Images & Words: Void the Light

Images & Words: Void the Light – Part 2

Spoke 3 Exchange, A.I. Generated

Neal Ulen

When : Where
259 DE (2569 CE) : Terra / Techspire / The Tangle

This is approximately 1/3rd preivew of a first draft novella entitled Void the Light (tentative title) which takes place in the Infinispace Universe.

The novella is set about 30 years before the events of Infinispace: Deception and is ~50,000 words in length. It will be posted in serialized format.

0 - Prologue
1 - Martos
2 - Integrators
3 - The Rat...
4 - ...In The Cage
5 - Benize
6 - Taria
7 - Meetings
8 - Direction
9 - Lost
10 - Challe
11 - Fixer
End of Preview
All Citizens of the Tangle must accept that security through compliance is a fiction pushed by the Spire to lull you into a sense of false contentment. They are masters at creating multi-layered ecosystems of diversion to keep you in a lucid state of slumber. Time to wake up!
—Anonymous / ‘Underground Handbook of the Tangle v2569.3’ / 2569

Preceded by Void the Light – Part 1.
After several minutes of enduring the din of the Spoke he reached the mag-rail and its busy station. Next to the station was the massive Spoke 3 Exchange where Citizens could pick up their quota of food, services, and other Spire subsidized necessities. Martos had just enough time to pick up some essentials before boarding.

He elbowed his way through the immense archway that opened into the main public area of the open air market. The stalls were stocked with a wide variety of products and services, all sanctioned and approved by the Spire. Other services and enterprises were carried out in more out of the way corners of the Tangle. Martos walked by stalls selling synthetic protein packs, clothing, shoes, exotic off-world produce imported from across the Triocracy, medicines, cube furnishings, and other motley products. The more exotic, or in demand the product, the more delts the cost. The Spire was good about keeping the necessities of the populace met. Needs were always met, wants were another story altogether … often satiated on black markets, away from prying eyes.

His favorite produce stall was near the back of the market and it took him nearly fifteen minutes to elbow, push, and fight his way through the pulsing mass of people. As he drew closer to the back of the market he heard a familiar voice calling out to him.

Images & Words: Void the Light
Spoke 3 Exchange by A.I. Generated

“Ah, Martos, Martos! Come, come!” Benize yelled from behind his stall as Martos pushed away from the final few Citizens, nearly causing a fight to break out in the process.

Martos stopped in front of the produce, sweat dripping down his face. “Shit! You think you could move you stall closer to the arch one of these days?”

“Renting close to the arch is very expensive … very!” Benize laughed, patting his pockets as if searching for something of value. “The Spire keeps my margins thin as thread. I have little need for such a frivolous location, this meets my needs. Besides, the exercise does you good!”

“Either that or it’s going to kill me.” He wiped his face with his sleeve.

“Perhaps someday, but not today!” Benize picked up a piece of drin fruit recently imported from Lacaille and tossed it to Martos. “What will it be today?”

Martos caught the fruit expertly and took a large bite of the purple flesh. Juice dribbled down his chin and he wiped it away reflexively. “Just give me six pieces of drin, I have some other things to pick up.”

Benize picked six ripe pieces and dropped them into Martos’ bag. “Six delts my friend.”

Martos held out his shard and waited for Benize to take it, but the grizzled man made no motion to do so.

“No need for that anymore,” he tapped his temple lightly. “I’ve deducted the amount.”

“Since when have you had a bio.node?” Martos asked.

“It’s been growing for months, but went live a few days ago.”

“Perhaps your margins are better than you claim, Benize.” The sarcasm was not hidden in Martos’ voice.

Benize looked momentarily hurt, but could only manage to clear his throat in response. “What news in the Tangle today?”

“You should know,” Martos tapped his own temple and made his eyes go slightly wide.

“No, no, my boy. I’m talking about real news, the kind only heard in whispers between confidants … or uttered in dark alcoves whilst looking over ones shoulder. You know the news of which I speak.”

“Nothing out of the ordinary.” Martos shrugged. “Population is getting heavy again, so new restrictions are probably coming … and a new Outerworlds lottery is happening in a few days.”

“Ah, not for this one, Martos!” Benize waved a finger in dismissal.

“You’re not registered? Why not?”

“I was, when I was younger, but I’ve been here so long I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I moved somewhere else in the Triocracy. I’m old. I’m comfortable … well, as comfortable as one can get in a cage I suppose!”

“More comfortable than most it seems.” Martos smiled.

“Besides, better odds for you, eh!? Perhaps some day you will visit Pinnacle City on your way to a new adventure!” He pointed to the sky.

“I suppose. My chances are still slim to none.”

“Never give up hope boy.” Benize winked. “How is your girl Taria?”

