Kyo

Protocol Zero

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Joseph Foster awoke to the dull ringing of his alarm clock. It was 6am on Monday morning. He rose out of his bed slowly, rubbing his eyes and yawning. It didn't matter how many years he'd been doing it, getting up early was tough. It was even tougher on a Monday. It felt cliche to say that Mondays were the worst days, but it was so true. After a short two days of respite he was back to his boring desk job. He got up and walked across his room in his boxer shorts, out into the hall and into his small bathroom. He stepped into the walk in shower, the door sliding open automatically for him. He stripped off his underwear and proceeded to set the heat on the digital display on the wall. The shower activated and he was hit with a rush of icy cold water. 

 

In this day and age people could communicate wirelessly through every mobile device, share information, secure their homes with fingerprint recognition, retina displays and advanced facial recognition systems. People could order their groceries online and even decide when they would arrive, down to the minute. And yet, still, it was impossible for the shower to be the temperature you asked of it. Slowly the water became warmer, bordering on tepid, and Joseph's mood began to soften. As the heat reached a level he could consider warm he decided his life wasn't all that bad. He may have lived in one of the lower end sectors in Brooklyn, but he had a pretty good job all things considered. 

 

After a quick breakfast Joseph put on his clothes, a white shirt and a blue tie, black trousers and black shoes. He combed his short brown hair into a side parting, and as he looked into the mirror he decided he looked halfway towards respectable. He took his smartphone from the counter beside him and checked the time. It was 6.45am. He'd have to get a move on. The only downside to having a decent job and living in a crummy neighbourhood was the commute. 

 

---

 

Joseph was out on the streets, walking briskly. He, like many other early morning commuters, paid little attention to all the things going on around them. Billboards and street signs were all moving and talking, playing looped videos. Everything was done with digital displays now. As he passed by a bus stop there was an interactive advert for "NRG", a carbonated drink filled with caffeine, sugar and a cocktail of other stimulant drugs that provided people with short term energy and long term sleeping disorders. There was also another billboard with a black and orange background, this one was for Accusense Security. Joseph actually took interest in this one, Accusense powered the antivirus software in his office. 

 

"Is your data safe?" The woman on the display asked, "If you think it is, then think again. Online illegal activity is on the rise and dangerous internet thieves are constantly developing new ways to steal your data. Fear not though, Accusense offer the most sophisticated internet security system in the country. Our services offer a range of antivirus and firewall services including data recovery packages and software error reports..."

 

Joseph shook his head and kept walking. He had to move or he'd be late to work. He moved off of the streets and descended down the steps into the subway. Quickly he found himself stuck in a large queue of people. Nothing unusual. Subways were always busy, but they were even worse after the checkpoints were installed. Joseph looked ahead, watching the people filing through a security checkpoint, where officer's were waiting for them. He felt a little uneasy. Police officers, despite being the people that kept them safe, were always an intimidating sight. Cops these days wore full, plated riot gear, with faceless, emotionless helmets. From what he understood the helmets had heads up displays inside them, so officer's could see from cameras displayed on the outside of the helmets. Regardless they just looked plain scary. Their attitudes stunk as well. It was pretty common for the police to be the ones harassing people. Obviously a little drunk on power. Nothing but glorified bullies, most of them. He wouldn't dare think that out loud though. It wasn't worth the risk. 

 

As he drew closer to the checkpoint a young man in front of him sighed. He couldn't have been any older than 18 or 19. He was dressed in brown skinny jeans, black canvas high tops, and a grey jacket with fur-lined hood. His hair was as white as snow, clearly a dye job. He was listening to music through a pair of large green headphones. Joseph had no idea what the music was but he could practically feel the bass rippling out from under the headphones. The boy looked around impatiently as he flicked through his phone. 

"Screw this!" the kid said finally, before turning around and forcing himself through the queue, pushing past Joseph. "Watch it, buddy!" the kid moaned at him as he brushed off through the sea of people. Jerk Joseph thought to himself. As the kid disappeared he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He pulled it out and checked his messages. He had a new one from an unknown sender. He opened it but all that could be seen was:

 

 

Too tired for life? Drink NRG

 

Joseph shook his head. Another spam message. He slipped his phone back into his pocket and pushed on through the queue. After a little while he had finally reached the checkpoint. The officer's motioned for him to step forward, gripping their rifles and nodding without a word. Joseph stepped froward through the large rectangular arch that was similar to an airport security scanner. This scanner, however, used facial recognition technology, camera retina displays in order to identify a person. As he stepped through a picture of his face popped up on the monitor next to the officers. This was his CVI, a form of identification kept on a government database. It stood for Citizen Value Indicator. Joseph's CVI was considered the lowest. This was why he lived in a high density, run down sector of Brooklyn. He wasn't entitled to live anywhere else. His income was better than most here, and his job allowed him the privilege to travel to Manhattan, where all the wealthy go-getters lived and worked. If he had a job in a place like that, then maybe he could get a promotion and move up a few levels. He'd never live in Manhattan, that was a pipe dream, but that didn't mean he couldn't hope to move to a nicer part of Brooklyn. 

