A people that hear without listening, that talk without speaking, too stubborn and blind to be saved from their own dying planet. The ESS Sao Paulo has been sent to rescue the inhabitants of Eulysia, but what they find when they arrive is a darkness, one that seems to swallow their warnings in pools of silence.
SOUND OF SILENCE - CHAPTER EIGHT
Cities pass silently beneath us in the darkness, glowing in soft shades of yellow and orange, but something about them seems more sinister this time around. It feels like we're being watched.
"Turn off cabin and nav lights."
Commander Tao acknowledges my order with a nod and sides his fingers across the control console. The inside of the shuttle immediately goes dark, save the console itself, and the other two shuttles flying alongside us fade to nothing but a dark silhouette on the dusky horizon.
My heart pumps with anticipation as we near the global capital once more, this time in a more clandestine manner. Silenced engines, electromagnetic refractors. Even our uniforms are a subdued black and gray with noise-cancelling, thermal-scrambling fabric and darkened helmets with infrared optics.
We've brought a larger, more diverse selection of crew members with us, armed with artificial fyitts, all in order to give us the best fighting chance against the highly-adaptive fragments. The plan is to insert ourselves into as many pubs as possible, rapidly disseminate the warning—backed up by our own "authoritative" sources—and hope it spreads exponentially enough to prompt a viral public response.
Meanwhile, Bo will be back on the ship, coordinating a cyber campaign to subdue the Prophets and fragments using a brute force program to disorient them. The way he describes it sounds like pumping smoke into a beehive, soothing the occupants long enough to get our honey and run. Now, could that be considered hostile action against a foreign species, something that requires general officer coordination and Alliance Council authorization? Probably. But that would take more time than we have, and, you know, it's to save lives. So we're going to do it anyways.
The Prophets command an inordinate amount of influence, but if we can stir up enough support—and fear—they may have no choice but bend to public demands.
Commander Tao and the other pilots bring us down in the same park as before then open up the hatch, allowing us to slip silently into the city like a cloud of dark ocean mist. We avoid the openly public subways this time and instead utilize collapsible motor bikes to speed us along the narrow streets towards the Data Processing Center. It's a good thing we do, too, because at every entrance to the underground, I notice there are multiple individuals appearing to be armed. Plus, groups of them wander the streets, prompting us to suddenly alter course every so often. The Regulators that Ayeila mentioned, I'm assuming.
Once we've arrived, we pack up our bikes and make our way towards the nearest unoccupied building, lugging our gear in bags and crates. Links, antennas, weapons and ammunition for the marines.
I've just removed my helmet and am about to turn to the cold, damp entryway, when all of a sudden, I'm nearly blinded by a bright flash that fills every corner of the square, a neon light that somehow seems to break the silence, despite being soundness itself. I look up once my eyes have readjusted to find that every person in the square has fallen to their knees, all facing the data tower. As one, they touch their heads to the pavement, all at the same time. As if they rehearsed it beforehand.
"Ayeila," I whisper sharply, motioning for her to come over. "What are they doing? What's happening?"
She drops her bag and hurries over. "It's a reset," she explains. "It happens twice a day, every day. Once in the morning. Once in the evening. They turn off their fyitts and enter the restorative position. Supposed to be good for your health."
"Well," she says, "in theory, it promotes blood flow and gives the brain a chance to rest. Also, this is usually the time that software updates are pushed out to users. The fyitts turn off and pulses from the data hubs realign the internal capacitors."
I grab my gear bag and lead us both towards the building, checking the masses over my shoulder for any sign of additional movement. "Does this mean they could be aware of us right now?" I ask, keenly aware of each individual, of the thousands of eyes that are no longer immersed in their various digital lives.
She shrugs and walks through the door, accepting the help of a marine offering to take her gear. "Could, yes. But they're usually too focused on getting back into the virtual world to notice anything else. It'll all be over in about ten minutes anyways, and then we'll be back to normal."
I take one last look at the square before heading in. It reminds me of some kind of religious gathering. Thousands of people kneeled down, as if praying together, worshipping a god, not one of ethereal virtue and grace, but one of neon and stone, one crafted by their own hands. One far less benevolent, with much more sinister intentions.