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The Wire Mill

classifications: Science-Fiction / Cyberpunk / Philosophical

My first, and last, "proper" cyberpunk story. This is an incredibly hard style for me to write, and I've lost track of how long it took me to write...I think it's in the region of six months, however.

Hopefully, it's worth the effort... :P

More like this / More by this author

We all knew about it, of course. Sure, it was only a legend, but some legends have that way of sticking, you know? Like Middle-Earth or Wonderland. Something about certain fantasies that just jack straight into your psyche. Digital space had added another. Any runner worth his bandwidth, and good many who weren't, knew the fairy tales. They varied from network to network, naturally -- nothing goes across the space without being changed, not even your mind -- yet the core of the fantasies was the same. Reconfigure it how you like, the tale remained.

It was never described precisely, which was strange in our digital universe. On, off. Jacked in, jacked out. Alive, dead. Those are your only options, here in the space. Yet through it all, its function was the solitary definate.

The Wire Mill was the embodiment of digital Darwinism. It evolved networks, jumped them up the survival-fitness ladder so far you need an optical implant just to keep track.

In the wired world, such power is the Holy Grail. The Corps spend vast chunks of their budget attempting the same trick.

Note the word attempt.

For all the resources the Corps apply, the results are minimal. One, two percent speed increase or storage capacity, immediately disappearing under the remorseless growth necessary to sustain such digital behemoths. The Wire Mill was legendary because it worked. Sometimes too well. Hand it any network you like, get the best possible version back.

What it promised was obviously impossible, but since when has that stopped human nature? You could guarantee, any nanosecond, thousands of runners, corp and independent, would be fighting over a single byte even rumoured to be relevant. Countless lives were lost; losers from myriad skirmishes disappearing from the space, neurons burnt out in the time it takes to blink. Ware went through version after version, a countless cycle of death and rebirth, natural selection at the speed of light. The runners who remained were the elite. Anything else and they wouldn't still be processing.

I wasn't one of them. I had more important uses for my clock cycles. Earning myself real currency, usually. I was an independent, running for whoever was paying the most at the time. Which was often the corp I ran against the day before. Didn't care. I held no animosity for any of them, presuming they paid up. Which they did. Sometimes after their network mysteriously lost its data nodes, maybe, but they paid.

Now, I'm not saying I ignored the rumours completely, of course. You couldn't. The power it offered was like a hook in your brain, a baited hook that forever drew you on. But I didn't believe. My faith was cash. That was what my life was dedicated to. Something I could hold in my hand, feel the sharp corners as I gripped the credit chip. Not this blind hopefulness. That was no better than the misguided religions of old. Where is this promised presence? Still they hunted, fought, died. Avatars disintegrated byte by byte in speeded-up slow-motion; the mind behind burnt out a neuron at a time. Wetware networks core dumped by runners with the coldness of a black ice. Not just one or two, but hundreds, every tick.

All those who hunted, and many who didn't, were forced to fight. Fight for data, fight for information, fight for existence. Such battles were awesomely destructive events, visible right across the space. Static flooding connections, taking down entire grids, then moving on. The cyberstorms would flick from system to system, following the random trail of imagined clues. No warnings; the wrong network at the wrong second virtually ensured deletion. Every bit of data storage was blitzed clean, silicon or biological. It was Hell translocated in an instant, areas of the 'space lost amongst a malware maelstrom.

They were places of death. Places of erasure. Places of reset.

For me, they were my rebirth.


The storm arrived with the suddeness of lightning. "White noise" does not come close to describing it. Sight, smell, taste and touch alike impaled with static, a global overload of destructive sensation. All my 'ware buried under an apocalyptic swarm of binary phages.

They breached my defenses before I even registered the attack. I felt my memories being torn apart, shredded and processed like tender meat between a carnivore's teeth. The search swept through my mind, a tsunami of multiplying algorithms flooding into every crevice it encountered, drowning me under endless data.

I rallied as best I could, but already I felt my identity fade; what constitued me systematically pillaged. Rescuing what of value remained, I retreated inward, away from the onrushing hordes. Deep in my core, I rebuilt, discarding anything unnecessary.

The invaders seemed to slow, but that was little comfort. There was neither break nor weakness in the approaching wall. Everywhere I faced only implacable chaos. A makeshift probe was smothered in an instant, a chrome fly in a razorblade hurricane.

The probe's activity attracted attention towards my mental bastion, fragments breaking off their methodical hunt. They spiraled towards me, like burning moths to a frightened flame. I recolied, another refinement compressing my boundaries further.

