Copyright is held by the author.
I WANT to sleep but I know I can’t. The pounding in my head is a beacon and can’t be ignored. It’s been somewhere around two days of searching. Now I’m finally in range to capture the Ephemeral Intelligence that escaped. I wonder if it can sense me approaching.
The cops here would lock me up if I asked them for help. Try to explain, an untamed artificial intelligence is taking over living organisms to tap into their intelligence and needs to be trapped, and see what they do to you. Yesterday I tackled an eight-year-old boy to the ground and tried to pull what appeared to them as a tin foil bag over his head. I wasn’t going to rip his skull in front of them. The crowd in the park went crazy. They didn’t know he was glowing and could recite laws of the universe that adults can’t come to grips with. Needless to say, that went horrible wrong.
The sedation is wearing off despite the multiple doses the nurse administered. The needle going into my arm felt strangely pleasurable. Where I’m from, you’d have to pay a woman to inflict pain on your body. I’d ask her to do it again but she’d left the room too quick.
The strap around my waist was laughable. A heavy woven fabric with a simple locking device was meant to immobilize me? I’m flexible in ways a contortionist would envy. Knees up, flex hips, push and pop, wiggle and there I am outside the restraint. Let them think on that one. I pulled the covers up to disguise my magic trick.
The pounding in my head intensified and I drew my attention to the window. It was sealed. The only way out was through all the hallways and people in it. Maybe I could take that pain inflictor as a hostage? They already thought I was crazy. Last resort, if she had more needles. I’ll wait till night, less people, less suspicion; less traffic in the halls — yes night will work.
I slept, cried out in pain, laughed at the thrill of it and slept some more.
The halls were quiet with soft beeping coming from a distant room. The floors were cold and the draft from my exposed backside kept me motivated. Nobody was looking for me, yet. I walked as if having no particular destination. Just stretching my legs I’d tell them.
A bag of belongings sat on a counter as I passed by. I slowed. People laughed and drank coffee in a backroom. The bag was mine now. The bathroom was small but I managed to undo the ties behind my neck and dress in the pants and t-shirt I’d stolen. I’m not meant to be a thief but this was necessary. There was a pack of smokes in the bag that might come in useful. The pain in my head was fading and I needed to find the scent again if I had any hope at all of capturing it.
An announcement came over the airwaves to keep a look out for a male fitting my description. Ah crap, a female security guard paced in front of the elevators. The sign for the stairs hung from the ceiling just past her. There was no choice but the obvious. I walked to the stairs and didn’t make eye contact. She touched my elbow and asked me who I was. I turned and freed my elbow, nobody, I’m nobody. She grabbed my wrist and overlapped my hands. Strong and confident, she thought she had me. The bones in my hands bent inward and my hands slipped through her grasp. I spun my leg around her knee and dropped her to the ground. She was calling for help using the contraption on her chest. I crushed it into her shoulder and hit the stairs running.
Alarms, red lights and another announcement alerted the entire building. I head butted an employee pushing laundry and took over his cart. The guy’s shoes were too tight but I wore them anyhow. His ID badge swung from my pocket as I whistled through the corridor. I ditched the cart and took the service elevator to the basement. It opened up into a long empty hallway with a solitary door at the end. I jogged, looked over my shoulder, sprinted, and looked over my shoulder again. I reached for the door and it swung open before I touched the handle. I flashed my ID at the guard and mumbled break time. I pulled out a smoke and motioned my head to the door. The guard let me out and tapped his watch, ten minutes he said. Right, like that was going to happen.
I turned the corner and took off running. I didn’t know where I was. I always follow the pain, the throb that hammers my head and when it feels unbearable I look for the glow. Inserting trackers in our heads is cruel. If they had put it under my skin instead, it would invoke such insane pleasure that I’d be motivated beyond reason. I suppose if they did that too many of us would sign up to be trackers. The pressure in my ears threatened to blow off my head. I ran harder.
My vision blurred briefly as I grappled with the intensity shift. It was here, contained in a body, so much stronger than that poor boy. The parking lot was surrounded by flat brick back walls of shops. One street light beamed between the alleys and light reflected off the puddles in the uneven pavement.
Men huddled together around a lone car. Wordlessly, they were smoking and leaning against the car like it was normal to hang out here in the middle of the night. Inside the car somebody glowed. My head felt as if it had burst into flames. I charged as they lined up to confront me.
I wasn’t sure if my human body could smash through glass, but I didn’t have time to fight through his body guards. I hurled myself at the glass, unsure when I struck it, but the pain in my back was stimulating. The glass shattered but didn’t completely disintegrate. My feet pounded the pane as thugs pulled me off the car. I flexed my shoulder, twisted my arm, pushed off the hood and they lost grip of me. I was fast and almost liquid in my agility. The car door opened.
