By Mathew Nelson

noun: sidewinder; plural noun: sidewinders
a pale-coloured, nocturnal, burrowing rattlesnake that moves sideways over sand by throwing its body into S-shaped curves. It is found in the deserts of North America.

"Dataism declares that the universe consists of data flows, and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing"
— Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow


Accessing network… Complete _ Intercept audio communications: Nexus device #30921747. Registered to Nathan Miller. File? Pull significant data _ United States Special Forces. Rank: Captain. Initiate audio recording. Confirm? _ Yes.

Connors: Captain Miller, you there?

Miller: I hear you Agent Connors.

Connors: Welcome back to the world, Miller. Glad to hear you're still in one piece.

Miller: Barely. What's this about, Connors? Hey… Agent Connors, can you hear me alright?

Connors: You sure this line is secure?

Miller: Of course. You have an assignment for me?

Connors: That's right. You're going back in.

Miller: Mexico.

Connors: Affirmative.

Miller: … Shit.

Connors: Tell me about it, I've been up to my neck in paperwork trying to keep this whole mess under the radar, but even the CIA can't sweep up a civil war when it's happening in our own goddamn country.

Miller: How many times do you plan on pinning the blackouts on terrorists?

Connors: As many times as we need to, until the CIA and FBI and whoever else needs it can get back on their feet and bring some order to this goddamn nightmare.

Miller: And my objective?

Connors: Anton and his cultists have made their move.

Miller: They sure took their sweet time.

Connors: They did, which is why I intend to take this threat seriously. I'm still having trouble convincing command of the fact so resources will be limited. I hope that isn't an issue.

Miller: It's not. I've transferred you a dossier. Did you receive it?

Connors: Yes. Lieutenant Kelly Jade, Special Forces for three-and-a-half years, impressive resume.

Miller: One of my best.

Connors: Greener than what I was hoping for. You sure she's up for this?

Miller: She's an expert reconnaissance operative, and she has a special talent for marksmanship.

Connors: Let's see… joined the army twenty-fourteen, special forces in... twenty-seventeen, at just twenty years old. Moved on to advising for the Sniper Corps. The woman's a protegee.

Miller: Like I said she's one of my best.

Connors: Professional experience?

Miller: Three confirmed KIAs. I was deployed with her during the attacks on Johannesburg in twenty-nineteen.

Connors: And?

Miller: And she handled it.

Connors: This operation with require the recovery of some highly sensitive information. I'll need some assurance that Lieutenant Jade can be trusted. We bring her into the fold, there's no coming back out.

Miller: Lieutenant Jade will do what she's trained to do. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Connors: Let's just see how she performs. Until I give the go-ahead I want her operating on a need-to-know basis. Now, tell me about your other operative. Dunstan Riley.

Miller: He's a computer analyst. CIA. Special Forces took him on in a bid to modernise our offensive tactics. Green, like Kelly, but unaccustomed to combat in the field. Works wonders with a computer though. That's the kind of guy you need, right?

Connors: Lieutenant Jade, Agent Riley, and yourself… I've got a man on the inside, Agent Santiago. Whatever resources the CIA can provide, he'll be the man to get them to you.

Miller: You're making this too easy. Brief me on Anton.

Connors: His following has more than doubled in the past twelve months. They've remained relatively peaceful so far – that we know of, anyway – but I say it's only a matter of time before they turn militant. Anton's tech is at the forefront of the cult's following. The followers think this special AI he's developed is the voice of god giving him commandments.

Miller: And what does Anton think?

Connors: Well, he's either crazy or he's a good conman. A few months back the CIA intercepted a massive shipment of neural interfaces, and we believe that's how Anton has been able to link with the AI.

Miller: I thought the interfaces were just to bump up their processing power.

Connors: Yeah, well, you've missed out on a few things. Take this drug, Hex, for instance. About eight weeks ago an epidemic broke out right across the region, but the drug only impacted about twenty-five percent of its users.

Miller: How does that work?

Connors: That's what you're going to tell me. Hex was synthesised by a gang in Japan who has ties to Anton and his crew stateside. Anton's son, Johnathan, seems to be playing a big part in distributing the stuff throughout almost all communities under the protection of the cult. We have absolutely no idea what it does, or how it works.

Miller: Understood. Listen, Connors, we're a small unit heading deep into enemy territory, you better make sure you're supplying us with whatever the hell you have left in your arsenal. If things go off the deep end what kind of hostilities are we expecting?

Connors: Do you remember Gustav Lynwood?

Miller: … Shit.

Connors: Well if it's any consolation I don't think Anton will do anything too drastic, let alone release a hound like Gustav. Half the world still believes that he's dead. He'll want to stay under the radar, stick to what he's good at. That's why this Lieutenant Jade should be exactly the kind of edge we need.

Miller: Why's that?

Connors: You can't hack soldiers like her. Once this operation is finished we'll be a good step closer to putting this country back on its feet.

Miller: Just another day in the office.

Connors: Looks like I'm needed elsewhere, captain. Any other intel you need will be provided at the briefing.

Miller: Good. I'll be in Nevada in a couple of hours.

Connors: And Lieutenant Jade?

Miller: She'll be in touch.

Communications terminated. Initiating backup file… Upload data? Confirm_Yes.