Layer 50: Rising Tension

Dale Dyer

The man sat on a small stone platform in his favorite red suit, the usually brightly lit room now dark. Nestled within the columns and pools inside Wen’s capitol building, Aaron watched the screen of his laptop intently. Lights flashed across it, illuminating the room. Colors joined the lights, though some seemed not to come from the laptop but the walls and columns themselves.

“Cypher, how secure is our connection?” Aaron asked the laptop, leaning back on the cold stone wall behind the platform.

“It’s good enough for audio and video,” a synthesized female voice responded quickly.

On the laptop’s screen, a video feed flashed into existence, flickered for a few moments, then stabilized. Displayed on the video feed was a small, bird-like figure sitting at a desk while continuously mumbling and turning about as if scared of something.

“Ryder,” Aaron said. “It is good to see you again.”

“Of course,” said Ryder in a tired voice. “But we didn’t connect just to talk, did we?”

Aaron pulled a small digital storage device from his coat pocket and plugged it into the computer. A new tab appeared, displaying an empty folder. “Is this enough space?” Aaron asked.

Clicks echoed from the laptop as Ryder accessed the folder, then uploaded a text file to the device. Aaron sat the laptop down and stood up, beginning to pace across the room and back as Cypher listed the progress of the upload.

“20 percent complete,” Cypher said.

Aaron had reached the far end of the room and walked back to the platform. As he stepped up, he heard a rustling from his right. Without stopping, he peered into the darkness between the columns, but there were only a few scattered leaves. Ignoring the leaves, Aaron sat on the platform once again and checked the progress of the upload, which read 52 percent.

Ryder shifted in his chair, often glancing towards the door of his small office space and mumbling under his breath. The office was no more than ten feet by ten feet but packed to the brim with papers scattered across the floor and walls. Reports that displayed anything from annual earnings to correspondence to simple lists of names or symbols. Like the rest of the office, Ryder’s desk was crowded with all kinds of odd statues and papers.

“One hundred percent,” said Cypher’s voice, breaking the silence in Aaron’s room. “If I may, Ryder, what exactly is this file? I cannot make heads or tails of it.”

Ryder nearly jumped at her voice but smoothed his feathers and managed to look almost calm. “I- uh, it’s just something that I found, and I thought maybe you or Aaron could figure it out.”

“Well, I certainly cannot,” Cypher replied, then projected the file for Aaron to see.

On the screen was displayed a jumbled mass of symbols and letters; some matched the papers in Ryder’s office, but most seemed random and disordered. Every few seconds, the symbols shifted into different patterns. Aaron watched the symbols for a few minutes, and both Ryder and Cypher stayed quiet while he studied them.

Finally, Aaron spoke. “I…” He paused, troubled, then continued. “I do not know what it is, but I have an idea of what it’s doing.”

Silence filled the room once again as Aaron continued watching the symbols until finally, Ryder interrupted his thoughts.

“Aaron, what is it doing?”

At first, Aaron didn’t respond. Then, Aaron spoke in a calm voice, almost too quiet to hear.

“It’s thinking.”

To be continued…