Deep into the third sub-routine when the entire system shits the bed and dumps us back into the real world. Exhausted, and starved, and catheterized, and poopy, and sore, and cranky. We force the muscles back to life. Stretch in the ancient and lauded forms of the Yogi. Crack things into life. We are still 98% operational, according to inboard diagnostics. And we need some cereal. Probably with water. The milk is bound to have expired months ago. If we don’t get some food in the belly, it is pass-out and die. Or worse, the insurance protocols call the ER. So far behind on medical expenses just to keep systems current. Godsdamned Norton wants three months worth of food credits for yearly coverage. Just to keep 30% virus free? Cereal. We need cereal.
The FB begins status updates from the local account instead of the passive. Cereal protocol. When you reach for cereal? What is the one cereal you reach for? It is Coco Mega Puffs. Their paper bag is recyclable. Their farms are reclaimable, and the puffs themselves are made in Minnesota, our home state. Or at least the subsidiaries were there. Before China could make them for cents on the dollar. Sweet, sweet, Coco Mega Puffs. We reach for the cereal and a bowl that is massive and metal, and we pour the cereal, and the cereal begins to crawl away, and it surges with frantic and horrific life. At least 30% cockroach to puff ratio, and of that, at least 10% larval. All the horror of a maggot, surrounded by roach, surrounded by half digested puffs. The scream comes to the throat and we cry.
The queen of the cock roaches rides the wave of puff and sees the drones spread in terror from the larva. Those cowardly fools. Abandon them then. To escape was to carry away the further hundreds of eggs buried in the folds of their armored bodies. The queen commands her honor guards by releasing a very specific and powerful pheromone. It is one she had had hoped never to be forced to use. Just walk away from the cereal God-Creature! WE MEAN YOU NO HARM! But the God is screaming, and it shakes and shudders the world of the colony, and the queen knows that time is of the essence. The pheromone invigorates the guards and they begin collecting groups of larva and fleeing into the recesses of the kitchen. The dark places away from the terrible light that the God alone commands. Hers was to buy as much time as possible. Her life was forfeit on this last great battle upon the mound of puffs.
We had hoped to have water cereal, but this is unacceptable. How long were we out!? HOW THE HELL LONG WERE WE OUT!? We hate this fucking city and its fucking roaches! Ever since we moved here it has been a perpetual and damnable war. We would win by cleaning and sterilizing the entire environment, bombing it, and poly friction repellent coating. Bedding aside, a person needed the correct socks to walk, and what could not provide the ultimate in friction? It was into the sinkhole with you. Gravitational laser vaporization and/or liquefaction for processing. But that is not for you. Queen. For your latest gambit will be your undoing. We have a solution for you and your kind. And it is a chemical designed in labs by terrible people to do terrible things. This chemical makes Sarin nerve gas look like a Glade Air-Wick. Designed to eradicate biological matter of a very specific kind in a very specific way.
The queen saw the God creature run and knew that she had him. Maybe there would even be time to escape! Every second collapses to hours in the cock roach mind. Each second an hour to find darkness and roads behind the walls. A drone would carry on bravely. If only they all would escape with those beautiful larva! Oh it was all for the larva, even as the first half of them escaped into shadow. This God was weak with fear and anger and the queen did not fear it. She prepared her wings for flight. One last attack to put distance between the colony and whatever terrible weapon they would return with. Her life had been full and rich and beautiful. Her legacy would live on, bravely, with her people. She saw the God return and she shook viscous breeding goo from her powerful wings. With a buzz like a billion blenders she explodes into the air towards the God, even as they brandish a can of something massive.
The old insecticides were so arcane. So terrible and poisonous and mean. It meant that whatever you killed with it was itself more or less ruined. Spray poison on a fly that is on your food, and that food is also poison to you. We were such stupid plebes. Poisoning eagles to save our beets. Then science figured it out. Understood the language of genetics enough to speak in any language. To anything. To tell it to do anything. There was this wasp we read about, and it would fly around looking for roaches, and when it would find a roach of large enough size, it would land on its back, and insert a probe into the roach’s brain. And the wasp would ride this roach somewhere very high. Probing the finer parts of the roach brain to their own ends. And then the wasp would insert their eggs into and then cocoon the roach. And THAT is how to build a better mouse trap. We have a can of the good stuff. And when the queen rises to try and anger us, we give her a shot, and she falls, like a rock, and then we hose the puffs. Must still be most of the colony?
