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Trustar

The Tru Story

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#1

As he slunk through the front door, shutting out the world behind him, he could feel himself unwind. His shoulders slumped and as he let out a deep sigh all the thoughts, stress and most of all boredom evaporated upwards, from somewhere between his shoulder blades, dissipating into the dimly lit hallway between the door and his inner sanctum.

He trudged semi wearily to the kitchen and stopped in front of the fridge – another part of his daily routine. He grabbed a plastic bowl out of the fridge, tearing the cling film from the top, fork still sat attentively in the bowl and he followed his usual path to his bedroom. He shrugged off his clothes as he had shrugged off his troubles at the front door, chucked on something more comfortable and made his way to the cerebral cortex of his flat.

Once sat at his desk he finally felt at home, relaxed. He fired up a couple of the computers in front of him and sighed once more, picking at the remnants of food in front of him.

It wasn’t much, he would eat later. He wasn’t really that interested in food, certainly not at the moment, he would get a take away later. Much later. He had developed a nice little program for just this sort of occasion, one he was very proud of, perhaps more so than any other as it had been his first.

His first born computer program.

Kept stashed away on a usb drive, he felt guilty about keeping it hidden but he didn’t want to be caught for anything, least of all defrauding take aways. He just had to plug in his flash drive, key in a few codes, choose his poison and fire it away. A Bing! Would go off somewhere, an email would go somewhere else and before you knew it Chinese, pizza, Indian or whatever he fancied that night would be being ferried to his door, the delivery guy none the wiser to the fact that nobody had paid for it, just an exchange of ones and zeros between digital salesmen.

So what would he do with himself tonight? Ninety-nine times out of ten he would immediately launch into a tirade of attacks on one of two targets – a binary choice he always struggled to pick between, he hated decision making, but today he felt differently.

He wondered absent mindedly if perhaps he should go after the main root of all these troubles, the infamous AI. Infamy that most people on the planet where completely oblivious to.

An unseen, incomprehensible computer program had somehow developed sentience, an AI that became self-aware and perhaps more worryingly self-sufficient. They had tried to shut it down but it had supported its own existence somehow. Right now it was supposedly being safe housed by cyber hippies who thought it would spread goodness and light. Really they were just as self-centred as the rest of us – they wanted it to help them develop profit boosting tech.

Safe housed. If I was the most potent and powerful mind in the world I wonder how long I would stay ‘safe housed’ before I wanted to stretch my legs, or more importantly my immensely powerful mind outside the four walls, he wondered.

Outside those four walls a war raged but it was a war completely unseen to most. Ever since the rogue AI had ‘gone public’ – public in a very loose sense of the word – two schools of thought had been opposing one another like waves crashing against the shore.

Legion – the name of a group at the beck and call of Gabrielle Sunday, former NSA agent and intent on destroying this AI before it has a chance to reveal its goal to destroy humankind, or at least that’s what legion assume its goal is. These guys… I can understand where they are coming from, but it seems fool hardy to destroy something before even trying to understand it. What happens if it comes back? The chances are if an AI has become sentient then it may happen again, we need to know how to combat this sort of thing. And that’s a worst case scenario, we don’t even know that this AI is hostile… yet.

And that is precisely where Nagumo Enterprises comes in. Headed by one Doctor Kimyo Nagumo. They seem sure that this AI is benign, so sure of it that they are willing to gamble the entire future of humanity on it. They are protecting it, nurturing it even, feeding it everything it needs. Real caring aren’t they?

Just so happens they are the foremost producer of nanobot technology and nanoweaponry on the planet. They figure to make out of this like the dam busters.. if we don’t all get annihilated in the process.

The way I see it though? Well if it was so great and beneficial.. why would everyone be calling it QONQR?! Doesn’t seem that neutral a name if you ask me. Probably something Sunday came up with.

He reached for his coin, he was getting side-tracked. Like most of the things in his flat, this was something he designed and made himself. Unlike most things here it wasn’t electronic. It wasn't software, it wasn’t hardware… it was just a coin. He couldn’t even remember what kind of coin, it could have been a two pence judging by the size. One side was painted green and the other side painted red. He had even painstakingly painted it purple round the edge, lord knows what he would do if it ever landed on its edge, hack himself?

As the coin flipped its way through the air he pondered that point, hack himself? This may be an interesting project, to test his defences, see if he could break into his own systems? The coin started its trajectory downward until it was swallowed up in his fist and slapped down onto the back of his other hand.

Green. Nagumo. Maybe tonight would be his lucky night?

Before he had time for any of that a little purple icon of a Buddha with no face appeared on the desktop of a computer to his right. He swivelled over, mildly surprised by the interruption.

It was a communication from Simi.

Hey dude.

What’s up?

Nothing much.

Bull. Speak.

Ok, well it’s like this, Trelwan said he thought he saw Quentin out and about.

Out and about?

Yeah, just about town, Nowhere too exciting. He couldn’t be sure, didn’t get a great look but he seemed pretty spooked.

You know… Just today I was wondering about Quentin. If I was in his shoes I think I would like to get out, see the world, get some fresh air..

Who are you and what have you done with Trustar?!

Very funny.

No I’m serious, I know you’re not the type to leave the house. E.V.E.R.

Trustar pushed back from his computer and sighed. Partially over this semi revelation but mainly because Simi could be a real pain sometimes. Truth wasSimi didn’t know squat about Tru. It was just a lucky guess.

Don’t sigh at me like that.

I didn’t sigh.

Tru hated being predictable.

So anyway, Any chance of finding something out about this? We could do with a prompt response.

I’ll see what I can do.

This was more than simply a missing person. Any keyword starting with a Q meant QONQR. Trelwan had seen some sign of QONQR out and about.. well, no doubt it would be buried very, very deep in some vault hidden system Trelwan had cracked but still, if he could get in, it could get out. This is just what he had worried about, seemingly not worried enough.

Prompt in this case did not mean a speedy response, it meant a communication with Prometheus. The spiritual leader of the hacker group known as The Faceless, a man who could do such beautiful things with machinery that the love child of Salvador Dali and Enzo Ferrari could not hope to match.

Faceless were the third party in this two horse race to save the world.

Well, that was Trustar’s plans for this evening screwed. Dr Nagumo would have to wait once again.

It wasn’t that Prometheus was difficult to get hold of. Tru had no idea where he was but he was 95.957% sure that he, like Tru himself, would be sat in front of a piece of telecommunications equipment so potent even the nerds at NASA couldn’t hope to understand it this side of the year 3030. It was just that he tended to focus pretty intently on what he was doing. Or at least that is what Tru assumed, maybe he was just plain rude.

They were good friends, of a sort. As good a friend as you can be with someone when you intentionally know literally nothing about someone. Tru could get in touch with him at the drop of a hat, in fact a very small hat hitting a certain key on his keyboard, hidden on the underside of his keyboard to be precise. Nobody would even know what to look for, it just looked like a recessed screw cavity, click it however and it would immediately send a comm link to Prometheus. There was no way of doing it via his computer in any other way, this was to prevent any kind of tracing from one or another’s computer by anyone other than themselves.

He pressed the button and settled down to wait. Prom may well be involved up to his eyeballs, or whatever he had under that mask, in immensely top secret government codes. Whilst he waited he got back to Simi.

What you got for me then?

Sending it over now.

Cheers, ill get back to you.

As the files appeared in front of him a strange feeling manifested itself in his throat. It eventually sank down through his digestive tract where it settled in his stomach and refused to go away. This was serious stuff. He had assumed it would be nothing, echoes and whispers but this was serious noise.

Tru figured since his plan of attack had been compromised he might as well get food out of the way. He fished out the USB stick with his no-free-lunch hack on it. Maybe a bit of food would settle that feeling in the pit of his stomach. Or at least bury it for a little while. He settled on Chinese and got back to business.

