Downfall Story: Fractures

Downfall is here, and the world has changed.

The stories below aim to illuminate the breaking point between the world that NISEI's card and characters inhabit and the previous canon. By necessity NISEI's stories will branch off in new directions, but they are rooted by this change, this Fracture.

If you're interested in the stories about each of the Runners and Corps in Downfall, tune back in on this schedule.

  • 27/03 - Red Like Roses (Az's Story)
  • 04/04 - Reconnecting (Lat's Story)
  • 10/04 - Sisters (Hyoubu Story)
  • 17/04 - Ad Infinitum (MirrorMorph Story)

 

T + 40 hours by Holly "BreakOneBarrier" Chandler; T - Zero and T + 15 days by Iain "Dis" Fairclough; T + 25901 seconds by Calvin "ithayla" Wong

T - Zero

It happened without warning, out of a clear evening sky. The neons of New Angeles were flickering to life, as an equatorial twilight sped across the city. Events progressed broken and disordered. A strobing light directly overhead, like a drive flame where no ship should be. A rain of carbon shards shattering windows and downing hoppers in Manta, molten and twisted into tortured forms. Cayambe rung with a bone shaking vibration, as if someone had capriciously plucked a planet sized guitar.

The world hangs by a narrow thread, made of dreams and faith and reinforced buckyweave. No one realises how narrow that connecting string is…until someone tries to cut it.

Fully Operational Image

T + 25091 seconds

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE.
NEW ANGELES - Despite the temporary disruption to Beanstalk infrastructure, The Weyland Consortium assures the citizens of New Angeles that the core buckyweave is not severed_<

“‘Severed?’” Aishah tapped her lip. “‘Still intact.’” Her secretary replaced the offending phrase, its software smoothly picking up context. “Repair efforts are underway, the ongoing restorations… WHAT?” she turned to shout at the door chime.

“It’s Rob!” his voice shoved through the door, not bothering to route through her secretary. “Is it done?”

Aishah could not stop the eyeroll - better, she supposed, to get it out now. “I just got off the line with Blue Sun!”

She hadn’t even gotten four words in before Rob was shouting again “Aishah, it’s my career on the line here!”

And not mine? She stormed over to the door - each second burning into her deadline - and tore it open. Dr Rob Giusti fell in. His eyes were shot through with red, and he moved like he’d been rolled into a ball and then unfolded. His knee almost hit the ground and his instinctive reach-grab nearly pulled Aishah with him.

“Rob! Calm down!”

“I can’t calm down!” Rob said, although he did have the presence of mind not to shout. He ran his hair back with a hand and for a moment the movement made him look almost natural again - but it passed, and the creature currently inhabiting Rob’s body returned. “I had to block Elizabeth to stop her from calling me. I’m getting a hundred notifications a second from the press alone. Aishah you need to help me!”

With her assistance, Rob fell into a vaguely sit-like position on her chair - now she had to stand in her own office. Amazing. A flurry of thoughts fought for her attention, but one barged its way to the front through sheer desecration.

“You blocked Liz?”

“I had to!”

“Are you trying to get fired? She’s VP of Project Security!”

“I just needed to think!” Rob’s hands were doing a dance from his temples to his knees and back, causing the chair to tilt back and forth. He paused, more out of a need for breath than anything else. “I admit it hasn’t worked.”

“Rob,” Aishah knelt next to him “I know you’re the science coordinator, but I am VP of PR. You need to calm down, you need to let me handle this, and you need to call Liz.”

“Why did Blue Sun call you?” Rob said, clearly not having heard a thing Aishah said. She inhaled. Om mani padme hum… Exhale.

“Mestika is concerned about long term instabilities in the He-3 storage vaults,” she said, hoping an answer would get him to leave faster. “Now, if you’ll excuse me - ”

“But why?”

“Why what, Rob?”

“Deuterium tanks can go boom, yes, but Blue Sun stores He-3 pure. Is its own whole facility. Outgassing would take quick patching at most?”

“I don’t have time for this,” Aishah pinched her nose.

“Which means,” Rob ploughed on “Blue Sun wants you to think there’s a crisis. They’re inventing problems. Why?”

“I don’t know!” Aishah said, so loudly Rob physically recoiled, the borrowed chair rolling a few inches. “But if this release isn’t in Liz’s terminal by six p.m., our heads are going to roll!”

This finally seemed to shake him. Aishah felt a pang of guilt stabbing through the roil of anger - Rob was probably going to lose his job over this, and it wasn’t his fault. She’d seen the damage report Engineering rushed out. Trillion-to-one odds… and Liz would say it should have been quadrillion-to-one.

