Short Story: She Ran

Life for Twitch was a series of late nights, later mornings, and intoxicants strung together into perpetual night. She knew only darkness, sprawl lights, data hubs– and Chinese takeout. By this point, she was more Mu-Shu pork and fried rice than man or woman– though she’d never been much good at either. That’s not to say she wasn’t feminine. She could be, and was fond of saying “I can be feminine up to my ballsack.” Admittedly, it helped less than she liked.

Her physical assets weren’t anything astounding anyway: she ate like a starved horse but never gained weight. Would’ve given anything for tits– even fat-guy tits. Her ass was as flat as an old church pew. And she was five-two if she was a foot, and hadn’t grown an inch since eleven years old. Her hair was more amber, scarecrow-stuffing than golden flax, and her eyes more whiteish-gray than blue. Most of all, her waist kept to the eleven year old girl range, and not in a good way.

Even as a street kid, trading old tech gear as meltdown money for food, she’d been small. And “Twitch” was more than just an accurate assessment of her gaming skills. She was never much more than a squirrel in the headlamps around people. She’d taken to isolationism for multiple reasons, it was. And, isolation was simply easier. No need to bathe or dress if no-one was ever around.

She did have friends though, in the way anyone did nowadays. They were real people with real lives, too. Some weren’t dissimilar from her, save her “circle” never met face to face. That was about the only part of her life she didn’t mind.

She still scrapped tech occasionally, but her money was made in data hubs. She’d become a fixture in the area for info hacking. Nothing too serious. Nothing to piss off the corps. That was bad juju she didn’t need and wanted even less. Rather, she went for the usual stuff: Corp-Sec patrol comms. Cit-cam surveillance. Errant packets from open ports. Probing anywhere she wouldn’t be killed over, for a price.

Business wasn’t bad. Between light jobs and salvage trades– and outright luck– she’d even afforded her own dive. It wasn’t more than a bedroom over a Chinese joint– the same slowly ensuring her transformation into soy-basted fowl– but it was nothing to balk at. Occasionally, she even ran data retrieval for more legally-inclined associates and acquaintances.

The night things changed, Twitch was none the wiser. She’d slipped out, as usual, to head for a hub nearby and jack-in. The supernovae of night lights infected the scenery. Flashes of heat and ice emitted through waves of neon. The city sprawled out like walls of an ancient fortress on either side of her. Mazes of alleys and cross-streets split and wove through them, belching steam from their bowels and smog from their gullets.

The occasional gust from passing cars only reinforced Twitch’s feelings. Humanity had fallen. Was to be avoided as often as possible. Looking back, if she’d known what she’d soon face, she might’ve lingered more. Instead, she remained as apathetic as possible for a still-warm body. And thus, though not without reason, she was all the less prepared for reality when it crashed down.

She surfed the waves of humanity to her selected data hub; a coffee shop next to an alley with city infrastructure access. Jacking in there, she could kick back with a spliff, a few downers, and a cup of something passing for coffee. All that was left was riding the high across the net to cherry-pick whatever was needed to make a profit.

Something hit her. It slammed the side of her head like a freight train. She panicked: Neural Shock. Fried brains from overcharged skull implants. But no. Sure, they felt like literal blows to the brain, but left you instantly and forever worse off than stroke victims– if alive at all. They blew out the circuits in your brain. Fried its wiring.

Twitch panicked. Reason made her recover. She could think. She was alive… enough.

Something flashed in her face. She yelped, blind. By now a crowd of eyes were on her. She was completely oblivious to them. She stumbled to her feet, fell into a sprint. Whatever this was, it wasn’t funny. She fled into the street. Rain was falling, scattering neon-lit walls’ across the roads. Twitch tripped, face first into the street. Car horns screamed. She staggered back, lost, clutching her head.

Her vision returned as she scampered back onto the sidewalk. Cars screamed past. Muddled voices were all around her. She was suddenly aware of a crowd, fled. Her tiny figure spilled past and into an alley beside the cafe. A few seconds, and she was half-way down it. She tripped again, slid across the pavement. A message appeared, filling her vision: help me. She blinked, tried to force it away. It disappeared to reveal a body sprawled in the alley’s center.

The guy wasn’t much older than herself. He lay on one side, gut wound leaking into the wet alley. Blood flowed along a current of water rolling back the way she’d come, depositing somewhere ahead in the street. It was all Twitch could do not to flee in terror at all of the insanity occurring. For the guy’s sake, she forced herself to kneel. He groaned, sensing her presence and whispering something. Over. And over.

Twitch knelt in the stinking filth. She put her ear near his mouth. His waning breaths eeked out their message in syllables. They were slow, sharp. It made them all the more effective.

“They’re… coming. For us. They want the hackers. Dead. All of us. They’re coming for us…”

Her eyes widened. Terror trembled her limbs. Whoever they were, they’d done this. And they weren’t stopping with him. She thought to call for help, but feared who might answer. The life faded from his eyes too quickly anyhow. His voice went quiet. She did the only reasonable thing she could think; ran.

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