Author : Philip Berry

Stan looks right through the innocent, who stand in pools of studio-bright light where the afternoon sun reflects from countless mirrored towers. Turn up the power and they’d boil on the spot. It is the last natural warmth he feels.

Carrying nothing, he enters the subway. The signs mean nothing to him, the chatter in the hall is incomprehensible. He is in a foreign land.

There are nine lines, serving the metropolis and five adjacent, smaller cities. They are coded by colour and symbol. Some split as they leave the station, some converge as they enter. Everybody knows where they need to be and where they want to go, except Stan.

He slaps the back of his hand onto a square pad, and breathes out with relief as the barrier parts. His tissue was recognized as that of a citizen, and was found to be filled with credit.

The human flow takes him forward and right, onto the southbound Xantha line. Stan has no destination; he was told to enter, and to stay.

He alights at the Xantha line’s south-eastern extremity, near the port. He knows that arms and explosives move above him, illegal caches in unmarked containers. For the cause.

But Stan is not a man of violence. He is not even a man.

He will live here, in the tunnels, hubs and interchanges, leaking confusion into the system. With every brush of his hand, viral particles will seep along the links and cascade into the algorithms. Only the older parts, the iron-piped wires, the capacitors and binary switches will be immune. The rest will degrade as it absorbs the malignant code carried in his genes.

He glimpses white, ceramic tiles under fluid boards, placed and grouted four hundred years ago by men with black lungs and teeth worn to the gum by grit thrown up by monstrous friction drills. They, too, lived half their lives underground.

As he passes a wall alive with routes, delays, diversions and times, Stan notices that a symbol carries a shadow. He stops. The symbol flickers and breaks down, then resumes its solid, dependable form. The shadow has gone. Stan’s small smile is just as transient.

His controller was honest. Stan was warned that the transfer of information would gradually reduce him. But Stan is not bothered. Already, they ignore him, these commuters, the city’s busy, focused, justified inhabitants. It will be no different when he becomes translucent. He will steal food from counters with ethereal hands, slip wallets from the pockets of the unsuspecting, sleep unseen in hot corners, and give himself to the cause… until the threshold of confusion is reached and the city’s hidden heart and all its arteries are paralysed.