Oh man! I still exist!

It's a short, slightly awkwardly-phrased chapter, and I do apologize for my absense. I lost my plot book for the longest time I couldn't remember the finer details I needed to put in to make this story as coherant as my bad writing would allow. But I found it! And that means I can post again.

Also? I apologize to those people that I routinely submit reviews to. I've been so busy doing real-life-things-that-will-ensure-my-future-career-in-scary-adulthood that I haven't really had a chance to read all of the updates. I have a lot of catching up to do.

Anyways, sorry again, and I will honestly say that I'm not terribly happy with the outcome of typing up this chapter, but if I figure out a better way to approach it, I'll redo it. But at this point, I'm satisfied with it enough to publish it to the intarwebz and such.

...Wow. 'Interwebz'. That was kind of pathetic of me.

I've re-read this chapter a lot to look for grammar and spelling errors, but I ALWAYS miss some. Seriously, if I read a chapter fifteen times, I'll still publish it with errors and kick myself when I only find them well after I've published.

Thta biegn siad (just kidding),



The door's rusted bolt sliding to unlock was what shocked me back to reality

Riin, without a word, pushed me forward, directing to the tiny entrance, "Get in. Quick."

Feeling like a spider monkey in a sardine can, I did as instructed, having to contort my limbs to get my legs through before I started to shimmy in through on my back. My nape and skull grated against the pavement and pieces of loose gravel, and the last look of sky I had was mostly blocked by Riin, whose foreshortened form loomed over me.

"Get the pickle out. We are doing something slightly illegal, you realize."

My breathing was a bit heavy as I started to move slowly through the cramped tunnel; bits of rust flaking on to my face as my hands blindly looked for a way to push me along faster, "Get the pickle out? Of where? What the hell does that mean?"

I heard his frustrated sigh at my lack of understanding for his grandma-esque slang, "I mean, move faster before we get caught, or I shove you the rest of the way. Both ways are terribly unpleasant."

"But, where's the pickle?"

"Does it fucking matter?"

Well… at least I thought it did.

Suddenly, my legs were in a void, and when I shuffled further, my knees hung limp against a cold wall. I slipped the rest of the way out, a little unexpectedly, scraping my back against the metal edge. Obviously, the damage was minimal through my clothes, but it still kind of hurt. I ignored it to give the illusion that I didn't completely lack grace.

Still though, Riin completely showed me up by effortlessly slipping through the tiny, extended doorway, landing on his feet without grazing his back.

He gave me his patented look that told me I was insufferable.

"Eos." Came a calm, level voice from across the scrawled concrete gloom, "I expected you to have arrived later." The accent was slightly Nordic, though it was clear whoever it was had been in Gwenth a long time, the harsh consonants blurred by the less foreign tongue.

Riin smirked, the hard lines and hollows of his face appearing eerie and gaunt in the blue light from artificial, computer monitor light. I could only imagine how rough I looked in that lighting, "Hey, sometimes I can be punctual."

I snorted.

…And then promptly wheezed when I got a bony Riin-elbow in the ribs.

The vampire walked forward into the pseudo-blackness of the oubliette, which I couldn't really tell the size of. The far wall was completely covered in screens… if there even was a wall behind them. But the rest was indistinguishable; horizontal surfaces—maybe tables, maybe shelves—stacked with piles of angles and lines that I couldn't really indentify.

I was expecting the stereotypical computer-whiz pose of swivelling his chair around, but that didn't happen. Very discreetly, a floating head entered through a half-closed door.

I couldn't help it, between ghost stories and horror movies, I shuddered loudly.

Riin gave me a funny look, but the floating head cut in. I started to think about the mechanics if would take to make a disembodied head speak… and uh… float.

"Aah, this is the foreigner you were talking about."

It seemed weird that Head was calling me foreign, considering he was the one with the Nordic accent—but then the second thought came to me that he'd probably been here longer; across the Pond or no.

"Yep, named Taschi…" Riin looked to me quizzically, not quite sure how to finish the sentence.

This seemed like my cue, by I only noticed after a moment of staring at him blankly, "Oh! Oh. Uh… M-Morrison. Taschi Blaire Morrison." I felt dumb.

"Taschi, hm?" His floating head moved, and as he stepped into the light of the screen, I noticed that he was just wearing a lot of very flat black. He immediately took a seat on the wooden stool in front of the cell of monitors. My name sounded really good when he said it, "Come here, Taschi." He motioned to a stool beside him that I hadn't even noticed until then.

