Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 8.0

November 2, 2028
7:20 p.m.

It was a full five minutes of uncomfortable silence in the car before anyone would dare to speak. Stonewall was the first to work up the courage. His voice sounded strained. “All right, Bridge, you want to try to explain to me what the fuck that was?”

Bridge focused a stare on the back of the Mexican’s head, absentmindedly examining the tightly curled blonde knots of the footballer’s hair while pondering the question. He finally answered. “I was hoping you could tell me.”

“You sure Angie didn’t do that?”

Aristotle interjected with surprising calm. “I am certainly no hacker, Stonewall, but it seems to me that display would be light years beyond what even a programmer as capable as Angela could achieve. Isn’t that right, Bridge?”

“Goddamn right. Let me ask her about it. Angie, are you ok?”

She had been sitting on the line in silence, and he felt a pang of regret for having left her so long. “Yeah, Artie, just trying to take it all in. That thing… I swear, I’ve seen avatars shaped like dragons in here, you’ve seen ‘em. Dragons, hydras, every mythical beastie you could think of. They all have that shiny, liquid-y mercury look. This thing isn’t like that. It’s solid, I swear, like I could reach out and touch it. It was gold, and glowy. It’s wrapped itself around that cop car’s net node and just crushed it, then reshaped it. It’s not a virus, at least not a remote one. I swear it’s being deliberately controlled, but I can’t even get close enough to see a connection. What happened out there?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, baby. Think robots in disguise. Be careful.” He turned his attention back to the car’s passengers. “Guys, Angie’s never seen nothing like that. Nothing. I’ve never heard of nothing like it in all the time I’ve been dealing with hackers. That wasn’t a virus, and it wasn’t anything she would know how to do.”He could hear her occasionally gasping in appreciation of the digital masterpiece.

Aristotle announced gravely, “I’m not one to believe in coincidences of such startling synchronicity as this but... didn’t the reporter on CNN talk about a dragon flying over Boulder?” Bridge nodded. “So we can safely assume that this has some tenuous if indecipherable connection to our destination, then?

“Logical assumption,” Stonewall affirmed.

“And one wouldn’t be taking too further a leap of logic to say that the incident we just witnessed was a conscious effort on something or someone’s part to ensure that we were not delayed from reaching Boulder. Correct?”

“Maybe a bit more of a leap, but I can’t say the thought hadn’t occurred to me. It could be that whatever’s out there is attacking any authority in the state, but it could have targeted us as well. So the question is who wants us in Boulder and why?” Bridge was reminded of his dream, the words echoing throughout his mind with chilling clarity. The dead eyes of coal-skinned angels made him shudder a little. The interface jack on his neck began to itch again. He chose not to tell the others about it just yet. One bit of craziness per day was his limit.

“More pressing question,” Bridge said, shifting the conversation away from the speculative. “How much information about this car did that cop relay back to HQ before his car got turned into a fucking Transformer?”

Stonewall and Aristotle looked at each other with concern written all over their faces. “That’s a good point, brau. We need to ditch this car, or at least find somewhere to hide it before we pull into the area.” He puzzled over the problem for a moment. “I know the place. I hid out there right after I left LA.”


“Little Naturalist commune up in Boulder Mountain Park.”

“You want to hide us with a bunch of hippies?”

“These hippies are hardcore, brau. Guy that runs the place is a real honest back-to-nature millionaire, negotiated with Legios and the Feds right after the LGL’s to buy up a bunch of the state parks. The Feds didn’t have the money to spend on fixing the place up and Legios was more than happy to take the cash instead of having to maintain it. State parks ain’t profitable or some shit. Bud may practice that hippie live-off-the-land shit, but he most certainly ain’t a pacifist. More like the general of a private army.”

“So we’re going to hide with the hippie army in the mountains of Colorado while investigating the magic dome world of the Net dragons? Fantastic.”

“Hey, that hippie army kept me out of jail, homes. You got a better idea?”

Bridge shrugged. He had no better idea, and was really starting to feel the sinking despair of being disconnected from the local scene. “Let’s go hug some trees.”

Go to Chapter 8.5


Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapters

The Know Circuit  is the second in an ongoing series of cyberpunk novels called The Bridge Chronicles. The first chapter was released in February, 2009 and serialized twice a week until its conclusion in July of 2009. It is now available in both paperback and eBook formats - you can find out where to buy the book on this page. Each of the serialized chapters is available at the links below.

