#CODENAMEKANSAS: Origin Stories, “Leo”

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If you are reading this…I am dead.

Or IDK, you just like, stumbled upon it on a beautiful open sourced cloud network. One CAN dream. Thing is, I don’t want people to get it all twisted when it’s said and done. I’m about to do something completely stupid. If it goes the way I want it, a lot of things can change. Change in to what? Again, I FUCKING DK. But if it doesn’t go my way…then you probably won’t be reading this, unless of course you work for one of THEM.

And also, I’ll be dead, hence the intro. Either way, before I do this thing, something I do under complete duress by the way, a very well-meaning but bat shit crazy woman has pretty much eliminated any other option. But yeah, before I do this thing…I want to tell my story. I know that no matter what happens, the histories will always paint me as a coward. They wouldn’t be wrong but there’s more to it, more than what happened after SHE arrived.

So…I had it much easier than most people in the quote, unquote, land of OZ.  Just in case you are reading this from the distant future and are in need of a little history lesson, The Land of OZ is named after the supposed super brain that brokered the peace between the final four Witches. Peace? Give me a break! More like four lousy PIECES, each ran by a dictator hundreds of times worse than any that had ever existed. What’s fucked up is that I came from probably the LEAST terrible quadrant. The lands to the West were relatively easy going when compared to South and East, each of which were run by Witches who eliminated all but a few fully sentient humans. Those few, yeah, that’s not an exclusive club you want to be a member of. I still have nightmares from the vids of South directing her “bloody mummers” in a performance of something she titled, Macbeth VS Hamlet. I watched souls break into thousands of little pieces that day.

And in the North, Glenada’s turf? Not a single sentient human has survived her reign of bright happy terror.  Sometime after the third or fourth huge Earth changing catastrophe caused by the ongoing war of the Witches, surviving humans and the four Witches we have now built OZ together, which is to say enough humans were kept alive to be slaves. But Glenada’s crew were the original overseers. See, Witches feed on people for bandwidth; they basically use them as servers to send their power out through. Human brains provide the connection with the wireless system that binds our consciousness, Witches tap in and use get a big boost on their signal, allowing them to…fuck up reality in a huge way I guess? I never really got it, I mean they’re technically called “Technomancers,” meaning they control technology but…I’ve seen them do crazy shit. Thing is, when they do that they burn out the server, frying the brain of the poor sap and leaving them either zombified or dead. But G had been working for centuries on making the “perfect” server. The end result was a patchwork quilt of folks with implants, prosthetics, and genetic modifications. While everyone was all united for the greater bullshit, Glenada traded her schematics and formulas with the other three Witches. This resulted in all manner of fucked up mythical shit coming to life.

Anywho, say the day was won, the Earth saved…kinda…and now the four Witches each had their territory with their own set of human (ish) laborers and overseers. But what Glenada managed to do was to create a set of humans that could be used as suitable servers without the burn out. It didn’t take long for this exclusive class of people to think of themselves as having more value than mindless servants of their over lord. They fought back. There was a war in the North, it went pretty much the way wars go for the most part. Until Glenada got sick and tired of her former subjects shit and just pulled the plug on the poor bastards for a very un-climactic ending. Soon after she developed what would be her favored drone, the Munchies. Creepy little fucks with no will of their own, with the exception of the defects that dwelled in the underground scrap tunnels. Each one was a suitable server despite being little more than a high functioning server on the life scale.

This is where Elfesto differed the most from all the other Witches; she actually kept sentient humans with perfectly usable brains around for purposes other than bandwidth. She had her various warriors and assassins, all of which were augmented like Glenada’s early servants so she could use their brain waves and they would retain their faculties. But there, in the heart of the Western Empire, Elfesto kept a thriving community of plain ol’ humans living in ticky tacky little houses.

This is where I come in. I started life in the ticky takcy, in a privileged little bubble. But the privilege of safety didn’t come without a price. The reason why E kept us living, breathing, and free thinking humans around? Pound for pound, no one could make a better, more efficient coder. We didn’t know what we were coding, we just knew that the code was life. From the time we were old enough to speak and listen, we learned that the code is what kept us safe. I’ve since learned that we were all bred to excel at the task, each and every one of us. There were of course variances; you saw them in elementary school struggling to keep up with the lessons. Then…you never saw them again. But if you were good, if you could plug in and work for hours sucking down refined sugar and caffeine beverages without losing pace, you could live in pretty decent comfort. You could have big screens that played Elfesto’s stream of propaganda cartoons, some of which were pretty funny, and there was also plenty of pharmaceuticals, as that was Elfesto’s primary trade. Of course, anything that inhibited the ability to code was strictly forbidden. But cannabis at least was freely given in large quantities after shifts. Extra Sug/Caf rations to be given the next morning upon request. All in all, life wasn’t that bad. Except for the fact that it totally fucking sucked because the minute you slipped out of line some horrible creature or solider could pull your gods damn guts out. It happened enough IRL to put the scare into anybody. If that wasn’t enough Elfesto aired daily PSAs to remind everyone.

