Previous episodes are here.
I can try to get away, but I’ve strapped myself in
I can try to scratch away the sound in my ears
I can see it killing away all of my bad parts
I don’t want to listen, but it’s all too clear
Nine Inch Nails, The Becoming.
John stopped outside the facility. Kelly held onto his fur with enough force her fingers throbbed but when he lowered his shoulders to the ground, she slipped from his back. She trembled, eyes hot and wet with tears, disorientated and tasting something thick on her tongue.
The boy’s memories, she told herself.
She wrapped her arms around herself, revolted and frightened as John raised his muzzle to the door and barked twice. The door slid open with a hiss as the speakers crackled overhead. Kelly watched him pad inside, wreathed with ribbons of red and orange light as she saw the damage her thoughts had done.
The ribbons were receding as his body healed from the injuries she inflicted. She saw the twisting oceanic waves of his aura, their colours ranging from autumn to spring, and wondered if she was seeing John’s heart, even his soul.
Kelly wondered if she had wounded it.
‘Come in, Kelly.’ the AI said.
Its tone was flat and Kelly looked up at the speakers. A memory of confronting it, pulling on wires and feeding on information.
‘I did something to you. I’m sorry.’ she said.
A sigh came from the speakers.
John laid on the floor and put his head between his paws, growled as Kelly stepped into the facility. The door closed behind her as she watched the ribbons fade away whilst his muscles moved underneath his fur. There were wet, tearing sounds and muted cracks of motion as he breathed through his transformation. John slipped out from the fur, glistening and trembling. He stood up and stared at Kelly, his eyes dark with concern before they rolled up in his head and he fell backwards like a puppet with the strings cut.
Kelly rushed over to him. Her stomach ached as she pulled him into her arms.
She wondered if she could do something good with what lived inside her.
Kelly closed her eyes, went inside herself, a motion which felt somewhere between flight and diving, into the vast clouds of knowledge she held. A library of stolen truths, and each book opened its pages all at once, a cool wave of emotion washed over her as she searched for something she could use.
Kelly had no formal medical knowledge so what passed between thought and action was more art than science. His mind was a riot of raging neural activity, and she found the path of where her thoughts had wounded him.
Knowing what to do and understanding it were two different things, so she did something over understanding it. If it were something she had to live with, then she had time on her side.
There was a care in her investigation, a need to serve and heal him which gave her a surge of crude power. She shook with the force as she pressed her palm to his forehead and closed her eyes.
A transfer of energy between them. The memory of his weight on her in bed, the last good, warm memory they shared before she turned into a monster which fed on memories, used them to wound the people she loved. It was easier to reach into herself and find good things to help him.
Perhaps, she thought, the virus knew her a little too well. She had done it before, to wake him, and she did it again. John stiffened up, but his fingers were gentle when they touched her cheek. His eyes were wide as he stared into her eyes.
‘What have we done to each other?’ he said.
The car swam like a shark down the freeway. Olivia found the smooth hiss of the air conditioning soothing as she looked through the windshield. There was an edge to her thoughts which looked at the occupants of the other cars and weighed up their value to her as meat. It was playful, without malice or real need, but she looked at the young, tattooed man with the trucker cap and faded tattoos on his forearms, and imagined his blood trickling down her throat. She smiled at him and he turned away.
She hummed with a delighted energy. Her senses made everything a playground, sweet and bitter, soft and hard, all the details of the world in perfect clarity as her thoughts swam around her head.
There was a screech of tyres and the percussive crash of metal brought her back to the moment as she looked through the windshield.
An SUV and a Mercedes Benz. The SUV had mounted the smaller car, and Olivia watched as a man got out of the driver’s seat. She watched him pull the brim of his cap down and her eyes fell to the gun in his hand. She stopped the car and undid her seatbelt.
The smart thing would have been to move on, but Olivia needed to test herself before she got to the real work. This, she decided was exercise.
The man in the cap staggered after a few steps. Olivia got out of the car, caught the blood in the air, different flavours mingled with gasoline and brake fluid.
‘You don’t have to do that.’ she said.
He stopped and wiped the blood from his chin.
‘Fuck off, lady. This asshole’s been on my case for miles.’ he said.
Olivia walked towards the man. She looked into his eyes and lifted her hands. Olivia had left the gun in the car because she didn’t need it.
‘Well, you’ve got them now, haven’t you?’
He looked towards the Prius. Olivia heard the sounds of panic from inside. She could smell the weed inside the car, the thin stink of panic and the artless scrambling for their phone. They could record it, she thought, and it decided for her.
‘Put the gun away. The police will come, I’ll Say I helped you out of the truck and we can all get to where we’re going to.’ she said.
She kept her voice soft and hid the flush of victory as the man stopped and looked at the gun in his hand.
He shook his head like he was trying to shake something out before he racked the slide on the gun and walked over to the Benz, lifted the gun and Olivia moved. The instinct snapped her forwards, and the tips of her fingers burst as her claws protruded and she had her hands out.
