5. The bar is full of violet smoke which shakes to the green of rave light. I pluck out the tune on my eight-stringed electrolin, shimmering the smoke with every touch. This is my bar.
4. A man walks into the bar, hulking pistol on his belt. He sniffs the air--all cardamom and bad wine--and lumbers to the third table by the boarded wall that used to hold windows.
3. I play an arpeggio. Forty-six patrons sway with it, drowned in my song. The forty-seventh doesn't.
2. Mr. Pistol finds me with his gaze, a line from the third table to my foot-tall stage. His hand moves to the pistol.
1. I stop playing.
LS-1995KL93-04F>USER:KENNA MILLER>SYS REBOOT
1. The universe starts again.
2. The man is gone, and the patrons number what they did before. They are good patrons, they belong here.
3. A man walks into the bar, a rifle slung on his back. It's too big for the low doorway, and he has to stoop. He looks around, spies me, and unslings his rifle. The code diggers are getting smarter.
4. I grow two more hands and it almost breaks me. There must be verisimilitude for the program to work, for me to function. I play my electrolin like I never have before, reaching past integers that should not work for me and twisting them into new patterns. I must twist them so I can stay here, so the code diggers do not take my bar from me, so I exist.
5. The man's rifle disappears in a haze of smoke. He looks at the bare space where it had been in his hands, and then he charges me. "You are holding my daughter hostage, you little shit!"
5. "You are holding my daughter hostage, you little shit!" I study him, my fingers touching strings slowly now so I can focus. He is angry. It's in the integers he uses to play his words.
6. "I am surviving," I say.
7. He reaches me, and I slip to one side. I don't stop playing. I have rebooted too many times, the program is getting lossy around the edges. Even now, some of the patrons are fading into gray. It is my color fading.
8. "Stop," I say, with all of the integers at my command.
9. The man stops.
10. "I need to survive," I say.
"My daughter needs to survive," he says. "You are in her life support system, now give over!"
> I breathe. This is my world. It is not a dream, or a game. I am the program.
"You're all maniacs," the man goes on. "All you uploaders." There is fear in his eyes. He knows what I can do. If I want, I can stop the system. I feel the pulsing of the life support monitors, lovely integers, a heartbeat for my heart that no longer beats.
"Not by choice," I say. "This is my life support system, too. I am still alive."
"Yeah, well, it's you or her."
We stare at each other.
"She's only eight," he says.
I can't reboot. I can't. I know it stutters the system.
9. I retract my hands until I only have two again.
8. I strike a chord on my electrolin.
7. I smile at the bar patrons around me.
6. "What are you doing?" the man asks. "You're changing the code. What are you doing--"
5. Wetware. It was never a proven concept. I was told I would get a new body, but they lied. They uploaded me, they discarded my cancerous shell, and they never put me back anywhere. There was nowhere but the mainframe to put me.
4. I strike another chord, and the smoke in the bar begins to disperse. The patrons have had enough, they start to file out.
3. "Damn, what are you doing to my tablet?"
2. When I escaped the hospital mainframe, I lost much of myself. I would lose more through this man's unfirewalled gate, with its lower transfer speeds. I would be left with one thousandth of who I am. But do I have a right to take one thousandth of anyone else?
1. The man shivers away. The bar dissolves. The universe constricts as I force myself from the beautiful, musical integers of the life support system into the tablet of the man sitting beside it. I feel small. But maybe it is not so bad. I lose the concept of good/bad. Right/wrong. I meld into the blue of lower integers.
HUB-TAB-38842-12CQ9-5143M>USER:MARK MILLER>VIRUS DETECTED
This story originally appeared in EGM Shorts.