 

"Move along!" one of the officers barked at him, his voice tinny and mechanical as it came through the speaker on the helmet. Joseph nodded and kept walking, heading off to catch his Subway to work. He sighed. This was why he had to be up so early. Even after the subway ride to Manhattan he'd have to go through another checkpoint to exit the subway (although he did notice it was considerably less crowded on that end) and then he'd have to walk two blocks before going through yet another checkpoint to enter his office building. It wasn't like he was getting paid for all this time he spent getting to work either. But life wasn't that bad, right? He had his health. 

 

 


 

 

Joseph sat at his desk typing away on the smartglass keyboard in front of him, flicking through various application on his touchscreen monitor. He was a server technician for New York's Media & Data allocation company. He worked for the government, and his job was to, like so many others, sit at his desk and sift through thousands of streams of data, videos, adverts and other information run by the media. He was tasked with finding the correct media data, sending it to the correct display somewhere in the city, and sift through or move any unsuitable data. Essentially it was censorship. The Government's way of giving the media a little spit-shine before transmitting it to the world. It also allowed for brand to advertise in specific locations at certain times that benefited their target audience. The time slots were constantly changing as companies out-bid each other for more favorable slots. It was tedious work, but it was better than flipping burgers like some of the other poor bastards in his neighborhood. Joseph was so busy working that he didn't even notice his phone's home screen blinking to life. His screensaver was cracking and shaking, before finally going black. In it's place was white text on a black background that simply stated: 

 

prtcl0//usr:ech0

 

Nobody had noticed it. And nothing appeared to have happened. Everything went on as it was, no changes. The phone's screen changed back to the home screen. Nobody was any the wiser. Operations like this were subtle. People like Joseph weren't perceptive enough to pick up on the small exchanges that lead to these events. Foolish, really. He had only thought to himself this morning about how he lived in a world where data could be transmitted through a wireless connection between practically any digital device in operation. Computers, tablets, phones, televisions, video game consoles. They were all transmitting data through wireless connections. With the invention of cloud storage people could even transfer data over huge distances, and have very little need to keep large quantities of information on their person. They could simply pick they information they needed and download it as and when they chose. People take these kinds of innovations for granted. Had he not listened to the passive-aggressive sales pitch of the lady in the Accusense ad? There were dangerous people out there. They were inventing new ways to infiltrate your personal data. But then again should Joseph worry? His phone is protected by Accusense. Yeah, right?

 

 


 

 

Cyberspace. A digital world. It wasn't something that humans could see physically. That did not mean, however, that it was not thriving with life. 

 

The room was like a warehouse. Entirely black and spanning for miles, lit only dimly by orange neon strip lighting up in the sky. The surface was flat and smooth. Row after row of black towers with similar neon patterns pulsing through each of them, were lined up in neat rows and columns. As far as the eye could see there were these pillars. Each the exact the same size, each the exact the same distance from one another. It was beautiful in it's perfection. A perfect construct, tidy and organised, simple and yet complex, and it all came down to ones and zeros. However an imperfection had appeared. A white door had appeared. A simple white door with a silver handle. Spray painted in black across the door was the word "backdoor". And then, quietly, the door opened. 

 

A young man stepped out from the door, dressed in a white, tailored suit, and white shoes. Underneath was a black shirt and a white tie. The young man had pale skin and medium length, snow white hair. His face was obscured by a mask, also white, with perfect black circles for eyes, and a wide, black smile, and otherwise devoid of any distinction. The man strode down the dark corridors , moving through the pillars. He carried a black briefcase in his right hand, with a sticker slapped across it that read:

 

 

Hello World

 

 

The young man stopped after he had reached a fair distance into the city of pillars. Well, they weren't pillars, he knew that. They were servers. Each of them contained an inordinate amount of data. This data was being transmitted all around the city of New York. And there was so much of it, The young man considered if it was possible to steal it all. He could do so much with a place like this under his control. Not yet, he reminded himself. He pulled back the sleeve of his suit jacket and examined his inner wrist. Along his skin was a timer, and it was counting down. 1 minute and 28 seconds. He didn't have long before the next sweep. He bent down on the floor and opened the briefcase. Inside it was all but empty, with the exception of a single, small beetle. He picked it up and held it between his index finger and his thumb. It was no ordinary beetle. It looked like it was made of metal, like a little robot, and it was also glowing a radioactive green. The man smirked under his mask. Then he put the beetle on the ground and let it scutter away. It disappeared along the dark corridor before pushing up against one of the servers. Then, as if it was the easiest thing in the world, it simply pushed itself inside the solid pillar. 

 

The young man got up and closed the briefcase, walking away. He was heading back towards his door. Behind him the pillar his beetle had entered was beginning to grow veins of bright green. Soon the veins had completely covered the pillar, and began to move along the floor, growing and infecting each of the other pillars. As it grew it picked up speed, rapidly moving through the miles and miles of data that was contained in this server space. The white haired man looked at his wrist. fifteen seconds. He looked overhead. Sure enough, in the sky above him, some kind of drone was moving at speed. A bright light was emanating from it, as it scanned the area. It was an anti-virus sweep. 