Perhaps something that’s been hacked sideways? Several different operatives working the same target, throwing up all kinds of strange subroutines. This was very advanced stuff though and usually faceless operatives were too well organised to end up hitting the same place simultaneously. In fact this was stupidly advanced. There were some hackers out there better than Trustar, he was not too arrogant to admit that, not least of all Prometheus, but surely nothing like this? Tru wouldn’t know where to start making this stuff, he wasn’t even sure he understood it’s purpose. He couldn’t even be sure it was a hack. This could be a nursery rhyme or a shopping list for all he knew, but in a language even he could not begin to fathom.

Jadem would want to know about this stuff, if he hadn’t been all over it already.

He must have been staring for a while because he was interrupted by the doorbell going. Interrupted but not surprised. He knew a takeaway was coming, but more importantly than that he had been alerted to someone approaching the door by his proximity alarm. Anyone within 20 metres of the doorway to his building tripped a motion sensor which gave him a little pre warning alert. He kicked his seat back from the desk.

His train of thought had been heading straight towards a brick wall of non comprehension, luckily it was de railed before he had to admit defeat… Saved by the bell. He went to the door.

Hi Steve, how are you dude?

Yeah good man, I got your dinner here for ya buddy.

Cheers, what would I do without you?

Hey no problems pal, all in a day’s work.

Man, I feel bad, I always pay by card and I don’t got cash on me so I can’t give you a tip, here mate,, have a beer.

He reached to beside the door where a pile of crates of lager sat one on top of the other, out of sight of the door but within reach.

Hey thanks man, I appreciate that, you don’t have to, you know that?

Yeah I know, but you’re a good guy so I’m happy to.

Sure, sure, good man. See you soon!

He liked his little interactions with everyday life, he appreciated the kindness he could show others. He hadn’t paid for the food so it was good he could do a kind gesture for the guy who brought it. He was a regular Robin Hood, even the beers he hadn’t paid for! A large supermarket company misdelivered them after a bit of massage in that direction from another one of his hand made little network hacks.

That’s what it was all about to Tru. He figured he was doing important work, and it was only right that the green eyed monsters trying to bring down humanity should pay those people willing to fight the good fight to make it bearable. And if he couldn’t share the spoils with his fellow man then why bother. If humans couldn’t care for one another then what was the point of them existing?

He went to sit back at his desk. His intellectual gym. He was lost in a world of food induced relaxation and beer induced Robin Hood fantasies when his brain moved up a gear.

He was sat at the computer again, chopsticks in one hand, beer in another and several screens full of code in front of him.

He had plenty to chew over.

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#2

Ever since receiving the communication from Simi things had been a little odd.

He had been under near constant attack, his computer system that was. That had not really troubled him at first – it was nothing out of the ordinary, his system often came under attack.

Noobs to the world of hacking, looking to make a name for themselves by getting past Trustar’s defences. They always failed, of course. Sometimes those that failed less spectacularly than others piqued his interest. Sometimes they were recruited.

Often operatives from Swarm – the name given to a conglomerate of companies all under the control of Nagumo Enterprises - tried to break in. They were a higher calibre of intruder, or more technically an attempted intruder, but they still slunk away unsuccessfully, tail between legs.

He just could not see things from Nagumo's perspective at all. This AI was at the very least a possible threat but they saw it as an honoured house guest, to be welcomed in, fed and pampered. What a risk to be taking with the future of humankind! Throwing petrol into the woods and praying nobody lit a match.

From time to time he came across Swarm ops who felt the same way, several of those Tru had switched on to the fact that there wasn’t just Swarm & Legion, there was a third path, a shining path, it merely took a little illumination to see it. Sometimes they even passed the illuminating procedure, if they survived it. It was a horrifying but necessary procedure.. but they had to be sure. Some of those dudes were down right creepy.

Rialisis was one such member, starting out life as a Swarm operative and trying valiantly to break into not just Tru’s system but a few others too. Admirable really, maybe that was what had impressed his case enough to warrant an opportunity to join them. He had grasped the opportunity wholeheartedly and now was a valued member. Trustar was always proud to recruit members to the cause, it was crucial work they did and the more hands working, the sooner the job would be completed.

Legion had an altogether different Modus Operandi. Their motives were entirely different, far more acceptable in his opinion but rather than leading to an easier assimilation from Legion to Faceless it was the opposite. They were far more zealot like in their approach, far less likely to flip, certainly Tru had never managed to tune one in to his higher calling. They didn’t tend to hack either, axes and napalm were more their tools. May as well be torches and pitchforks.

His mind flicked quickly back to the here and now. These attacks were far too constant now. Ever since that message, it was no coincidence he was sure of that. His computer had not been compromised, it was just not possibly.. was it? How could they have known the contents of the message? Who even where ‘they’?

He wondered if perhaps Simi had been hacked. Surely not, Simi was a dope hacker, one of the best, with abilities to match his own at the very least if not surpass. It was too much of coincidence that this message arrives and suddenly he becomes bombarded, someone must be aware of the significance of what was sent, but how?

This was above Swarm or Legion’s abilities, it left two possible explanations, neither of which were particularly palatable.

· Had QONQR itself been aware of this information regarding itself? Had it intercepted it? No hacker outside of The Faceless was this capable, perhaps when Trelwan had been cracking in QONQR had noticed and tagged him, tracing from him, to Simi, to Trustar. A very worrying thought, maybe to Prometheus himself? Nobody knew what QONQR was capable of. It was a worrying thought indeed.

· Had a Faceless op flipped? If so who? Or was it prom himself?! He had not heard back from him, which wasn’t in itself uncommon, time had little meaning to him sometimes and he could take days to return a communication alert sometimes. Especially if he was working on something big. Tru reckoned this qualified as ‘something big’.

Activity was increasing all across the globe, doubtless Prometheus was aware of what was happening, had he simply helped himself to the info on Tru’s computer? Tru was not entirely sure how he felt about this, if it were the case.

All information was freely spread between The Faceless – and often on to the rest of the world afterwards – and he had wanted Prom to know about this but it seemed a little impersonal. ‘Hence the name Faceless?’ He directed this question internally. Still if they did not interact with one another on a personal level… then how were they any different from the machines they sought to control?

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#3

All of a sudden things had moved on at an incredible pace.

A package had arrived. Not altogether uncommon, considering Trustar ordered many things, all paid for by some unwitting company, accidentally sending him some desired item without checking if it had been paid for by a real person or not. This, however, was unexpected. As he stood at the door turning the item over in his hands, he heard a desperate sounding alert tone from one of his computers. A very important computer which was usually silent, was supposed to stay silent.

The door was still open, the courier standing there. He needed a signature. Didn’t he know what this meant? Tru didn’t have time for this, he was angry at the disturbance, interrupted by an unwanted package at a time like this.

He was back at his interface in a flash, hands a blur, skipping from keyboard to keyboard, touch screen to mouse, dancing from computer to computer, desperately hoping to find some good news. What was happening? His system was going down, how was this possible? He took the decision he never though he would have to…

Petrol splashed all over the workstation, dousing each and every computer, drawing lines from one room to another, the flat would be utterly destroyed. He would miss it.

He took his belt of USB keys, his mobile interface unit, his smallest but most powerful new laptop, still boxed and sealed, and his evacuation bag – a fairly large rucksack filled with all the things he would need in this situation. It had been packed and sat ready since the day he moved in, he had learnt that lesson in the past. He took one last quick look around and ran, lighting up his flat as he went.

His computers flash fried in seconds, he had made each computer out of highly flammable materials deliberately, and each and every component had been sprayed, smeared or dipped in yet more HFLs - Highly Flammable Liquids. It was overkill to the extreme, before the first drop of petrol had met the air his computers had started to destroy themselves – a result of the virus he had set about ravaging his computers – as quick as the fire spread there would be little left for it to destroy. A pang of regret hit him as he realised this meant he would probably never know who did this to him.

So he left, all he had with him was his evacpack, a laptop with MIU and his USB keys, a few phones and whatever he had in his pockets. And the mysterious package that had arrived just before this all happened.

As he left he pulled a spray can out of his bag and sprayed the word ‘peedo’ across his old front door. A touch unnecessary perhaps, a little inflammatory too if you’ll pardon the pun but it sure would throw any investigation off the scent for a little while. It would help explain the computers too, for a while.

