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Breath & Shadow

Spring 2019 - Vol. 16, Issue 2


written by

Marcus Vance

You lie on the floor, looking up. Your slim and expensive computer teeters precariously above--mocking you. Ready to fall and land a sharp edge on your face. You will your body to move, but it’s stubborn. You’re stuck.


The plug set inside your skull is still warm. Painfully so. 


Is that smoke whispering past? 


A mono-filament cable runs from your brain into the machine above you, and you wish you’d never seen it before. You wish you’d never jacked into a computer before. Above all, you wish you didn’t take this job. 


You’re well-aware of what’s coming. Who’s coming. You’re frozen for pick-up and delivery--nervous system paralyzed by the Intrusion Countermeasure. Anti-hacker black ice that fried your brain through the hot cable that links man and the Net. Any time now, men in heavy boots with silenced guns and lasers will kick down your door--just like spec-ops in movies. They’ll take your limp-noodle body far away. 


What an idiot you are. Didn’t you know this was too good to be true?


A simple job to slice into a small corporation and grab some info for the pretty lady. 


She told you it’d be easy, buttered up your ego and promised to butter your wallet, too. 


What the lady didn’t tell you was that Dragon owned the data. That they had advanced ‘ware to protect it. That they had a reputation for lancing the brains of hackers who got too close--then kidnapping them.


You swear to yourself to go straight after this. Honest work from now on. Maybe.


If you get away from the boogey-man. From Dragon.


Time slips on and your mind wanders--fear can only distract you so much. 


You think back to the job. You snuck in unannounced, no alarms ringing, found the data, picked it up. Ushered it into your hard drive. But then the small cache of bits grew before your eyes in the virtual reality hack-space. Grew large, grew fangs, claws, legs, wings. Dragon. Only one company uses that beast for security: Dragon. The namesake towered above you and roared so loud that your meat-body on the other end of the computer flinched. It shot hot fire and incinerated your avatar. But the heat didn’t stop there. Flame spewed through the binary code back to you, up your link-wire, and into your skull.


So now, smoke. Drifting up your scalp.  


Body paralyzed, you smell your own head fried-- an overcooked burger.

You’re like bagged meat. All you can do is wait for processing.

Marcus Vance is a veteran coping with PTSD, as well as anosmia. He has been published in Daily Science Fiction, Bull & Cross # 13 and Gathering Storm # 9, Star*Line 41.4, the Haiku Journal, and in the "Sounds of the Night" anthology. 

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