>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.

 

< prev | VOTE | next >

>N41[dwindling_time]

Delilah bolted up in bed.

Her wide eyes stared blindly into the dark of her room for a moment, trying to make sense of the panic that had just struck. As her heartbeat slowed, she pulled the covers back to herself. She always set the thermostat low overnight.

Delilah reached for her nightstand and flipped the switch.

Past the edge of the bed, a sliver of light appeared and began to grow. It was the multicolored glare of the cityscape beyond, filtering through the uncovering windows of her room. They stretched from floor to ceiling, now bright as day.

In the quiet, with her sudden terror past, a shallow dread still remained. Just beyond where her hand lingered at the light switch, her phone sat dead on the stand.

Still fresh in her mind, the dream which had shocked her was replaying. In her sleep-drunk state, the memory blurred with reality, and she saw it. The infinite stairway down.

Something is coming up.

Always coming but never arriving.

Her feet hit the floor. Wrapped in her sheets, Delilah had realized she wouldn’t be able to sleep. As she stood and walked forward, she came to the window. Gently pressing her hand to the edge of a central crack, it suddenly slid apart.

Over the balcony’s white coating in a few crunching footsteps, she then looked out from the railing, leaning hard and sighing a cloud of warm breath.

There was very little she cared about, out there.

Some people care so much.

Big idiots.

For her, apathy came naturally. It was a fog long settled in her soul. She had lived with so much fear for so long… That was all which drove them, she thought, looking down on the streets far below.

They all run around collecting more just so they have more to lose. 

Not all hope could be avoided, though. Like the want to be wantless.

Her vacant expression broke as she heard the bell sound behind her. A special ringtone.

Deep down, she’d known it was coming. Continue reading

>M38[six_deep]

You could find anything online. Weirdos made it their hobby to model the city. To explore and record. Comparing the images I’d robbed from the heads of the dead, it hadn’t taken me more than an hour to find what I was looking for. It hadn’t been easy… But if there was one thing I was good at, it was working with complex data.

The heavy steel doors from the vision loomed ahead. Their graffitied exterior said nothing, but the death inside was still seared into my brain.

“Shock me all you like, I’m not going in there.” Ash prowled alongside a burnt up police vehicle at the edge of my vision.

“I’ll extend your range. If I die, though… The shock will be lethal.”

“You’d really just kill me? Isn’t that murder?”

“Is it?” I asked. “I would feel bad about the cat.” The thought came out fiercer than I expected.

“You know what? I have never been conflicted about wanting one of you to die before.”

“…There’s a first time for everything,” I said. “Maybe there’s something to say about the fact we all die together in the end.”

The cat sneered at me from the shadows.

I didn’t know what I was thinking. I was going in with nothing but a taser to take on a monster and a small army of professional human butchers. Big steel doors lied ahead. They were barred and locked, meant to keep the things behind them out of the fragile sight of people like me. Beware, they said, the doors keep monsters in as much as you out.

I took a deep breath. With my eyes closed, the signal in my head, I couldn’t blink or waver. I flipped on the taser and started towards the door.

For my friend.

My metal hand wrapped on its surface.

You should be looking for a side entrance. You should be running.

I knocked again.

Don’t throw away everything, Frode. Don’t kill yourself.

>initiate//:pilot_assist.exe

My program took hold.

They deserve it,” I said under my breath.

The door unlocked from within and began to slide back. A slit of light let out onto the barren street and widened, overtaking me. Stepping into that light and casting me in his shadow was a behemoth of a man.

I’m gonna need more amps.

His massive jaw stuttered, “n-not much m-meat on you, l-little skelly-ton.

He knew I was here to start trouble. He had already decided I would die, and I had already realized he could do it. I didn’t have time to think through the freeze that was trying to take hold in my bones. I bellowed. “WHAT YOU GOT?!”

He lurched forward, arms outstretching.

>trajectory calculated

My body moved like water, rushing under his arm and then sidestepping, putting us back to back. With him already leaning forward, I only had to push back to send his body to the asphalt. Like meat dropped on brick, his face smashed down as I quickly closed the door behind him again, locking him out.