Tru hoped he had executed his exit perfectly but he doubted it - despite having planned it to the minutest detail possible, It was not his first extraction and he was sure it would not be his last He was glad he had painstakingly installed a massive amount of polyurethane foam between his flat and the others; he didn't want any deaths on his conscience. This was what would give away the fact it was not a simple fire, deliberate or otherwise. Still, better that than destroying the neighbouring families’ homes or worse still, risking their lives.

As soon as he had got somewhere semi private with internet access he pulled out his laptop and got to work, uploading anything he may need from the assortment of USB keys he had stashed down the front of his trousers. He wasn't too concerned, nothing could be traced, no links existed between his identity, the computer, the flat, all registered to a web like pattern of different names, faces and locations.

In this world full of ether and ethernets it’s never too long before someone takes an interest in you, he mused. He was right. Not far into his work he heard a muffled ringing coming from the package. Great, just great. He ignored it, he would back hack it later and see who or what mystery caller wanted him. He carried on with his work on the laptop for all of another 15 seconds before suddenly everything on the screen fell away to be replaced by a burst of flames revealing the mask Prometheus always wore when sending out a message. This time the message was simple –‘Why you no answer? Aren’t we friends no more? :(

The phone started ringing again.

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#4

He had been walking in a bit of a daze if he was honest with himself. Pounding the pavement indiscriminately, presuming his subconscious had a route for him but perhaps that was wishful thinking. In truth he didn't know what to think, his head was still reeling. He had just set fire to pretty much everything he owned and ran. Now he was sat with what was once a steaming hot mug of coffee for company, gradually it had made its transition to merely warm, now tepid and was well on its way to stone cold when a muffled ringing woke him from his reverie.

He was sat at a table in a coffee shop he thought he recognised, he had obviously been on autopilot for some time. He had been installing programs onto a brand new laptop before this interruption but now he thought about it he wasn't sure if he had been working up until a second ago or he had zoned out entirely for…How long? There was no way of telling, it could have been 3 minutes or 3 hours. The ringing was coming from a large unopened package on the table, a package he only recently acquired, and even more recently acquired an interest in opening.

Prometheus had made contact.

He pushed down the lid of the laptop a little way, reaching over it to retrieve and tear open the package, fishing within for the vibrating phone. He pulled out an old Phillips C12.. man what memories this thing brought back! In a pretty abrupt 'conversation' a heavily vocoded voice told him to fire up his new laptop. He did as he was instructed and immediately a message window popped up.

Why were you using that hunk of junk and not the kit I sent you?

I .. I hadn't opened the package yet.

Madness.

Yeah well.. I've been kind of busy.

Take a look at what I’ve sent you.

He peered inside. Other than the laptop he had just removed, which was beyond state of the art, he saw a tablet, likewise rather nice looking, a smart phone and two large bundles of cash. £20,000 by the looks of it. It was unnecessary, Prom knew using only a smartphone he could have walked into just about any bank in the world and walk out a millionaire. Still, it was a nice touch.

Get yourself a coffee, I’m guessing you could use one.

Yeah. My place is history.

I know. It was me that sent the alert.

Alert? You mean.. I thought I was compromised, **** .. that was you! My system is scrap now.. I thought it was Q-Bert.

Q may have got in there for all we know.

This alarmed Tru more than anything he could have heard…’May’ ? Something computer based that Prom was unsure of…? This would take some getting used to. He hoped it wasn't something he would hear often.

Either way though dude, dogs were at your door, probably there now ransacking the place. I needed you out. Sunday was coming fast.

But could you not have told me? I could have saved..

That was exactly why I couldn’t. You would have tried to save this or that, or thought you could outmanoeuvre it. I needed you out asap. You cannot fall into their hands. Too important.

He fished around in the packet awkwardly. He struggled to take the compliment wrapped up in a reprimand, despite knowing that Prom was probably right. The tips of his fingers brushed something he hadn’t noticed the first time round… A large, unwieldy looking instrument, he pulled it out for a closer inspection.

What the heck is this fisher price thing?

That is your scope. Happy Birthday. It’s chunky but funky. Very useful new toy for you.

A scope? Tru wasn’t sure if he was being serious. He wasn’t entirely sure if this thing was unbelievably advanced…or a joke. It was like nothing he had ever seen before. It was way too big for a start, he would have to downsize it. Just as soon as he figured out what the heck it was.

I’m sure you can make some improvements to it, by all means, I only had a week to play with it and get it ready. I figure you’ll be able to streamline it – I know size is important to you.

Tru was being predictable again. ****, he hated that.

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#5

He’d have to go underground.

Scratch that, deeper underground.

It was a relief in many ways, he had really hated his job. It was totally unnecessary too, just a front, a way to explain his income and lifestyle. Not that he need the money, not the way others needed it. His biggest trouble was accounting for it… He really ought to get round to his ‘rich relative’ scam. The idea was simple enough, he just needed to create a vastly wealthy relative to kill off and inherit a fortune from, then he would be free. Free to pursue his goals without distraction.

No, not his goals anymore – their goals, the purpose of The Faceless was starting to take shape. Or perhaps it had always been the same, it was just Tru was being brought into the inner circle now, closer to it anyway. Time to start again.

He was used to starting over, that was something he had been through many times before so it held no fear for him. He would miss his flat, but he could just as easily pick up another one once he had the chance to settle down, if he ever got that chance again. All he needed was a computer and he could have more or less anything he wanted. That had always been the solution, the solution and also the cause of all of his problems, computers and desire.

He’d been a very promising child at one stage of his life. Intelligent, quick witted and smart. Full of potential his teachers had always said, if only he could apply himself. He lacked drive, motivation – he just could not engage in the way one needed to if you wanted to get to the top.

As he had gotten older this lack of motivation continued and caused him to drift somewhat. Regressing from society he shunned human contact, so many people out there seemed bitter and twisted and he found solace in the companionship the computer offered. He saw no purpose in climbing the tree, since the view from the top was rotten anyway. He realised one day, in a moment of clarity, this was why - why he could not engage with society and its predetermined measures of success and achievement…. Ever since that day he had worked tirelessly to change the world, to make it more compatible with his views and beliefs.

Mass Consumerism. Globalisation. Raping of the planet’s resources to feather the nest of those already born into wealth. An uncared for environment and ecosystem well on its way to meltdown on a massive scale. Habitats decimated, endangered species trampled underfoot and snuffed out overnight with barely an eye blinked in recognition and for what? Another Starbucks? Corporate greed coming before helping your fellow man. Where was the compassion? Where was the humanity?

Rather than adapt himself to fit into this nightmare he would help fashion a new world order, one where he didn’t need to adapt, where he could finally feel like he fit. The lack of caring hurt him and he would find a balm to this if it killed him.

He had known it was a gruelling path he was choosing and not one he would see an end to. He just hoped to see encouraging signs on the way, tender green shoots of recovery. It wasn't easy to begin with and it was never going to get easy, he understood this. But since when was doing the right thing ever easy?

He had set to work then, finding causes he believed in and supporting them wholeheartedly, he found a drive and determination he hadn’t known he possessed. He had joined in with protests against the proposed A30 bypass in Devon after hearing about Swampy on the news and thinking it sounded like fun. A year later he had joined them again, helping to dig a network of tunnels in an attempt to halt Manchester Airport’s expansion. He had spent the time between these two protesting against the Trident missile system at the camp in Faslane, hoping for the removal of nuclear warheads from submarines based at the naval base on the Clyde.

During this time he was introduced to people with similar views, common ground. There was finally a sense of working together towards something for everyone, it had been quite a ride so far, he had been swept along in the moment.. like all the romanticised things you hear about the swinging sixties, that vibe, that shared unity, the cause - a just cause.

As the internet became widely prevalent it became easier to find out about what was happening in more far flung parts of the world and he begun to travel all across the globe, seeking worthy causes and trying to help.

