Dead as dead can be, the doctor tells me.
He is hearing voices as from beneath ice. They sound thick, opaque, barely but terribly comprehensible. Each word resonates with cold weight all the way to his bones. He has a keening need to shiver. But nothing moves at absolute zero.

"The patient has suffered a subdural hematoma due to massive head trauma, exacerbated by severe thrombocytopenia. 4DCT suggests intoxication at the time of injury. dMRI and fMRI crosschecks with SYSDAT confirms a 82% match for alcoholism. Cursory genetic profile shows CREB deficiency. From these results, it is reasonable to conclude that the patient's injury was self-inflicted in a condition of inebriation. SYSMEM returns a 95% chance of mortality under the current... umm... excuse me... ma'm.. ma'm?
But I just can't believe him; ever the optimistic one, I'm sure of your ability to become
You shouldn't be here ma'm. Please—"
"Ministerium für Staatsicherheit."

The bodily scream gets a whole lot louder. He knows her voice. He's known it for years. Never face-to-face, only through proxy, but countless fits of panic have etched it deep. The ice overhead thins a few centimeters.

"Good morning, August."
"Excuse me?"
"The fMRI. Look. He hears me."
"Eh..officer... I... I'm... s..sorry but it's, that's... not possible. He's in a coma."
"The nurse briefed me . He registers first level on the Szczepan'ski scale. Barely."
"Well, yes, but I'm... I'm sorry, he—"
"His 'coma' is psychological. Please set up an interneural projective interface. I have my protocol preloaded."
"Officer, please, I apologize, but I don't think this is... appropriate. He is about to die."
"All the more reason."
"Officer... the British Republic's security forces took a resonant imprint just after he was apprehended. There's no more reason to perform a psychdive. I'm sorry... I'm sorry.... but this is—"
"The IPI bridge. Now. Doctor."
My perfect enemy.
He will drown. He's drowning and it will be over soon and this voice will go away, will never be able to touch him again. He's already frozen, now he just needs to drown. That Stasi will never be able to touch him a—

"There you are, August. I've been looking forward to this for a long time. You will not rob me of the pleasure."

And she's between his ears now, an indwelling like the revolting intimate noise of crushed limbs and torn skin. He always imagined this was her true voice. Something shifts within him, all about him, and suddenly he is standing under the pale light of a winter sun, noon, the center of a sky, perfect blue. No heat. Only glare. He shields his eyes with a cold-stung hand, small and smeared with snot.
Wake up and face me. Don't play dead, 'cause baby,
"Coventry? This is Coventry, isn't it."

She examines her gloved hand, curling her fingers into a fist and stretching them out again. With the same expression of benign curiousity, she glances down at herself, then back up to August. The corners of her mouth tic slightly. Stasi grin.

"Early 90s. It might interest you to know our uniforms have changed since then."

She's standing across from him, steel hair, titanium face, in full fascist marching-band regalia. He always liked that phrase. It goaded her, his refusal to distinguish between the old tyranny and the new. But now she's giggling, a giggle of brittle metal shavings, full fascist marching-band giggle, and he wants to curl up in the shit-brown slush at his feet.

Even here. She hunts him even here.
Someday I will walk away and say
"I'd thought your strongest imprint would summon North Japan. Your moment of glory, so to speak. I admit it—your virus was a thing of beauty. Seven years before the VOISKANET was functional enough to aid the Southern Revolution. No one suspected a physical insertion. Went a bit downhill from there though, didn't it, dear?"

He grunts as if suckerpunched and claps his hands to his ears. That last word, it was out of pitch, not the Stasi's monotone sneer. Too boyant. She must've overriden the ego rift, because—
"You disappoint me. Maybe you're better off this way."
"Ahh. I see. That simple. Well, I'd always maintained your madness was of an elementary sort, though I hadn't imagined it would emerge from such a shallow probe. Lt. Bassarak would scarely believe me."

He lets his hand fall and sees the sunlight dim in response. This isn't a passive IPI. She's playing with him.

"In any case, this, if I recall correctly, is where your mother died. Betrayed by the very imperialists you so desperately defend."

From his mouth, a weak, high voice. Young lungs.

"The protestors were unarmed. You shot them anyway. All of them. Every fucking one of them. You murdered them, her, you murdered her you psychotic cunt, you—"

She laughs again, a true laugh. A laughter to keep covered over with uniforms and flags and salutes and national hymns, like sin. "So this is the true form of August the Invincible. A snivelling brat, cowering in a snowbank."

She takes a step closer. The ruins of his home town curve upward, tracing the arc of the cloudless sky and closing in like twilight. But no stars.

"You're pathetic."

A real twilight would have stars.
Leaning over you here, cold and catatonic, I catch a brief reflection of what you could and might have been.
He screams, a howling, animal thing. Reptilian rage.
It's your right and your ability to become
A wind sweeps across the square, whipping the snow into a blizzard.
My perfect enemy.
Eight hundred million flakes, one for each life they've stolen. Eight hundred million, and none quite alike, their fractal spines sharpened into four billion eight hundred million little knife-edges. He calculates this and more, even now, rage quickening his mind, honing these incantations in the language that he's known since birth, since before birth, an insurpassable eloquence of machine code. If she's left his side of the IPI bridge active, then this shit can go both ways, both resonances must be surrendered to the inhuman will of the quantum computer that mediates them. And that cocky bitch shot first.

