the needle stung - james knew it wasn't supposed to, but it did. he would've given a jerk with the pain but the straps around his arms, legs, chest, and head prevented the movement - instead, he noted it in his mind, holding onto this one thing, this one feeling. he pushed aside the dismal room, the surgical lights, the viewing window where the favorite sons of the news media viewed his predicament. there was only the pain - a slight prick, but one he could expand to fill what remaining experience he had left. he wanted to die angry, he wanted to die in pain. he wanted to slip into hell with a grudge, ready to whip the ass of the first fallen angel he came across - but in the end, it wasn't enough. his life came forward and was burned away, one memory at a time; dollar bills in the fireplace. he smelled (tasted) something acrid, like the last edges of cheap cigarette smoke.
james awoke with a strangled gasp, sweating. he sat up, the motion sensors in the room telling the home's expert system to raise the lights just enough for him not to trip over his shoes.
to his left, jamie stirred. she woke with him, as she always did, regardless of the reason.
"another nightmare, baby?" she asked through sleepily lidded eyes.
"something." he blinked the sleep away. "central: open morning news."
the wall ahead swam with information. video feeds sized by freshness and james' arcane inference rules. scrolling text feeds harvested from the blogosphere on a number of topics. weather. a city overlay with air quality, traffic patterns. all the king's men. the program adjusted the audio based on where his eyes landed on the wall, some streams crisp English, others the smooth sexless voice of the translator.
"so noisy," she said. he smiled.
"trying to wash the bad dreams away."
"with more bad dreams?"
yeah. he knew. he reached for the manual controls to adjust the audio volume. (the concept of 'video volume' occurred to him, as it always did. he vowed once again to do something with it someday.)
"hey, where's the remote?"
Jamie mumbled something, rolled over. she would be insufferable if he didn't get up and around, and let her have her beauty sleep.
not that she needed much, he thought, smiling. that flash of beauty had stolen the last of the cobwebs from his consciousness, and with them the familiar nightmare.
(to be continued.)