>N42[one_impression]

They pulled down the window covering to let in the high beams of Delilah’s car.

Skrimp recoiled at the state of his electronics.

The dank refrigerator-like room was a scattered mess of grime and broken parts. Loose wires and screws littered the floor. Among them, a sole blue light emanated from a cracked cell phone screen. The source of the call.

As he stood frozen in the threshold, scanning for anything salvageable, Delilah jumped over. Once inside she turned around, tossing him something.

It only took him a second to realize the gun she’d thrown him was a hunk of 3d printed junk. The empty weight of it in his hand was just one more lie on top of the situation. A scenario that only played out badly in his head.

With a grimace, though, he quickly renewed his resolve to move on.

Delilah had taken up the phone. But, as he approached, she told him, “it’s empty.” She let him see for himself.

After scrolling through the files, he knew she was right. “So we’ve got n-nothing, then?”

“The cat?” She asked.

Ashmedai was a black figure surrounded by blinding headlights, sitting in the windowsill. His tail moved slowly through the air as Skrimp watched, aware of the intelligence lurking. “If you don’t know what you’re dealing with, girl,” he said, “then you’re gonna find out.”

“It’s Delilah.”

“Like the moon?” he asked, suddenly distracted.

“Yeah?”

“Bad.” Skrimp approached the cat. Reaching into his pocket, he took out a metal plug. A special receiver. Jammed into the port of his neck, his body quivered for a moment with an electric buzz. Then, he crouched down. “This here is a demon, Delilah. Or, as a n-normie would k-know it, a general A.I..”

Delilah looked on, silently.

Skrimp tuned until he found the right frequency. He held up the phone in his hand, now connected. From its speakers came a mellifluous voice out of the static, promising blood. “You’re in over your heads in shit. Your loyalty is misplaced in someone so destined to self-destruct,” it cooed. “You can only be sucked down with the damned. But you already knew that, didn’t you?”

“These things are not a novelty like you been told,” Skrimp said. “After the war, they b-built everything, not us. They r-run the city.”

Delilah crouched down as well and looked at him. She narrowed her gaze. “I don’t particularly care.

What?

“Just what I said. I only want to know. Can this pointless thing tell me where Frode is?” she stared at Ashmedai.

“For a price, whore…” the demon mocked.

Before Skrimp could say anything, Delilah chuckled, annoyed. He grit his teeth, thinking how screwed they were. But she had stopped laughing. “Doesn’t matter how smart you are if the only move you can make is such an obvious bluff.”

“You’re lost without me,” Ash insisted.

“And you’re dead without us, right?” The dark haired girl smiled tersely at the tabby.

Skrimp quickly realized what she had. The collar was too bulky just to be a signal transmitter. He wouldn’t be here if Frode hadn’t found a way to make him stay. That was obvious in hindsight. Fuck if a demon would stick around to help, he thought. Frode’s got him dead to rights, that bastard.

The cat hissed. “I could let myself die just to spite you fleshbags.”

Delilah stepped past him and started for the car. She didn’t need to hear him mull it over. He was predictable. Anyone who cares is, she knew.

They had enough to go on. And they weren’t wasting another second with pleasantries.

Skrimp caught up, throwing open the passenger door and stepping in. He went straight for the air conditioner without thinking. As he was setting the heat to blast, so conscious of how much the cold hurt, Ashmedai jumped up in his lap.

“Jesus!” he swore, swatting at but just missing the cat, who hopped into the back.

“Get your leg inside the car,” Delilah ordered, shifting into gear.

Skrimp looked back at his bike, chained to the scaffolding, taking one last chance to doubt. He hated leaving it. He hated being so unsure again of what he was doing.

Delilah, single-minded and unhesitating, did not wait. She put her foot on the peddle, tearing through fresh powder and down the dark streets, letting him frantically finish getting in.

There was nothing to think about.

After having let the phone power off, Skrimp was the one to dictate the directions Ash gave. Faster than comfortable, they flew around the turns, and he could barely keep up. Neither of them expected it to take as long as it was, though.

“Frode always knew how to g-get around.”

“He told me that he didn’t use to sleep,” Delilah replied.

Left. Yeah, no.” He was always… unhappy. Like he didn’t feel comfortable… in his own skin. Skrimp didn’t say what he was thinking. He didn’t know this girl.

The car swerved around a vagabond.

Time was ticking; no knowing what state Frode would be in.

Neither of them knew. The story was already over.

 

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