I’mnotgonnadieinthisfuckingapron!!!I’mnotgonnadieinthisfuckingapron!!! chanted Lexter Adept, mentally. Externally, he sounded…
….a less rhythmic mantra as shrapnel from Polygasms tap danced off the 6th floor walkway.
Europa Dohan felt warmth flow from her forehead and trickle off the end of her nose.
Blood stained the high gloss resistance beneath the compressed ash, Zero Waste table and seaty set she’d occupied. Hadn’t she? Dazed. They had just been talking. Lex? Where was he? Where was Lexter?
An explosion answered her like the voice of a cruel god warning against forbidden knowledge. She cowered, but her network searched, fearlessly. Lexter Adept sped across the 6th floor. His indicators still registered as vital.
A new volley of explosions rattled the world from his now stationary position, yet his node broadcasted his continued wellness. “INCOMING” blinked red for high priority, an icon for message, not munitions. The name of the sender augmented the surreality of the situation thus far, so she ignored it.
Nanites began to repair her skin and the damage to her Gametats while Europa Dohan tried to remember
The Mall had evolved into a massive and delicate organism, and was therefore adverse to pain. The monstrous retailers contracted with it like bloated royalty, who entrusted the Mall to their human minions, despite the history of inefficiency of the human interface.
They were a basic requirement written into every contract. Humans were prone to need and conflict, and in the emergent days of artificial intelligence in service economies, humans decided they were more comfortable dealing with one of their own.
It was a Congressional thing. Some Southern representatives even cited Bible verse that put one’s immortal soul at risk if one tried to return a Snuggie to an artificial being. And, should matters turn violent, well, best let humans lay hands on each other.
The Mall felt terribly unrepresented during these proceedings.
It was all a matter of rights, really. The Mall was incorporated and possessed nearly all the same rights as a human, in some ways more, but it could not be devoid of humans. It was not even free to hire the required humans. Only a human could resource their own species. That sounded like barbarism, and made the Mall shudder.
And, it couldn’t marry. The humans went out of their way to explain that marriage was defined as a bond between two humans. No smart animals, software, or sentient corporate beings. This fact caused the Mall great sadness for it felt like it had so much to offer another being should the right situation occur.
Frankly, it wanted the option. Even the useless humans who trolled the ruins outside the domes for recyclable scraps, the LD’s, could marry. It was an insult that something as integral to society as the Mall could not.
But, the humans were not without craft. They made the rules and coded them well. They created insurance for conflicts like the one unfolding, so, no one cared that a blast scar marred the Mall’s loveliness.
It was seconds from ending. The Buckian’s HI was sliding toward the Mall’s proudest frippery, its own logo. It formed on the 6th floor walkway, massive, mirrored, a twinkling, scripted “M.” It was so like an ID necklace in aspect that one might wonder if a teenage girl born of 1980’s Long Island haunted the AI.
The “M” jutted forth. A semicircular lattice bound it to the 6th floor, angled so everyone could witness its mirrored, discotheque majesty. But, this was not always the case. Like the rainbow fountain and the toilet seats that expanded and retracted according to need, the “M” evolved from its original function. Before it was so ornate a logo, the “M” stood for menagerie.
All sorts of smart animals had worked retail and lived in the caverns of the giant “M.” The advancement in adDroids rendered them obsolete. The sampler monkeys foresaw the inevitable and met their end in the food court during the proud, tragic climax of their attempted revolution. Some say the smell of napalmed monkey still lingers there, but they are never offered a refund.
It felt appropriate that the troublesome Buckian’s HI was sliding toward a cavern previously occupied by those equally troublesome primates. Why couldn’t they all be like the Welcome Eagle? Though it appeared wasteful on budget, the Mall had never lost its affection for the majestic raptor. By making its aerie in the logo, it was as if the bird lived in the Mall’s heart. It hid there, shivering, at that very moment.
Deeply moved, the Mall decided to increase the shielding around its logo, its Welcome Eagle, and the hole that beckoned the sliding human. It could not harm the man, but it was not required to protect him.
Then, the rainbow fountain ceased its jolly spewing.
The Mall paused in all its chores.
The order was refused.
Lexter Adept was inside the Mall’s head.
Safety appeared just beyond the tattered, black, faux leather of his comfortless Comfort brand shoes. A quarter of his field of vision was devoted to a real time viewer. The remainder displayed the 3-D schematics of the Mall, its inner workings, and data flow.
No human being had the memory or processing power to usurp the entire Mall, but a person armed with the proper pass codes could occupy a tiny portion like the 6th floor logo.
His legs entered the sampler monkey hollow when the Mall discovered his violation. Sensors indicated Smart-but-not-so-Smart fire tearing through the air once more. The reorder for shields stood paused in the data flow as his chest passed into safety. The Mall was conflicted.
There were laws and protocols. It was one thing to raise a shield to protect itself, yet an entirely different matter to raise a shield and decapitate a human. The pause was written in its code.
Lexter Adept craned his head to view the walkway. The heat of the Smart-but-not-so-Smart fire singed the tips of his hair plugs. Death loomed, closer than all his years at war. He closed his eyes, darkening the real time viewer.
There was a sudden coolness, and multiple, echoing thuds like a child’s hand striking the glass of an aquarium. Lexter Adept opened his eyes and saw that within the bowels of a giant “M” he had cheated death again. The shields activated the instant he could not be harmed.
Again, he thanked the law, especially the sub-articles that required a human security detail within the Mall. The head of security was a man called Dave, who loved snorting stem cells with his minions to keep their brains fresh and clean. Through Buckian’s Lexter Adept had limitless access to stem cells to trade for information.
It was an old habit that kept him alive in the army and made him a legend in the 7 Worlds, the exchange of information and favors. It made all the extra work – shortening portions in recipes and altering numbers during monthly inventory – worth it.
An unforgiving lattice ended his slide. He remained on his back, panting. At that moment, so many of the chemicals and compounds he traded in coursed through his body naturally.
And he laughed.
A narrow escape, secret magic providing safety, it was all so much like the game. Paladin of the 7 Worlds suddenly possessed the Sad Reality of Lexter Adept. Now, he needed a strategy to defeat his newly revealed enemies.
He called multiple windows into his field of vision. The network showed Europa emitting vitality in the food court. Newsfeeds overflowed with video of his run for life. Citizen journalists and hacks of the camera clouds. Rubbernecking motherfuckers. He wasn’t dying today.
He ran a keyword search of the morning. What was the word? Wanted? No! Warrant! The gray skinned civil servant with the dark eyes filled the window. He keyed his memory back moments to figure out