All art is by Aisaku.
Part 9 - Gatekeeper
“Hello, little bro.” A womanly voice drifted through the haze.
I felt a lucid moment.
“Who is that?”
“You shouldn’t bother having Dida spam me through the main line. Since she’s one of our products, I have the ability to lock her out of any part of the network and she’ll never realize it.”
I pressed through the haze. “Are you truly my brother?”
“What proof could possibly convince you that I am? If I’m merely a dream inside you then I would know all you know and whatever it would take to convince you of who I am.”
I waved my hands. The haze refused to clear. “Okay. So, I can’t trust anything you say. How is that any different than what I felt before?”
“I’m guessing you learned about dad. If it’s any consolation, I haven’t really lied to you. I’ve merely omitted several critical details in our conversations.”
A shadowy form of a woman drifted through the haze. I steadied myself.
“So, you’re still using her, huh?”
The form paused.
“Perhaps. If this isn’t just a dream.”
In a few more steps, her outline filled and her color emerged.
She seemed older than when I last saw her. Her hair was still long and black like mother’s. She wore a uniform with the spiral umbrella with the legged logo of Sporelectronics. It was still green and white.
“Hello, Kary with an I.”
“Go ahead and call her Kari, little bro.” She/Kary emphasized it ‘Car-e’, as he always did. Nothing new.
“So then, how are you contacting me right now, if I assume this isn’t just a dream?”
Kary/Kari folded her arms over her chest. “Same way I first broadcast Kari to you when you finally let go of your fears and we implanted Dida. Only long-distance, of course. If you assume this isn’t just a dream, again.”
She was much shorter than me. Her legs looked like she’d been working out, but such a change could’ve been easily programmed.
“What do you want?”
She frowned. “You make that sound so sinister…” She held up her left hand. “Who says that wanting something is so terrible?”
“Dad is dead.”
“Naturally, I already knew.”
“Did you kill him?”
This time she looked hurt. “Little bro…”
I kept my eyes locked on her dusty-olive eyes. “Well?”
She grit her teeth. “You think I would’ve waited all that time if I just wanted to kill him? His death at my hands would’ve returned our mother NOTHING!”
“Then how did he die?”
“A long, festering case of intestinal cancer. Not my fault. But…” She held a single finger aloft. “Did you know what exists naturally in the intestinal tract of every human being?”
“Along with all sorts of other microbial creatures…particularly my good friend, Candida. It’s a very opportunistic organism. It tries to go anywhere. And dad, on his own, made a welcoming home for something in this world.”
I took a step back. “This isn’t a dream.”
“You said it. I didn’t.” She brushed back her hair.
“Wait...So that means…you’ve been using dad’s corpse to make fungal computers?”
Kary-with-an-I turned green in emotive exaggeration. “Don’t be disgusting. Besides, he wouldn’t keep that long. I just buried him after I took what I needed.”
“Where?” I circled around her.
She turned to keep pace. “In a discount grave on acidic land. It was nothing worse than what he gave mom.”
“And you got your vengeance on him?”
“Vengeance? I did nothing. I let him snuff himself out and then I took back what he stole from us all those years ago. I took back our sister. I’m convinced that a gene in his spermatozoa caused our sister to never be born.” She hissed through her teeth.
I tried to control the haze around us, but it remained in stasis. I tried changing Kary-with-an-I. She remained the same as well.
“So, what’s your plan? What do you want?”
“Well, are we still assuming you’re really talking to me and not just some figment of your imagination?”
“Excellent. It was rather disconcerting being just a figment.” She folded her hands then fanned them out. Across her fingers appeared a sparkling jewel. I recognized it as the visualization of a data file.
“Your Dida is trying to hack into our network since her regular efforts weren’t working. She’s lovely and tenacious, but I need her to stop that.”
She smiled. “Our system doesn’t know her like I do. We have a number of countermeasures. They are the blunt-force gatekeepers of the Kingdom. I’ve been able to keep them from responding but, in precisely four minutes, my leash will snap. It’s a standard failsafe which assumes that I’ve been compromised.”
“And what will happen then?” I’d never heard of any kind of firewall like that before.
“Then, it would be best if you weren’t in the same skull with her, if you catch my drift.” She spun the jewel in her hands. “Also, take this. It’s the best I can do by way of apology.”
I glowered. “You still have a lot to answer.”
She passed the jewel to my hands with a breath. “I know.”
It passed through me like an icy pinprick.
I jerked up. Dida immediately spoke in my ear, “Sir! SIR! We’ve been pinged by an outside source! Are you okay?”
I shivered. “Can you track the origin?”
“It seemed to come from the location I’m trying to access. I’ve had no success with alternate routes.”
I scooted up. “Are you trying to enter the Sporelectronics network without a security pass?”
The seconds ticked past in a silent moment with a throbbing heart in the background.
“Did you, Dida?”
