Digital Wings


Well-Known Member
Sunday evening. Charon Server. Hub City Outer Limits.

The sky was crying.

Which was exactly what it was programmed to do. There were no real clouds in the Network, merely simulated images that ran across the virtual heaven above. Artificial winds blew off the digital sea that bordered the Hub and through the city, following carefully calculated algorithms to properly recreate the weather patterns of Earth. It wasn't quite a perfect mimicry, but it was close enough for people to forget that the world around them was composed entirely of code stored on countless moly-circ servers secluded underground back in the real world. Most people had gotten used to it quickly, either not seeing anything they could do about it and simply rolling with the punches or they were young enough that they grew up on Network, but for some it was still yet another unwelcome reminder that for all the worlds beauty, it was still the beauty of a gilded cage.

Just like real rain though, it brought with it a blessed, comforting quiet. It was something that challenged the illusion of reality, and it was the illusion that came away the lesser for it. The sounds of traffic, pedestrian and otherwise, would always dwindle as most people sought shelter indoors. Some would push through it, treating as some barrier that needed to be overcome, and then there were those that reveled in the rain and the soft hush.

Cliodna Evans was one of the latter. Standing in the alley outside the side entrance to her apartment complex the rain cascaded over her head and off the back of her leather jacket. She flexed her hands inside her leather gloves as she slowly shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She’d rather have been back inside finishing up the coding for her latest project, but an opportunity to settle an old debt, as well as picking some much needed cash, was more important.

The weather could have been worse. The wind hadn’t kicked in yet, and the air was just the right shade of cool on her skin. It wasn’t quite cold enough to see her own breath yet, but it wasn’t too far off. It was refreshing though, the chill bringing a sense of clarity with it. The rain washed away the smells of the city and left behind a familiar scent that brought up what few clear memories she possessed of life outside the Network.

The repeating sound of a short melody spoiled the silence as a transparent floating square appeared in the air. A soft sigh met its appearance, as a leather clad finger reached out and tapped the answer icon. The square wobbled in the air as it expanded to reveal the face of a prematurely grey-haired young man.

"Hello Matthew." Cliodna said flatly.

He laughed, as much for her dry tone in such wet weather as simply for laughter's sake. “How many times do I have to tell you Clio; call me Matt. Today's the day, you ready for this?"

“As I’ll ever be,” came the resigned response. “Do I really have to do this? I still have at least, at least, another five hours of work on my current job.”

“Yep! I'm sure we'll be done with more than enough time to spare,” he chirped happily. “Trust me, you do this and your rent will be more than covered. Besides, I have no idea what you’re worried about, it’ll be a piece of cake. I’ll be by to pick you up just as soon as I finish rounding up the rest of the guys, so sit tight.”

“Fine.” Clio stated, the screen vanishing with a quiet pop as she ended the call. She sighed and gave her head a shake, creating a smaller shower of water that was lost in the downpour before running her fingers through her long red hair, the one concession she made towards her appearance. Honestly, of all the times for her friend to call in his marker and it had right in the middle of one of her commissions.

Thunder cracked overhead and Clio took a step back as the downpour redoubled in its intensity. She sighed again and pulled up her latest project on her Personal Interface Terminal. A wireframe model of a sleek motorcycle representing the structure of the program appeared in the air before her and she set to work. There was only so much she could do outside of her workshop, but she did owe Matthew a favor, not mention she dearly needed the money.

She spun the model around and she tapped one of the glowing nodes on the rear wheel of the wire-frame image. A second screen appeared in the air next to the model, its display filled with the cascading code that composed the program's motive functions. Clio cracked her knuckles and called up a holographic keyboard that suffused the falling raindrops with a soft electric blue glow.

While the finer adjustments would require tools from her workshop, any Coder that had a grasp of the Third Circle of programming could do the more general changes with their P.I.T. Clio was one of the few Third Circle members that worked independently of the Coder’s Guild. The Guild's rates and reliability made it hard for those who didn't sign on to make a proper living, but as always, there were those that preferred to deal with individuals rather than large groups.

