ShockedAgain! - Part 3 (It's All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Eye)
by Matthew James
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Pain. Aching pain all over.

Tom was stirring. "Urgg... I gotta stop drinking that degreasing agent that the bar claims is alcohol. Either that or scrounge up a down payment for a second liver...", Tom groaned as he tried to figure out why he hurt all over. His mind came up blank. Oww... his hand still stung. Wait a minute, still? Oh ya. "Damn, now I remember. Doc, anyone, you around?", he asked out load, eyes still not quite working. Well, time to try to sit up...

"Damn, that's a bitch", he cursed as he hauled his body up. It felt like he was 80 years old. Or maybe 180. Every joint protested vigorously to his actions. He rubbed his face, and worked his eyes to get them to open. They were crusted with what he hoped was sleepdust. He managed to get them open, though everything looked pretty distorted.

His left eye was blurry, but something was really wrong with his right. Moving his hand to move crust away, he felt the cold brush of metal. "Oh damn... don't even dream of letting that be true". His right eye was gone. Fuck! Fuck! They fucking took his eye. Didn't even ask him. "Somebody's in a lot of fucking trouble! Is this the Stone Ages?! Don't you guys believe in asking before you lop off a limb or take out an eye!", cursed Tom. After his cursing, he only-half jokingly checked his limbs. All still him. Thank God for small miracles.

"Well, I guess they saved me. Most of me. So where's the doc? Doesn't he want to meet his Frankenstein?", Tom muttered as he started to get up. Cybernetic implants were very rare, usually only for the disabled; and they usually opted for grafts or biological implants. They could have set him up with a real eye... why the Tonka toy one? He concentrated on it. It had connected up to his optic nerve, and had had enough time to adjust itself to him. Now he just had to adjust to it. The image was a flickering, pale imitation of what his left eye was seeing. He was pretty sure it was configurable, but it's not like he could press buttons on it. He'd have to talk to the doc about trying to set it up... it was obvious it was still on factory settings. Normally you'd go through a few days of calibration for a cybernetic eye.

Tom looked around the room. It was a dingy, small room, 4 walls of ship metal, with little furniture. The cot he had slept in, a chair any observing doctors may have used, and a trash can. He went to the door. There was a note stuck to it.

"Tom. If you are reading this, you pulled through. Very sorry about the eye... we didn't have a choice. The ship is being overrun by alien parasites. Not enough room on this scrap of paper to really bring you up to date... stay put and keep this door locked. Dr.Thornton or I will be back shortly. Regards, Dr. Ing"

"Damn, that's not good". More alien things. Probably people like him, infected and mutating. He checked the door. A fancy TriOp 'agreement' door... dual locked, both on his side and from the other side; both had to be unlocked for it to open... what would the execs dream up next! He looked quickly around the room. Took him probably twice as long as it normally would have, as he was being disoriented by the double view he was getting... a normal one from his good eye, overlaid with a pixellated mess from his right. "Hell, this eye would be better off!". Nothing. "Eye off". Nothing. "Eye, turn off?". Still nothing. Tom morbidly snickered "Damn, now I'm talking to my right eye... I think I've hit rock bottom.".

After double checking to make sure he didn't miss anything because of his nutso right eye, he was pretty sure there was no key. He unlocked his side, but was still locked in due to the dual lock being locked on the outside. As nice as those doctors were, were they crazy? Lock a guy in with no food and water? Were they so scared an alien might get in while he was sleeping they'd be willing to have him starve or dehydrate to death if they didn't come back to open his door? Or so untrusting of him they'd lock both sides of a door, figuring he wouldn't heed their warning?

"Ah ha!", Tom said to himself as he came up with an idea. The ship AI Xerxes wouldn't let him starve. Xerxes might be a little slow (he was the butt of a lot of jokes, some of which were Tom's), but he was overall a pretty good 'guy', and would be incapable of letting him sit here against his will. Xerxes would open the door, or send a bot to unlock the other side of the door. Tom strolled up to the door and invoked the phrase that would draw Xerxes's attention. "Xerxes, please respond". Nothing. Hmmm... Xerxes usually responded right away. "Xerxes, I need you. Do you read?". "Hello Tom. I am here, how may I help you?", said a ghostly image of a neutral male face on the viewscreen after a few seconds... Xerxes never took that long before; something was up. "Xerxes, what is going on?", Tom asked. Finally, he could talk to the main brains of the ship and get the whole lowdown. Xerxes had been up and down a lot during the start of the voyage, but the software techs had put in a lot of overtime getting him to a 'mostly' stable point, so he'd know what was really going on. "Please do not fight to the will of the Many. You will be one of us soon", Xerxes said smoothly as he looked at Tom. "Xerxes, what's wrong with you? Many? Has Jones been messing around with your head again?", Tom sternly asked. He needed to get out, and to do it he'd need Xerxes on his side and fully operational, not in some buggy unstable state singing karoake songs like a few weeks ago. "Xerxes. You need to open this door in the room I'm transmitting from. It's really important.", Tom commanded slowly, as if speaking to a petulant child.

