There’s a zombie in front of me.
A techno-zombie, to be precise. White flesh and sunken eyes, drool at the corner of its ragged mouth. Completely hairless. Less a former human than an otherworldly creature. It shambles towards me.
I back up, keep backing up until I hit a wall. Brown, brick. Horror in my eyes. My body naked, featureless.
The zombie reaches me and attacks. It keeps attacking. But every attack it makes misses. I can’t fight back– I’m too scared. But I can’t die.
Then I hear a tune– “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra. The camera whips to the side–
Bright flash, azure and sapphire. Clouds. The sun popping out from underneath the skyscrapers. My field of vision widens–
Widens so far I can see the whole city–
Now I’m flying–
A gloved hand reaches out, but it misses me. I’m falling, but I can control myself. I’m skydiving. No parachute, but diving nonetheless.
The camera whips to the right–
And now I see myself falling. I look like a doofus, spinning wildly, incoherently. I don’t look cool. I look positively dorky.
Oh Mr. Blue Sky, please tell us why–
I wish it were Queen.
When my body hits the ground, I suddenly find myself staring at a mirror. A hall of mirrors. Each image of myself is different. Glasses. Long hair. A stark frown. A pleasant smile. Two babies in my arms. Two bottles of whiskey. An eyepatch and a sword.
My lives in front of me.
And then, in one mirror, appears R8PR, laughing with the tone of PC-88 video game music. “Your decisions led you here. And so, here you are,” he says. “Morgan, why don’t you come inside for a drink?”
I put my hand forward, to the mirror, to the reflection of R8PR. But when my finger goes through the shimmering liquid… R8PR winks.
The mirror cracks and shatters into a million little pieces, cutting and scarring my face with wounds.
“This is a hero’s journey.” the FM synth of R8PR’s voice rings out. “But you are no hero, are you?”
I can’t accept it. None of it. This wasn’t my destiny. This wasn’t what I chose. I can’t fulfill what they want me to suffer.
I run. I run far away.
I run so far I go past the barrier. There is no more world, just numbers and symbols dangling in the air. My hand turns into code and programming.
No. This can’t be. I’m starting to remember…
…that Karina is right in front of me. She looks at me, blushing, tucking her hair back behind her ear.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“You’re okay,” she says. “Just let go. I forgive you. It was a long time ago.”
Blood suddenly appears on her shirt, drips out of her mouth. She falls backwards onto the ground. I pick her back up and hold her close… but her body is already cold.
No… no… no! Karina! Please don’t go! No!
I rush her to the hospital.
–please tell us why you had to hide away so long–
Shut up, ELO–
Karina sits at an operating table, and then my vision goes black and white. I’m wearing a fedora. My sister is next to me.
“Pronounced dead at 5:35 PM,” Marge says to me. “Homicide.”
“It can’t be,” I say. “That’s impossible.”
“It’s not impossible. It just means we have a lot more work to do.” She takes off her hat and places it at her chest. “She was a good girl.”
“Was.” I light up a cigarette. It tastes sweet. Menthol. Like a cough drop made of fire. I can feel the cancer coursing through my veins already. “Shall we get to it, big sister?”
“We shall.” She puts a hand on my shoulder. “I will say though, Make sure we’re focused on the big picture here.”
I turn to look at her, and her face is replaced with that of Dr. Gonzales. The Data Broker. My nemesis. He tricked me. He tricked all of us.
I look back to the operating table. Karina is gone. “How could you?” I punch the Data Broker, and he flies through the wall, and the next, and the next. Bricks go everywhere.
“How could you…”
There’s a flash and I’m in bed, with a woman above me, looking down at my face and smiling. I try to see who it is, try to make out a face, but everything’s just so blurry. It’s like it is nobody at all. She won’t get off of me. I push her, but she just remains.
“Please, stop,” I say. I was just in space. I need some time to readjust.
The woman has no face. Not one I can see. She’s attractive, but I can’t see her.
She kisses me. I kiss her back, and forgetting all about whatever it was I was so worried about. I feel happy. My life isn’t in shambles.
Why isn’t it in shambles?
Hey there Mr. Blue, we’re so pleased to be with you–
The faceless woman and I go to church together. We pray in front of the altar and the priest rambles on about something I can’t quite make out.
“I’m so sorry,” I whisper.
“God forgives you. He always does,” the priest says.
Now R8PR is there, sitting on his fake throne.
“How can I help you?” I ask.
“It’s useless,” R8PR says. “Many have tried. All have failed.”
“Not this time. I’m different.”
“No you’re not. You sit on the couch half your life, and the other you spend working for me. You’re just a pawn in the game. You can’t change anything.”
“I changed you.”
“No. You changed me.”
I don’t even think before slamming my fist into R8PR’s face. He shatters, just like the mirror, into countless fragments. His liquid remains flow downstream, joining into a river of acid.
My boat is sinking, and my feet are already burning.
I have to escape. I have to survive.
“AAAH!” I scream. My muscles tense up. I feel a crack at the back of two of the metal discs around me. But they don’t break.
The helmet is removed from my head, and now I see Donald Blyth once more, staring at me with his half-human, half-robot face.
“All of that in just five minutes? That’s incredible. Morgan,” Blyth says. “My dear, you’re really something. I don’t know if most people could even survive brain activity that rapid. I hope you don’t get dreams like that every night.”
“I don’t dream very often,” I mutter. My brain’s still trying to process the fact that it’s conscious again.
“Well, it was fun while it lasted, right?”
“You could say that…”
“The Dream Weaver helmets are going to be so fucking popular,” Blyth says. “If they can extract information like this from any user, then we can practically conquer the world with a bunch of stupid toys.” He belly-laughs and sets the helmet on the computer monitor, no longer displaying my personal information, but instead showing some offline camera feeds.
“All thanks to my generous donations, huh…”
“Yes. And now we have more data than we could ever have hoped for,” he says. “Thank you so much.”
“It was beyond a pleasure to watch,” Dr. Gonzales adds, standing behind me.
“Now what’s going to happen?” I ask. “Time to die?”
“Not quite. First, we’re going to church.”