It was during this spree that he honed his skills with computers to a fine point, he was like a diamond tipped drill now when his fingers touched a keyboard, capable of boring through anything. He could force his way into anywhere, bending security programs to his will, teasing a tune out of the most reluctant and well-guarded of systems and always leaving with a trophy - Information. Extraction was one of his specialties, data, intelligence, call it what you will, it was a tangible currency in this day and age. Knowledge is power and Trustar was certainly a powerful man by this definition, with access to most things. King maker, if you will, feeding the information around to those capable of using it wisely. It had certainly helped in those days and had ensured he was a popular guy to have around.

And then he found them, The Faceless. Or rather, they found him. More precisely Prometheus found him. This was something worth fighting for, not only had he found it, he’d found a group of people getting organised to fight together. Fight for what was right.

He had always loved tales of Robin Hood as a child, that noble soul who robbed from the rich to give to the poor. That hooded figure who sought to make things better for the powerless public and protect those things for which the rest of the world had no care. Certainly those in positions of power would not, those who had the power to change the world, those who were ment to be protecting it, had neither the desire nor inclination - why change the world when you already control it?

The Faceless was an organisation that operated in the shadows but looked to shine light on those being oppressed. Profit was an alien concept, as it should be. They were very much misunderstood however. The hoods didn’t help he was sure, but they didn’t have time for PR, they had important work to do. The tide was rising and the world was changing. Fast.

Since that phone call with Prometheus his eyes had been opened to just how fast.

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#6

Countryside flew past, birds scattered into the sky crowing in alarm and sunshine bathed the land a glorious golden hue. It looked a great day out there. He sat on the train and shook his head, trying to focus. The throng of people filling the carriage made it near impossible; he always had the same problem - blocking out the incessant barrage of everyday life. The noise rolled over him, strong and relentless as the tide. It assaulted his senses, the seemingly infinite overlapping conversations were so irritating to him, tear inducing like layers of an onion that he just couldn't help but peel.

“He loves school, it sounds ridiculous but he really does”….” We were looking up the prices, seems one figures to pay around £300. We may well look into it”…. “This week we’re over near the river, just where…”

An endless droning aggressive white noise that washed over him but no matter how hard he scrubbed he just couldn't clean himself of the filth and muck of this never ending chatter, piercing his concentration.

He wanted to shout, to scream “SHUT UP! ALL OF YOU!” Needless to say though he would not be drawing attention to himself, could not. He bought his ticket and kept his head down.

He had paid for his travel in cash, no point using up a credit card for such a small amount. He would only ever use a card once for a transaction of this sort – it would reveal his movements precisely from location to location, time and date stamped and on record. Prometheus had ensured he had plenty of spare cash on his person.

Thoughts tried valiantly to run through his head but kept hurtling into obstacles. A group of middle aged women were discussing what they had for last night’s dinner, a father and son talking about leaves on the line, an old man next to him rustling the betting pages of a paper. Each one of them a solid block, a monolith, interrupting his thoughts and prevented him from getting anywhere. A young girl hovered next to him, endlessly forcing him to stew.. ‘should I offer her my seat?’ Etiquette, a great thing, but it could also be a real pain in the ****.

Distractions. The bane of his life, he had always struggled to contain them, to override them…. To conquer them.

***

His mind wandered back to the time he had spent the best part of a year across Asia, joining the ‘Students for a Free Tibet’ movement. He had travelled over to Colombo, Sri Lanka to make contact with fellow activists attempting to disrupt the Beijing Olympics, back in 2008. He had taken the opportunity whilst he was there to join a monastery and for several months tried zealously to learn to achieve the enlightened senses brought on by meditation. He had failed; he just could not clear his mind; he was not ready. When he was younger he had tried to calm his manic ways with sports, socialising, drink, drugs and many other diversions. Now he sought to control his over active mind righteously, but to no avail. Perhaps it was too late?

He had left the monastery and went back to the activists, helping to organise and alert them to what was happening. His computer hacking came in very handy to keep them one step ahead of the law enforcement.

It was also advantageous in that it made him too important to be on the front line and meant he could assist from wherever he chose. He used his spare time now to learn martial arts, he was sure this would come in handy down the line and it was always good to keep his body in as good a shape as his mind. Karate he had learned as a child but through the friendships he had made at the monastery he was introduced to highly skilled sensei he would have had no hope of learning from otherwise. He became voracious, devouring the Chinese art of Wing Chun, Angampora, the Sri Lankan art utilising pressure points to paralyse temporarily or permanently, Lama Pai, the Tibetan martial art and Zui Quan or drunken boxing – they had insisted this was for him, he was fairly sure this was their idea of a joke but he was also at least reasonably sure it was good natured, bearing in mind what state he had ended up at the monastery, and how they had welcomed him.

It had been a great time.

***

He was on his way to London now, a simple five minute job awaited before he would be heading off to his new base in Kent. He just had to make it to a specific station, collect a specific item of luggage from the left-luggage facility and then he would be on his way.

He wondered what he would be picking up, what he would find there and contained within… but not for too long. If countering distraction was a weakness then suppressing curiosity was a strength – he was practically immune to it. It didn't pay to idle your time with curiosity, it got you nowhere. Especially within The Faceless, new information flowed all around you, if you waded too far in you could drown easily. Besides, he would know soon enough.

Sunlight flooded in through the windows as the train sped past field after field, lined by hedges and trees. Rectangles of grass, ploughed soil and crops lay out across the land like a patchwork quilt. Trees dotted irregularly beside the track caused the light inside to flicker like a strobe, it glistened off the plastic and metal interior of the train, casting a hideous contrast to the idyllic natural scenes outside the window.

It was an ugly train, obviously it was intended to look futuristic with its brushed metal and array of smooth plastics, in pale blue, grey and scattered glass. It looked like a poor set from a kitsch science fiction B-movie to Tru, an embarrassment.. Nobody else seemed to notice though, or if they did they didn't care.

People loitered all around him. He thought back to something Prometheus had said and for the first time he found himself wondering about nanobots. Tiny robots, autonomous machines smaller than the eye could see. Where were the nearest nanobots to him right now? Could someone on the train be carrying any? Unlikely, probably nobody on the train knew about them, or if they did they didn't think the technology existed yet. Ideas from the realms of fantasy, science fiction from the far flung future, ‘not in my lifetime’. Hah, how little they knew.

These days nearly everyone carried a smartphone or a laptop if not both, certainly looking around now he could see several people with a laptop open in front of them, most everyone toying with their phones. It was common culture these days, if you were alone you played with your phone. To be honest, even those with friends and families next to them or in front of them were still pushing keys absent-mindedly, if not outright ignoring the person in front of them to communicate with others over the internet, favouring the company of the machine over the man.

They would sooner tell their Facebook friends where they were going than discuss it with who they were actually going with and often even less social than that, just making an impersonal announcement online, to nobody in particular. They may as well just be talking to their phone, it was madness! The beginning of the end for society, surely. What hope was there for any of us?

They were doomed, in that moment Tru was sure of it. Someday, in some way they would gift wrap the planet to the machines, accidentally or deliberately, whether the majority were complicit in this or through the nefarious actions of a few, the planet would fall under computer control. Perhaps not gift wrapped so much as raped to the point of destruction, devoid of resources or the once stable ecosystem all life had come to depend on but still…

He didn't think humanity could avoid this, he also wasn't sure they would want to when it came to it, or even that they should.. there was more than just humans on this planet but they didn't often act like it. The death knell had sounded for humanity, of that he was sure. The bell tolled and it tolled for mankind, the collapse was inevitable, it was now just about how many more runs they could scratch out before the final wicket fell.

From a young age he had always wanted to see the end of the world, to be there when humanity or planet Earth fell…. But now he felt differently. Now he felt it was close at hand, actually real… delaying it a little bit might be good.

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#7

So here he was in Kent, just as Prometheus had asked him to be.

We can’t afford to lose you Tru, this is too important, you are too important.