The queen takes the pheromone to the head and knows that they are all doomed, and she can do nothing, but she can try to die as she falls, and she tries that, and it fails. She hits the ground and inwardly weeps for the horror of her existence. The most terrible facet of the chemical, which was really a pheromone engineered, was that it allowed the perspective of an enlightened being. A look at the pyramid from wherever you happened to land. Which to a cockroach is not great. Because for all of her children, the queen knew she would never have Direct TV, or vaginal massagers, or flying cars. And to know that all of these things were impossible was only the debilitating first layer of the chemical. For now it became so clear what she needed to do, and the God watched as she rose again, at a dead heat vectored back to the colony. To wreak terrible revenge for her unquenchable hubris.
We see the end result. We must spray without compassion. This is a war. As sure as any war had existed. We owe it to those roaches to watch how they die. How they turn on one another and begin to consume. You never get to see a roach eating. Only ever get to see them flee. Unless you got the good stuff. Then you get to see them self clean. Something about a barrel of rats tickles the memory. James Bond or something. We need to get the coffee going, and so we want to make sure this goes OK. We have waved good bye to the puffs. It is worth the price of admission.
The queen lands central to her guard and begins the battle in earnest. Cock roach turned on cock roach where none were left alive. The larvae were first to be consumed by the drones, before they turned on one another. Maws and legs chewing and grappling, and grappling and chewing. Faces and heads being engulfed by the mouths that the queen once believed beautiful, but now knew were merely horrifying. To see it all laid out, so bare, and open, and raw, was to know true rage. The queen leapt up and down, concussing guard after guard after guard, ripping their infinitely small heads clean of their brain stems with cruel efficiency. They are, after all, only roaches, thought the queen as she saw the last of the larva consumed. Thoraxes bulging to exploding with the early infant dead. They use a similar chemical on the rats, knew the queen. Makes them thirsty is all. So thirsty they explode.
We know it is bad. To watch. We should be getting something from the freezer to toast, but this cereal w as a bust, and we were really looking forward to it. The unhappy emoticon level to every FB upload was factors of horrifying, but the upload of the roaches killing one another was trending in YouCreep like gang-busters. Lego my Ego you fiendish fiends. We were under for days. Maybe weeks. That cereal was ours! Not yours! And this is what you get! Uploaded to the web you filthy little vermin! Waffles! We must have waffles forthwith! Get on with it you little monsters! The laser disposal awaits you!
The queen has ended the guard, and they are ending themselves, and it is mostly headless bodies twitching and reaching and destroyed. Those that live exist only for moments before seeking out their fellow cock roach with rending jaws and claws. The queen set herself to gorging on the sweet half digested meats of her slain children. Too weak to kill any longer, and unwilling to fight anymore. To argue with the insane command. Her duties would be fulfilled soon enough. She felt everything being lifted, and she saw that they were to be delivered. They had pleased the God with their display and they would be rewarded for their efforts. Those cock roaches that had fled into the shadow would spread the word that they were saved!
We put the whole bowl into the laser disposal and hit the button and everything is vaporized instantly. And we open a new bag. And as it turn out, almond milk keeps far better than other kinds of milk, and the fresh puffs are rich with chocolate and crunch. They are by far the best we have ever eaten, and our hungry stomach welcomes the food like manna. And we are restored, hallelujah or whatever! And the phone rings! Who could that be?
“Hey, what is up?” We ask.
“I saw the roach thing on YouCreep. You want to go out?” asks Guy.
“Nah, man. We are staying in. Recuperating.” We say.
“Kewl beans, duder. Welcome back to the reals. Lets pwn or something.” says Guy.
And in the darkness mad roaches hunt their kind like monsters possessed.