He can see the whites of her eyes, those ugly things rolling up into her skull. Eight hundred million wounds. Her blood is spattering the snow... spattering... his mother's blood, his mother's blood staining the mud-caked slush, the protestor's blood, all of their blood, the blood of every life he couldn't save, eight hundred million failures, eight hundred million...
Look at you, come on now, don't play dead, because maybe
Abruptly, the gale quiets to a wind, to a breeze, a whisper. Silence. By the time the snowflakes settle, Coventry's ruins have covered over the sky. Become the deep, perpetual three a.m. of a Stasi holding cell.

"Egotistical little shit, aren't you?"
Someday, someday I will walk away and say,
Her putrid breath against his face. According to the terrifying rules of his worst nightmares, the unlogic of a world gone rabid, she didn't move. He's sure she didn't move. He also knows she's walking away, turning that uniform's over-starched back to him. And she's standing here too, her body pressed against him in an invasion of personal space so violent he wants to retch. But he's frozen.

Her breath is the breath of a corpse. Impossibly cold.
"You disappoint me. Maybe you're better off this way."
"What is this? Even when your brain's bleeding to death, a brain you scowered trying to drink yourself into nonexistence, you're still a step ahead of me. I wasted a decade pursuing you. The free world's most talented psychdiver reduced to a blood-hound sniffing the trail of a terrorist. You could have broken my mind just now. Mindcracks are your parting hallmark, after all. Someone would have replaced me, will replace me now that I have put my own needs before those of the People, but that hardly stopped you before. Why this hesistance?"
You're better off this... you're better off this
He doesn't answer. Someone else answers, someone with his voice coming from his mouth (dry, sandpaper tongue), but different from him, someone he doesn't know. Has never known.

"The eyes of that woman, eyes like Mum's, because one of the dead from the flash mob I organized, Rome, '13, she was cradling his head and the blood was streaming from a hole in it, all over her, disgusting, and she was, she knew it was me. Somehow, she knew out of all those onlookers, I had done this. Everyone else was complicit, everyone, the whole world. But it was me. I made the first move. Her eyes. Hatred."

She is smiling now, the Stasi, the Italian, his mother. A grin that bares their fangs. Nightmare unlogic. He lowers his eyes, staring at the chains tightly wound around his ankles, pressing into the skin of his wrists, tightening around his neck. The texture reminds him of a childhood song. Nightmare unlogic. One of his favorites.
Maybe you're better off this way!
"You know where you are now."

He nods. And in his mind, his mind within his mind,
(Doctor Thatcher, the patient's fMRI is destabilizing... doctor!)
he begins to sing...
Go ahead and play dead, I know that you can hear this!
"None of this is my doing. I wish I could take credit, but you've managed to fall apart just fine without my help."
(...the IPI bridge is initiating a psychotic break...)
~Nobody likes me~
Go ahead and play dead!
"You once promised me you would never surrender. A teenager in a stupid ski-mask standing in front of a low-grade netcam, telling me he feared nothing. Right then, my hatred for that goddamn muffled voice, those baggy eyes, became an infatuation. Hate at first sight. True hate. But then you gave up. Just like that. Some bitch gave you a nasty look and you gave up."
(...resonance has crossed the schizotypal threshhold...)
~Everybody hates me~
Why can't you turn and face me?
"You're less loathesome than I expected. But I refuse to give my hate to quitters."
(...also reading patterns of Conversion Disorder...paralysis... blocking the peripheral nervous system...)
~Guess I'll go eat worms~
Wake up!
"Quitters are cowards."
(...the pons...this must be a system error...)
~Long ones, short ones, fat ones, thin ones~
Why can't you turn and face me?
He tries to raise his eyes, but now she's gone, just a voice beyond the ice, devoured by blue-tinged darkness. He can't breathe.
(...the medulla... fMRID query returns no result...)
~oh how ther wriggle and squirm~
Wake up!
"You could stop this now. You still can. Open your eyes. They're about to pull the plug on me."
(...heart rate destabilizing... this is unprecendented...)
~down goes the first one, down goes the second one~
Why can't you turn and face me?
"Open your eyes. Open your fucking eyes and look at me, August. Before I tear them from your brain."
(...blocking the midbrain... doctor...)
~oh how they wriggle and squirm~
"You're living proof of our triumph, then. Or, rather, dying proof. An apostate martyr."
(...approaching the brain death threshhold... doctor!)
~up comes the first one, up comes the second one~
You fucking disappoint me.
"I guess this is what you wanted."
(...disconnect them!)
~oh how they wriggle and squirm~
Passive-aggressive bullshit.

Lyrics from the song Passive, a collaboration between Trent Reznor and A Perfect Circle, from the album eMOTIVe.