Susanna was right – being etched is the total opposite of a free lunch. It’s more like a banquet that fills a restaurant, but you can never, ever stop eating.
Over the past few days she left me alone while I went through the training modules. It didn’t matter where in München I did them, so yesterday I chose Olympiapark.
It has been raining on and off for the past week, so I tried to enjoy the relative sun and say hi to my swan princesses. Not to forget the ducks, but between there and Schloss Nymphenburg, I’m always happy to watch the beautiful, regal birds.
There’s a particular order to all of the exercises, time tested to get new Collective members started the right way, but since I had no problem with the basics, I decided to give something exciting a shot – invisibility.
Yes, invisibility. Just like I could relay my senses through the White for a few moments, and see through someone else’s eyes, so too could you block their mind from noticing your presence. The more minds you have to fool, the harder it is, and the less time it would last.
Sasha herself led the training exercise – it must had been programmed in the early 90s, right before she died. She was like a crystallized cyberpunk anthem, with a face that could launch shmups. Plus, she was quite charming for a crazy genius.
“So, you don’t want to be seen? I completely understand the feeling.” She was wearing a bright red, short sleeved Circle X uniform, as was the nature of her obsession – she always had on some of their circuit clothes.
I sat down on a bench next to the small pond. “Do I just use the straight lure, or something special?”
“Don’t worry about the mechanics,” Sasha’s subroutine told me, “Either you can visually register who you want to hide from, or you can choose a radius within which you won’t be seen. Just make sure you don’t over tap your Reservoir.”
The Reservoir is the sum total of your available energy. Since stealing even a bit of the White is not allowed, it’s largely how many fat calories you have, plus the section of your aura that’s not life-essential. Susanna is obsessive, and always uses an exact Kilocalorie readout, but I just set up a nice, gradiated therometer that I can pull up, going from pine green to blood red. I was currently almost full, so I decided to give it a shot.
I didn’t ask Sasha about the exact number of minds that would be ideal for cloaking. There seemed to be around 50 people milling about, from mothers with their prams to packs of kids running towards the Sea Life aquarium. A 20 meter radius seemed decent to start with.
I stood up from the bench, faced towards the Kaffee Crepes kiosk, and started.
I felt myself slip into the minds of everyone nearby. They were thinking about a sexy man in this morning’s Abendzeitung, or going to the BMW Welt to play with the big aphid-like robots, or jumping off of the nearby Olympia Tower… I paused on that mind for a moment, but it turned out to be a scenario in a story they were recalling.
I was well implanted, and so I had them all take a look at me, all at the same time. Some people thought I was a freak with my shaved head, while one woman admired my dress – I was borrowing one of Susanna’s Victorian white and frilly affairs. A young boy thought I reminded him of an actress on KI.KA he had a crush on. They all had their opinions, and I swam pass them, to the center of their visual field. Then I pulled the trigger.
It all happened so fast.
39 people suddenly stopped in their tracks, and blinked me away. I was no longer there – gone.
Then the swans started to honk, and the ducks flew away en masse.
I looked down at my hands, and they were dripping sweat, steaming. So were my arms, my legs, and the dress felt like it just came out of a hot drier.
I fell to my knees, as my senses became distorted – I could feel the bacteria dying on my fingers, I could smell the iron leeching out of my bloody mouth.
My health bar was quickly jumping into the red, and my OS took charge again. It found a member of the crowd mind that had medical training – she had worked as a nurse for years. Rushed her over to my side, as I curled into a ball by the bench.
Sasha and the OS didn’t let her talk. She just tore off her own t-shirt, down to a blue sports bra, and used it to cover my mouth like a gag. Propped me up and walked me slowly over to Sea Life, demanding to use the restroom. No one could see me but her.
With the last of my Reservoir depleated, the invisibility blanket collapsed, as did I. I woke up briefly as she cleaned up the blood that had seeped out of my mouth, saturating the front of my dress. I don’t remember much of anything else, except for calling for Susanna, throwing up a black, sticky mass the size of my fist into the sink, and trying to drink from the soap dispenser.
A few minutes later Susanna rushed in, and gave the good samaritan robot her mind back, minus any memories of what just happened.
“Are you insane?” Her yelp shot through my mind for the next few hours, as I drifted in the warm, white, world beyond our own. I remember the sounds of the U-Bahn, and the smell of my neighborhood, but little more than that. My fever dreams had plague nightmares.
I woke up a few hours ago – in the middle of the night – on my bed, attached to multiple IVs. I had enough strength to look over at my arm, and it was little more than loose skin, deteriorated muscle and bone, with large brown splotches everywhere. My body hair had fallen out.
Susanna was sitting by the bed, staring at me with mother’s eyes.
She didn’t have to explain. I tried to ride a bicycle on the autobahn, and crashed into the world.
The invisibility routine was for defensive purposes only, as a last resort. Every person that you tried to fool took dozens of calories a second. With the radius I chose, I was few minutes away from organ collapse. I had lost 15 pounds in a few minutes.
I’m going to be out for the count for a few days, at least, as my OS completely cycles through the critical repairs. Then, I’m going to have to gorge myself for at least a week, on sweets and meats, just to get healthy enough for explosive diarrhea.
I never liked being sick in bed, not even with my mother doting after me. Unable to function without aching, I would rather just limp myself through the waking world, grin and bearing the fever, or sniffles, or whatever bothered my little girl self.
Now, I can barely imagine even beating my heart without assistance. It’s like my body is a shooting range target, the kind you see on dubbed American crime shows, and every square centimeter is full of holes.
It’s clear I’m going to get better – the Collective already have too much invested in me to let me go.
It’s also clear that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, and it scares me.
My own body, still shriveled and wheezing, scares me to pieces.