The Map Seller | By: Bodan Gheorghiu | | Category: Short Story - Science Fiction Bookmark and Share

The Map Seller

The Map Seller
by Bogdan Gheorghiu

I'm standing in the middle of a an almost empty nameless street at midnight, looking up at the twin searchlights on top of the Universa Dream Company building, and at the building itself, reflected infinitely inside my head only to complete the obsessing image of The Senior's three-dimensional face with a grotesque nose.
Memories of a terminal's LCD, the conventional representation of the AI talking to me one-way. Fast-forward vertigo, images of myself running out of an elevator, displayed on some surveillance camera output screen in the hallway of an apartment building back in Midland City, my hand throwing cash over the rent payment desk, one end of a data stick coming out of my pocket at times, everything left behind me, sliding doors closing.
The Senior's men on my trail.
Countless days spent in countless cities, days of quick eating, quick dinking and public terminals. Days and nights without a minute of sleep.
I was rushing everytime towards a single contact person, through crowds of people I didn't know, always fearing that some of them might know me.
By that time I had no idea of how extended the Senior's network of agents and agencies could have been.
My last day of running away from them caught me realising that I was running the wrong way. They knew that I was looking for a refuge, and sooner or later they would have found me.
Buy I was sure they were done looking for me in Midland City, the place where it all began. So I quickly returned to my apartment building only to find it closed and labeled 'crime scene'.
The Senior's men had gone in and killed everyone, just to make sure. Those had been the orders.
Now I'm no longer in Midland City. I had to leave it again later, once and for all. But that's one of the many things I don't want to think about.
Back then, after my return, my life became an endless row of unexpected acts. I knew that I would stay alive for as long as I could find new ways of running and hiding.

I'm looking at the high ventilation shaft on the inside surface of the city dome, and everytime the holographic sky reveals it for one second, I begin to dream of flying...

...but then I fall and turn my back on the tall building, images striking me again...

...virtual flames, neon dance, muzzle flashes, a carnival of spectral hallucination meant to bring me down for good.
Myself passing out next to the terminal, the screen showing nothing but the goggles' frame rate.
An uncertain morning, the damp taste of disorientation in my mouth as I woke up in my bed at the hotel where I had spent the previous night, the terminal missing, replaced by a handwritten note. I can still remember every single word of it:
' I just saved you. The Map Seller's flashes had turned you into a sitting duck for his hired men. They were triangulating your terminal, so I came in and took it away.
' Now I have finally returned your favor.
' The hotel terminal is gone, your data completely transferred onto a mobile one. Come pick it up. '
There was an address and a signature.
' Someone you used to know. '
So death had once again been avoided carefully.
In that very moment I became aware of The Senior's true power.
Avoided, indeed. But only for me.
The Senior. The Map Seller. The built-in deceiver.
A corporate AI probably as old as the network itself, written by some of the first official brainmappers in order to centralize AI map domain sales. In a short time it took control of what it was about to supervise. It monopolized the market, turning itself into the one authority, the only seller.
They had designed it to be specifically mercantile, and to guide its every action by a scripted survival instinct. So it slowly eliminated its makers, it owners, then every client AI that sold domains through it.
It assumed an identity of its own, renaming itself. Renaming himself. He became The Senior. The tyrant of the AI market.
The Map Seller was the one who sold the brainmaps, the mainframe, the net domains, and the other kind of maps, the intricate maze of proxies and links, hundreds of logins, the labyrinthic security system used by the buyers to access the AIs in write mode.
We were the last of his enemies. The Traders' Guild. The pirates of brainmapping.
Hundreds, maybe thousands of people, most of us not knowing each other in real life, talking and making deals over paranoid-style screened connections.
To The Senior, we were outlaws.
And to everyone else, The Senior was the law.
No one knows how exactly he found us, but we all know he did.
He started hunting us down one by one, meticulously and silently eliminating our men, breaking our deals, compromising our sales, stealing our domains, our mainframes, destroying what he couldn't steal, erasing every AI we had mapped, thus killing some of our clients...
...ravaging as programmed.

The Universa Dream Company building is now behind me, the two spots of light artistically sweeping the street and the buildings on the other side of the road.
I'm now looking at a group of stars on the random sky, and another familiar face makes its way out of my mind.

The note, the missing terminal, the anonymous cab driving me through the dark heat of that night.
The address, my hands and eyes checking the note once again in front of the open door. I don't remember the number on it, the floor, the building it was in. I don't re the morning and too late at night, unable to fall asleep, unable to wake up.
I remember it all as if it had happened yesterday. No blood. No sign of a fight. Everything clean. The mobile terminal screen blinking, the light making her pale skin look almost transparent.
My eyes blurred with pain and anger, reading the note.
' I have finally returned your favor '
The small piece of paper falling down from my shaking hands, my own body falling over it, on the floor, punching nervously. I had left her behind. And it was too late to go back now.
The Map Seller was a professional. I knew it from before. And this came as a sarcastic demonstration of his mastery. I was absolutely sure that it was his work.
I ran. I went out of Midland City. Then I ran some more.

Now i'm in some nameless city, waiting for the first tube train to depart, ready to board it no matter where to.
I left my data on the mobile terminal in that room.
I'm doing what I can to dealy the inevitable. My death.
They say the Senior was written as the most trustworthy business partner and as the worst, most diabolical enemy.
I never came to know him as a partner.
I can't do anything against him now, and he knows it. He uses it. I can't even kill myself or let his men do the job. He would surely allocate one of his free domains for a permanent AI copy of mine, with fully preserved memories.
I'm still looking at the holo projected sky, my eyes moving away from the unbearable look on her face in the digital stars to another random group, another face I used to know.
The Senior. Again. Behind me, in front of me, all around me.
Sometimes I wonder if he has any control over the sky randomisation system, if he is doing this to me on purpose.
The tube station entrance, a scrolling list of arrivals and departures.
Ten minutes until the first train departs. My train.
I'm scanning the surroundings, looking at a group of usual hoodlums weaving their small knives at each other.
I see one of them looking in my direction, his eyes meeting mine.
He's approaching me, followed by some of the others, asking me for money.
I prepare to give them the money I have, then I change my mind and tell them that I've got none.
They ask me again
and again
and again
A punch in my face, hands searching through my pockets, voices asking me, yelling at me, threatening me
' You're gonna die mothafucker! They ain't even gonna find your fuckin dead body. '
The echo of those words beyond my ears, as they keep gaining new and better meanings.
More fists hitting me, putting me down, feet breaking my ribs, the words, the knives, the voices, again
and again
and again
I am saved.
The look that is still haunting my late night dreams, turning them into instant nightmares, waking me up too early in
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