Atonement
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Charlton leapt from a container onto a vacant flat wagon. He had arrived in the Conrail freight yard in Manhattan. New York was a mess. Having defaulted on its debts, it was left without funds for street cleaning and corrupt law enforcement had led to a frighteningly high crime rate. Prior to his containment, Charlton would've done all within his power to avoid the city, but now, he could barely contain his excitement. I hope Backdoor SoHo is where I remember.

He soon found the correct alley and began to run. The noise of the bustle of New York lessened in volume the farther he progressed down the alley until he passed the shimmering threshold and was met with a cacophony of music of every genre, the eye-watering scent of cannabis and the flickering of countless neon signs. To think I once thought this place beneath me.

Backdoor SoHo was an anartist's dream; he passed a myriad of cast iron clad shops offering everything one could desire, including 'Lovecraft's Paint Pallet', 'Four Dimensional Sculpting Ltd.' and, most attractive to Charlton, 'Infinite Ribbon.' Within, he found free public typewriters and a sign reading "By using our equipment, you grant Infinite Ribbon an eternal license to use works produced here."

Well, there had to be something in it for them.

Using a pen as a probe, Charlton painstakingly typed "I was once both a man and a jailor, but found myself turned anomalous and jailed. I escaped and now must atone for my heinous past. I wish to join the Serpent's Hand. Please help me." With severe difficulty, he fastened it to one of his front legs using an elastic band. He then wandered out in search of a person to give it to.

After some blissful and aimless wandering, Charlton arrived at a combined café and library and cantered to the front desk. "You won't need the note," said an unfamiliar voice in Charlton's head.

Telepath?

"No shit, sherlock. So you want to join the Hand?"

Yes.

"All you need to join the Hand is to consider yourself a member."

I know that much, I'm looking for like minded people to meet with. I have crimes I must atone for.

"I know, I can see them. You've got a lot of atoning to do. I'd appreciate if you stopped devising containment procedures for me."

It's instinctive for me at this point. Do you know of anywhere members of the Hand meet?

"The Library."

We're in a library.

"Not this one dipshit, the Wanderer's Library."

And where might I find that?

"Follow me."

With that, the librarian rose from her chair and beckoned Charlton to a bookshelf with only one book, a heavy leather bound tome with Ogham text on its spine. When she opened the book to an illumination of an ouroboros, the shelf de-manifested and a vast expanse of bookshelves unfolded before them.

"Welcome to the Wanderer's Library!" she announced telepathically, "I know of some people here who'd love to interrogate a veteran Foundation man like you."

You've yet to introduce yourself and yet you know my entire past.

"I'm Hannah, and neglecting to introduce yourself is a common trait among telepaths."

Charlton stared in awe at the bizarre humanoid creature approaching them, it lacked a mouth and had a chain extending from its arm in place of a hand with a brass lamp attached. "That's a docent, it guides patrons through the library," said Hannah aloud, "It's also responsible for the defence of the library and the fact it didn't turn on you makes you more credible."

Chalton's awe only increased when he first laid eyes on a page, an eight armed monstrosity clambering across the shelves. It's a blessing that the Foundation never discovered this place.

Eventually, they arrived in the library's great hall and approached a scruffy looking trio. "Geoffrey, this is Selmy," said Hannah, pointing to a white haired old man, "this is Dayne," pointing to a teenage boy, "and this is Darry," pointing to a blind woman, "and this dog was Geoffrey Charlton," she announced to the group.

"Geoffrey Charlton, the Foundation man?" exclaimed Darry.

"Yes."

"That repugnant excuse for a man was responsible for one genocide that I know of and cou-"

"I know Darry, I'm a telepath."

"How dare you bring a Foundation fiend into the library?"

"He's not a Foundation fiend anymore and he wants to atone for his crimes. After all, the docents would've devoured him if he was."

"You'll find no atonement with us. Trusting jailor scum of this calibre will be the death of us. Mark my words."

"Not necessarily," said Dayne, "I may have a use for him. Did you still have login credentials on the Foundation's computer system when you escaped?"

