Sure, Ms. Clone, I’ll Retrieve the Data

By Joseph Hurtgen


Design Projects/ shutterstock


Panopti.com data files downloaded to your occipital storage node, it’s time to cut the connection and get outta Dodge. You call up an exit protocol, but something overrides your commands. You hear the slightest shuffle behind you. You turn and find Apotheos, one part AI, one part who knows, and he wants his data back. He doesn’t move. He shifts, and in a blink his steel fist rips toward you. But you’ve got tricks too. You call up a radiant energy field protocol, split his signal into a million bits, and scatter him away down the neon fault lines of cyberspace. Safe for now.

You relax shoulders you hadn’t realized were tense. Afford yourself a chuckle. Now for a rendezvous with Patsy Clone. The trains are always on time in Simulation City, and you’re on track to see Patsy’s Day-Glo pink mohawk just after midnight, but Patsy’s not always as reliable as the rail system. Smart? Oh yes. Pretty? C’mon, do you really need an answer? A risk-taking hacker savant with the skills to put web page crawlers to work fooling corporations into funneling seven figures into various crypto shell accounts? Mmmhmm, well, as long as these Panopti.com files check out. Oh, and a night on the town with Patsy? You live for that.

Now to disconnect. You tap the green play arrow, and it stays green. Jeez. That’s not supposed to happen. You tap it again. Oops. Once more, for good measure? You hover over the button, pray, and press! But cyberspace remains, wrapped around you like a pulsing fever dream, like a seventh level of hell promising entry into a heretofore unknown eighth level. What sort of dream is this? And the infinitely regressed neon arrays? What happened to those? This version of cyberspace has suddenly gone askew. You’re squeezed into an alleyway, razor fencing above, narrow brick walls to either side. Ahead, a bulky figure. He’s smoking. Doesn’t make sense to smoke in cyberpsace, does it?

“Lots of nerve, Kid.”

Huh? You didn’t think you’d said that out loud.

“You didn’t say it out loud. Didn’t have to. We’ve got your coordinates locked.”

You’ve still got a couple moves in play, a ping multiplicator and if that doesn’t work, you’re sitting on a suicide chair.

The big guy freezes. Overhead, a drone buzzes by, casting light across his face. He’s wearing a graphohelm and he’s got it set to featureless black. He looks like a body builder with a computer terminal for a face, except nothing’s written on it. Just a screen gone dead.

“So, you’re rigged?”

You grin.

“Dumbass. We could have saved you the hassle. We can do all the work of killing you.”

No better time to leave than the moment your guest offers a quick exit to the other side. You spin around and run into Apotheos. Except now he’s the size of a garbage truck. You bounce off him and hit the ground.

Apotheos pins you with a claw hand the size of a snow plow. “Now, I dispose of you!” Time slows down and pain ratchets up. Brain pain. Chest pain. Pain radiating across your nervous system.

Death by Apotheos is no fun, but then, hey, your connection drops. The pain fizzles out and you’re left feeling calm and blissfully alone. To the Panopti.com security apparatus, the disappearance looks like a magic trick. They’d stuffed their rabbit in the hat, choked the life out of it, and then when they reached back in, presto chango, no rabbit! And what a way to spoil a party. They’d already popped the champagne and were pouring out a celebratory round.

You slide off your glasses and drop into the darkness and quiet of the small hours. You chuckle at the suicide chair bluff but then look around and realize that a suicide chair might be more comfortable than the veritable racks and breaking wheels for furniture languishing in this rat’s nest of a home. But when all your budget affords is the flotsam washed up in nearby alleyways and dumpsters, you learn to treat trash as treasure.

It’s certainly after one now, but who can say for sure since the power’s out? Another brownout, but likely not random. What does that make it, the third time this week? It’s likely the New National Soviet Republic’s been messing around with the outmoded American energy infrastructure. More entry points than a block of Swiss cheese. 

You break down the cyberdeck hardware, just in case. Thumb through the data in the old gray matter—mountains of data—plenty in there to fence in exchange for a garden of earthly delights. Next, check your phone, thinking Patsy Clone might have dropped you a line. But the thing’s fried. Apotheos was really turning the screws back there. Maybe he got a little overzealous. Just as well. It’s hard to follow the electronic signature of someone who’s unplugged.

You recall a late-night bistro that Patsy sometimes haunted. No way to hail a ride and, this late, the trains don’t run. You’ll have to give the Reeboks some exercise. It’s easily ten minutes of walking pitch black city blocks until you cross over, but all the activity of the night hours shifted along with the power grid, and now you’re wading through nightwalkers, metafentanyl pushers, and thugs waiting for an easy mark. You attract the attention of an ugly looking duo and whip out a Quark blade, spinning it above your head and dancing it in figure eights before pocketing it. They lose interest. Unless your name’s Apotheos, you’re no easy mark.

You see the lit façade of the bistro a half block away and, outside, a light halo wisping through Patsy’s pink hair. When she gets eyes on you, she almost looks relieved, but it passes quickly, so quickly that you think maybe you imagined it.

“You’re two hours late.”

“Yeah, maybe, but I’m not showing up empty headed.”

Patsy Clone heads down the endless avenue. We’ll see about that.”

Invitation enough to lock step with Patsy in the belly of night.


About the author: Joseph Hurtgen has a PhD in English Literature from Ball State University. He is a freelance editor and science fiction writer. Hurtgen lives
in Kentucky with his wife Rebecca and two children, Frances and Ira.




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My name is Jack L. Bryson and I'm the editor of Teleport. I studied literature at University of Montana. I live in Mountain View Ca, and my email is coffeeant1@gmail.com

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