Signal Decay

A city bathed in the light of a sunset

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The villains of Vapor City were rarely the kind who dreamed of domination. Take the Wirecutter for example. Here's a guy with all the usual childhood trauma and big brains to become a bitter powder-keg of a nerd, and sure enough the first time he got his heart broken it broke the rest of him with it. He's got no interest in taking over the city, much less the world, all he seems to do is try to expose the systems of the city as imperfect and capable of producing problems like him. Did you know the first three years he was "active", we thought he was a computer bug? He hacked into the cell towers around town and set up scripts that monitored text communications. When he detected certain kinds of messages, the lonely kind people send to the people they need to hear from, he'd just discard them. They wouldn't arrive. Now don't get me wrong, you have to be a real asshole to mess around with vulnerable people like that, but he did this for three whole years before we caught him.

Seems to me like that was enough for him. I'm glad we stopped him, for everyone's sake, but look what happened. He went through rehab, served his time, and less than a year later he's got a whole costume and everything, running around reprogramming bus timetables, tampering with the weather monitoring stations, and flooding the networks with that AI babble, just making everything a bit more of a pain for everyone to prove that someone could. If he'd get past his need to antagonize, he'd see he has some seriously useful skills, but that text message thing really set the public opinion against him and now he just wallows in it. I think maybe being separated from society and lectured actually reinforced his outcast identity. When he acted up because he felt like he didn't belong, we responded by agreeing.

It might be harder, but we have to do better before we can say we're doing good. We need to stop jumping to punishment, and start with understanding. Most of these people are twisted up over a single emotion they've never been taught to manage, often because no one was around who cared enough to try. So, that's the plan with the Sappers. We're building our own counter-culture initiative to serve as a landing place for people who need to process social hatred. Officially, this is a notorious gang of rebellious hackers who have been 'plaguing the agencies' for years. We'll market them as an anti-authority semi-political movement, and construct layers of secretive websites and 'anonymous' communities to sell the illusion. And within those spaces, that's where we do the hard work. We build up profiles, learn to understand what is driving these people, and engineer opportunities for members to escape. Sometimes something as simple as a good job, a local hyperball league, or a charity group to belong to is all these people need to find a sense of belonging in the community.

So yeah, the Sappers are assholes, but they are the trade we're making to prevent more Wirecutters. Time will surely show us the flaws in this approach too, and it'll be up to the next generation to do better. Things shift in the wind, as always, here in Vapor City.

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Art and Writing: 
Yamen
Fractal rendered with Fractorium.