Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chapter 3

August 29, 2028
1:20 a.m.

Bridge staggered into his apartment after seeing Aristotle off in a cab, figuring he wouldn't need a faux bodyguard for the walk up to his place. It was the kind of perfect shithole Los Angeles apartment made cliched in so many bad movies, a series of Spanish adobe-style buildings with too little attention paid to maintenance. He lived in a second floor apartment in the back of Celestial Gardens, close enough to the Central City area to hear the nightly gunshots, but far enough away to be out of the firing line. Most of the residents kept to themselves, especially when the police were busting the Trip labs that sprung up throughout the complex like mushrooms, and he liked it that way.

The apartment was a mess as usual. His neat dress was an agonizingly maintained illusion of impeccable style, but his natural inclination tended towards barely constrained chaos. Though he never kept food and trash and dirty dishes all over, he did tend to stack things in untidy piles, books and news faxes and snail mail all heaped in their own disorderly scheme. He rarely threw these types of things away, regardless of how outdated. Angela had kept the place even messier, as she was the type to just leave food out, like most of the hackers Bridge had ever known.

The thought of Angela brought his mind back to business. He hesitated to contact her, even though she was the person to call for information thieves. She ran a stable of freelance hackers, brokering their information like a pimp brokers whores. Angela was a damn skilled hacker in her own right, and that skill had gotten her enough money to set up her network. Not that long ago, Bridge had been one of her dogs and more besides.

They’d met back in ’26 when he was just an arrogant freelancer looking for a job. Angela had already been brokering for a year, and she saw talent in Bridge despite his careless swagger. Within six months of the first job, they’d fell into a GlobalNet relationship, just Netsex for the first few months before they ever met in the flesh. The first skin meet had ended in bed, where they stayed for a whole weekend, never even touching the crèche. Two months of that had them moving into this place together as an official couple. They were a formidable tandem on the GlobalNet, in a field dominated by solo acts. Life had been good, until the riots.

The 2027 food riots had started in mid-summer, egged on by the massive heat wave and the callous indifference of the federal budget crisis. When federal aid to the states disappeared, welfare food shipments disappeared and poor people starved. First, there was looting, then wholesale ransacking of government facilities and then it got really nasty. Police stations, already undermanned by those officers who wouldn’t strike, were assaulted by well-organized mobs. Bridge and Angela hadn’t given too shits, watching the news coverage of the violence from the safety of the crèche with bemused cynicism. So long as someone would brave the violence to deliver a pizza and their Net connection held up, he and Angela could have lasted indefinitely.

Once the mobs started taking down local switches and power grids because there was little else to destroy, the couple were forced into the open. Rather than watching dispassionately, they had to brave the mobs just to find food. Those two days had been an eternity, but seeing up close the gibbering screams of human beings dropped to the level of animal violence he’d never witnessed before had broken his spirit in ways he never expected. When the corporations stepped in to quell the riots, Bridge swore off the crèche completely. He wanted nothing more to do with that make-believe world of bits and bytes. Much to his surprise, the riots had unearthed an alarming penchant for manipulating all the worst desires of humanity to get what he needed. Rather than steal information, he found much more pleasure in aiding sleazy fuckers get together in some macabre dance of self-immolation, feeding their secret hungers for immorality while keeping himself distanced from the cesspool.

Angela did not take the abrupt career change well. She was no innocent, since brokering information was highly illegal no matter how many corporations availed themselves of her services. But something about the slick persona, the impeccable fashion, and Bridge’s adamant refusal to use a crèche again infuriated her. She retreated to the crèche more than usual, and all too soon they were living separate lives, unable or unwilling to cross the divide between them. Finally, she moved out, taking her crèche and what little physical property she still owned. Their mutual friends, the ones who would still talk to Bridge after the breakup, would tell him about her personal life every so often, whether he wanted to hear it or not. Though she had become a physical recluse and shunned most human contact, it hadn’t stopped her from shacking up with some hacker who lived in Seoul. But she was still a great contact for Bridge, someone who could provide hackers like the one he needed now. Angela still trusted Bridge, at least as far as she trusted anyone in her business.

Bridge walked into the bedroom and past the night stand where the last picture they’d taken sat. He picked it up and stared at it forlornly for a moment, thinking of the day the picture had been taken. Before the riots, they’d gone to a New Year’s Eve party in Boyle Heights. The hacker gang Los Magos rented a string of houses in the neighborhood, and they’d hosted their own block party. Bridge remembered that some poser hacker, Dark-something or other, had insisted that everyone at the party get a photo for some GlobalNet slideshow museum room. The guy got whacked soon after, so the slideshow was never built, but Bridge finagled a download and put it by their bed. Angela had laughed, calling him a soppy sentimental bitch, but Bridge liked the shot. They both looked drunk in the picture, Angela’s seedy blond hair matted with sweat, her skin shiny from the exertions of dancing and running from house to house. Angela wasn’t what most would call beautiful. So much time in the crèche had turned her average looks into something else entirely, skin pale and yellowed, eyes a little too sunken. She had put on makeup that night, though, and to Bridge, she had been about as pretty as a girl could get. He had drunk a great deal that night, and his memories might have beer goggles. Even after all the bitterness and fighting, she was still beautiful to his eyes.

