The customer who had called for the deletion was Assembly Member Clarence Greddych; he had been carrying on an affair with Miss Desyre Maloney, but with the upcoming election, he wanted to prevent her from coming forward about it, since family men had a better chance of reelection than philanderers. He had breakfasted with his wife that morning, and prepared to leave for work at 11:30, but when he had returned to the sitting room to bid her farewell at 11:15, he found her rigid and cold, the victim of neural paralysis as a result of involuntary receptive disconnect. Autopsy revealed that she had, in addition to the receptacle at her hairline—the high-fashion, subcutaneous sort so lately developed—she had a second one, an older model, though more recently installed than the first… secreted at the nape of her neck… named “Desyre Maloney.”
Adam LaRouge was tried for the collateral cybercide of Martha Greddych, since it was cybercide that resulted in her death. Since it wasn’t direct cybercide, and no one wanted to dredge up the info on Desyre Maloney, nor Mr. Greddych’s involvement, Adam was not officially convicted, only stripped of his credibility by the Head of National Security, Captain George Whitaker, and ordered to remove himself from the Cloud effective immediately.
“Come now, LaRouge,” The Captain said, grinning as he played with the cred card between his fingers, knowing there was little the man could do about the impending discredit process, “this whole situation wouldn’t have been so messy if you’d taken the time to know your subject’s face. Mrs. Greddych could hardly be mistaken for a common mistress!”
“You know well enough how blind the ambitious Members can be to status when someone gives them what they want, don’t you… Captain,” Adam growled.
Captain Whitaker winced; Adam knew he’d scored a hit. Now the Captain knew that Adam held secrets about his own life that no one else in the world could have access to; but where would a man like Adam hold such valuable information? Surely the card in the Captain’s own hand might contain links to the information, if the records themselves, whatever amount of detail, were too much to bear in a simple receptacle. What would Captain Whitaker do about it? Even the Chief of National Security was bound by restraints and parameters of the law. There was only one thing he could do.
With three quick swipes, Captain Whitaker had completely erased the credibility of Adam LaRouge. He stood, clenching and unclenching his hands nervously.
“Adam LaRouge, you are hereby stripped of credibility and banned from the aethernet. Should your name or information find its way into the General Network, you will be severely punished. You have permission to return home immediately and disconnect from the Cloud.”
Disconnection and banishment, the new form of “prison.” Without the connection, he was no better than a Streetwalker. He was worse, because at least the Streetwalkers shared the aethernet with the High-Flyers. Banishment meant that Security Officers would be regularly patrolling the aethernet from now on, and at the least mention that Adam LaRouge was still active, they had the authorization to commit cybercide, and if necessary, homicide with impunity.
A thin smile returned to Drake’s face. A detachment of Security Officers had followed him back to his house, and waited outside with receptivity monitors, tracking his connection strength as he disconnected his receptacle. For all they knew, once he disconnected, the vacant receptacle would send his brain into a series of seizures, and he would either collapse on the Streets below, or wander, literally empty-headed until exhaustion and starvation claimed him.
What they didn’t know—what brought the smile now—was that Adam LaRouge, who disconnected people for a living, had been preparing for just such a day. He had a series of safety measures in place, to allow him to live on, anonymously. The only thing he could not predict is whether he would be able to perform them in time…
The Security Officers watched the signal strength meter dip below the “WARNING” line, and continue to drop until the screen read, “NO SIGNAL.” It was usually at this point that most people would come wandering out their doors, where a waiting Descender would take their writhing bodies down to the Streets, where they usually ended up dead, fodder for the passing Streetwalkers. They waited, but Adam LaRouge did not emerge. The commanding officer sighed. Some, like this man, chose to remain in their houses—or were physically incapable of exiting, due to the force of the disconnect—unable to eat or control physical movement, until death brought an end to their quiet, insidious suffering. The Descender arrived, and the Security Officer led his detachment away, figuring that the House Cleaners would appreciate a vehicle to remove his remains when they disinfected the house for the next occupant. Adam LaRouge was now legally dead.