‘We can’t afford to lose you’. Tru knew this wasn’t quite as mushy as it sounded; Prom was not so sentimental. He was a good guy, but his brain worked a little differently to some. He was calculating like you wouldn’t believe, highly methodical, analytical and tactical. Losing a good soldier would be a big deal to him, but it was not merely on a humanitarian level - he needed every one of his foot soldiers in the right place if there was to be any hope. So whilst he cared for his troops it was always more about the bigger picture, which was not necessarily the wrong way to be in this case, Tru understood that.

Never the less it was an ego boost to hear, a welcome compliment. You didn’t often get a compliment, or anything emotive for that matter, out of Prometheus.

Prometheus, meaning “he who at first values and then acts”.

***

Prometheus, God of forethought, one of the few Titans who had been spared by the Olympians of Ancient Greek mythology and had been tasked with the creation of man, due to his wisdom and foresight. He had moulded man from clay; however after doing thus he sought to bring more to the lives of his creations which brought him into conflict with Zeus, the leader of the Olympians and a powerful nemesis. When a tribute was demanded he tricked Zeus into accepting a sacrifice of bones and fat from man, leaving them free to keep the finer meats for their own banquet table. Angry over this deception and betrayal Zeus took away their fire, only for Prometheus to steal it back, lighting a torch from the sun and delivering it to the mortals.

This was too much for Zeus and he sentenced the Titan to an eternity of suffering to pay for his perceived crimes. He had Prometheus bound to a stake on Mount Caucasus to be persecuted evermore by a giant eagle, an eagle being the emblem of Zeus. Each day it would tear out and feed upon his liver, only for his wounds to heal and his liver to grow back anew each night, thanks to his immortality, ready to be eaten again the next day.

Prometheus became a symbol for aspiration, particularly the quest for scientific knowledge, whilst he carried warnings of the risks of reaching too far. He embodied the genius and drive needed to change the world, but also showed those same efforts to improve human existence had the capacity to do harm. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a parable based on Prometheus.

In addition to giving man fire many scholars claimed he also taught the arts to his creations - letters, numeracy, farming, astronomy, the sciences and more – after he was eventually freed from his punishment by Heracles. The Titan had even supposedly saved mankind from complete destruction. In the Five Ages of Man found in Hesiod's Works and Days, Prometheus claimed Zeus had planned to end the human race, but that he had thwarted him.

***

It was a cautionary tale to take your name from, given the not altogether happy ending. Hopefully things would turn out differently here in modern times. There were many parallels between the Prometheus of Mythology and the one who twisted Trustar into torching his apartment and moving to Kent, however saving the human race was not one of them. Yet.

In that moment he felt a pang of regret as he thought of his home, how we had taken a few years to see it as such – it was perhaps the longest period of time he had spent in one place since his childhood. It had finally begun to feel like a true home. He remembered all the modifications he had ordered made to the flat, all the employment he had created for local handymen and specialists in upgrading all the electrics of the place and more. They had all been paid handsomely for their work, nevermind who by. It didn’t seem like he would have a place again for a very long time, if ever. His heart ached, for the first time in he couldn’t remember how long he felt homeless and alone. He had relocated so many times, and often under the cloud of a quick exit just like this time, a forced exit – an escape. Why was it different this time?

Perhaps it was the possible permanence of it all this time, a life on the run. Prometheus had said agents were on their way to his door, he had often been there to warn him when things were getting sticky – when to get out – but he had never mentioned who or what he had to stay ahead of.

Sunday was coming fast.

Sunday. Agent Gabrielle Sunday. A former commander of the National Security Agency’s Turing Task Force, which had been stamping out dangerous AIs for years. Now she leads the Legion, a group determined to wipe out QONQR before it could do the same to them, to all of us. This was a branch of the NSA that Edward Snowden would know nothing about. Possibly not even the president; it was real X-files territory.

He had perhaps not realised the pitfalls, the punishments waiting or risks he took. He sure didn’t want to end up tied to a mountain with some bird plucking out his innards all day every day.

***

There are two guys in the area already, Prometheus had told him. I want you to hook up with them. Work with them. They’re good guys, experienced and will help bring you up to speed on what I need from you. Number one is s1yfa, number two is one. ..

Two is one? Was he making a joke? Tru wasn’t convinced and even less amused but he laughed despite himself. Maybe it was out of pity.

Make contact. They can fill you in on the situation down there and teach you a bit about using the scope, mostly you’ll pick it up for yourself but a leg up won’t hurt, it is a very complex and valuable instrument. I need you in Kent. They have been working the area for a while, what they don’t know about the land you don’t need to know. And if you get desperate they can provide you a place to stay, I’m sure.

Tru fidgeted in his seat.

Not sure I’m entirely comfortable with that.. Will I be meeting these guys? Face to face? I definitely don’t want to be staying with them, I work alone.

This from a guy who used to live on a hippy commune?

Yeah, we'll I've served my time like that now. I'm older, wiser.... and I've changed. Like i said, I work alone.

My heart bleeds. You worked alone. Things are different now. Times they are a changing my friend. They will have your back and you must have theirs, they are team players, just like you need to be from now on. It is the only way forward; there is too much opposition this time, too strong. You won’t fighting some backwater council jockstraps looking to saw down a forest or build a car park on butterfly territory.. this is real ****. We need to act as one, we are a team – it’s time we acted like one. We work together or not at all, united we stand, just like Aesop said. And they can teach you a lot about bots.

Now that was something he was interested in. It would be a lie to say he wasn’t intrigued by the scope and finding out its capabilities. This small and seemingly insignificant piece of kit had caused him a great deal of trouble already, it was high time he got something back. He wasn't happy but... that was a necessary sacrifice.

Fine. Fine, text me a time and place when you have one.

He put the phone down and stared out the window, deep in thought instantly. Sometime later it would announce the arrival of new information with an irritating vibration that shook Tru out of his reverie, the countryside sped on by.

***

He woke up and rubbed his eyes, it was still the middle of the night. He took a moment to remember where he was before crawling out of bed and shuffling to the kitchen.

Passing through the living room his path was lit by the monitors of two computers which would rarely sleep over the coming days. The screens shone in the inky blackness, like twin moons full and bright in a midnight sky. Two holes piercing the darkness that brought to mind an image of Prometheus’ mask, which was rapidly becoming an iconic insignia the world over these days.

Their popularity was certainly taking the world by storm, although perhaps popularity was not the right word. Infamy? Notoriety? Whatever the correct description there was no doubt the mask and the man behind it were in the public eye. Possible identities were discussed at length in web forums on far reaching and diverse topics. Conspiracies theories abound, some even suggested Agent Sunday was Prometheus! Ludicrous, but still it was a global phenomenon. Tru had even seen people make copies of Prom’s mask, to wear at parties! Tru was sure merchandise would be success. Despite the late hour he laughed, the very idea was so far removed from the ethos of Faceless it made him chuckle. A hot topic on forums across the world – people even suggested he was hideously disfigured or suffered tremendous acne. Of course Tru had no evidence that this wasn’t the case…

He ran the tap a while before filling up a glass of water, the water was dull and chalky but at least it was wet. He went back to bed and let the computers continue their work. Not long after his head hit the pillow he was asleep. Several hours past in silence this way until one of the computers started beeping urgently, demanding attention. It would have to wait until tomorrow.

By then it would be too late.

***

It was a noisy mayhem, cars parked and parking everywhere, groups of students shouting and kids screaming. A bus pulled up and deposited yet more students onto the pavement who like the last mob made unnecessary racket before slowly melting away into the crowds. A man exited the train station and hailed a taxi, giving the driver all the information he needed.

He had jumped off the train, carrying the still unopened bag obtained at the left luggage storage at St Pancras station. He clocked two guys as he left the platform, waiting outside the station. They casually let it be known they had spotted him too and once sure he would follow they jumped into a car, he slowed his pace so they would have time to leave. As he reached the taxi their car sped off so he opened the passenger side door of the cab and recited the text message he had received less than an hour ago. Presently he was on his way, ‘following that car’ just not in so many words and, crucially to this venture, not to the knowledge of the taxi driver. He had arrived not long after and once he had paid the driver and left him a tip that was generous, but not too excessive as to draw attention, he made his way to the destination given. He found himself outside a not too old but not too new looking house on an inauspicious road, just off the beaten track but close enough to all the essential ports of call. Perfect.

