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Strange Transmissions

From the school for gifted children

By Justin Douglas LeePublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 25 min read
Strange Transmissions
Photo by Alek Kalinowski on Unsplash

Concerned parents seek technologists to interpret strange transmissions received from our children at the Roam School for the Gifted. We are growing more concerned by the strange messages and increasingly limited contact with our children. 500,000 loc to anybody who can tell us what these messages mean.

Demoen slapped the advertisement down in front of her partner, Harlo. His dark eyes turned to her and she tapped a decorated fingernail on the number, 500,000, grinning in her childish way; her round face, plump cheeks, and big green eyes made her look about ten years younger than she was. "This is it, Harlo, our ticket out of this filthy quadrant."

He eyed the ad suspiciously, "I don't know, Demoen, that's a pretty big number. The last job you sent us on was a trap that had us going toe-to-toe with organ harvesters."

"Are you ever gonna let me live that down? I told you from the start that it felt fishy, but I got that tip from Jinx, and we took care of her after all that stuff happened. This is legit. I found it posted up at the HLII campus. They're very careful about what they allow around there. Dealing with inter-species people and cyborgs makes them wary of anything that might lead to a scandal. Besides, I already looked into it. The Roam School is where all the smartest and richest kids go to study. Even in this junk heap of a quadrant they got rich people," she picked up the paper and waved it in front of him.

He stroked the stubble on his chin while he thought about it, "It is tempting. With that amount, we could repair our vessel and head straight for the Loki Quadrant where all the wealthiest people vacation. Run a few jobs out there and we'd be set for life."

"You know it!" she was giddy and dancing around.

"I'm gonna double check first," he flipped on his virtua-lens and jacked into the network. Data streams swirled around him. Gibberish to most, he was the best tech guy in all the known universe, according to Demoen. He could read lines of code like books and interpret them like works of art. His specially modded lens allowed him to find any information he'd need in a matter of minutes. His thoughts translated into strings of code, bringing him to info on the school, but nothing about the students or the parents. Their security was extremely tight, and he had no reason to try to break in. At least he verified the school's existence.

"Well?" Demoen huffed.

"The school's real; I can tell you that much," he said.

"I already told you that," she sighed.

"And they have some of the best security I've ever encountered. Seems like a good place to find rich kids. I think we should give it a shot."

Demoen clapped with glee.

"But, I'm telling you, the moment things get fishy or start to go sour, we bail. We were lucky last time, and I really don't want my organs ripped out for petty cash," he looked at her over the top of his virtua-lens with a cocked eyebrow.

"Yeah yeah..." she rolled her eyes, "I'll go make the call now!" She skipped over to the static deck that Harlo had rigged to be virtually untraceable and to keep their identities anonymous on video calls. He was a very paranoid man. Demoen got the feeling he was running from something in his past, but he never talked about himself or his life before they met. He was only ever interested in the latest and greatest cyberware.

By Markus Spiske on Unsplash

He waited at his desk while she made the call. He wasn't much of a people person. People liked to dance around with words and insinuations, never really saying what they meant, especially rich people who he absolutely despised. In his world, things were much more straight forward. There was no such thing as a quid pro quo with a machine. You simply told it what to do, and it would do it, no questions, no needing to please it or threaten it. There were no trust issues with machines, they either worked or they didn't. He liked that much more than trying to convince someone to work with you.

Demoen was different. She liked people, which was probably why she'd stuck with him no matter how much he tried to push her away with his gruff nature and cynical point of view. He'd tell her everybody sucks and she'd respond not all people are bad, you're pretty cool and he'd grunt and continue with whatever project he was on. He never really understood what she saw in him, but he had to admit that having her around was at least pleasant. And she was much better at finding jobs than he was, even if half the time it did end up with them fighting for their lives against some villain or another. The life of a freelancer in the 30th century wasn't easy, but it kept food on the table if you were good enough, and they were some of the best.

By Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

Demoen returned after only a few minutes, "They want us to meet with them in person. They aren't sure if they can trust us yet."

Harlo grunted, "Of course they do. Why can't it ever be as easy as you want something translated, give it to me and I'll translate it?"

"Maybe because they can't see our faces when we talk to them. You ever considered that?" she scolded.

"Trust me," he grumbled, "It's better this way."

"I do trust you. That's why I tolerate you," she quipped.

"Good," he said, "I found more info on the three families involved in posting the advertisement."


"And, they seem legit. They're all independently wealthy, no corporate ties, no," he grimaced, "philanthropy."

"I forgot how much you hate philanthropists," she giggled, "What is it you call them again?"

