As the Voice of Irokai’s words faded, the crowd of protesters collapsed into a mob. Tourists started running for the transit station or the tram platforms. Residents started whispering, gesturing among themselves. A few stood in shock, paralyzed by indecision. I knew I didn’t have a pulse, but I could still feel my heart pounding and my fingers going numb. Tricks of perception, I told himself, but that didn’t stop the dry muzzle or the need to wipe my paws on my pants to dry the nonexistent sweat.
Imogen looked up at the podium, then nonchalantly adjusted her glasses. “You sure got their attention,” she quipped sardonically. “Think maybe you can get everyone else’s?”
I nodded, then lifted my arms to my sides, amplifying my voice to boom over the plaza again. “Everyone, please! Calm down!” If the crowed noticed, nobody reacted. “This is an intimidation tactic to get us to disperse; it’s harassment, and it’s illegal. Everybody, relax; we’ll take care of it.”
The mouse pulled the pince-nez from her muzzle and breathed on them, then polished the lenses with her vest. “Nice. Here’s some free advice for you, John: don’t go into politics; stick with advertising.” She closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them and let out a piercing whistle that rattled the windows and turned the heads of everyone standing in Tadashiissei Plaza. “Everybody, sit tight! They’re playing hardball. Don’t let ’em see you sweat and we’ll get through this just fine!” At that, the crowd started to stabilize, and the shouts faded back to a dull roar. Imogen then grinned up at me. “All yours, John. You’ve got about ten minutes before people start cracking again.”
As much as I appreciated the help, I was fighting my own rising panic. I held out a paw to her, pads out. “One sec, please.” I opened my hardline, then snapped through menus to send a message to Mits, asking her where she was. She hadn’t answered the last five times I’d paged, but I had to try again. This time, as will all the others, the only reply I received was the person you are attempting to reach is not presently available; please try again later.
“Damnit!” I swore, pounding one fist against the other. “Where is she?”
The mouse cocked her head to the side. “Who, thin raccoon that was with you when you arrived? Green blouse, white pants?”
I nodded. “Mitsuko. She’s a resident, too. I have to find her, make sure she’s okay.”
“Ouch.” Imogen grimaced, then looked around the crowd. “Doesn’t look like anyone’s okay right now, though.”
I nodded, but my eyes were back on the crowd, scanning for Briar and Giri, but they weren’t hard to find. The fox and rabbit were clinging to each other like lovers in a life raft, his arms around her shoulders, hers around his waist. I glanced back to the mouse and said, “Let me check on them first.” Then, punctuating my words with a sharp whistle, I called out to my co-conspirators. “Briar! Giri! Get up here, please?” The two looked at each other, then back to me. As the pair approached, I grabbed the fox’s arm to help him onto the platform, then started talking fast. “I need you to run interference on the crowd and get people calmed down. I have to go find Mits.”
I made it one-and-a-half steps before Briar grabbed one arm, Giri the other. “I can’t let you do that, John,” the rabbit said. “We need you.”
“Mits needs me,” I growled back, my tail lashing. “I have to go find her.”
Giri shook his head. “I must agree with Briar, John-kun.” The fox’s grip tensed against my fingers. “This situation is of your… our… making. We have a responsibility to protect them from this.”
My eyes went wide. “Protect them from a rollback?” I blinked. “They’re going to revert the whole damned database and we’re inside it! How can we protect them from that?”
Despite the gravity of his expression, Giri’s eyes twinkled. “You work in development; you tell me.”
I shook my head rapidly. “No, listen, I don’t have time for this; I have to go find Mits and make sure she’s safe.” I turned away from the two of them, but neither one would release their grip on my shoulder or arm.
“For aether’s sake, John,” Briar sighed in exasperation. “Start thinking digitally already!” She tugged on my sleeve, spinning me to face her, then gripped the sides of my head in her paws. “Mitsuko is fine. Yes, she might be panicking now just like you are, but consider. Either the rollback works as planned, or it doesn’t. If it does, you’re both restored to pre-disaster versions of yourself. Your relationship’s older than this crisis; it’ll survive. If it doesn’t, you’ll be back as you are now without any perception of the intervening time. Either way, you’ve got no reason to panic.” She looked at the fox. “It’s you I’m worried about; we only got together after this whole mess started.”
“That is untrue,” Giri replied, a faint smile spreading on his muzzle. “I arrested you for shoplifting before the attacks.”
I rolled my eyes. “Touching, very touching. Now let go, or I’ll delete you both myself.”
Briar grinned. “You can’t; you don’t have access.”
