“You see that?” I ask, pointing at the scrolling letters.
“You mean the same menu that’s been there for a thousand years?”
“Yeah, I see it. So what?”
“Anything look different about it to you?” The scrolling is slowly coming to a stop, like a massive slot machine.
Rehna stares at the menu for a moment. Then she says, “All I see is a long list of ways to die from heart disease. Why? What are you seeing?”
“I need something to write on,” I say, snapping my fingers at her.
A moment later, I’ve got a small notebook in hand, and a pen. Quaint but effective, and impossible to hack. I see three distinct lines. They repeat over and over. I write down the random mash of letters. Fourteen on each line.
I turn the page around so Rehna can see it.
She looks confused, and then concerned. “You’re seeing this instead of the menu?”
I look at the advert on the table between us. All of the text has been replaced by the strange block of letters. “I’m seeing it everywhere. The only letters in the real world that haven’t changed are these.” I tap my handwritten note. “What’s it mean?”
“Probably that you’re having a stroke.” She stands. “You need a medic.”
“Doesn’t feel like that,” I say.
“You had a stroke before? You know what it feels like?”
It’s a solid point, but I can’t shake the feeling that this is a message of some kind, sent to me just before I’m about to kick the shit out of a senator’s son. No way that’s a coincidence. It’s a warning. To not kick the hornet’s nest. A show of force. If they can hack my mind…
“Hey!” Rehna says. “Snap the fuck out of it, Priest. Get your ass up and—”
Her eyes lock onto the strings of letters. Her brow furrows. She’s spotted something.
“Is it a code?” I ask.
She slowly shakes her head. Turns the page around. “There are only four vowels.”
“Find them. And then look for words.”
The first ones are easy. An A and an E. The moment I spot them the word jumps out.
Now that I know what I’m looking for, the second word is easy.
The third takes me a moment, because it’s not a word. It’s a name.
“Who the hell is Will?” I ask.
“You don’t know? Means absolutely nothing to you?”
I shake my head. “Who names their kid Will anymore?”
“Right. Then a stroke.” She pockets the notebook. “Medic. Now.”
“I feel fine,” I say, but then my vision pixelates.
That can’t be good.
Rehna’s hand grips my wrist. “What are you seeing, Will?”
“Pixels. I’m telling you, they hacked my… What did you call me?”
My vision snaps clear. The pixels are gone. The message is gone. Rehna is standing above me, but she isn’t holding my wrist. “I said, ‘Move it, old man.’”
“You called me ‘Will,’” I say, but my vision drifts to the side. The menu is scrolling again. There’s no mistaking the meaning when it stops this time. The word ‘Sorry’ is repeated over and over. Incessant. Desperate.
Before I can react, gravity ceases to exist. Everyone and everything in the hot dog shop floats off the floor. My vision distorts, like waves of heat are rising all around us.
“Priest?” Rehna says. She sounds uncharacteristically frightened. “What is this?”
“The end,” I tell her, reaching out. I catch her hand, and pull her against me, holding her tight.
“The hell does that mean?” I can tell she already knows. Because she’s hugging me back.
“This is what I saw right before I lost my—”
[error] G.E. Process Termination 765.67 (<NCC001974>)
Crash Dump Detected
[warning] Process Recovery: failed (1)
[warning] Process Recovery: failed (2)
[warning] Process Recovery: failed (3)
[fatal] Process Unrecoverable 765.67 (<NCC001974>) CORRUPT
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