Trust was six floors of stairs, running uphill until my legs ached and my heart pounded. Trust with smashing through a rusty chained door instead of taking an emergency ladder, Jay pressed up against my side to keep me supported.
“You Wardens really don’t need to do a lot of running,” Jay muttered. “I suppose that’s what happens when you actually have everything locked up.”
“Something…” I panted, dragging air through my traitorous lungs. It burned, but it didn’t burn as much as I was angry.
Less than a day after being freed from purgatory, from endless sleep, and there’d been an attempted murder.
“Like that,” I wheezed.
Jay gestured towards the other side of the roof, where an ancient rusted antenna sat. “You can use these things to extend your signal, right?”
I stared at it. At one point, it’d been a perfectly functional radio antenna.
Now it just looked like an insult to god; towering high above everything else in this sector of town.
In theory, I might be able to use it. But why did he ask me to trust him?
Omoi chirped a greeting at it, but the antenna remained silent.
I took a few more breaths, hissing it through my teeth, and staggered over to it. Felt along the base. Wide, several yards. Competent construction. University work. Wasn’t meant for Omoi integration, but…
I gestured at him to slide on over. “You know anything about wiring?” I asked.
“A little,” Jay admitted. “What do you have in mind?”
I tapped the side of my head, where the Omoi node sat. “Hand me your Com, I’m going to do a little jury rigging.”
Jay dropped it into my hand, and I opened an Omoi request.
Options swam over my head, flooding my visions with functionality, and I flicked through a variety of menus before I accessed radio proper.
Omoi could detect systems she could integrate with over a set distance. All I had to do was get her to use the tower to improve that distance.
But the tower didn’t have an integration mechanism with Omoi.
So I’d have to do it the hard way.
Holographic images appeared in front of me as Omoi analyzed the situation, guiding my hands. I tore off a panel on the side of the tower. Took Jay’s com and popped off the back. Wires next to wires.
Jay watched, staring behind me. “Omoi is a kind goddess,” He whispered.
Omoi chirped out a thanks, and then entered into the radio tower.
And then I realized why Jay had asked if I’d trusted him, because my vision pounded with signals.
Degradation turned them harsh, powerful, angry. Perpetually one, but buried by time.
All at once I was the radio tower, I was Omoi, and the difference between us was minimal. Prime-Nest sang out a siren’s song of updates and messages. The city sang out advertisements; a death knell of an era long gone, kept updated through automated systems buried in the ground; watch batteries, hyper compact nuclear batteries powered by decaying nuclear waste fixated in the core of diamonds.
The city sang to me. It sang of disaster. Words bubbled out of my mouth, drool down my chin, hot little notes and descriptions. People crying out for help on the network. People leaving last messages. Thousands of nodules recorded on the overmaps; signal banks still frantically whispering underground, hoping someone could hear them.
The sound of disaster, of death, of something great shattering into the night.
Old electronic ghosts pleading for someone to save them.
The dull roar of the night.
The failure of USEC. Happening so quickly.
So many prayers.
Blood dripped out of my nose.
“Warning; Imageric hazards detected. Overload in progress. Censoring data now.”
And then Omoi blipped away half of the information, and I slowly receded back into being just myself, connected to the network.
It wasn’t hard to identify the crows and their systems; they used USEC imagery in their designs, in their few scattered programs shrieking out data into a cold and uncaring void. The tower saw it all, and Omoi devoured the signals.
But most of the Crows were kept sound and safe in their nest. Only a few were fleeing the city.
Only one clung to the skin of something that was most definitely not a crow.
I marked it on Omoi. Tracked it.
Then the connection shut off, and I stared blankly at the side of the building. The verdant city no longer swam with the voices of thousands of ghosts.
Instead it sat quiet, almost forgotten, with just Crowsong setting off the alarm.
Jay ceased screaming into the distance, and wiped his beak. “You still there, Warden?”
“Fuck. We were so beautiful,” I whispered, a hand idly wiping at the blood dripping down my nose. “We were so beautiful.”
Water was pressed against my lips, from a canteen he’d had hidden in his feathers, and I drank, my arms wrapping around him to tug the warm body closer. Wouldn’t dispel the afterimages of dead humans.
We’d failed, but I was here again.
“Did you find them?” He asked.
Dazed, I slowly gestured at the node on my head. Omoi chirped out the last known coordinates, and kindly suggested that I get a move on tracking them or else the track would fade within hours.
“We gotta get moving,” I said, staggering up to my feet. “Or else we’ll lose them.”
“Careful,” Jay said, supporting me. “I hear that the first merge is the hardest.”
“Merge?” I muttered. “Never had immersion sickness like that before. And how would you know about that?”
“Well, some Crows,” He said, gently helping me back towards the stairs. “They’ve figured out some nodes to use for themselves.”
My mind flicked back to the secretary downstairs. Not lost. Harvested. Pried from her skin. How did they manage…
“They don’t work correctly,” I realized. “You’d probably get minimal functionality from a non human brain.”
“For some reason, you failed to adjust their parameters enough to map themselves to a more corvid braincase.” Jay said, propping me up even further. First step down the stairs I nearly fell, my mind swimming with raw data. “But I’ve heard that there are Crows that have rigged them to let them dig through old server banks. The first time is always the worst.”
What sort of technology had they recovered? What research remained left?