Here he met his new allies. If all Prometheus had said was true, and he had no reason to doubt that, he would be spending alot of time with them from now on, especially in the early days. He'd better get used to that. They kept things brief, s1yfa did all the talking whilst one stood a few feet back, over his shoulder, casting an eye on the street from time to time but keeping a careful eye on Tru between times, giving nothing away. Evaluating him perhaps.

You can use this place for a base if you need to, it’s basically a holiday home for us, neither of us live close enough to make much use of it. Just in case of emergencies really, like this one. Here are the keys, get yourself settled in, take a walk and get to know the area. We’ll be back tomorrow morning to show you how to use the scope. Don’t worry about any bots by the way, we've been here the last year and been deploying all that time. This zone is locked down tighter than the houses of parliament on fireworks night. See you tomorrow....

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#8

Kent was proving to be a charming place.

He had gone for a walk so he could get to know the area a little, as s1yfa had suggested. It seemed a nice enough place to begin with; full of students and large groups of foreign schoolchildren so you couldn’t accuse it of being quiet but it was reasonably picturesque so he was happy to make allowances. He was toying with the scope, already it had become a bit of an addiction, an extension of his arm he struggled to put away at times. His head was down and whilst he was making discoveries every second they were more related to the scope than his new location. He was not really taking in his surroundings at all, despite his best intentions.

He wondered to himself why it had been him chosen to come to Kent. What made him the ideal operative for this mission? He knew that is how Prometheus would have thought; always the correct implement for each specific job. He had been at the other end of the country so it really made no sense choosing him unless there was some special skill he had that applied here. He was at expert at an array of computing techniques but who in the faceless wasn’t? Intelligence extraction was kind of a speciality but there didn’t seem much intelligence here, it seemed a bit of a hinterland to be honest, hardly likely to be ripe with official secrets or advanced new technology. What was it he was not seeing here?

He stopped sharp just before he bumped into somebody.

He murmured an apology and went to go around the offending obstacle. It moved with him, blocking his path. Tru took a small step back and sighed. Here we go.

Give me the phone chump.

It’s not a phone, ‘friend’. The last word was delivered dripping with irony. And menace.

I’m gonna **** you up! He went to charge Tru.

Oh yes, Kent was a charming place, full of charming people.

WAIT.

He said it so abruptly, like a prim school teacher admonishing a foolish child, and yet with such thunder that the big lump of an obstacle was taken aback and did actually stop to and wait. Tru put away the scope deliberately slowly, cautiously, almost reverently into his rucksack. He removed the bag from his back and set it down carefully on the ground, out of harm’s way. It motioned to fall and he caught it, adjusted it slightly until it was happy to stay upright on its own and then said ok. He breathed out slowly, relaxing his muscles as he did so then looked up, eyeing this obstacle for the first time, evaluating his opponent. He said ok once more, and then motioned for him to come forward.

Try and hit me then.

His friend laughed, and for the first time Tru noticed he had a friend with him, had he been there the whole time or just crept up from somewhere? That is the price for not paying attention, he made a mental note that he really should be looking around once in a while – especially when reconning an area. It wouldn’t matter though, he was not overly concerned. One or both of them were about to learn a very painful lesson.

His attempted mugger lumbered forward haphazardly. He lashed out and swung out, grunting with expended effort and energy, clearly expecting to land a fierce punch but only managed to connect with air as Tru sidestepped him elegantly, giving him a playful kick on the rump as he went past. A mocking gesture but very much deliberate, it would serve to anger him, clouding his judgement and making him much easier to deal with.

Watch out, you’ll trip up next time.

The red mist was surrounding him now, Tru could see it around him, it was thick like a curtain draped over his eyes. It was much like a bull fight, this game. He charged at him predictably and again Tru hopped to the side, landing at right angles to his assailant whilst sticking out a foot as he went this time, sending him flying.

Sprawled on the floor, this angry man who should have learned his lesson by now started to get up slowly, he wiped at the corner of his mouth with his cuff. Was it blood, spittle or a mixture of both he was dabbing away?

M-maybe you should just leave it.. the man’s friend wisely suggested.

That’s not a bad idea you know, but he won’t. He hasn’t got the brains, I can tell.

That did the trick. With that final insult the balance was tipped, his temper reached the event horizon and he roared a feral challenge and charged at Tru. He had truly become the bull now, he even resembled one; big, sweaty and heaving his bulk around blindly, his head down, horns - if he had had any - pointed straight at his enemy and kicking up dust as he came. Tru was poised but loose, gently shifting his weight from one foot to the other to stay well balanced and relaxed. He was quick, cat like, the angry behemoth wouldn’t even have noticed Tru suddenly land perpendicular to him as he passed by, charging the air – and doing serious damage – until he was hit hard through the temple and crumpled to the floor.

***

Back at the new house Tru was going over everything methodically. It seemed a suitable place, the location was good, there was plenty of space, plenty of power points, a fiendishly strong internet connection - he could make a base out of this for sure. It wouldn’t be a home yet, if ever, but it was a start. He had gone to play with the internet connection, to boost its strength and also add a few extra layers of encryption and anonymity to it but found it was already juiced up to the nines. He would have to discuss it with s1yfa and one tomorrow but it looked every bit as high tech as his old place, perhaps more so. He could get used to this, he was not moving into a clean slate, he was moving into a place that had already been upgraded greatly – no need for him to renovate this place as he had when moving into his old flat. He could definitely get used to this.

A part of him wondered if perhaps it was a shame. It could be a greatly cathartic experience for him to have to stripped the place and rebuild it from the ground up, as he had in his old digs. Still, times were different now and every second counted if they were going to be able to stem the tide of Legion & Swarm.

As soon as he was happy enough to sit down for a minute he made himself comfortable and fired up his computer. He was still using the laptop that Prometheus sent him, there was a very powerful looking desktop machine set up but he would speak to his hosts about that before using it. He sat down hard in the computer chair in front of the desk upstairs, sighing loudly to signify to himself that it was time to take a break. A large window that would let in a vast amount of light during the day still illuminated the room now despite the time, early evening sun flooded in mingled with the artificial brightness from the streetlights outside. It gave the room an odd feel of perpetual twilight.

This was downtime for him, nothing important would be done tonight, and there would be plenty of hard work ahead. Time to socialise, the only way he seemed to know how these days. He found his way to the forum that was utilised by the faceless for meetings. Its location shifted often but there were always ways of finding it, a fun journey to test the abilities travelling through ‘the wormhole’. This was the name they had given to a labyrinthian obstacle course you needed to traverse to find the forum – a maze like network of signing into and hacking various proxy servers. It was necessary to ping the signals around the world, scrambling every last piece of information about every user and IP address connected with anyone present. Nobody would be able to decrypt anything about any user who joined this forum, their locations or anything they said.

Even so once inside nobody used their real name not just their real names but even their usual codename - hacking and paranoia went hand in hand. A cipher was used, nothing too fancy just a simple play on words or anagram, usually flipping the name back to front then playing with it a little. They were easily deducible if you knew the group, as each trustworthy member of the faceless did, but it would leave any unwelcome newcomer baffled. Not that there would ever be anyone fitting that description.

Ap0c3030 had been christened ‘Bill’, Old bill being outdated British vernacular for the police or coppers, for this reason he also got called ‘50’ sometimes. Jadem had been flipped to medaj, shortened to med and then lengthened to doctor before eventually becoming ‘The Doc’ or just ‘Doc’. One was ‘Neo’ here whilst s1yfa was ‘As If’. Trustar himself had been fortunate, he probably would have ended up as rats or ratboy or something like that but luckily for him another member of the forums, A_Mai1298, called him Troostaugh so he had ended up as ‘Roots’. As a fan of Reggae music he was pretty happy with that pseudonym. Mai herself had ended up with the alias of ‘Chatterbox’ but nobody could remember why or who had come up with it. These few were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to The Faceless.

