DarkTrench Shadow Book One by Kerry Nietz
INTRODUCTION—Frayed by Kerry Nietz, winner of the Realm Award Book of the Year.
ThreadBare is a debugger. He’s property, one of the Imam’s vast pool of implanted servants. He lives in a smelly, greasy garage on the boundary of the battlefield known as Delusion. All he wants is to complete his tasks, exceed his rival BullHammer, and stay alive. Possibly get a promotion.
When an atypical chore brings Thread into contact with Sandfly and HardCandy, things get complicated. Day by day and task by task he struggles with the life he’s always known. Ideas plague him, brutality vexes him, and women distract him.
Then there’s the list of offline debuggers, those who’ve quietly disappeared. Through datamixes—dreamlike records of their lives=–Thread tries to uncover the truth. Where did they go? What does it all mean? And what can one forgotten debugger do about it anyway?
FRAYED by Kerry Nietz — EXCERPT
2000 AH, Day 34, 12:04:07 a.m.
[Great River Stockyard]
I’m lowlevel. I’m nobody.
I’m also jittery, but I can’t help that. I’m in a graveyard. A technological wasteland. The sky is dark, as it would be in any scary tale. There is no rain, but there are flashes along the horizon. I don’t know if they are moving toward me, or away. The stream, the information current that flows through the implant in my head, says the trouble is over. The storm has passed. But I don’t think it ever does. Not in the today. Not in the Imam’s world.
The message itches my implant, but I ignore it. Bull is trying to start again. Happens every time he’s near. The competition. The quest for significance.
I simply keep moving forward. Try to focus on the problem. To find one particular problem, I mean, and fix that. I’m surrounded by them. I’m in an expansive stockyard. Behind me is the Great River—if I listen close, I can hear its billowing torrent.
Ahead and around me are the shells of dead machines. Most of them are driftbarges. Barges are heavy, lumbering conveyances. There’s nothing pretty about them. They have triangular control sections in front and back, and a self-loading bay in the middle. They take product all over the country, all on their own. Oh, and they hover.
Except none of these do. They’re dead, dead, dead. I’ve counted at least a dozen so far. I’m searching for the beginning of this mess. For something that is moving aside from me.
“Come on, BareBare, I know you’re out there. I can feel your slippery implant from here. Speak up. What do you say? Are we competing or not?”
“I’m busy, Bull,” I send back.
Hazers, why do I attract them? No matter where I go. No matter what I am.
I touch the side of the barge to my right. It is smooth, wet, and ice cold. Sickly even. I pull my hand back and try to rub the moisture away. Feels like there’s some oil on it too. Sticks. Doesn’t wan to leave. I move ahead.
I smell the next barge before I see it. Something about its refrigeration unit has to be bad. That would be in the bay section somewhere, I think. I rarely work on barges. The storm brought all of us out. All the debuggers. Masters’ orders!
Usually I work on the nasty stuff—the stuff that kills people. They’re big and heavy too, of course. This disaster is an opportunity for me. To do something different. Maybe get noticed.
Thankfully, the barge’s specifications are in the stream where I can reach them. As I approach the rear section, I use the teardrop in my head to search. The barge is an X-34 model. Really recent. It should be working. They’re supposed to be foolproof. I’m young, but I learned early that almost nothing is foolproof, no matter what they say.
The specs light up my vision center, filling my mind. I bring up a map of the barge, and standing about two meters from it, rotate the map so it outlines my machine. I search for the fridge unit. Map says it is in the exact center, about halfway up.
That means a bit of a climb—if I can get the thing to extend handholds for me. I sing out to the barge. It give me a soft, almost wounded, rely. There’s more than one system gone in this thing. I have an unsettled feeling. It won’t be quick. I wish it was quick. I need quick.
I ask for the handholds. There is some hesitation, but then they pop free of the barge’s side. Nice, except they don’t extend all the way.
I ask again. There’s a grating sound and the handholds ease out a little more. I can barely get my fingertips around them, but it will have to do. I climb a couple steps up, and balance there. It isn’t comfortable.
“Place is a zoo,” Bull streams me. “You do all this?”
Again, I ignore. Frowning, I ease the supply bag off my back. I lean into the machine for leverage and feel around in the bag for a roll of sheets. There should be a whole cylinder of them in there somewhere. Rails, balancing is awkward. I swear and heave the bag back on. I’ll try code riding first. It would be better to focus that way, anyway. Get my mind off the spooky.
“Still,” Bull streams. “Isn’t so bad. Can probably handle it myself. Four fixes to win. What do you say?”
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AUTHOR BIO—Kerry Nietz
Kerry Nietz is a refugee of the software industry. He spent more than a decade of his life flipping bits, first as one of the principal developers of the database product FoxPro for the now mythical Fox Software, and then as one of Bill Gates’s minions at Microsoft. He is a husband, a father, a technophile and a movie buff. He is the author of several award-winning novels, including A Star Curiously Singing, Freeheads, and Amish Vampires in Space. You can follow Kerry at his web site or on a variety of social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter.