Level forty-five, ward six, room ten. I rolled out of the elevator. There were flashing lights all over the place, but no guards. They must have figured that since the V-net connection had been cut, they were safe and the intruder was no longer here.
So why was I still here, anyway? I mean, how is it that I was still in the facility when they shut off the link?
No, no, don’t concern yourself with it. I noticed there were a lot of Gerties sliding around. They were simple AI machines, that hung from tracks in the ceiling. They rolled around from room to room, giving individualized attention to the patients, checking vitals, and so forth. They were somewhat modular, and could slide in manipulator arms or other equipment if it was needed, on the very same tracks. They were fascinating to watch. I’d thought so when I’d first seen them in a movie when I was about twenty. Their sensory heads were about the size and shape of a toaster, with cameras and a whole bunch of other receptors on the front end.
I found what I was looking for: Tank sixteen. Heh, might as well have been tank six sixty six. I reached up and…
Damn. It was higher than I could reach. It was only head-level for a person, but my janitor-bot was only about garbage-can height.
Ok, ok, everything is a puzzle. I can solve this. What have we got around here? Desk, chair? Not bad. I pushed the desk over to the bank of liquid-filled tanks mounted in the wall. Then I rolled the chair around, and tried to climb up on it, no easy feat given that I didn’t have any. Feet, that is, I was on four rubbery wheels.
That didn’t work, but the arms were pretty strong. Maybe I could haul myself up onto the desk with them? No, I tried that, but evidently my bot-body was pretty heavy. The table up-ended. I let go in fright, and the raised end fell to the floor with a very loud boom.
Well, somebody had to have noticed that. I needed a watchdog. The external V-net connections were gone, but the internal ones were still working. The Gerties were a little hard to get into - I couldn’t access their hands or other equipment, but I could drive their sensory heads. I grabbed a couple of those, and positioned them near the elevators and fire escapes, watching. Meanwhile, my robot body yanked the door out of the frame, and positioned it like a ramp up on to the desk.
My Gertie heads saw the elevator doors fly open, and lots of Asian security guys spilled out, guns drawn.
I rolled up on to the table, reached out for the tank in question, prepared to smash it and…shit shit shit shit shit! It was still too far to reach. I strained for it, just as the guards poured in an pumped me full of bullets.
Time for Plan C.
Suzie wouldn’t talk to me. She wasn’t undead like me, she was a real live girl. She lived out in the meat world, and visited me through avatars. If she didn’t jack in to Heaven, there was no way I could visit her. She stopped visiting me after that night. Maybe she was right to do it. I mean I hadn’t even realized she was getting in to all this culty crap, had I? I’d just assumed she was too smart.
Meanwhile, Longford’s followers kept killing themselves by the tens of thousands. Downtown had already been full of gangbangers, but now it was full of sad-eyed, largely illiterate refugees who’d found the afterlife they’d longed for, but didn’t know what to do with it. The gangs were displaced out of the center, taking over new areas. It was a mess. In the year after Longford had whacked himself, a million people had followed suit and ended up here. That many again had become undead by the time of my Halloween party.
It was a hell of a financial strain. How much does life support cost at any hospital near you? A hundred thousand dollars a week, maybe? For us undead - given that we’re only brains in tanks that require minimal care, it’s a bit cheaper - say ten grand a week - but that’s still a lot of money. Even if you’re not paying for it, all that money has to come from somewhere, right?
The poor people of the world were killing themselves to escape poverty, which probably seems fairly reasonable until you realize that they were actually making things even worse for the ones they left behind. Governments couldn’t afford to keep that many undead up and running. They couldn’t afford the upkeep, the medical personnel, the V-net access. This was high-tech stuff, you couldn’t just run down to Radio Shack for a heart/kidney/lung machine.
The poor nations of the world got poorer. Some of the richer ones tried to help out, moving the disembodied to The Brain Trust, a massive medical complex that had developed a near-monopoly on Undead Meat Services in the past couple years. This kind of charity could only go so far, of course. Countries defaulted on loans. Famines - never far away in much of the world - started. Longford said they were immaterial, that all would be saved if they accepted his gospel and moved into his heaven.
Of course that was impossible. The program could only hold about ten million people, and we were very near capacity.
I don’t know how in the hell it happened, but I was still in a Gertie. I still couldn’t requisition any of the hands or other equipment, but I still had full motion on the network of ceiling tracks, as well as full sight and hearing. I slid around a lot, trying to look inconspicuous while I didn’t do anything, and hoped they wouldn’t noticed one of the Gerties wasn’t actually doing any work.
I watched them haul away the body of my robo-janitor waldo. I watched and listened to the guards talking about my breach of security, I presume. I couldn’t speak the language. Some guys I took to be detectives came in and asked a lot of questions, though for all I understood they may have been taking lunch orders.