"No good lying dirty crypt leeches. The scum of the scum. A rich man's corruption is directly correlated to his popularity. The more popular and well-known the man, the more corrupt he is. They're the drug dealers to the pickpockets. You see, a pickpocket tries to sneak about, depends on sleight-of-hand, steals from you, but usually doesn't come away with much. The drug dealer smiles in your face, pretends they're doing you a favor while stealing your money and slowly draining your life away, destroys your relationships, and makes you into his own personal slave." He was gritting his teeth and clenching his fists, reburying the memories he never spoke of.

Demoen was just watching him curiously, "And where exactly do you get all this cynicism from?"

"Same as you get your optimism, I suppose, life experience," he shrugged.

"You're wrong about that," she replied, "I'm optimistic despite my life experiences."

"Then you're dumber than I thought," he grumbled.

Demoen just laughed and headed for their scuttle ship. The much smaller vessel they used when traveling within a quadrant. It could jump from planet to planet easily enough, but needed constant recharging and wouldn't make it through the vast expanses of dark space. They were called scuttle ships because if you took them out for too long, you would "sink" and become stranded in deep space, left to starve or suffocate.

Their bigger ship was still in need of major repairs after a meteorite impact that forced them to settle in the Odin Quadrant. They'd been there for months, working odd jobs that paid just enough to feed themselves and slowly gather parts to fix their ship. They were both growing restless. The Odin Quadrant was filled with ruffians and lowlifes and while they weren't exactly on the up and up, they weren't exactly scumbags. They'd bend the rules to get a job done, but they never murdered in cold blood or dealt in mind altering substances. They preferred simple espionage and infiltration work. Information gathering was their specialty.

By Ivana Cajina on Unsplash

The two of them approached the abode of one of the three families, with a security escort sent to intersect them on their ride in. They were led into a private garage, and then escorted by several men, all heavily armed and armored.

Harlo frowned. He'd hate to be so rich he'd have to hire a village worth of people to guard his precious possessions. He was a much simpler man. Give him a good deck, a decent virtua-lens, and a dark room with some crunchy snacks and he was perfectly content.

Demoen gawked. The mansion, more like a castle, was gorgeous. The walls were lined with fine tapestries, remarkable furniture, vases, statues, lit by chandeliers. Even the crown moulding was fancy and intricately carved. The high ceilings made every room feel epic. There were butlers and maids everywhere, and every couch and chair looked like the perfect spot to take a nap. Now, this was the kind of life she dreamed of, and she would have it one day.

Finally, they entered a safe room with no windows and a faraday cage lining the walls. Harlo could tell by his suddenly lost connection. He was almost always at least 30% lost in the matrix. Six people waited for them, with a room full of armed guards. They seemed cordial enough, gesturing toward a couple of chairs with some fresh hot tea on a table between them. The room was set up like an interview, with the three sets of parents facing toward the two freelancers, smiling politely, but skeptical. Demoen was well groomed and nice enough to look at, but Harlo had bags under his eyes, stubble on his chin, and a resting grouch face, slumped forward in his chair like some kind of goblin or troll. They were beauty and the beast before a council of their superiors.

"Well, let's start with introductions," the man on the left end started, indicating to the woman next to him, "We're the Terches," the next couple were two men, "They are the Gartioulas," the last couple were another man and woman, "They are the Vixs," indicating to Demoen, "You must be Demoen, and you sir must be Harlo. It is our pleasure to welcome you into our home."

Harlo groaned audibly, "Can we just cut to the chase already?"

Demoen slapped his arm playfully and grabbed her cup of tea, "Forgive my acquaintance. He is an impatient man, and not very well adjusted to polite society."

The Terches shifted in their chairs, the Garioulas cleared their throats, and the Vixs remained unreadable. "Yes, well, we wouldn't want to waste your time," said Mr. Terche, "It's just that when it comes to our children we can't help but act with caution."

"Yes, of course," replied Demoen, "Children are our future, yours especially. From what I understand about that school they're in, they must be very special children indeed."

Harlo huffed and rolled his eyes.

"Yes, the school..." Mr. Terche trailed off, "It seemed like the best institution for them at the time. It was relatively new, but highly praised, and so exclusive we barely qualified for admittance. It's owned by that company, Rylon Technologies, I believe."

Harlo perked up at the mention, "Rylon Tech is on the cutting edge of new tech. They're always ten years ahead of their competition!"

"That's the one," said Mr. Terche, "We had hoped our children would benefit under their tutelage. They were doing very well for the first two years, but over the last seven months, their communications became less and less frequent. When we ask to tour the school, we are allowed to see only a small fraction of the campus. Eventually, we were rejected completely and all communications ended, except for five messages we've received at odd intervals. We've become very concerned for their well-being. The messages we've received seem to be gibberish. We thought they were encrypted, but none of our technologists were able to decrypt them."