“Shhhhhhh … !” Martos swung his head around in alarm checking the swarm of humanity, but he was certain no one could hear their own thoughts in that mess. The fact that Benize how had a live .node in his head made Martos even more paranoid.

“I’m sorry,” Benize held his hands out beseechingly. “I forgot my place. My apologies!”

Martos held up his hand. “It’s okay, she’s fine and …” He cut himself off in mid-sentence.

“What is it?”

Panic and chaos now struck the crowd and the stampede toward the arch began in earnest.  Men trampling women.  Women trampling children.  Screams of terror and disbelief echoed through the market.

Martos had turned to face the crowd. He could see light streaming through the massive arch almost three hundred meters away. A wave of silence was washing over the market, originating from the entrance. Citizens near the arch had also stopped milling about, their heads turning and the sea parting as if a series of cracks were spreading through the stratum of the crowd.

Martos turned back to Benize. “What’s going on?”

The old man shrugged. “I haven’t an idea, but it cannot be good.”

A woman’s scream emanated from the crowd and hushed voices began to murmur. Then Martos saw what was causing the commotion as it floated up over the heads of onlookers. In fact there were more than one. Five of them slowly and silently floated off to different sections of the market.

They were approximately the size of a small dog, but they did not resemble that animal. Instead they looked like black, tentacled creatures. Their legs dangled listlessly before them as they hovered through the building. Their black skin threw off a rainbow sheen indicating they were covered with millions of nanosensors that were sniffing the air, scanning faces, and detecting movement in every direction.

Spire Integrator
Spire Integrator

Integrators!” Benize whispered.

Martos had only seen them a few times in his life. At those times he had nothing to fear from their inquiries and had begrudgingly accepted their scans as part of everyday life. This time was different. There was no coincidence that both he and they were all in the Exchange, on this particular day, at this particular time.

Not a soul in the crowd was making an attempt to flee. They were all obediently standing ground, knowing that running or hiding would bring unwanted attention and complications to their lives. Still, Martos saw the looks of terror on some, and the looks of anger on most … but they accepted the scanning as a fact of life just as Martos used to.

One of the Integrators slid its way silently toward Martos’ location. He steadied the bag on his shoulder. He wished he could play the obedient Citizen today, but he couldn’t. He had to take the risk.

Martos gave Benize a glance as if indicating he knew the truth, then bolted into the crowd parallel to the back wall of the market.

“Martos! What are you doing!?” Benize screamed. “Don’t run!”

He did not make it far. Martos’ immediate action, and Benize’s scream, sent the Integrators into choreographed action. Like predators they altered course and slid over the heads of the crowd to encircle the panicked Martos, cutting him off from any hope of escape.

The nearest Integrator was upon him in seconds. It spread open its previously limp appendages looking much like a black, fleshy flower. From the center of the outspread appendages shot a small sliver of metal that embedded solidly into Martos’ neck. He fell to the ground, immediately paralyzed, his face slapping sickeningly against the stones.

Now that they realized the Integrators had found their prey, panic and chaos struck the crowd, and the stampede toward the arch began in earnest. Men trampled women. Women trampled the few children present. Punches were thrown, and curses uttered. Screams of terror and disbelief echoed through the market. The Integrators floating over Martos took no heed of the exodus.

Martos couldn’t feel the cold stone pressing on his battered face but could see the blood from his nose and mouth slowly trickling into the cracks, and he could hear the receding sound of the frantic crowd as they fled the Exchange.

A single Integrator lowered its body to the ground landing on its eight black legs. It slowly began undulating along the side of Martos’ prone body, its methodical movement creating a muffled scraping sound that reverberated through the now silent and abandoned market. The sound reached Martos’ ears. His eyes flicked about wildly trying to see what was approaching, and he tried to move but nothing in his body responded.

The Integrator’s legs crawled into his field of view and his eye froze. He could hear the Integrator’s legs begin to climb on to his shoulder.

A tear slid down his nose to drop to the ground and disappear in his own blood.

Martos couldn’t see that the Integrator was now straddling his neck, its eight legs beginning to wrap themselves around the back of his skull. He also couldn’t see the thousands of delicate nano-filaments emanating from the Integrator’s torso and beginning to worm their way through his hair to embed in the flesh and eventually his skull.

When the Integrator was fully nestled in the crook of Martos’ neck and tightly grasping his skull, it ceased its spider-like movements. Complete silence had fallen on the Exchange.

Martos felt something invading his mind. His eyes went wide and he screamed … but nothing came out.

Continued in Void the Light – Part 3.

Images & Words © 2020-2024, Neal Ulen.
Other images/videos cited © to their respective owner(s).

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