This is from another writing challenge I threw on my first blog site. The winners got to pick any topic for me to write about. First came Norse Gods at Starbucks. Then came this one. This story has since changed completely and been submitted and rejected a couple of times. But this is the first roughdraft version I did in answer to the challenge. It did get me a new critique partner–so all is not lost. <g>
Here tis. Normally, when I write a short story, I let it simmer a bit on the back shelf then polish and rewrite. You guys are getting a first draft here because it has already taken me so long to answer Rachel’s ( Rachel Vincent )
Kids and conference– ready excuse. (g) (The last topic winner piece is here The Write Snark: Norse Gods at Starbucks )
So, my new CP’s challenge topic was: Write about someone finding a way to track down serial porn spammers and exacting revenge.
My twisted mind went to work. Hope you like…
Now They Run from Valen Greer
Thousands of living streams lined the screens. Blues, reds and golds. They turned and twisted, tangling together in jetting surges like nests of Earth snakes. Valen kept one eye on them, watching for that perfect link while she continued preparations. One was all she needed.
She worked the controls with precision. Five years on this sorry excuse of a barren planet. Five years of hiding… of planning.
All of it culminating in this one act.
She’d spent the afternoon checking supplies. Jero knew to reattach himself to the charger at eighteen hour intervals. He would replace the bags that fed her, watch the power and environment. She’d built the Biotadome herself and the years of testing had proved it had few problems, if any. It sustained all life. It would sustain hers.
One of the screens kicked on. “Are you still going through with this?”
She didn’t want to see him. “You have to ask?”
“I can hope.”
Something in his voice made her look. Jennings hadn’t changed much. His gaze straight, intense – it was the first thing that had once attracted her to him. Intelligence and iron control burned in those dark eyes. He didn’t have a handsome face but Val had never been one for conventional good looks. All craggy lines and sharp angles, his features were a little too intense for most women. Until they got to know him anyway.
“The last time you rang, Bracklin had picked up my trail. Can’t move this time, so I’m hoping you have other news. Surely he’s given up by now.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have sliced his finger off.”
She snarled. “Maybe he should have kept it out of my face.”
“You told him it was his job to go after the Killer Porno Mafia. Killer Porno Mafia, Val? Really.”
“They believe me now.”
He nodded. “Yeah, they do. It’s the only reason he hasn’t come after you with a legion of hit men.”
“It would take a legion to break through my security. Plus, you’re the only one who knows where I am. You gonna tell em?”
“You know I won’t.” He ran a hand over his hair and leaned close to the screen. She saw that new lines had formed across his forehead. “Listen. I don’t want you to do this.”
She narrowed her eyes at her former co-pilot. “I don’t have time for this.”
“It’s been five years! What’s a few minutes more?”
She moved her face inches from the monitor. “You think anything you say can change my mind? We had sex, Jennings, that’s it.”
“It was more than sex and you know it.” He let out a deep breath. “Val, listen to me. Have you ever stopped to think that Luce would have been the last person to want this?”
“What would you know?”
“You forget. I watched the vids. All nine years of them.”
“Val, you need help.”
“You have no right – you had no –“
“The hell I didn’t,” he said through clenched teeth. “I was her father.”
“You had nothing to do with her. I carried her. I gave birth.”
“And then you went in and used that genius, technological mind of yours to save her. To make her a real little girl with a real chance at life.”
“So she was mine.”
“Yeah. “ Jennings nodded his head slowly. “But she would have been mine, too, if I’d known about her.”
Val looked away. Guilt began its sleazy, digging crawl into her head. Surprised it had gotten past five years of blind fury, she shoved it aside. Reaching out to turn off the screen, she didn’t know what made her hesitate. She met his eyes again. “I’m sorry. You would have loved her.”
“Yes, I would have. I love her mother.”
Val switched off the screen.
Taking a deep breath of the stale, mechanical air, she stared at the trembling in her fingers. Luce had had her fingers. Smaller, lifeless replicas of her own hands. Val had meticulously moved the tiny muscles, keeping them loose… alive.
It wasn’t the only attribute of Val’s Luce had inherited. They’d both had long, black curls. Val ran an agitated hand over her now smooth scalp before slamming the Motile Helmet on. Her invention, the precious invention, that had allowed her little girl, a physical vegetable, to have a real, virtual world. The invention that had allowed her, Val, to be a part of that world.
The memory sliced into her head, burning the backs of her eyes.
She caught the flash of a madwoman’s frantic stare in the screen to her right. She didn’t recognize the pale, rigid face. All hints of feminine softness had fled, unable to sustain a life fed by vengeance. She eyed the helmet. It barely resembled the one of old now. It was more streamlined, more efficient. It wouldn’t leave tiny blisters on a little girl’s ear.
