I knew a terrible truth.
The dark is alive.
Rising higher into the empty space, the signal connection began to clarify. Out of the nothingness, shapes began to coalesce, like figures roiling in ichor. I floated as a single dot of light among their towering forms.
My mind was burning. None of this existed. It was a mosaic of horrors, mountains of esoteric data images which I was barely stringing together into a vision of madness. It glitched and swayed, my bandwidth struggling to keep up.
What was worse was the cacophony.
What came through as auditory input was an endless screaming. They were speaking to each other, sounding out incomprehensible chants which were only recognizable as communication by the punctuation of rhythm. Chants. Hymns. They were singing. It was angry and exalted and joyous.
Dimly, I felt my face hit concrete. My teeth clenched and my body spasmed.
I’m having a seizure, I realized.
My stomach emptied. Laying face down, I wouldn’t suffocate. I had a minute more.
Can’t stay for much longer, though.
The dark choir was completely indifferent to me, the little light that I was. They knew me as no different from then.
I reached out, prying for more data. Suddenly, my eyes were assaulted with billions of images. It was an open network. Traffic cameras, phone cameras, and street cameras, every eye of Smiler hitting me until I pulled back.
They weren’t ignoring me anymore.
Only then did I realize the scale. A tiny fraction of the darkness had turned to gaze down at me. Thousands out of countless Legions.
“Oh God,” I said. This is Smiler.
There’s so many. They’re all squirming in the wires. They’re all Smiler.
“Hahahaha… So afraid?” A voice came back to me. A pale face formed a long distance away in the black. I could hear his mocking in my ears.
The invisible structure reformed. The entity was reprogramming my network access point, crawling into the laptop I uplinked through.
He disappeared. All of it disappeared. The dark rapidly faded, my eyes straining to refocus on the orangely lit room, my naked body sitting in sick.
“You can see me,” they said, “but I can’t see you? How fun.”
Standing over me was the pale figure. He was in the goddamn room with me. I had to remind myself it wasn’t real. His messy hair was a dark red, his black clothes caked in dried blood, the smell of iron filling my swimming head. This was how he presented himself, as some kind of grunge youth. This was his signal.
A symbol. A graven image.
“But you know I’m here?” I asked, out loud.
His eyes scanned for me. “You’re all scrambled, but I can hear you.” He grinned, bearing large teeth. “Clever boy. You’re high as fuck, aren’t you? I’m thinking, yeah. That would explain it.”
“And you’re curious about me…” I looked down at my metal arm, realizing I’d lost all control of it. It was curling in on itself, so tight it hurt. I groaned. “You’re… in my computer? Trying to get a closer look at me?”
I couldn’t check my neural failsafes. I had to trust them.
His grin remained, his voice slipping between his teeth. “There’s more, though. Why are you so shifty, you little wretch?” His smile faded as he leaned in. “You’re using a direct translation method. I can see it. How fucking special.”
“Next to no interaction with the rest of the neural system,” I said, straining.
“You mean you don’t want me to have you to play with? How stingy.” He laughed, lurching forward. His body pressed down onto mine as I sat looking up. My back lowered to the ground as he moved in, slowly wrapping his hands around my throat, real weight falling heavy on my body.
My eyes widened.
“You’re all so fucking retarded,” he smiled, squeezing. My chest tightened. “It’s raw input at every level of the neural lace, including motor. Once you pass out I’ll have plenty of time to skullfuck your pretty little head. Yes, sshhhhhh.” I choked, gasping for air with lungs which wouldn’t expand. The pale man staring into my eyes as darkness crept in around them. “I’ve missed flesh.”
I rolled over with what control I had. Even as I faced the concrete, I still saw him looming over me. All I could see were teeth.
I crawled blindly, lungs like they were on fire.
The teeth parted, black maw laughing. “You’re adorable.”
Suddenly I stood up without thinking. My sight returned just to witness him rushing towards me. I was driven into the wall, bare back impacting concrete.
“Don’t make this harder than it has to be, ole buddy, ole pal. You cunt.”
I shoved him off. Instantly, the strength went out of my legs. I hit the ground, sputtering, sucking in air. I craned up to just in time to see his foot heading for my face.
The impact made my crumble. When I regained my senses I tried mindlessly to stand. My hands came into view, blood on the metal knuckles. Again, I collapsed.
Instead of trying to stand, I could only crawl for the computer.
“Can’t read your optical nerve but you’re going somewhere, aren’t you?” I could hear him standing over and behind me.
It wasn’t far. I could do this.
His hands took hold of my ankles, dragging me back. I tried to lock up my body, knowing he had to use my own muscles against me, that they weren’t real.
I could picture myself killing them. The Flesh traders, the Thrill Chasers, all of them. Everyone. I couldn’t fail here.
My arm strained to extend, every motion a conscious will.
“Trying to pull the plug? It has batteries. Did you know that?”
He kicked the side of my head.
Too weak to stop him, my breathing caught again in my throat. I was laid out, consciousness slipping.
My arm stretched for the end, fingertips within inches.
Slowly, my eyes slipped shut, hand falling limp on the computer. My mind quieted.
The laptop shifted with the touch of my limb, gently knocking out the trap’s trigger. A box fell down on it and all at once everything stopped.
I came back, breathing putrid air in a panic. My head was pounding. Bloodshot eyes reopening as I shocked into life.
My laptop began swearing, screaming, and then threatening me, describing every way it was going to show me the meaning of hell.
I looked at the wire mesh box encompassing it.
“That’s a faraday cage, dickhead,” I spat. “I got you…”
“And I’ll flay every fucking fleshy nerve on-!” he raged.
With my high wearing off, body completely exhausted, I finally slipped out of consciousness, melting into the floor. It was done.
I had caught a demon.