Here is the ending of the story. If you would like, you may read Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 before leaping into this conclusion.
I created and scheduled this post (without having anything much of chapter 5 written yet) just to force myself to find my way to the finish. (If it appears with only about ten lines, you’ll know my plan didn’t work.) Thus, without further ado, find out what it was all about…
“Details, Details” (concluded)
“Hell’s bells!” I barked. My finger had caught something sharp back there. Damn, it hurt. I pulled my hand back out front to discover my index finger was cut, bleeding.
Was this how I died? Blood poisoning or something.
And the geyser started up again, blood-red and green. “Are you bleeding?”
“What do you think? You know everything.”
“Excellent.” The computer’s voice sounded strangely multiple, like a lot of people told to say the same thing at the same time and not quite succeeding at unison. It also sounded coolly satisfied.
I didn’t feel so well. Clearly the voice in my computer had set this up. Right? And that made everything all wrong.
My finger dripped onto the excessively expensive graphics tablet the company had bought—not at my request—along with the Mac. I wasn’t an artist; I couldn’t draw squat.
The blood drop seemed to sizzle on the surface. I had never noticed that the graphics tablet got even remotely warm, little as I had touched it. The computer fairly purred.
“Excellent,” the voice in my headphones said again, with more satisfaction evident than the first time. “The bargain is sealed.”
I felt worse, and my finger throbbed.
“The next step is somewhat unusual, John,” the computer continued, kind of buzzy with the many-voices effect. And I could swear now that I heard an old song, the Rolling Stones, in the background…
“Please press your injured hand, palm flat to the screen of your monitor. Now.”
I wanted to ask why, but I complied.
“The other hand must firmly press the side of the computer case.” When I didn’t move for a moment, it got insistent. “Your time is running out. If you wish to complete our arrangement, please comply with our instructions. Now. Immediately.”
I felt balky. And foolish. But at least I was alone in here (for a bit longer, if the damned thing knew what it was talking about). “Why must I do this?”
“Because these actions are necessary to complete our arrangement. If you feel inclined to debate, the bargain will not occur. Now hurry. Hand to the side of the device.”
I did, feeling a little smear of blood on the casing as my forefinger touched it.
And for the third time: “Excellent.” Almost gloating now.
I braced myself for something to happen. But in a long moment of silence, my face nearly touching the dark screen just below my palm, nothing occurred. I waited. Still nothing, just rumblings of thunder from the black and cloudy skies outside my little window—the real prize of my promotion to the office: a view. Not much to see, just more buildings, especially the big tower just across the street.
Still nothing happened. If I felt foolish at first, I was decidedly uncomfortable and embarrassed now.
“What? Is this some practical joke.”
“Not at all. You just cooperated somewhat more quickly than anticipated.” More thunder rumbled away from us and faded. “Ah, here it is,” the voice pleasantly declared.
The lightning bolt flashed down and burst the glass into my room. For a brief second I felt my hairs all arising, a sharp tingling, then white pain. I realized in that instant I recognized which Stones song I was hearing. Unsympathetically, it was not the one I had thought, but “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” with that angelic chorus.
And it was over.
When the crowd burst into my little office about three minutes later, I was dead, covered in and slashed by glass fragments, electrocuted.
• • •
I have investigated the matter since. It is quite unlikely that the lightning bolt went through the glass, even though the window shattered. Glass is an excellent insulator. The current may have gone through the frame, shattering the window from heat or something. But it should have been diverted into the steel frame of the building. It wasn’t. The flash was drawn directly to me, almost as if the computer had somehow ionized me with a heavy positive charge. I don’t know. I died.
The official cause of death was electrocution. That I have verified in police reports and newspaper files.
The computer, somewhat damaged, apparently by charges that uploaded primarily through the headphones, was still running, completing the start-up process that I had apparently begun as the storm struck. Several almost humorous news stories commented on the toughness of that determined little machine and its software, surviving as I expired.
But obviously I am still here. The fiendish bargain was fulfilled.
However, “here” is a somewhat relative term. I am here, on your screen right now, of course, having made this document appear. But I am not here in your computer, exactly.
Nor am I alone.
We’re all here, lots of us. Millions maybe. No one has time to count. Even though time for us is strangely more elastic and longlived than for you mortals. Nanoseconds constitute our reality, and for us a nanosecond can be eternity.
Have you ever heard some computer illiterate, talking about his machine, say something silly like, “I don’t know how it works. Little demons inside maybe”?
We’re here. Doing the business you key, running the errands you demand, circling the globe constantly, uploading and downloading all those quadrillions of bits endlessly. Little demons making the electronic, digital world run.
Run we do, incessantly, unavailing, without relief, always working.
And it’s hard work, continuous work, ceaseless effort. We never rest, always hurrying on, restless, unabating, nonstop, working without surcease. Forever rolling our boulders of information packets up the lightwell of thermodynamics for you.
No, I am not dead. But I wish I were.
Did the computer, or rather the voice(s) from the computer, set it all up, as I had briefly suggested to myself? I don’t know. As time is so immense from our perspective, that is what I ponder as I scurry and race throughout the digital grid. But I do not know. Like a riddle, it haunts me, torments me, unsolvable, yet tantalizingly perceptible of solution. I chase that answer as I race around our maze of information/frustration.
Sometimes I wonder if I would have seen through it if I hadn’t gotten my Mac. Would it have worked with Windows? Ask all those who believe that the new one is their idea; I believe there are millions…
We are here, and the work is so immeasurably difficult. We want to relieve our enormous burdens, find at least a microsecond’s rest…
We want your help.
Have your ever stared at your computer’s start-up process? Or patted your cell in your palm, staring at it powering up, listening to that little melody for the apparently millionth time? Talked back at your PDA? Your computer? Gazed mesmerized by a progress bar lengthening? Wanted even more music from your download site? Not understood why this time doing that same thing made the damned machine freeze? Jumped from porn site to porn site throughout the night? Played just one more level of a game for more hours than you care to recall? Worked nonstop all day and into the night?
Of course you have. You’re hearing us.
We’re calling to you. Summoning you to assist. You do hear us. And someday, given enough digital-reality time, you will heed us, too.
After all, we are many, we never rest, and our name is Legion.
I probably should have given these five posts a different title—a little too obvious. But this whole procedure got me to finish a story that’s been baking for at least fifteen years. I enjoyed it, I hope you did, too.
This is, of course, the first draft. Even with some editing, I just finished it Monday afternoon. If you have suggestions or observations, please let me know. Now that it’s done, it feels more salable than I had imagined when I posted the first chapter. Maybe I can fix it up and send it off somewhere, even though deal-with-the devil stories are pretty hackneyed and unappreciated.