"You need to stay there so you can be one with the many. One of the many. If I open the door, you will leave.", Xerxes said. "Damn straight", thought Tom,"And I'll be fucking smacking whoever fucked with your program upside the head after I figure out what state we're in". "Xerxes. Listen here. I'm hurt. I have no food or water. If you don't open this door, I will die.". Atta-boy Tom, appeal to those old laws built in every AI. Xerxes should be stumbling over himself to open this door after hearing that. The door didn't budge. Damn. Time to pull out the big guns. He stepped to the side of the monitor, so Xerxes couldn't see him.

"Tom, please step back in front of the viewscreen. I cannot see you. I wish to keep talking to help you, but I cannot help what I cannot see", droned Xerxes. And now for the big guns. Tom shouted and screamed as convincingly as he could. Then, in the smallest yet still audible voice he said "Xerxes. I've fallen badly and hurt myself. I think I'm dying. If you open the door, I think I might be able to crawl out and attract medical attention. You have to open the door.".

The small camera built into the monitor was whining as it tried to pan over to where Tom was standing, but it couldn't quite reach. Just for extra effect, Tom laid down and wriggled his foot just within view, and cried out in mock pain, with an evil smile on his face. Damn, it was a lot of fun messing with AIs. They had really obvious puppetstrings. A click sounded in the door of the lock bolt retracting; presumably Xerxes had overriden the outside door agreement lock itself. The door started open, but then stopped.

"Xerxes, continue opening the door", Tom said, as he slowly slid his foot out of the camera's view, then stood back up. "Yes. No. Yes. No. Yes. I will. I can't. I will. I won't. I can't.". The door shook a bit with each decision. Shit, how much money had they spent writing this software? "Xerxes…I'm fucking dying. Would you make up your so-called mind before I bleed to death?". The door opened a little further, then shut. "Forget it. Xerxes is with us now. You will be too, soon. We are coming for you.", said the viewscreen, in a mostly human voice that definitely wasn't Xerxes. Who the hell was this? Xerxes face was frozen on the screen, unspeaking. Lines of code started sprouting across the screen. Tom could see someone was accessing Xerxes during run-time, and tweaking his behaviour. Xerxes just sat there and let himself get brain-reamed... was there any security built into this thing? AIs were supposed to be pretty careful with who they let play with their brains, not just any joe-shmoe with a code compiler and network access. Tom better act fast, before the tweaking was done. He grabbed his cot, and hauled it close to the door. The camera didn't even follow him. Tom had hung out with the software techs enough to be somewhat familiar with their tools, and how they updated and tweaked Xerxes (he had been the source of some of their troubles, granted!). He could see whoever was on the other side was wrapping up his work, and letting Xerxes go with updated values. Tom figured this was a software upgrade he didn't want.

"Tom. Stay where you are. I am sending help now.", Xerxes intoned. No hesitation in his voice at all. Before it sounded like he was fighting himself. Now it sounded like he had lost. "Xerxes, how about sending help but also open the door.", Tom said, as he readied to throw the cot into the door if it opened, to jam it open in case Xerxes then changed his mind. Hell, if he could even get the cot leg in he could at least hold the door open, and scream for real, non-wonked out computer help.

"No.". Damn, that was a decisive answer. "Ummm, hey you, the guy besides Xerxes who's on this line. You still there?", he asked, hoping to get the person who had been messing with Xerxes. "Save your breath. You will be with us soon, and you will be happy. The many will make you happy.", said the guy who had been hacking around with Xerxes. "Ya, well, I'd be a whole lot happier if you opened the door. Many happy.", he snickered. What the fuck was this shit with many? Many what? Somebody would be getting 'many' asskicks, that was for sure! "Oh, in that case", the voice said, as the door hissed open fully. "Now that's more like it!", Tom said aloud as he released the bed and took a step forward.

Right into the melted man. Or another one. This one had a different set of bruises, otherwise it looked pretty much the same... horrible. Shit. It had been waiting for him, or had been sent here recently, maybe during his conversation. Maybe drawing the attention of Xerxes hadn't been the best decision, though it wasn't like he had had much choice. He jumped back and caught the bed mid-fall. The melted man lunged. Tom grappled with it, and managed to do sort of a tango thing with him, the melted man, and the cot, blankets flying. A tango that ended with the melted man being tripped up over the cot. Tom turned and ran. The door hissed shut, trapping the melted man inside. Perfect. Tom started down a hall. He recognized it right away. He was in the Maintenance sector, his home. "Great... just gotta get Kevin and a couple of the boys with a few arc-welders, and we can clean up this mess before you can finish saying 'eelhunt' ", Tom said as he started down towards Kevin's office. He heard the door of his previous holding area (which must have been a maintenance office hastily cleaned out) open... guess Xerxes or that hacker realized that their ambush didn't work and they had re-penned the wrong guy. The melted man ran out, looked around for a second and then saw Tom. He ran straight at him, howling in a gross parody of human speech.

Tom went through a hallway airlock and cycled the door closed, which were there for safety in case part of a level was depressurized. He hit the 'Lock' button. The melted man was on the other side, hitting the 'Admit' button. His 'Lock' light went off. He hit it again. It came on, then went off again. Boy, now those dual agreement door locks looked like a handy idea (well, one that Xerxes couldn't override, anyway)! "Fuck you Xerxes! You and your however many zillions of nano-transistors make up your brain! When I reach you I'm gonna relieve myself all over your circuits!", Tom hollered as he held his hand down on the lock button. How long before Xerxes or the hacker just disabled the lock function for this door? Whoops, that was fast. The lock button no longer illuminated when he hit or held it. He didn't pause at all, just turned and ran. "Attention all crew. There is an intruder on Maintenance Deck, just past inner airlock number 17. Please detain him, he is not armed.", Xerxes chimed, as viewscreens along the wall came to life. Damn. Pretty much a sign floating over his head for every mutant and freak on this place to lead them right to where he was. The melted man would be out of the airlock by now... Tom was pretty much just racing down the hall, hoping he could put distance between them. Then he ran past something he recognized.

It was another unit he had been working on. It bore his personal mark... burn scars. Hey, it was the one he had dropped his last wrench in... the one that started this whole mess. It had been sealed up, but was obviously non-functional. He doubted anyone had even looked inside it... Maintenance had been too busy, and Tom imagined all this mutant stuff had made them even busier. Say... his wrench might even still be in there! Tom dealt the front panel a few quick kicks, and it fell off. He didn't have time to get his arms kinked inside the unit... especially since he'd be unbelievably vulnerable if he stuck his arms and head in there to take a look and that mutant was faster than it looked. Sure enough, there was, well, most of his wrench. It was pretty badly melted, but it still would serve well as a small club.

Right on cue, the melted man rounded the corner as Tom lifted his wrench. Viewscreens watched Tom. "The intruder is now armed with a light melee weapon. Detain him for the glory of the Many". Okay, having Xerxes watch his every move was gonna be a pain. He'd be able to announce his even movement to however many mutant things were in this ship. "First thing's first... melted man's gotta go", Tom said as he stepped towards the melted man. The melted man ran right at him... and tried to grab him. Tom clubbed it with the wrench. The melted man shuddered, stunned. Tom kept at him, so worked up into a killing rage from fear. Repeatedly struck the mutant, without mercy. The melted thing went down in a heap, pitifully trying to pick up the front panel lying on floor to shield itself. Tom kicked it away, and saw the melted man look up at him in pain. Tom moved away in disgust, both at the melted man and at himself. The thing was dying, burbling and crying. Tom felt terrible, and was crying himself. It felt just like throwing stones at animals... maybe fun and exciting at first, then when you actually hit and kill one, you feel like shit. This thing had once been a man, had hopes and dreams. Maybe even kids. And now had been beaten to death by Tom. Hell, it could have been one of his crewmates from Maintenance.

It still burbled, looking at Tom. Tried to form words, through pain and shattered teeth. Tom heard a couple things he thought sounded like "many", but he got up and left. He didn't want to watch this thing die slowly.

Ok... melted man down. Next he needed to deal with Xerxes being able to see every step he took. "Give up, Tom. It is easier if you go willingly", Xerxes said as he eyed Tom. Hacker boy was still there too "Like the tin can says, give up. Just sit down in that hall, and we'll make it painless for you. We control the entire ship. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. Xerxes sees all, and Xerxes obeys only us now.". Tom kept running, at a jogging pace. Cameras swivelled to watch his progress. He got to his private room chamber; his own little personal 5' by 7' chunk of the Von Braun . He had one prank he'd been saving for the next time Jones or one of the other software techs had pissed him off, stored in one of his lockers. A one-shot data worm. He bought it Earthside, and the worm was held in a simple data cassette you could slap into any data terminal. Guaranteed to get through any non-military grade barriers, and from what he had seen of Xerxes's security, a kid with even mediocre hacking skills could probably crack him, let alone commercial grade software. The worm would then scramble it's target by randomly breaking links in relational databases. Cause a lot of non-permanent damage, especially to an AI. Tom doubted there were many software techs to fix it; probably just whatever hacker was messing with Xerxes currently, and that'd be a big fix-it job for just one guy.

He reached his door. He hit the 'Admit button'. The door opened. He started to do something he'd done his whole life... walking through a doorway with no hesistation. He caught himself just in time. He looked back at a nearby camera and viewscreen pair. Xerxes was watching, intently. Even knowingly nodded at Tom when it saw Tom saw it was watching. He'd get caught in his room, and locked in until more melted things came. Hmm. He grabbed a nearby metal trashcan and wedged it in the door. Sure enough, when he went to step through, the door tried to shut. He could hear Xerxes laughing out in the hall. Damn, Xerxes wasn't even just trying to trap him, it'd tried to close on him while he was going through, to try to crush him! The door had pressure sensors to avoid hurting people, but Tom was willing to bet Xerxes had overridden those, too. Getting squashed by the door to his own room wasn't the way Tom wanted to check out of this life.

"Fuck you Xerxes", Tom said as he held up his middle finger to the viewscreen by his door. Xerxes opened and closed the doors to his room to the rhythm of "Shave and a Haircut... two bits". "Expletive Deleted you too Tom", Xerxes said. "Hey, thanks for catching that... I forgot Xerxes couldn't swear", said the hacker on the other side. A couple lines of code flashed by, and now Xerxes was swearing a blue streak at Tom. "Fuck you Tom. You're gonna die. I'm gonna catch you in a door. Or an elevator. Or an airlock. Don't leave any radios near your shower. And watch yourself next time you go to put your hand in a toaster. Fry the fuck outta your ass.", said Xerxes, dead serious. Man, that was getting annoying and spooky at the same time. "I liked him more when he didn't swear. Though maybe this will improve his chess game", Tom said to the viewscreen as he picked up a duffel bag. He threw odds and ends in. The worm cassette (which he wrapped in a shirt before putting it in the bag, to prevent the viewscreen catching a glimpse of it), some spare clothes that would double as tourniquets he thought he might need, his Maintenance radio, some tools, and some cash. He left his room, the door of course behaving normally up until he stepped through it, where it tried to crush him again, but only crunched the trash can some more. More evil laughter.

Now he just needed to get to the nearest data terminal and slot his cassette in. The worm would do the rest, and knock Xerxes out until that hacker could patch him back together. There was a viewing room up ahead where people could relax in sofas and look out into space through large portholes. He remembered there was a data terminal in there. Perfect. He started down the hall.

Suddenly, he was plunged into darkness. All the lights went out. Only the monitors showing Xerxes face remaining, giving the illusion that a demonic floating head was in the hall with Tom. "Be seeing you, Tom", Xerxes said with a wink, and then too was gone. Tom couldn't see past his own nose. This could be a problem... hard to slot in a cassette when you can't even find the data terminal. His duffel didn't have a flashlight. Say, he could see a bit, and it was growing stronger. Was light coming back on? The light must be flickering in a funny way, as it was illuminating the room in rapidly strobing patches... wait a minute. The Franken-eye. "Goddamn... to think having the eye I was born with ripped out had a plus side...". The cybernetic eye was slowly adjusting. Granted he had no depth perception as his left eye was seeing nothing, and his world was now a coarse, flashing kaleidoscope of reality, he could at least still move around.

He looked behind him. Way down the hall, he could see lights still on. And mutant things. Lots of them. Xerxes was opening doors for them in turn, watching their progress, and keeping only Tom in darkness. Not fair! He sprinted for the data terminal, his only hope in scrambling Xerxes so that the mutant things wouldn't have an omniscient machine in their breast pocket.

He reached the terminal as the mutants entered the hall section he was in. The lights came on, presumably to help the mutants nail him. The light directly over his head blinked repeatedly on and off every couple seconds, literally a beacon saying "Non-Mutant Intruder Right Over Here". He ripped open his duffel, and pulled out the cassette. He couldn't see the mutants yet, but since each hall section was only 100 meters long, they couldn't be far. Those 100 meters had always felt too long before, on walks to work or from job site to site, now they felt much too short. He slotted the cassette into the terminal, grinned at Xerxes who was staring at the monitor, and hit the load button. "See you in Hell, Xerxes", Tom said evilly, knowing the game was his. The tape would eat Xerxes for breakfast. The tape ran. Nothing happened. Xerxes grinned back, and chuckled "You're already there.". Oh shit.

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