The contractor for her current project was just that. The son of one of the Network's Upper Class, most of whom had taken advantage of the chaos after the Network was cut off from the outside world in order to set themselves up to profit off the opportunities before them, he possessed a hobby for racing bikes and a distaste for the strict regulations the Guild enforced on their codes. Arrogant and a ladies man who tried to flirt with her every chance he could, Clio would have happily gone her life without having met him, but Matthew had referred him to her and his contributions to her wallet had helped ease the weight of her debts quite nicely.

Matthew himself was an exception among Clio’s small circle of associates that could loosely termed friends. The two had actually met in a bar, when Clio had come down to bail out one of her friends from a gambling debt they’d acquired. Matthew had taken one look at her, dressed in the business suit she reserved for professional meetings, and had pegged her for an easy mark. Had he known she was a Coder, maybe he wouldn’t have tried to con her, but he had, and after she turned the tables on him, he had decided that she was worth his time in getting to know her.

A well known - and going by the number of women he had dated over the years, rather handsome - face in almost every bar and pub across the Hub, Matthew Kane had an easy smile and a ready joke for every situation. He was the kind of guy that knew everyone’s name, and everyone knew his. Money was never a problem with him, thanks to both his family connections and his own ventures, and Matthew could always be counted on to buy a round or two for bar.

Clio on the other hand, was everything Matthew was not. He was charming and social, while Clio preferred to stay in her room coding new programs and rewriting old ones, her social life consisting of the occasional trip to the store or nearby coffee shop. Her work paid decently, enough so that she could work her own hours and still afford her own apartment in the less populated outskirts of the Hub, instead of one of the many Megahabs that crowded the center of the city. At night the soaring residential complexes lit up the skyline like torches, dwarfed only by the spotlights of the Arena and the grand edifice that was the Administrator’s Tower.

An old grey van turned the corner and pulled up in front of her. It’s tires ran through a puddle and splashed water over the toes of her boots, causing her to sigh as she saved her work and dismissed the interface. The age and wear of the van was another development of the Network’s self-evolving code and forgotten creators. She watched as a piece of rust flaked off the side and settled in a puddle. The side door slid open, spilling out several empty energy drink bottles and take out containers as Matthew jumped over them into the rain, his smile undampened by the weather. Clio sighed as Matthew wrapped her in a bear hug, staring over his shoulder and giving the van a dubious look.

“Where did you find this old piece of rust Matthew?” she asked as she extricated herself from his grasp.

“Oi!” Clio and Matthew turned to see the driver leaning out the window, a ridiculously tall fedora perched on his head and a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. He was staring at Clio with narrowed eyes. “Don’t you be mocking my ride, ya hear me?”

“My apologies,” she responded quickly, her cheeks tinged a light pink. “I did not mean to cause offence. It’s appearance is rather... Deceiving, I suppose.” The driver gave her a serious look for a few seconds before erupting into boisterous laughter.

“Ah forget about it, I know she ain’t a looker, but she still runs like a dream.” He stuck out his hand. ”Name’s Rocky.”

“Somehow I doubt that,” she said as she eyed the hand for a moment before taking it. “Cliodna.”

“Just call her Clio,” Matthew interjected,“she doesn’t mind.” The redhead turned and gave him a glare that slid off his wide grin.

“Clio is acceptable,” she said after a moment.

Rocky snorted and jerked his head towards the open door. “Should probably get in. Don’t want to keep the boys waiting.”

Matthew offered his hand to help Clio up into the van, which she pointedly ignored, as she stepped up and over the various energy drink bottles that littered the floor. Her lip curled slightly as she swept a pile of books from her seat and onto the floor. The author on the cover of one caught her eye as she sat down.

The van rocked on its wheels as Matthew got in and slid the door shut. He paused to whisper into Rocky’s ear before continuing past Clio to his own clear seat. Rocky deftly directed his van off the side street and onto one of the main roads as they headed towards the low spires and arcing tesla coils of the Hub’s Industrial Spur. Clio picked up the book from the floor and casually glanced through it, her eyebrows rising as she looked through the other books and came across an unusual find.

“You have a copy of Weidmar’s Precepts?” Clio asked. “I thought his theories had been discredited.”

Rocky gave her a surprised look. “Only his theory on using SQUIDs to contact the Outside, and even then that was only because nobody has the balls to defy the Moderators and put it to the test.”

“Coder?” Clio asked with a raised eyebrow.

“First Circle, barely. You?”

