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Aberrant: In the Beginning - Eruptions - Nanolife


SalmonMax

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Hiroto Inoue floated alone in infinity.

That's how it looked anyway. More and more though, Inoue could feel the confines of the world around her. She could feel the "walls" that limited her. There were windows in those walls, through which she caught tantalizing images of a world unspeakably vast. A world that the term 'infinity' might actually apply to.

It wasn't so bad in here though. Safe. Silent. Familiar. She opened her 'eyes' and looked around. She floated with legs crossed over one another in classic meditation fashion, in the center of a white space that had a floor but no walls or ceiling. Arrayed around her though were objects. A screen. A file cabinet. A couple of containers. They were unlabeled. She knew what they hid.

Inoue! Answer me!

A wince crossed the Japanese girl's face. So much for peaceful and silent.

The various system icons of her world fell away from her as she sped upwards, outwards. Then the 'real' world exploded through her senses. Her bedroom. Her computer. Her body. As usual, it took a second to adjust to weight and light. During that second...

*PUM PUM PUM* "Inoue! Are you ignoring me?!"

He sounded mad.

"No otousama!" Inoue quickly replied, "I just had my headphones on!"

Heh. Like she still used headphones. She concentrated, commanding her body to change. The silvery grey color of her skin and hair faded and reverted to the colors and consistency they'd had before the Galatea exploded. Before that wave had swept the world.

Before Inoue had been changed forever.

When her father opened her door, Inoue looked perfectly normal. Even so, he was suspicious; she could tell. He'd spent the past several weeks suspicious of her, after pounding into her the need for secrecy over and over. No one must know.

"Your mother tells me you were disrespectful," he said stiffly. This was, to him, a great sin for a child to commit. Even a nineteen year old child. In his eyes, until she was married and out of the house, she would be a child.

Inoue felt her ire increasing perilously. It wasn't as if she hadn't been down this road before. Her mother was famously prone to perceive disrespect in any little...er...shouting match or minor disagreement. The protocol was to be abashed and to go and apologize with otousan and then commit some kind of penance like cleaning the yard or making dinner a few times...and it would blow over.

But she was tired of making obeisances and tired of playing the game with her parents. She HAD a job! Several! Just because they were all online didn't mean they weren't making money! But no! It wasn't a job unless she went out to an office or place of business every day. Otherwise it was a hobby.

"Inoue," her father said heavily, reading her expression when she didn't reply. "We only want what's best for you? Why do you repay us with scorn?"

"Because I'm -different- now," she blurted in reply, without thinking. But there it was. The elephant in the room unmasked. She saw him flinch slightly; knew there'd be hell to pay for that score, but didn't care. She plowed on. "I can do things no one else can. I just need to...get out some. Meet other people like me!"

"Enough!" he exclaimed. "Inoue, no! You've seen the news! They take people...they take them to England, and indoctrinate them. Do you want to be a puppet of Britain? Your future is here! These...changes in you...they don't mean your life has to be any different."

"I don't want to pretend nothing's happened," Inoue declared. And on a sudden urge, she embraced the power...felt that cool, slick sensation like cold water slowing pouring over her as skin and flesh and bone turned into sleek metal. "This is who I am now!"

She'd gone too far. The expression of shock on her father's face told that story better than words ever could. The fear. It struck her to the core, and immediately she was contrite.

"Otousan..."

But he was already closing the door. Footsteps outside in the hall, hurrying away.

Overcome by a sudden wave of doubt and self-disappointment layered over her still simmering resentment, Inoue did what she always did. She laid her silvery fingers onto the keyboard of her laptop, and they melted into and between the keys.

The real world melted away. Here she wasn't Inoue anymore.

Here she was Nanolife.

The vast white infinity formed around her, and immediately she realized something was wrong. The file cabinet was open. The plastic box that represented the laptop's registry was open too...and that gave her a nasty suspicion. A virus? Some kind of malicious code had been accessing her files and registry?