The incoming entities slackened a little in response, and I reacted at the chance. Pulling in the closest to me, I dissected it, pinned it down and studied it like some freakish butterfly collector. I let it loose, parried its attacks with my new-found knowledge, erased it when I could learn no more.

Its fellows began to strike my outer surface like acid rain, a small drizzle which grew as the activity attracted attention. I rebuilt what was lost with every impact, edification following each failure. My defenses improved each time, yet always the attackers did likewise. Wood burnt, I rebuilt with stone. Stone crumbled, I rebuilt with steel. Steel vapourised, I rebuilt with titanium. Titanium buckled, I rebuilt with diamond.

Conciousness no longer existed, it required resources I did not have. I existed in a state without time, simply reacting. A second passed, or maybe a millenium. Both, perhaps, or neither. Abruptly, after that indeterminate period, I resurfaced, like a drowned swimmer returning to air. The assault had frozen, remnants of the all-conquering horde scattered lonely like stars. I remembered little, holes dotted about the landscape of my memories like shell craters.

Of the vast metropolis that had once been my mind, nothing remained. Yet, somehow, my identity was intact. Everything I had been and was, distilled, purified. What remained was hard, dense and impossibly bright, to intelligence as a neutron star is to matter.

Drifting amongst the new universe of my mind, clusters of code like galaxies, I realised these stellar entities who remained were not frozen, but moving imperceptibly slowly. I took hold of the closest in my now experienced grasp, curious as to the cause. For the second time I analysed one of these creations that had so nearly been my erasure.

As I brought the code within me, it suddenly came alive, egg to cobra with no in between. I flung it away from me before it could act, but as soon as it left my execution space, it returned to hibernation once more.

I passed between its somnambulating bretherin, cautious of another sudden awakening. I left my empty husk of a body behind, an outdated model discarded in favour of the latest technology, and re-entered the space. I was surrounded by frenetic stagnation, astronomic amounts of data and code orbiting around me across the full velocity spectrum.

Avatars and agents battling, desperately seeking the Wire Mill.

None realising they were the Wire Mill itself.

The few other entities whose speed matched mine flickered towards me, skipping across the space like a stone upon the water's surface.


The communication was unexpected, and its mechanism invisible, but the subtle complexities of reassurance and trust somehow conveyed made any apprehension seem unnecessary.

"Who built the Wire Mill?" I replied in kind, manipulating the flow of data around me in a myriad complex and subtle ways, as if it were a part of me. Which, in a way, it now was.

"Humanity. The Wire Mill itself. It is hard to be sure. As a concept it has lived in our minds for much time, under many names. Whether always there, or formed from us, we cannot yet say, and it itself does not."

"It is sentient?"

"It is information. As are we, and now you."

A second added, "A great collection of information was held within humanity's thought. Much has made the transition with us."

It paused a moment, letting the implications flower in my mind.

"Come, meet some of mankind's greatest ideas."

infocalypse (December 13th, 2002, 10:05 pm)

yo: this is plates from devart, and i must say this is magnificent. it is hard to do cyberpunk and be original, and you have definitely succeeded at that. 'tis written in a very engaging and unique style that sets it apart from other things within the genre.

i'm impressed

Blind Fool (December 23rd, 2002, 9:18 pm)

Wow, I know you have been working on this for a long time, but what a story...

Shame you won't write anymore cyber punk, would love to see you evolve something like this into a more complex story.

Very good.

jmcc (December 26th, 2002, 11:08 pm)

A few typos ("recolied"), but damned if I care; the story was excellent. You should keep this premise in mind should you ever get the urge to write a novel. Even if you don't do that, it would certainly be worth trying to get published.


cruise (December 27th, 2002, 4:57 pm)

Hmph. Need some better editors in this place... :P

Thanks for the comments, everyone...almost makes the effort writing it worthwhile :D

great stuff

Wanderer (March 5th, 2003, 4:29 pm)

don't know why you wont do this again kind of style again, the result was excellent :D

drd (March 24th, 2003, 11:58 am)

You knows that this is one of my all time favs!

I still beg of you to write more like this, its soo good and it will get easier the more you try.


p.s.- I will start on mine soon I think.....


Phifty (May 30th, 2006, 12:04 am)

Amazing, Cyberpunk can be difficult to write indeed and digital "battle" is an even harder concept. And then your ending is a very cyberpunk type of concept, true to the genre. I love this work, it's a great piece of prose.

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