The Fountain of Lamneth

rating: +63+x

Agent Kanako Yamada grumbles and slumps in her stool at the bar, her arms propping her head up and stopping it from smacking into the glass of whiskey on the table. She adjusts her vest irritably and shoots a glare at the nearby cyborg who's giving her a strange look, before turning back to the bartender.

"Y'know, Hersh," she sighs, "you know what the problem is with this god-damn place?"

The skeletal android tilts its metallic head in her direction, its gunmetal eyelids fluttering in silent acknowledgement. Around it, patrons in various states of robotic augment and devotion to WAN converse and exchange various drinks that are inevitably far too toxic for the ordinary human being. Its back whirs and emits a soft hiss, before it uncorks a glowing cyan bottle and pours a nearby patron a glassful of over-saturated sky.

"It's a fuckin' dive bar. Nothing good ever happens at a bloody dive bar." Kanako takes a sip of her drink – an amber colour that's almost pedestrian in comparison. "I got promoted at a dive bar… got shot at a dive bar… shot somebody at a dive bar…" She sets the now-empty glass on the table. "Why the hell am I even here?"

Hersh shrugs and makes a clicking noise as it does so, before taking her glass and providing her with an obliging refill.

Kanako absently checks her watch, Pushing her hand through the table as she does so. The three-dimensional structure gives way easily under her five-dimensional touch and she absently toys with the cheap chipboard's molecular structure, withdrawing just as part of the paint liquifies and spits. "Half past ten," she concludes. "Usually I'm up to at least twelve drinks by the time that happens."

The robot whistles and proffers the glass of scotch at her, this time with more force. Kanako won the right to free lifetime refills after abusing various black-market liver implants to effectively beat Hersh in a drinking game – she won not by causing it to pass out, but rather by mutual agreement that the entire game had gone on for too damn long.

"Fine, Hersh." Kanako takes the drink and swigs it, before dropping the tumbler on the table. "Are you happy no–"

There's a loud screeching and the sound of several people getting off their arses to look at what the hell's going on. Kanako joins said flock of rear ends and hisses as she realises what's going on.

It's Cuchulainn syndrome at its very worst.

As the man continues to spit and screech, his brain is currently trying to deal with about seventeen different conflicting signals caused by at least three memetic agents. In an admirable attempt to compensate, it's now trying to satisfy all those conditions at once by lighting up almost his entire brain – in milder terms, a tonic-clonic seizure.

Kanako starts elbowing people out of the way to get to the man, and only remembers that she has a license that qualifies her to treat the man while she's halfway through the throng of onlookers. Finally fishing it out of her pocket, she quickly flashes it at the various spectators, driving them off with the power of legal authority and Stephenson scrambler-gifs, optimised for the various distros of bastardised Unix Maxwellists run.

"'Scuse me, coming through, medic," she calls, even though the terrified screams from the unfortunate people who actually see her card makes the point rather less reassuring than she might intend it to be. "Keep moving away."

After she's managed to navigate through the horde, she quickly moves over to the man in question and flicks on her hyperlight senses – seeing not in low-grade photons but rather in pure information, data visualised in its most pure form. Dropping to one knee and checking his pulse, various heads-up-display elements start sputtering into awkward life and she makes a quick mental note to get them serviced later.

Conclusively proving that he is, in fact, still alive, she now has to do the actual job of keeping him that way.

She amps up her perceptual cortex's processing power and watches time slow to the crawl of a paraplegic turtle. Hyperlight can't really tell her anything at this distance, as all she's getting is just a vague blob of light – too vague to actually make out any helpful details. She turns down the sensitivity by three – no, four degrees of magnitude and the squirming and writhing of whatever the hell it is that's punched through this man's brain becomes gradually more apparent.

It's emitting screeches of bleeding magenta and thrashing around madly in the man's brain. Just as importantly, it's getting dangerously close to latching onto the thin web of information that connects the Maxwellists across the room. She needs to deal with the threat now.

Taking a deep breath, Kanako pulls her hand back and Pushes it through his head. Not actually, of course – in reality, that arm doesn't exist, and hasn't existed for about three years, but since when has that mattered?

Her arm flickers and sparks angrily, before the link's established and she promptly begins dumping every kill agent she can get into the man's brain, causing the tentacle to thrash and withdraw a little from the man's skull cavity. It's not enough to even wound it and before the thought that she's losing the initiative can go through her head, the appendage reacts and punches back.

sudo killall cognition

Kanako shrieks (well, she doesn't, making bodily movement is hard at a million times usual perceptual speed) and desperately pulls up defenses in a last-ditch attempt to stop the stream of Unix being fed into her brain and soon finds out to her surprise that the one command that keeps getting violently repeated is:

cd ~/production/blackfish

along with varying other aborted commands and a request to torrent a movie of some sort.