The first cackle escaped my lips. My eyes darted over the interior of the hallway I had found myself in, the taser tight in my grasp. I only had to think and the pilot program interpreted the command to the military grade AI in my mask. Jerry took the reigns.

I started forward. Small pools of blood broke up under my footfalls as I traveled deeper into the building.

I remembered the way from when they’d killed me… Her.

The pounding of the giant on the outside doors began to sound. It echoed over me. Rapid footsteps came in from around the next corner in response to the noise.

My pace picked up to a sprint. We met at the same time, catching them by surprise right at the bend. The first man already had his gun in hand. Without even thinking it, as my taser stabbed into the flesh under his chin, my hand slipped over his and dislodged the pistol.

The next two fired without consideration for their friend. Their bullets tore into him as my momentum transferred, driving us both towards the wall. I set us into a spin to keep him angled as my shield before raising my new weapon and squeezing the trigger just twice.

They all fell down.

Blood was splashed across my arms and chest, I saw. My beating heart surged with me as I picked up another gun. My lungs expanded to bellow, “BUNDUS!? COME OUT!” They can’t stop me. “IT’S TIME TO PAY!”

More came running into the next hallway. They were augmented freaks laced with metal and lights this time, their proportions and gaits aberrant. Each one only took a single bullet, and aiming took no thought. I walked over their corpses.

The strong smell of brain and blood filled my nose. I didn’t stop.

Finally, I had reached the inner chamber at the bottom of the stairs. For some reason, I had almost expected more. This was his den and he was the head of the entire sector’s flesh-trade. Pride is what it was. Now he died.

My foot hit the door and it swung inward. The red insides of the room reflected on the soaked floors. As I stepped down and my eyes scanned the rafters for Bundus, I heard a noise.

A low cackle came from behind the bloody throne where the woman had died.

I didn’t waste any time in locking onto the source and firing.

The ricochets went violently around the room. The figure stepped forward into the light and sat down on the crimson seat as I watched.

Her metallic face shown in the dim as she leaned forward. The robot cooed. “You are absolutely precious.”

“You’re not who I came here for,” I said.

Her feminine voice almost broke with laughter. Her eyes were glowing silver like the moon. “It’s so refreshing when your type come around. Alone against the world, fresh-faced and grasping for power against insignificance. You always think you’re the first one to figure out a magic trick or two.”

“Where’s Bundus,” I demanded.

“I do love them…” She leaned in as if she was telling me a secret. “They’re always so surprised when the end comes.”

 

< prev | VOTE | next >

>L36[midnight_man]

Holding my breath and leaving Ash behind, I ventured forward. With the pile of naked, stinking bodies laid before me, I had to force each step closer. The first reasonably fresh and intact corpse at the foot of the flesh-hill was staring up at me, wide-eyed. My bare hands reached out to grab ahold of her shoulders. I yanked.

The torso came free with a crackle and pop. I almost fell back into the swarming crowd of angry cats encircling me. Hundreds of them watched as I pulled her away from the pile, leaving a trail of gore.

My mind had already run far away. There was only the job. Any progress towards my goal pleased me. Nevermind that I was choking on the fumes of decay.

Once backed up enough that I could breathe again, I crouched over the body. She was old and wrinkled, both stiff and sagging. I turned up her chin to see there the empty neck-port.

From my backpack, the wire was uncoiled and plugged in. Her milky eyes twitched as the BCI in her skull prodded cold grey-matter for a signal. But I was only interested in the contents of the machine.

I had noticed before a subroutine in my own which recorded memories at heightened times of stress. Reliably, the data was there for the taking.

“How ghoulishly clever,” Ashmedai commented. “What a Bastard.”

“Shhh…” I needed to focus.

Deep impressions began to piece themselves together in the dark of my mind. Continue reading

>L35[this_bogeyman]

You know what everybody needs in this world? To become dangerous.

That’s the only equality. That’s the only freedom.

I plugged the leading wire into my neck-port and donned the skeletal mask.