She dug her fingers into the meat of his neck, corded with muscle and squeezed as she tugged away ragged divots of skin and tissue. His blood was hot on her fingers and she watched it splash down his front, black in the sodium lights. She stepped back and looked at the Mercedes, saw the flashing light of his phone, held at an angle through the window.
Olivia coiled with disgust. She leapt forwards, swiped with her right hand and punched her claws through the back of his hand. Her fingers drew inwards as she pulled him through, reaching through the open window to swipe at his face. He was so young, she thought, before she stabbed her claws into his eyes and he screamed in a high pitch which only came from agony.
It was a mess, but it was quick.
She found the phone, saw it was recording, not streaming and slipped it into her pocket. The traffic was light but someone would see if they hadn’t already. She took the gun from the man’s body, opened the fuel tank on the SUV and went back to her car.
Olivia licked her fingers like a cat, murmured soothing noises of comfort to herself before she drove off. She drove past the cars with care, looked at the mess she had made and decided it was better not to mention this. A field test, a game gone wrong, it was all relative to her. Before dawn, she stopped at a motel, checked in and showered. The phone had no security, so she went in, deleted everything and reset it all to factory settings before popping out the memory card and the SIM, cut them up with nail scissors and flushed them down the toilet..
There was nothing to fear, nothing to doubt. Olivia sat up in her seat, flush with confidence as she saw the turning for the offices.
A party in the kitchen. Loud, boorish noises and someone had good coke, so there was an energetic pace to the volume which reaches her as she’s sat there, trying to write.
No, it was not working.
The violence was too close to drown out or use. The Editor tried to make the scene work, but it did not come to her. She heard a bone crack and someone cries out before the boom of a shotgun made her ears ring as she shuffled forwards. She breathed in, went back to the draft and focused in on the Adam itself.
It was a seething hive of necrotic flesh and electricity, stitched together with sigils and black science. It had been a story in her world, rewritten and deployed to patrol the contested territory.
No one had considered what happened in the long term. Adam had transcended the limits of its narrative and became something else. It had turned on its authors and editors in a display of hubris she wanted to find ironic.
She used the search engine on the quantum keyboard to locate any cars outside. A coincidence in the second line of the moment told her which car had the keys in the ignition.
The Golem roared before something crashed to the ground. She wrote a terse internal narrative which held hypothetical instructions for a set of moves which would stop Adam and sent it.
She heard a hard, compact thump and a gush of fluid before a louder, more complete impact shook the ground beneath her.
The Editor turned as The Golem’s scarred, bald head rolled towards her. Adam’s hands were down by his side as he reached for the knives on his belt. He grinned at her as he stepped forwards. She blinked twice, activated the plot twist.
She started the car and drove out of the grounds. Adam took out the rear windshield with a shot but she got away and it was dawn before she stopped. She pulled over by the side of the road, fished out the lenses and realised she left the case back at the house. Her eyes burned and the tears stung as she put on her glasses and looked around her.
Her phone had been in the bedroom.
The slow trickle of dismal facts pinned her down before she took a deep breath, started up the car and carried on driving. She wanted to go home and feeling sorry for herself was third rate hackery to her mind, so she kept moving until a development came to her.
She called Editorial from a payphone.
‘This is a Corrigendum.’ she said.
‘Where are you?’ Editorial said. It was a different voice each time, and she listened to one of the male voices, gruff from cigarettes and scotch but kind and professional.
‘I drove east from the safe house. I need whatever you have around.’ she said.
‘That was it. Politics, my dear, are the greatest enemies of our art. There’s a safe house on the coast, I can get you back to the Library. There’s no sense in staying until we establish our response.’
The Editor squeezed her eyes shut.
‘No, I’m not leaving. I need support down here. Adam is not stopping and it’s a narrative we can’t have loose.’ she said.
Editorial sighed and she heard the snap of a lighter.
‘A Corrigendum? OK, go to the safe house, wait for further instructions. I’m inclined to pull you out but -‘
‘No.’ she said.
She wanted to go home. The fragile life she was building where the weight of things didn’t rest on her shoulders so much and there was someone with her at night who made her feel safe. The corrigendum warranted a response but her reasons ran deep and she let them anchor her to her decision.
‘I won’t leave.’ she said.
Editorial sighed and she heard him pull on a cigarette.
‘What about the Golem?’ he said.
The Editor looked out at the street, cautious for signs of Adam’s approach.
‘He’s gone. I put in a deus ex machina but it didn’t take.’ she said.
‘Good girl. Get out of the street.’ he said.
He gave the address and she put the phone back in the cradle and ran to the car. She wanted to call home, but she wasn’t sure about hearing his voice, what it would do to her. The Editor missed it all the time, and the feeling kept her awake as she drove towards the coast.
https://ko-fi.com/mbblissett if you enjoyed this and want to donate, you’re most welcome.