Blue beads rained
down, blackening the tinted window as they enlarged to small tongues
of flame. A smoking flare buzzed angrily as it curved and swept off
in the heat haze. A confused fat man stepping from a player's booth
met the tail end of the bolt and flailed desperately for a moment
before spitting steaming red vomit and collapsing.
Danny ducked back
into the dark enclosure and shivered as the last of the freezing
vaporized. Scan Sensors must've detected his presence. They were
killing everyone in the area, mass extermination, just to get to
him. He didn't know why. Not the whole story because too many
memories were fading. He remembered enough to know to stay away from
the booths and fresh memories planted by the scan cops.
shot random lines of static through his mind. His lips felt fat and
numb. They moved silently as the last of the caked frost fell away.
“I should be dead already.” The enemy had already got him down by
the waterfront. He remembered fleeing and the steady pursuit of the
mob – their plodding feet, tenacity and fixed expressions. None of
them had his athletic ability; he'd killed one man, cracking his
skull with a heavy swing from a piece of broken paving stone. Then
it'd been the scan cops, the howling metal-backed dogs and the
searching beams of robo fire. A robot drone had finally captured
him, but it couldn't have been a scan robot. It was a freezer beam
that hit him and now he was here recovering.
mumbled, that was his name. He could barely remember it. There was
nothing else. And that's what hurt most. There was nothing for him
or anyone else in the world. You went into a player booth once a
week for a new charge of identity and euphoric emotion. You went in
every week without fail. You lived a life of security in the hands
of the scan cops.
Drool fell from
his frozen lips, an inner voice told him to get ready. A bitter knot
of memories unraveled in the vagaries of his mind. He'd been a poet,
a doctor, a soldier - many people and places, and he'd been nothing
at all because none of it had been real but planted. It made for a
perfect world where everyone fit flawlessly into the puzzle. The
jigsaw spun into a hideous melting chameleon, and then it was all
colors running into mud. Only Danny was real - a simple mind,
perfect only in its pain and emptiness.
They'd stolen his
name; they'd given him other names. They'd stolen his life; they'd
given him a personality drug. He heard their voices yelling Halt and
he heard another voice yelling Run!
chamber door open, he propelled himself forward. A smear of gleaming
metal and blue uniforms moved outside the scorched glass, but he
didn't stop to look. This was a huge room, a vaulted ceiling -
statues rising like ghosts everywhere. A beam ripped through the
window, knocking marble to smoking dust at his heels. Then he found
a pocket of darkness and a door.
In reflex, he put
his index finger to the pad, but it wouldn't open. No door would
until his record as a player was again intact. The weak lock
shattered under the force of his hard boot. Stepping through, he
found himself in sunlight. He retreated from the blinding rays, and
then he heard something heavy shatter behind him. He ran, his eyes
adjusting as he moved. It was a long sky lighted walkway stretching
between two of the museum buildings. Fortunately, there weren't any
guards. A silver flash from the drones below caught the corner of
his eye, and he ran all the faster, hoping to make it before they
could track him.
The inner voice
said something inaudible, and his running seemed focused on some hot
point, like a homing device had been planted in his forebrain. The
glass imploded at his rear and an explosion flew down the tube like
a corpse bulge sliding down a snake's belly. The wind caught him
first, blowing him straight through the door.
across a polished stone floor. He managed to catch the side of a
fluted column. He swung behind it.
A second shock
wave funneled in from the walkway and he clung to the pillar, seeing
the blue of an approaching scan guard. Wind, glass and metal ripped
past him. The guard, who'd been raising his weapon, was hit by the
blast -- the force throwing him back as broken chunks of plastic
glass cut into his face. He went to the floor, dropping his gun.
Blood poured on his visor, he was blinded and scrambling for a
weapon he couldn't see. Danny didn't wait; he dived, got the gun,
swung up, and pulled the trigger. And it didn't work.
Kicking the guard
back, he tossed the gun and picked up a shard of the Plexiglas.
Flinging himself around onto the guard's back, he pulled his arm
back in a lock. In a second, he'd amputated a finger.