“Third,” Clio stated with a proud smirk. Matthew rolled his eyes while Rocky let out a whistle and shook his head.

“Damn, that’s pretty sweet. Think you could do me up one of those swanky pocket drink dispensers? You know, the ones that you don’t have to refill?”

“Only if you can pay for it.”

“Geez,” Rocky clutched at his chest dramatically as he spun the van around a corner. “You’re killin’ me over here. Whatever, once we get done with this raid, I’ll have more than enough cash, sound good?”

“Raid?” Clio repeated, as if her ears had deceived her. Her eyes slid over to a no longer smiling Matthew. “What raid?”

“Well,” he started,”you remember the that virus that wandered in from the Wastes into the industrial sector last week? Right, so someone managed to track it down, and the businesses it hit put a bounty on it. Rocky and I know a few guys, so we decided to put together a raid group and bring it down.”

Clio took a deep breath and closed her eyes before responding. “Matthew, I was under the impression that I was to check the stability of some equipment for one of your jobs, not participating in a raid! You do realize how dangerous raids are, correct?”

“It’ll be fine. Reports had it as just a Class Three, which means it’s big and dumb, and an easy target. Relax,” he said, his grin back as he slapped Clion on the back. “It’ll be quick and easy, and you’ll even get a cut of the bounty. I wasn’t even lying about your part. All you need to do is check and make sure everyone’s gear is functioning properly, that’s all. ”

“Somehow I doubt it will be that simple...” Clio trailed off with a sigh as she turned and stared at the passing sights of the city, the apartments buildings and residential complexes reminiscent of Old New York, though on a massively larger scale. Eventually the apartments and houses gave way to factories and warehouses and the sky above became obscured by a thick haze of smog.

Matthew twisted in his seat, opening and closing his mouth a few times before he sighed and relaxed into his seat. The van took several turns before Rocky turned it down a sidestreet. Matthew leaned forwards past Clio and tapped Rocky on the shoulder. Rocky grunted as he slowed down and turned down a side street to where Matthew pointed out several couple of cars parked in front of a nondescript warehouse. “Here we are, and it looks like the rest of the team has already arrived.”

He reached in behind the seat and pulled out a hammer with a head larger than Clio’s torso. Matthew winked at her as he slid open the door and stepped out into the rain, leaving her to scramble after him as he headed towards the warehouse door. Once again his energy had her hooked and dragged along for the ride behind him, no matter if she was willing or not.

He stopped and held the door open for her, his grin at full force. “Time to go slay ourselves a virus.”


My entry into Original Fic 2014. Feedback on it would be nice, since I intend to enter this into a couple other contests too.


Well-Known Member
Chapter 2

The inside of the warehouse was so far from Clio’s expectations that the thought of the door being a portal to some strange dream simulation briefly stuck in her mind. The inside of the warehouse had become an utterly alien environment completely at odds with the outside walls of soot-stained concrete and steel.The floor and walls had been leached of color, the result of the virus’ presence tearing at the Network’s code,and twisted pillars like bleached bones jutted up from the floor at irregular intervals. Tattered streamers of code untethered from their processes spiraled down from the ceiling, their tails fading away before they touched the ground.

In the middle of it all was the source of the corruption. The virus itself was a massive thing, at least two stories tall, and was composed of nine thick legs radiating out from a body that had some passing resemblance to a spider. A spider whose head was large enough to swallow a person whole with room to spare and with far too many eyes than was natural. Of course, natural didn't necessarily mean much in a world where anything was possible.

“That is not a Class Three.”

Rocky’s words echoed Clio’s thoughts as she took in the virus, before she shook off her surprise and took a second look around the warehouse. Now that she wasn’t distracted by the alienness of the building, she noticed another two dozen people hugging the walls, most sticking together in groups of five or six. Matthew was deep in discussion with one of the groups and Clio’s eyes eventually drifted back to the slumbering virus.

“Ugly piece of trash, ain’t it?” Clio jumped as Rocky spoke up behind her.” Don’t worry too much ‘bout it though, I’ve seen a lot uglier.” Now that they were both actually standing next to one another, Clio was surprised to find herself having to tilt her head down slightly to meet Rocky’s eyes. “Besides, Matt ain’t let me down yet. Speak of the devil.”

