My relationship with Angel is weird, rocky, and unpredictable. She came into my life at a time when I needed her most. I’ve spent a great deal of time since, regretting it. She annoys the hell out of me, sends me into dangerous situations, hides important details, and has saved my life more times than I can easily remember. I’d take more than a few bullets for her, and have.
Today was no exception on the annoyance issue. When I connected the optic cable to the small port receptacle in the back of my head, I felt the Net wash around me like a euphoric drug. Hyper realistic senses flooded my synapses, and brought me into a wonderland world that couldn’t exist anywhere in reality. Some people got addicted. Net-Heads, they called them. Some had even died, staying connected so long that they couldn’t be bothered to eat and drink. I never have that problem because the Net wears me out. All that sensory data takes a lot of work to process, and it’s like too much stuff hitting you for too long.
Today I just wanted a short little chat with Angel. Typically Angel would know I was coming ahead of time. I would materialize in a jazz bar with this old-time music playing from somewhere out of New Orleans, Earth. But we’d come to an agreement (argument, actually) about how I needed to have some space, in my own head. You see, our rocky relationship started with her having an accomplice drug me and perform surgery on the network interface installed in the back of my skull. Yeah, she kidnapped me and then hijacked my brain. We came to an unusual arrangement that was beneficial to both of us. However, the new hardware configuration let Angel speak her thoughts directly into my brain or take over my body and use it as her own any time she damn well felt like. She was usually pretty polite about it, but a guy needs to have some privacy. So I proposed the concept of a vacation. She agreed, after some argument, that she’d stay out of my head for awhile. Against my better judgement, I was about to end my vacation. Baxter Hickman was going to kill some more people, and I needed all the help that I could get.
Since Angel wasn’t expecting me this time, our usual bar haunt was nowhere in sight when I found her. Instead, I appeared on the top of a mountain at night. Angel was there sitting on a ledge, looking down on rivers of glowing lava that flowed through valleys below. She noticed me right away.
“What you doing?” I asked.
“Watching the Net.” She didn’t stir, didn’t break her gaze at the scene below. Her eyes, reflecting the orange glow of the molten rock, glittered in the darkness.
“I’d like to end my vacation,” I said.
She didn’t respond for a moment. She stared down at the fire below, as though mesmerized by that ancient human drive. But she wasn’t human. She was software and hardware spanning thirty-six worlds, linked by the instant spooky quantum actions of the universe which were now bent to serve as the ultimate communications device.
“You could say that. I’ve got a religious psychotic on mars.”
“His name’s Baxter Hickman. He’s on a rampage. Killed several people in the process.”
Angel continued to watch the flickering movements of the flows below, never breaking her concentration. She probably carried on hundreds of tasks simultaneously, and the conversation we had took only a tiny fraction of her processing power. Since the worlds became connected by the quantum entanglement fields, I’ve watched her evolve and grow into something that almost frightens me. If I didn’t know her well, that is.
“Baxter Hickman… He’s not psychotic in the medical sense. But he is deluded, disturbed, confused, misdirected, and used.”
“Used? How do you figure?”
“I’ve just done some research on his early communications while he was with Mars Corp. The contents, while highly encrypted, were quite unique. It seems God has a direct line to Baxter Hickman.”
“God? Yeah, we’ve met.”
“Or someone masquerading as him.”
“So, psychological manipulation?”
“Very sophisticated. I’m sending a recording to you so you can review it. It might help you aniticipate his actions.”
“While you’re at it, I’ve got another person of interest. Teresa Hickman, his sister. I was wondering if you might take a look into her. I think she’s had contact with him, though she denies it.”
“I’m afraid I can’t help you there.” Angel looked my way, orange flickering fire dancing around the edges of her eyes.
“Can’t or won’t?”
“Won’t. I’ve looked at her communications. You don’t need them.”
I considered arguing, but I knew it would be useless. Angel considered the information she possessed to be dangerous in the hands of humans. Though she didn’t think I needed that info, I might catch something in it. Cop hunch, or detective intuition. But I’d learned to pick these battles carefully with Angel. And she had thrown me something potentially more useful. If I could pry out some secrets of the twisted brain of Baxter Hickman, I could possibly get a few steps ahead of his next move. Instead of trying to fight an impossible battle with Angel, I said my goodbyes and went on back to the real world. A world of real consequences, though no less strange.