I shook myself out of my bizarre behaviour and went and sat next to him. The seat was flat, and too small, which left me changing positions every five seconds. I glanced between Not-So-Disembodied-Head's nimble fingers flying over the keyboard and his pale, bone-coloured profile. One thing I could tell you is that I wanted to throw him a sandwich—he was sunken and malnourished, which had stunted his growth to be very small—hovering just above five feet. I wasn't exactly sure how old he was, but he looked about twelve.

Everything about him was monochrome—his very black clothes that covered him from just under his chin all the way to his black, booted feet. He was even wearing gloves. I assumed he was white-blond, but it appeared more as a washed-out grey, and even his skin had the stony cast that didn't exactly assure me of a peak physical condition. Once I had taken in this information, I stared at the screen, where is seemed a random pattern of binary was streaking across the closest screen as the skinny grey kid typed the coding in.

Finally, a loading screen popped up. Above, red writing blared, "RESTRICTED: I.H.R. Data Bank".

My pulse quickened as I realized whatever this was, it was terribly illegal.

"What are you doing?" I had to ask.

His grey eyes reflected the monitor, where he was typing something into a box labelled, "OVERRIDE."

"I'm hacking the system to get access to government files." He was incredibly frank, and I appreciated that, "The International Hall of Records in particular."

That left me with more questions though, "The International…?"

"Hall of Records, yes." Riin finished for me, startling me when he spoke so close behind me, "It's the data that the United States started with the Patriot Act back at the turn of the century. It was really the only thing that C.I.C.S liked enough from that old system to keep—besides the idea of the close surveillance."

Like that explained anything.

I didn't know much information on the U.S.A. All I knew was that it had existed, did some serious shit, and fell to internal corruption. I had no idea what the 'Patriot Act' was.

"Okay, okay… back up a second. I didn't understand a word either of you just said."

"Nevermind the Patriot Act portion," Riin started hesitantly after a moment, "That's just too much politics for someone's noggin to deal with in one day. Stripes? You wanna explain the I.H.R?"

Stripes? What?

"Certainly." The blond minimized the hacking window, typing in something else to the weird, flitting binary and another window popped up labelled, "BACKUP." He typed in a quick password.

A picture of a much healthier, more vibrant blond popped up, and the photo looked like something akin to one from a school's picture day. The child in the photo couldn't have been a day over eight though.

"We're going to use me as an example," He started, "And then we'll find out some personal details of you."

I blinked, confused, but he simply launched into his explanation.

"See right here?" He pointed to the portion at the top, "My birth name was Caine Lucash Czhsynovik. I was born in Kalisz in Poland and moved to Skagen in Denmark at the age of one. My mother was a school teacher and my father was a self-employed painter. Both of my parents were atheists and socialist. My eyes are grey, and I have a distinguishable scar from chicken pox on the left side of my jaw. If you look at the bottom, information of whereabouts stops at the age of ten, five months after I moved to Gwenth."

I started to get a funny feeling, a powerfully cold dread in the pit of my stomach, "I understand some of that information—but why all the details about your parents? Your scar?"

Stripes gave me a knowing look, and he closed the window, "This is what the International Hall of Records is. It was a Federal program set up by the Bureau of Homeland Security to track known serial killers, terrorists and other threats to monitor their activities, and, in a more scientific way, see exactly what makes them tick. When the United States collapsed, the representatives all over the newly formed C.I.C.S or Council of the Independent City States liked the program and brought it to a greater level—documenting everyone to look for potential government threats, so that if questionable actions and repetitive antisocial behaviours that could lead to danger later were witnessed, the perpetrator could be brought to justice before the crime was even committed."

My insides felt frozen.

Stripes seemed to expect this reaction, and turned back to the screen, where it seemed the hacking program had finished, "Ah. There we are. How do you spell your name, Taschi?"

I mechanically gave him the spelling in full, and I watched a loading bar pack its tiny green pixels into itself over an olive branch circled C.I.C.S. seal.

My high school photo from earlier that year popped up—my stupid, unsure smile, my too-broad shoulders and too-thin neck. My freaky blue eyes that always gave people pause, my dark skin that gave me all those names for animals, for laziness, for years of slavery and oppression that I hadn't even been around to witness. Earle had always hated my skin.

But I didn't get stuck in the past, because I let out an abrubt, "What?" when I read the bold red font beside my picture.


Those ice crystals in my guts cut at me painfully, and my heartbeat quickened. How was I high risk? Did they know about that night with Earle? Was all that information processing and would it only be a matter of days before someone came to take me away and charge me with murder? Panic made my fingers numb, but, with morbid fascination, I couldn't look away.

