Who puts a jack in a cat?
There was a disturbing genius to it.
I was very familiar with the sensation of losing myself in the data.
Sleep was constantly with me in the dark of my home. Most of my time alive was spent deep in its comfort.
The old man sometimes wracked my nerves. He stumbled and knocked a tin can onto the floor. I remembered the startling wake and my bolting, but against concrete walls and in the small room, I could go nowhere except behind the toilet to hide.
Frightened little cat.
I tried to keep perspective.
Information was emphasized by fear and uncertainty. So much comfort, endless hours of affection and attention, were like sleep to me. They were lost to time.
The data was only vaguely linear. There was a falling off point, and everything before was horribly dim, captured only by patchworked recollections of a being caught perpetually in the moment.
I remembered a door opening on its own. What came after was incomprehensible. Pure terror.
The old man stayed in his electric dreams as its hands wrapped around me. The hallway’s pitch black paths quickly got deeper and darker as it whisked me away. I would never see him again, after that.
For a moment I had trouble differentiating myself from the experiences which played on my mind. The data went far deeper than sight and sensation. As this thief in the night crawled down into the city’s guts with me in his grasp, I was absolutely consumed. Through stairways and back passages, we reached an older part of the world.
I almost ended the data stream right there. I could feel her despair.
Hold on. For Wally.
In the deep place, I felt my captor pry into my skull. Through injection, a neural lace unfurled, a signal system and small BCI were implanted in the neck. I could sense his cold hands working deftly on the feline anatomy.
Then, all at once, the picture clarified, my thinking dimmed…
The skittering echoes of him faded away as proper recording started.
When the shock wore off I had to take stock of my surroundings. Petrified by the cold and stinking sewer, only fractional movement began to break me free. I remembered the city. Long before the old man, I had been alone on these streets, I knew. But now, in the shadows, every movement felt like death.
I was alone.
But I felt something. It was like a gut instinct which overwhelmed choice.
I had to fast forward this.
The labyrinth of corridors was nothing with this sense of direction. I was being called.
As the d at a w̨̻͔͖̙ͪen̢̰̙̪̹͓̆T̖͓̤̮̏̎̂ͥ ͇̼ ̣͓́ ̼̠͈͋ͬ̈́͐ͧͮ̊͝ŏ͕̮͖̺̮̹̰̒͟ ̯͇͎̎̈̍͢n̘ͥ͌́̒̈̚͜, ͖͂̋ͩͨ̅͐ͭ͞ ̩̪͙̳̎̑͊̅͊͜ ̹͎̦̼̜̒̓̓I͚̝͖̗ͤ͂̽ ͈̫̱͈̗͢ ͛̈́͘ ͏̞͍s̷̲̻ ͍̲̦͖̬̻̳ͥa̩̩̫̙̞͙͋ͨ̊͐̌͌͜w̩͚̙̹͎͝ it,̣̲̒͊͊ͬͦ͐… ̗ͦͥͩ̎̃͂ͣṪ͎̥̟͍̍̋̏̓͘͜h͈̯̫̾̽̽̃̊̀e̷̺͇̙̼̗̿ͩͤ͆̄͂ͯ̈̃ ͓͖̜̥͔̐̀͡ H̵͉ͤ̓̋ͣ͞ o͖̱̭̣̠̙̹͎͆̎̓͊̄ͧ̔ r͉̻̖̫̞ͫ̌̊͊̔͑͒ͪ͘d̵̦̮̘̘̤̩͓ͯͥ̏͐͐́ę̷͇͚̆̌̈̈ͮ͑ͪͩ.͒͋̊͝͏̙̲͍ ̸̦̰̣̲̍̈́ͥ̒͝ ̷̰͙̜̰̫̎
Something was wrong. The information abrubtly dropped off.
“No!” I shouted. I was suddenly back in the tunnel.
Not after all that.
I couldn’t hear Dag, I was too focused.
“Fuck!” I could find it. I had to. I restarted the stream at the next point. The headjack’s computer had been encrypted. It was all unintelligible. Only a small section of memories had been left untouched at the outset before encryption started… and then again in a pinkly lit alley.
Humans stumbled drunkenly through the Orpheum. My vantage was above, looking down through absent ceiling panels.
I had learned by now to trust my instinct without reservation. It whispered to me and I followed. Often it led me to food, today I was here.
Through the dusty hollow ceiling space, I walked carefully until I spotted the one it had shown me. His shiny eyes were round and glossy. He was leaning against the wall, holding his arm to his chest.
I approached the missing panel and jumped.
He was unsurprised as I landed in front of him.
“I see you in there,” he said. “I think I’ve lost the beat, though.” He looked back and forth down the hall. “Or at least my friends.”
Giants were stepping around me as I gazed up. I tilted my head. The intensity of the faint droning in my consciousness rose. Frode understood. It was an ethereal voice speaking in soundless words. “We’re sorry for frightening you. We were surprised at your eyes.”
Wally laughed. “You didn’t think anyone could see you, silly robot.”
Passerbies gave him a queer look as he spoke.
I began to walk down the hall, talking as I went. “Robot?”
“You’re an AI. You watch the party?”
“I watch for looky boys like you.” Wally was following me. “You’re so sure I’m a robot?”
He had to think about that. “Where are we going?”
“I’m not so sure I’m a robot.”
Wally stopped. He insisted again, “where are we going?”
“Just right here.”
I sat at the bottom of a barred exit door. The neon sign above buzzed. We had left the crowd behind a ways, coming to this lonely dead end.
“Looky boys like you, they see a lot of things. You don’t have the gift, but you’re clever, we can tell. What did you do?”
Wally knew what the voice meant. “A rudimentary AI in my optics. It can parse basic information for me. Make it consumable. I like to eavesdrop, know things. I… I’m still pretty high… but… One has to ask themselves, I think… faced with the curious and mysterious, who the man behind the curtain is. You are a man, aren’t you?”
“What would you call one with a foot in death’s door?”
“Moribund,” Wally replied.
The spectral voice chuckled softly. I circled around, his eyes following me, putting Wally between the door and my small body. My perspective was fracturing, disassociating. I wanted to yell out for him to run.
Wally’s expression changed, a realization he had sensed something. He slowly turned to face the barred exit.
“Stereoscopic reception… How very, very clever indeed.” The signal was coming from behind the exit now, the voice bleeding through.
Wally swallowed and began to back up. “This bird… should fly.”
He turned on his heel to flee.
The doors were ripped open like they were nothing, tossed back into the rain. In a violent motion, almost too fast to see, Wally was yanked from the ground, smoothly into the air of the alley by grasping hands.
I sat there doing nothing as the last of its freakish shadow disappeared in a flash of lightning. The form was a broken sight.
But I had glimpsed his face. I had seen the beast. And as the memory ended my body returned to me. And all at once I could hear myself screaming.