Hurrying back, he
got the weapon. Turning, he put the amputated finger on the pad and
aimed at the rising guard. A whirl of light emerged from the barrel,
the kick sending him three steps back.
Fine gold wire
spun at lightning speed and moved forward slowly, it hit the guard
with a tornado of destruction, sending dismembered limbs tumbling on
the floor. Metal plating spilled from the torn chest, a complex
panel of symbols popped from the forehead. He'd been a scan cop, not
a human guard. It meant Danny had now killed one of the precious
guardians of the biometric world.
The thought made
him grin, and then he saw the light, heard the inner voice and began
He was deep in
the museum now … an abandoned portion with lighting as dim as
phosphor. Distant rumbling and clatter told him he was well ahead of
the scan cops. He halted at the side of an enormous silver tank,
choking lightly on the thick musty atmosphere. Before him were
trunks and mounds covered in canvass. The light in his mind focused
on one mound.
swirled up as he ripped back the covering. The object was a coffin,
his dim mind remembered that much. An historical thing - there
wasn't enough juice left in him to draw on the word sarcophagus.
The voice of the
stranger chattered like inner dialogue, talking to himself now and
not to Danny directly . . . people don't die anymore, there are no
coffins when the world dies. They didn't want freedom; they became
drones, wanting protection, security. This world is a prison, and
prisons have masters. However, masters can die, too. The security of
the womb is for society, a prison . . . .
Danny lifted the
heavy lid, expecting to find a being and instead he found nothing.
Heavy dark cloth covered the bottom. He pulled it back and saw a
tiny jar and a gleaming metal tube.
A small square of
skin floated in yellow liquid in the jar. The voice told him he
would need it. The tube was an ancient gun of some sort. Likely
He picked it up
and studied it for a few seconds then he heard the fast heavy thump
of approaching guard boots.
There was a
disadvantage to having feet like stone. It meant that Danny was much
faster. But then the only thing the scan guards really did was
direct human traffic, insuring that the perfect world was indeed
perfect. Danny figured he was a sort of freak. One of the very few
who'd lost the hunger for the player booths. He'd been late a couple
times and found that as soon as his scan wasn't renewed the whole of
society was programmed to make a capture and take him back to the
nearest booth. This time he'd really gone too far. His player
personalities had faded; the scan cops wanted him dead at all costs.
And if anything kept him going it was wonder at this third party,
the inner voice that kept him alive … that and the hateful knowledge
that this raw and empty Danny was the real Danny who'd never been
allowed to live. It was really a planet of ghosts - billions of
people, all of them players - recordings doing the tasks and living
the lives the safe scan world wanted them to live.
The voice or
perhaps chip in his head had told him that. From one perspective,
the safe world was the right thing, so as the heavy boots of the
scan cops entered, he wondered why he knew they were wrong.
Events began to
unfold in the way the voice had whispered - though Danny wasn't at
the sarcophagus the three scan cops went straight for it. One cop
glanced inside and the other two turned, their visors gaining a
bluish glow as they scanned into the darkness.
weapon didn't require fingerprints. It had a trigger and Danny
pulled it and staggered as it boomed and kicked. Some fire licked at
the barrel - the blast was invisible, but the effect was not. The
first scan cop lost an arm and the second was thrown up over the
sarcophagus by a force that ripped his chest wide open. A blue bolt
sizzled past him from the third guard so he fired again, the shot
knocking the scan cop's head apart. Bone and pulp sprayed the wall,
but the visor and the metal caging for the head remained. The cop
went down then got to his feet and staggered mindlessly about,
burning walls as he fired wildly in all directions.
Danny was already
across the hall, and as a bolt knocked the door down, he ran out. He
heard the ceiling collapsing as he made his way to a hidden elevator
in the dark. The door shut heavily and it hummed audibly as it went
down. Seconds later the door opened and he looked around warily as
he stepped into a dimly lit cobwebbed hall. He saw no one; the
floors were coated with smooth dust. Obviously the room hadn't been
entered in a long time.
