The Sanctuary was on an Outer Planet on the edge of a chilly galaxy. This did not seem to bother the monks who lived there. Bot-deliveries from various benefactors across the galaxies kept them going with things like food, water, and clothing.
The Sanctuary was started by Thera Simon after his near-death while using illegal apps for kicks during a deep run in the Web. The rest of the monks all had tales like Simon. Everyone had lost some brother, sister, parent, friend or relative to technology. Most had nearly lost their selves.
That was the real reason the Sanctuary was on an Outer Planet. With no one around and nothing for millions of miles in any direction, the Sanctuary had only enough bandwidth to barely communicate with the outside world. Other than that, they were disconnected and the Sanctuary was an oasis of silence in a world of noise, news, technology and temptation.
And into this Sanctuary walked a man who also called himself Simon. His body was covered in tattoos and circuitry from many bio-hacks. This was not uncommon at the Sanctuary. Simon said he was lost. He said he needed sanctuary. He said all these things and more, so the monks brought him in.
He was initiated and became Nen Simon. And, for a while, he went to meditation, helped clean the Sanctury, cook the food and practise martial arts with the rest of the members.
Then the members of the Sanctuary began to disappear. At first, Thera Simon and his eldest monks thought that they were leaving. This did happen. Some came lost and broken, and then left when they felt whole and fixed. Sometimes they did not even say goodbye.
But this was normally one or two members every once in a while. This was a steady trickle of members who were all disappearing without saying goodbye. Almost one a month or a month. Thera Simon felt uneasy. Something dark was happening here.
Late one night, after meditating long and hard on what was happening, Thera Simon went for a walk through the quiet, stone halls of the Sanctuary. There, amidst the shadows and wreathed in white electronic light, he saw Nen Simon passing a lit device to a student. Thera Simon could feel the bandwidth flowing from the student, but then something happened. The student stopped moving, his head slipped back on his neck and his eyes rolled into his skull.
Nen Simon actually chuckled at this. Thera Simon could feel the anger swelling inside him. It was a burning from a previous life he had led. It stirred dark memories in him that he had long forgotten. His hands slipped into tightly clenched fists. He found himself walking towards the electronic light. His heart was pounding and the anger was trying to burst out. He had no idea what he was doing.
And then the student stood up and looked at him. Thera Simon froze in mid-step. No, the student was only looking in his direction. The student’s eyes had rolled forward, but they were blank. The student’s face was expressionless and his body limp, but somehow he stood up and began to walk to the far door.
Thera Simon watched the student walk out the room, and out the door that lay beyond there. He was frozen. The hair on the back of his neck was raised and the raging anger was replaced with something else. Something cold and prickly: fear.
“It is a virus,” a voice spoke next to him, or was it inside of him? “It is actually quite an elegant virus that hijacks a host’s mind and connects it to a very specific network that we control. Back in the day, they used to call it Zombie Botnets. At least the first part is still relevant.”
Thera Simon’s eyes opened wide and turned slowly. Nen Simon was still sitting there bathed in electronic light, but he was looking straight at him. But his mouth was not moving. Circuitry in his old bio-hacks flickered, and that was when Thera Simon realised that his Conduit had been switched on and this was the voice being patched directly into him.
“Students go wandering off and it is fine, but questions will be asked if their teacher wanders off. Unfortunately, this virus cannot be injected, it has to be installed with permissions, even if they are misguided. Thus, I love these collections of Web-junkies. Once a junkie, always a junkie. Easy enough to slip a virus into a hit for them. Their ‘last one’, it is always their ‘last one’. But you are different, aren’t you, former Special Agent? I suspect I won’t be able to convince you to take a hit of data…unless I can?”
Thera Simon stood up and walked slowly to stand directly in front of Nen Simon.
“H-how can you do this?” Thera Simon stuttered at his face, his anger turning to rage and his rage making his body shake.
“Economics. This is just a business,” Nen Simon stated flatly, seemingly quite calm, “But here is the deal: you willingly download this virus, and I will leave the students alone? Deal?”
“How do I know that once I become a zombie, you won’t just do that to the students too?”
“You don’t, but–”
“Then I suggest that we do this back on your planet. We leave now. That way, at least, if you have lied to me, you will be far away.”
Nen Simon narrowed his eyes in thought before nodding in agreement.
“Sure. You leaving will raise questions, but we will be gone and won’t have to deal with them.”
Special Agent Simon nods grimly. He steps back and indicates for Nen Simon to lead the way. Quietly, though, before he steps out of the Sanctuary, he uses his re-awakened Conduit and the last of the bandwidth in it to activate the Sanctuary’s server.
The next morning, the students and the monks wake up to a Sanctuary that is devoid of both Simons. The highest ranking monk steps up to take Thera Simon’s duties and, in the process of moving to his room, the Server emails to him a set of instructions.
“Once a junkie, always a junkie”, mutters Thera Simon many galaxies away in a Black Hat Hacker hole in an off-grid planet. Back in the Sanctuary, the head monk is emailing out all the downloadable, neuro-learning modules from his Server to all his students: hand-to-hand combat, sniping modules, firearms, vehicle training, in-field meds, technology hacks, and on and on… Every single module and application is military grade with self-installation and neuro-muscular interfaces patched in. When the downloads are all installed and they will raid the hidden weapons cache under the Sanctuary, and then the monks and their students will be a very dangerous group of people.
“What you say?” asks Hacker Simon absentmindedly while priming the virus for injection.
“I said, ‘once a junkie, always a junkie’,” says Special Agent Simon. He can feel the virus on the brink of his mind. He buries the GPS tracking app that is linked to the Sanctuary server deep inside a VPN, and then lets the virus come in. A tingle runs down his neck as he feels his head slumping backwards and the world goes dark.
His final thought before the nothingness takes him is that he hopes that none of the students will get hurt when they arrive here.