Clio turned around to see Matthew approaching with the others he’d been speaking with. He had his head turned to the side so he could look the two giants in the eyes as he talked to them. They were at least six and a half feet, if not over seven, and obviously had some past alterations done to their code. The two looked so alike they could only be brothers, from the cut of their hair down to the matching shields slung over their backs. One had a calm look on his face and a distant gaze while the other was smiling and laughing at something Matthew said. A third man, his face tattooed with the blue cross and bearing the customary katana that marked a member of the Samurai of Royal Street, hung slightly off to the side, his face blank.

“Clio, I want you to meet my fellow raid leaders.” He turned and gestured to the two giants. “Nicholai and Heinrich Koenig here are our interference specialists, mostly because they’re too stubborn to move out of the way when something’s coming their way. We all just call them Nick and Rick though, saves us time.” The two brothers nodded their heads towards Clio and one grinned widely with a mouth full of missing and broken teeth.

“Any friend of Matt’s a friend of ours,” the grinning giant said. He reached over and smacked his brother on the shoulder. “Don’t mind Heinrich here, he doesn’t talk much, not even to me! His own brother!”

“I’m sure Clio would love to hear your story, but we are on a schedule.” Matthew chuckled before jerking his thumb at the Samurai, who was looking dismissively at Clio. “Anyway, this jolly fellow here is Saint. He and his organization were kind enough to lend us some heavy support for this venture of ours, which it looks like we’ll be needing after all.”

“A pleasure to meet you, all of you,” Clio said as she glared back at Saint. It slid off of him like water and he pointedly ignored her while he turned to face Matthew. The grey haired man was focused on the virus, his eyes studying it carefully. He clapped his hands suddenly and Clio jumped at the noise.

“Now then, time for the game plan. Clio, what can we expect from this thing?”

“Well,” Clio started. “Judging by its apparent mass, I would say that virus is a Class Five, which means that it has developed some degree of primitive cunning and tactics in addition to its repertoire of physical weaponry. Given that other Class Fives have displayed rudimentary control over their immediate surroundings and the fact that it has been able to corrupt this building to such an extent, it will probably have several crude traps set up.”

Matthew nodded thoughtfully. Saint was giving her a thoughtful look of his own, and Clio was surprised to find that the other raiders had gathered around the small group and begun to talk quietly amongst themselves.

“Perhaps she isn’t just another cheerleader after all,” Saint said, his voice high and scratchy. “Once again you surprise me, Kane.”

“Stow it Saint,” Matthew muttered darkly, his eyes still on the virus. “The rest of you heard the lady, we need to play it smart and watch our footing."

“You do have a plan then, oh master strategist?” Saint asked.

"I said stow it. It’s gonna go off like clockwork. Nick and Rick will tank the virus’ attacks and keep it occupied and off the rest of us. Rocky and I will go after the weak points; the legs, eyes, the mouth; our aim is to cripple it. Once it’s down, you and your boys move in and finish the job. Nick, Rick, Rocky, Saint; I want to hear you every ten seconds, communication is everything in making sure this works.”

“What of her?” Saint exchanged a pointed look with Matthew before his eyes turned to Clio. “Her insight into the nature of the beast was useful I will admit, but is that all?”

“Actually, I wanted her to check over everybody’s equipment first. No reason to go with broken gear when I know somebody who can fix it. Clio, if you wouldn’t mind?”

Clio nodded and brought up her P.I.T. The other raiders loaded their own before sending over the data to her terminal. A quick scan revealed most of their weapons possessed one minor flaw or another, and a quick patch would any issues she could see. She paused before sending it though. Even a First Circle Coder would have caught most of them, which begged the question as to how they could have slipped past the Fourth Circles in charge of registering the equipment before raiders were sent out on their hunt.

“There a problem?”

“No,” she said quickly. A quick tap distributed the patch through her P.I.T.’s link to the raiders’ own terminals. “Just a few more fixes than I expected. Thank you, Nicholai was it?”

“Yep. After this, you’ll let me buy you drink, ya?” Nicholai asked.

“Maybe. All done Matthew.”

“Wonderful, wonderful. Alright, everybody ready?” Matthew looked at the faces of everyone in turn before a satisfied smirk crossed his face. “Let’s move!”

