Chapter I: Channels
"It is a very sad thing that nowadays
there is so little useless information"

I was browsing a merchant’s site when I came across the forum.  I am 18 years old, so not as much is restricted to me anymore, but it would be three years before the replica weapons on the merchant’s site would be available for me to download to my terminal.  But the strange thing is, when I trudged through the buying process, expecting to be denied and think nothing of it, the process completed, the funds were deducted, and the weapon came through.


I have had a bit of a passion for swords for some time.  I bought a longsword from the store.  I bought a longsword from the store!  It was minutes – mere minutes – before temptation got the better of me and I ran the download through the replicator application and it was there, manifest in my room.  It was glorious; authentically designed but in high quality steel and specially hollowed to reduce weight, it could be swung for reenactment.  And it was sharp.  That was another unexpected twist.  Replicas were never sharp.


I sent a question through the site’s feedback forum to the owner about the sword the next day.  Was it a mistake that the blade had been produced sharp?  I went to my part time job, came home to check the forum to see if I had gotten a response, and sat staring at the empty spot where my post had been before.  I knew I had posted that question.  I had even left the screen on the same page all day.  It was another day before I decided to try again (needless to say I was in the yard practising the rest of the time.  Finally having a sword of my own was too much fun.)  This time I sent a message in private to the forum’s leader asking about the deleted post.  Another day passed; I returned home from work and found a reply from the site owner in my inbox.


Dear  ****** **********


Why did you not question the legality of having the blade in the first place?


Sincerely, “Osmosis”


It broke my heart at first.  I figured he would rumble me, give my information to S.E.E.R.S. and I could do without that kind of investigation.  My parents, for one thing, would kill me.  I replied immediately, begging that he not tell anyone that I had something illegal, that I would use it responsibly, that it would never leave my property.  It was a day later that another mail arrived in the corner of my screen.


Dear  ***** **********


If I were in a position to tell anyone about illegal weapon ownership, why would I supply you with a sharpened version? You know it is ‘illegal’ to own it, and for me to sell it, but you do not think it is ‘wrong’.


Tell me I am wrong?


Sincerely, “Osmosis”


This one blew my mind.  Surely the mail channels and the site he ran was monitored, just like everything else was.  The cameras on each street corner saw to that.  How was he getting away with this?  I decided then, for my own safety, to stop talking to him.  If he was getting away with this, then I was too, and the more we talked the less likely that would stay the case.  I deleted my account on his site and blocked his mail, and prayed that I had seen the end of it.


The next day I was proven wrong.


When I got home from my weekend shift, the mail icon blinked at me from the screen of my terminal.  When I saw the sender “Osmosis” I almost choked on the lemonade I had been drinking.  It was the same person again, the same address, he had surpassed my mail block, he was obviously a hacker of some kind.


Dear  ***** *********


Silence speaks louder than words.




Sincerely, “Osmosis”


The International Pattern Database address at the end only made me more curious.  He thought I wanted to break the law?  No way!  But then, the sword was mine now, even if I had to hide it, and I was glad of it.  He was right in a way.  What was so wrong about me owning a blade to practise with in my own free time?  In “American History” they told us about the original national constitution before the Revision of 2042, how everyone was able to keep weapons in order to rebel against the government if it attempted to repress everyone.  Even if it was treason to consider it, I agreed with the sentiment.


And I copied the IPD address into my terminal.


Immediately I was hailed with a thousand virus warnings from the terminal.  It complained and it fought off attacks from god only knows how many angles, but it lost, the screen blacked out, and the hard drives seemed to die.  I could have cried.


And then the forum appeared.


The first thing notable was the symbol marking the top of the forum, nestled in between two scrolls which resembled the old notes of cash before they were done away with long ago.  The symbol was set inside a circle and resembled a stack of blocks – yellow against the black background of the site – getting smaller as they approached the top of the pyramid.  But it was not a pyramid; it reached a plateau and stopped resembling the old symbol on the old cash notes.  There was no eye, there were what looked like tiny figures standing on top of it.  The scrolling either side read "Welcome to the Land Behind the Curtain".


There was only one subforum, and within it only two topics.  The first stated that it was a guide to joining the forum and how you could only visit it once per day and that your computer would not be able to do anything else while you were visiting.  Defnitely the work of a hacker.  But the more I read the more interested I became, and so I followed the instructions and applied, picking an alias for myself that would be my alias for all interactions with Osmosis and other members of the forum.


The moniker I chose was ‘Grave’.  I chose is for its connection with my real name, however tenuous, and the fact that the stack of blocks on the forum’s symbol reminded me of a tombstone.


The second topic was unlocked to me only after I registered myself, and its purpose was simple.