Bridge set aside the memory with only a little pang and steeled himself for the coming conversation. It never went well, even when both agreed amicably on the business at hand. There would be cutting remarks, remarks that often led to retreading old arguments if either was in a mood. ‘Just get the business done,’ he told himself. He sat next to the neglected crèche.

The pill-shaped device, used to connect to the GlobalNet in the most visceral way possible, was covered in a thin shroud of dust, dulling the normally shiny surface. He ran a finger through the dust, letting out an exasperated sigh as he rubbed the greasy film between his thumb and forefinger. Proximity to the device tempted him, a muted siren’s call to undress, open the coffin-like lid and climb into the lukewarm saline solution, to plug his interface jack in, sheathe his genitals in the waste catch and sink down into the glorious rush of jacking in. He missed the freefall adrenaline of consciousness translated into pure data, of his body rendered in liquid mercury, shifting and changing with his every thought. He missed the thrill of cracking databank security, of running from anti-intrusion software and other hackers.

But those days were done. He bent over and opened the panel on the bottom of the crèche for remote access. Bridge pulled the interface plug out, dragging it back to the interface jack on the back of his neck and plugged in.

Remote access to the GlobalNet was nothing like crèche work. There was still the rush of dissolution, the feeling of consciousness disintegrating and then the re-emergence of sensory perceptions as Bridge’s netbody rezzed into the crèche’s entry room. But compared to crèche work, his NetBody was mired in mud, a sloppy, dragging sensation of lethargy encapsulating his actions. Sensory input that was normally sharper than real life was dull and uninteresting with remote access. It made him miss crèche work that much more.

Putting aside his desire, Bridge surveyed his entry room. Decorated with a baroque theme, like an 18th century Parisian ballroom, it gave Bridge a surge of pride. He had done all the texture work himself. Unfortunately, the textures were at least a generation behind what the latest crèche’s could handle, and to his critical eye, the whole room now felt outdated. But it wasn’t as if he entertained there anymore. He sat down in a lush, almost throne-like chair and accessed the room’s external communications menu, sending Angela a request for direct entry into one of her chats. Fiddling with a useless puzzle game in a floating window while he waited, he was surprised at how fast the response came. He grabbed hold of the floating key, which dragged him bodily through a hole in the air, depositing him in an elaborately-decorated room in the blink of a virtual eye.

Angela’s chat rooms always tended towards the fanciful, leaning heavily on a lack of gravity, objects floating by for no apparent reason. She’d always said, “If I want gravity, I’ll go walk around the goddamn park.” Bridge rezzed in upside down, though the concepts of up or down were purely perceptual and ineffective for describing his position relative to the rest of the room. If he had a stomach, it would have turned. His inner eyes adjusted to the whacked out perspective, and he began to examine the décor. The backdrop was space, an inky black cloud broken up by twinkling stars with the occasional brightly-colored galactic cloud. Bridge on his throne floated among a constellation of miniature cities, each covered in a shiny dome. Closer inspection revealed that each city was populated by a tiny civilization. He recognized the architecture of one of the cities as a virtual playground Angela ran for fun. All those tiny people were other real people on the GlobalNet, playing out their fantasies on worlds he presided over like a god.

“Do you like my little experiments?” Angela said with a bubbly giggle in her voice.

“I didn’t realize this was your admin interface,” Bridge replied. He examined the city he’d known as Ars-Perthnia more closely. He began to recognize landmarks that’d he only seen from street level with a fascinated rubbing of his chin. “Blows my mind.”

“It wasn’t always like this. I just added it last week. I got the idea after a 4-night run without any sleep. I was seeing some REAL strange shit.” She began to giggle in that mischievous, snorting sort of way she always had when a devious idea hit her. “It’s like I’m watching all my little minions running around doing minion shit in my little Dyson spheres.”

Her NetBody was gorgeous as always. Tall, lithe and graceful, she took on the perfect model of an undead liche queen, a white-skinned dark goddess. She rarely ever let her real looks influence her avatar’s appearance. He imagined her real face, with crooked teeth and sleep-deprived eyes but with a cuteness that shined through her average looks. Her self-image of the physical was terrible, but her NetBody was frighteningly gorgeous. He would always tell her how beautiful she was, but she insisted on obsessing over what she perceived as her physical flaws. Seeing her NetBody now brought back all the old feelings again, a pang of loss doing a drive-by on his heart.

“Is that Perthnia?”