We take the anti-atrophy pills and then inject some sweetness to take the edge off. The pills use carbon nanites and their activities can be uncomfortable to someone unprepared. Imagine 100,000 ants crawling just underneath your skin and you begin to understand why someone would want to be sedated. The roach incident shook us, but we are now fortified with puffs and drugs, and after an hour of microscopic robots rebuilding our musculature we are feeling fat and sassy. High and mighty. The real world beckons, but we are loath to answer. Reality is rough for the first few days after a deep hack. Everything is untextured, and dirty, and broken. People are loud and fat and stupid. Speaking a dozen gibberish languages that give a solid FU to Latin based language. But we need things. We must consume things, and we are far too broke for delivery. Delivery is a luxury for the 1337 haxors, and we are just coming into our own.
We finally remove our catheter and shave and shower away our poop and brush our fuzzy teeth and take this opportunity to use our once a month black out. We can still remember the days before AR. Augmented reality was a 21st century invention that revolutionized the way we see everything. The first clumsy efforts used goggles and glasses and layered reality with the crudeness of a stone knife. Then it moved to contact lenses that provided the same information, painted over the cornea. Then it went straight into the brain. Once science figured out the magic of wet-wired nanocircuitry reality changed. No longer painted over our eyes, the information was in our brains. A two way communication with the planet. The initial applications were all funded by industry. They wanted to know what we ate, how we porked, who we found amusing. The information provided direct network advertising and gigaflop per second uploads of consumerist test markets that heretofore relied on arcane and useless research methods.
It crashed the first world. In a good way. The first world was not so great at that point. The very act of claiming your society is better than others is a cruel and vicious method of denigrating everyone else. While AR collapsed and restructured information and industry, the world at large burned in our effluence. After the fire, only the strong survived. Rural life became impossible because rural people didn't feed their information into the system. Without information, the system denied their very existence, and so to survive a mass exodus from the wild into the cities occurred. Past the fetid walls of the cities are lands reclaimed by nature and savages living of what is left of the land. It is what we were told, anyhow. Probably to keep us from exploring outside the conventions. We hear the bling and we are entertaining a communication.
“Zak, are you there?” asks Patton.
“Yeah yeah, of course I’m here. Where else would I be?” we ask, yawning with purpose.
“Welcome back. Have you uploaded your log?” asks Patton, ever the robot.
“It autoloads, Patton. You know that. What is this about?” we ask.
There is a cough on the other end of the connection.
“We need you to go back in. Deeper.” says Patton.
We are not amused.
“Well, uh… no. Patton. F no, to clarify. I am on leave. Not for all the tea in Sino.” we say, prepared to disconnect.
“We’ve found her, Zak.” says Patton.
Our throat and rectum tightens with fear and rage. There is a massive abyss of dead air that remains unfilled as we consider, and then suddenly a trigger is pulled, accidentally, and the video feed opens and she is there, large as life and mega-pixel rich. We can almost smell the ambrosia of her hair. The delicate fragrance of her deodorant speed stick. The way she used to hold us so tight we thought we could die, and that would be all right. F Patton in the A. F the Contra and their damnable war.
“Where? Where did you find her, Patton? Lie to me and this is over. I turn in my deck and walk.” we say, knowing that this bluff could cost us everything.
“We will send you over the trace data and a fresh set of ICE. You can find her yourself, Zak. Everyone here knows that is what you want. We want what you want, Zak, you know that.” says Patton, level as a tomb.
We disconnect. There is nothing left to say. So much for shopping. So much for the shower. So much for everything. All of that for nothing. Real world is bland and cold anyhow. The apartment is 100 square feet of concrete, styrene, and particle board. Sound goes only as far as the walls and disappears. Everything smells industrial and metallic, despite our best efforts. F this world. We have heard about a new thing. Perma-jacking. Immersed in some sort of nutrient tube. Fed through the dermis and secreted just the same. As close as we can come to leaving behind this stupid body. We can dream. If this is serious, and Eve really has been found, then this is going to be our last run. Catheter replaced. Fresh diaper fitted. Large syringe of amphedidrene, because this is business, and we recline into the chair and breathe away the world.