I guess this is the point I want to get across: I’m a coward, I won’t deny it. But what I did was to leave a place of relative comfort and safety so I could fire a shot across the bow of the evil fuck that lorded over my people. Isn’t that fucking bravery? Never mind that it was a total and complete accident…

It happened a week after I graduated. I was at the top of my class and I was already receiving additional rations for the promise of my work to come. I don’t want to brag but I’m pretty much what they had in mind when they started breeding coders. I could basically do twice the work as everyone, writing on two separate monitors at a time. I also found that I could split my conciseness, complete my line quota on the right, fall just a little short on my left. None of the overseers cared; I was still doing the work of two. I had been at it full time for a week and I was already the highest rationed coder. Of course I could have met quota on both hands but I was a little preoccupied, searching for the source of the code. There had to be a central server of some kind, or else the code was floating around in some kind of cloud. I opened the door I made in the central compound’s network, accessed a file containing a bunch of  things like lists of addresses or whatever. I used an outgoing line and tried each set of numbers. I had marked the ones I had done so far, thirty six. Here goes nothing, I tried the thirty seventh address. I got ahold of someone immediately. I wasn’t expecting that. Shit. I had to actually code today too, I had about five minutes before I needed to switch tabs and code with my left. Okay, five minutes…bring it! The message was clear from the other end of the line, “password”. I had this, I knew this was coming. I read the overseers’ service manual over and over. I was ready, I entered the series of numbers and symbols, b@LdS@vI0r, and then the door was opened for me and I just fuggin strolled on in!

I marked an access point and created a portal. I would have no problem getting back in. Okay, back to work. If I made quota early, I could spend the rest of my shift searching the main server. Sure enough, I finished quota on my right and my left ahead of schedule. I would still exceed on my right and they would chalk the disparity up to a dominate right hand. Allllllright. I entered the server and found rooms packed with files and plenty of very helpful AI functions to guide you…straight to the Queen’s admin. Thankfully, I perfected my ghost routine many times. I drifted room to room searching files and doors when I came upon an access terminal marked, “satellite cloud network.” I approached knowing that there was no fuckin’ way some lowly Overseer would ever have access to something like this. But I had come too far not to see. I laid digital hands on the terminal and got to work furiously, trying every backdoor hack I could think of. I was about to give up when I went for the long shot…Password. I entered those letters not thinking anything would come of it but, what I saw would forever change me to my core. I found…the internet.

It was there, it was ALL THERE.

I had learned the histories, they all said it was gone forever, the signals swapped for human bandwidth. But that’s not what happened, or not exactly at any rate. Because here is was, all maintained in a beautiful cloud network floating above all of our heads. Blogs, videos, cats…so many cats! I learned about cats in grade school but I never saw what they actually looked like and now I could see cats of all shapes and sizes, there was so much!

Aaaaaand my shift was just about over. Shit. I placed a portal and attached the signal receiver to my personal thumb drive. We were all given them in case we needed to take work to our residence; I gutted mine and got it to serve my needs. With this I would be able to take my hacked recreational/homework lap top unit and explore as much as I wanted all night long.

I should have realized that was a bad call at the time but I was kinda worked up. I get that way, ya know?

I fell into a deep internet hole and time lost all meaning. The first thing I started doing was downloading all pertinent info about the land of “OZ,” geography, history, secret locations, everything. I knew from an early age that knowledge was power and even though it seemed like me and mine had everything we could really want, I was never going to be happy until I figured out what was being hidden from us all.

Once I had all that set onto my device, I started surfing. I would learn that this was something that the people of the pre-apocalypse used to do all the time, killing days at a time exploring a universe full of data. But for me, this was like fourteen hundred wet  dreams strapped to my wildest hopes and ambititions and launched on a rocket toward my greatest wish. Pure, unadulterated knowledge.

I absorbed so much that it made me giggle like a child and I read things that filled me with absolute rage. I learned about the world that was, the promise that was unfulfilled, we could have been so great! Instead, I represented the closest thing this world even had to a free thinking human and I was still a slave. We, (humans) were on the verge of becoming more free than we had ever been in history and instead, they gave something called a ‘Co-Op’ the power to ruin it all.

At this point…I had been up for more than thirty hours. Funny things start to happen to your mind when you’ve been up that long, replacing sleep with hoarded Sug/Caff rations. One tends to experience lapses in judgment. That’s what sent me down the road I’m now on. I have to be honest when I say that uncovering the remains of the internet, was a complete accident. I was searching for answers yes, but I never knew what I would do with them. No plan, whatsoever. How I ended up in my lair, how I managed to survive, that’s all stuff I had to do. Actions that were a direct result of what I’m about to do next in the story. I may not have been of sound mind but this was very much intentional.