“Yep. Bet you never saw it from this angle. Your old buddy Cyndal is running his own guild now.” A picture of Cyndal’s Hierdul avatar popped up beside Angela, his stern look daring the viewer to start something. Cyndal was always a right asshole. “I’ve already had like 17 complaints against them and it’s only been two weeks since he quit Crimson Swords. Wanna fuck with their raid?”

Bridge waved his hands in front of his chest. “I’ve gotta get some sleep after this. I’ve got at least three meetings tomorrow night. I just needed a favor.”

“Meetings. Fleshy meetings?” Bridge nodded. Angela’s face took on an evil scowl. “You’re still schmoozing and boozing, huh? Who you meeting with? Some pedo wants a guilt-free childplay avatar? You can cater to the kid diddlers in here, then brain blast them when you feel like it.”

“That was the one time, and the guy only bought avatars and AI,” he lied. There were a surprising number of guys looking for custom ageplay avatars. “At least he wasn’t out raping real kids and shit.”

“That you know of. You don’t think he’ll get tired of the virtual shit eventually and get him some fresh meat?”

Bridge sighed. This was such an old argument. “Not my problem. He needed something. I set him up with someone who could fill that need. I never touched any of it.”

“You amoral fucker.”

“Rent don’t pay itself. You’d rather I go knock over old ladies’ pension funds, or become one of those cred-crashing fucks for some faceless corp? It’s not like I’m doing any of the things these shitheels ask me for.” He stopped himself on the edge of a rant, putting his hands defiantly on his knees. “I’m here for business, ba… Angie.” He had to refrain from calling her ‘baby.’ Those times were over.

She raised a finger as if to continue the argument, then snapped her mouth shut on the words. “Fine. What do you need?” Each word was a swirling blizzard, sharply clipped and full of venom, made all the more frigid by the addition of a reverb filter on her voice.

“Just a leaker, but I need him sharpish. Like tomorrow at the latest. Working a tight deadline. And he can’t be one of those goddamn trippers you use. The client doesn’t want druggies and arena adrenaline junkies.”

“Coffee and cake runner. Sure, I got a guy.” She leafed through a few files, and tossed one to Bridge, which floated into his hands as a streaking comet. “Lil’ Kira.”

“Kira? Woman?” Angela shook her head. “He’s not one of those gender-confused hormone-overloaded psychos, is he?”

“No, the name is short for Akira. Loves the old school manga and shit. He’s always a bit jumpy, but he’s solid. Never bottled on a job. Where you want to meet him?”

Bridge thought it over for a second, analyzing his schedule in floating window. “I’ll be at the Arsenal between nine and midnight, maybe one o’clock. He can get me there.”

“The Arsenal? That soccer club on Wilshire? They’ll never let him in a place that upscale.”

“If he can’t get in, just have him send a bouncer in after me. I’ll have ‘em looking out for me. They all know me.”

Angela paused for a minute, something obviously on her mind. “I still got a spot for you on my crew, babe. You can go back to running, if you want. It ain’t the same without you.”

“I thought you had Kim.” An acid reply.

“Yeah, he’s great but he’s in Seoul. Sometimes I could use a little fleshy cuddling.”

“Good night, Angie. Thanks for the help. Have fun with the spheres.” He quickly jacked out without waiting for a reply. He’d probably hear about it the next time they spoke, but for now he just wanted to get some sleep. It was already close to three a.m.

Sleep wouldn’t come. He spent hours tossing and turning, rolling in memories, before giving up and heading to the couch. He flipped on the GlobalNet vids, browsing through channel after channel of fare from infomercials to interactive shows to late-night porn and the big net news. One commercial caught his eye, for a new sitcom coming in the fall. Called Misogynist Theatre, the 30-second spot stopped Bridge’s browsing dead in his tracks, if for no other reason than the buxom brunette flouncing around onscreen. “Nothing like a great pair of breasts to grab your attention,” he muttered to himself. Once the commercial had finished, he used the remote to schedule a recording of the show. He also sent out an AI agent to search for some pre-release leak versions of the premiere. Two months out was enough lead-time for the leakers.

The next commercial made him shut the vids off in disgust. It was yet another political ad for the mayor's race, this one for the challenger, Arturo Soto. Soto was an attractive Hispanic man, slick and suave and the complete opposite physically of the more corpulent Caucasian Sunderland. Bridge would be damn glad when the election was finished. It was only four… no three days away now, this upcoming Saturday. “Fucking politicians,” he muttered, stalking to the kitchen and grabbing the bottle of sleeping pills. The bottle was almost empty, so he cut one of the flimsy paper tabs in half and let it dissolve on his tongue. He wouldn’t need a whole hit anyway. He had to get moving shortly after noon.