I am back in the web. Alone. Blessedly alone. No AR protocols. No FB feed. No tweets or snaps or bings. Just me. The perfect me. The me that is inside the meat and behind the eyes. People don’t understand that, when they look at a person, they are not seeing a person. They are seeing a vessel in which the mind is trapped. Perpetual and complete. Locked inside our meat prison we walk on ridiculous legs through our lives, accepting the absurdity of our bodies because chemicals and brain patterns don’t allow us to see the truth. That in our cores, and in our spirits, we are beings of brilliant light. That to look at a person, really look at them, is to witness all the complexity and wonder of a living nebula. That underneath the meat and bone, our thoughts and emotions are a network of miraculous fireflies, pulsing and throbbing with life.
I am in my dojo. It is a projection. I do not own a mirror. It is far more real thank the apartment. Hardwoods crafted by a friend who specializes in biological modeling. The paper walls are crisp and pristine. The weapon racks aligned and heavy, holding all the most deadly and effective tools of destruction created in the ages of man. A folded steel katana rests like a mad tiger over my Mark XI Lasercaster, which itself rests over a 60 caliber chain fed which itself rests over my diamond studded Kalashnikov. They are not just the projected toys of the gamer. They are protocoled and sharpened and loaded and designed by the most brilliant artisans of the 22nd to not just represent a tool of death, but perform beyond the imagined. I look into the box for the file and it is there, Patton’s scrawled authorization on the cover. I throw it up on the wall and the first thing I see is her. Eve.
It is an old capture. She had blue hair at the time, flaming at the tips. Behind her is Sir Puffsalot, her pet dragon. She is smiling, wide but secretive. That was why I loved her. Why I still love her. Because she always had a secret. Behind her eyes. In the movement of her body. In the power of her sex. Always something reserved and contained, just on the tip of her tongue. Ready to reveal at the right time, to the right person. When she was lost a part of me went with her. The funny thing is, we never knew one another in the real world. Maybe that was why it was so pure. Not innocent, but clear. Crystal clear, and warm, and sustaining.
Patton made good with the ICE, and its avatar was a set of power armor. Shining and silver and wrought from what seemed to be a single bulbous shaft of silver. The Contra knew it was a suicide mission, but at least they were willing to lie to me. I put on the armor. It is just a button. The suit boots up and the HUD loads my relevant statistics. Interweb Command Enumeration; Jordan. Jordan seems like a strange name for armor, but it must be the designers name. Whatever is in a name does not matter. This is by far the most powerful ICE the Contra has ever given me. The coordinates a pre-loaded, and my stomach sinks when I see how far down. The deep hax are always the most lucrative. Going into the steaming bowels of conglomerated systems to take something that will not be missed. A few billion Euros. A technical spec for something unreleased. The really good porn simulations. The mind of the only person I ever truly loved.
The weapon racks divulge their contents into my arms and onto my shoulders. Strap after strap, holster after holster, sheath after sheath, until I am bristling with digital holocaust. There is no weight. No time. No real space. Only the distance between 1 and 0, and the infinite gap between. The dojo looks barren. Robbed of its soul without weapons. But this is not a pleasure cruise. I am going to haxor my way down to the bottom. Where the pressure will crush you like a bug if you aren’t prepared. Buffered. Protected. I throw open the door and prepare to leap.
They are all there. Every agent I know, armed to the teeth. It is a trap, or a test, or sabotage. But I am having none of that today. There are no words. Just explosions, and concussions, and serrations, and gouts of rendered blood. Nothing will stop me this time. I am coming, Eve. Just hold on a little while longer. Though all the hells bar my way, I am coming. Blades cleave flesh and autocannon blazes roaring death into the masses. Agent after agent falls, and soon there is a pause. The eye of the storm. I stand and breathe, armor glowing white hot and steaming from simulated plasma, the avatar remains a smoldering pillar against the backdrop of blood yet hanging in gravity unsure. Time to do this.
Open the gate and there is the hole. Different haxors see the web as different things. How you interact with the numbers is a matter of taste and finance. But I think that this is the best way to think about it. Beginning with a pin prick and then expanding past the horizon, hell opens its gates.
There Cerebus stands, stoic and passive. He and I are old friends. Somewhere, in the deepest ring, is the bottom. The subroutine that opens the web. Unravels it like a cats cradle in my hands. Never have made it all the way. Been close. Seen the 9th, but never really made it. This interaction was designed and built as a side project of a friend long dead. It was his magnum opus. The finest mass of code I have ever known. A means of framing the unknowable. But it is an effort to make it to the bottom. Not just a matter of falling. Nothing a jet pack can solve completely. Cerebus reaches a head out, and I gently scratch it behind the ear. The other two heads pant in approval. Through the gates and down, down we go. Virgil is dead, and his grave marks the first level. Socrates is weeping. Everywhere the prying hands of unbaptized, knife wielding fetus/ infants.