Nicholai and his brother were the first into the fray, charging in with their shields held in front of them, and the other tanks close on their heels. Rocky and his group took up positions at the edge of the warehouse, unfolding their rifles, pistols, and the odd bow here and there, before releasing a hail of fire that soared over the heads of the tanks and into the virus’ side.

Matthew followed behind the two brother, his hammer flashing out to strike the first solid blow against one of the virus’ legs. The area around the impact flashed and turned slightly grey as the integrity of the programs forming the leg were damaged. Saint and the other Samurai waited just out of reach of the virus for their opportunity to strike.

Then the rest of the raiders caught up to the virus and it became much harder for Clio to pick out individuals out of the swarming mob. It was almost akin to watching one of the old documentaries on how the ants

The sheer noise of it all was incredible. The cacophony of shouts and the thunder of discharging guns were often overwhelmed by the roars of the virus. Clio hung back, her eyes flicking from display to display, occasionally pausing to repair any damage before continuing on. A part of her was puzzled. She watched as Nicholai blocked a blow from one of the virus’ legs, his shield flashing as the kinetic energy was dispersed instead of turning his arm into jelly. The attack left the virus off balance and Rocky managed to take out one of its eyes before it could move one of its legs to protect itself. The virus let out another loud roar before it turned and tried to strike again.

A sense of wrongness tickled the back of Clio’s neck. For a Class Five, the virus was behaving very oddly. On a hunch, she pulled up the mangled code for the warehouse floor. She studied it intently, her eyes searching for anything that might explain her premonition, when a section of the code suddenly mutated. She cursed as she realized what was about to happen.

“Nicholai pull back!” she shouted. To his credit, the bruiser hesitated only a fraction of a second, but it was still too much of a pause. A spike of code shot up from the floor in front of him and sliced right through his arm. One of his fellow tanks grabbed him by the shoulder and dragged him over to Clio.

Luckily for him, the wound was a straight shear, the code having been severed cleanly with no fragmentation. Clio quickly brought up his display and isolated the code in his arm, first halting the blood flow before sealing off the wound and initiating a regrowth program. Nicholai grit his teeth in pain as the wound closed with a hiss.

“How bad is it?” he asked through a sheen of sweat.

“You’ll live. Your arm will be functional again in about a week, but you’ll be incredibly fatigued until the process is complete. It takes a lot of energy to regrow a limb.”

“Good thing it was just an arm then.” Nicholai tried to laugh, only for it to die halfway out of his mouth. “At least I’ll have a story to tell the ladies at the bar tonight.”

“Save your energy, you’ll need it,” Clio said. She began to get to her feet, only to pause and clasp her hands over her ears as the virus let out a screech of pain that caused the walls to shake. She blinked her eyes clear of the tears that had begun to blur them and turned to face the battlefield.

The floor had become a maze of spikes and blades. The virus was lying on its side, most of its legs broken or missing, feebly trying to fend off Saint’s crew as they hacked their way through the barriers between them.

The Samurai reached the wounded virus and parted to let Saint through. With a solemn air he drew his blade and plunged it into the seam where the virus’ head joined its body. He gave the blade a quick jerk and separated the two, one hand quickly reaching down to store the head in his P.I.T. as it and the rest of the virus were broken apart by the Network’s repair systems. Already color was returning to the warehouse as the traces of the virus’ presence were erased from the system.

Past the cheers and congratulations Clio was able to notice something that had been bothering her since just after the fight had began. Without the sound of battle, Clio could make out a soft hum at the edge of her hearing that was slowly growing louder.


Clio turned to see Heinrich leaning against the front door, a panicked look on his face. His brother struggled to his feet and made it only a few steps before the door was smashed in. Heinrich was knocked to the ground as several men dressed in neatly pressed black and blue suits and reflective masks stomped marched inside. There was a moment of silence as the raiders tried to take in the sudden turn of events. Only one group on the Network wore those colors, the Moderators, better known as the Administrator's military police.

One of Matthew’s group broke the silence. “It’s the Mods!”

In a blink the spell was shattered, as the raiders began to run, either towards one of the side or back entrances, or towards the Moderators in the hopes of breaking through them. Digitally constructed staves assembled into waiting hands and were put to quick use, breaking jaws and shattering kneecaps with brutal efficiency.