"Then you've found your man," Demoen chimed in, taking a sip of her tea, "Harlo here is the best technologist this side of the universe. I guarantee he can decode your messages."

"That's a relief," replied Mrs. Vex, "We were on the verge of hiring a militia to storm the campus. But, Rylon Technologies owns half the armies in the quadrant."

"Well, lets have a peak," said Demoen, "Harlo is the man for the job."

Mr. Terche produced a slottable chip, passing it to Demoen who handed it to Harlo. He inserted it into his virtua-lens and spaced out in the way he always did while concentrating on a puzzle. Thirty seconds later, he unslotted the chip with a very serious look on his face, "It can't be done."

"You're saying you can't do it?" Mrs. Terche said, hope draining from her face.

"That's not what I said," Harlo responded, "I'm saying it can't be done. By anybody. This encryption is something else. It would take a team of twenty people working for six months to decrypt this."

"Whatever it takes," Mr. Terche said.

"That wouldn't work either..." Harlo continued, "It just isn't feasible. Even with a hundred people, the code..." he trailed off for a moment and continued, "it's adaptive. The only thing I could think of that could work is a super computer more powerful than any in the known realm of cyberware. Whoever, or whatever encrypted this chip is on a level so far above the technologists today, it's like..."

Demoen continued the thought, "It's like they're ten years ahead of their time?" she cocked an eyebrow.

"I know of something," chimed in Mr. Garioula, squeezing his husband's hand. "I have a friend that works for Rylon Technologies in the tech development department. He told me they've developed a supercomputer that's almost capable of simulating a galaxy in its entirety. Would that be enough?"

"Probably," Harlo said.

"Could you get us access?" Demoen asked.

"To the supercomputer? No, but..."

"Listen," Demoen said, locking eyes with the man, "I know why you put an ad out in the private sector looking for freelancers. We don't have to dance around it. We want to help you. If you can get us in the building, we can do the rest, if you catch my drift."

"Perhaps...a tour," suggested the man's husband.

"I could certainly arrange that," Mr. Garioula said.

"Then it's a done deal," said Demoen, "You get us in those doors, we'll be leaving with a decoded message."

By Fabian Wiktor on Unsplash

The building was as tall as a mountain, and security was tight, but true to his word, Mr. Garioula got them a private tour in the guise of potential investors. Demoen was all business in a pants suit with her hair tied back. Harlo, in his typical fashion, wore loose jeans and an ill-fitted shirt with his virtua-lens always on. Fortunately, they both fit in pretty well in the giant tech building. They knew two things, the supercomputer was in the basement under tight security, and if they were caught, they wouldn't be leaving the building alive. Rylon Technologies took security and secrecy seriously.

The tour guide was a short, balding man with a professional demeanor. He led them around the ground floor, showing them various aspects of how the company was organized, before offering to take them up to see their latest development in entertainment, hyper-reality multi-sensory arrays. This was when Demoen split off, excusing herself to the bathroom. While Harlo was an expert at getting in where he wasn't welcome in the virtual world, Demoen was an expert at doing the same in the meat realm as he liked to call it.

"She's seen enough," he told the tour guide, "She seems interested, but she likes to leave the tech stuff to me. She's more of a personal relations kind of woman. She'll be waiting for me in the vehicle, I'm sure."

The tour guide accepted the excuse and continued showing Harlo around. He brought Harlo into a large white room filled with pod-like structures. "And here's the future of gaming," he smiled, sweeping his hand out toward the pods, "Come, let me show you." He led Harlo to the nearest pod and opened it up. It had a cushioned reclining seat with slots for your hands and feet and various sensors arranged throughout, "It's designed to give you a full sensory experience within the world of the game, plus more. It can take you outside of the mind of a person, and give you the sensory experience of any number of creatures that you can imagine. Care to try it out?"

Harlo raised his eyebrows. He was quite the gamer, and this device intrigued him, "Did the latest update to Minecraft give us bears that poop in the woods?"

The tour guide chuckled, "Please, have a seat inside," as Harlo made himself comfortable, the tour guide began explaining all the technical aspects of the machine. It could use a variety of electro-magnetic wavelengths to stimulate your nervous system, inducing sensations beyond the experience of normal life while creating a minor harmless paralysis to keep the user from flailing about. This particular machine was running a prototype that allowed the player to live the experience of a macaw. He explained that the bird had almost reached extinction back in the 21st century, but due to conservation efforts, there were now entire continents on various worlds with flourishing forests housing thousands of the magnificent animals. He shut the door, and the pod activated.