"From this point onward, I'll speak for him," said Hannah.

"In a way," said Charlton via Hannah.

"Define 'In a way.' for me."

"I had an account to receive memos, I had no clearance beyond that. I was too old for that sort of thing."

"That's good, it means they probably didn't nuke your account when you left. What are they?"

"The username was 'gwc' and the password was 'webley'. But keep in mind, what I am not cleared for will be encrypted and I've been told it would be unbreakable even if you constructed a computer using the entire mass of the solar system."

"That's not going to be a problem, we have a Universal Turing Machine."

"The Universal Turing Machine is a thought experiment, not an actual tangible device."

"Not when you have a type green sympathetic to your cause and a throwaway reality at your disposal. Was there a phone number that you could use to access the system remotely?"

"Being contained, I would never have had any use for one."

"Looks like I've got a lot of dialling to do."

"Let's head back to the café, they'll let us know if you were a help." said Hannah to Charlton telepathically.


"How did you end up a dog?" asked Dayne as he entered the café from the Library.

"The Coyote did it," replied Hannah on his behalf from behind the counter.

"Remember him at Selmy's birthday party?"

"Yeah, Native American gods can really put it away, it seems."

You know the Coyote?

"Yup, we do," Hannah told Charlton telepathically.

Next time you see him, tell him he was the most positive influence I've ever had.

"The Coyote? He can't have meant that," replied Hannah, still communicating telepathically.

"I got the Foundation Database, encrypted of course," said Dayne, breaking what he perceived to be an awkward silence.

"How?" asked an amazed Hannah.

"I hotwired my trash-80 into a payphone and transferred the whole text database overnight, it's on this tape. I figured you two want to be there when it's decrypted."


Following another trip through the library, they arrived at the Way connecting the library to The Universal Turing Machine where they met the other two members of the group. "You two, have you ever been in a reality with a low hume level before?" asked Selmy.

"No, Geoffrey hasn't and neither have I," replied Hannah.

"Try not to bend reality, because it has the potential to bend to your will."

"We'll try."

"Alright, let's go."

The Way opened into an antechamber furnished like an average corporate office with the great white blur that comprised the machine itself lying beyond. "Greetings wanderers, my name is Bletchley. What would you like me to compute?" inquired the reality's sole resident, an elderly man with a long white beard.

"We would like you to decrypt the contents of this tape for us, it's encrypted ASCII, as far as I can tell." replied Dayne.

"Very well, it will take mere moments." replied Bletchley as the great white blur behind him transformed into a great white line stretching as far as the eye could see in either direction. The line was encircled by a gargantuan device whose fingers extended to a seven row peg board of planetary proportions.

I wonder what Turing would make of this beautiful vista and, of course, how many states it can chew through per second.

"Geoffrey would like to know how frequently it can change state," said Hannah.

"Approximately once every thirty-two years, which is where the antechamber comes in," replied Bletchley, "When I start the machine, I will move this room at five quintillion miles per hour relative to it. General Relativity will then significantly shorten the perceived computation time."

With Charlton's curiosity satisfied, Bletchley loaded the tape's contents onto his beautiful contraption and accelerated the antechamber to the requisite speed. As the machine perceived the passage of billions of years, the rag-tag group of Serpents perceived the passage of a mere ten seconds. "The deciphered text awaits," announced Bletchley, striding up to a console on his desk, linked to his contraption through great shafts of light.

This is my atonement. I can only begin to imagine the victories for both justice and The Hand that this will precipitate.

As soon as the first page appeared on screen, all in the room bar Darry and Charlton dropped to the floor. Memetic kill agents, why didn't I think of the memetic kill agents?

The group members alternated between writing pain and seizure as the memetic kill agents began to exact their toll. Charlton soon saw the colour begin to drain from Hannah's bulging face and felt an overwhelming wave of despair. Charlton attempted to bend reality in order to rescue the group, but the writhing stopped nonetheless."If only they'd listened to my advice, I know what jailors like you are capable of," wept Darry.

I am a monster, a madman and, above all, a failure.

Charlton felt himself slipping the bonds of reality.

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