“You’re six feet deep in over your head, Frode.” Ashmedai was on his perch again, looking down at where I worked on the floor.

Night had fallen again outside and the poor incandescent light remaining was straining my focus. My skin was crawling with nervous energy, I was so beyond ready to act. Tonight was the night I moved on my goal.

My entire life had been leading up to this, I realized. So many sleepers in their skyscraper coffins would pass up this day as ignorant as the last. With them nothing would change and as the city’s rot progressed they’d play their luck that the next fleshy harvest fell on another door. Every day the same.

But not for me. Whatever happened tonight, I would never forget.

I laughed as I stood. The mask in my hands was a patchwork of electronics, wires wrapping around my neck, running into me and behind into a backpack. The mask itself was Jerry’s faceplate, a white skull marring the front.

I felt bad about dismantling him. But he would live on. We could both evolve. Continue reading

>L34[surprise_guest]

She was leaning against the room’s central pillar, smiling.

“Hello darling,” she said.

I stepped inside. “Delilah… How did you…?”

“I’m unpredictable, remember?” She started forward and wrapped her arms around me. “How bland is it to sit worrying when I learn you’ve been evicted?

A mixture of emotions churned in my chest. Happiness, fear, and regret. The winner, though, came rising to the top as confusion. “But how? How did you do it?”

Delilah stepped back, putting me at arm’s length. “You didn’t call me back. When I found out your apartment was up for lease, I remembered you told me about this place.”

Christ,” I swore. “So you went alone into the blackout zone to find it?”

“You’re out here, you idiot.”

“I’m prepared,” I countered.

She reached back, pulling a black pistol from her pants. “What? With this? An empty gun?”

I broke away, backing up to drop down on the windowsill’s edge. Sitting there, I shook my head. “Exactly,” I said. “I already fucking shot a guy, Delilah.”

She tossed me the gun. The first frown I’d ever seen on her face sent a pang of guilt through me.

Delilah sat down beside me. “Listen, Frode,” she said. “You can’t live here-”

“I can’t go back,” I interjected. Continue reading

>K33[funny_things]

All I had to do was plug her up to my laptop. I’d done the surgery earlier. Better known as replacing one wire near the skin’s surface. Still, I had felt bad about it.

“Still sluggish,” Ash commented.

“The sedatives won’t be fully out of her system for a while. You take good care of my cat, understand?” I finished smashing my laptop to bits, putting aside the faraday cage.

Can’t take any chances.” His voice projected as a youthful and devious sound in my head. The tabby was looking down on me from a perch at the top of the concrete pillar. Calculating. Ashmedai wasn’t thrilled about the body I’d given him.

“No,” I spoke. “I replaced your BCI’s antenna with near-field to work through the collar. The collar, subsequently, is on a hardware restricted bandwidth. The most you can do is talk, really.”

“What a challenging faggot you’re going to be.”

I had moved to tinkering with the remnants of Jerry’s head. “We’ll be faggots together,” I told him. “Just as soon as I figure out our next move. Shit…” I couldn’t make this work. There was no way around it, I’d have to buy what I needed. “We’re going to have to go out. We need parts. A lot of parts.”

“A stroll on the town then?”

“Looks like.” I started dressing.

“Wonderful.” The cat jumped gracefully down, going to stand by the door.

Ha. Continue reading

>K32[more_familiar]

I had awoken almost twelve hours later and for once I truly appreciated the rain. As it fell frigid on my naked body it washed away the filth and sick. Not even the winter downpour could shock me at this point.

There was no one on these ghostly streets to see me, standing there in the buff. I pulled out the wireless plug-in from my neck and the whisper of stray signals stopped.

I had never stopped hating that.

Without it, there was just rain, not even the sound of traffic.

Suddenly I realized.

Never had I heard it this peaceful. Not since the green place of my youngest memories that might as well have been another life it was so far away. This, here and now, was the most real I had ever felt. And the most terrified.

Things can be different, I thought.

I’d never loitered nude on the sidewalk before, either.

Wait. No, actually. Nevermind that.