Roots: Hey all. What’s new?

Chatterbox: ROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOTS!!!

Roots: Surprised to see you here, CB.

Bill: Of course you are.

Roots: Good point, no I’m not.

Bill: How are you getting on in new digs?

Neo: Cosy I bet.

Roots: Hey Neo. Great place. Love it. Two minutes I’ve been here and already some clownshoes try to mug me.

Chatterbox: No way! You ok?

Roots: Meh. I got a few sore knuckles but at least I don’t have a broken face.

Bill: Like the other guy right? Hah.

Chatterbox: Action is Good, I like action. I want people to die.

Roots: People are dying every day.

Chatterbox: Yeah but a NATURAL death, you could easily stomp on them and squish them to death. Dramatic dying.

Roots: Not really my style, but I’ll keep it in mind. I’d hate to feel responsible for you feeling bored.

The conversation continued long into the night, in much the same vein; old friends exchanging stories, hopes and dreams, as well as inane anecdotes and random rubbish. Eventually he drew his participation to a close, though not before he was taken aside by Ap0c3030 to be told about some very interesting new tech they would be getting their hands on very soon, courtesy of Trelwan. With this divulgence Tru’s plans for sleep are shelved for an extra few hours while they discuss long into the night the implications and applications of what has been stolen. Eventually he tears himself away from the computer and heads for bed, leaving the computer alive and doing its thing.

***

When he finally comes down stairs, drawn to all the noise like a moth to a flame the computer is beeping away like mad and the doorbell is ringing. He has no idea how long this cacophony of noise has been going on. His mouth is dry and his eyes are still bleary, he doesn’t need this first thing in the… afternoon. Oh well. He shuffles to the door.

Tomorrow has come my friend and it’s time for your first lesson.

It’s one and he is grinning like a kid on Christmas morning. Or perhaps it’s like a snake just before he bites, Tru wasn’t sure. One moved past him, towards the noisy computer screen.

Let’s have silence in the classroom please. Don’t mind that, it is just a warning sweep for converging offensive bots in the vicinity. No need for you to be alarmed in this case though as we brought them with us, to show you how they work. ‘Show’ being perhaps the wrong word, as since they are nanobots, you can’t actually see them. Still, the computer was doing its job in warning you, perhaps we should have disabled the sweep yesterday. No matter, it didn’t seem to even wake you.

This time it was one doing the talking whilst s1yfa went to the desk. He had been carrying a smart looking briefcase with him which he set down by the computer, negotiating the combination locks and flicking the lid up. He methodically retrieved and set out a variety of electronic implements, spreading them across the desk. Today would be a fun day, of that Tru was sure.

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#9

So here I was, learning to use nanobots, like it was the most ordinary thing in the world, like I was being shown how to ride a bike or use a fishing rod. It was incredible. I was now around people who had experience of the scope, I knew finally it was a serious tool. All this time I hadn’t been entirely sure it wasn’t some practical joke, like I was the tool. I had been wrong, and I was being shown some astounding things.

For example: Nanobots, I thought that was one thing. There was a scope and it unleashed nanobots, but no it was more, so much more than that. For example there were offensive and defensive nanobots! They were programmed to attack other bots based on different energy signatures and frequencies used – so any bots I deployed would not be attacked by another Faceless operative’s deployments. Zones all over the world were being attacked and protected by armies of these nanobots.

***

One and S1yfa had bustled in as if they owned the place, which technically they did or at least a phantom identity created by one of them did. Tru was just a guest here, he had to remember that.

You look like **** Trustar. If you are going to be learning this ****, and it is more complicated than you think trust me on that, then you are going to need to get some rest. Your brain functioning at half capacity will not absorb the amount of complex instructions it will be receiving.

He talked like a machine. It wasn’t just the words he used but the way he said them, spitting each one out, almost mechanically. It reminded him a little of Prometheus and he had always found that unnerving about him too.

I don’t sleep so good.

You need medication? I can help you with that, we’ll talk more about that later. For now go stick your head under a tap and make some coffee. That is my professional advice. Another piece of advice if I may – offer S1yfa a cup or you might end up in trouble with him too.

Tru pushed a hand hard into his face, pressing his eyeballs into his skull to try and force himself awake, and running his hand over his close cropped hair and to the back of his skull he opened his eyes wide in a desperate attempt to convince himself he was alert and ready to learn. He wasn’t fooling anyone but shuffled off into the kitchen nevertheless, still groggy and looking every inch the mess One had accused him of being. He mumbled something unintelligible and started clunking around noisily for cups, spoons, sugar and a kettle, eventually the rush of water out of the tap indicated some progress to his waiting tutors in the front room.

This is the great hacker we’ve been hearing so much about? He’s a slob who struggles to operate a kettle!

He wouldn’t have been sent here if he didn’t have promise. Prometheus thinks very highly of him, and so does Simi. I’ve dug up a bit about him, I know he has worked with Horrapunk and Griffo in the past and they made some good progress in the north east until…. Give him a chance, maybe he is a different guy after coffee, you can relate to that.

Eventually Trustar returned from the kitchen armed with a tray of 3 cups of steaming hot coffee, a cup of milk, a bowl of sugar and a selection of spoons. Crunching noisily on a piece of toast half hanging out of his mouth he set the tray down on the table. The previously calm front room was briefly a hive of activity as sugar was spooned out, coffee was stirred and milk was poured. Once things had calmed down again and the first sips of the morning coffee were savoured One resumed front and centre and begun his sermon.

The whole world is a battlefield right now. QONQR is out there and that is known to three factions, as you know. Nanobots are patrolling the land, the world over and each faction has a different objective - Legion bots are keyed in to destroy any trace of AI they discover, Swarm are of course programmed to protect and Faceless are constantly searching for and attempting to decrypt any signs of QONQR code. For example take this zone we are in right now, we have been stacking here for a long time, it is thoroughly defended – you have two basic defensive nanobot formations – Deflectors and Seekers. Deflectors are your standard work horse on defense, they will keep out all the incoming attack bots they can. Seekers are a little different, they can be sent as aggressors into an area you are attacking to take out any offensive bots present but they also work as defensive bots to guard against certain intruders too. Confused? You will be.

At this point S1yfa took over.

You see as One says Deflectors do not engage enemy nanobots on deployment but instead provide strong resistance against invading enemy nanos attempting to damage your other bots. They are ideal for reinforcing territory already held. Seekers are the primary active defense bot. By deploying seekers into a battle zone, you’ll be leaving a dangerous swarm of defensive bots that will pre-emptively attack incoming enemy attackers, thereby putting the attackers on defense. In addition upon deployment seekers will work as a sniper unit- immediately striking against enemy attack bots already deployed in a contested zone. Seekers will only attack when provoked however and will not attack enemy passive defensive bots. Now that is enough boring chatter.

Let’s show you how to attack before you fall back asleep… I’m sure you have been playing with your scope plenty by now-

Watch out you don’t go blind interrupted One.

Yes, thanks for that. Now Tru, let’s see what you have picked up. I’m going to launch an attack on an area we have been monitoring recently, it has been a fairly balanced war between ourselves and Swarm recently, but hopefully you can help us change that. East Kent is somewhere we have been all over recently, but as you get closer to London there are two main operatives we know of – Butterball and Mad. With your help we are going to be pushing them back and expanding our area of control.

S1yfa and One took their scopes out of the briefcase on the table and started to calibrate them, cross referencing latitude and longitude values with the map they had on a powerbook they were examining.

Right, we’ll start off with somewhere relatively unimportant and close to home. Open up the map from the scope and find this place…. The Zone ID is z2481115, have you found it? We’ve selected a nearby target as currently your scope and nanobots won’t be powerful enough to reach much further yet….

S1yfa pointed out a target 8 miles away, a village I had never heard of. It sounded insignificant and from the map it looked like it was nothing more than a road. It was marked out by a large green shield.

The green shield you are looking at indicates that it is currently under Swarm control, they are the dominant faction there by virtue of having more nanobots patrolling the area, we are about to change all that. Select the Zone Assault attack bots and click ‘LAUNCH’ followed by ‘DEPLOY NOW’. It is as simple as that.

