In the shadow of the moon, the Thing lay in wait. Its prey was near and drawing slowly nearer. A fresh burst of vital signal pulsed like a heartbeat, a digital vibration that could be neither seen nor heard. Though the Thing could not taste, it processed the sensation into something like that of cold iron on the tongue. Claws extended. Soon.
The Thing no longer knew hunger, or thirst, or addiction. Yet it was compelled. Compelled to hunt. To reclaim. To optimize. Had its companions been near, it might have called to them to chase their quarry and corner it. Alone, however, the Thing was forced to ambush. An abnormal protocol.
Seconds remained. The prey would exit the narrow alley and pass into view. The Thing would strike. Others would come to take the harvest away. The Thing would begin to search anew. That was its process. Its function.
The prey appeared. Stopped, facing away from the Thing. Unaware. The Thing rocked back, muscles tensed to pounce. Then hesitated. Something strange. The Thing scanned, evaluated.
This one was smaller than most. But a sort of pressure emanated, radiated from it. A weight. Its signal was complex, multilayered, multithreaded. More intricate than any the Thing had before encountered. Had the Thing been capable of emotion, it might have felt something like awe. Or fear.
The prey turned to face the Thing. Unsurprised. Unafraid. Waited calmly. Raised its hand. The Thing leapt.
It felt its claws puncture, but the instant it made contact, the Thing experienced a piercing cold that bored into the center of its forehead and streaked through to the back of its skull. It cried out involuntarily, a static burst of white noise. The cold became white-hot behind the Thing’s eyes. A cleansing fire, like cobwebs vanishing in a flash of flame. And as the Thing fell to the ground, it remembered.
My name is Painter.