They walked down thin corridors, him and Weedly. It was like his cell, white and clean, but longer, with branching hallways. As they walked, Weedly hummed, sometimes dancing a little with his feet.
At first it felt strange, being able to walk more than a few paces in one direction. Demo kept expecting to bump into something, but after a little while it was nice. He sort of wanted to run, just to see what it was like, but he didn’t want to leave Weedly behind.
As he went he brought up the memory of Veronica’s face, held it in front of him. It made the raw aching in his chest hurt worse and deeper, like holding onto one of those colored spheres in Lab Coat man’s tests.
Weedly had given him so many memories of her–her smell, her laugh, the way her hair and lips felt on his face. But right now it didn’t seem like enough. He wanted all the moments, every minute he’d ever spent with her.
Maybe after he killed the boy, he would ask Weedly for that.
They reached a place where the hallway split into four directions. In the middle, a wide tubular shaft ran from ceiling to floor. They walked up to it, and Weedly motioned for him to stop in front of it.
A few moments went by, and then a hissing sound split the air. The metal shaft dropped into the floor, leaving a raised platform. Two men stood on it, deep in muttered conversation, but they froze and looked at Demo, and their faces went white like the coats they were wearing.
They looked like Lab Coat man, and they smelled like him–meat and fear.
“Get ’em,” Weedly said.
The first man started to yell, but Demo flung him into the wall. He hit the other one in the chest, and the man flew backward, limbs flopping as he hit the floor. Demo heard his heart chutter, then stop.
Weedly stepped up onto the platform. Demo followed him. The hiss happened again, and the shaft shot up around them, surrounding them with smooth metal. He could see his reflection in it, stretched and distorted.
Demo looked down at Weedly, wondering if he would say anything about how he’d gotten those two men. But Weedly was just staring ahead, his mouth a small sideways line. Demo wondered if he’d done something wrong.
You said to get them. Was that what you wanted? he asked.
Weedly started and looked up at him. “Oh, yeah. Right on.” He tapped his head. “Sorry, weighty thoughts going on here. Deep stuff, Demo.”
Right on, Demo said, reassured.
A moment went by, and then Weedly cleared his throat. “We’re buddies, right? Like, you and me. We’re cool.”
The shaft walls fell away. The outside had changed–They were in a circular room with dark walls. A single closed door parted the opposite wall.
Two white creatures stood on either side of the door. Their faces were smooth and featureless, their arms too big for their bodies, and their strangeness took Demo aback for one moment, until they whipped weapons to their shoulders and shot at him.
Pain seared his abdomen and shoulder. His nanobots flurried to life in those places. Angry heat filled his stomach and brain, and Demo leapt forward, slamming into the two creatures with pounding fists.
They went down almost as easily as the other things he’d smashed today, and he could smell that they were meat men too, just stretched out and disguised.
Weedly jogged the room to catch up. “Like, for example. You wouldn’t consider yourself a prisoner or anything, right?”
Demo blinked. You took me out of my cell.
“Yeah! Exactly.” Weedly’s voice grew stronger. “I mean, I freed you. And now we’re working like a team. Right? Team Demo and Weedly. Bros.”
Weedly chuckled. “I knew that. Good talk, man.” He stepped up to the door, poked it with his forefinger, and it slid open. He turned to Demo and pointed. “We gotta get moving, here. Phase two is a go.”
They walked through the door, into a hallway lined with oblong hatches. Weedly stepped up to the first one and rapped on it with his knuckles. He turned to Demo and bounced his eyebrows. “Open Sesame.”
The door groaned and rotated to show the room beyond. Weedly strutted in. Demo had to duck his head as he went through.
He entered the room and lifted his head. It was like his cell, but dark, and it stank. In a single chair, there was a huddle of flesh and bones. Skin so pale he could see through it, see the dark lump of heart as it throbbed.
He took a step toward it, and stopped. The face was swollen, deformed, and something about the thing’s smell reminded him of his own—dead, but living.
“They call this an Updater,” Weedly said behind him. “They have a bunch of them. That big brain is working 24/7 to keep me out of everyone else’s brain.” He waved his hand at it. “Once you kill this one and a few more, I’ll be able to squeeze in.”
For some reason, the thought jarred him. He looked around at Weedly. I have to kill it?
“Yeah. Nothing fancy, just a poke or twist or something. Shouldn’t be difficult.” Weedly nodded toward the Updater. “Chop chop, now. We’ve got a busy schedule.”
Demo took a slow step toward the Updater, and then its chin lifted and it looked at him.
Their gazes met. A strange tremor ran through Demo’s skin, like a nanobot swarm. This Updater, this meat-thing with shriveled skin and swollen stomach, it was a woman. Like Veronica. Not her, just the same kind of person.
He didn’t know how he knew that, if it was the smell, or something in its eyes, he just could tell.
“Demo. Hey, buddy. There’s no strategy to this,” Weedly said. “There’s a neck, and you just snap it.”
What’s your name? Demo asked the creature, and he didn’t know why, because she wouldn’t be able to hear him.
But the way she blinked, and straightened a little, he realized that she did.
Dio 45, a thin voice spoke into his mind. Are you Demo?
Yes, he said.
Then I’m so sorry, she said. For everything.
He didn’t know what to say, so he just nodded.
The Updater closed her eyes, and lowered her head. Are you going to kill me?
I think so, he said.
Her thin lips quivered up at the corners, just for a second. Thank you.
“See?” Weedly said. “It wants to die.” His voice took on a dark edge. “We’re through being ridiculous now. Kill that Updater, you’ll be doing it a favor.”
Demo slowly reached out and laid his hands on the Updater’s head. The skin was thinner than paper, stretched tight over her skull. He could feel her breathing, deep and calm.
A quick twist, and her neck snapped.
He let go and turned away. The ache in his chest dug deeper, and he shook his head, trying to shed it. She had wanted it. But for some reason that thought didn’t really help.
“Excellent. Godspeed, thou wrinkled thing.” Weedly’s voice was cheery again. “Onward, Demo. Four or five more of those left, and Firewall Zero and I will finally be saying hello.”
Somewhere outside, a loud siren began a shrill wail.
“Ah, they’re onto us now.” Weedly swiveled and walked out of the cell. Demo followed him into the hallway. “There’s going to be quite a few soldiers, probably, so you’ll have to do some more smashing.” He chuckled. “Hey, and I think my good friend Decker is around here somewhere. If we run into him, wave.”
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