"tsk tsk!" the white haired man chuckled to himself, "A bit late to the party. No doubt you'll find it...but you won't be able to stop it now." he declared finally. He reached his door and he stepped through it just as the drone began to reach him. He closed the door behind him, and it was gone, as quickly as it had appeared. 

 

 


 

 

Meanwhile, all over New York City, a phenomenon was occurring. Everywhere in the city, in all of the boroughs, Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, people had stopped what they were doing. Every television, every billboard, every digital display, monitor and even the displays on the sides of buildings, they were all showing one message. A black screen with white text. The words were as clear as day:

 

Hello World

 

Nobody really understood. Why would they? Was this some sort of marketing stunt? The minutes rolled by but still there was nothing going on. The city had practically come to a standstill. Everybody was watching, waiting for something to happen. And then it did. The message disappeared and was replaced by the image of a man in a white suit, with white hair, and his face covered by a featureless, white mask. He stood there, peering out at the people who were gazing inwards on him. He was silent. Perhaps soaking in this moment he had created. 

 

---

 

Meanwhile Joseph was in hot water. The bosses were screaming at people. Everyone was on high alert. Nobody could figure out what was going on. All the data moving through their systems was gone. No that wasn't quite right. The data was making its way to their servers, but then when it was redistributed, it was all the same thing. Some creepy guy in a mask. 

"Someone get Accusense on the line!" Someone roared over the ruckus, "This has to be a virus! Or someone's hacked our internet or something! They can do that right?"

Joseph sighed as he looked at his monitor. No matter what commands he tried to input, he was still staring at the masked man. As he stared at the man, his eyes widened, as he suddenly moved, giving his audience a little wave. It appears Joseph wasn't the only one to notice. The office was quickly hushed to silence and everyone fixed their gaze on this enigmatic masked man. 

 

---

 

"Hello New York!" The masked man said as he waved gently. Then he put his hands behind his back once more. He paused for a moment, contemplating, and then he continued. "Are you aware that your adverts and media are fed to you with a spoon, like you are children? Are you aware that these digital displays that you are no doubt watching me on right now, are normally used to bombard you with bought and paid for propaganda that is produced by corrupt media executives before being dissected and tweaked by your own government, before it is broadcast to you during times that are best suited to selling you their lies?" He then paused, placing a hand on his chin thoughtfully. "Well, it's not all lies, I mean, NRG really does give you tons of energy!" He shook his head as if physically removing the thought from himself. 

 

"The truth is you do all know this. You know that every day the people who rule this city opt to hold your hand and lead you through your routine, gently carrying you through your cold, dead, mundane existence. It doesn't sound so bad on the surface. Our life is full of luxuries. Without this world of wonderful technology I could not give you this message. Perhaps I should be grateful? Yeah, right. You see this is all very nice, but it's not enough. We could have more, so much more. Censorship has ruined our potential for innovation. Our society is supposedly based on democracy but that is a lie. We live in a city where people are segregated by their supposed value to the community. We live in a society where the highest population sectors also have the lowest incomes and the highest crime rates. We live in a society where the wealthiest people in the country earn more than the combined income of the entire country."

 

The masked man stepped forward, bending down to lean against the screen, leering at his audience. 

 

"And you know it, don't you?" The masked man asked rhetorically, "Stop lying to yourself. Democracy? Did you vote for this? I know I didn't! You are manipulated through your fear to take a stand. It is time to wake up! We all know of the strange disappearances, our loved ones just fading away in the night. As soon as someone starts to speak out, they get snuffed from existence. What happens to them? I don't know. I promise you, though, I'm going to find out. I'm going to find out the truth, and I'm going to show you all. You could help me. I know you're afraid...but think about it. If you truly want change, then I will find you. I am watching. I'm waiting. Waiting for you. Every. Single. One."

 

The masked man turned around, facing away from the screen, staring off into the darkness behind him. He sighed and paused once more. Then he turned back around to address the audience once more. 

 

"It only takes one. well, it takes a zero too. a one and a zero. Then before you know it you have lot's of ones and lot's of zeros. And that's all you need to create something wonderful. It's all ones and zeros, baby! So I'll be the one. I'll get this started. I'll be the catalyst that sparks the revolution. After today I'll just be the subject of a few whispers, a few hushed conversations. My name will echo through this city. Echo? Yeah that's it! My name is Echo. come join me. I'll be waiting for you at Protocol Zero. Look it up!"

 

And then the screen went blank. Every screen went blank. For the first time in, well, ever, New York had a media black out. In a few hours it would no doubt all be back up and running. It was never meant to be permanent though. Today was just about the message. Tomorrow? Well, tomorrow was another day. 