Her 'body' in this visualization was the same as her transformed self. A sleek female humanoid figure of shimmering silver metal that moved without joints or interruptions in its surface. Time was distorted too. She perceived her actions as taking place in a similar scale of time as reality, when in fact she was in a world of clock cycles and femtoseconds.

Files streamed out of the cabinet and arrayed themselves in midair as she scanned them frantically. They all seemed...

Her 'blood' went cold. A file was missing. Not just any file either. A central piece of code she'd been working on, intending to send out to one of her programmer cabals and have them create applications for. If it lived up to the potential she thought it had, it could bust the operating system market wide open and put her on the map.

But not even that shock prepared her for hearing a voice from behind.

Not a distant echo of her real world ears. Someone there, with her. In the visualization.

"Well well...this explains a lot."

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She 'turned' to face whoever -whatever- was in here with her, her mind also sending out commands to her world, creating cages and tracers and anything that would make her feel safe again.

"Who are you? How did you get here? Why are you here? What do you want?" Her voice was quick and clipped, even for Japanese, and was spoken with the inflections of both upperclass and male. She would not give one inch of power or station to this creature that had invaded her sanctuary.

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The creature turned out to be a guy. He wasn't bad looking...kind of skinny and bony, but not bad for all that. His hair was spikey and blue...sort of punkish, Inoue thought. He had on some kind of blue top with thick pads that more or less matched where his major muscles would be. All in shades of blue. His pants were blue too, complete with kneepads, futuristic rigid boots, and what looked like a sort of codpiece. Still all blue.

He even had blue-lensed sunglasses with blue frames on.

Mr. Blue looked around as bars sprang out of the 'floor' all around him and giant weights fell out of the sky to form the top of his cage and the bars turned spiky and barbed, and then started sparking little zaps between them. A second later, as an afterthought, coils of barbed wire appeared around the outside of the cage on the ground.

He laughed and waved his hands at her. "Hey hey, take it easy. Doesn't do you much good to try to lock me in if I want to be here, does it? Like sending a kid to his room, when he wants to go there anyway! Hah!"

His Japanese was very gaijin. A few years of college instruction maybe. With a good, but non-native teacher. He didn't seem to be picking up on her dominance cues at all, which was infuriating.

"As for who I am...you can call me The Blue Meanie." He grinned. "I've had my eye on you for awhile now. Gotta admit though, THIS is a surprise. Awesome."

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She folded her arms over her chest and glared at the man. She still spoke in Japanese, unwilling give up any amount of leverage. "You've been spying on me? Why?"

She paced around the cage, her liquid metal body all hard lines in her anger. "And cages are as much about keeping one in, as keeping others out."

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The Meanie gave her a clueless stare, then shook his head.

"Well, not exactly spying on YOU personally. On your stuff. Your software. See, there's lots of people like you...two-bit developers for various platforms making shells for this and kernels for that...most of them don't amount to much. But you got a lucky break early on, and I was thinking...say...maybe here's something I can get in on. And then, with your latest release, everything changed. Seriously it was like someone kicked the monkey out and started to REALLY get to coding. Completely revised pretty much everything, started over from square one, and it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen."

He shrugged.

"So I figured I'd track it down and try to get a sneak peek at some of the other things you've got going."

He tapped his temple and nodded. "See if this was just a fluke, or if you finally graduated from Kiddy Code School. Pretty quickly found out that your development team is just a glorified Q&A department...you do most of the real work yourself. I had to stake out your team for a week before I managed to get a whiff of your IP...then run like three traces to get past your spoofs."

Her strange little nemesis laughed wistfully and cracked his knuckles. "I'll tellya, I hadn't had fun like that since my first hacks. I guess I know why now. Kinda makes sense, in hindsight that you'd be like me. No one else could have given me that much trouble. How long's it been for you?"

