Light filtered through the curtains, bathing Riven’s frame in their glow. Her eyes fluttered, ending the trance. Sighing, she grabbed an arm over her head and arched her back like a cat. She froze, and then clamped her hand over her mouth. A low moan escaped from her as the nausea subsided. Normally she could handle them but tonight the aftereffects of Swimming were kicking her ass. Tiny, thread-like webs stained her vision as she struggled to key in the proper codex on her Scyvie. The device beeped in alarm, noting too much serotonin and cortisol released into her system. Pulling herself up, she staggered over to the medical unit and reached for the tube. Like an I.V., it was made to enter the bloodstream and could be accessed through a sealed, and sterilized unit behind the West panel in her room. Each unit was stocked as needed with single-use syringes. The touch screen display embedded into her forearm, was no larger than half an inch in diameter and was barely visible to the eye. It had three access points for the medical tube─ one located in the user’s elbow joint, their hand, and another near the groin. She sighed at the tiny blue warning symbols that flashed across her arm. Her Scyvie would be under review soon. Probably just a routine checkup to ensure there was no substance abuse. Typical.
She frowned, swiping her fingers over her arm. The flashing immediately ceased and was replaced by a ten digit keypad. She typed in her seven digit pass-code and was rewarded by the calming chime. Good as new, she thought. The room tilted. Her hand shot out, gripping the side of the panel. The thought of being hooked to anything made her sick. It might have been certain people’s escape─ hell ninety percent of the population welcomed the digital era─ but she wanted no part of it. It was the altered consciousness that made her uneasy. Any time her mind wandered, something bad would happen. Once, she thought it had only been under for twenty minutes− turns out it was five hours. It wasn’t the first time it happened, and it wouldn’t be the last. The last thing she needed was someone monitoring her Swimming. She relaxed as the Valaxl coursed into her system. It helped to calm the anxiety and hallucinations that came with spending extended hours online.
He had been there again. If only Riven could get her mind to work. There was something about the urgency in his transmissions. The most frustrating part was that she could see things, but not the right things. He had appeared to her in the trance-like state several times─ materializing in hundreds of different situations, sometimes as different people, but always the same energy. No matter how good a Breaker is, they cannot get rid of their signature. It leaves behind little traces of the user. There were several types of breakers, but the kind Riven feared the most were Ghosts. Levi had always called them Wraiths. They wreaked havoc wherever they touched. She knew it was probably just an urban legend, but it kept her from the Aether.
It was the sub-link that only the most experienced Breakers traveled. Riven could sense him as he watched her─ his Umbra was a vibrant hue of red that seductively swam through her mind. She always stayed to the main link, the Umbra, but no matter how hard Riven fought to find his link, he was always one step ahead. Shivers wracked her body as she sat quietly, letting her levels return back to normal.
The Umbra was a link that connected the soul to the physical body─ every living creature had one. She was a bit fuzzy on her history but Riven remembered it being an accidental discovery by Geoffrey Braun. He won two Nobel Prizes, one for discovering the Umbra, and the other for finally discovering a cure for cancer mutations. She cringed as she remembered how everyone thought cancer was beat in 2025, the worst had happened and the damaged cells became more aggressive with the mutations. Most cases, if not caught, killed a person within six months. All our known cures did nothing unless it was caught in very early stages. It was almost as if it were put into place by the fates to keep humans in check. One step closer, five hundred back.
It was an unfortunate but necessary discovery that severing the soul from the Umbra resulted in zombie-like behavior. Hollywood glamorized it for years, but it was nothing like they portrayed. Few cases of detachment ever resulted in the soul staying. Once the soul was gone, the person became a hollowed out shell. One good thing came out of the testing at least─ we found that humans could connect to one another not only within a person’s immediate presence, but across a vast amount of space. The furthest distance recorded was approximately 238,857 miles− the distance to the Moon. Even then, people were unsure as to how far it could go. Research was still being conducted. Curiously, each individual Umbra was unique in color, texture, and feeling.
You could have the Umbra infused with nanite receptors that could connect via machine and internet. There was no feeling with machines− only humans or animals could imbue such pleasures. A machine’s presence felt like static electricity, a quick jolt allowing you to fortify an encryption shield against it or, if you wish, permitting entry into your database. As of late she only had one hundred terabytes of free hard drive space. It was ancient, she knew, but she would get around to upgrading it soon. Riven worked furiously to control her breathing as she stood over her bed. A soft feminine voice sounded, startling her.
“Riven, are you alright? Your heart rate is elevated. Shall I call for Doctor Sid?”