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Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

 

Annabel lay in bed. It was 1 am and her shift had ended at 11pm. She should have been asleep by now, but a melody was playing in her mind, keeping her awake. She lay on top of the covers of her finely made bed, not daring to venture beneath their warm embrace in fear of untidying its appearance. Her long jet black hair lay strewn over the fresh white pillows. The only clothing that clung to her body was a small black tank top and matching black panties. The neon lights that penetrated her bedside window cast electric blue shadows over her. If not for the constant up and down of her chest, the cold icy blue hue of her skin would convey death. Her expression was blank, yet her bright blue eyes were alert. They gazed up at the ceiling, but in truth they starred into darkness. Annabel was currently engulfed in an inner struggle. She fought this same urge every night. Eventually her mind of reason would concede to her heart and life came back to her face. She sat up as if struck by a bolt of lightning. Her hand quickly darted to the window to press a button on the sill. Heavy metal plates folded down until they secured at the bottom. Despite knowing that she wasn't being recorded or watched, Annabel still took the upmost care not to draw attention to herself as she slid down the bed and rested on her hands and knees on the floor. Her hair fell down around her as her hand moved underneath her bed and grabbed what appeared to be a butter knife. Annabel then took great care in moving her night stand over a couple inches. There was a notch in the wood floor which was now uncovered. Annabel couldn't see this in the darkness, but her free hand ran along the surface until it detected the discrepancy. She had found her target. Anna drove the point of the knife into the notch and proceeded to pull up the wooden plank. This had clearly been removed before as it came out quite easily. 

 

To the outside world Annabel Leigh was a quiet, serious, girl who was a reliable and obedient cop and daughter. She was a model citizen, beautiful, intelligent, wealthy, and law abiding. Her father was even the acting Mayor of New York City. However, the truth was that this was only half of her. Sometimes her mind shared occupancy with another voice, not in the insane, psychologically misguided sense, but this second voice questioned things, it questioned law, life, and morality. Generally the voice sounded to her like her mother. Her mother had been taken when Annabel was 9, back when life had been so much simpler outside of the city. Her parents were both joyful loving people who held art and literature sacred. She could remember her mother reading her many stories and the two of them painting out behind their house. However after her mother had been taken away that all ended. Most of their possessions were destroyed by the government and her father had completely sworn off everything he previously believed in. The man she knew today could not even be considered a shadow of his former self. 

 

The plank had been removed and now Annabel glanced down into the darkness of her hideaway. She knew what was down there. Her dark secret. 

The familiar voice came into her mind…

 

Dissemble no more! I admit the deed!-tear up the planks-here,here!- It is the beating of his hideous heart.

 

The line was from one of her favorite stories, the Tell-tale Heart, it perfectly described this moment. Her hand dropped the knife and both now reached down pulling up a large black book. There was no cover on it, simple black fabric covering the front and back. The book was old, practically an artifact. Here it was, she thought, her hideous beating heart. Annabel could feel her true heart pounding in her chest, flooding her ears. As she had done a million times before, her fingertips drifted across the pages until she finally dared to open the book. The book was blank, only raised dots covered its pages. This oddity was Braille. A written language for the blind that was long since unnecessary in today's modern society. Simple implants could give anyone vision now a days, for those who could afford it, and citizens in the lower income sectors probably would not last past infancy with a disability such as blindness. However, it was the perfect language for illegal contraband since it gave the perpetrator the ability to read the document in complete darkness. Annabel's mother had taught her to read Braille when she was much younger. She had learned how to read English and Braille at the same time in her youth so she knew it practically as a second language. Her third language being Mandarin Chinese, but that had been taught to her much later after moving to New York City. 

 

Her finger tips once again moved across the first page and she read silently to herself; The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe

 

A smile formed upon her lips as though this act had relieved all of the stress and tension she had previously felt. She continued to read for a couple hours, these familiar pages brought comfort to her. Finally when she felt at ease she placed her secret back into the floor, replaced the board, and crawled up into bed. Her skin slid beneath the covers just as her hand pressed the button on the window sill which raised the metal plating into the ceiling. The city was dark, but those neon blue lights still remained like a glistening night light. Her eyes closed and she drifted away to sleep. 

 

 

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The sunlight lit up Annabel's sleeping form for an hour before music began to play, stirring her from slumber. Annabel tossed back her covers and rose from her bed. The room was illuminated now revealing the plain white walls, black wooden floor, and perfectly crafted metal furniture. Her room was large, yet bare. Her bed was against the far wall with a large window that almost took up the entire wall, the glass was so clean it looked as if her bed might fall out and plummet the many floors down to the buildings bottom. Annabel's house, or rather, her father, Mayor Dominique Leigh's house was a three story penthouse at the top of one of the cities most expensive residential buildings. Annabel made her way over to her closet almost as if she were a robot. She pressed a button and the mirrored doors slid open revealing a large walk in closet. Inside seemed very uniform. On one side, half the wall had multiples of the same black catsuit hanging up. Then, on the other half, hanging up were three dresses, all long and covered in glittering rhinestones. They were all the same cut, low V neckline hater-toped with the backs open. The only difference between them was the color, one was blue, another black, and the last gold. Then there was a series of black tank tops, white long sleeve button down shirts, black dress pants, and black knee length pencil skits. She had about three of each item, no variations between them. Across from the clothing there was also a section of the wall for shoes. There were only three kinds of shoes, three pairs of black buckled boots, three pairs of black high heels, and one pair of gold high heels. The rest of this wall was a large mirror with what seemed to be a standing jewelry box in the center. 

