>O46[small_remembrance]

“No, Skrimp… it’s just you.” Delilah’s gaze drifted off towards the dark corners of her apartment.

“W-what?” He almost couldn’t speak past his stutter. There was too much raw emotion flooding through his head. The weight of everything pressing down.

Both of them lingered in the midday gloom of the apartment.

Slowly, he asked. “So… you’re not coming?”

“No.” She put it plainly, “I need to think. You can go grab up your friend and run in if you want, but… I won’t be a part of it. Not today.”

“Then I… hope you change your mind.” He forcibly unclenched his fists. Suddenly, he no longer felt welcome. Shifting in place, looking over the room, the next question hung wordlessly in the air.

Delilah threw out an unexpected answer to it. “Take the car,” she said. “It’ll drive you wherever you tell it… and it’s off Smiler’s grid as long as you detour through the blackout zone. Just be careful with it.”

Skrimp nodded tightly. The next unspoken question was far grimmer.

“Leave him,” she demanded, a grave sadness in her voice. “I can take care of him.”

With that, there was nothing more to say between them. The dead expression she gave Skrimp let him know that for certain. Though he was simmering with rage, grief was a smothering shadow for now. Still, as he left her sitting, he moved with malice.

The sound of his footsteps dwindled until the lonely house remained.

Snow provided no distracting noise for the rush of blood in her ears.

Delilah remained at the desk. In the pale light of her computers, she leaned forward, heart pounding. Her hands gripped the desk’s edge as she tried to calm down. She knew what she had to do, but the very thought caused her body to tremble.

She had barely kept it together this long. Sobbing and quivering were nothing.

The wall crackled as she tore her monitor from its mount.

Its shards rained over the tile. Continue reading

>O44[total_collapse]

The world was supposed to be quiet.

Some kind of recognition, Skrimp thought, anything.

But police sirens wailed in the distance. The sound of an advertisement played low, yet at the forefront of his consciousness.

This noise was always there. The city never mourned.

They had come out of the depths of the slaughterhouse, covered in blood. It soaked into their clothes and skin. It filled their nostrils.

Skrimp was the one to bear the weight. Carefully, he’d pulled Frode from the dark and taken him out into the light. Over the long walk, neither he nor Delilah had spoken.

Finally, they stopped. There was nowhere to go next. The only thing which existed was the noise filling Skrimp’s head.

His own quietness made him aware of it. It brought every absurdity to his mind, to simply stop him, frozen, lost beyond thought. As Delilah sat beside him, caught in her own thousand-yard-stare, he kept on scratching at his arms.

His entire body was crawling, now. He had never felt so unclean.

We have to do something with him, he thought, horrified.

There was no ground to lay him in. The city would mulch his body and feed it to the rats, Skrimp knew. There’d be no stone or ceremony. They treated it like garbage.

His scratching intensified.

This was nothing special to them. Not death or life. Nothing was sacred. He would watch them carry the body away, with no other option but to let his friend rot on the street. His only fucking consolation that it wasn’t personal.

He wanted it to be. He wanted the world to notice.

Skrimp forced himself to stop tearing at his skin. Slowly, he looked over at his friend.

To his other side, wrapped in a blanket from the car, Frode lay in the snow facing skyward. His lifeless eyes took in the grey. His own clothes, soaked and now frozen on the air, were tattered and worn. His face was bruised and scraped. It was clear that even from the days leading up to his death, Frode had been beaten down at every step. He was so much older than he used to be.

The sight of it broke Skrimp.

Everything Skrimp had done since Wally, it had been under the fantasy that… if it were all to happen over again, things would be different. He would have had a say, he believed, if only he had given a damn.

“It’s n-not… supposed to be like this,” he said.

Delilah shook her head. “It was always like this. You care about something… and it gets crushed under the wheel.” Tears ran down her face, but she seemed not to notice anymore. “I should have known better than to try…”

Skrimp’s face contorted with a flash of anger, quickly fading. He had nothing to say in response, even though he so desperately wanted the words. How could she say that?

He hadn’t seen me in years, he thought. What did I care, huh?

“He was in so far over his head…” Skrimp slowly stood up and began to pace forward. “What k-kind of f-f-fucking…” he struggled to even speak, gritting his teeth. “That idiot…

“I knew this would happen,” Delilah absently said.

“And you d-didn’t stop him?

“What could I do? I didn’t even know how he was going to die, or why… I just knew it. It’s what happens to people like him… and you.”

“People who give a shit?” he bit back.

“Yeah…” Delilah said, shutting her eyes. “…People who give a shit.”

Skrimp fell on his knees, letting his head rest on the hood of the car. His nails raked over his scalp as his insides churned with fire and tar. He wanted to hit something. Anything.

“If I had been there, we coulda made it. It didn’t have to happen!” He slammed the side of the car. “Tell me I’m wrong!?”

“No one could have changed it.”

“Frode could have,” the words flowed with his anger. “You could have. I could have!” He pounded the car. Skrimp screamed out, “I could have!”

Suddenly, he stood. The headrush left his ears ringing.

For a moment, all was silent.

“Skrimp?”

“Ever since that day…” he told her, “I’ve been trying to be the guy… who would do something; who could stop it. Make it right. But it’s not the moment they go…” He took a deep breath, seeing clearly for the first time. “It’s all the ones running up to it, Delilah. Every fucking second we pretend…” She had opened her eyes, now, staring at him. “…We pretend it’s not our job.”

“Our job?” she asked.

To put an end to this.

Her own realization played across her face. She understood. “It has to stop.”

“All of it,” Skrimp said.

“And we can do it?”

It doesn’t fucking matter,” Skrimp growled. “That’s what Frode knew. There’s no win but death. There’s them, feeding the machine, and us. There ain’t no f-fucking negotiation. No democracy. No dialogue. We kill them. For Frode.”

“…We kill them?”

“Yeah, Delilah… we kill them.

 

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>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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>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

>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

>E15[friendly_girl]

Nobody had come into the shop. No texts.

I stared into space as the wires in my neck spread my conscious out.

You think you’re in a brain with a body? 

I’m spilled milk in a rat maze.

Right at the moment, I was an eighty terabyte memory bank brimming with spyware. I became the thing. Like suddenly possessing a second head, but this one was infested with terrible squirming things. A million writhing eyeballs.

Jesus, it was like they’d been farming the things.

Multiplied into every file, infecting every video and game. It was like being able to look close up at the pseudo-living viruses that were in my own cells, hijacking my own programs, and understanding their being.

DNA unfolding. Chromosomal scaffolding contracting, signals like robotic walkers going out.

I pulled out my wires from the drive.

That was enough of that.

My eyeballs refused to focus for a moment as I changed gears.

“I’m going to go get lunch,” I said, squinting at the ceiling lights.

Miss Fong gave some kind of acknowledgment or dismissal from the back. At this time of day she would be online as much as she worked. An addictive gamer. But I had thirty minutes for lunch and she wouldn’t do a thing. I had ordered my food ahead of time.

As I stepped out into the mall a different song played which I didn’t recognize. A song about Christmas parties and liqueured up eggnog.

My phone vibrated.

>’Nyx’_12:01:33 | location received

I smiled.  Continue reading