I want that on the fucking record.

I happened upon a video, something from an address called YOUtube. The video featured a man, a beautiful man, singing an incredible song. There wasn’t a lot of music in the compound but I’ve since downloaded and listened to a huge amount. But nothing has ever moved me like that man and that song. I…just had to share it with the world. There were built in subroutines that allowed for information from the archives to be sent directly to the compound’s various wireless devices. Everything from our workstations, to the monitors we watched, to the carefully programmed designs that were playing on them.

I had already made my decision and thus had elected to stay in my quarters on my own device instead of reporting in for my shift. I had never missed a day before so the control systems wouldn’t contact me unless I missed a second. At this point, it was midday…break time. That’s when I sent the video and my entire world got a chance to hear my heart song.

It played, “Chocolate raiiin…” and my soul was, in that moment, truly free. To this day, I can’t honestly say I know what the hell that gorgeous man was singing about but I like to think he was imagining a better world for us, a world where someone could hope. “History quickly crashing through your veins/ Chocolate raiiin/ Using you to fall back down again…”

The video got half way through and then shut down. My device went red and I smashed it on the floor. Oh god, oh shit, why did I do this! I had to stay calm, I thought this through, I mean it took a while to access the subroutines and in that time I formed a loose plan. There was a safe haven out there, hidden from everyone. All four Witches invested in keeping it this way because they could not destroy it. I was going to get there or die trying because I was definitely dead if I stayed here.

I made my escape. I salvaged the tech I needed from the junk piles. It didn’t take much to fix it all. Wrist mounted CRU, check. Untraceable wireless receiver back pack unit, check. Global positioning holocron gloves, check and mutha fuckin’ CHECK. My tech strapped on, my rations in my various pouches, I hit the road before they ever came knocking on my door.  Oh I ran into some interference, I stealth warriored them and hacked their plug-ins and dropped them like a heavy something or other. Yup. And I DID NOT pee myself once. That’s the story about how I escaped the compound.

I made my way toward my destination, where West and North’s territory’s intersected the Forbidden Forest…or something like that, I think everyone has a different name for it. But you know, the bad place with ghosts and un-killable monsters? Yeah, there. Except for that’s a bunch of bullshit. There’s no hard data on what it was before the meme broke the world and the only thing I know for sure is that after hundreds of years of war and weird shit this forest has become something unique. At the center, there grew a jagged and metallic rock formation. That rock was a completely untraceable wireless receiver, allowing whoever could tap into it to become a complete ghost, accessing all without ever being seen. There were underground caverns where lightning coursed through interconnected chambers than ran along the wall. Monitors grew out of the walls and could be accessed by outcroppings of USB hookups. And there was sustenance! Pools of sweet green fluid that did everything the Sug/Caff rations ever did and more! And trees that grew tacos! Truly, this was paradise on Earth. No wonder those evil goddamn Witches had to keep it from us!

I was nearly there, my holomap indicated I was less than thirty meters when I heard something rustling in the bushes. I had a taser knife with me and I knew how to use it. Then, lo and behold, a kitty walked out of the thorny brush and my heart melted like butter. For, like, a second and then it looked at me like I was a giant taco ration. Its powerful legs bunch up and I held my taser knife ready to strike back. (Definitely not holding it out with one hand and covering my eyes with the other…) The cat flew through the air and I screamed boldly (for sure not squeaking) but it flew right past me…and hit a crazy Munchie who was coming up behind me. After the cat got finished it came up and brushed against my leg, I kneeled down and gave him a pet after wiping a little left over Munchie from his jowls.

I would go on to name this cat Sly, and we would become the best of friends. Fighting the never ending battle to free the minds of the people of OZ can get pretty lonely, I’m not sure if I would have been able to keep going on if not for my sweet little fur faced baby (don’t judge me!) But back then, Sly was just a cat who very clearly needed a nap. So did I for that matter. I found the entrance and marveled at the beauty that hundreds of years of freak environmental mutations can create. I found suitable quarters and set up shop, Sly resting in my lap. Here is where I would make my stand. I would continue to mine the internet for answers; I would free as many minds by hacking whatever I could. I had a chance to strike back here, even if it was in a quieter way than SOME freedom fighters.

So that’s it. That’s my story. I really do hope you are reading this from the future I fantasize about. If that’s not true then congratulations, you won! Human life has no meaning. Hurray!

But just so you know, I escaped. I fought back. And maybe I am dead now because of it. But you never, ever, beat me. SO SUCK ON THAT!

By Dick Phillips
Art by Stevie VanBronkhorst

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