“No, Nadine. It is not necessary, thank you. Just a nightmare.”
“Very well, please return to trance or sleep as soon as possible, you will need a minimum of four R.E.M. cycles to function properly. Might I assist you in breathing and mantra techniques?”
“Thank you but no, goodnight.”
Why did Jace prefer that thing? She never understood, though they were made to help, it still creeped Riven out thinking about an unfeeling machine monitoring her every waking breath. If it so chose it could even read wave patterns in the mind and detect your mental stability. Not that it could exactly tell, but it was still unnerving. Riven’s thoughts returned on her earlier meditation. From the moment she could remember her “dream” had always occurred at the same point in time─ the fifteenth of every month at exactly two fifteen in the morning. Slowly creeping out of bed, she strode down the hall to the bathroom. Her joints cracked and popped in protest. Riven froze as visions began to poke through her encryption. Vivid hues of blue stretched across and bonded with her Umbra as the link was formed.
You must listen to me, you are in danger.
She placed a hand on the wall to steady her balance. The user had completely blown past her mandatory password and sixty letter encryption codes. She was thrust into a connection without first being in the proper trance state. The hall stretched on into oblivion and the world exploded with color. Snippets of conversations flew past in garbled nonsense. This was definitely not a government sanctioned link─ she was in-between, no worse, in the Aether. Her own web that normally was spun to friends or family members did not surround her and she could for the first time view the vast outer space. The cushion that normally protected her Umbra along with others had been completely removed and she felt as if she could simply float away to anywhere. Eternity was within her grasp, it was wildly intoxicating. She could feel the pull of other’s links. The taste was so powerful she wanted desperately to drift.
Don’t look too long, you will go insane. You are not properly trained.
Riven swam toward the voice but couldn’t find the portal linking them. It was as if the person were integrated within her Umbra.
“Who are you?” she giggled, “This is a private link.” She wanted to be angry but she felt so free. It was like she was six again skipping along in the gardens outside of her parent’s home. Try as she might she was not able to deflect the connection and it probed once more.
Riven, there is no time you must go. He is searching for you again.
“Who? What is going on, I don’t understand.” The link was pulled and she was thrown back to reality. The urge to vomit almost won but Riven managed to keep it down. The last she remembered was watching the ceiling spin from the floor.
* * *
“Riven, Riven. Please, wake up.”
“…Hmm?” waking she gazed into deep pools of blue. Jace.
“Oh, thank God. You’re alright. What are you doing up wandering the halls at this hour?” Jace leaned back and rubbed his hands over his face. His mumbled words were a little hard to make out but she managed, “You scared me to death. Why didn’t Nadine read your vitals?”
Riven brought herself to a sitting position, smoothing her onyx hair behind her ears. She placed a hand on Jace’s shoulder and feigned a smile, “Jace it’s OK, I must have fallen asleep or something. It is two in the morning.” She waved her hand trying to sound casual, “ I was probably sleepwalking.”
He studied her face in a way that Riven knew he didn’t buy it, “That still doesn’t answer my last question. Nadine, wake.” Soft white light filled the room as the soothing British voice responded.
“Have you been checking Riven’s vitals? I found her in the hall unconscious.”
“The last log was taken at two fifteen a.m., I checked on her because of an elevated heart rate. Do you need assistance? Shall I phone the doctor?”
“That will be unnecessary, I will phone Scott tomorrow. Prepare for reformat.”
The glow dispersed and they were left to themselves, or as much as they could be left alone by that thing. Riven seriously wished that he would turn it off every once in a while. Their last quarters didn’t have a Persa-Unit and that was perfectly fine with her.
Gently tugging at her arm she tried to pry away from his grip. When that didn’t work she cleared her throat, “Um, Jace…could you kindly release my arms? I think I’ve lost all feeling in them.”
Jace turned a deep scarlet and quickly let go. Although he was nearly a foot taller than her and had a fierce disposition, he was as gentle as they come. He stood for several seconds staring at her shivering form. His response was low and controlled.
“Well, I was just worried, that’s all. Is it a crime to worry about you?” his chin rose slightly in that way that annoyed her when he was about to go into one of his lectures.
“Aside from that, its three thirty in the morning for your information and with everything that’s happened−“
“I don’t want to talk about it, please Jace just go back to bed. I don’t need your lectures right now, OK?” She quieted, realizing she had crossed the line.
