often creates subcultures from countercultures.
Also, here’s a brief return performance by Nobuo Uzumaki – remember him?
A is for Ante
B is for Blood
C is for Cut
D is for Dummy
E is for Exit Card
F is for Follow Suit
G is for Grand Slam
H is for Heading a Trick
I is for Incorrect Deck
J is for Joker
K is for Kill
L is for Left Bower
M is for Marked Card
N is for Natural
O is for Overtrump
P is for Pot Limit
Q is for Quads
R is for Real Deal
S is for Suck Out
T is for Tonk Out
U is for Under the Gun
V is for Vole
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Eareceiver: An aural modification that allows the ear to process sounds that are well outside human hearing; sounds higher than 17KHz and lower than 30 (Hi and Sub frequencies.)
Metanet: The network of information that the society of Landsend is based on, the metanet is an upper layer of the real world and a higher-functioning, far more integrated and metacontextual version of the internet.
Realtime: Processor-time is different than realtime; i.e. “time” as Alice experiences it inside of her virtual space is (or progresses) much faster than the “time” experienced by someone IRL. If, for instance, Alice was to have a conversation with someone standing next to her IRL while immersed, her replies would be slower from the other person’s perspective.
Scalpseeder: A form of body modification. A scalpseeder is an implant that requires the removal and replacement of the actual scalp via surgery. It allows for the “wearer” to then use the fertile “ground” on their skull to “seed” hair of various materials, as well as manually implant different strands. Some scalpseeders will implant contact weapons like electrowhips.
Vessel Visualizer: A cardiac augmentation that pumps an iron-soluble dye into the bloodstream that is metabolized within microseconds. Using cartridges of different colors, people implanted with this type of augment put their vascular systems onto display, as the dye glows during breakdown, and bright enough to show through skin.