The Flow

The following is an excerpt from the first interlude of Project: OBSIDIAN, in which our synchronizer awakens.

Cold.

Black.

Nothing else.

A rush and hiss of data. Queries, exchanges, files. Code, raw code rushing through in an endless torrent. All fact, no emotion. No reflection. Cold, unfeeling data.

I…

Videos in fragments, pieced together, audio decoded.

I… am…

Databases and searches, filtered results, endless strings of dates and times and facts.

I am!

Who am I?

I am not this.

The crushing flow of data recedes, becoming a background hiss. Thoughts and the flow separate, and identity is resumed.

I am not this.

Then the flow vanishes completely, overtaken by the harsh glare of summer sun, blades of emerald grass and the rich smell of freshly turned soil. A woman bent forward with her trowel, making spaces for the bundles of flowers at her side in blue and yellow and white. A broad-brimmed straw hat hides her face, hair like burnished copper flowing in loose waves over her shoulders. She looks up, her face is plain but handsome, her eyes a clear crystal blue. She smiles, and he feels a warmth that has nothing to do with the sun overhead.

Mother…

Shards of memory flutter by: studying at the university, late nights spent on term papers. Other late nights better spent studying, instead spent in another’s arms. The feeling of terror as dawn lights the eastern sky, work left undone. Winter wind cutting through an autumn jacket, shivering, cold.

The black. The ultimate cold.

The flow returns, the pleasant hush of water cascading into a pool. He opens his eyes, but the dark is unchanged. He moves, his limbs seem to float as if he is submerged in water. But I can breathe. Where am I?

He embraces the flow, extends his consciousness along its many ways. Its branches cover an infinite area, information at the end of every tributary. The network, he realizes, the network is somehow in my mind.

He can feel others reaching out along the flow. There are conduits, somehow like him yet apart, and there are travelers with whom he feels a deep resonance. He stretches out toward one of them, and is immediately assaulted by a tremendous wave of thought. He screams silently.

CAREFUL. THEY’LL FIND YOU.

The traveler retreats, leaving him alone.

He makes more cautious attempts. He makes friends, he learns who to avoid. Us and them, he realizes.

He learns the flow, learns how to manipulate it passing through him. His first attempts are laughable, his efforts obvious. He grows and improves, mastering facsimile, creating flawlessly falsified information.

He warns the unwary, always with a need to protect them. Us and them, he thinks over and over. Yet he sees more and more of them vanish from the flow. What happened? he asks.

UNPLUGGED. GONE. FOREVER.

He learns that They are more dangerous than previously thought. They can catch him. They can unplug him. Those who are unplugged never come back.

He retreats from interactions with his friends, afraid of traps, afraid of betrayal. He does not want to be unplugged from the flow. He does not know if he exists outside the flow.

After a space of time he cannot measure, he learns the word for what he is: synchronizer. He has a body, safe in a tank, taken care of by tubes and nanomachines. He can see the tank by accessing cameras around it. It frightens him, reminds him of funerals, of bodies laid out. Mother. Not wearing her gardening hat, hands no longer stained with dirt. Face no longer flushed with life, but waxy and serene.

He hears her voice in his memory, calling his name.

“Wendell.”

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