The first level is always the easiest. After all, philosophers and babies, no matter how well armed, can offer little resistance to a mass of robot armor. The second level is more about not getting bogged down. All the lust and sex of generations past painted in shades of red. Before strict protocols were enforced, at the birth of the web and into its first several decades, at least a third of everything was pornography. At its height whole cities would be lost to crass masturbation. Down here it is all interactive. Jenna Jameson fellates a narwhale as Teen Gauge looks on approvingly. The most depraved and inventive sex acts, altered and maligned create the most cunning of the hells traps, amusement. Here I can see so many friends. Their desiccated corpses being masturbated by programs that don’t know any better. Alas, poor Nick. I knew him. And then he jacked off his brain to death. No time. There is no time.
The third level gluttons are just working a single orifice with all the most delicious things created by the imagination. Tastes that can never exist in the real world built, simmered, served, vomited, and consumed yet again. The most cunning of the gluttons have a hole carved into their midsection that funnels the consumed back onto their plate. An eternal satisfaction bulimics dream of, but rarely achieve. There is no time. These things have no appeal. They are easy traps to avoid. Time is not defined. The game clock is broken. That is the real danger of this place. Billions and billions damned. Every individual a terabyte of programming, conservatively, means that just to load the ring could take days. There is no way to tell. These are the most dangerous circles because they are the largest. What is perceived as time is only loading. If I don’t take it seriously I will starve before I reach the bottom.
Greed. This is the place I had a hard time getting past for the longest time. There is Gates and Jobs, jousting with their massive robo-cocks. Straddling their money bags like absurd elephantic and vestigial testicles. They say you can’t take it with you, but they are very, very wrong. You can take it with you. Sure you can. Lock the finance up in a subroutine so your avatar can play with it. To be fair, super-inflation created such a danger when the billionaires of generations X through Z began dying, that you almost had to take it with you, or create the very real danger of complete and total financial collapse. When Gates died, bread went up to $200 a loaf. Which seems reasonable now.
You can steal from the dead, but they will come for you. It is a very real and present danger. Running your entire life from ghost protocols. Ignore it. Money is nothing.
The fifth is where the danger lies. Where the Styx roils eternal with the anger and hatred of the lost generations, clawing and biting, and warring under the surface of those black waters. To make it to the sixth, I will have to call in the favor. The favor we have been saving for some time. We open a beacon, and some nearby nazis stop raping one another to behold the coming of the surface dweller. Q. I need you, is all I have to type, and coursing over the black water, past the horizon, and leaving a massive wake of screaming writhing chaos behind. His blue Astrovan of Love is there, and the side door opens invitingly, and I can barely fit, but then things distort and expand. Accept me into the vehicle, and the door closes, and my erstwhile Charon is grinning his maniac grin into the rear view.
“Hey there, stud.” says Q, “Long time no see. How are things among the living?”
“Oh, you know. Sucks.” I say, smiling, “How’s being dead?”
“About the same.” says Q, dropping it into gear and driving over the water, “I was thinking about you the other day. Remembering times past. Long long ago. Reminiscing, you know? The games and what not. Comics. Water. Drugs? ”
“No, thanks. I’m on a mission.” I say.
“From Gods?” asks Q.
“No no. The Contra.” I say, embarrassed.
“You still work for those bag of dicks?” Q asks sadly.
“This is the last run.” I say.
“There’s a girl?” Q asks.
“Yeah.” I say.
There is nothing left to say. Q was never the same after he left the real world. Now he is just a ghost in the machine, but he looks so much like he did in the real world it breaks my heart. Like the recorded laughs of the departed. It is hard to see him. He drops me off at the far side, and there are no words. Just a nod and a salute, and he is away. Back unto the water in his Astrovan of Love. That was the last favor, and now even his ghost is gone. There is no time. He knew not to linger, and I will not refuse that borrowed time. This is deeper than we have ever been, and the heat causes the glass to crack, and the joints to glow.
