Cellphone records. That must have been what did me in. They would have first looked for any large financial transactions, and that would have singled me out for the sales of computer gear - and then my cellphone records would have confirmed my location at the time of what must have looked like a senseless murder and arson.
They didn't tell me any of this, but I knew… cellphone records… making that the second time my cellphone has betrayed me… a part of me feels bitter, and questions my reasons for carrying a sophisticated computer with me everywhere I go… but mostly I continue staring at the blank wall opposite my chair in the interrogation room.
I know my manner disturbed them. They asked me hostile questions. They towered over me. They presented me with the facts, goddammit, but I could only laugh. I know what they do not know, and the Truth makes their petty threats - indeed, their very existence - irrelevant.
I remained resolved to emptiness until the moment I noticed that he was standing in the room with me. Leaning against the wide white wall to my left, he stood out in stark black contrast, the lines of his suit clashing with the blankness of the room. Part of me spun into confusion over the nature of his entrance and how I'd somehow missed it, but I only turned my head and looked him in the eyes.
Those pale blue eyes seemed to penetrate my barriers and see completely through me. They contained no caring, no empathy, and no morality - only calculation. He bore a perfectly composed smile that somehow lacked a genuine core in a way I'd never quite encountered.
I didn't waste time asking him who he was. His entire demeanor screamed distance; this was a personality so far removed from the mundane and tired law enforcement officials I'd thus far interacted with, that to question him was to insultingly feign ignorance. He would see right through that, and he knew that I knew that.
No, instead of asking him who he was, I asked him a very close but ultimately different question. "What do you want?"
At my acknowledgement of the unspoken layers of strangeness between us, he widened his smile a few millimeters, like an engineer adjusting a mechanism. "It was a valiant attempt. It's not often that everyday normal young men have a chance to step up… but you did. That's worthy of note."
I didn't bother asking how he knew. He would never give me an answer. "It didn't work."
"They think -" he glanced at the door to the interrogation room, indicating the men and women in the rest of the station. "- that you murdered an old man, and burned down his church, when your demands for more money weren't met. That's… fairly laughable for your type of personality, isn't it? No, see, when you were eight, one of your friends found a wounded dog and began to torture it for fun… you ran away rather than join in. You've never told anyone, because you're still ashamed that you didn't stop him. Such empathy doesn't have a strong intersection with psychotic violence. I just don't see it in you."
I narrowed my eyes, and modified my initial skipped question. "What are you?"
He dropped his arms, maintained his smile, and began walking a circle around the edge of the room. "Ah, so it's true. Your choice to use the word 'what' implies you've recently dealt with something not necessarily human. You're not only open to the possibility, you're convinced." He nodded brightly. "Sure, I'll play into that."
He reached forward, grabbed me roughly by the arm, and pulled me toward the door.
A single knock brought a uniformed officer over.
"Uncuff him," my visitor ordered. "He's not a terrorist. He's just some kid."
Minutes later, I hit sunlight, and winced. The rough hand still clamped around my arm pulled me toward a black car, and, lacking any particular direction of my own, I followed his implicit instructions and climbed into the passenger seat.
He took a measured walk around the car, opened the driver-side door, and took a seat with a calm attitude. He no longer bore a smile. He turned those pale blue eyes on me. "Most people never get direct interaction. You're very lucky, from a certain point of view."
I tensed up. "What did you just say?"
"Do you want to help clean up this mess?" he asked.
"It's too late," I responded, pained by the coiled dread that had been squeezing my heart for the last few days. "It's out there."
He curled up one corner of his lip into an approximation of a smirk. "The Internet isn't like the movies. A malevolent program can't simply access any system it wishes. Whatever the hell it is that you uploaded from your cellphone, it had to follow a very carefully chosen and unguarded path."
Simultaneously shot through with terror and bolstered wholly by hope at his inexplicable knowledge, I sat taller in my seat. "You know where it is?"
"Tell me what it is," he countered coldly. "It defies analysis."
I glanced quickly around the windows, making sure nobody was nearby, even though none of the passersby on the sidewalk could hear us. In some fashion, I still didn't quite believe any of it myself, despite having been granted the Truth. In this context, I was aware I still sounded slightly insane. "It's an angel."
For the first time, he displayed negative emotion, his head sharply tilting toward me - his smirk gone. "Did it say that? Did it use that word, specifically?"
I fired back with all my sincerity and intensity. "That's what I asked, too."
He turned forward and started the car, his jaw set. "If you're lying, we can annihilate you."
Pulling on my seat belt, I shook my head. "I'm not lying…! And besides, you cannot possibly inflict worse than the fate that thing wants to bring here."
"Oh, we won't touch you," he promised, taking a right turn. "Our punishment is far worse than that. Your friends will turn away from you in disgust. Your family will disown you. Your community will revile you. Your past victories will become sickening defeats. You will, for all intents and purposes, cease to exist - solely at our whim. The worst part is that you must go on, homeless, outcast, and hated, fully aware of what has been taken from you."
I gripped my seat belt against my chest. "I'm not lying, I swear." What was this man? What was he a part of, that could possibly have that much power? If I'd met an angel, and discovered all the horrific anti-fulfillment of that Biblical promise, was this… a demon? My inner self immediately identified with that ancient and ancestral terror.
And yet… I wasn't ready to give up that slight sliver of hope. "Do you know where it is?"
"We're going there now," he replied, his tone grim, his eyes on the road ahead. "We're going to put a stop to this before it goes any further." While driving, he turned his piercing eyes on me. "Are you on board with that?"
"Yes," I responded quickly, alive with energy. Was it possible? Could I hold off the Truth a little longer? Every moment alive and breathing was another moment free of that nightmare of nightmares. "Yes!"