They sealed the V-net I/O port I’d used to gain access. Had they shut down the connections between the patients and the net? Probably not. That would have been traumatic for millions of people. They wouldn’t risk that. It was curious that I didn’t already know. As far as I could tell, my senses were limited to just this Gertie. Farging Beezur. I felt like my ass was hanging out, really vulnerable. More vulnerable than I’d felt at any point since I died.
But why was I still here? When I’d fought to stay in touch with my Waldo, I’d felt similar to the way I did when I was stock trading. Could that have an effect on it? I had a long time to think, but I couldn’t really figure it out.
I noticed that the V-net protection was all one way, intended for an outside attack. I could get through it easily if I needed to get out of here. Smash though it once all was said and done here, get back to heaven, figure out what was going on. What would I find when I got there?
I slipped a tentative tendril of data through. No alarms went off. Good! I probed a bit further, still no problems. I sent a finger all the way through the data maze back into heaven where I found…
Another me? That probably wouldn’t seem surprising to meat types such as you. You’ve no doubt heard how we can bilocate, trilocate, and more. This was different somehow. It wasn’t like the right hand being disconnected from the left hand, which is what multilocation is like. It was more like meeting my identical twin I never knew I had. It was disconcerting. It scared the hell out of me. I tried not to think about it. Murder now, existential dilemmas later.
Suzie died. I never found out exactly what happened. She was in Brazil, spreading the word, leading Longfordian services, or whatever. She led the others in performing a ritual suicide that night. Brazil had passed an emergency medical act just the Friday before, declaring no EMS services for anyone committing suicide. They simply couldn’t afford it. It was inevitable. A dozen countries followed suit in the next ten days.
My poor little special girl. If she’d just checked the news she’d still…she’d still…excuse me. I’m a…I’m still really upset.
Security never really stepped down again, so I decided to just go for it. I drove my Gertie into the room. They’d replaced the door, and cleared away the desk and chair. There were guards outside the door. They may not have known who I was, but it was pretty obvious what I was trying to do.
They weren’t allowing any more waldos on this floor, but no one took any notice of a Gertie. I telescoped my sensor head down from the ceiling to be on level with the fluid-filled tank, and looked in.
There it was: a three-pound walnut, minus the shell. Sticky and grey and evil, ensconced in wiring and monitors, a thick glowing cable attached to the end of its brainstem. This was all that remained of Cavan Longford, but it was more than enough. He’d reached out his venomous, hateful, self-serving evil and caused so much death and despair. I sent a fibril of myself through the inadequate V-net seal, and touched the other me. I kept the connection open, somehow.
Now: how to kill him?
I still didn’t have access to any Gertie hands or anything like that? I moved my “head” in closer, for a better look, and bumped up against the glass.
Bumped up against the glass?
I decided I had to kill him. As my other personality has told you, I hacked in, but got knocked out. One part of me remembers being kicked out, but I felt a piece of myself calving off as I went. Another part of me remembers being in there. I don’t know how this is possible. I didn’t understand it then, I don’t understand it now, it’s like a parallel track of memory.
In any event, I got kicked out of the Trust, and found myself back in my home. Somehow - no idea how - I knew that I was still inside there. My other self talks about sending one-way tendrils through, maybe that’s it.
I rammed the glass as hard as I could. It spider webbed. The guards were startled and looked up at me sliding back and forth on my track in the ceiling. I rammed it again, and there was more spider webbing.
I hacked my way into Longford’s quarters, and teleported myself into his bedroom. I shouldn’t have been able to do that, but I’m pretty good at this IT stuff. He was having an orgy. Typical. I set off a logic bomb, and his house disintegrated, he and his bed partners tumbling ass-over-teakettle into a the hemispheric crater that suddenly appeared.
The guard sounded the alarm, and simultaneous with that, my third strike broke the glass. Liquid gushed out, covering my camera-eyes. I could see, but it was like looking through a wet diving mask. The brain - Longford - was sitting there. The tank had drained, but the brain itself was undamaged.
His followers were panicking, but he was rock-steady calm. I stood on the rim of the crater, looking down.
“Oh, please,” he laughed, “Is that all you’ve got? You can’t hurt any of us, and I’ll have my house rebooted by morning.”
“I’m going to kill you,” I said. “I’m going to look into your eyes and watch you die. And then I’m going to congratulate myself on a job well done, and go to The Greasy Spoon and eat some pie.” I’d intended to say it calmly, but I guess I must’ve sounded really unhinged. I realized in a far-off way I was screaming.
Was he dead yet? Probably not. Brains could stand several minutes of exposure, an emergency team could probably save him. I needed to do more. I rammed again, but couldn’t quite reach him. A guard leapt up for me, but I was slick with cerebrospinal fluid, and he slipped off. I rammed again, and the brain jostled slightly.
Hm! That might work! I rammed again, aiming for the side of the tank, rather than the brain itself. A good, solid impact, and the thing fell over, sprawling out of its cradle, still connected to the V-net, undoubtedly unaware that anything was going on here. I kept the one way connection to the other me going, and rammed again, jostling it a bit closer to the edge of the tank.