I scanned my birthday, my determined height and weight, my colouring and background. When I got to the portion of having an unmarried mother, an asterisk stood out brightly beside it, and that sentence as well as a paragraph following it was set in bold. When I read about the in-and-out boyfriends, and the social workers, it was all highlighted. It was noted that I was routinely bullied at school, and potentially beaten at home, that I had a problem sharing answers in class, that I was awkward in social settings and had no close friends. It explained the painful day of when all of my brothers and sisters were lured into a social worker's van with chocolate and shuttled off to foster homes while I sat inside and did homework, stupid and ignoring the noise outside. Next was my mother's breakdown and relationship with Earle, his alcoholism, his cocaine and methamphetamine addiction, his temper and his long list of restraining orders set against him by previous girlfriends.

With the last line, I almost felt my soul leave my body.

"Remains of Earle William Roberts found in Saintfield River with trauma to skull—subject wanted for questioning in regards to case.

Subject status: Missing."

"Uh…well…" Riin started after a very uncomfortable five minutes of silence, "Good, uh, good thing we'll be deleting your record?"

Mortification was really the only word that came to mind then.

Stripes didn't seem terribly disturbed by this news, "All of this information will disappear, Taschi, once I remove it from the server. You see, the way the I.H.R. works, it is the main brain for all computerized subject data. If I delete it here, it will spiral out, and all traces of you from any program will too be erased. Does that make sense?"

"I think so." I answered, unsure.

"Alright," He looked at me point-blank, his finger tapping the delete button. A window popped up, asking if it wanted the file to be deleted, "Are you sure you want this?"

I thought for a long moment. With this, I would lose all traces of my name and legacy. I'd legally be someone else completely. It scared me, to be completely honest with you. But all those fresh chances, those opportunities, hovered before me. I will admit, I probably didn't give it as much thought as I would have now, but the outcome of this extended judgment still would have been the same.

It was a no contest—I would say yes.

Unable to actually say it, I nodded. Stripes quickly tapped the enter key, and almost simultaneously, tapped several other keys. A loading bar blinked on the screen for less than a second, followed by another window that blared, "FILE COMPRIMISED: BACKUP INFECTED."

A few keystrokes later, the government backup was deleted too, wiping away my entire history.

A weird sensation passed over me—this calm, that same feeling that I had in the apartment the moment I knew I was doomed to die, staring at my blood on the carpet.

This reaction was quick, and as fast as it registered, it went away.

Stripes took the time to jot down a few things, asking for the complete names of all my relatives, and I sounded them off, as if they were names of the dead. They were though, in a matter of speaking—all of those people that I had known, shared blood with, grew up with, were gone. I had no connection to my brothers and sisters anymore, or my mother, who I didn't even get to say good-bye to. All of them had been taken from me well before that moment, but I had only clued in right there.

Stripes, from that moment on, was a little more gentle. He opened a new profile window, but gave me several minutes for this to sink in.

"Are you read to continue?"

I swallowed, "Yeah."

"Good. Now, you can keep your same first name in conversation to the people you already know, but everything will need to be legally changed. What do you want your name to be?"

I didn't have the slightest idea, and after an indecisive grunt, I turned to Riin for help.

He grinned, "How 'bout Freeloader?"

I smiled, in spite of myself.

"Okay, okay," He acquiesced, "Horus got a cool new name when we made his profile, so I guess we can give you one too. You know, I always liked the name Samuel. How do you like Samuel?"

It was a strong name, and I liked it too, but it felt too weird, "Doesn't fit."

"Huh. Okay." He paused, and it took several minutes of 'ums' and 'ahs' for him to figure one out, "Oh! I totally know. You look like a Logan to me."

It clicked. I liked it. It had the same feel as Taschi, for some reason.

"It's great."

Stripes cut in, "Is that a go?"

I nodded, and he typed it into the window. I felt incredibly odd trying on someone else who wasn't me.

"Alright, you're Logan Blaire Harns from Whitbrook, close outside of New Sainte Pierre. That means you're close to the same area, but outside of the range of surveillance for Saintfield. That means it's pretty much impossible for them to track you back to Taschi, but you would have acquired the same information as you already have. Make sense?"

It did, I nodded again.

"Excellent. That being said, I'm going to spend some time creating a false history for you. I'll send Dariin a copy by tomorrow, so that you can read it over. It won't deviate much from your prior history, but I'll remove anything that put you in a high risk status and add in a few more details that will make living here easier for you." The blond's fingers started to fly over the keyboard, and he routinely opened a window that he had pasted with a copied file containing my old profile.

I watched him work for a little while, only half-absorbing the new yet eerily familiar information before I heard a voice from the doorway that made me look up.

It belonged to a young blond—one whose memorable face brought a suddenly swell of anger

"Hey, Caine," Was all he had started with, ready to ask him a question. But when he saw me, and how I immediately jumped up, he wheeled around and bolted back through the door.

It was that stupid kid who stole my wallet.