Riven knew she shouldn’t have treated him that way. Any time she was upset she lashed out at the wrong person, usually Jace. Biting her lip she searched his eyes pleading silently with her own. She sunk at his guarded expression. Go me. The silence hung between them before he turned. Though his speech was quiet, she cringed at the obvious hurt it portrayed. “You know, one of these days you’re going to turn away the only friend you’ve got.” He walked down the hall and into his room. The click reverberated off the small space ending their conversation. Riven stood in the hall for a moment unsure of what to do. It was probably best to talk tomorrow after duty, let Jace cool off. She retreated back to her room miserable. It was better this way, let him hate her. She closed the door and glanced at the time. Great, four o’clock. She’d have to be to work in a mere three hours. Shaking her head, she crawled into bed and stared at the ceiling. Looks like I won’t be getting those R.E.M’s after all. She sighed and spoke to the ceiling, getting out what she should have earlier, “Jace I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me lately.”
Tears threatened to spill but she fought and kept them down. Don’t break your promise. It was a vow she intended to keep. Nothing or no one would ever see her cry again. That was a different time, a different person. Tears were reserved for something Riven refused to give into. Giving in meant being hurt, she couldn’t have that, not again. She needed her head in the game, not just for herself but the people she would have to face in the morning. Turning on her side she forced her eyes shut and tried to think of happier times. She could have asked Nadine to put her to sleep but the thought of that made her skin crawl. Instead Riven chanted the mantra in her mind they taught in the Core. She preferred it to normal sleep anyhow, it kept her mind alert.
* * *
Grumbling, Riven rolled out of bed as the alarm went off. It felt like she had just closed her eyes. Nadine is way better than this hunk of junk. She was about to call out to Nadine then quickly remembered Jace was having her reformatted this morning. There was nothing she could do about it and work was work. Not an easy thing to come by these days, especially since the second battle with the IIA . The ‘International Intelligence Agency’ were simply filed under one thing in her mind─ inhuman. They had revealed themselves many years ago when she was a child. Even then Riven had known she was not like other children. She had predicted her parents death, tried to warn them, but they just patted her head and told her not to worry. If only they had listened to her. They would still be alive today. Snapping back to reality, she stepped into the bathroom and closed her eyes. The auxiliary system felt more abrasive as it sought to connect with her Umbra. Riven steeled herself against its gentle probing making it realize she preferred verbal communication. A charming male voice surrounded her as she walked into the shower.
“A thousand pardons, Riven. I did not realize you prefer verbal. I will log it in the system for next time”
“Stimulating shower massage with muscle relaxant.”
“Understood. Would the lady prefer traditional or interactive?”
“Traditional” she spat, “Never interactive.”
“Apologies, of course ma’am. One moment, checking temperature preferences.”
The sweet fragrance of gardenias and fresh cut grass filled the air instantly relaxing her. The scent stirred memories from her childhood. Riven and her best friend Levi would play for hours in the Japanese inspired gardens her father created. He was brilliant with landscapes creating many retreats for the rich and the famous. Though he liked many different designs, he had a particular fondness for modern Japanese and incorporated much of it into his own home. There was something about the crisp clean lines and usability that he adored. She carried that fondness into her own home and, like her father, preferred no-nonsense design. The latest trend with over the top patterns and gaudy gold everywhere drove her crazy. Sometimes it was painful thinking about them. Levi and her father, like many others, were lost to her forever. The fourth wall rose sealing Riven in as water spouted from each corner.
The warmth melted away the last of her dark mood and her shoulders sagged. It was the only time she felt human. No matter which way she moved each shower head would switch and massage her sore muscles. Sighing heavily, she finished up and called to the computer, “I am done, open please.” The water cut off and the wall receded back into the floor. A robe was hanging ready for her and the tiles felt warm beneath her feet. Ignoring the robe, Riven padded over to the mirror. These were times she loved being in the Core, not many people had clean water, let alone such luxuries as heated tiles. The Core treated them well.
Warm air rushed from below and above the vanity, slowly drying her body. She sighed and looked at her reflection in the full-length mirror. Fierce turquoise eyes and sharp features stared back at her. She ran fingers through her hair in a feeble attempt to style it. Not that it really bothered her. She kept it just below the chin for a reason. Less to grab, less to style, she always said. Simple, like it should be. Frowning, she caught the scar on her bare honey skin− a stark reminder of the evil in humanity. The jagged cut ran from belly to groin─ an invasion she would never forget. If only she could remember his face. Retching, Riven closed her eyes and tried not to think about it. Never again would a man touch her that way. At least now she had her hand-to-hand combat and psych training. She wasn’t completely useless like before. Riven finished dressing in her casual blacks and walked from the bathroom. The color signified that she was on clean up and civil duty today. It was hard work but helped keep hope alive, and that was the most important thing.