Unconsciousness found him soon after.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Campaign 2028: Mayor Oliver Sunderland's Re-Election Campaign Video

Oliver Sunderland was appointed interim mayor of Los Angeles by the Chronosoft Civil Administration Reconstruction Board in 2027, as part of the Local Governance License agreement which gave the corporation administrative control of Los Angeles County and surrounding areas. According to the agreement, the interim mayor and city council would serve for one year, after which elections would be held to fill these positions as they had been in the past. Mayor Sunderland, a former CEO of a corporate efficiency consulting firm acquired by Chronosoft in 2026, was the LGL board's first choice for mayor, and he immediately declared his intention to seek election as mayor once his interim term was complete. Below is one of his campaign videos, distributed via television, GlobalNet, email and electronic paper fliers all over the Los Angeles area.

Mayor Sunderland was born in Los Angeles in 1971, son of a dock worker and a school teacher. He graduated Sum Cum Laude from the University of Southern California with a degree in Business Administration in 1994, and with a Ph.D. in Business Administration in 2001. He worked his way from the mail room to the board room in the corporate consulting firm Efficienca, Inc., becoming the youngest CEO in the firm's history at the age of 39. His only prior political experience came in an unsuccessful bid for City Council in 2020, but despite the loss, he kept himself firmly connected with local politics. His frequent criticisms of the inefficiencies of government earned his firm a contract with the city in 2024, a contract widely praised for reducing wasteful spending in the city budget. When Efficienca was acquired by Chronosoft in 2026, Sunderland joined the Efficienca Division of Chronosoft Consulting, Inc. in an advisory role, charged with long-range planning for civil administration contracts such as those with the city.

His brief tenure as mayor of the Los Angeles LGL has not been without controversy. Critics of the LGL plan have cited many instances of city contracts being won by Chronosoft splinter companies resulting in conflict of interests and corruption charges. The most notorious example is the city's contract with ChronoTarget, a weapons and law enforcement supplier. Their contract with the Chronosoft Legal Enforcement Department has been rife with allegations of embezzlement and overcharges. His most controversial initiative has been the Relocate Plan, an urban redevelopment project that calls for massive relocation of various "crime-infested" neighborhoods into special free fire zones. The plan has met with great resistance from community leaders, which has left it stalled in council proceedings. Mayor Sunderland's opponent, Arturo Soto, has labeled the Mayor a "tool of corporate greed."


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Chapter 2

August 29, 2028
12:14 a.m.

Bridge made his way across the dance floor with a false air of confidence. He couldn’t afford to let the plebes who might actually be paying attention think he wasn’t in control. Dodging flailing arms and grinding hips, he was reassured that most were ignoring him completely, engrossed by their drunken mating dance. Halfway across the floor, he was stopped by a high-pitched squeal. “Bridge! Oh my God! Where have you been?” Even over the music, he could hear her voice. It was a keening wail he’d never wanted to hear again.

“Lola!” Bridge only just succeeded in sounding excited to see her. Her body slammed into his, her arms crushing his neck in a forceful hug that drove the air out of his lungs audibly. “What… what are you doing here?”

“Dancing, silly!” she screamed, jiggling her hips provocatively. Lola was an average beauty, the kind of barely pretty face that dreamed of lighting up the GlobalNet in movies and films. She unfortunately lacked the charisma, acting skills and perfection of form that would have given her even half a chance. It never stopped her from trying, of course, but it had been many years of fruitless attempts, marred by countless exploitations. Bridge knew she was never going to make it. Her voice alone could wilt erections. “I never heard from you! Did you show that producer guy my disc?”

Not all of Bridge’s transactions involved money, and Bridge had collected his fee from Lola without ever following through on his end of the unspoken bargain. She was the perfect mixture of unfulfilled desire and lackluster intelligence that made taking advantage so simple. Code words like producer, screen tests and lunch dates were all it took to unlock her resistance. Now Bridge had to think fast. “You know, I did, and he’s supposed to get back with me when his schedule clears. He’s knee-deep in a project right now.”

She pointed at him, her eyes squinting as she smiled with a drunken mirth. “You’re not lying to me, are you? You really showed it to him?”

Bridge pointed at his chest. “Would I lie? You can stand on me.”

Leaning over with lustful intent, she breathlessly cooed, “Oooooo, Bridgie! And he liked it?” Bridge lied again with a nod. “You want another audition, baby?” Her breath was thick with alcohol. Bridge could just imagine Aristotle smirking behind him. He turned her around and extricated himself from her cloying grasp as delicately as he could.

“Another time, baby, I’ve got business to attend to. I’ll call you.” With that lie, he was away, his eye locked on Barney, ignoring the hurt expression darkening her features. ‘The things I do for guilt-free sex,’ he thought.

