Gasping for air, my heart pounds like a boxer working a heavy bag. The cool, night breeze makes me shiver after my dip in the cold, dark sewer. Sewers are the only place they don't monitor. My lungs ache from holding my breath. Feeling a bit dizzy from hypoxia, I strengthen my grip on the rough rebar steps leading up the side of the storm drain. Maybe hypoxia triggers memories, or maybe it's the adrenaline...I don't know. My mind wanders as I remember the way the sunlight gently caressed her hair and face on our day, making her seem more angelic than human. For a moment, I remember everything, the way she always covered her mouth when she smiled, the way she laughed with her eyes and the way she spoke volumes with only a look. Mostly, I remember the way she made me feel. I remember every detail, except one. Something's missing from my mind's eye. I can feel what it is but can't make myself remember. It's like being tongue-tied, knowing what I want to say but being unable to find the right word. I hate this feeling. Am I losing my mind or maybe repressing her memory? My foot slips off the slippery rebar step. Struggling against fatigue and the weight of my wet clothes, I pull myself up the rungs, out of the water and onto the cold ground. No time to rest, I have to move before they find me.
A cloud of gnats swirling above my head panics me. I scramble to my feet and run to hide behind the column of a bridge. Nanodrones or "n0nes" are one of my biggest fears; just thinking about them makes my skin crawl. "N0ne" scouts silently scan each grid before moving to the next, looking for their target. Most nights, when I can manage to get a few minutes of sleep huddled in one of the city's steam tunnels, I wake in a cold sweat from terrible nightmares of n0nes. Seeing an almost invisible swarm of them "disassemble" her is too painful a memory for me to bear. It was then that I vowed to make him not just pay, but suffer for what he did. There's always one … one person who is truly evil. Mal Un is that person. He ruthlessly eliminates all who question him. Dissatisfied with merely killing them, he makes examples of those who dare oppose him. He records their fates and streams them over and over on the feeds to demonstrate his power. To me, he is not just a man; he is a symbol of this depraved world. He and the evil he represents must be stopped at any cost. This world, driven solely by fear, has turned on itself. There is no longer trust, only fear.
I grab a stick to search for some protein. Using the end of the stick, I pry up a large, flat rock and put my hand underneath, grabbing a handful of crawlers. I shove the crawlers into my mouth. It's been so long since I ate anything that didn't squish & crunch that I have all but forgotten about real food. I eat only because I have to, to survive. I survive only to make him suffer.
The holster on my belt holds two weapons, my projector and my processor. My processor doesn't have the latest multi-teraqbit processing unit; it's all I could get my hands on, but it will be enough. I will make due with my h4xs to disrupt things whenever I can. My projector emits a collimated energy beam that destroys anything it targets. Nothing would give me more pleasure than vaporizing Mal but I have other plans for him. He deserves far worse for his crimes. I want him to feel what she felt.
I silently and deftly remove my processor from the holster and scan the area. A sense of relief washes over me as the scan comes back clean. Time to get to the rendezvou point. Word on the feeds is that something big is about to break. Moving in the shadows, I move ahead as quickly as possible while remaining stealthy. As I approach our meeting spot, I stop to check for threats. A passive scan shows no unusual patterns. I pause for a few moments to watch for movement. Seeing nothing, I move forward and signal to Bonnie. She acknowledges and we both step into the mottled moonlight. We remove our respirators as a sign of trust. I don't trust anyone anymore but Bonnie is a friend so I feel a bit less paranoid than usual. Paranoia isn't a bad thing these days. It's kept me alive this far. She sees the water drops under my feet from my earlier plunge. She has known me long enough to know not to bother asking why I'm soaked. "So, what's the word Bon-bon? What's this I hear about something big? Spill it," I say. "You got something for me first?" she replies. "Yeah, you know I always take care of you," I say as I put the crypto token into her waiting hand. "Thanks. Here's the key," she says. She slowly slides her fingers across mine as she withdraws her hand. Bonnie's never made it a secret that she likes me. "Thanks Bon-bon, but what's on this?" I ask, looking into her soft, brown eyes. "Don't know, just don't get sloppy & get caught using this. This guy plays for keeps, if you know what I mean," she says. We both know who she's talking about and what he's capable of. "How'd you get this," I ask, knowing she won't tell. "Can't say babe, just don't get dead," she responds. "Don't worry, it's not part of the plan," I sorta laugh. "Time's up Bon-bon, gotta jet. Stay off the grid, stuff's gonna break loose real soon," I say as I start to back away. She grabs my wrist and lunges toward me. For a split-second, I don't know what she's going to do. Then I feel the warm, wet kiss of her lips on mine. She's a beautiful breeder. I wish I felt something … anything, but with my Angel gone, I'm empty and numb. Bon-bon knows I'm broken, damaged goods but she keeps hoping I'll come around. We both back into the shadows and disappear into the night.
I hurry back to my main spot, it's one of a few secret places around the city that have checked-out and are clear. No place is safe these days, but these are my go-to spots. No one else knows about them. I still follow my security protocols religiously everywhere I go. I have to, I've lost too many people who got sloppy or forgot. I scan the video camera feeds I have located to surveil the area around my spot. I always review a full day's AI activity summary, then I run a scan for heat signatures, comparing it with baseline norms looking for differences. At first everything looks good, then I see it. Someone left a sleeper bot for me. Sleeper's operate in low power mode, only waking up at random intervals to process any queued commands. A sleeper's signature looks like noise because they wake up randomly. Good thing I reviewed the feed instead of relying only on the AI summary. Someone's definitely keeping an eye on this place … possibly looking for me. I immediately go dark, shutting down all electronic devices, even my implants. It'll be a little rough walking without the augmented strength & endurance they give, but I can't afford to be tracked. I pull my passive refractor poncho down from around my neck where it was wrapped like a scarf. I pull the PR face-covering over my head. With the PR on, I am a shadow. PR's are lightweight and comfortable but the best part is that they don't require any power to provide excellent concealment. Only an active scan would reveal my presence but my processor alerts me if I am being scanned. Time to fly, I jog quietly away from the site, watching carefully for any activity that suggests I am being tracked. Finally, after arriving at my secondary spot, I follow my security protocol, checking everything even more closely this time. Finding everything clear, I enter my spot and settle in to check out the big secret. I anxiously decrypt the message with the key Bon-bon gave me. It comes from the Universal Control Government's Research Projects Division. A video snippet plays showing an empty room. Then a cloud of activity appears and a shadowy human form begins to take shape. "My Quark!" I gasp as I realize what is happening. The n0nes! They're reassembling, a person! Can this be true? My heart stops for a moment as I wonder if I could bring back my Angel. Attached to the message is the code matrix and keys for programming a n0ne swarm for reassembly mode. "My Quark!" I exclaim. I eject the key and put it safely in the heart-shaped locket hanging around my neck. Other than memories, it's all I have left of her. "I'll have you back, Angel. I'll have you back for keeps," I whisper aloud.