Inside the house, the nameless, identity-deprived occupant—once Adam LaRouge, and not quite somebody else yet—winced and tried to maintain consciousness in the pain and vacancy of a disconnected receptacle. In his right hand he clutched his last tether to this earth, a single multi-series memory chip. He struggled to his feet. The seizures were beginning, but the man had already trained his grey matter beyond them. Keeping his eyes focused on the front door, he laboriously tripped and stumbled his way through a rolling visual kaleidoscope toward the portal spinning and turning in front of him. At last, the portal evaporated to the twisting, swirling, over-stimulating view of the outdoors. A Descender dipped and wobbled, first below him, then directly at his eye level. Apparently, he had fallen, and now fought to roll himself onto the narrow platform without falling off it into the bottomless abyss below him. The looping, turning circles of light and movement above him as he descended were too much for his eyes. He tasted bile, and only realized after the fact that he had actually turned his head and vomited over the side of the Descender. His superficial nerves—the sense of touch, of pain, of hot and cold, of movement—were already desensitized. Even his hearing was fading already. He saw, through the warped haze of seizing vision, the movement and bustle of the Streets, but could not hear anything. He saw a pair of legs enter his line of vision, and his head elevated to about the same level as everyone else, but the two men carrying him—having received the prearranged signal just before Adam LaRouge “went offline”—did not register in the gaping wasteland between his ears.
Suddenly the sharp taste of soot and the smell of filth and trash disappeared, and the Disconnected Man knew that it was only a matter of time before he was completely and irreversibly dead. His fading and distorted vision kept him only partially aware that he was now inside a small room, sprawled on a couch. An unused comp-unit booted up—he saw the swirling spot of light it introduced to his vision—and he was aware of long appendages—arms—reaching toward his receptacle just before everything went black…
Drake sighed; the re-boot process had been more painful than he had anticipated. Every inch of his nervous system had reconnected with the force of a pile-driver. The sensation was like being re-born. Light was disorienting; he could not comprehend the sounds around him; voluntary movement was impossible for about three hours, then it was a long several months of re-learning how to walk, how to move, how to eat, how to bathe. The family who had saved his life, Hannery, his wife Gwynn, and their three children—sons Archie and Blaine, and daughter Eillwyn—patiently guided the man-infant Drake Ross through each stage of his recovery.
The re-boot had been Stage 1 on the memory chip. Once he’d resumed much of his normal human ability, Drake re-connected to his brand-new personal comp-unit and initiated Stage 2—Skill recovery. While he could not completely resume the identity of Adam LaRouge (that would forever remain stored in the digital files of his comp-unit), he could re-imprint the memories of his former self, the skill sets, the training, all into his—Drake Ross’—receptacle. It would take a few years to be able to transfer all that information into his reconstructed grey matter, but Drake did not care. As far as he knew, no one else in the world had survived a re-boot; he didn’t mind taking as long as he needed.
Once all that was accomplished, the newly re-created Drake Ross needed to complete one more task to seal his identity and begin rebuilding the credibility he had lost. On September 22, 2068, Drake Ross stood on the porch of Hannery’s hovel and breathed his first gasp of aethernet since the disconnecting of Adam LaRouge. He did not remember much of his old life, but with that gasp, he tasted hints and clues on his tongue. He knew his old name; the fact that his banishment resulted in a tremendous boost in Captain Whitaker’s credibility convinced Drake that he was destined to be a canker in the Captain’s side for the rest of his life. Captain Whitaker was the best Security Chief there ever was? Well, Drake Ross would be the best freelance Mercenary there ever was. Laws and restrictions were only minor details to be bypassed. Drake had been acquiring credibility and exploring already, as Adam; now that Adam was disconnected, Drake had merely to redeem the credibility from the Cloud that bore his name, and he received a new lease on life and a career.
Hannery found him a cement-block bunker slap in the middle of the maze of Streets, and Archie and Blaine were his “faces” to acquire the necessary equipment for Drake to resume business. He became an application junkie; no job was too dangerous or unlawful, and if it brought him closer to discrediting Captain Whitaker and his cronies, so much the better.
The Red Dragon had risen—and he would rain fire upon his enemy.