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She'd kept her angry pose and her narrowed eyes through most of what he'd said, taking it in but honestly still running to hot to be paying attention. Her eyes widened at his last remark, though, all aggressive body language spirited away in the wake of honest shock.

"You're like me? You've...you're changed? How? What happened to you?" The questions poured out over each other and she stepped closer to the digital cage she had erected around him. She didn't take it down - the same didn't mean safe - but she was too curious and too lonely not jump at least a little at the thought of another like her, someone who could understand.

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The daring and flamboyant Blue Meanie shrugged. "I've been hacking around on the net since it was Arpanet. Fact, I was one of the first people to find the big security glitch in Windows 95." He smiled at the memory of happy days.

"Anyway, a few days after that space station blew up and seeded our atmosphere with some kind of wicked crazy radiation or whatever, I got a knock on my door."

He pantomimed the knock, then stood stiff and straight. "Hello! FBI come a knockin'! So naturally I flipped the fuck out, right? My apartment was a death hole...the windows by the fire escape I had to nail shut because otherwise, y'know, people could come in through 'em. So I was stuck like a rat."

"They're still knocking, and calling louder, and saying they've got a warrant...so I hole up in my bedroom. I have a few weapons there...like, some ninja stuff I bought...but nothing I really know how to use. All I have left is my computer. And then it hits me..."

He clapped his hands together, really loudly.

"Everything in my body's just data, right? You can describe me to my last atom with a series of ones and zeroes, if you just knew how. And that data could then be transmitted out of my apartment."

The Blue Meanie nodded, then laughed and rubbed his chin. "Not that it was that easy. I mean, it worked, but damn...I came out the other side, bleeding and bruised and naked and I knew I really needed to work on this thing."

"But in the end, here I am." He grinned at Nanolife insouciantly. "So what's your story, silver robot babe?"

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"Mostly," he answers, folding his arms over his chest. The gesture strikes her as a bit defensive, as if warding off her attempt to find out about his 'real' self.

"Anyway, hell, I don't usually talk so much. You're the first other one I've met. Been thinking about that place in England...but with my background I don't think anyplace official is really going to work out for me." He grinned at that, then finally answered her first question. "So yeah, through the computer, through the lines. It's like, I decode myself into pure information. But hell, you must know, right? Here you are!"

The Blue Meanie looked around, as if seeing the cage around him for the first time, then looked at Inoue. "So, uh...you wanna go somewhere? This little laptop of yours is cozy and all, but I'm thinking it'd be cool to talk more in some nice, big corporate server with a view, or maybe hit the dotcoms for a stroll. Whaddya say?"

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Inoue debated what to do. Whoever -whatever- this person was, he was different than her but closer too than anyone else she'd heard of that had been changed by the Galatea. She couldn't do what he was talking about, sending herself through the computers, but she could fold the real world like it was an origami and then be where she wanted to be. She hadn't told her parents about that; they'd have put cameras in her room if she had.

"Alright. Give me a couple of minutes, though. I need to make some arrangements." Now or never, Inoue-chan. They're never going to understand or accept you.

She pulled herself out of the computer, her father's frightened footsteps still sounding down the stairs, and packed the few sentimental or essential belongings she had into her gym duffel bag. She folded the Universe and made a space that was both in her room and in small corner of one of Tokyo's mid-range hotels. It wasn't luxurious, but it would do for what she needed.

She booked her room in cash and locked the door behind her once she was in. Then she pulled her laptop out, laid on the bed and laid it on her stomach. Nanoseconds later she was once again inside that 'otherspace' where her second life existed.

She looked around, "Still there?"

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"Whoops."

The voice was from behind her. When she looked around, the Blue Meanie was there, jerking his hand back into the cage. Most of the 'extra' stuff she'd set up around it was gone, though the cage itself remained.

He grinned sheepishly. "Hey. Back already? What was that all about? Where'd you get off to all that time? I was starting to think you'd abandoned me."

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She flicked away the coding for the cage. "I just had a decision to make and then I did. It's not important. Sorry I left you in that," she motioned to where the digital cage had been. "I was distracted and that was rude."