Clio was frozen in place. The sight of the Moderators had brought up all sorts of memories that she’d struggled to keep buried. Memories of the worst of the early years of the Network. Overwhelmed, she simply stood there as Saint and his Samurai rushed past her, rage twisting their faces as they carved through flesh and armour just as easily as they had through the virus’ shell.

She was shaken out of her reverie as Matthew grabbed her by the shoulder. “What did you do?” Clio asked as he began to drag her away. Matthew had done something to get the Moderators called in, and odds were he’d have to get her out of trouble, just like last time. When he didn’t answer, she dug in her heels and jerked them both to a stop. “Matthew, what did you do?”

“Listen, Clio, it’s just, well registering raids is expensive, and I needed the money, and I know you needed some too, so when I heard about the virus, I had to go for it.” Matthew said desperately.

“This isn’t a sanctioned raid? Are you insane?”

“Listen, get on my case all you want about this later, right now we have to move!” Matthew grabbed her again and pulled down a feature less hallway. At the far end a couple of the raiders were holding open a door, nervously looking between the Clio and Matthew and the outside.

Suddenly Matthew pitched forwards. He dropped limply onto the ground and Clio turned to see what had happened. A flicker of movement was all the warning she had before Her vision disappeared into star bursts as something smashed into the back of her knee.

Clio dropped to the ground with a cry of pain, echoed a moment later as Moderator stepped on her arm as he charged towards the door. As darkness closed in on her vision, she caught sight of Rocky’s regretful face as he grabbed the raiders and let the door close behind him. Clio didn’t even feel the second blow as it connected with the back of her head.


Well-Known Member
There are certain situations in life one does not ever want to wake up to. Someone robbing you for one, your things getting repossessed for two, a virus invasion, divorce papers if you were married, and the distinctive odor, a mixture of oil, blood, tears and cold steel, that suffused the inside of a Moderator prisoner transport.

It didn’t take a genius to guess which one Clio found herself in. The low bass rumble of the aerodyne’s four vertical thrusters and the feeling of cold steel against her cheek were rather large clues. The cell she’d been placed in was dimly lit, not enough to cause her eyes any pain and barely enough to illuminate the three black walls and black door, the entire space barely large enough to fit three standing men.

Clio groaned and moved to stand, her legs had curled underneath the narrow bench that filled the small cell, only to find her hands handcuffed to the wall behind her. She gave it one quick tug and relaxed with a sigh. If she could see her restraints she might have been able to work herself free, but she needed to see what she was working with, which meant she could do nothing until the transport reached it’s destination. Probably prison. Or worse, one of the “Reformation” camps out in the Wastes.

With a muttered curse Clio slammed her head backwards against the wall. She couldn’t let herself get buried in what-ifs and might-bes. Her best bet at surviving whatever was coming next was keeping calm. And beating the crap out of Matthew the next time she saw him.

She had begun to drift off to sleep, more from boredom than any sense of fatigue, when the aerodyne shuddered and the rumble of the thrusters changed pitch. Her ears popped as the transport began to descend. Occasionally she was knocked from wall to wall as the aerodyne was jostled by the wind. The transport gave one last jolt before the sound of the thrusters began to fade.

Her cell abruptly began to deconstruct around her, the steel turning into a glowing wireframe before disappearing from sight entirely, leaving Clio alone on a platform maybe a couple of meters across and several dozen above the ground. Her ears thrummed with the sound of the crowd that filled the Hub’s Arena.

The Arena had been one of the Administrator’s first commissions from the Coder’s Guild and was a testament both to the might they wielded and to depths mankind could and would sink to. Modeled loosely on the ancient Colosseum of Rome, the Arena was a massive circular stadium with three tiers of seats, almost always packed to full capacity. The actual arena where the games took place was about a kilometre in length and half that across, and was currently dominated by an intricate stone maze.

In her worst nightmares Clio had imagined herself forced to participate in one of the Arena’s grand spectacles, but never once had she actually thought it possible that she’d find herself there in reality. Clio stuffed her hands into her jacket pockets to hide their trembling as she looked around. She’d been deposited on one of several raised platforms that rose up from arena floor. On each of the other platforms was one of the raiders, looking as bewildered and scared as Clio felt, and on the platform closest Matthew lay staring up into the sky.