Barney was mumbling something as he opened the door to the alleyway, but Bridge couldn’t hear it over the awful music that engulfed the club’s interior. A sickly orange light flooded into the club through the open doorway, almost painfully bright in contrast to the flashing darkness of the interior. Bridge rubbed his eyes as he crossed the threshold, a piercing headache beginning behind his eyes as his pulse quickened in dread of the coming violence.

“Nicky said you gotta come quick, Bridge,” Barney muttered. Like most hard cases, he went by a wholly unflattering nickname not of his choosing. Bridge wasn’t sure what his given name was, but everyone called him Barney because his nasally voice bore an unfortunate resemblance to the purple dinosaur from a childhood TV show. Bridge had only seen the show on some backwater GlobalNet site after Nicky told him the origin of the nickname, but the comparison was hilariously apt. His gangly form and mopey eyes didn’t help matters.

“I’m coming, Barney, I’m coming,” Bridge replied irritably. He looked down at his feet to acclimate his eyes to the changing light. It wasn’t that the alley was overly bright, but his eyes always adjusted slowly. The fact that he slept such weird hours never helped. He cursed under his breath at a flier that had gotten stuck to his shoe. The alley was full of them, glossy political fliers with embedded video, stumping for the upcoming Los Angeles mayoral race. Bridge peeled the flier off with his other foot, spitting on the video of the current asshole in charge, Oliver Sunderland. Bridge didn’t have much respect for any politicians, but that grinning bastard earned Bridge’s special contempt for being a corporate-appointed shill.

Last year had been a nightmare year for America in general, but particularly for Los Angeles. The United States government had gone bankrupt in late 2026. Bridge didn’t understand all the talking head blather about how a government that printed its own money could go bankrupt but the effect was clear. The government had no money, which meant the state of California had no money, and the city in turn had no money. The politicians in Washington had spent 2026 bickering with their thumbs up their asses instead of figuring out how to fix the problem, while the states and cities suffered. Los Angeles was a picture of what Aristotle called class inequity in still life, upper crust assholes with gold-plated swimming pools and gated communities living blocks from drug-infested shitholes where the poor shot each other over neckbones. Bridge lived among the shit-upon, the people who relied on food stamps and free clinics to live something close to a normal life. First the government food dried up and then the free clinics closed. City workers were sent home without pay. Crime skyrocketed as people got desperate, and the cops who hadn’t been laid off to cut costs started walking off the job when their paychecks stopped coming. Riots followed hunger like thunder follows lightning.

Then along come the corporations. Congress signed the Local Governance License Act of 2027, and suddenly megacorporations like Chronosoft were allowed to bid for Local Governance Licenses, or LGL’s. The government handed civil administration of Los Angeles to Chronosoft for a song. They established Chronosoft Law Enforcement Division or CLED, who were much better at policing Bridge’s information trade than LAPD. Their board of directors appointed a city council with Sunderland as mayor. The LGL was allowed to run for one year with appointed officials, and that year was up. Elections were four days away, and based on the number of Sunderland fliers in the alleyway, he was trying damned hard to keep his LGL gravy train rolling.

Bridge held the whole LGL scheme in contempt. It was bad enough when giant corporations paid lobbyists to pillage the country legally, even worse when the government gave them control over virtual city-states. CLED’s efficiency led Bridge to change illicit careers. Information theft was a definite crime, but now Bridge worked in a grey area of legality. That didn’t stop most CLED officers from trying to squeeze him for information but as long as he didn’t touch any of the goods, they had no real legal leverage over him. That left many of them to use extralegal leverage. LAPD had been easy to deal with in comparison. Grease the right palms with a pittance and you were golden. It wasn’t as if the cops had been paid worth shit, so any extra income was welcomed by all but the hardcore crusaders. CLED, on the other hand, paid their officers handsomely and gave them carte blanche to actually enforce whatever laws Sunderland’s government laid down. Bridge couldn’t afford to bribe CLED officers, he had to finesse them.

Bridge started to complain, “Now what is so important…” but he never finished the sentence. Caught in mid-stride by a punch to the gut, he doubled over with a loud exhalation. One of Nicky’s boys had come from behind the dumpster to the left while Bridge was distracted by the flier, delivering a blow that left him gasping for air. He managed to stay on his feet, but only by leaning on the dumpster. Three more men surrounded him, their shadows growing long over the slick ground. Last night’s rain had pooled in the alley, and the humidity still hung in the air, causing Bridge’s back to break out in a thin line of sweat. Bridge gasped, “I assume there’s a problem?”

“You goddamn right, dere’s a problem!” Nicky shouted from over Bridge’s right shoulder. Bridge heard Nicky’s pimp cane tapping the pavement, and there he was, dressed in the finest white Egyptian cotton suit, a purple and gold tie setting off the stark whiteness of the suit with almost painful intensity, fat cheeks pouring over the coat’s high collar. Nicky never could let go of his LSU roots, garish “Geaux Tigers” colors queering up what would otherwise be acceptable fashion sense. “We got a big fucking problem dere.”