“I was only looking for access holes to contact the other Mr. Glossian. Is something wrong?” She asked her question so faintly, so innocently.
“Kary Glossian contacted me, it would seem. Dida, I need you to stop all attempts to access that network RIGHT NOW!”
“That is a direct command, Dida.”
“Understood.” Her voice had none of the soft, gentle variations of a moment before. She didn’t even play a disengage sound.
I waited for confirmation and wondered where the data jewel had wound up.
“Are you clear, Dida?”
She didn’t respond.
She groaned. “Something's wrong, Mr. Glossian. I’m getting a server error. It won’t let me disconnect. It won’t let me deactivate the wireless port.”
I bit my lip. “Can you reroute?”
“I’m…trying…” She strained then gasped. “There’s something else here…”
The base of my neck suddenly felt like it had been rubbed with alcohol. I gripped it with both hands. My first thought was of pushing her aside and out of danger, but hands were useless for that.
“Dida?...Please, Dida…What’s there?”
“The system is…unsure and attempting to analyze.” The back of my neck began to feel hot, as though inflamed. I pressed the water bottle against the skin, but it was lukewarm by now. Out the window, I could see the taxi speeding through a long, desert road with gnarled mesquite bushes pressing on all edges.
“Are you free, Dida?”
“Not yet. You should’ve brought Diflucan, sir. I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you.”
“Of course, Dida.” My eyes dipped. “I’m sorry too.”
“Because you’ve been the closest thing to someone I truly care about.”
“I’m sorry, sir…the system doesn’t understand.”
It felt like a wasp had stung the back of my neck. I shook my head. “Don’t worry, Dida.”
I waited for the end of the pain or some strange augmented-reality Cerberus to rend me apart. Slowly though, the heat and pain did end, but still I remained.
I tapped my neck gently, as though prodding Dida's body.
The next word I heard was a flat, “How?” from my left. I jerked my head.
Sitting next to me in the taxi, with short dark hair, her arms folded, and exaggerated eyes the color of raspberries, was a young girl wearing a dress with serrated folds.
“How what?” I leaned away from her. “Who are you?”
She looked me over from top to bottom. “You must have a firewall.”
“I have no business excusing you. I’m here to eradicate the infiltrator.”
Dida panted and groaned through the inside of me out.
“What did you do to my computer?” I gave her back as much of a glare.
“I was trying to fulfill my purpose. You prevented me.”
I touched where the jewel had passed through me with curious thought and a conundrum.
“Who sent you?” The taxi continued traveling as though nothing was happening.
The girl, who I now figured was some form of augmented reality AI like the pringers and pingers I usually knew, continued to glare. I had to wonder where she was being broadcast from.
“Sporelectronics Inc. I’m a standard-security gatekeeper. You attempted illegal access to sensitive systems. Under my primary protocol, your computer should be purged with extreme measures.”
The heat at the back of my neck was still gone, but Dida had turned silent.
“My system did nothing wrong. She was merely trying to contact my brother, the head of Sporelectronics.”
The gatekeeper turned slightly and watched every inch of my skin. “Sensory and visual details routed through the computer in question seem to indicate you are indeed a relation to Mr. Kary Glossian.”
The place on the back of my neck turned hot again and quivered. Now it was my turn to groan. “What are you doing?”
“As I said, extreme measures have been authorized. I’m instructed not to negotiate with you in any way. You presented a threat to the system and we were ordered to eradicate you as per our directives and the current laws regarding data-hackers.”
I leaned back. “So, my brother ordered you to kill me, is that it?”
The gatekeeper leaned closer and checked my eyes. “While my orders are classified, you are incorrect. My directive was not activated by Kary Glossian.”
That caught me off guard. I thought back to my dream as best as I could through the pain.
I tried to recall what I knew about gatekeeper programs. One thing might work.
“I’d like you to check Dida’s logs for any command regarding an intrusion into your system.”
It was a small chance. Anyone accused of intrusions which merited a lethal response was allowed the chance to plead that their records be checked. Of course, I’d only heard of it in failed situations where the gatekeeper eventually found the remnants of deleted files or off-site records.
The gatekeeper frowned, turned her head a few times, then looked back at me. “I’ve been ordered to override a records check as part of my instructions to not negotiate with you. But my core cannot be overridden; therefore, I will check your files.”
A monstrous presence with deathly arms froze just out of reach. The gatekeeper motioned to the air and it drifted away like a wisp of wind.
Her eyes remained fixed on me. “Reveal all your records to me and I will make my final judgment.”
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Bio: I'm MajorKerina and I love to collaborate creatively with a group of friends to make tales where people have their genders, identities, and very realities questioned, contorted, and turned upside-down. I like slice-of-life with a spicing of the supernatural, strange, or surreal. Reality with a scent of the impossible. You can find me on DeviantArt, Twitter, ScribbleHub, and other places.