Breathing heavily, Val checked the monitoring system then hooked herself up, the old-fashioned way, to an IV. Jero would insert the feeding tube later.
The alarm sounded.
She was out of time. She watched as her other invention, one Bracklin and his men would slice off many fingers to have , latched onto that perfect stream. She’d known all it would take was one over-confident spammer. There was always one who didn’t believe he could be tracked. They forgot that there were still good old, regular hackers left in the worlds.
All they cared about was getting more subscribers and now, like at all times, they sent nasty viruses zinging through the atmospheres. Nearly untraceable, the viruses entered through home VR systems, imbedded into the brains of subscribers and planted an addiction that scraped the gut raw.
Eventually, one would hook into a prone. One of the thousands using the original version of the Motile Helmet that Val had invented for them. The helpless prone whose brains reacted to that virus in ways she could never have predicted.
Red hazed her vision and the trembling in her hands increased to violent jerking movements as she held another needle over her arm. She had to calm down– didn’t want to miss. Jero came to stand silently behind her, the stream of sunlight, just enough to sustain the tiniest bit of life on this planet, glinted off his metal exterior. She hadn’t bothered to make him look real. Not for what she needed. He was a long working powerhouse of a bot and he’d make sure her body was well cared for.
“It’s now or never, Jero.” She slid the needle into her vein.
The serum worked fast. Within seconds she was in the virtual world she’d created for Luce. She hadn’t changed a thing. Her home with Luce sat still and silent while birds chirped and ocean waves crashed against the shore. The only thing she had changed were the connections to other prones. Those people had been Luce’s only connection to other people outside of her mother.
This world smelled empty.
All the vids were there, especially that last one. She’d never let Jennings watch that one. Val stood next to them and waited for the prick of the second needle. She barely had time to feel it when ice quickly turned her blood solid.
Just before grabbing onto the tail end of that perfect stream, she tapped into one of her screens and stared at her still body.
She was now one of the prone.
She didn’t say goodbye, just turned and fled through the lines and it was like flying again. For the few seconds it took to get to the first spammer, she felt a euphoria she hadn’t experienced since that first flight, before Jennings, before the military discovered her talents and stuck her in a lab… before Luce.
She ran her memories of her daughter like a film reel through her mind as she sailed after her first target. When she followed to the beginning, she didn’t hesitate as years of black, rotting hatred took over. She slammed Luce’s last vid full force into his mind.
Val had thought she’d laugh when his screams began.
She was too busy screaming herself.
“I can’t believe you wanted to marry that crazy chick.”
Jennings didn’t look at the medic who stood behind him. His heart was too busy racing, his palms sweating. Agony buzzed low in his stomach and sent spots across his vision. “She wasn’t always like that.”
The guy chuckled. “She’s a skinny, bald freak with scary eyes.”
Jennings shoved out of his seat and grabbed the stupid kid by the throat. “Shut the hell up. You have no idea! Valen Greer was something special. Not only a genius but at one time the most loving, wonderful person. She was like no one else.”
The kid struggled and Jennings let him go.
“Okay! Hey, I’m sorry. It’s just hard to see that. Did you see all the metal hooked into her body? She looked like a machine.”
Jennings closed his eyes. “She is. It’s the only way she survived. She wasn’t joking with that silly name – Killer Porno Mafia. A little porn is one thing.. no big deal. It’s when they realized the possible rewards after adding one small detail that it got out of hand. They are huge, deadly and have more money than all the wealthiest worlders combined. Those viruses sink into brains and take root.”
“Except in the prone.” Jennings nodded. Everyone knew what they did to the prone now. That’s why the spammers stayed on the move. They ran from the Federation Law.Now they would run from Valen Greer.
Feeling the combined memories from the vids of his daughter clump in his throat, he stared at a screen shot he’d taken and framed. “If they get into a prone, especially a young innocent like Luce, they cause a psychotic breakdown like nothing you can imagine. Luce died from hers.”
The kid’s expression softened. “Oh, I see.”
He gritted his teeth. “No, you don’t. No one can. Not even me. Val’s been hooked into those machines a long time. Long before Luce died. She created and built the world where the prones gathered. She lived in it herself most of the time. She was hooked into Luce’s VR world when it happened. She was hooked into her daughter.”
Horror darkened the medic’s eyes. “How the hell did she survive that?”
“Sheer fury. Madness. She stayed alive to exact revenge. She found a way to absorb her mind into the system.”
“But that’s only theory. So far, no one who’s tried it has been able to come back to their bodies…”
Jennings turned back to his screen and flipped on the one he kept for Val alone. He stared at her still body, at the bags upon bags of supplies refrigerated behind her. Years of food and medical attention inside a dome that would create everything she needed. Years to spend chasing down the bad guys one after another.
“She never planned to come back.”