Car alarms blared in the distance.
Echoing in the still air between buildings.
Acrid tire smoke filled the air
Kent moved the unconscious homeless clear of his path
He was hunched over the rolling bed, using his leg to adjust the bodies below
He pulled the bed forward out of the alley
Clearing a path through the alley was easier to do from the front.
Bodies below lay at unnatural angles.
Clearly by having fell the wrong way.
The chemist lay unconscious on top of the bed
The chemist rolled over, falling into the railing
A few uneven surfaces would have been troublesome without the bed's side guards
Kent exited the alley approaching the street.
Then he saw the fires.
Cars were still running, but most had crashed.
Many had turned over on the sides of streets
'They said you were in over your head, Kent...'
Kent walked down the sidewalk, pushing the bed
There was no sound of life.
No screams, no yelling - no footfalls in the distance
'They were fucking right!'
He passed a wreck - a car rolled upside down after some impact.
They were dead, he knew: the cabin had been crushed below human capacity.
It was a family, he saw that much before he looked away
It was screaming into the wind, but maybe.
Kent was only around the first corner - he continued on.
Behind him there was a whistle, loud and sharp: calling
Kent turned around
He didn't see the source
He called out again
A flowerpot burst through a window of a steakhouse.
Kent ducked behind a line of parked cars
'An air-raid siren would be appropriate...'
He waited and saw Felix poke his head out of the broken window
Then a sinking feeling in his stomach appeared
'Why is he awake?'
He decided that it couldn't have been solely Felix
'Did he cause this?'
'No: to many people affected...'
"What the hell is going on?"
Kent pushed the bed towards the steakhouse
Felix was at a window seat, eating a steak
Felix pointed at the bed with is fork
"Get some nice beauty sleep, did you?"
Kent shook his head
Felix took another bite of steak
"Why aren't you asleep?"
"Disconnected - as much as one can be: I assume you are as well."
'The fuck is the link?'
He wanted to ask what it was, though felt that unwise
"So what happened to the link?"
"Don't know, Flanagan said to disconnect."
'Flanagan is a person, good to know.'
"Are they going to wake up?"
Kent parked the bed next to the door and entered the steakhouse
Little locking wheels on a hospital bed were useful
"How should I know?"
'At least the Chemist will stay put.'
"Who would know?"
Kent sat at the seat across from Felix
"Flanagan, either this is him or that Al-tok thing."
"Al-tok, is that an app?"
Kent shook his head
Felix sighed and spend the next several minutes catching Kent up to speed
"Did Martha tell you anything?"
Felix twisted his hand out noncommittally
"So this Al-tok this is an idea?"
Felix held out a syringe
"It isn't human, or a human thought... well, not a natural human thought..."
Kent had a vial of that same liquid - hidden now in his pocket
"Takes something like this to make anyone think that."
"Impossible chemicals, for impossible thoughts."
Felix shook his head
"That sounds like bullshit, I can think anything I want to right now."
Felix took another bite of his steak
"No, you can't think any thought you want.
We can only think the thoughts our brains allow."
"You should eat - if they stay asleep - food won't keep forever."
Kent sat down at the table across from Felix
Kent just watched him eat
"What you don't believe in free will?"
"I do, I just don't think free means unrestricted."
"That's generally what free means."
Felix took another mouthful of steak
"Chew you goddamn food, people choke on that stuff!"
"Aren't you going to eat?"
Felix continued to talk around mouthfuls of meat
Shouldn't we be going?"
Kent heard screaming in the distance
Felix turned his head
Kent felt something hit his leg by the ankle.
Felix had knocked over some people sitting together to get at their food
Kent stood up.
He dodged a twitch of a fallen patron's leg
"Yes, but calories first."
Kent looked around the room
He found movement everywhere
'People are waking up...'
Kent turn to Felix
Felix was choking on his food
Kent could hear the lack of breathing.
Felix was unnaturally still, his body on automatic
'All of them.'
Felix did not respond
Kent moved in and applied the heimlich
Around him patrons had started to stand up
Felix spat up some steak
He was still unresponsive but breathing clearly
"Hey, you there?"
Kent snapped his fingers in front of Felix
And when no answer was forthcoming
Kent picked up Felix, and carried him to the bed outside
Around him the patrons were confused.
Some were looking at him and the damage caused.
Others were looking at their own hands
Kent put Felix on the bed
Next to the chemist.
He heard a commotion inside
He rolled them down the street
'The bed has room for two.'
He took in a few breaths.
Around him people were examining the car crashes.
But there were others: roaming groups descending on the unsuspecting.
It wasn't with guns, or knives or sticks: but words and pictures
He pushed the bed down the street
It wasn't just one group absorbing another, but multiple each clawing for control of the people of the others.
Together it was a chaos
Kent looked around himself
He was at an intersection touching the park
'Away from the broken glass.'
He kept an eye out for anyone, any group, approaching him
'Okay Kent, where to?'
He remembered seeing Felix walking in the park.
It was a guess, but...
'Where did Felix come from, Where did you first see him.'
Kent turned left
'If Felix (and who he was) with was making a bee-line...'
Kent looked down at Felix
He was not moving
'Eh, close enough - he can tell me different when he wakes up.'
Felix started coughing
'If he wakes up...
Shit is he still...'
It was cramped with seven people in the bubble.
Martha held tightly to the chair in the center.
They all were, due to the turbulence.
Martha didn't see anything outside the bubble, a blank void.
The bubble was shaking, as if unsure of it's position without any other points of reference.
A shaky memory, shifting every time it was examined
Gerald pulled a lever up.
The ship calmed
"I have some bad news, it's worse than we thought."
A silence fell over them
"There's nothing out there, no where to go."
