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Angel Unplugged

Dale and Kristine Hansen are a husband and wife writing team who have spent the last two years ghostwriting in every available genre possible, and then some. They're especially skilled at adapting to any style of writing, meaning you'll never know what they've written, or where you will find it next. Chances are you've already stumbled across them somewhere unknowing, as in that time period they've been published more than 75 times in books (one a bestseller!), and are responsible for more than 120 articles. They live in California with 5 nearly-grown children, a dozen critically endangered horses (they were that way when they got them), five dogs, four cats, and one very nervous rabbit. You can find out more about them at Written Virtuosity.

The Cyborg was positively throbbing. I could feel the bass in my chest and my bones rattled so heavily with the beat that I felt I was going to fly apart any minute now. Who would miss me if I did? Flixers wouldn't care, and the Trappets sure as hell wouldn't notice. Besides, the night outside was still dripping from the constant rains that washed the shit down the gutters and made the pedestrians crouch into themselves like dark turtles looking for an empty hole.
The Cyborg, on the other hand, was one of those holes. Brightly lit nanos crawled over the walls and each other, each one flashing a different color. Together they spelled out the day's specials, the drink of the day that the bar was pushing, and provided background pulses of rapid eye-gouging color that assaulted vision like the music assaulted hearing.
I waved my wrist over the reader and waited until the club was assured I had enough in my account to cover admission. Once through the door, I cranked the tunes harder, past the mandatory safety warnings and tried to blow out my ears.
There was a chick in front of me, long flying hair, whipping around... the adage was, if you can't dance, jump and she was gaining air. She was also plugged in to a guy next to her. Doing it on the dance floor. That's what I loved about Cyborg; human operated or not, there were no rules.
Behind them, two Gilas at the bar were totally plugged into each other, jacks camouflaged in tattooed lizards that crawled relentlessly, restlessly over their arms and into their clothes. One shivered, her bony arms hugged against her as though only just noticing that it was winter outside, and the cold still blossomed in joints like this.
Behind them, a nice looking little catch sitting at the bar alone. Why no one had plugged her in, I couldn't figure. I made my smoothest move--I walked up and pulled the wire from my arm implant and offered her the jack.
She refused.
Ok, so I'm not her type. What do I care? I'll find someone else. Only her hand is on mine, like really close to the implant. Not a good thing, but she's cute and she's saying something. I turn the sound down and yell, "WHAT?"
"MAYBE WE CAN TALK?" she yells back at me.
I'm up for anything once, what the hell. "ABOUT WHAT?"
Then, this chick reaches over and touches my implant. Just like that, no permission, no consent, just grabs it and looks at me and turns it off.
No music. Nothing shattering my bones. There are lights flashing everywhere, people jumping up and down, but now, without sound, it's surreal, almost sinister. I've been dropped into a hole and everyone else didn't notice.
The smell of sweat and old alcohol is overwhelming, and frankly Cyborg looks like a dingy pit crawling with nano lice like dots of light trapped in their own dance.
"Maybe we can talk this time?"
I turn around and I'm remembering this girl. The implant had clouded my memory. It's been clouding a lot of things lately but that's what comes of running it with no filters. But it's coming back to me, sending out beacons and distress signals that this girl is dangerous, like heavymonstrous dangerous.
And still I ignore it because once upon a time she'd saved my life and that offsets a lot of crazy.
"Hello Stiv."
I drop onto the stool next to her. I can't face her, but she lays her hand on mine and smiles. It's a sad smile, but it's a smile.
I know what she's gonna ask before she does. I swallow hard, and decide I might as well cut to the chase and get this over with. She could leave, and I could... well... whatever the hell I'd been doing. "I couldn't leave it off," I whisper to the bar.
"It's ok. You came back to me. that's what matters." And just like that she leans in and kisses my cheek.
Technophobe, but I love her. I look into her eyes so she knows I do, even if I'm not good at getting out the words. I need her to know it's true. "But...."
I can't go any further. My lips seal shut, lockdown without consent. Some things you're just programmed not to say. But... I feel every ache and pain. I see the mold and the rot and the hair in the cocktails. I swallow hard. "I don't think I can stay."
"You say that every time." She smiles but there's a sad look in her eyes as she leans in and kisses me again, this time on the mouth, lips lingering just long enough to stir old emotion and panic as she stands up to leave.
She's looking at me, but someone on the dance floor has grabbed her wrist. He has a jack ready, but of course, he can't find a plug. Angel doesn't have one. He's confused. I see the frustration on his face, the beginnings of fear.
And just like that I know who I am. I don't need implants, I don't need any of this. Rot and mold and stray hairs fester in my soul the longer I stay plugged in. What if I chose her instead? Could someone without code fill the void in the subroutine?
I start toward her, her name on my lips, hand outstretched. She reached for me, meeting me halfway. Her smile lights up the room more than a trillion nanos ever could. It's because of me. I made that smile. It's all for me. I take her hand, freely given and pull her out into the musty street.
"It's not easy," she whispers in my ear. I can hear the trepidation warring with excitement. The city throbs around us, but for once I'm not a part of it.
It's a strange, scary feeling.
"At least I have an angel to light my way," I murmur, reaching for her, hand cupping her face, drawing her close for another kiss. And another after that.
She smiled again. I think the sun rose and burned away the mist. I wasn't sure.
Angel's fingers found mine, twining them through her own. It was like being jacked in but warmer somehow.
The world changed.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, February 15th, 2019

Author Comments

While sitting in a restaurant waiting for our food one day, we were talking about enhanced reality and being plugged in to the world instead of experiencing the world, somewhat inspired by the fact that so many people were doing the same--only they were looking at their phones rather than each other. Of course we were both glancing idly at our phones while having this discussion, so we're likely as guilty of being "plugged in" as those around us. This story was a natural outgrowth from that moment, firmly proving that Black Bear Diner is home of the surreal--and that when lunch takes too long, we're going to get into mischief.

- Dale and Kristine Hansen
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