“I’m sure we can discuss it rationally like two grown men,” Bridge responded, finally able to stand his full six feet again. He spared a glance at Aristotle, who stood with arms folded trying to look mean and succeeding. A few of Nicky’s guys were eyeing his stance nervously. They weren’t used to fighting people with the ability to fight back, but Aristotle’s non-threatening body language confused their limited intelligence.

“No, we done passed the point of rational men, Bridge. You set me up a doser.”

Bridge thought back over his recent dealings with Nicky. He would much rather never know a guy like Nicky, but in his business, pickiness was not an option. The transplanted Cajun ran a crew of thieves and leg-breakers, passing money up the chain of organized crime to people with much more juice. He was just as likely to steal goods from shipping trucks as he was to steal credit information from GlobalNet accounts, and never without a healthy dose of needless violence. Where other criminals were elegant, Nicky was a rabid dog. He liked hurting people. Bridge had set him up with a hacker, a generally reliable scrub named Z@m@, for some big heist Nicky had planned. “Z@m@’s clean, Nicky. He swore to me he was clean.”

“He coulda swore he was the Queen of Fuckin’ England, and he still woulda been lying. He got nicked selling a month’s worth of Trip to undercover CLED. Now he’s doing a dime upstate and I got no hacker.” Nicky leaned angrily on the cane. “So I’m taking it out of yo’ ass.” He nodded tersely to his crew, but they hesitated, eyes glued to the giant bodyguard. Nicky cocked his head, eyeing Aristotle with a petulant squint. “We gonna have an issue with dat, big man?”

Aristotle shook his head, his hands held out in front of him in a gesture of peace. “I don’t pay him enough to sully his hands on your boys,” Bridge quipped with a resigned sigh.

“Maybe you oughtta t’ink ‘bout dat dere,” Nicky snickered. “Might save you a few teeth.”

“I got expenses. Just don’t bust my face too much. Clients don’t react well to black eyes.” The crew started to close in on Bridge. He raised his hands for one final plea. “Look, what can I do to make this up? I didn’t know he was on Trip. Hell, half of these guys are on it 24/7 and you’d never know it. Most of ‘em claim it makes them better crackers. I can get you another guy!”

“Oh, you gon’ do dat, sucker. But I can’t just let you off with a warning. You got to pay a fee for my time and trouble, or else da’ community gon’ t’ink I’m weak.” The first blow caught Bridge across the back of his legs, bringing him down to his knees in a puddle with a splashy thud. It felt like a bat or a club. A boot landed squarely in his breadbasket, sending the air rushing out of his body again. A fist across his jaw made him angry.

“FUCK, Joey, I told you not the face!” Bridge mumbled over a swelling jaw. He spit a bloody mess on the ground.

“Sorry, Bridge,” Joey offered with a sheepish grin. Bridge had hooked him up with a digital pimp that provided virtual ageplay scenarios. Joey liked the jailbait, but Nicky frowned on his boys cruising the high schools, so cyberbait was the solution. Another shot with the club across Bridge’s back put his face on the ground, a wet, gritty mess sticking to his clean-shaven cheek.

The blows came in slow, measured succession. They weren’t really trying to damage him, just make it hurt while having a bit of fun. Each hardguy took a turn, planting a kick in his ribs or a punch to his gut. The blows started to merge into one series of painful flashes when he heard one of his attackers scream out in pain. The beating ceased, the shuffle of feet replacing the sickening thuds of fists on flesh.

“What the hell’s going on here?” yelled a female voice infused with a steel-edged air of authority. It took Bridge a moment to recover his senses enough to recognize the voice. Silence followed her initial question. “I asked you what’s going on here. Now am I going to get an answer or do I have to haul you all in?”

Bridge opened his eyes and peered up at Gina Danton, CLED hardass. Danton stood about 6’, her blonde hair pulled into a tight bun underneath the CLED cap. She was a looker, though Bridge always thought she was the kind who didn’t know just how good she looked. She seemed more concerned with proving how big of a badass she could be. But unlike most of the assholes CLED had hired from the old LAPD ranks, Danton was fair. She wasn’t out to bust someone’s ass just because she could. He was also never happier to see her in his life.

He spat a wad of bloody phlegm on the ground. “Officer Danton, you’re looking lovely tonight.”

“That’s Patrolman Danton to you. Bridge, did I just interrupt a beatdown?” She offered a hand to the fallen man. “Stand up and stop staring at my ass.” He grabbed her hand. She pulled him up with surprising strength.

“Me? A beatdown? Who would want to administer a beatdown to someone as charming and effervescent as me?” Bridge wobbled a bit but maintained his balance. “I merely slipped and fell into a pack of rabid alley rats, and these gentlemen were kind enough to chase them off of me. Rats are filthy bastards, you know, diseases and all.”