I sighed. “Not here, but if you were—that’s it!” I snapped my claws sharply. “I’ve got an idea. Let go already; we don’t have time for this. I said I’m not running and I meant it.” The two hesitated, looking at each other, then stepped away from me. “Thank you,” I continued. “So, I still have my old development server hooked into the system. The shutdown probably won’t take that offline, and any code running there is probably safe.”
“Probably?” Giri folded his arms across his chest, looking skeptical. “You do not know?”
I shrugged. “I doubt it; too many people have bought them and spent way too much money on them. My account’s paid out through the month, and I can pay that one manually for a while. If we need, we can probably take up a collection to keep it active. Besides, do you have a better idea?”
When the fox shook his head, I opened my hardline. Some of my options were already grayed out, but the messaging system still worked. I need your help, I sent in a meeting invite to Jules. Can you meet me at the transit station?
The reply came quickly: Weren’t you the one saying being seen around the HQ was a bad move for me? I’ve read the transcripts from your spat with Security; nice job giving away the farm.
I let out a groan. Not now, Jules, I shot back.I need a portal to my server. We need to move people.
What for? It’s just a rollback. At least it fixes the problems. I could hear Jules’ shrug in his text.
I sighed and snapped out a fast reply. And makes more. Last known-good backup means before the attacks. Means before the revolt. Means none of us inside remember why we were fighting. Means you stay banned and we don’t know why you’re so angry again.
Jules was silent for several seconds, then shot back, Be there in three, hon. Then his icon went grey.
I laughed and shook my head. “He never changes.” I looked at Imogen, then Briar and Giri. “Jules says three minutes.”
Imogen glanced upwards, then back to me. “You probably got two. Who is this guy, anyway?”
The rabbit’s ears had already perked. “Jules? He’s one of the founders of the FutureShock. Guy’s a genius coder, if a little fast and loose. I thought he’d gone native when I first met him; I only found out he wasn’t when he got banned for making a stink about uploading.” She hesitated a moment, then mused way too innocently, “I didn’t know he was back. Did they lift his ban?”
I couldn’t keep the faint smirk from my muzzle. “Somebody sent him an induction rig and a hacked account. Somebody on the inside with ties to Minshukakumei.”
That got Giri’s attention; the fox snapped his head around, his eyes narrowed to slits. “Are you saying that someone within Tadashiissei was working to destroy Irokai?” His tail lashed, and I saw one of his paws reflexively go to his hip before clenching into a fist.
I shook my head. “I think somebody on the inside is playing double-agent, and Jules got caught in the middle. Tadashiissei destroying its own creation makes no sense. No, I think the company found out about a group of active dissidents, they tried to deal with it quietly instead of admitting they had security holes, and things ended up getting out of control.” I grinned. “They fell victim to their own hubris, and they awoke a sleeping dragon.” At Giri’s puzzled expression, I explained. “The populist backlash. They made people angry enough to fight back.”
The fox nodded, tail waving behind him. “It makes sense, though it still makes me angry. So much of this could have been avoided.”
Briar shrugged. “Yeah, well, hindsight has perfect vision, so they say. Now they’ve got a bunch of angry residents and they’re about to try to clean up their mess by wiping everything back to how it was, which means if Jules doesn’t get his tail here soon, they’re going to get away with it.”
“They won’t,” Jules replied.
The rabbit whipped around, one paw on her chest. “Don’t do that! Are you trying to get me to jump out of my pelt?”
The wolf grinned, his ears perked and tail waving. “That’d be kind of hot, but—” He glanced to the side, at Giri’s glare. “I don’t think your new boyfriend would approve.” He turned to me, his paws jammed into the pockets of his oversized pants. “So what’s the plan? I heard the Voice. And where’s Mitsuko?”
I nodded in response. “We’ve got about forty-five minutes, and Mitsuko is… not responding to my messages. Is your account still wide open?”
Jules’ tail lashed once. “Really.” His eyes flicked about in his skull for a few seconds. “Yeah, everything seems to be there, why? Are you really going to try to crowd everyone onto your dev box?”
I shrugged. “It’s the best option I can provide right now. Once I’m on there I should be able to make room for everyone.”
“John, love, that box isn’t sized to hold that many people.” The wolf’s eyes tightened around the corners and his voice dropped to a low whisper. “I don’t think you understand the load you’re asking to put on that thing, and its support system’s about to get bounced. You’re talking about….” He visibly snapped through menus, fingers tapping against the air. “Two-thousand people on a server maybe sized for a quarter of that. It’s a development system, which means not ready for production. You overload it, it goes down in the middle of the rollback… I don’t want to think about what happens.”
My chest froze. “So do you have a better idea?” I asked in the same tone.
He shook his head. “No, but I don’t see how you’re going to make this work.”
I grinned, tail hooking. “You get me a public portal and get everyone here and then we’ll worry about that.”
