Chapter 9

Ætherglow #181


“Let’s get some answers and put a stop to this,” you say.

[Synth liked that]

“Let’s go.” Synth heads up the stairs toward the infinitely distant light.

“Up there?” you say.

“That leads beyond all the trappings of the operating system, down to its most basic utilities. We’ll find an emergency shell we can access its raw data from.”

“But I tried going up there before, and it’s impossible.”

“Because you don’t have the privileges to access it like I do,” Synth says. “When this place was being raided, they panicked and activated all of us test subjects who were old enough to fight to defend it. In that desperate moment they gave me root access, and never revoked it.”

You realize you’ve already reached the top of the tower. Down below, it stretches infinitely deep into darkness. Ahead lies only a single door.

“It was always unfinished business of mine,” Synth says, approaching the final door. They open it. You follow them inside.

It’s a small chamber with a large terminal monitor on the far wall, with thousands of wires stretching out from it in a tangled, knotted mess, covering the walls, ceiling, and floors. The only light is the pale blue glow of the display. Synth walks up to the device.

“I might be the last surviving person with root access to this machine. I knew I would one day return here and destroy it, completely, leaving no trace. When I was older. When I was strong enough.”

Synth starts working on the device. Raw data--incomprehensible to you outside the shell--scrolls across the display.

“I can do this now. I just need you to watch my back, okay?” they say. “The computer can’t stop me at this point, but you could. It will try to convince you. Resist it.”

“Got it.” You stand guard, raising your shield and extending your senses all around you. It isn’t long before the system responds.

“A unique thing, this database.” You hear a voice younger than Synth’s. Behind you the avatar of Synthesis-04 stands, a child with pale blue eyes.

“You’re just a copy,” you say.

“Why, because I’m not implanted in their head?” 04 says. “What gives their Zero Four the right to be a real person, and not me?” The room suddenly lights up. “And not us?” Behind Synthesis-04, and surrounding the walls of the room, a hundred more children their age and younger appear--translucent, spectral avatars with faint blue auras. They take many forms, but a repeated pattern of numbers is engraved in the metal bands around each of their heads.

“I have no head to live in,” a girl to your left says.

“My body is dead,” says a boy to your right.

“Didn’t you wonder why this machine would be left running all this time?” 04 says.

“...It’s a grave,” you say.

“This system is the only body we have,” Synthesis-04 says. “Destroy it and you erase us forever.”

You maintain your mental guard. “I know you’re trying to trick me. I won’t listen.”

“So many children vanished from your city,” one of the ghosts around you says.

“Did you know?” To your left.

“Did you hear from the shelter of your private dome?” To your right.

“Of course I knew!” you say.

“Of course you knew,” 04 says. “You knew this very personally, Aydan.” 04 appears behind you. “Ælita and Yelena would never let you forget it. Since that day, they kept you so sheltered in that mansion, you didn’t even hear about this place. About the raid, the bodies.” In front of you again, they reach up to poke the middle of your forehead. “But it was always in the back of your mind. They wouldn’t talk about it. What didn’t they want you to know?”

“Get out of my head!” Your shield has been untouched, but nothing stopped this child avatar from seeing straight through your thoughts.


“Don’t you want to know, Aydan? How we get into your head?” 04 says.

1) “No! I won’t listen, I won’t fall for it! Get out of my head!”: 5 (71.42%)
2) “Yes! Tell me! Tell me now!”: 2 (28.57%)
Expired 11 months ago (2023-05-12 16:44:00)