“Uh huh,” Danton replied. “That what happened, Aristotle?” The black man shrugged and nodded sheepishly.

“He’s a rather maladroit bumbler,” was all the bodyguard would say. Bridge huffed loudly, checking his body for significant damage. There appeared to be no breaks, but he was going to be bruised for a month.

She scoffed sourly. “That’s how it’s gonna be, then? Do I look stupid to you? How about you, boys? I look that stupid to you?”

Nicky put on his slimiest grin. “No, chere, you look like a lady deserves a fine meal and some sweet talkin’.” He oozed. Bridge grinned painfully to himself. Trying that approach with her was likely to get Nicky a smack.

“Put it back in your pants, Casanova,” Danton shot back. “I ain’t one of your Barbie dolls. Why were your boys pounding on Bridge here?” Their silence infuriated her more. “Bridge, it doesn’t have to go down like this. You say the word, and I’ll haul ‘em in for assault and battery. Go through their pockets, look for illegal guns, drugs, whatever.”

“No charges, Patrolman Danton. It’s all good.” She scowled again.

Turning quickly on Sharver, her anger was a cool fist wrapped in iron. “Fine. You and your boys get the fuck out of here before I decide to search you just on GP. Do not let me see you around here again tonight.” She emphasized the point with sharp jabs of her billy club towards Nicky.

“Nice ta meetcha, Patrolman Danton,” Nicky said with a shark-toothed grin. “Bridge, we’ll speak another time.” His boys formed a cordon surrounding him as they walked out of the alley.

“What the fuck was that about, Bridge?” Danton spat as she whirled on Bridge. “I could have had him up on enough to give me a warrant on his place. And we both know that would have turned up a gold mine.”

Bridge knew it all too well. He knew that she too honest to trump up a reason to search Nicky’s place by planting evidence. And Bridge knew that if Nicky did get nicked because of a beatdown on Bridge, tonight’s beating would have just been a preamble to an epic, fatal orchestra of violence lasting weeks. No need to rock that boat. Bridge could handle a beatdown.

“You bust him, he gets someone to bust me a helluva lot worse. In the grand scheme of things, a little beatdown is a trivial cost of doing business.”

“What business are you into with Nicky?” she asked, cop curiosity piqued.

Bridge grinned and wiped the blood from his lips. “Oh, Patrolman Danton, my lips are sealed. I know nothing, I see nothing, I hear nothing. I’m just a…”

“I know, you’re just a bridge. Spare me, I’ve heard it before. See no, hear no, speak no evil. Next time he comes around looking to polish his knuckles with your face, I might not be around.” Bridge just shrugged. “The offer’s still open,” she stated matter-of-factly.

The offer was a death sentence, if not in actuality, in the sense that her deal would end his way of life for good. She had tried to cultivate Bridge as a confidential informant for months, to drop dime for a pittance. CLED paid better than LAPD, but the principle was still the same. A rat was a rat was a rat, no matter how big that rat’s payday. He’d have been a gold mine for her, but he wasn’t interested in being anyone’s meal ticket but his own.

“That’s a non-starter and you know it,” Bridge replied. “I’m no rat.”

“Then you better get used to those bruises.”

“Already there.”

“Maybe you should think about finally paying him enough to be an actual bodyguard,” Danton said as she pointed to Aristotle. “Keep it clean, Bridge.”

“I always do, Officer Danton.”

“Patrolman Danton, goddamnit!” She waved behind her as she exited the alley.

Once out of earshot, Bridge said, “Let’s get moving. I’ve got to find another hacker before Nicky gets his panties in a bunch again. Angela is not going to be happy to hear from me.”


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

GlobalPedia 2028 Entry: Local Governance Licenses

Last Updated June 29, 2028

-- Begin Entry --

The crisis which precipitated the unrest of 2027 began with an innocuous federal budgetary crisis in late September 2026, a crisis unseen in the entire history of the United States. The U.S. Congress announced that the Federal government was bankrupt. Its cumulative deficit spending from the previous decade had so far outpaced incoming tax revenues for the forseeable future that it was forced to default on all oustanding financial obligations. Tax revenues had been grossly underestimated since the end of the war in Guatemala. Foreign governments that had for decades propped up the devaluing currency with loans to the U.S. government had sold all their remaining dollar holdings to anonymous corporate interests. Now those same governments, who still owned most of the U.S. debt called in their markers, draining what was left of the liquid federal reserves. All federal aid to local and state government agencies was immediately suspended. All federal workers were warned that their next payday would be their last until the budgetary crisis was solved.