Several floating drones, held aloft on gossamer wings and carrying large cameras, flew out over the audience. Some instead orbited around the dark glass windows of the Administrator’s booth in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Charon Server’s elusive ruler.

A loud buzz burst from the Arena’s speakers and everyone turned their attention to the many floating screens. A small section of the tinted glass surrounding the Administrator's booth had begun to turn clear. The Administrator himself stood waiting, bedecked in the white, red and gold robes he had taken as symbols of his office.

“People of Charon Server!” he announced grandly, his arms rising up as the crowd quieted. “I present before you criminals guilty of a most heinous and dangerous act. They have dare risk putting our city, our very way of life at risk by attempting to hunt a virus without regard for law, for supervision or for registration! Such a deplorable crime can only be punished by spending their lives in prison.”

“But,” he raised his hands to still the roars of the crowd. “We are not without mercy. Nay, we are no barbarians, to simply send them off without trial, although the evidence to their crimes are many and great, so we shall instead offer them the trial of combat! Should they successfully defeat the challenge before them, they shall have their freedom. Should they fail... Well, failure has its price.”

“Now then, let the Games begin!”

The crowd roared their approval as the screens changed to display a roulette wheel. To the side of it appeared Clio’s name and face, as well as those for every other raider present. She saw Matthew gather himself and get to his feet out of the corner of her eyes as she carefully watched the screen. A number appeared next to her face and on the roulette wheel before it began to turn. Clio watched with bated breath as the wheel began to slow, before it finally stopped on an unfamiliar name.

One of the platforms began to shake and descend to the Arena floor, depositing it’s occupant in a small clearing with multiple entrances into the labyrinth. The screens displayed him from multiple angles as he looked at each entrance in turn before he decided on which to enter. He made it no more than a few metres into the maze when the floor suddenly opened up beneath him.

The raider hung in the air for the fraction of a second it took for gravity to realize that there was nothing holding him up anymore. His scream was drowned out by the roar of the crowd as the feed abruptly switched back to the Administrator. He waited a moment before he cleared his throat and hushed the crowd.

“Oh yes, one last thing; some of the paths are trapped, while others have been given more animate obstacles to overcome. Good luck!” Anderson gave the cameras a quick grin before his visage was replaced once again by the roulette wheel. One name and number had been greyed out as the wheel started to spin once more.

Clio closed her eyes and for the first time in many years she began to pray to any god that might be listening.

Jack A. Anderson waved the camera drones away and let the windows darken again as he retired to his plush throne. He relaxed back in his seat and grabbed a waiting wine glass before he turned to speak to the man seated on a more mundane chair next to his throne.

“What did you think Doctor?” Anderson asked. He waited a minute and sighed as he noticed that the rather squat man next to him was focused on the display from his terminal. Anderson sighed and waved over one of several attendants operating the camera drones supervising the Arena. The Adminstrator gestured towards his companion and the attendant nodded before walking over and gently tapping the man on the shoulder.

“Beg pardon,” the Doctor said as he closed down his terminal, his accent thick. “You had question?”

“I had asked what you thought of my speech.”

“Hmm?” the Doctor readjusted his glasses and raised an eyebrow in thought. “Ostentatious. Cliched. Very energetic, the crowd approves. Waste of resources. Execution simpler. Cheaper.”

“Ah, but that would completely miss the point of the Arena.”


Anderson sipped his wine and frowned. “People need an outlet, a distraction from their daily lives. Radio once served that purpose, then the television, then computers, and now, the Arena. There is nothing more that people, not the individuals but people as a whole I’ll note, enjoy watching more than other people suffering. The Germans were such fans that they came up with a term for it: schadenfreude. This Arena is a monument to such morose delectation. By venting their frustration and anger onto the participants, the people are far less likely to entertain thoughts of rebellion against our regime.”

“Interesting. You have studied human behavior?”

Anderson smiled behind his wine glass. “Call it a hobby of mine.”

He opened his mouth to to continue his thoughts only to pause as one of the attendants approached and leaned over to whisper in his ear. He listened to him for a few moments before he dismissed the worker with a slight nod. He ignored the look of curiosity on the Doctor’s face as he patiently sipped at his wine. He turned his head to the side just as the door to the booth opened and a voice that sounded like stones grinding together boomed through the air.