She bowed to him in apology, the first act in his presence that could in any way be taken as submissive or vulnerable. And then it was gone. "Now, where was it you wanted to go? I cannot come out the other end like you can, but I can create a gate in the non-digital world to relocate somewhere physically."

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"Physically? Pfft!"

Blue Meanie shook his head as he stepped out of the area the cage had been in and stretched his arms out to either side, then behind.

"The real world's a bore. You haven't lived until you've tunneled into the middle of Yahoo or AltaVista and just watched the queries fly around. The amount of data that's just one transfer away is just...it's like looking at the night sky in the mountains, you know? And every star you see is a book, no a whole library, of things to find out."

He smirked. "And just because some people might not want you to...hey, that never stopped Galileo, right?"

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Blue Meanie grinned and said, "Right."

A little hexagon appeared next to him in midair.

"I'll tell you how I do it. If you're different, you may have to...improvise a little. This is what your ports look like to me. They're black if they're closed, red if they're open. I just find one that's open and has a good bandwidth, feed it my IP dujour, and the destination address."

He snaps his fingers.

"Poof, I'm uploaded."

Suddenly he gives Inoue a curious look. "I've gotta ask...is this your real body here, or do you leave something behind in the meatworld?"

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She regraded him cooly for a moment, then nodded. "As I said, I do not have exactly your powers, it seems. My physical body is still in the non-digital world; though I can look like this there when I choose to."

She would never dignify the phrase 'meatworld' with her lips or voice. She stepped closer to the hexagon, studying it curiously with her silver eyes.

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On some level, Inoue was aware that 'seeing' here was fundamentally different than in what the hacker called 'the meatworld.' Her brain was still collecting and interpreting information, but it wasn't patterns of light but rather patterns of raw data. And to some extent, it was just feedback from her imagination, allowing her to control what image was associated with what data.

So in the back of her head, she was aware that this hexagon was a door, of sorts. Or a pipe with a drain, covered by a sliding plate. She could see it now...the hexagon dissolving and being replaced by something that looked like an oversized bathtub drain. Over it was a small LED display with a series of numbers on it. That, she thought, would set the pipeline's other end. So really, all she had to do was set the destination correctly, then turn the slider switch to open the drain...and send the data that was her representation in the digital world out through it.

"I put a little text file with some good places to visit on your desktop while you were figuring it out," Blue Meanie says good-naturedly. "Once you've made a few jumps, you'll work out how to get more. But okay, for now, I'll lead you. So go ahead...challenge me. What's something you like or you want to see, but don't think it would ever be online?"

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"Wouldn't think it would be online? Hmn. I'd like to walk around on the moon or Mars for a bit, get a feel for what the world and the solar system looks life from that perspective. You think we can find that on the net? Or are we just going to be hijacking the Hubble's video feed?"

As she spoke, part of her mind was still going through the visual permutations she could create for this form of travel, picking through them to find the ones that would be most versatile and useful for her and creating a mental library of them.

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Blue Meanie made an exaggerated 'hmmm' face, with his mouth squinched up and pushed to one side...then he held up a finger.

"Hang on...hang on...nnnnnn...okay."

He held out his right hand, as he plunged his left into the I/O port. Inoue noticed that the image of his hand faded to strings of shifting characters just before it intersected the plane of the port.

"You'll have to go in with me for this one, unless you want to decrypt your own account. Just take my hand, and we can use the same user ID to get access."

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Inoue laughed at that, "It almost sounds like you're asking me on a date."

She took his hand without any other hesitation or comment, though. She was really started to get excited about her first real adventure in her life; the adrenaline that must be coursing through her organic veins from having just abandoned her family and everything her culture told her she should be and value probably didn't hurt either.

She watched her avatar stream into numbers as they flowed into the port and hoped that this 'Blue Meanie' really was someone she could trust. Or overpower, if necessary.

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