To all who read this notice:

Your terminal is about to automatically replicate instructions and a Vac-track ticket from your current location’s nearest station to the location stated at the beginning of the instructions.  Do not lose either the instructions or the ticket.  You will not receive a second copy.


Sincerely, “Osmosis”


Postscript: all of you have purchased weapons from my site.  Bring them.


True enough, the ticket appeared and so did a sheet of paper.  Paper!  Couldn’t he have at least made it plexiglass and a data display clip?  Paper was deemed obsolete a long time ago.  Still, it was rustic, and it fit with the weapon I bought from him; old, outdated, but still effective.


Three days later, as instructed by the sheet, I boarded a Vac-track train and travelled half way up the country to the meeting location.  The world was so small now that the Vac-tracks spanned out across the Pacific and Atlantic.  It was a five hour round trip to London from New Manhattan.  The short train ride to the midwest was nothing.  The meeting location turned out to be more of a walk than it sounded on paper.  By the time I reached it I knew exactly where my calf muscles were.  The location was nondescript.  A grey walled warehouse in a district of much the same.  Most warehouses these days had been converted into homes, offices or laboratories, so meeting at a warehouse was not unexpected.


I had brought the sword as instructed; it was hidden in a black sports bag that matched my attire if only in colour.  I guess you could have called me gothic if it weren’t for the sporty look of the bag.  I had black cargoes with rivet-effects down the seams and chains hanging from several places.  My shirt was silk, with wide cuffs and a small but upturned collar, also black in colour.  The only place I was not black beside my pale skin was my hair, which remained brown.


I noticed immediately from the small collective of figures outside the location that I was not the only one arriving at this warehouse, and immediately I remembered the beginning of the message.

To all who read this notice:


I was not the only one who would be meeting Osmosis today.  Naturally, whatever he was gathering ‘law breakers’ for, he wanted lots of us, and he wanted us with our weapons.  My mind jumped from fear to anger and back again.  What was it?  He wanted us to fight each other?  Fight in a war maybe?  The Union of North America had not had anything resembling a war or conflict in a century.  Why would we?  We could not go without because the replicators supply us infinitely.  We can use zero impact energy sources.  We are a land without hunger.


The others who were gathering around the outside of the warehouse all looked pensive, even cautious.  I imagined I must have looked the same way to all of them.  The whole situation was worth our suspicion.  There were four others besides myself.  First was a bookish looking girl with oddly dyed hair – it was blue like the sky – with what looked like a messenger bag and not much else.  Next was a tall, awkward looking young blonde man who, despite his eyes showing he was being cautious, was grinning.  He had a long, black bag by his side also, but it wasn’t a sports bag like my own.  After him was an asian girl with nothing but the clothes on her back, it seemed, and immediately to her left was another boy, with – of all the things he could have used – a tall cello case resting on a low wall next to him.


“So, we all here to see this ‘Osmosis’?” the blonde boy spoke first, brushing his hands through his spiky mane, “The door is open.”  I hadn’t noticed, so busy looking at the mix and match cabal of people who had gathered.  The small door leading to what might once have been the clocking in station was open wide, giving us a view of coat hooks and another door within.  Who knew what was going to happen until we met this hacker mastermind?  He obviously, I thought, had many years of experience and a lot of money to be able to gather five of us so effectively.  The nerdy girl with the messenger bag was the first to move, followed by the asian girl.  I moved after them, and the tall, eccentric blonde youth was left to last after the cello guy – astounded, it would seem, that nobody had bothered to respond to him.


Inside the warehouse was a different thing to any other warehouse I had heard of.  It still had its ‘factory’ layout, no inner padding to make the walls more attractive.  It still had the steel staircase leading up to a walkway that paved the way to what looked like a small office suspended over the corner.  Harsh lights shone over the contents of the warehouse floor; every wall was lined with terminals.  Not all of them had screens, and many must have been IPD servers.  There were liquid cooler tubes running left and right and only one major operating terminal section with a chair settled in front of it.


On the other hand the place had a homey section, with comfortable looking sofas arranged in a circle in the centre and there were many Pattern replicators in the vicinity of them, presumably for food and drink while relaxing there.  But those were not the only replicators.  There were several large model replicators nestled amongst the terminals, and near one of the larger warehouse doors there was a floor to ceiling industrial sized replicator.  This place was equipped for everything.


The blue haired girl was once again the first to move, grinning as she darted to the terminal chair, seating herself before the screen.  It was one of the more advanced air projection screens, leaving its image in the air rather than on glass.  Currently it displayed a slideshow of countryside images.  The girl tapped at it, and it asked for a password.  For a moment as she began to tap at it, I had the terrible thought that maybe she was Osmosis.  But that couldn’t be so.  She was younger than the rest of us, and obviously so.  The fact that after a few minutes she was scowling at the still refusing screensaver confirmed that she was not the person we had come to see.


But the person who was amazed me more.