“Just…” Aishah raised a hand. “Go have some tea. I keep some over there.” She waved him off then gestured to pull the press release back up.

The ongoing restorations…

She went into autopilot, detailing the extent and scope of the repair and security efforts. Above their heads ART teams were thrust-burning by the dozens, swarming the buckyweave like ants. Liz had scrambled every single Prisec space asset in the hemisphere, with orders to vaporize any non-Weyland authorized object larger than an egg - conveniently for Aishah, this included camdrones…

Now came the part where she would include some kind of reassurance that disruption to commerce, communications, and New Angeles itself would be minimal, but here even her decade-trained PR brain hitched. There was no way to paper over this - the Beanstalk was catastrophically damaged. Millions of credits were burning every minute. Even if the roughnecks completed their repairs tomorrow - an impossible ask - the New Angeles economy would take months to recover.

Roughneck Repair Squad

It was 5:59.

“The Weyland Consortium is sparing no expense in our efforts to minimize disruptions,” she said, finally - Lily Lockwell would have a field day reading between the lines there - “and we are doing everything in our power to provide auxiliary transport services between New Angeles and Heinlein. We ask the public for their utmost patience during this period.” Send. Done. Breathe.

“It makes no sense,” Rob whispered, almost at the edge of hearing.

“Do you want to write it?” Aishah snapped before realizing he meant something else. Her mind clicked too, nearly at the same time as his did.

He opened his mouth to speak but she held up a warning finger and reached for her secretary’s control panel. She cranked up the music - well, Buddhist chants - and lowered her voice. ‘Rob, what is it?’

Addled as he was, he at least caught on and leaned in. “There’s no reason Blue Sun would have problems unless they wanted to have problems.”

“Maybe they’re falling behind and want to cover it up?”

“There’s enough He3 on the moon for centuries,” Rob waved a hand. “Must be some kind of processing issue…”

He didn’t have to continue. Mars went to war over the He3 refineries, not an elevator. The odds of the two most important Weyland structures in the solar system suffering failures on the same day…

A chill ran through Aishah, beginning in her backbone and grounding itself as thousands of goose pimples on her skin. “You don’t think-” she began, afraid to say the words. Now it was Rob’s turn to put a finger to his lips. He looked over his shoulder, despite the door to her office still being shut.

“Aishah,” he said, almost inaudible over the chanting and chimes. “How high, exactly, does your clearance go?”

Reduced Service

T + 15 Days

Jose sweated in the darkness, waiting for sleep to come. It was only eight, two hours after sunset had slammed the day shut, but he was spent. He resisted the urge to crack the window; the air outside would be worse, hitting forty five celsius even ten stories up.

With the service reductions, energy prices had doubled in the last week, would double again next week. Until the Loonies could bring down helium again, half the reactors in New Angeles were spun down. Air Conditioning, Light, Water; pick one and make do. Jose had bowed to his thirst; marking up his apartment with luminescent paint from the pawnshop, and trying to stay cool in the shade. Most days a tiny solar panel he’d scavenged from work could trickle charge his PAD and a lamp, but the clouds had been thicker than curd today.

“Those shitheads had to fuck everything up in the wet season didn’t they?” Jose mused to himself. At least work was a busy sixteen hours out of the apartment each day. Without cheap power to burn through the vent gunk suddenly every mid- and low-end ark needed to clean their circulation systems today, and the techs and androids of the maintenance companies were running around the clock. Not that it looked like the company would be bothering to honor the overtime; the threat of quitting rung hollow with the NA economy in this state.

Corporate Social Responsibility Campaign

A soft blue light began flashing on and off by the door. Jose rolled off the bed and crossed the apartment’s single room to answer. Touching the circle of light unfolded it to a small hologram of the floor’s lobby. Jose was moderately interested to see who’d braved the stairs to come up and see him, and was cheered to see the slight figure of his cousin Miguel clutching a few bags. Jose tabbed the floor gate open.

He looked around in the darkness, and considered his bank balance. No need to check on the PAD, the tick up and down in that lifeline was burnt on his memory. He could probably spare an hours worth of light; family was family after all.

“Room lights to 30%, set a reminder for one hour from now” he spoke into the worn speaker of the control panel. A quick sweep of the room from the kitchen unit to the bed set things in order, not that there was much that marred the synthetic bamboo floors or grey plascrete walls and shelves. He’d had more stuff, before Anna left, and before he had to start selling the remainders to the pawnshop in week two of the power crisis.

A knock on the door, and he embraced his cousin in a warm and slightly sticky hug “Primo!”.