The last several attacks had kept Riven busy cleaning the wreckage that “they” had left behind. She refused to ever relate them to human beings, for admitting so would make them closer to her somehow. At least with the second war came more work and the economy really needed the boost. They hadn’t been completely defeated at least and the attacks appeared to be slowing. She stared across the room, so many senseless deaths over the years. The bastards had risen out of the shadows more than twenty years ago from our own base. They were meant to be our saviors. It was a small group of several thousand members that were stationed on the moon. Among them were the most intelligent, strong, and psychically advanced. A slightly more evolved human individually chosen from every corner of the world. Originally, they were scientists placed there to draw plans for colonization. We were looking at several options at the time, even as far as Europa. However, they first settled on a moon base. The Moon’s gravity was far less dense than our own, making the launch sequence faster and fuel efficient. They first gathered as much information as possible on the long journey to make Mars’s surface more inhabitable. They kept in contact every three months. The stretches in time became further and further apart. Finally, the worst was made apparent: All of it, the research, the connection to our society, was completely lost. They were their own nation and felt that they no longer needed our rules. With their own biosphere, resources from Earth were no longer necessary.
So it began, they honed their powers, biding their time until that fateful day of rising. All of the world powers came together in one great alliance against them, but to no avail. As time went by the government tried more and more rash measures to bring them down. Not a single weapon worked. It was our minds they invaded. They never used a weapon against Earth. Instead, they infiltrated the great minds of the world and watched as we bombed one another. Their Breakers were powerful pulling down every shield put into place. She didn’t know everything involved with a breaker or exactly how they did it, but she knew it was no walk in the park to earn that accomplishment. One of her co-workers at the Core was involved in high level security training, learning just simple exercises when something went wrong and her Umbra severed− ever since Riven had no interest in becoming a Breaker. In any case the IIA took them all down one nation at a time as hope eventually died.
Years ago, during a particularly nasty attack of the IIA, the government sent salvage teams to scout out the areas where any useful items or materials would be found. Searching through the rubble of what used to be Midrand they stumbled across a very peculiar sight. A young girl, no more than nine or ten years old huddled in the shadows of a small building, her hands pressed over her ears. A little tattered bunny laid at her bruised and bloodied feet. Her gown was drenched in blood from the waist down. The leader of the salvage team padded over to her, his gangly body awkward and unsure. He brushed back his long, black hair and offering his water with kind eyes and a smile. She reached out her arms to the soldier with tears streaming down her face, “mama” she muttered just before her eyes rolled to the back of her head and she collapsed at his feet.
It was Jace who had come to her aid that day. Only fifteen at the time, Jace was a child himself trying to find work to support both him and his sister. Though he worked hard Jace’s sister died two years later of some strange and unknown disease. He always believed it was heartbreak that killed Karina. She had mourned her parent’s death until the day she drew her last breath. Jace took Riven in out of the kindness of his heart when nobody else felt they had a use for her. A ‘nuisance’ they said and was content to leave her be. He sensed she was something special and fate had ordained their meeting. It was then Riven decided she owed her life to him and would work hard and strive to do her best. She joined the Core with Jace and dedicated her life to helping others like her.
Exiting their loft, Riven turned down the long narrow corridor before it opened up into the main floor. Familiar dark red carpeting with the entwined golden border greeted her as she walked toward the glass lift. Soft white light held up by delicate floating sconces lined the floor.
“Good morning, Riven” Dressed in his usual red and black uniform, Arthur stood behind the front desk. His graying hair was slicked back and made him look more dignified than ever. His dark skin radiated this morning and he appeared more cheerful than normal.
“Morning, Arthur. How are the kids?”
“Oh just fine, daughter starts the Core next week. You all go easy on her now.” He winked at Riven, his usual jovial self. It always amazed her how strong he was. His wife, Belinda, had died just eight months ago from cancer they didn’t know she had. It tore her apart knowing how much Arthur loved his wife. The worst part was that the disease had been curable. If only they’d known sooner.
She broke into a wide grin, “You know we’re hardest on the newbies. You take care, Arthur OK?” Smiling, she continued across the room.
That gave him a chuckle. “Hell, she probably needs it. Will do, you too dear.”
Getting on the lift, she descended down to the shuttle heading for Tokyo. What was left of it anyway. This is going to be a long day, she thought as she strode toward the vehicles.