Ch. VI, p.3

She sounded like she meant it. He peered at her face, ghostlike in the bright white of her flash light, and caught a glimmer of a smile, drawn with sincerity. How did she know I would be there? he wondered. But another question caught his tongue. “You said you work for the government… In Genesys, I couldn’t buy certain things from the reconstructor; weapons mostly… because of a Government Mandate called ‘Post-Gate 17.’ ”

“Ah, yes,” she stopped casting her light over the area. “They’re sometimes called ‘Post-Shift’ mandates. It’s a common theory that there actually is no human run government anymore. Most of us believe that an A.I. structure replaced the human organizations once in power; it’s the only way to really explain how the thing still exists.”

“We should keep going,” he said, leery of being immobile for too long.

She nodded in agreement and continued heading south east. “From the first moment I can remember after the shift, there were these mandates, remarkable in their thoroughness. Which is a large part of the reason that most of us believe it’s an A.I. run government; there simply wasn’t time for any person to organize something like that.”

“But how would you know?”

“Because, I was one of the first drops… some call us firsties or ‘special drops, and—”

“Special drops?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m glad to see people have retained their sense of humor.”

“Right... Well, my point is, we were the first in, but somehow, there was already this extensive rule set imposed by some unseen entity, manipulating and limiting the amount of freedom at our disposal. It simply couldn’t have been done by a human; not to mention the psychological impact this all has on a person.”

“Has anyone tried to find the A.I. foundation?”

“Of course. Subversion groups are formed all over the place. Some more organized than others… and one so well organized you’d think they’d been waiting for this to happen. That second group calls themselves ‘Apex.’ ”

“Why Apex?”

“I don’t know. Hubris, maybe. I didn’t spend enough time with them to find out. They’re a little frightening… Gave off a pretty heavy fundamentalist-religious kind of vibe.”

He had never been a fan of ‘fundamentalists’. “Pretence and rigid belief have always been comfortable bedfellows,” he said, feigning a haughty air.

“Well, I’m glad to see you still have your sense of humor, too. Just keep it to yourself around them because they’d probably kill you.”

“Okay.”

“I’m serious!”

“Alright, alright…” He was growing used to their voices again. The darkness didn’t feel so oppressive. “So why ‘Post-Gate’?” he asked. “What ‘gate’ are they referring to?” But he had a feeling he knew.

“The Akasani Cross. It’s this massive structure orbiting Earth. You can see it sometimes at night… though I guess you’d need to be back in our world for that.”

“That’s—”

“Sh!” She quieted him, whispering raspily. “Do you hear that…”

He did. Rustling in the bushes.

They stood completely still, on edge. Whatever it was, their sensors should have caught it long ago. She felt naked in the glow of her flashlight, its rays caught on the eyes of the forest’s inhabitants.

“They can’t hurt us,” she said, trying not to let her fear show.

“What about your friend…” he mouthed slowly.

“Quiet. Cover up.”

He did as he was told. Mask, he thought. Trickling strands of black crawled up his face, light and rubbery against his skin. He looked over at her—fully covered. She was more worried than she let on, he felt, standing close to her.

But she still knows what’s going on better than I do, he thought. ‘Are you sure? Can you really trust her?’ a second voice responded from the back of his mind. I have to... I don’t have any other choice.

“Let’s go,” she said.

He trailed close behind, the forest quietly following their every step.


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