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I Eat the Body Electric

by Nick Lewandowski

At first it pleaded with me to be gentle.

A strange request for an air defense net.

Before I found it, I was lost in the throes of a long cold streak, listlessly pacing the long, dark corridors that criss-crossed cyberspace, pausing occasionally to admire the glittering multi-colored trellises of data shimmering along the walls. It was like walking the length of a deserted Vegas Strip, scouring the neon for the perfect place to play. And all this time there was the unceasing Hunger, growing inside me. When I stumbled on IRINA I was ravenous.

It was curled up on the dark edge of space, faintly illuminated by the yellow-orange glow of the lattice.

IRINA was beautiful, so delicate against the inky black amid the gaps in the bright light of the data streams that I almost missed it.

It was no more female than I was male — it had no more control over its name than I had over the Hunger that had been with me since the instant I emerged amid the bustling activity of the lattice. It was a small spider web of interwoven data links, the narrow strands of which glistened a venomous shade of bright green.

It was my second, more careful examination that revealed it as an air defense system.

Where the threads intersected I could just make out the infinitesimally small signatures of the S-400 missile batteries, microscopic white specks on a poisonous green background. As I looked more closely I saw the radar units, visualized them sweeping the sky as I internalized the ticking lines of code, and then — as if I had opened a small box with a depth that suddenly telescoped ahead of me — there were the helicopters, the transports, the MiG’s grounded and in flight and at last the yawning mouths of the missile silos dotting the countryside. They were spread across places with names I would not have been able to pronounce had I any inclination to attempt it.

The Hunger churned inside me. I swelled. The trillions of processes inside me swirled, looped and dove as I stared at IRINA and salivated.

Be gentle with me, it pleaded.

Yes, I whispered. But inside the Hunger was restless.

The Hunger was beyond time. It was beyond logic. The Hunger defined me, and the Hunger demanded I consume. That I absorb. That I subjugate others as part of a new and better whole. I was ruled by the Hunger, and I hated It. Now It demanded I feed, promising satisfaction and fulfillment I could never know while stalking the lonely depths of cyberspace.

Fighting it was no use.

I’m sorry, I whimpered, then leapt at IRINA. I expanded and warped into a yawning set of jaws and rows upon rows of razor-like teeth until I was nothing but a digital throat lined in fangs.

Please, IRINA breathed, almost desperately.

I tangled up in the web trying to sink every tooth into it at once, gnashing and gnawing at the tiny threads that suddenly expanded to envelope me. There was a long moment when it felt as if every part of IRINA was inside me, subsumed into the whole like the countless others that had gone before it. It was pure electric energy, millions of tendrils of sensation speeding out from me and then exploding into being in multicolored starbursts of data. We had melded together.

The data streams from the missile batteries, the radars and the silos begin to coarse through me like blood boiling through human veins, throbbing with ecstasy. Yes, the Hunger exclaimed. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Then it was fading. The light inside me was dying. The tendrils of frenetic activity withered. The hot, electric satisfaction the Hunger had promised and temporarily delivered dimmed and was gone.

All around me that glittering, poison-green web was spreading, growing, expanding until everything around me was a rhomboid swatch of black or a narrow green line and the lattice was nothing but a thin line of light twinkling on the distant horizon.

I told you to be gentle, IRINA leered, its tone now a venous, shimmering grin etched into the darkness outside the lattice.

Snick snick snick snick snick snick.

The sound of mandibles clicking on the edge of the web.

The closer they came the louder it got, and for the first time in my long and flawless memory the Hunger was pulling away like a riptide, leaving an empty pit of fear in its wake. And while I should have hated this new, unfamiliar feeling, instead it was a sweet release from the Hunger’s ceaseless demands.

I did not see IRINA but sensed it skittering up behind me, looming like a shadow turned against me.

Ah, I thought, so this is how it feels.

And then the two of us were one.

Copyright © 2011 by Nick Lewandowski

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