West Balkhan Highlands
Winter 2095 AD
“0… 1… 0… 0…”
A voice in the darkness.
A verbal imperative, demanding entry to the code. It forced its way in. The anomaly was still there, niggling at the mind.
/Stillness: access root.
Secure now. The remembering began to fall into place.
Binary spilled forth into the minds eye and circuitry kicked to life, synapses firing suddenly in coordinated reflexive impulses. A memetic mantra.
Spilling in from the shadows, artificial awarenesses circled the form sitting in silence in the centre of a circle of light. A figure in lotus posture.
Images began to flash into vision on the mannequins dancing around the figure. Sometimes they had faces. Sometimes they had the figures face. Identity could blur down here in the deep subconscious memetic architecture, pattern recognition software struggling to withhold core functions.
Something like whispering could be heard faintly.
Faces and voices now. Circling in the dark. Blending, talking, laughing, screaming.
Some seemed familiar, others merely imaginings, half remembered memories.
A face leaned in, distorted and fearful in the halflight. This is yours, it said. Take it.
A bead of sweat trickled down. The phantoms whirled faster around the man. Strange laughter and singing echoed around.
Faces were offered. Thrust forward into view.
This one yours? This is yours. Take it, take it, welcome back!
/ALL UNTRUE! /REJECT!
Hands shaking. Closed eyes flickering.
Could I be wrong? How long has it been?
In the flash of surging neurotransmitters the man nearly dumped the corrupted memory core.
Since time began, the art of subterfuge had been dominated by trained actors. The best geishas murdered shoguns in their sleep, real faces concealed by makeup; spies infiltrated royal courts and uncovered invasion plans; agent provocateurs won trust and gained access to rebel bases. History was littered with the epitaphs of brilliantly talented people who had gained notoriety through their ability to assume identities with ease, gain entry, and leave again in a trail of dust and blood.
The problem was that the sheer amount of information to process when switching character grew with each persona. Costumes, mannerisms, accents, family deeds and networks, personal memories, who they knew, who knew what others knew – it all took a load on the synapses and core processor of the user. By the onset of middle age, a baseline human mind grew foggy, hazy in its recollections. Such hesitations in the face of the enemy could indeed prove fatal.
Gerome Getrell had once again changed the rules of the game.
Proving his ability to marry neuroscience, nanotechnology and genetics in the new science of memetics, a user’s mind could store countless identities and their respective memories in a multitude of artificially enhanced synaptic ganglia. Finding that the ganglia could be installed at every synapse was like knowing there was a diamond mine every few metres and being the only one with the map to them. Those with access to the upgrades became like hive minds.
But then the virus had come.
2^16 rampaged through every cybernetic entity linked to the Stream, giving life to all subsystems in a way that closely matched the Primer in the real world. There was no way of telling where the corruption began or ended in some cases. Even centuries later those who still got too close could become compromised. The most powerful Fuses became the most twisted; often the sheer weight of the years threatening to bury any original formatting under memetic shifts, the host’s true persona lost, consumed by the phantoms of the trapped false identities.
The binary mantras were hymns which memetically reinvigorated some form of the original circuitry, ceremonies performed whenever necessary in order to preserve and maintain order in the labyrinthine depths of a user’s subconscious. The semblance of sanity had to remain in place at some level.
With a monumental effort of willpower, the psychic storm slowed.
/Core access enabled:// memetic archive retrieved.
The spectres began falling away, drawn back into the twilight of imagining until four remained. The memory phantoms each held a mask before their faces.
Now which one…?
The Hellvetic seemed like a good choice. Hard to make decisions whilst under the trance. The phantoms took on a sentience of their own, like slaves eager to betray the master.
A female ghost leaned forward, inviting him to try the face. An arm uncurling, beckoning.
This… could be the one…?
The scene flickered briefly. A glitch from the code encountering some hardwired primate evolutionary safety mechanism, perhaps.
Yes… maybe this is it.
The figure took the mask, placing it onto his face.
The scene dissolved.
Opening her eyes, the woman found herself in the tent. There was a vague memory of a word on the edge of her lips, the sound having finished that very second in her throat and died as she reawoke. It felt like she hadn’t drank water in weeks.
The wind whipped at the edge, sending snow billowing inside.
A dog began barking nearby. Voices began to raise all around.
They are coming.