Jules’ grimace deepened. “No, you’ll worry about that. I’ll be calling Adam once you’re up and running and then taking off.”
“Taking off?” I blinked. “But… Adam? And what about all of this?”
Jules ticked off points on his clawtips. “One, I’d just be one more person on the system, and I have no idea what I’m doing to the local environment coming in from the outside. On Tadashiissei’s boxes, I didn’t care so much. On yours, right now, that’s a risk I won’t take. Two, great job sidestepping the rollback, getting out of their environments, but now you’re on an isolated system that’d be way too easy to unplug. Somebody with physical access to the box needs to go guard it until they’re finished. Three, I need Adam to come unplug me because I’m on an intravenous line and my disconnect function’s on a hard timer that’s not set to go off until some time Sunday night when the bag runs dry.”
My eyes went wide, accompanied by Briar’s gasp. “Jules!”
The wolf’s ears went flat. “John, don’t start on me,” he growled. “I said I wanted to live here. Give me some credit, here. I’m not doing anything they don’t do in the pods, just with homebrew equipment.”
“They don’t turn off people’s safety switches!” I shouted back, then immediately caught my voice and lowered it. “Jules, assuming I survive this, we’ve got to have a talk about boundary-setting.”
Jules winced, but his grin returned anyway. “If you make it through this unchanged, then it was a good thing I did this. If you don’t, you won’t remember it anyway. If you don’t make it, it won’t have mattered.” He brought his paws together and cracked his knuckles. “Let’s get this started.” His eyes closed, but beneath the lids they shook rapidly, and he put his paws in front of him as if resting them on a table. “I don’t see a teleport-enabled door around here I can borrow; I’ll have to make one.” The Voice of Irokai started to announce unauthorized local edits, then suddenly fuzzed into unintelligible static as a rippling liquid silver mirror poured into place, hanging vertically in midair. “I always hated that voice,” he muttered. “Now, John, I need a door on your side. Object reference, database name, something.”
I scanned my notes and documentation, then passed the wolf a reference. “Main airlock to the station.”
“Station?” His head canted to the side. “Right, right. This ought to come through any minute. Send me a back link, and whatever you do, don’t delete this door. I don’t care what else you purge, but leave this one intact. Once it’s gone, I won’t be able to put it back.” His connection request arrived and I approved it. “Good, now go through and send me back a remote link request; different zone, so you’ll have to—”
I waved off the rest of the explanation. “I remember how to do this; I’ve got one in my office. See you…” I stopped, then looked at the wolf, my ears drooping. “I’ll see you after this is over, I guess.”
Jules nodded. “I’ll hang around until the request comes in, then call Adam. It’ll take him about ten minutes to get to my place, and fifteen to get to the data center, so figure half an hour and we should be in place. If they’re going right at fourteen, that’s five minutes of leeway. You better hope we don’t hit traffic. Take care.” One paw snapped out and grabbed the collar of my shirt, then tugged me into a rough kiss before shoving me towards the portal. “Now move.”
I broke the kiss roughly, then turned to the others. “Once I have the place pared down, I’ll contact you and you can start sending people through. We’re going to be cutting this close, but we should make it. Everyone ready?” When they all nodded, I dashed through the portal. As soon as I was on the far side, my feet left the floor, sent flying from the force of a step in the local microgravity. Behind me, the iris of the airlock hung open, a hack Jules must have put in place to keep the connection back to the main servers alive.
It took me a few moments to sort out my bearings, but I quickly had the development panel open and started flipping through server statistics. With everything set as it was right now, the server could safely hold about five-hundred people, with another fifty pushing it into the danger zone. I grimaced; the station had to go if I wanted to fit everyone onto the system. First, though, I could de-allocate the biggest wastes. Space went first, as did everything else outside the station walls; that doubled my available memory. The physics engine governing orbital mechanics got me another hundred. I glanced out one of the portals at the black emptiness beyond; no stars glittered, no suns burned.
I shivered; this was about to become a really desolate place. Walls and doors started disappearing. Shops and pylons vanished. Every chair, table, and detail that didn’t have to be there rapidly went into the trash and was purged. Soon I was down to the outer walls, a few textures, and the airlock; the server cap sat stubbornly at 1900. I closed my eyes and shook my head. A few finger twitches wiped out everything but the doorway and defined a single featureless rectangle of space, three meters tall, a hundred on a side. Everything else I reverted back to system defaults, as blank as the day I got it. Then I started scanning the base code and wiped everything I could think to remove. I hesitated a moment on the checkbox for the archive system, then disabled it as well.
I glanced at the capacity meter: 1970. It would have to do. I opened my communication window and sent a message to Briar and Jules. The server is ready. Have Imogen start sending people through.