 

Annabel didn't waste anytime looking her closet over. She simply undressed and threw her sleeping clothes down a laundry shoot located in the floor of her closet. She then walked over to the jewelry box and opened a drawer which seemed to contain folded pairs of black underwear. She placed these on her nude body and then opened another drawer. This one was filled with folded black sports bras. Annabel did as before and put on one of the bras. Finally, she walked over to the other side and took one of the catsuits out of the row and slipped it on. The suit clung to her body skin tight. Annabel then walked back over to the large mirror. She stared at her self for a while. She then lazily opened a drawer and revealed tons of black hair ties. She secured her long hair up in a tight bun and then once again stared in the mirror. She felt like a machine, and she looked like one too. There was a panel of three buttons on the jewelry box, she pressed the first one and part of the mirror retracted up into the ceiling. 

 

Facing back at her now was a machine like no other. The suit looked almost alien. There were plates secured to protect vital organs and shield against enemy fire. Certain areas even had tubes and needles which would stick into the wearers skin. The face mask was all black with two large upside down semi-circles. They were placed centered below where a mouth should be and the lines continued up to where eyes should be located. They glowed the same bright red as the rest of the little lights all over the suit. On the forehead was a black metallic circle which glowed red with the number 64. Annabel looked up, her eyes scanning over her uniform, her prison. Without much consideration her lips parted and she gave a command. 

 

"Enforcer suit 64 voice activation by Officer Annabel Leigh."

 

A computerized woman's voice responded as the lights on the suit changed from red to blue. "Command Successful, Enforcer suit 64 is now operational." The suit then split in half and opened so that Annabel could be encased inside. "Ready for Duty" The voice came back and then waited. 

 

Annabel at first hesitated, but after a moment shook off her nerves and stepped inside. The suit closed around her and she felt the needles shoot into her temples, the back of her neck, her lower back, her wrists, and her ankles. It stung, but then she was fine a couple seconds later. This was normal. Her screen came up and she could see her closet in a completely new way. Everything had a blue glow to it and simply by thinking she could cause things to happen. She stepped out now, the suit was remarkably light which made it easy for her to move in. Annabel left the closet and pressed the bottom which closed it behind her. The time on her screen read 7:05am, her shift started at 8:00am, but she was consistently early to work. It was time for her to leave. She exited her room and walked down a long hallway. There was an elevator on the right wall in the middle of the hallway and then at the far end from her was another door similar to the one that led back into her bedroom. That was where her father slept. Annabel stopped by the elevator and didn't have to do anything before the doors simply opened for her. She stepped inside and a computerized voice rang out from her suit. 

 

"Apartment PH01 level 1"

 

The suit converted her voice into this computerized monotone, officers identities were hidden this way. The elevator doors opened and the suit stepped out into an all white room. It was large and spacious, across from her was a large tv screen which took up the entire wall and in front of this was a white leather couch. Sitting on this couch looking up at the screen was a man with slicked back dark black hair. He was of average build, dressed in a black suit. He seemed to be in his early fifties. His face was very angular, strong sharp jaw and a pointed nose. He was cleanly shaven with slender lines on his forehead and near his eyes. He made no movements as Annabel approached, finally after she stood next to the couch for a couple moments he glanced over. His cold blue eyes looked her up and down and then returned to the tv screen. 

 

"Shouldn't you eat some breakfast before rushing out to work?" He asked, but there wasn't really much concern behind his words. 

 

The monotonous tone of the suit responded, "I am not hungry."

 

He simply waved her away. "Very well."

 

She didn't bother saying anything else, he was clearly invested in something. The suit walked back to the elevator and entered.

 

"Residential Building 02 ground level."

 

The elevator quickly took her to the buildings bottom. She stepped out into a crowd of busy people flowing in the motions of organized foot traffic. A couple people glanced over at her, but this was all quite normal. Annabel walked out and made her way down an escalator outside which led to a garage underneath he building. There Annabel had her police vehicle parked. It was a motorcycle that matched her suit. As she approached she didn't have to do anything for the vehicle to recognize that she was near. It roared to life and all she did was get on and go. She quickly exited the garage and sped through the traffic of New York City. She was easily zipping between cars and making her way to the police precinct. Once there Annabel waited in line with other officers who were dressed identical to herself. One by one they entered a scanner and their identities were confirmed and checked in for duty. Annabel walked around inside ready to receive her assignment for the day. Something caught her eye though. Next to her an officer's uniform glowed red. The only time a uniform was red was when it was disabled or broken. She immediately spoke up.

 

"Enforcer Suit 87, you are damaged. Report to maintenance to receive a temporary suit." 

 

The other officer faced her and simply nodded. 

 

"Of course Suit 64." He then nodded and headed towards maintenance. 