“What in the Sam Hill do you think you’re doing with my prisoners!”

A moment later the voice’s owner stomped over to Anderson’s throne, the gathered attendants parting before him like waves before a ship. Anderson stared at the intruder bemusedly before he took another sip of his wine. The Administrator couldn’t help but note that his shoes weren’t nearly as polished and shiny, nor did they pair with his robes quite the way the intruder’s shoes did with his pristine white suit and black pants.

“Ah, Commander Walker, how wonderful of you to join us. Your manners, as always, are simply... impeccable.” Anderson said softly. Walker swallowed as he clicked his heels together and stood ramrod straight. .

“My apologies Administrator, sir.”

“Relax my friend, I understand your frustration.” Anderson gestured to a pair of attendants who were carrying over another seat. “Come, sit with us. I trust you’ve been introduced to Doctor Sukebe?”

Walker stood still and eyed the Doctor with thinly veiled disgust. “We’ve met.”

“Good, good. Now, what has you in such a tizzy, hmm?”

“You requisitioned my prisoners,” Walker began, his voice growing more heated as he continued,” without following procedure, without even so much as a ‘Hey, how are you, I’m taking these boys off your hands’, and you left me to find out by reading the goddamn daily news! I’ve been trying to nab Matt Kane for months after what he did and then you just swoop him out from under me!” Walker’s hands had clenched into fists at his sides and a vein was standing out on his forehead as he caught his breath.

“Interesting,” the Doctor remarked. “Such fixation implies history between subjects. Noodle incident perhaps?”

Walker turned and blinked at the Doctor. “What did you say?”

“Indeed, as my less eloquent companion has put it, what?”

The Doctor rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Noodle incident. A historical anecdote that is mentioned but never explained. Maybe another example would assist in understanding. New Texas, 2043.” Walker’s eyes narrowed as he spun around and jabbed a finger into Anderson’s chest.

“You told me you had that erased from the records,” he hissed.

Anderson grabbed Walker’s finger and pulled away from him. “And I did. He’s the one that erased it. Trust me, there is no one better than the Doctor when it comes to manipulating data. He’s the head of the Guild for a reason.”

“Flattery. How quaint. Tangent amusing. Original question remains. What is to be done with this, Matthew Kane?”

Anderson shrugged and looked to Walker. The Commander himself looked somewhat confused. He furrowed his brow in thought as he stared past Anderson’s throne.

“Walker?” Anderson asked.

“I want his head,” Walker said finally. “If I can’t get it myself, then I want one of my boys to do it for me. I’ve looked at the files, the rest are trash, but what about the girl?”

“She is equally guilty of tonight’s events. Without herSince she is a Coder, I’ll defer to the Doctor for her punishment. I’m sure he can devise something appropriate for lying and cheating on her aptitude tests, correct?”

“Well butter my biscuits, and I here I was thinking those tests were couldn’t be beat. No wonder the Chinese Vase is

The Doctor grunted and consulted his terminal. “Overwhelm her. Let her go last. Watch her friends fail. Then kill her. Better idea. Have friends killed, break her, then kill her. Use same killer. Save resources.”

Anderson rolled his eyes and sighed. “Are you sure about that?”

“Always sure. Data doesn’t lie. Patterns predict panic and fear will make her weak. Easy prey. No combat experience, no weapon, and she will watch her friends die. Overwhelm and eliminate. Simple,” the Doctor stated darkly. He leaned back and folded his fingers in front of his mouth as his terminal ran several simulations on his prediction.

“Well,” Anderson said, “on that note. What do you think Commander? Do you wish to try overwhelming the girl?”

“So long as Kane is dead, and by one of my men, then I don’t care what happens to the girl.

Very well. When this backfires, let me be the first to tell the both of you, I told you so.

Anderson chuckled softly as he nodded to the attendant operating the roulette wheel’s program. A quick glance at the scoreboard revealed only a few names left on the wheel, including those of Matt Kane and Clio Evans.The Administrator relaxed back in his seat as Walker moved over the balcony.

“Schadenfreude my dear friends,” he whispered into his wine glass,”it comes to even the greatest among us. Well, except for me, of course.”