Like anyone in New Angeles who didn’t saunter from air conditioned room to air conditioned room, Miguel was wearing clothes for the tropical heat; tank, shorts, and open shoes. He’d been sweating, too; the suitcase he was carrying didn’t look light. But it was the battered vacuum drum he was holding in his other hand that Jose focused on.

“Is that what I think it is?”

“Damn straight Jose. five kilo of Nana’s best locro, fresh down from Ambato’.”

“?La plena? You sure know how to treat a guy, Miguel.”

“Yeah, let me heat it up and we’ll have ourselves a bowl.”

Jose must have given something away in his look, as Miguel quickly corrected.

“Or we can have it nice and cool. It'd be good on an evening like this.”

Thankful that he didn’t have to shame himself and admit he’d scavenged parts from his kitchen unit, Jose fetched them some spoons and bowls. The latter were wide and patterned in blue, plastic only a tiny layer on real ceramic; Nana’s ceviche deserved the best bowls. Miguel ladled out the thick ruddy stew and the smell filled up the room.   

“?Qué tal, primo?” Jose questioned after a few minutes of enjoyable cloned lamb and real annatto. “This doesn’t have the feel of a social visit alone-like” he continued, gesturing at the suitcase.

For a moment Miguel looked like he had the weight of an Ark on his shoulders, “Tía Luz passed away last week”.

“No! Why didn’t anyone tell me?” Jose had never been close to his mother’s cousin, mainly remembering her as a distant presence dropping off cousins at Nana on her way to work. Some adults were always busy. It wasn’t till he’d grown up himself that he’d realised what it took to keep the lights on in that run down house of Nana’s, what sacrifices had to be made. There were still enough memories of her for the loss to hurt.

“It ain’t like that pana, she didn’t want to cause a fuss. You know her, what she was like; helper not helped. Can’t ask family cross the city with the way things are, we buried her with just the neighborhood”

“Chuuuuuu...shit. You got a holo? I’ll light a memory for her…How did it happen?”

“Yeah, she recorded something for the family, got you all a projector each as well. Always practical…how it happened? Her liver was bad for a long time man, she been heading up to the free clinic at Harmony South for a ‘fuse every month the last few years.” Miguel's eyes started watering at the memory. “Last visit, a damn clone tech told her they’d no power to run the bioreactor with things like it is. No stem to ‘fuse for the free wing. That was that. Two weeks from a strong woman to a corpse.”

“!Qué huevada!”

“Yeah”

They sat in silence for a few minutes, the dim light casting deep shadows. Miguel reached out to pat Jose on the shoulder.

Public Health Portal

“If you got a chance, I think Nana and everyone would do good to hear from you.” He sighed and continued. “León and his kids moved down from Quito and are going to take the apartment. Sad mood for me to stay there anyway. Got a job with one of the decontam crews sweeping the fragments in Manta, could I crash here a few months? Can drop a hundred creds in the pot a week.”

Jose could see his cousin needed someone to emotionally support him in these hard times. The prospect of being able to run the AC again didn’t even enter into it of course. “Of course man, stay as long as you need. The mart should still be open, we can go get you a roll mat and get you settled in.”

He tabbed on his PAD; first turning the lights all the way up to 50%, then getting Miguel’s fingerprint onto the door’s keylist. They had some more of the locro, chatting about how the rest of the family was holding up, and the best places to grab a soybeef burrito in the local area. Jose hadn’t realised how much he’d missed this sort of thing; isolated and lost in the daily grind and fear of a city still reeling from the shock.

As every conversation did nowadays, their talk fell into a decaying orbit around the event before collapsing into the latest rumours and speculations. Jose had a few thoughts on the matter himself.

“Was atop Smythe-13 last week, cleaning the external filters. Well past midnight thanks to that pendejo of a scheduling manager” Jose spoke, “You get a sweet view of the Root from there. All lit up like a holiday decoration. The Stalk was running just like old times no matter what the news reports say. Must have seen thirty or forty risers go up before the shift ended.”

“You think the whole thing was a fake?”

“Chendo, but you don’t fake that shit falling across the city. Fire and flame makes them look bad. But I think SEA has fixed it already. Them execs sitting back in their fancy chairs, they take a look around, they see everyone's suffering. They think ‘hey man, we’ve deep pockets, lets us hold out another few months till the little boys keel over and buy em up on the cheap’ and then they laugh.” Jose gave a hard dark laugh himself, tracing a shape in a mockery of a blessing. Big slant down, little slant up, little slant down, big slant up.