 

Suddenly a message flashed across her screen. "Assignment: Patrol Sector 37D, accompany Enforcer Suits 63 and 65"

Annabel accepted the assignment and walked off to find her fellow officers. 

 

Suddenly all of the suits in the whole entire precinct turned red, including Annabel's. Her display screen turned completely black and the words "Hello World" were centered in white. Annabel watched as Echo spoke. His words were true, she knew that. She like so many others was a victim of a loved one disappearing, never to be heard from again. Tears streamed down her face as she couldn't get away from the truths that were being thrown at her. when the message was gone all of the suits in the precinct turned back to blue and there was a bit of chaos. A message from the government now flashed new assignments to officers. 

 

Assignment: Locate and Terminate Cyber Terrorist ECHO

 

Where on earth was she even supposed to start with that. She didn't even fully comprehend what had just happened let alone had any idea how to find the perpetrator. Enforcer Suits 63 and 65 hurried over to her. 

 

65 questioned her. "Was your assignment just changed?" 

 

"Yes. New Assignment is to  locate this Echo character." she replied.

 

63 spoke up, "Affirmative. Lets head over to Accusense headquarters and see if they have any idea where this came from."

 

 

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Annabel returned home with no answers. Her assignment for the day had been a complete failure. The only thing they had learned was about a website which became live after the broadcast. Protocol Zero was a blank website that only contained a password input screen. Further more there was no way to track who went to the website or who created it. The whole thing was a black hole of information. The Police were putting pressure on the Accusense corporation to figure out what was going on, but even their most skilled technicians couldn't decipher anything yet. Annabel went straight up to her room. She had no intention of seeing or talking to her father. He of all people was most likely in a state of absolute panic, his political power in jeopardy from some cyber revolution. No, instead she went straight to her room. She made her way into her closet and put her Suit back, shutting it down for the night. She didn't bother to remove her catsuit. Instead she walked over and fell onto her bed, exhausted and full of thoughts. Her smart glass tablet lay on her bedside table. Annabel's eyes slowly moved over to the piece of technology. The website was untraceable, so if she visited it there was no way it could be traced back to her. She contemplated for a while, her inner struggle returning. Eventually, just as the night before, she gave in and picked up her tablet. 

 

www.protocolzero.com

 

she timidly pressed enter on the screen. 

 

The blank screen she had seen at work appeared now. What could the password be? She thought back to his message…

 

our loved ones just fading away in the night...

I am watching. I'm waiting. Waiting for you. Every. Single. One….

It only takes one. well, it takes a zero too. a one and a zero. Then before you know it you have lot's of ones and lot's of zeros. 

It's all ones and zeros, baby! 

I'll be waiting for you at Protocol Zero. Look it up!

 

Annabel shot up from her laying down position and stared at the screen. She typed in "11101010100" Annabel then pressed enter. It didn't really seem like anything had happened, maybe she had gotten it wrong? She waited a couple minutes before throwing the tablet back onto her bedside table. She laid back down and looked up at the ceiling. What a strange day.

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Distant rumbling turned into an almighty roar. The entire apartment room shook with the force of the passing train outside. The noise had woken the man inside, he groaned and turned over, burying his face in his pillow. Thumping it in frustration. For a few minutes he didn't move, until at last he was no longer able to filter out the growing noise outside. Police sirens flew past nearby, he could hear people talking on the streets below. A woman was shouting for her children to come inside.

 

The man turned to his bedside table and picked up his watch. It was barely six in the morning. He wanted to fall asleep again, but he had too much to do today. Slowly, he pulled himself out of bed and found himself looking in the full-length mirror on the far wall. He was in his mid-twenties, his body highly-toned with athletic muscle, but covered in an uncountable amount of scars, old and new. He took a deep breath, filling his lungs with sub-standard air. He didn't live in the best neighbourhood but where else could he go? He could spend the money on a false CVI that would get him into one of the better areas, but it would be too much hassle, for too many reasons. Besides, it was hard enough finding money for this apartment. That, and it was a short commute to his 'work'.

 

If scanned, his CVI would read "Michael Ray Vane - Retired Ore Miner, Bar Staff." But this was false. It was neither his name, nor occupation. Just the 'facts' he had chosen to paste over his old details when he'd paid for his black market CVI template. These days, he only went by his alias. Raven.

 

Staring into the mirror at his own eyes, Raven touched his face, slowly moving over it with his fingers. His face was scarred with small cuts, a larger one ran from the top of one side of his lips, through them and down to just above his chin. The raised, white flesh was hard to the touch. However, the most notable thing about him, was not his scars or his body, or the long brown hair that fell almost to his shoulders, and over his face. It was his eyes. They didn't look like regular eyes. They were not green or blue or brown. Looking at them, the closest thing they resembled, was oil. They had the same unusual hue that changed depending on the direction you were looking at them as common oil. 