At first, the local and state governments exhibited little urgency to find alternate means of funding their day-to-day operations. It was not the first Federal budgetary crisis declared even within the previous decade, and Congress gave no overt indication this particular crisis was any more precipitous. Most governors and state legislators viewed the crisis as a sly political ploy to extract concessions from the minority power. But after three months of debate, Congress shuttered its doors for the winter session with no solution. Partisan sniping continued in the press over the holidays and into the January Congressional session. The bureaucrats at state and local levels continued ignoring the crisis, operating at previous budgetary levels with no regard to the dwindling coffers. By the time Easter weekend rolled around, civil administration around the country began running in the red. By May 1st of 2027, there was simply no money left. Police Departments, sewage, waste management, and every level of state and local government were forced to operate on skeleton crews. Most workers were sent home without pay indefinitely. Soon, even those allowed to work began to walk off the job in appreciable numbers, and those left at home began seeking other employment.

Law enforcement agencies around the country went on strike to protest the crushing hours and lack of pay. The most disastrous strikes were in Los Angeles and New York, with barely 10% of the force on the job on any given day. Corporations around the country, seeing the writing on the wall, began hiring out of work police officers to secure corporate assets. Those officers who crossed strike lines worked for nothing, with even fewer resources than before. Ammunition for service weapons, fuel for patrol cars, everything was rationed to the bone. The crime rate skyrocketed with minimal police presence on the streets. In June, the California welfare offices closed their doors, and the lower income communities in Los Angeles and San Francisco began to run out of food. Food stamps, welfare checks and all government subsidy food shipments ceased. The combination of scarce food supplies and the hottest summer in twenty years created a simmering cauldron waiting to explode.

One small incident was all that was required to set off the firestorm, and that incident became known as the Jackson 5 Incident. Five African-American youths were gunned down outside a convenience store by two Caucasian policemen. The officers claimed the youths were attempting to rob the owner, a Korean immigrant who was later killed in the riots. Witnesses claimed the youths were arguing with the owner over change owed to one of their number. Words were exchanged, violence threatened, and the police were called. By the time the overworked policemen arrived on the scene, violence was imminent. The officers testified that one of the youths brandished a firearm, but the witnesses dispute that claim to this day. The youths were killed, and the resulting backlash was the ‘27 Riots.

The ’27 Riots were the worst since the Watts Riots of the 20th century. Los Angeles became a battleground. Repeated requests from the Mayor of Los Angeles, Creed Layton, for a National Guard presence were denied. Layton declared martial law anyway, but without federal or state troops to enforce the order, the job fell to the embattled Los Angeles Police Department. With LAPD already the target of so much mistrust and hatred, this only served to fuel further violence, which was now directed at the department itself. Most police facilities were besieged by rioters, organized by GlobalNet circles and armed with military-grade weaponry, the source of which is still under investigation. After three weeks, the riots had claimed the lives of 76 officers and 1358 civilians, with billions in property damage.

The morning of August 17th, 2027 brought news of a compromise. The U.S. Congress, besieged by empty federal coffers, the target of press recriminations, and under threat of revolutionary violence, had turned to its corporate backers for the solution. Congress entrusted corporate security firms with emergency powers to quell the immediate crises in the areas surrounding corporate headquarters such as Chronosoft’s headquarters in Los Angeles. Once peace was restored, the corporations would be allowed to bid on Local Governance Licenses, or LGL’s. Chronosoft, one of the largest multinational corporations based in the Southern California area won the bid for the parcel of land from Los Angeles County south to Baja, gaining control over all civil administration including law enforcement. Within three days, the riots were over. The Private Sector Act of 2027 passed by a unanimous vote, giving LGL corporations the power to run local and state government agencies as they saw fit, and to collect local and state taxes to pay for those agencies. Federal law still held jurisdiction over the LGL’s as well as between LGL districts. In exchange, the corporations agreed to subsidize the federal government’s expenditures when needed to maintain the efficient operation of the federal, state and local governments. Each LGL would be up for renewal after the first three years; failure to meet certain criteria in efficiency, crime and social administration would open the license up to a new round of bidding.

The law allowed the LGL to appoint a city government to serve on an interim basis for no longer than one year. Oliver Sunderland, a former City Councilman, was appointed mayor of Los Angeles, with a six-person City Council appointed in an advisory position. The mayoral elections of 2028 are scheduled for September 1st, and along with a new mayor will come a new City Council, which will serve the same legislative function as the pre-LGL Council. Mayor Sunderland is running against the challenger Arturo Soto, a Hispanic community leader who emerged from the riots as a defender of his neighborhood and something of a local folk hero.

Chronosoft created the Chronosoft Legal Enforcement Division, or CLED, in October 2027 to replace the LAPD. It has been heraladed as the model of civil law enforcement efficiency among LGL’s, reducing crime rates by 20% since inception. Running on the principles of profit-driven incetivism, where profit is measured in terms of convictions, CLED is gaining a reputation as a hard-nosed but efficient law enforcement division that maintains peace in the still-volatile Chronosoft LGL.

-- End Entry --



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