She can't deal with the threat without information and to get information she needs time. Deciding that temporary numbness would be a better thing than permanent braindeath, she begins dumping old half-remembered sensations – fragments of a saxophone solo, smell of chlorine at a pool – into the man's hollow shell of a consciousness.

The creature squeals and squirms about wildly, distracted for the time being by her discarded memories. It'll do for about five minutes before she starts having to sacrifice short-term memory.

Kanako quickly pulls up another display and starts piping her memory of the recent mental assault into the terminal. Within subjective seconds, she's got a complete log of its actions – within an eye-blink some judicious regex has pulled up the movie this thing is trying to torrent.


Blackfish… Kanako thinks about this for a few seconds before deciding to hop onto a nearby Maxwellist's internet connection and jumping into the directory itself.

Hang on a se– goddammit. No fucking way this guy is that stupid–

Kanako has to admire this moron's audacity. Not only is he leaking the movie he's working on, but he's also set up a nice little P2P server running off the computer he's using to edit the damn thing.

That's not even pointing out the fact that the file itself is swarming with memetic agents and Berryman-Langford worms, crawling about the structure of the file like maggots over a rotting corpse. Kanako instinctively recoils from the toxic-waste-green mental minefield, but the main thought on her mind is the fact that the Elder God of Stallman is still thrashing about trying to get that directory.

That suggests quite a hell of a lot about where the Unix cacodemon came from and what it's trying to do.

She returns focus to the man's consciousness and discovers that – delight of delights – his brain has now been taken over by a swarming cesspool of memetic agents, the… majority of which she never put into his head in the first place.

The memetic agents in question? Swarming, squelching stacks of… glowing green maggots. This thing has been leaving a toxic conceptual footprint that's roughly equivalent to a mental oil spill, pick any one.

So now she knows where this thing's been and what it's trying to get back to. If Kanako's any chance of getting the man a chance of anything that's not total brain death, she has to do what it wants. She has to send it back.

Mustering up all her mental faculties, she quickly hi-jacks the man's consciousness and simplifies the hell-beast, taking it down an entire layer of abstraction and cutting it off from a greater whole she can't pay attention to just yet. It screeches and spits more tarballs at her, but she manages to weather the mental flaying without too much memory lost.

With less data comes a lower informational density – just enough to let her upload it through the man's phone, which has also been covered in glowing informational worms. She barely has time to make a note about how he caught the Unix mind-tentacle before the thing writhes and threatens to reunite itself with the greater conceptual whole.

Taking a deep (non-existent) breath, Kanako draws back her conceptual presence, before abstracting herself – increasing her conceptual presence by generalising it, adding processing weight by the terabyte as she does so – and the two collide:

It's $\aleph_{1}$ versus $\aleph_{0}$ and Kanako's ontological weight crushes the recently de-powered tentacle into the phone, shoving the (surprisingly well-compressed) nth-dimensional-database out through the connection and back into the computer.

The blow's informational inertia smashes her against the file structure with a thud and she's sent rebounding away from the tentacle, which is now starting to unfurl and re-generalise itself with a noise like knives against glass, the iridescent web of lambdas unfolding against the stark green and black of the kernel.

As it begins to reintegrate into the slurry of glowing neon writhing Kanako quickly simplifies herself down to the smallest possible filesize and kicks back to the man's consciousness, furiously jettisoning memory and sensation in an attempt to escape the rapidly enclosing blossom of ontological hell that's racing ever-faster towards her.

Finally she manages to hit the man's consciousness and cut the link remotely, shredding the tentacle into millions of half-completed commands that disperse harmlessly into the air. On reflex she bounces off the mental boundaries and crashlands in her own consciousness, scattering memories out of time and sending synaesthetic blasts of skin-cutting sound through her brain.

The perceptual accelerator is smashed forward another million times and snaps, returning Kanako to normal speed with a dizzying burst of colour and sound as her brain copes with the tremendous buildup of qualia.

Her arm flickers out of hyperlight, her sensors crash and she keels over, heart thrumming in and out of rhythm and throwing her entire sense of balance off. In front of her, the man's eyes flutter open weakly.

The last thing she remembers before her heart gives out is the sound of a confused word ("Frank?") and the shadow of feet casually walking away.

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