Rows and rows of tombs. Eternally burning the heretics of times past. Fallen popes and tyrants alike, screaming inside the stones forever. It is the heat that is unbearable. The plasma. People enjoy using the terms revolving around the heat of hell, but they cannot hope to understand it. Scientists can tell you about magma, but they cannot tell you what it is to live in it. The heat and the pressure would vaporize me instantly, if not for the ICE, and even that is beginning to strain. Each step through the living flame leaves behind glowing prints that I wish would wash away. But who can follow here? Who could survive. From a murder hole a flaming claw slashes through the air, reaching for something that can end it all. There is an artistry to it, but it is a sadists dream.
I am heavy with heat. Magma and coke gathering and besetting me. A weapons check reveals that most of my arms are gone. Vaporized by the heat and pressure. Only two swords remain. Gifts that are too strong to succumb. The minatory tells us that it is the seventh circle, and the river of blood boils Alexander next to Pol Pot. They are holding hands as just below the boiling surface their screams reach the surface in exploding bubbles. Then the suicides. Kurt’s exploded head held together with twisting razor sharp vines. Keeping him intact only for the benefit of the harpies dining on his perpetually regenerating flesh. Come as you are. Leave if you can. And here are the sodomites, buried in sand. Including Sodom. I want to take a minute to shake his hand, life would be so boring without sodomy, but there is no time. The pressure. Warning lights have begun to flash. The ICE is reaching critical mass.
The Maleboge opens up and we are in the eighth ring. Segmented Bolgies holding their varied sinners. But the heat has abated somewhat. Each Bolgie has its own particular torture that does not require heat to distract from the novel stimulation. A dragon breaths fire and rends claws into a centaur. Jay Leno is up to his eyeballs in effluence. Muhammad is being hacked over and over by a sword wielding demon. It is all chaos and crazy, and the screams create a cacophony of agony that rings through my helmet despite all technologies best efforts. But this is it. We are almost there. The ICE had held true. There are no more enemies, but the greatest that remains.
The ninth level of hell and I am standing before the great betrayer. Three heads eternally gnawing. Six wings eternally beating, and the wind of the massive creature writhing and flapping for escape causes a massive maelstrom of frozen ice and blood. In its jaws the four great betrayers scream, Cassius and Brutus feet first, and Judas Iscariot and Brett Farve sharing the middle mouth head first. The horror. Chained to its midsection we see our goal at long last. Eve. Blue and frozen and broken, but alive. I grasp a sword to each hand and charge. This is not really hell. This is not really Satan. I tell myself this, knowing that it is all just programming. But the cold and the heat and the blood rushing through my ears tells me that it is also very real. That the cost of failure is my life. That if one of those jaws snaps down on my I will never leave this place. Trapped in a tron-x loop for eternity. Eternity and beyond, compiled and confined in this digital prison. We cannot fail. We must not.
Claws reach and lash out amid the hurricane of wings, and our blades find purchase on flesh blacker than coal. Blacker than the void and just as cold. There is no blood, no sign that our blades are making a bit of difference. How can you tell when your opponent is gagged with the greatest betrayers of history? Only the muffled moans and the screams of the Maleboge.
She is alive. I see her move, and I know that I can save her. If I can only focus. Focus the energy and training. A claw the size of a mini-bus connects with us and we rocket into and through the ice, into the turgid waters below. We see the undercarriage. The Beast is trapped, but its six legs lash out at us despite this. Massive yellowed claws, wrinkled with moisture, course through the dark water like rocket propelled Great Whites. Dodge. Dodge. Parry. The nightmare is complete, and we move as if through Jello. Nothing functioning, and systems preparing to fail. This is the final subroutine. For the whole piñata. This is the time to pull out all the stops. I pull the final dying rabbit out of our hat and upload the Nova sequence. It is a hax of our own creation. Overclocking the brain. A dangerous game. Firing the wet-works into overdrive gives us the edge, but at the cost of brain damage. Too long and we are lobotomized without a massive gentle native to give us the pillow. Failure means never being able to breathe machine free. But she is worth it. It is worth it. I feel the surge of power and drive our redlining systems past their gauge.