Harlo found himself in a vast forest with trees as far as his eyes could see. The colors were different. It was indescribable, he could see colors he'd never known to exist as if he was seeing the world through an entirely different spectrum. The details were spectacular. He could see the texture of the leaves in the trees clearly from hundreds of feet, and he could see almost everything in front of him, behind him, above him, and below him, like an orb of vision, it was almost incomprehensible. The world seemed quieter, but at the same time he thought he could hear each leaf rustling individually, and even insects crawling around the trees if he focused. And the world around him smelled wonderful. He truly felt like a completely different animal.

He spread his wings, and the motion seemed natural, instinctual. Flapping his wings to fly above the forest, he felt a connection to the air that was far deeper than any he'd ever experienced. The wind felt alive as it drifted through his feathers, and he just seemed to know how to ride it sensing changes in pressure and temperature without having to think about it, all while admiring the beauty of the forest around him. Just as he was getting lost in the ecstasy of this profound experience, his neurochip dinged with a message from Demoen, "Done." Using the innovative and intuitive interface of the pod, he hesitantly ended the simulation and stepped out.

"Finished already?" the tour guide asked, "Usually our guests get lost in the world for an hour or so before they're ready to leave. You were only in there for twenty minutes."

"It only felt like two," Harlo admitted, "it is quite impressive. How in the world did you all design something like this?"

"Trade secret, I'm afraid," the man replied.

"Of course. Well, I've seen enough. Unfortunately, I'm a very busy man. We should end the tour here."

The tour guide seemed disappointed, but complied with the request, leading him back toward the entrance of the building, "We'll be in contact, I hope?"

"Yes. I'll have my people call your people," Harlo lied, and then left the building, meeting Demoen outside.

By Ian Battaglia on Unsplash

Back at their home, Harlo marveled at Demoen's ability to sneak into high security places, "I just don't know how you do it."

"It's simple, really," she said, cleaning and filing her nails, getting ready to apply more polish, "You'd be surprised where a cute face and a friendly smile can get you. Of course, I don't blame you for not knowing anything about that," she teased.

"You can't get everywhere with a smile," he said.

"No, but a swiped keycard and a busy pace get you most places. With all your hacking and coding, it's actually surprisingly easy to trick a retinal scanner with a small piece of cellophane," she said, wagging her eyebrows at him.

"As long as you put the transmitter where I told you, we should be good to go. I have work to do."

With that, he hooked his virtua-lens up to his static deck and began working on infiltrating the most powerful super computer in the quadrant. It wasn't difficult for him. Challenging, sure, but also routine and a bit mundane. They had powerful firewalls, but everything had some weakness that could be exploited, and it wasn't like he needed to hijack the entire system. He just needed to borrow a bit of its processing power to decrypt the messages and then he could log out. It wasn't easy by any means, it took concentration, patience, and sometimes good reflexes to avoid being traced. His own custom security was actually more complex than Rylon's. He was a master with tech, but he was a grandmaster with security. It still took him a couple hours to break into their systems and decrypt the messages. When he was finished, he sent the signal for the transmitter to self destruct with an imperceptible sizzle, leaving only a small black stain where it had been placed.

When he was finished with his work, he watched the messages, and his face grew pale.

"What is it?" Demoen asked, "Show me."

"It's awful," he told her, "It's much worse than we could have imagined. These children are being experimented on. They're injecting them with nanobots, and that pod..." he wiped his eyes with his thumb and forefinger as if trying to wipe the memory away, "that was harvested from their minds."

Demoen put the messages on the static deck and watched in horror at images of children thrashing and screaming in their sleep, being forced to perform slave labor, and being held in solitary confinement for days and weeks at a time. "How can we stop this?" she whispered.

"They sent instructions on how to contact them. They said they've made modified versions of the nanobots that can pacify the people who run the place. But the timing has to be precise."

Demoen was set in her resolve, "We can't allow this to continue. We have to rescue them. Let's inform their parents."

By Edge2Edge Media on Unsplash

The plan was in motion. The children had been contacted and Demoen and Harlo waited just outside the facility with a small army. The kids truly were geniuses. Nanobots had been outlawed two centuries ago when a totalitarian government had tried to pacify and control entire planets through their drinking water. The only way to end the attack for good was to excite solar flares that caused massive EMP disruptions across the planets, absolutely destroying every bit of technology, resulting in countless deaths, and sending them temporarily back to the stone age. These kids were being experimented on with similar technology, and had managed to harvest and adapt the same technology that enslaved them and use it as a weapon against their captors.

