S. A. Grove
Allan sipped at coffee in the common room with the others. He’d risen
early that morning so that he could hear the newest of Cassandra’s
conspiracy theories before he jacked into work. He’d already gotten the
gist of it, though, and now he simply relaxed with his cup of coffee.
Saye had unleashed their Data Hound into the Net—with the power to
quickly switch between a physical manifestation and a digital
manifestation, which also allowed these virulent A.I. to slip into the
Sure, Cassandra, sure. And we all live in monoliths in the sky, with
execs and shareholders being the only ones who can live on Candar
Sure, Cassandra, sure. And the Dread Pirate has colonized a planet he
calls Amazonia so he can rebuild the Amazon race.
Sure, Cassandra, sure. And— Allan broke off his internal mockery.
Lonnie drew himself a cup of coffee and took a seat next to Cassandra.
She glanced to Lonnie with a shy blush. Something about Lonnie
irritated Allan, he couldn’t quite identify what it was, and as an
analyst for one of the sub-sub-sub-sub-sub corps to the Candarian
MegaCorp, he thrived on knowledge and hated the unknown. Suppose that
could have been said differently: he hated the unknown just as every
other being in the cosmos.
Allan finished his cup and interrupted Cassandra’s horror stories about
black dogs on the Net. “Well everybody, it’s time. I’ll see you all
after work.” He abandoned his mug to the cleaning spiders that crept
out from the sink and went into his apartment, where Sonya was only
just waking up.
“Up early?” she asked.
“Only a little. Cassandra’s going on about that Saye virus again.”
“That’s a good one. I’m surprised you didn’t stay through to the end.”
“Lonnie’s out there.”
Sonya’s eyes dilated as a chill washed over her skin, but Allan didn’t
“Beats me. I’ve got to get in to work though.” A door like the side of
a tube rolled open, and Allan stepped inside, beginning to key in
commands and strap himself in. Sonya leapt out of bed and kissed him
before the tube cut him off until lunch. She pulled back before the
tube-door sealed her in. That had happened before. It was miserable.
The chill was Allan’s this time. Sonya hadn’t closed her robe. Forget
Cassandra’s ghost stories, Allan had no hope of keeping his focus now.
But he’d been jacked in, and those tubes had timers. He may well have
been lost to the physical world.
Sonya leaned against the window and stared out at the beach. For all
the scum she’d heard about and read in the news: war, murder, natural
disasters, drug lords and gang lords...Candar remained a beautiful
planet, and more: she had the great pleasure of living in the only free
place in the world. She, like so many others, refused to ascribe to the
theory that a Candarian MegaCorp existed at all, running a near-endless
hierarchy of sub-corps like some distant god. The nearby planet of
Dausmin was like that, dominated by the Union of Subsidiaries Subject
to the Remlin, but not Candar.
Allan had told her once that the USSR was a fabrication of the
Candarian MegaCorp. “Foster enmity and unite a people,” he said. The PR
exec that devised the USSR lacked a certain creativity but had a
certain dry humor and earth-history education, and by the time someone
realized that the Union of Subsidiaries Subject to the Remlin was a
wafer-thin joke on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, it was far
too late. She grinned at her critics and sang, “You don’t know how
lucky you are, boys.”
Sonya drew away from the window and put on something more common-room
appropriate, but when she turned toward the door, her window flickered.
Briefly, she saw mountains. She screwed up her face staring at the
now-rectified beach beyond the window.
For a moment, doubt reared, but she reminded herself that she lived in
the physical world. She could take the elevator down from the common
room to the lobby, and then walk two blocks to Lonnie’s apartment
building. On the way she would pass shops and cars and lights and
meters, just like any, ordinary, real person. She’d done it a thousand
The window flickered again, and an image imprinted itself in Sonya’s
mind in that fraction of a second: a massive black wolf, edged and
red-orange light, eyes burning. Sonya shrieked and dropped her mug.
She’d seen the like before.
Lonnie had been showing her the stars in two dimensions simultaneously,
and in the dull memories of that ecstasy, she’d seen Lonnie’s cat in
both worlds: physically, it was an adorable orange tabby; digitally, it
was dark gray with warm orange light—equally adorable. The Hound had
been different. Its red-orange light had hungered.
Sonya eyed the window again, trembling fingers slipping along the wall
toward the door. The window burst, and Sonya shrieked again. She spun,
tore open the door, and slammed it behind her.
Everyone in the small common room looked up in surprise, and Lonnie
appeared at Sonya’s side. “What is it?”
“D-D—M—” Sonya stuttered and Lonnie drew her into his arms, then heard
the sound of metal and plastic been shorn apart in the room beyond.
Sonya stilled for a moment, long enough to hear the tear of flesh just
before her husband’s scream ripped the air.
“Elevator!” Lonnie said to one of the other men in the common room,
quiet enough to fall below the din of the Hound’s feast. The group
crowded into the Elevator. As the great silver doors eased shut, the
Data Hound burst through Sonya’s door, its black fur bloodied. Hungry
red eyes met with Sonya’s and snarled—grinned.
Scott and his wife live in an
eerie old town on the frontier, where he works in data and she’s
getting her Master’s degree. His first writings were fan-fiction pieces
on the Legend of Zelda, which he wrote in composition note books during
long road trips up and down the coast of California.
S. A. Grove
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