The reason for this unusual trait, was that many years ago he had undergone a surgery to give him artificial night vision. He had considered it a necessity at the time. Prison was a dangerous place, people died every day, and only those who were careful survived. It was not about being tough, as much as it was being a survivor. However, it did come with a price. Bright lights now dazzled him and made it difficult to see, so he usually wore a pair of sunglasses. It was a constant reminder to him of his past, but it also gave him a chance at a future.

Walking into the bathroom he got into the shower and washed, noting a couple of bruises from the night before. He could not feel them, however, but they looked vicious. Raven did not feel pain. For as far back as he could remember, pain was something that only others experienced. It made it difficult to empathize with, but he understood that if his body took enough damage, he would become incapacitated or die. Though he'd grown to live with it, it often made simple tasks dangerous, and he had to have constant vigilance - not all of his scars had been due to his nightly 'activities'.

 

The shower was refreshing, he felt clean at last and after drying himself he got dressed. Slipping into a pair of loose-fitting black trousers and a t-shirt. He slipped on a pair of running shoes and pulled on a 3/4 length brown leather jacket with a stiff, high collar. He then grabbed a thick black scarf and wrapped it around his neck, leaving two great lengths of scarf slung over his back. Finally he grabbed a black baseball cap and pulled it on, then at last slipped the shades on. If he pulled the scarf up over his nose, it was impossible to make out any part of his face. This was quite intentional. 

Raven crossed his apartment room, stepping over old clothes, dishes and empty food boxes. His room really was a sty. He ignored it, he had more pressing needs. He opened the refrigerator but found it sadly lacking. However, there was an energy bar. As he picked it up a little jingle played from the wrapper, a woman's tinny voice singing:

 

When you're suffering from lethargy,

Pick up a bar of NRG!

 

Rolling his eyes, he took a bite, savouring the flavour of what his brain told him was apple - but there was no way this was the case. Raven walked up to his couch and sat down, putting his feet up on the short table in front of the television, "TV on." He said, in his deep voice. The television blinked to life, at least, it looked as though it was on, but the screen was entirely black. He stared at it confused for a moment and opened his mouth to repeat the command when the broadcast began. His NRG bar went uneaten for a few seconds as he watched the on-screen monologue until at last he shook his head. Adverts were getting weirder and weirder these days. They'd do whatever they could to grab your attention. "TV off." He muttered, and then stood up and wolfed down the rest of the bar, throwing the wrapper onto the table before walking out of his apartment.

Before he'd as much as locked the door, he heard another door open behind him and he could hear a foot rapidly tapping. He sighed and resigned himself to the exchange, as he turned around to face a portly, unshaven man in his 40's. He wore a white tank top with a few unidentifiable stains halfway down it, and his pot-belly stuck out at the bottom.
"Mornin', Mr. Kochenski." Raven muttered, his eyes narrowing behind his sunglasses.
"Where are you being going, Mr. Vane?!" The man asked, in broken English.
"I'm just--" Raven motioned for the door that would lead to the street at the end of the corridor.

"No. You are owing me two month rent!" He barked.

"Yeah, and i'm gonna get that to you, alright?" He growled, as he walked away.
Mr. Kochenski waddled after him, "You are not good tenant, Mr. Vane!!" He added, "Light on, all night. Strange noise. I no like. You are bad. No paying too."

Nodding sympathetically to placate him, Raven closed the door behind him as he walked out onto the street. He sighed, this was far too often how his mornings began. He swept some of his hair out of his face and looked around. People were wrapped up warmly but he couldn't feel the temperature, but he knew from their actions that he should wrap up or he would get ill. He buttoned up his jacket and pulled his scarf up over his face, concealing the last portion of his face. 

 

 


 

 

"Hey buddy, you got the time?" Raven asked a passing man in a business jacket. The man ignored his comment, strolling past him without meeting his eye. Many were like that here. It wasn't the nicest area, so if they had to move through here on foot, they were wary. Another man started to pass him but as he did so, Raven decided to go for the direct approach. 

Almost as the man was passing, Raven quickly 'tripped' and collided with the other man who yelped in surprise. "Oh man, i'm so sorry!!" He said quickly, "Here you dropped your watch," he handed the man his watch and the man was so surprised and thankful that he just nodded and cautiously jogged past Raven. It would be at least a few minutes before he noticed his wallet missing. He pocketed what money was in it before throwing the empty leather wallet away, there was no use keeping it now.

 

The day wore on much like this, he managed to make a little money through pick-pocketing but the problem with this profession these days was that many people didn't carry much money on them. He could wait for them at an ATM but that was dangerous. There were often officers of the law stationed nearby because such crimes were rife in this area of the city. He was better off making a lot of smaller scores than trying for a single large one and getting caught. He refused to go back to prison. Life was hard sometimes, harder when he was on the streets, but it was nothing like prison.

 

It was getting dark. Street lights hummed to life, illuminating the sidewalk in addition to the rainbow kaleidoscope of neon signs and advertising. He'd had enough for one day. Now came the night shift. The streets were still busy, but there was a different feel to them now. They had morphed somehow, grown colder, closer somehow. People were more on edge. Were there still police around? Of course. But somehow, they offered no solace. Citizens were just as wary of them as any potential threat.