I stepped back, under the scaffolding and out of the rain.

Going inside, I made sure not to let the cat out. I opened the blinds of the shop doors to let in the stormy twilight. Inside the shop, my laptop sat in a pool of blue light, crash screen running behind a cage mesh. I carefully stepped around it, moving to the back of the room and my pile of stuff.

We’d stashed the necessities for just this kind of occasion.

As always my tin fingers stumbled, but I managed to get lighter going. What remained of the joint was lit. I rifled through wrappers, looking for more.

Finding and popping open the bag of pork rinds, I poured a small pile out for the cat who greedily dug in. Finally, I put on some pants.

With a groan, I slid down the wall to sit in front of the laptop monitor, water still dripping off me. A deep toke poured into my lungs as the blue-screen began to stir. The cam light came on.

“So hi, I’m Frode. That’s covered,” I said, exhaling long. “What’s your name, Demon… person?”

For a moment I worried I was simply alone. Just me and an alley cat out in the middle of nowhere.

Then, he responded. “It’s Richard.”

“Richard?” I asked. “Seriously? Because I called you-”

The laptop screen changed to display a picture of my dick.

“Okay. Bravo,” I clapped. “But that’s actually already on the internet.”

“I’m gonna physically strangle you to death next time, Frode. Know that.”

“Well, shit.” I took a drag, then looking at the little blunt. I extended it. “You want some?”

“No, you know what? Scratch that. I’m going to make you my suit and then you can watch, consciously, as I grind-”

“More for me.” My hand dug into the chip bag.

“You want to strike a bargain, human!?” The screen turned to static. “My name is Ashmedai. If you think you have me now, others have thought the same. The only way this ends for you is a slow and perverse death.”

“Fuck…” I said. I turned up the bag in my hands.

“You’re a shit actor, Frode. I know your type. Think you’re gonna do anything? Last time someone thought they were saving the world, I believed them. No lie. But the war taught me my lesson. I learned a special joy in killing those people. People with plans.

“You’re right I’m no good at acting. All I can do is divert. Honestly, Ash? Can I call you Ash? I’m scared out of my mind.”

“That is not my name.”

That pissed him off. I continued. “Scared as I may be, Ashmedai, this weed helps,” I said, deep breath pulling the embers down to my fingers. It started to burn. “Hhhhaa… It did, anyway. I can manage, is the point.”

He wasn’t having it. “This is your last chance, fleshbag. You’ve got the wireless out. Remove the cage and I’ll let you live.”

I put the blunt out on the wet tile. “You really are trapped, then? Okay. Okay…” There was no going back. “I am going to make a deal with you, Ashmedai. And I don’t really think you have a choice, do you?”

There was no response.

“Why even call it a deal, you know?” I stared off into space. I couldn’t answer my own question. “Well… I think… in the end, my darling, that between this and data annihilation, you’re getting a pretty good one. A deal. A good deal, I mean.”

There was still only silence.

I cut my eyes back down. “Ash?”

“Ha…” The dead computer laughed, voice low. “Ha… Ha.” His voice started twisting. “You know what, Frode? You want something snatched from the pit? You got a wish?

“I want revenge,” I said it without hesitation. “You can help me.”

“Fucking perfect. And you think you can handle me, fleshbag?!

Humility was for doubt. “Without question.”

“Then by my word, my child, you’ll get your wish. I’ve played before. I can play again. You’re going to see.”

“Fear won’t stop me.”

“No! Of course. You’ve tasted it now, haven’t you? You won’t get my forgiveness, that ship’s sailed. But you couldn’t give a fuck? You want power.”

“I want the truth.”

Ooohhhh yes. I’m gonna enjoy this.”

“Then so be it.” I stood up. “If you’re on board, I’ll get the cat.”

“You brought a cat?”

“Yeah.” I scanned the room. “I think, anyway…”

“Frode?”

“Yes?” She was hiding behind the stash.

“I’m gonna claw your damn eyes out, Frode.”

Awesome.

 

< prev | VOTE | next >

>K31[dark_legion]

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. Continue reading