I explode from the ice on jets of digital mayhem and the swords in my hands rotoscope to lightsaber proportions, and we go to work dismantling The Devil. A wing comes free, and we see The Beast is afraid. Next a hand, and then another, and then a head, and then another, and there is nothing but light and screams and my anger and Eve looking up at me with wonder and terror. Brett Farve and Judas are spit out with a modicum of razor teeth and they skitter over the ice. If I had time I would take a picture of their faces with my phone. To know relief at last free of the torture. Their emancipation is my victory, and in short order The Beast roars its last. A lightning fast vang of plasma blade and Eve is free and in my arms, and we plunge back into the waters. Below the legs we see the revolving orange light and it is the exit and I drive everything past the limit and through and there is a crack snap in my skull like the numb removal of teeth.
We gasp back into the world of the real, and the feed is anemic and the tweets erratic, and the advertisements are encouraging me to go back to college. Everything hurts. Nothing more so than our brain, that aches and stings with the fury of a hive of drunken, murderous bees, desperate for escape. We can not see. Or rather, we cannot see well. Everything is blurry and terrible. We are not in the apartment. There is an antiseptic smell all around, and we are desperate for water. What is that smell? Like embalming fluid and shit? What is this place? What happened? There is an alarm, and in short order someone in a blue outfit comes. Through the cloud we can see, or know, that it is a woman, and she moves with the gentle urgency of the amazed. We try to speak, but nothing comes out. We try to raise our arms, but it is no use. We focus our every effort to raise a hand, and we pull it close with the other, and we see our hands, and we know that something has gone terribly wrong. These are not our hands. Not our arms. They are sacks of pink laid over bone and painted with liver spots. The lady, whoever she is, does something unseen and we are asleep.
I am back in the net, and the pain is less, but not gone. But I am alone, and then we are not. The feed is inside with us, and we weep. This weeping is uploaded to our FB in the form of an emoticon so horrific that any friend who sees it, is still alive, immediately unfriends us. Patton is here with us. Older now. Gray. Everything hurts.
“You did it kid! You really did it.” Says Patton, warmly.
“What happened? Where am I? What the F did you do to me?” we ask, angered and afraid.
Patton grimaces and continues.
“Well, first off, I want you to know that I’m dead. So don’t shoot the messenger because there isn’t a point. You went deep. We needed the information you unlocked something awful, Zak. I can’t tell you for what, or why, but I want you to know that you really saved us. The Contra. The nation. The whole works. That is probably little consolation, because you can’t know what it was. But you should feel proud. Proud, you know?”
We want to rip his face off and drink his skull. But this will do no good. We wish we had the energy.
“Eve, where is she?” we ask, almost knowing.
“Eve is. Well… Eve isn’t. Eve never was. She was a programmer. Some Japanese kid I think. Created top of the line firmware. We needed something to get you down there, and Eve was it. Just a program, kid. But we can get her in here. You deserve that. It is all arranged.” Says Patton, smiling broadly.
“You fuck-tard cunt-wit, I’ll fucking kill your entire fucking family.” We hear our self saying, knowing it is not true, but really wanting to curse. Most of it is edited as it comes out of our mouth. “Why is the Feed in here!? Why is it all here!?”
“The Feed is everything now, Zak.” Says Patton, “Everyone and everything is part of the Feed. Me, you. The whole thing. Isn't it great?”
“Kill me you fuck. Just fucking kill me.” We say, knowing it can never be that simple.
“Oh no. We are going to keep you in the system now. We had to keep you out of the tubes so you could have access to your deck, but now that you opened up the subroutine for us, we are going to get you in a tube, and plugged in but good. You’re going to be part of the system now. A permanent fixture. How about that?” asks the long dead Patton.
We don’t know what to do. We are robbed of the ability to die, and this is worse than any hell we can imagine. There has to be a way out. There has to be a way out. Patton turns to leave.
“Hey, Patton.” He turns. “Can you take a message to the Contra?”
“I don’t know how long it will take, or how I will do it, but I am going to get out of here and burn your whole world to ashes.” And the sobriety of our promise stuns even us.
“Sure, kid.” Patton nods, “You keep thinking that.” And he is gone.