Z is for Zero Sum

Alice took a sip of her water and put the representation of the glass back on the representation of her desk.  It was important to stay hydrated through long sessions of deep dives into the subterrenea, especially when she was feeling out various networks for the emergence of the next hypermeme.  In the background, her data crawlers were sorting through their daily load.  The purge pile seemed especially large today, with lots of useless buzz cluttering the vast void of the metanet.

Also in the background, filling the artificial space she had with irregularities, densely arrhythmic passages and swinging breakbeats was Alex Nothing’s new album, Yakuza Splatter.  It was the new frontier, a new paradigm entirely for disorientation music: hyper-realism in disorientation music.  Disney had marketed it exceptionally.  The whole episode, the newly-discovered then-ghosted feed of Alex running around in Virusalem, chasing scenes of carnage, gun in hand, was chalked up to an elaborate publicity stunt.  Since he had been known to pull stunts like that, it had worked and the album had come out as the urban legend of its formation was still being constructed.  It was a hit, all the rage from the very edge of downtown Virusalem to the higher echelons of Europan society.  Pieced together from real Yakuza activities, sampled to their utmost, meshed with Alex Nothing’s signature style of sickness-inducing, warbled, spectrum-destroying frequency antics.

Far as magnum opi went, Alice had to concede that it had a lot of merit.  Pieced together in a frenzy in the week following his surprise, one-night-only Resurrection Gig in TechNo-R, mastered in two days, released on the third, it was a work of sudden and genuine inspiration.

It was, however, dedicated to Haruka-gumi, a Yakuza clan that no longer existed.  Frank No-R had claimed the uptown dollhouses for his own, but Alice knew that he would be holding their betrayal over the heads of the other clans for years to come.

A particular news feed lit up.  Alice called it.  The screen expanded from a dot in front of her, unfolding the 3D image of Europan Supreme Court building; far from the functionalist architecture of Virusalem and some of the less well-off parts of the sprawl, the building was a giant monument to opulence.  Its neo-deco style with its sharp angles, eye-catching geometric symmetry and convoluted patterning, it made the reporter with her jacket suit look plain and uninteresting.

“Indicted on charges of fraud, insider trading, conspiracy to commit murder, child sexual abuse and a plethora of other charges, Lenka Avalovna-1E, now only Lenka Avalovna, has appeared in the Europan Supreme Court today.  Miss Avalovna has pled guilty to all counts amidst her attorney’s protests…”

Alice switched the feed off.  Another day, another corporate bites the dust.

A chime sounded in her space and a window opened next to her with Mitchell’s face on it.  Alice smiled and tapped on it.

“Hey, Mitch.” She said, knowing he hated being called that.

“Hey, LG.  What’s the specs?”

“Oh, you know.  It’s all different now and everything’s the same.  How’s the new arm?”

“You know, I have been meaning to go to a security type like this, I just thought the ammo would make it too heavy for balance.  I was wrong, the alloy is great.”

“Glad to hear it.  My prosthetician is glad for the money, too.”

“Did you happen to have time to look into what I asked?”

“Ah, yes.  Your nameless assassin.”

“He has a name and I’m sure you found it.”

Alice pulled up her main menu and from it, quickly perused the sprawl of categories, sub-categories, sub-sub-sub categories; the ever-spreading branches of her data.  Alice clacked her tongue.

“Yeah, that’s the thing… I haven’t.  Your guy, he’s a ghost.”

“Come again?”

“As impossible as it might seem, he has zero net imprint.  Zero.  He’s so far removed from having anything directly extending from him that he might as well not exist.”

“How’s that even possible!?”

“It happens.  The flesh fields in America, for instance.  They are no-tech and so have nothing other than the most basic citizenship information.”

“So you have nothing?”

Alice smiled.

“I didn’t say that…”

“Oh come on…”

“Fine, fine.  Mister Serious.  I have found some aliases.  Actually, I found upwards of a hundred and twenty aliases.  They all have varying degrees of presence on the ‘net, as well as other databases; rent contracts, club memberships, prosthetics bills… he doesn’t keep a single prosthetician and even with the aggregate of all the maintenance he has done, it’s impossible to trace anything to a single identity.  The most I managed to narrow it down to is about thirteen.  None of them seem connected or central enough to be the real him.    Whoever he is… he doesn’t want to be known.”


“Now want to tell me why you want to know so badly?”

“I have the feeling I’ve met him before.  The way he fights, the way he kills… it’s too familiar, but I can’t put my finger on it.”

“Well, the subterennea has some semblance of contact through which he can be reached… but I wouldn’t recommend it.  Already checked them out.  Blocked proxy boxes.  Sorry.”

“That’s alright.  If you couldn’t find it, it’s not there.”

Alice felt a slight blush at the compliment, “He does seem to have a bit of a cult following in subterrenea, though.”

“He does?”

“It’s the razor.  I keep telling you.  A signature weapon makes all the difference.”

“Oh, don’t start.”

“They have a name for him.  Pretty sure that’s not his real name.”

“I’ll take it.”

“They call him the Faceless.”

Silence on the other end.

“…actually, that’s helpful.  Maybe next time we meet, I’ll ask him.”

“You do that.  Anything else?”

“Thanks for having my back out there.”

“Your welcome.”

Mitchell hung up.  Alice returned to the data crawlers, momentarily standing on the truth of her statement; it was all the same once again, even if it was all in flux.  In the back rows of her awareness, she could sense something churning.  She was certain that life in Virusalem, as unaffected as it was, lost in its own momentary distractions, was far from static and that somewhere, somehow, something was developing.

Following this instinct, she let her processes run themselves and went back to her leisurely swim through the endless vistas of the metanet.  Tonight had begun slow, but she was sure that it would soon reveal something worth observing.  It always did.

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.

…and here we are, at the very end.  If you have read so far, I thank you, especially since this story is the first piece of original prose I have finished in years.  I loved writing every word, and I loved going back to a more fully-realized version of Landsend than I had started writing for all those years ago, when I first started to shape it.

For now, I think I’m going to relax and put this in my archives… there will be time, soon enough, to revisit.

Special thanks to SMSaves for nudging me in the direction of this challenge.


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
W is for Wastepile
X is for Xenium
Y is for Youngest

One thought on “Z is for Zero Sum

  1. Pingback: A to Z Challenge Master Post | The Art of Making Spirals

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