"Hello Seven." Everyone would say at the start of the meeting.
It was almost embarrassing, the Aetherics has set up a sort of support group, a sort of Terrorists Anonymous for all the people they had decided to 'help'. To pay off our debts we'd done things, terrible, horrible things and while we could claim they'd been done under duress when judgement came, we'd all me lying if we said we hadn't just thought of those things as tools of the trade.
The things we did took something away from us, something that couldn't be replaced and for me, a man with almost nothing to begin with, the loss was even more profound.
The group, I half suspected, was a rouse. In fact, after months of clandestine targets of no apparent importance or merit, the lack of information - 'for our own safety' - and no reports of whether or not we had even brought any benefit to the Aetheric's cause, whatever that may be I had begun to suspect that the entire thing was an experiment and we were just rats running around a maze.
Maybe I'm just paranoid, but what I've learned about this world I woke up in so far is that there is always someone out to take advantage of you.
No the group never met in person, in that sense it was entirely anonymous. Much like myself, it seemed all the members had been fitted with an Aetheric tranducer. The AT was device that allowed direct transmission of data into and out of the Aether, it was kind of like a telephone. Except this telephone was organic and they put it inside your head. The group would convene every Thursday in the Aether. None of us could contact each other directly, put we could all tune in to a special conference frequency set up for us, in fact we had too. Dealing with our issues was mandatory it seemed.
I couldn't complain though, having an AT brought with it a new set of freedoms I had given up on. I'd already given up on ever leaving the Aetherics. I figured that even if I ever paid them off, I'd still have nowhere to go and only a memory of atrocities I'd committed in their name to take with me. But the AT gave me access to a new world, the Aethernet.
On the Aethernet, information was free, and when I wasn't butchering families in their sleep or releasing toxic gas into primary schools I found release there. There I learnt about the Aether, the seemingly limitless plane of energy where time and distance had no meaning. The ATs swapped information in and out of the Aether, giving instantaneous communications between ATs. Anything sent into the Aether could be stored there indefinitely until it was retrieved, it was like a giant archive and the Aethernet was simply a thin film of technology cast across it to give us some kind of indexing system.
At least, thats what all the easily accessible sources had to say about the matter. I noticed several omissions to glaring to be anything but deliberate censoring. They all had to do with The Fracturing. That was all I had managed to learn with any certainty so far.
The seven on my hand still throbbed and ached. The ink had long gone, washed away along with blood on my hands after my first few missions. The seven remained though, in spirit if nothing else. I could still feel the shape of it throbbing beneath my skin. I'd begun to hear voices, which with a AT wasn't entirely unusual, but these voices didn't seem to come from the AT. The number spoke to me and it was my mother.
I didn't know how I knew, but I knew. For the first time since waking up I felt loved, wanted and I felt I had a purpose. Mother told me that I would soon learn the identities of the others in my support group, she had been working on finding them out while I was in conference with them. Mother told me I must keep going to the meetings and then soon, she would give me a sign and I would do a job for her and I could go home to be held by her loving arms.