Miguel grimaced, “Not you too? I get enough of this from León and his lamparota runner friends. These revolutionary fuckheads killed Luz to make a damn point. Nothing changed but to make things worse, disenfrancistos died in the dark before, they die in the dark today.”

Jose didn’t meet his eyes, not wanting to insult a memory. He stared out the window instead.

“They can post whatever shit they want in the Shadow Net, but it’s nothing constructive. Tearing stuff down, not building something up. The short one says he’s saw the whole thing planned out in secret forum months ago, that sort of puff bullshit. None of them really know anything. Disrespectful. No respect at all for people who have to suffer the consequences.”   

Jose was still staring at the skyline. A flock of brightly lit hoppers were idling around a ristie spire, taking wasteful loops and flashing vibrant colours. Someone still had money to burn over the darkened city.

He clenched his teeth.

T + 40 Hours 

“C’mon princess, ain’t that fancy Jinteki brain worth something?”

The clone sat silently in her chair, the dozens of nodes that made up an NAPD-grade brain net pasted under her sleek hair all around her dampened scalp. Monitors surrounding her glowed with a golden shimmer that mirrored the light burning in her eyes.

Her fingers dug into the cushioned armrest with a grating anxiety that she'd not felt in years. There hadn't been a catastrophe this big since her vat-date, at least. Probably ever. Some of the stress was her own fear of failure, the rest was spillover from the onlookers. A mix of engineers and investigators surrounded her with desperate eyes, each locked onto the holo displays that floated above and in front of her. Only the flat carrier signals of the space between grids answered their hungry pleas.

Blink.

Caprice was floating in a void. The Shadow Net. A midnight-black string unspooling into infinity splayed in every direction around her. A wave of human unease crept up her spine before breaking on the rocks of her programming.

Blink.

The rig’s displays only picked up audio, but in cyberspace, shadows swirled into existence around Caprice’s avatar. A figure - no, multiple. Five, six… eight figures. They encircled her in the darkness, each a different humanoid shape. Some tall, some small. Most were human, some animalistic. One even draconic.

The back of her thoughts could hear cheering. In meatspace, each shadowed impression of this council would project onto the screens around her. Millions of SYNC’s most advanced pattern recognition subroutines would already be firing to unmask these cryptic avatars, so the more time she could buy, the better.

“You…” She faltered. Chairman Hiro’s prized clones did not falter.

Blink.

“You are the group that attacked the Beanstalk.”

“Correct,” an inhuman shadow replied from behind her, its voice in the channel a rasp, the distant thoughts cold.

“Why?”

“Caprice, my dear,” a different voice answered, smooth and coy. “You haven’t lived a real life, so you cannot truly grasp the humanity of the mission we've undertaken.”

“What is this mission?”

A flat and leaden voice replied this time. This avatar wasn't entirely human, everything slightly off. They’d all obviously been coached on how to deal with psychics; speak first and don’t be betrayed by idle silences, alternate between themselves and avoid a deep trace forming. “The corps have stepped too far.” It didn’t focus on Caprice, knowing that the true audience lay back in meatspace. “More than just our time or our bodies, they want to own our souls. We will pull down their temples of avarice and live free. Or not at all.”

A fourth voice, chuckling. “Corporations are not people. We are here to remind them that we are.”

Caprice tensed. “They act because they have the power and will to shape the future. Profiting from the advances they make is not a crime. Your actions could harm everyone, not just those you judge responsible for the social order.”

“Caprice… you could join our project too, you know. That barcode on your neck is not your destiny. We have answers you will not glean from Jinteki no matter how hard you dig.” She froze. “There are other clones in our ranks. Earthers and Loonies and Martians too. People from all over the worlds are rising up.”

The clone only hoped the readouts back in meatspace couldn’t sense her curiosity. To tease her specifically with the prospect of liberty...to have such a lure prepared implied access to a great many secrets. Her internal thoughts rose like static to crowd the thread tying her to this nowhere place, perhaps exactly as the cabal intended.

A final voice spoke; high, clear and hopeful “We rise against tyranny, we will make our own world, and we will not be silenced.” Then they were gone.

Caprice hadn’t realised how close to the edge she was but the sudden absence of opposing pressure snapped her straight out of the link. She slumped in the rig, energy dissipating into the grounding cables. A tech went to adjust the flip switch, only to get an electric shock for their trouble. Caprice gasped deeply to recover her breath; buying time till the debriefing would start. Time to think about the thoughts behind those final words. There had been no emotion, only a clear image of a small building next to a distinctively shaped Ark. Had they purposefully left her with...an address?

Storgotic Resonator