Everyone turned their head to Martha, besides Wilbert, whose eye was already on her
Alacira gestured for her to continue
"I might have a way."
"Well, Flanagan did: The way we came into the link, we should be able to get out the same way."
"Martha - when I say there's nothing out there, there is nothing, even if we have a way back we wouldn't be able to get to it right now."
Alacira leaned over and looked at the unconscious Flanagan
"Through me, through that thing in my head..."
"She'd have to go outside the bubble for that."
Sonny was still weaving webs, the glowing sacks stuck to the walls.
Every addition making the bubble smaller - hotter
"That's the easy part!"
"Does anyone have a better idea?"
Martha looked around the room
"Waiting it out is less than ideal: we don't know how long this will be..."
"And There is nothing out there."
Alacira was staring out the bubble
"If there was nothing out there we wouldn't be here in this bubble."
Alacira turned to Gerald and Martha
"I don't think that nothing out there is nothing.
Just nothing we can use."
She turned to Sonny
"She's offering to act like rudolph - light our way home.
A single light in a dark forest attracts the wrong kind of attention."
Sonny chittered at the spiders above.
"Smaller: marble sized - give them a seam to break at."
Alacira pointed at Martha
"And a harness for her!"
Martha took a moment to think
"What are we looking for?"
Martha blew out her breath
"A recent memory, outside of a mansion."
"Then from there - we go into that hollow, fractal, echo of me.
Up the rabbit hole to the real world."
Alacira only nodded
Sonny walked up to her and handed her a vest
It was made of webs and attached to a rope in the center
Martha put it on
Martha securing herself, she looked out into that nothing
She stepped out of the bubble
Her self ripped open, like a ballon with suddenly no pressure
'Yes, saying out loud, it sounded crazy.'
Ada walked through the halls of Șolomanță.
The palace she was in, had a particular quality:.
Everyone saw their own version of it.
Everyone knew it was underground the Romanian countryside, but....
Were the walls red, or green, or plum?.
There were details rendered individually by the brains that saw it
Though many details were indeterminate there were some commonalities.
The floor was shades of copper, steel, iron, coal, tiled in a dragon curve, for one.
And rooms were all the same...
If she wanted she could peruse the library of memetic info-hazards.
It was to her left as she walked down the hall.
Her heels clacked on the floor and echoed down an otherwise eerie silence.
Above hung a sign, not of wood, or iron, as most chose to see it, but of fact
'What a golden opportunity.'
The doors had been opened
'Dangerous for a reason.'
She looked in.
Naked facts hung everywhere
Facts dangerous to understand, facts that could destroy minds.
But with the right filters of perception - looked at from only a particular viewpoint - they were safe to consume
'As long as I use the right filters.'
She continued on
Part of her wanted to know - things other's have tried to understand only to have been brought to madness.
But she walked on, content in her brief encounter
She stepped over another body
All of which occasionally spasmed
'At least I get to enjoy this silence.'
To the vault of infectious memes.
The McCollough effect got out a few decades ago...
Time flew by so quickly the longer you lived.
It had led to some tools to make someone who was aware (but not awakened) very rich
'Or was it a few scores now...'
No, she decided - up the stairs
'If I cared about making money, or if any of my friends did.'
She climbed them
Upstairs was the sovereign's personal development environment.
Even most people at the gathering didn't know about this room
'Onwards to the prize.'
Not her though, she had to know, this and more
She entered a room
A bedroom - the bed was surrounded by a lake of water lined with mirror.
And another door: behind which was the most dangerous place in this reality.
As it edited this reality.
The truth she knew and chose to remember was that this reality was just a dream in the link.
A dream made solid by everyone's participation.
That there was nothing but the link.
That 'objective' reality was only a narrow part of the link.
Special, yes, but small.
And that narrow part kept minds bound to it.
And that room would edit not just that... but the link entire.
So of course she had to at least look inside.
She had to know.
She heard footsteps from below
The voice of a gruff carriage driver, one she didn't recognized
'Hell, most people who did know about this chose to forget.'
She walked to and opened the door
Beyond the door was a dark empty space, and in the center a flashing cursor
'Quick peek, then get out of here.'
"Password: well, of course..."
She heard footsteps on the stairs, more than one
'Time to go.'
A voice that sounded like guitars broken in glass and tar
"Ada - are you awake?"
Ada paused, a particular link formed from a command line interface...
It was for emergencies - she kept enabled despite being told to server all open connections.
That was near impossible, to server all ties to the links.
But besides that one she had gotten close
She closed the doors, and exited the room
Out in the hallway stood two people, old and frail and lumpy
"Awake, I win.
Come on darling, much to catch up."
Ada walked toward them
"We got to get The Way Out: and get out of here, sooner the better."
Jochek and Lenny shook their heads
Jochek embraced her, and Lenny shortly after
Their bodies unaccustomed to hard riding; they were in need of a bath.
Still: Ada embraced them back
"Is the link safe?"
And shorter than a heartbeat later Ada was one of three.
She felt the loss of self, to bring something greater into being
Lenny broke the embrace and moved to the stairs
"Physical link is fine."
Footsteps fell on the stairs behind them
Understanding flooded Ada - sharing a mind, sharing memories with the others she was both herself and not herself.
She was part of the egregore the Relux
'The Way Out is downstairs.
What gives with the unconscious?'
Lenny, at the stairs, heard multiple sets of feet below
'Someone is awake!'
They weren't supposed to be on this floor: none of the guests were
Ada led them towards a door across the hall
It led to a library for old dusty books.
Shelves lined the wall extending into the ceiling
Lenny locked the door
They took a moment to rejoice: in their reunion ; their being one again.
A moment cut short by banging on the door
'Hiding would be prudent.'