The people inside the facility would be pacified by now, so Demoen and Harlo's team's objective was simple. They needed to get in there, get the children out, destroy the facility, and release the documents necessary to condemn Rylon Technologies. Even with the staff down for the count, it wouldn't be so simple. Security was very tight, and much of it was automated.

The armed men with them didn't hesitate to charge forward, but they needed Harlo to hack the systems, while Demoen led the children to safety. There were twenty children to rescue from nine different families. The militia moved forward, callously shooting up the passed out staff and spitting on them in a terrible slaughter. The parents did not want to wait for justice, they sought vengeance pure and absolute. Harlo and Demoen weren't strangers to violence, but this felt wrong and sickening, watching these men kill helpless men and women all lying about the floors of the building unconscious. They justified it by reminding themselves that all of those people had been involved in the torture and enslavement of children.

Harlo and Demoen split up. She headed to find the dorms while he looked for access to their systems. It was easier than they expected to break through the facility. The militia that was with them had plenty of breaching devices and none of the doors were any trouble. It was when the auto-defenses activated that the real danger began. Static and mobile turrets revealed themselves from hidden compartments in the ceiling and walls. Explosives were needed to destroy the machines, and Harlo was hiding behind shelter, allowing the militia to do its job, while remaining in contact with Demoen. She had reached the children and was leading them out through the rubble of broken machines and shattered doors. He still had a job to do.

They had reached the core of the facility, bypassing a series of rooms that could only be described as torture chambers. His stomach turned remembering the images and sounds of the children being experimented on by the sick people of this company. Those memories would probably haunt him for the rest of his life.

They finally found a high security access deck and he jacked into their internal network. He didn't need to worry about hiding his tracks, there was no one left alive to trace him, and he would destroy their systems when he was through. What he found was appalling, but it didn't shock him. The children's natural intelligence had been amplified by the nanobots. On top of that, their endurance had been increased while most of their other senses had been dulled. The men and women here were trying to make genius zombies that could be controlled absolutely through a series of simple commands.

The kids had been forced to work nearly endless hours, building the pods that held the experiences their brains created while they slept. The process of harvesting those experiences to create the gaming apparatus had been excruciating. Everything was documented thoroughly in their systems. Harlo wouldn't simply release the information to the government and hope for the best. He had created a simple AI that would continue to spread the truth among forums, social media, comments on news articles, and anywhere else where text and video could be shared. When he was finished gathering evidence, he allowed his AI to do its work, and he wiped the systems in the facility. All the while, the militia had been placing charges around the building, ready to take it down. When they left, they left only a pile of smoldering rubble behind.

By Luke Jernejcic on Unsplash

Demoen and Harlo had finally made it to the Loki Quadrant. They had been very successful lately. As it turns out, infiltration and sabotage jobs are common among the rich and powerful, and the two freelancers had made a killing. They were watching an update on the Rylon Technologies case on the deck. A spokesman was on, updating the public on the results of the case.

"It has been extremely unfortunate to find out about the rogue entity within our company performing such heinous crimes against humanity. We ask the public to understand that we did not and do not support or condone such experimentation on children or on anybody. Our company has always held itself to the highest moral and ethical standards and practices in developing new technologies, but unfortunately, a small agency managed to slip through the cracks of our tight monitoring of all projects and for that we are regretful. Our corporation has been found not guilty on all charges, and everyone involved has been brought to justice. We will continue to operate and advance technology for humanity and the future, and we have taken measures to ensure that this never happens again."

Harlo turned the broadcast off, "Typical corporate nonsense. Too big to fail and too rich to be prosecuted. They knew exactly what was happening."

"What can you do?" Demoen said, "At least the kids were rescued and the place was shut down."

"I guess that serves as justice in our universe," he sighed.

"Cheer up a bit, huh? Look outside, it's a beautiful day. No need to stay cooped up in this place worrying about things we have no control over. Let's spend the day on the beach."

"You're right," he said, taking off his virtua-lens. Demoen had convinced him to start removing it every now and then to enjoy the real world around them. He had to admit, his mood had been improving since he started taking a break from virtual space.

They still did odd jobs here and there, but they were quickly finding ways to let their money work for them. They had more and more time to spend with each other. Demoen had helped Harlo learn to let go of the past and live more in the present. He always thought he'd spend the rest of his life jacked in and alone, but retiring on the beach with Demoen was his new dream, and he was finally starting to feel happy.

By Sean Oulashin on Unsplash

Sci Fi

About the Creator

Justin Douglas Lee

Pupper Blog

I'm an aspiring author and poet, on a life-long journey of self-discovery and learning. I'm an avid reader and lover of all things creative and independent.

[email protected]

You can find my book on Amazon.

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