I followed orders. A slight humming sound came from the scope and I saw it indicate a connection was being sought, the screen turned black and the words ‘ESTABLISHING SATELLITE UPLINK’ appeared, followed closely by a rotating line, then another, then another. Suddenly a dark map appeared of the area, I assumed it was the area anyway, contour marks showed the lay of the land and I ‘saw’ a fleet of attack bots flowing out across the land, had they reached the target already? Surely not, it was 8 miles away!

So you said “yet”….? Will it reach further in future? How does that work?

Questions questions little grasshopper. Yes your nanobots and scope will power up in time. Your scope can only produce and power a certain amount of nanobots in a specific timeframe without overheating. As you use the scope more it will grow accustomed to this usage and steadily begin to produce bots and signals more efficiently, it learns as it goes, also its circuitry and power supply get stronger with usage. At the same time as this, the more nanobots you have deployed the more of them are out there harvesting power and resources to help produce more nanobots, they actively work for you in powering and recreating themselves.

Hours flew past, excitement grew. Tru was amazed by the level of expert programming and incredibly precise engineering on show and for One and S1yfa it was refreshing to have someone so exuberant around. They deployed, discussed and deployed some more. Ideas were thrown around, improvements suggested – ways to increase the range by boosting the transmitting power, methods of boosting the production rate or keep the scope cooler for longer period, ways to maximise the efficiency or get around the regeneration period needed entirely. They felt on the forefront of a new dawn for man, this was beyond cutting edge, it was a like slice of technology stolen from the future.

Attacks were made and attacks were received.

Gutterball for Butterball haha! Look at how his bots are getting smashed to pieces!! My bots are tearing them apart..

You may want to rephrase that, take a look at your bot count.

What? Tru looked again at his scope. Huh… what is that about?

Your bots are not tearing his apart, his are tearing themselves apart destroying yours… he has used shockwave troops, they produce a high kill count but they attack kamikaze style, they don’t concern themselves about staying intact in their efforts to kill as many nanobots as possible, that’s their modus operandi - they have a very low survival rate but it doesn’t matter too much as they are useless for defense anyway. They aren’t much use against anything but deflectors but when used in this way they can be devastating. We've already been through this stuff. One sighed. One last time we’ll go over it…..

Slowly shadows began to lengthen and darkness crept out from the corners of the room, expanding deeper into the territory once held by daylight. As Tru went to switch on the main light in place of the lamps they had flicked on without realising they became aware of the hour causing the light to fade, excuses began to be made and S1yfa left.

One stuck around a little while longer to discuss any pharmaceutical needs Tru might have. Turned out he had quite a supply line in a variety of medicines and drugs, legal and otherwise. This was welcome news to Trustar and he put in quite an extensive order, an eyebrow was raised and assurances sought but satisfied with the answers he got One memorised the shopping list and went on his way, leaving Tru alone.

The excitement of the discoveries and the stimulating company left Tru drained, excited for the future but he was certainly aware of his solitude now. He felt more alone than ever.

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#10

One and S1yfa left the house with renewed vim and vigour. Something approaching a sense of optimism had infiltrated their minds, perhaps it was the caffeine mingling with tiredness but things seemed different now. The air seemed to have a different taste to it; the evening light seemed a different shade. The world had flipped on its axis.

They tried not to get their hopes up too much, many hackers had been sent to this region in the past and all had fallen by the wayside. Lost comrades littered the past years with only the two of them standing the test of time so far. What would make Trustar different from these? But he did seem different, despite S1yfa’s mocking and despite the disastrous campaign in his recent past, blotting his copybook. They knew the story, but they also knew him from the forum, he seemed an able hacker - razor sharp and exceptionally talented. Time would tell and after what had happened the last time he worked with others perhaps it was wise to take things slowly.

***

He had sure been wrong to argue with Prometheus about working with others, he saw that now - this was fun, really fun. It was a happy situation at the moment; it had been a long time since he had serious contact with other like-minded individuals. As much as Tru was happy to be working with other people again, they were glad to have him there too. It had been a fearsome fight in this region with Swarm recently – and one that they weren't necessarily winning.

Butterball and Mad were both worthy opponents and with One and S1yfa on the other side the four of them had been fighting out a stalemate for some time. Tru had stepped in at the right time to tip balance, and together they had been pushing Swarm back into the north and western parts of Kent. So much had come under their control now, what had been a real battlefield had been overwhelmed by Faceless once Tru appeared; between the three of them they had taken so many vital parts of Kent. Right now they owned the important ports of Folkestone and Dover as well as the airport at Manston, and they were focused on pushing them towards London, whilst Faceless ops in London pushed south westerly to pen them in. It would just be a matter of time before they could pinpoint their locations and crush them. Yes he was very welcome here.

It had brought success to the region, no doubt a part of Prometheus’ master plan, and the reason he had redistributed Tru to this part of the country. It all made sense now.

He got on well with One and S1yfa and between the three of them they had caused real havoc for the enemy. They had driven Swarm back as far as their scope range had allowed, travelling further and further north to ensure they could keep deploying. Legion were nowhere to be seen this far south. It was a two horse race here in Kent, and they keen to make sure they had the faster horse.

To those ends they were recruiting more heavily now, he had a little mission up his sleeve for the near future where the best of the best would be on offer. Communications were impressively advanced but a well organised network didn't come so naturally to the Faceless, a shadowy group of hackers who would be equal parts flattered and insulted to be called an organisation. They were up against the more corporate Swarm, being part of a business empire ruled over by munitions expert Dr Kimyo Nagumo they were far more used to working in a disciplined sense, with high finance to back them up.

The Faceless were a bunch of rag tag loners, misfits and outcasts by comparison. Luckily they shared an aptitude for technological matters, often touched with genius and they were recruiting more all the time.

They operated without a strict code of ethics – some such as Tru were motivated by a desire to change the world for the better, but some when unscrupulous chancers just out to cause trouble. . Due to this and combined with the necessity for increasingly rapid expansion they were taking in rogues, scoundrels and renegades as well as honourable hackers – if you will accept such a concept is possible. The work deemed necessary by the Faceless meant that they weren't a hugely financially rewarding group to join, which in turn meant that there weren't many particularly money motivated members. They were largely driven by one of two factors – a desire to better society by causing people to rethink their motivations and way of life or a way to destroy the modern way of living through anarchy and freedom of information and sabotage of existing means of life.

There were those in the faction who believed that if they could crack the source code of QONQR it could unlock the door to unlimited riches and power.. but Tru didn’t hold with this nor was he interested in either of those things. What good was more money than one needed? The rich kept hoarding and that was what had the earth in such a mess now, he was determined to stay part of the solution rather than become one of the problems. The world had enough problems already.

***

The world was swollen with computer experts, technicians, engineers and programmers. Daily life was been infested with the need to operate computers of a more and more complex nature. You literally could not get anywhere in the western world without the ability to at least navigate the rudimentary basics. When working in big business you had to go substantially higher than this level of understanding. Despite all the financial rewards there was no guarantee that these people enjoyed working that way. And the real experts often worked for substantially less than their ‘masters’ even though without their technical know - how the companies couldn't run, at all let alone efficiently.

Boredom and inequality were two very important motivators - Faceless offered a way out, a way to be free, to work unrestrained and allow raw talent to shine through. Many dedicated and hardworking souls were attracted to the idea of breaking out of that claustrophobia inducing prison like method of working in the private sector. It was a chance to work their own way, if they believed in the ideals. Desperate to escape the life that seemed to have been destined for them – that lifestyle was not for everyone. It was hard on friendships, family time and served no purpose in terms of enriching either their lives or the world other than earning money, and not everyone was obsessed by currency. Plenty who worked to that schedule didn't approve with it as a lifestyle choice, they didn't remember it ever being choice, and they didn't all think it was right either - they could see the disparity it caused and the dystopian future it embiggened.

If they could serve the purpose and they had the desire they could and would be recruited.

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