 

He'd had enough. Turning down the first back alley he saw, Raven checked that nobody had followed him or taken interest in what he was doing. Taking a deep breath, he sprinted towards the end of the alley, a new vigour taking hold of him. As he reached the wall he leapt into the air and twisted mid-leap. One foot smacking into the bricks and using the force to propel himself onto the fire escape. He navigated to the top of the fire escape from the outside and he was on the rooftops within seconds. He quickly strolled to the other side of the building and turned back to look at the far side. Preparing himself mentally he began sprinting once again and this time leapt clear from the building. 

For a moment, he felt like he was flying. Free. Truly free of all constraints. Nothing could touch him, not even gravity. He was floating across the gap between buildings. At last his feet hit the roof on the other side and he fell into a roll to brace himself before pulling himself into a sprint once again and repeating this, moving from building to building. He had been moving across the city for about an hour. It was dark now, despite the neon lights of the main streets, there was little illuminating the back alleys. They were hives of criminal activity. The worst scum of the city operated here and like a pack of hyenas, would lead strays away from their herd. There was only one problem with being a predator. You were a predator for as long as you were hunting. But when faced with an apex predator, they became the prey. 

 

A scream. Raven turned his head in the direction of the woman's outburst and he was running before it had even finished. He was on the scene within minutes. A woman was cornered in a back alley, two men looming over her. As they pressed their advantage, she recoiled into the brick as far as it would allow, shivering with fear. He didn't know what had happened here, but either by choice or by accident, she had chosen the wrong alley to wander into. Raven leapt across another building to position himself better and silently descended from the rooftop.

"Come on, lady, just do as you're told and it'll be quick..." One of the men said, sneering. The other approached her and though she struggled and attempted to scream for a second time, the man assaulting her smacked her across the face. A rage built inside Raven and as his feet silently touched the ground, he was already striding towards the two thugs. He had to end this quickly. He wasn't badly outnumbered, but he wasn't a superhero and though this had not been his first experience of such situations, anything could go wrong if things were allowed to be dragged out. 

Almost there. Raven reached out with his left hand and right leg and in a swift, single manoeuvre grabbed the back of the man's head by his scruffy hair, swept the thug's legs out from under him using his leg and used a great quantity of force to crush the man's face into the concrete ground. There was a sickening squelch as the man's nose imploded. If he wasn't dead, he wasn't getting up any time soon. The noise made the second attacker whirl around, he was holding a knife. Raven tensed, he hadn't seen the man holding this weapon. Night vision or not, he had been hiding this dangerous weapon.
"Who the fuck're you?!" The man snarled, turning his attention to his downed colleague, and then back to Raven. "You got some kind of death wish man?!" The thug barked at him.

"Piss off." Raven muttered, standing up straight and scraping some of the other thug's blood off his black running shoes. "Now." He added, growling and raising his fists. The thug just laughed and advanced on him, knife raised and ready to strike. As the blade came down towards his neck, Raven dodged to one side, the blade only nicking the side of his throat and quickly began to bring his other hand up - even as he pulled the thug's armed hand away. The thug put all his force into trying to push his hand holding the knife back towards Raven's throat and ignored the fist coming towards him. But he'd made a terrible error.

Raven jerked his free arm and a small, long object fell out of his sleeve and into his waiting palm. The four inch knife stuck into the side of the man's throat before he had realised his mistake. He stumbled backwards, touching the handle with his hand and though he tried to wrap his fingers around it to pull it out, he had lost all strength in his body. He blinked a couple of times, trying to understand what had happened, and then at last, he collapsed unceremoniously to the floor. The woman remained where she was, quite still, unsure of him. He looked at her for a moment and then cast his attention back to the two thugs. He emptied their pockets, took their wallets, rings, watches, phones, etc. Then turned to the woman. 

"No, please!!" She put a hand out and closed her eyes and tensed as he walked up to her. 
"Relax." He muttered calmly, the rage he felt now abating in the presence of her fearful eyes. He leant over her and pulled the bag from her hands, rooting through it until he found her purse, which he pocketed. She watched him, a look of confusion on her face as he took her phone and then leant into her and stretched out his hands. She tensed once again, but opened her eyes as she felt him unclasp her necklace and take that in addition to her other valuables.

As he stood and added these to his jacket pockets he noticed her expression was unusual. Like a mixture of fear, confusion and concern. He frowned, but followed her gaze to his left shoulder. The thug's knife was embedded in his left arm. "Shit. Dammit." He cursed, and instinctively went to remove it, but caught himself before he did. He'd only start bleeding everywhere, better to remove it at home where he could disinfect the wound and stitch it up. Sometimes having no sense of pain was a gift, and other times it was outright life-threatening. Not to mention his jacket now had another hole in it he'd have to patch. Blood was never easy to get out of leather. Raven rolled his eyes at his own stupid mistake and then turned to leave.

"What's your name?" The woman asked, curiosity more than anything in her tone.
"Raven." He replied, as he left. Another scar to be added that night, much like any other.

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