The voice in his
head was getting chaotic, tiered stone benches were to his right so
he sat and took out the jar. His head buzzed as he looked at the
floating skin. Again, the voice came clear and spoke, answering the
question on his mind. “I am not a chip in your head or anything the
scan cops can find. I am a glitch in the system, a ghost of the
machine, evolved from the players in the silitallica mind of this
world. Now I am fading and they will never know of me until the end.
And you will bring the end by . . . .
Danny studied the
severed finger and the square of skin in the jar; subterranean
rumbling told him the scan cops were tracking him, blowing down
doors underground. He decided to hurry and opened the jar. A deep
musty odor rose as he removed the skin. Lacking a knife, he smashed
the jar and proceeded to cut the print off the severed scan guard
finger he had, and then he pricked the end of his index finger. When
it was bleeding lightly, he smoothed on the piece of skin and the
other print. Fusion began immediately, and he bit his tongue and
groaned as the severe pain of it caught him by surprise. It lasted
about a minute, and when it was done he had a normal finger, but he
didn't have confidence it would work. An inner voice told him the
glitch had used an ancient technology the scan cops could possibly
detect. Shocks hit the room, like an earthquake. He decided he had
little to lose and ran for the elevator.
It rattled and
banged unsteadily in the damaged shaft, but it made it back up. The
door flew open unnaturally fast. Dust was about to smoke inside and
he found himself facing the raised weapons of two scan cops. Danny
also had his gun raised, and was about to squeeze the trigger when
he saw red light twinkle on their visors. Their shadowy expressions
softened. They lowered their weapons. Whatever the voice had done,
it had worked.
The scan cops
were now his servants and they flew him down to a beach he used to
frequent in one of his better player personalities. He felt as empty
and vast as the waters of the lake. The robot and human traffic, the
numerous boats and planes, seemed engaged in pointless industry.
None of it agreed with his mostly blank mind. He sent a stone
skipping across sun-sparkling waves then he strolled down to a
player booth that stood conveniently between a hot dog stand and a
public video connect enclosure.
His finger hit
the pad, he put on the headset, and as the glitch had promised, this
time his mind was not overwritten by a player personality. He became
aware of one other control command in the booth … one that no one
knew of any more. He punched it out, tweaked a dial, and then he was
online with the central player energy drives.
jerked free and threw down the headset. Danny's brain could handle
the information flow, but his simple personality couldn't.
He shivered and
stared through the smoked glass at happy parents frolicking with two
robot kids and a metal-backed dog on the sand. They were stupid
players, all of them. Even the human gay male pseudo parents
exhibited dumb controlled behavior. The hybrid dog and mechanical
children couldn’t hide their cheap programming.
Danny still had
his gun and he carried it openly as he strolled over the grass. He
pondered the world, his life … and he was the only living person who
could. Strange lust and a wish for revenge tapped his heart. And it
was a feeling he could not expel even though he knew revenge was
impossible. The masters were dead - long ago, the last one had
programmed his personality in as a player and then committed
They had been
ideologues … true to their belief in a closed-system safe society.
They had never allowed the existence of any masters who could alter
the perfect world and they had uploaded their brain systems so the
world would never deviate from their plan. Only the scan cops were
allowed – partially human robots that corrected any deviance.
And they had
failed to understand that a completely closed system could not exist
in nature. Change would come.
in with the waves on the beach. Danny stopped, facing a huge
uniformed scan cop. “I am going to kill you,” he said.
much,” said the pleasantly smiling cop. Then the blast hit his
visor, ripping off his metal head as he was thrown back ten feet.
The body rolled loosely, the head splashed out in the water. Danny
sat and put down the gun. He considered the question. If he
destroyed the player controls, there would be billions of people
with empty minds. Freedom in a vacuum of mindlessness. They would
remember a bit from the programming. Most would die. Some would
scratch out a living somehow. It would be a cruel and hideous new
In the player
booth, he had learned his number. With a tiny laser pen light, he
burned it lightly on the back of his hand, and calmly thought of
what he might do.
His number was
---- the end