Irreconcilable Differences

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Static. Then lights, camera.
Carrier agent firmware (CAF) 0.35b2.1 Loaded.
Oh. That. Experimental’s big project.
CAF0.35b2.1: Loading utility modules.
But it must mean...
CAF0.35b2.1: Loading briefing media.

Cubicles. A cube farm. Office space. Probably the security camera feed. Okay. I don’t know these people. No control. Switch to their network context. Feel something come over the line. Just for an instant. Flicker of. Something. The packets are gone before I have the chance to look for them. Edited out. Erased from my experience. Like thinking something else, and suddenly being snapped back into the present, because you thought you heard a touchtone in the distance, or the snap of an AK-47’s safety coming off. I think. I thought. Something came by. And now it’s gone. But something’s going to happen. I know it is. It’s already started.


Watch the static, quiescent. Like listening to white noise, where you can almost pick voices out of it, but you’re never sure if they’re your imagination, some random hallucination brought on by sensory flooding, or if they’re real. Try to make sense of it. Watch. Listen. Feel it in my mind. Feel the sense of ... sense, as the whispers become louder, as everything grows clearer. Until nothing else remains.

Context shift. Surveillance video, again, it looks like. I scramble to pick up the change, like waking from a dream, when the moment you were in scurries away into the walls, like cockroaches when you turn on the lights. Back in the office. Ramp up. Come up to speed. Combat ready. Feel the heart pick up the beat.

Network interface lights flicker busily at each desk. The HVAC drones on, faithfully keeping the office at a comfortable twenty degrees Celsius. Inhale. Exhale. Nothing happens. This goes on for a few minutes. Inhale. Exhale. All twenty-seven of them breathe together, their eyes fixed on space beyond the monitors, most of which have gone into screen saver mode. Some expressions are completely blank, masks of flesh undisturbed by the motion of muscles beneath. On most, though, there’s a little more. Watch one guy a moment. As he stares toward the blank monitor, there’s a vaguely astonished horror: the expression of someone in a coyote moment, staring for his final fractions of a second into the headlight of an oncoming train, when there isn’t even time to think, “Oh, shit.” All is quiet. All is peaceful.

Try to look around. I can’t. It’s just a playback, and I can’t move. And something’s coming.

Yeah. The lights go out, and my picture goes to infrared mode. If anyone notices, nobody does anything about it. I can’t move. Only watch. The ding of the elevator arriving is also utterly ignored. Seven figures in body armor fan out in military precision. They’re good. Precise. They systematically visit each cubicle, and in each cubicle there’s a quick, loud stutter of sound, like a trash can being hit by hailstones. Flares of light. Red mist spraying upward out of the affected cubicles. Flare of light. Flinch at the first one. Less after that. The small-arms fire is all but deafening. Bodies and pieces of bodies hit the floor, desk tops, chairs, walls, keyboards, mice, and monitors, like snowflakes. Silent. Unheard. Lost in the firing.

The shooting stops. Sudden rush of quiet, normal sounds. The armored figures survey the damage silently, as though listening. All is quiet now, save the purr of the HVAC system, the inevitable whine of fans cooling electronics, and the sounds of something viscous dripping onto the floor. A streak of crimson blurs the security camera lens. The lead armored figure looks at the others, and as a group they march back to the elevator. The door closes. Ding. And they are gone. It’s over in less than a minute. Burst of static, and the playback ends.

CAF0.35b2.1: Entering interactive mode.

After a moment, I get my eyes open, and see.

Copyright 2007-2024 James R. Strickland, All Rights Reserved.