A big dark guy with a chest like a bulldog smirked at me. His pups heeled behind him. My eyes burned from the heat of my brain melting. This was my chance. With hands extended I threw myself onto him and tried to tear off his scalp. I needed to trap the brilliance in the beacon, which was stuck in my cranium. He peeled me off. Oh the sweet pain as my body made contact with the roof of the car. I couldn’t move. His pack pinned me to the roof with shear body mass. I had been so close. I could have gone home, done with this mission. I let my body sag under the weight and pretended to be dead. Thugs like dead.
When I woke in the morning the pain of the beacon was almost extinguished. It was a burning candle at the bottom of the wick. The keys were missing to the car they’d left behind. I wanted food and a piss. My legs warmed with liquid as I tore off trying to capture any semblance of a trail. I tossed the shoes. My feet slapped the sidewalk and shot delicious pain into my ribs. I gulped air and concentrated on opening up my mind. Up ahead was the pier. Ephemerals, they like water.
I stopped and bent over with hands on my knees breathing hard. I surveyed the pier. People fished off the edge of the dock, boats rocked, seagulls clustered on bobbing logs, but nothing ignited my beacon. I was getting desperate. If the pain stops, not just the mission fails but my body and consciousness gets snuffed out. Perhaps that’s enough to keep me going or to give up entirely. They screen us trackers for such defects. I’m persistent to a fault.
The stitch in my side forced me to walk the boardwalk along the beach. Behind the pavilion a shiny pink bike with a helmet hanging from the handle bars called to me. It was faster than walking and the guilt of stealing some girl’s bike would have to wait. The boardwalk ended and the road to the fish markets took over. The stench of raw fish hit my empty stomach and made me want to vomit. The distraction was enough to clear the panic from my mind and pierce my head with a bolt of recognition. The trail was remarkably strong.
The front of the bar was lined with motorcycles. I parked the pink bike at the end of the row. The telltale pulse in-between my ears returned. Breakfast was being served and the aroma of greasy eggs wafted out of the door when I entered. A waitress walked towards me but I stepped around her and headed through the tables. I felt my way along, keeping my hands in my pockets and my mind aware. Dead stop. Two cops, holding steaming coffees, stood on the patio. I made my way past the window with my head bent down. Maybe they knew me, or not, I couldn’t risk it. I stunk and I looked like hell — I’d certainly be a person of interest. He’d come this way, ate here, and then went out the back door.
The back door left me face to face with another row of perfectly spaced motorcycles. Some fool left his keys in the ignition. I guided the bike down the back lane with the crunch of loose gravel under the wheels. At the end of the street I fired her up and pursued. I hadn’t gone far when I felt the next level drop kick the insides of my head. It came in waves like that, something in the program. I was sick of it.
The path was erratic with turns down side streets, narrow lanes with outdoor vendors, and through a skate park. I hit a cement ramp to gain some distance, launched into the air and almost lost control when I hit the grass. Teenagers cheered and sirens went off on the far side of the park. My bare feet gripped the steel pedals; I leaned in low close to the tank pushing the bike to the maximum speed. I wasn’t going to do this again, it was now or never.
A signal flare burst in my brain and I knew I had him. He’d learned how to pick his victims and where to position himself — too long running wild will do that. The intelligence gathered ideas from each victim and added it to a file, stored it, compared it and moved on, leaving the victim in a coma. It wasn’t supposed to work that way, unharnessed and without guidance. The street was full of photographers, dogs on pedestals and a lady in the centre orchestrating the ceremony. I blew through the dog show banner and leaned into the bike.
Owners and dogs fled as the bike spun on its side towards the lady on the podium. I clung to the handlebars, my body spinning uncontrollably with the sparking metal. Flesh tore off my foot and my shirt strangled my chest. The front tire punched the podium before the radiating woman hit the first step. The back tire spun and knocked out the bottom step from under the platform. The bike embedded itself into the wood as she toppled to the ground.
I was on her pulling at her hair trying to get a tear in the flesh. People screamed at me. “I’m saving her life!” I shouted. Stunned, they held back just long enough for me to dig a fingernail in and strip away a piece of flesh. I pressed my forehead to her wound and the glow screamed as its energy was compelled to the beacon.
My body collapsed and I felt myself get lighter and the vision in front of my eyes darken. It was done and I could return home and forget this horrid oxygen-filled bubble with its masses of walking meat. If I could cry I would have, laying there burnt to a crisp, but it would be tears of joy.
My spirit, as they call it, returned to the chamber without walls. I floated there relaxed, calm with no beacon to destroy me or pleasure -causing pain. I was content without awareness or mission and relieved to let my thoughts wander at will — dream like. I wasn’t dead though, I was simply where I had begun.
I was envisioning myself fishing on the dock I’d seen earlier. Peaceful, not caring if I ever caught a fish, just a place to stand still, when pressure hit me. I felt my scalp being pushed and opened. At first I didn’t recognize the sensation. Then terror hit me and I fought it. I heard the laughter as they plucked me up like a toy in a box. “No! I just returned!”
“Tracker, you have been chosen,” the voices said in unison.