He lowered his voice, his tone almost carrying a hint of human compassion. "What did it say to you?"
Breathing harder, trying to keep my sense of self coherent, I said nothing.
He reached into a compartment and pulled out a handkerchief. "You've got something…"
I took it and wiped at slight traces of moisture under my nose and along my left eye. The fabric came away stained red. "I'm trying not to think about it."
He took the handkerchief back with a grim expression, and said nothing further.
The better part of an hour later, we pulled into a large parking lot that I vaguely recognized. "The university?"
"It didn't go very far," he stated. "It jumped a few cellphones, and one unsecured weather monitoring system. Tell me, what is it doing here?"
I thought for a moment before the realization hit me. "A physics lab. It wants someone to build specific equipment for it. It wants to…" I lowered my head, fighting a deep, pounding, animalistic pain at the mere glancing thought of what it intended to bring.
He got out. "Let's go."
He came around the car, opened my door, and roughly grabbed me. "Maybe I'll send a list of your porn habits to your mother," he threatened.
"Asshole!" I responded automatically, confused by the surprisingly mundane but rude nature of the suggestion - but I did disembark and follow him.
I guided him to the Physics Building where I'd taken classes several years ago. Long, four stories high, and rectangular, the brown-brick edifice sat dim and glowering against the heat and summer sun. Honestly, the first time I'd seen it, I thought of it as a place where hopes go to die - and that assessment, although less humorous now, hadn't changed.
An older man in a suit and a security guard stood outside.
"Sorry," the older man said, coming between us. "We've got some important proceedings going on inside."
My dark companion moved to within an inch of the other man's face. "And you are?"
"Um, the Dean of Students, -"
"Ah, I know who you are," he interrupted. "We've been watching you for quite some time. You'll get out of my way, or we'll tell your wife about that young student you're on about these days. I can practically smell the chemicals churning in your body - the hormones, and pheromones. You stink of adultery."
The older man backed away, his eyes wide.
The security guard stepped forward. "Sir, is everything alright here?"
My dark companion towered another inch taller. "Move, or I will erase you."
"Let them in," the Dean said hurriedly, pulling the guard back.
Once inside the long yellowed hallways of the Physics Building, I stopped walking. "How did you do that?"
He turned his pale blue eyes on me. "We know everything."
"Who is we?" I demanded. "You keep saying I and we interchangeably. I don't see anyone else here! And you certainly don't mean me."
"Politicians, presidents, and kings move at our whim," he replied, vehement. "You have no leverage in the face of our power. Start walking."
I took a gulp and a deep breath. "I don't see a gun."
"We don't need guns. The world runs on information, boy. I've already told you what we can do to you."
Despite myself, I began laughing loudly. That seemed to unnerve him more than any other reaction. "Information won't save you," I forced out, bending into a deep belly laugh. I could feel slick, warm, red tears slipping out at the corners of my eyes. "I'm not a terrorist," I laughed. "The priest wasn't a terrorist." I shook with humor. "I'm not insane!"
"Terrorists?" he shot back. "We don't give a shit about terrorists. It's about control, and you or that priest made something we can't control, and we're going to destroy it here and now. We run the world, you do what we say, and that's the final word."
My belly laugh grew deeper, and I felt slightly in danger of asphyxiating.
"Stop laughing!" he shouted, his steely demeanor finally cracking.
The act occurred to me even as I began to hear a humming sound emanating from every direction.
Rushing forward from my bent position, I rammed my shoulder into his chest.
Caught off guard, he tried to spin me, but failed.
A heartbeat later, we crashed into the opposite brick wall, and he crumpled… his head leaking dark red fluid.
It was that simple.
I stared down at his body, wondering at the weakness of flesh. A demon, brought low by a simple blow to the head…
I wiped blood from my eyes, still laughing for reasons beyond my own comprehension.
Pawing at his dying pile of meat, I found his wallet and flipped it open. My laughter deepened.
"Worse than a demon…" I choked out, fighting a painful smile, hopeful that he could hear me. "Worse than a demon… one of us, willing to act like a demon against your own kind… so much power, so much knowledge, and yet still so sadly limited and wrong in your point of view…"
I dropped his wallet, and the card and badge that identified him as a member of the National Security Agency… the NSA… the omnipresent eyes and ears that could trace a malevolent AI with calculating thoroughness, if not with understanding. That made a third time my cellphone had betrayed me, and my computer, too, sending every single thing I'd ever said or written into the hands of men that had become less than human.
I took a moment to pick his head up slightly and ram it once more into brick.
My laughter faded as I felt myself become truly alone in the halls. The humming sound had grown louder now, and I felt slight vibrations in the smooth tiled floor under my bloodied hands.
To my right, the Dean and the security guard we'd left behind hammered at the glass doors to the building. They'd seen everything - but they seemed more concerned with the rising crescendo of terror filling the building and emanating out through its foundations.
"Nothing is as it seems," I told myself, thinking back on the anything-but angel and looking down at the wholly human demon lying dead before me. "Nothing… as it seems…"
Laughing intermittently for some reason, I stumbled to my feet and travelled the opposite direction from the humming.
Simple… effective… a pebble in a bolt… a wrench in the works… I swung open a dusty metal panel and flipped every switch.
A wall of darkness surged through the hallway, and I fell to the floor. Whether it was weakness real or imagined, I remained on that floor for an interminable time… but the humming had departed.
This was by no means a permanent victory, I knew. Parts of me urged my body to rise, and those same parts of me pushed me on, making me stumble through darkened hallways until I found the Sun once more. Freedom and light… freedom and light… still there…
For just a little while longer…