|This is where it ends, if you’re wondering.
Surrounded by his friends, colleagues and family. Body naked, washed from the stain of death, and wrapped in a clean white shroud. In the background you can feel the slow, deep bass of Concrete Dreams' red album. They say it was a favorite of the deceased.
“The deceased.” Hell. He’s not much to look at. I don’t know what you might expect…if you only ever see his name on the screen, or the icon…well, I’ll tell you what he looks like now. Forty or fifty years old. Brown hair, shot with silver. Beard, five years worth if a day. Lines on the forehead, at the eyes, the mouth. Anglo male. Human, of course. A little pale, some love handles…hey, what can you expect. Not like you can see the SySop of Shadowland Seattle getting out much.
It’s a name to conjure with. Well, I hope not, anyway. These days, you can never tell.
This is a nice place for it. I know the organizers made it a big priority. We’ve all lost friends in the past few days, but Cap was more than one of our own. Hm, not bad. Maybe I can save that to sound clever later in front of the rest.
Kimberly set it up. Seattle, of course. Back room of the Link club downtown. They’d taken the system off-line before it hit, y’know? Routine maintenance. A miracle. Took three days setting up defenses and getting stable connections before the invitations went out.
It’s a nice touch, really. Shadow people, we like to hide behind our pretty icons. Sullen and paranoid. I guess it says something that this many showed up in the virtual, much less the flesh. Right now, I can’t see them. Took the trode rig off. Needed to see the body with my meat eyes. It wouldn’t make a difference, really…if this scene was fake, it was fake. But I doubted it.
The décor was simple, if not elegant. A room painted black, like a club should be. Cap was lying in state on the stage. Lights were soft rather than dimmed. A bar covered with a black cloth held drinks and food against one wall. The bartender, bless her heart, had managed to find a proper uniform: black pants, black shoes, black vest, long-sleeve white dress shirt, black necktie. I hope I wasn’t the only one thinking of hitting on her later.
In the Matrix, it was both a little flashier and a bit more austere. You get used to the complexity of a host…layers of adverts and graffiti, a dozen icons representing ongoing programs or processes. Here again, K sets the tone. A simple starscape, apparently infinite in its dimensions. Representations of Cap and the bar, in their proper place and proportions relative to one another. No big funerary trappings, no angels or guardians of the underworld. There was an exit door, a block of solid black the stars disappeared behind.
Shadow people huddled in twos and threes, talking quietly. Wedge and Findler-Man were staked out by the virtual bar; both of them were coming from different timezones so maybe they needed it. Winger and Syzygy were murmuring something to Smiley, who was crying; she had been the last one to see Cap alive.
Grid Reaper was there; the colors of his normally morbid icon inverted, talking to an angel whose face was painted with ashes. SilveryK was with them, a liquid silver gynoid in a mourning dress and veil of blackened chrome, and Perri in her best leathers and corpsepaint, hair drawn back in a severe braid.
Some people weren't here. Neon Wraith. Cinder and Peregrine. Spirit and Otomo. I hadn't heard if the Crash 2.0 had got them, or maybe they just didn't get the invite. More regulars filtered in, vetted one at a time. Shadowland regulars. Old friends, familiar icons.
An old man entered the club, a simple black cloth suit, domino mask, and faded tattoos showing at wrist and collar, but his icon in the Matrix was FastJack's, a man-sized blur with a single black stripe on the left arm. He nodded and smiled to everyone, even me. I saw him spy K and he ambled over; they greeted each other with a kiss and Perri grasped his hand like she didn't want to let me go. Grid Reaper and Renny broke off and gave them a little space.
FastJack stood in front of Cap's body. The crowd was silent, the music hashed, and we huddled in a rough circle around the stage to hear him speak. The bartender made the rounds in the meat with a tray of champagne glasses.
"Friends and colleagues, thank you for coming. I know for some of you it wasn't easy." FastJack paused to receive a glass himself. "It is traditional at a wake to say a prayer for the departed. Given our friend's beliefs, however, we've chosen not to have a priest or shaman here to lead us. Instead, I have been asked to say a few words."
"Most of you know him as the SysOp of Shadowland Seattle. Shadowland and Captain Chaos weathered many assaults over the years, from Aztlan and the Tirs, bug spirits and artificial intelligences and the rogue otaku. For many of us, he was Shadowland: the freedom of information, the encouragement to think for ourselves, the courage to face those forces that would keep us ignorant and deny them at every turn, whatever the cost.
"His principles did cost him. Not just his earthly existence, but his life. Unlike some of us, Captain Chaos was not born to the shadows, but choose this path. Cap was born into a family that lived within the system, he received the benefits of being a SINner raised by SINners: health, education, safety, the prospects of a full, secure life slaved to a wage. Instead, he rejected that life. It cost him his family, and shadowed many of the personal relationships he had. He never married, or had children. Many times before, it was Cap that stood where I am today, making a brief eulogy for one of our friends. We live and die in the shadows, with no one to mark our passing but ourselves, and CC knew that.
"Not long ago, I asked Cap why he chose to lead. CC was a Neo-Anarchist, he did not believe in compulsory government, and yet almost in spite of himself he became a leader, and I know he hated that. He hated ordering people around and telling them what to do, because he spent half of his life giving them the tools to figure it out for themselves, but that's the position he found himself in. He told me 'Damn the man that tells you to think for yourself. Damn me if I don't.'"
Old eyes misted over, holding back tears.
"Tonight we lay to rest our friend and ally Captain Chaos. Tonight, we remember those others who suffered and died when the Matrix crashed."
FastJack raised his glass.
"A toast. To Captain Chaos, and absent friends."
K raised her glass "To absent friends." she said, and downed her champagne, then threw the glass on the floor. Around her, others followed suit, and we laughed to the music of breaking crystal. With that, the mood in the room was lighter. Winder and Findler-Man were telling jokes about the time Captain Chaos met Damien Knight. Perri and the Japanese girl in corpsepaint were painting some kind of mural on the starscape background, using some sort of program I couldn't identify to place the Captain's face amid the constellations.
One by one, we made our way up to Cap's icon. His wishes had been clear: a burial at datasea, so to speak. His personal datafiles - everything on his many harddrives - had been encoded into this icon. Every member present took a part of his code with us, the icon slowly de-rezzing and dissolving as Cap's legacy was dispersed. Parts of it would be backed up in the Nexus, or mirrored on whatever other data havens had survived. A few would languish in hidden data nodes until rediscovered. It felt fitting, in a way, like he had become part of the Matrix.