A gunshot rang out, but missed me. ‘Oh, yeah, the guards,’ I thought, so focused on my revenge that I’d forgotten them. I had to do something about that. I was already on borrowed time here - hell, my whole existence was borrowed time, basically - and I doubted I’d get to try for a Plan D.
“I’d like to see you try it,” he said.
“Oh, don’t worry, you will,” I said. Not a very good riposte in retrospect, but I wasn’t thinking clearly. Suddenly his naked body disappeared from the pit, and appeared fully clothed next to me.
I quickly scooted over to directly above one of the guards, and before he could draw a bead on me, I telescoped my “head” down and whacked him with all the servo-electric force I could muster. I was aiming for his head, but he jerked and I nailed a shoulder instead. He went down screaming. The other guard took a shot, and I zipped across the room at him, but he dodged and I missed entirely.
“What do you want? You want me to admit all this is a scam?”
“I don’t care about that,” I said.
“Or is it about your whore of a granddaughter?” I hit him. He laughed. I hit him again.
“Maybe you wanted a little piece of what I was getting from her? Is that what you’re upset about?” I just kept wailing on him to no effect, blind in my anger.
No, not quite blind. There was a tiny wispy thread in my mind that was woven entirely of hate, and it kept me sane.
Longford’s brain was right on the edge of its tank, bulging slightly over, stopped from falling only by a thin ridge of broken glass sticking up from the bottom. ‘Screw the guard,’ I thought and zipped over to the thing while it was just barely in my range of motion. I had seconds left, I wouldn’t be able to keep this up for long.
He was showing off for his followers now. Some had teleported away for help. More were teleporting in every instant. He was firing off random verses from the Bible, the Koran, the Adi Granth, supposed proofs of his divinity.
“There is nothing you can do to me, old man,” he said, “There is nothing you can do to hurt me. Kill me as many times as you want, I’ll always come back. I’ll always resurrect. For I am the gateway, I am the way, I am salvation.”
“We’ll see,” I said. He laughed.
Pow! I hit it like a volleyball! It flew back, hit the rear wall of its tank, bounded forward, and hit me as I was backing away, then fell. It clearly had taken some physical damage. I saw some tears on it. Enough? Probably not. It was hanging, dangling down the wall now, supported only by the glowing cable attached to the brainstem.
I lunged at him, I grabbed his face hard in my hands, held it close to my own. He could have teleported away, but he was enjoying myself, enjoying seeing me rave. He looked a little dizzy though.
“Oh, you dance divinely,” he said, not taking any of this seriously.
“LOOK AT MY FACE! LOOK AT MY FACE!” I screamed, my spittle drenching him, “I AM THE LAST THING YOU WILL EVER SEE! DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE AND KNOW I KILLED YOU!”
Was that fear that played over his face? Did one of his eyes go a bit out of focus? I’d like to think so.
There was a bang, and one of my eyes stopped working. A third guard had come in the room. I zigged backwards and zagged sideways with my head telescoped back down again, and hit him in the face. Down he went. The other guard had - the one I hadn’t hit in the shoulder - had lost his gun, and wasn’t even bothering to look for it. He sprang to his feet and charged me.
Longford’s death was oddly anticlimactic. I held his face in my hands, spewing venom at him, and he was just laughing away at me in great booming peals.
“What are you going to do? Crawl out of your tank and…”
There was a bright flash of static, and he disappeared, then re-appeared for just a second as a translucent thing, blue and filled with static.
“…-come get me…wait!” He noticed what was happening to him. He didn’t look scared, just confused.
“THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I’M DOING!” I screamed into his face. Suddenly he looked disoriented and afraid, realizing something was wrong.
“What is happ-…” and then he exploded into static and disappeared one final time. My hands, clawing against his face, were now empty. There was nothing left. I knew he hadn’t simply teleported away. His followers knew it, too.
“Yeah, where‘s your resurrection now, you son of a bitch?” I sneered.
I charged the shelf of tanks, aiming for the cable tying Longford’s undead brain into heaven. I hit it, and it fell to the floor, where it bounced, but didn’t break.
Enough damage? I don’t know. I prayed that there was. Just at that moment, the charging guard slipped in the fluid all over the floor, and stepped on the brain, his foot tearing through it like a cantaloupe. More guards poured through the door, firing wildly. I felt my consciousness sliding through the data maze.
“Yeah, where‘s your resurrection now, you son of a bitch?” Was my last coherent thought.
And here I am.
And suddenly I seem to be whole again. Whatever that was running around inside The Brain Trust building, whatever that was taking turns talking here on the stand - was that a piece of me, re-integrating itself? I don’t know. I’d like to find out, but I suspect I won’t get the chance. You’re going for the death penalty for me, aren’t you?
Fine. As long as that guy got to hell before I did, it’s worth it.
It’s totally worth it.
Copyright 2011, Republibot 3.0
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