Chapter 1.0
Chapter 1.5
Chapter 2.0
Chapter 2.5
Interlude: Part 1
Interlude: Part 2
Chapter 3.0
Chapter 3.5
Chapter 4.0
Chapter 4.5
Chapter 5.0
Chapter 5.5
Chapter 6.0
Chapter 6.5
Chapter 7.0
Chapter 7.5

Chapter 8.0
Chapter 8.5
Chapter 9.0
Chapter 9.33

Chapter 9.66
Chapter 10.0
Chapter 10.5
Chapter 11.0
Chapter 11.5
Chapter 12.0
Chapter 12.5
Chapter 13.0
Chapter 13.5
Chapter 14.0
Chapter 14.5
Chapter 15.0
Chapter 15.5
Chapter 16.0
Chapter 16.5
Chapter 17.0
Chapter 17.5
Interlude - Mark Balfour - Part 1.0
Interlude - Mark Balfour - Part 2.0
Interlude - Mark Balfour - Part 3.0
Interlude - Mark Balfour - Part 4.0
Interlude - Mark Balfour - Part 5.0
Interlude - Mark Balfour - Part 6.0
Interlude - Mark Balfour - Part 7.0
Interlude - Mark Balfour - Part 8.0
Chapter 18.0
Chapter 18.33
Chapter 18.66
Chapter 19.0
Chapter 19.33
Chapter 19.66
Epilogue - Part 1.0
Epilogue - Part 2.0


The Know Circuit - Chapter 7.5

Chapter 7.0

The Legios Ranger was immense, a swaggering picture of the bubba sheriff stereotype made real, wearing mirrored sunglasses despite the darkness, thumbs hooked in his belt. The glasses were likely a non-implant HUD interface connected to the database in his cruiser. The preponderance of corporate logos all over the uniform and the paramilitary style gear juxtaposed with the affected drawl made for a strangely unsettling picture. Bridge immediately prepared himself for a shakedown.

Stonewall began as calmly as he could. “I’m sorry, officer, this is a new car. Just got it off the lot yesterday, eh? The dealer told me it was clean in all 40 LGL’s and Mexico too.”

The trooper did not look amused. Bridge began to remember some of the stories he’d heard out of Colorado. Most of it was GlobalNet scuttlebutt more than any actual news. After all, the LGL-controlled news nets in Chronosoft’s LGL would be reluctant to talk smack about a fellow LGL for fear of creating a negative perception about the LGL program as a whole. Barely a year old, the program still faced an uphill battle gaining public acceptance, along with the very real threat that the whole thing could be scrapped by regular federal audits built into the LGL bill. Chronosoft had barely passed one hurdle with their sham of an election two months ago.

Legios was known to operate quite differently than the professionals at Chronosoft Law Enforcement Division (CLED) Bridge was used to. CLED was composed of ex-LAPD and corporate security. The Legios Rangers seemed more like a well-financed survivalist militia given authority. The gigantic sidearm on the trooper’s belt and the grenade magna-locked to his vest did nothing to dispel the myth. The entire time the trooper spoke with Stonewall, he rarely moved his right hand far from the hand cannon.

“Son, it might have been clean over in that fancy pants Califurnya Chronosoft rat hole, but this here’s Colorado. We don’t just let everybody run around free as you please in our fair state. Especially not since some terrorists decided to blow up one of our cities.”

Bridge cringed as Aristotle asked, “Terrorists? I didn’t know the news had said anything about terrorism. Did they definitively establish that it was an attack? My grandmother is in Boulder. We’re going to take her somewhere safe. Can you tell me if she was a casualty?”

“Grandmother, eh?” The ranger’s skepticism was written all over his face. “We don’t just hand out that kind of information to strangers driving through in unlicensed cars. You… fellers will have to accompany me to the station. We’ll sort out this whole license issue and see about your… grandmother.” Bridge could tell the trooper was a second away from calling everyone in the car ‘boys’ but thought better of it. Corporate culture had made even the most Neanderthal of police sensitive to the nature of bad PR.

Bridge whispered into his phone, trying to be as quiet and invisible as possible. “Angie, what have you got for me? Badge number 4A598D4832.”

The ranger must have heard Bridge, or seen his lips moving. “What the fuck are you doing back there? Are you talking on the phone? What are you whispering about?”His hand was firmly on the butt of the pistol now, his hackles up. Bridge tried to protest his innocence, but the trooper wasn’t having it. “All right, all three of you, out of the car, let’s go, right now. Get out of the goddamn car.”

Bridge tried to take control of the conversation. “Whoa, officer, it’s ok, I was just talking to my girlfriend back home. She’s worried…”

“I’m trying to break through, Artie, but I can’t. There’s some serious interference going on. WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?” Her shout was so loud it rang about inside Bridge’s skull painfully, making him cringe visibly.

Bridge forgot the trooper for a moment, Angie’s tone of pure panic overriding his normal instinct for self-preservation. “Angie! Are you ok? Angie!”

“All right, put your hands up, son!” The trooper’s gun was out in a flash and pointed directly at Bridge. “I don’t know what conversation you got going on, but we’ll just settle that down at the station. Hang up the phone and put your hands up!”

“Artie, I found your trooper’s car and… I don’t know how to describe it. This thing has wings… giant golden wings. I can’t even see all of it. Red eyes. It’s… it’s beautiful. I can’t even tell if it’s digital or real. I think it’s doing something to the trooper’s car.”

“What? His car?” Bridge noticed the flashing lights of the cruiser were shifting. They seemed to be rising, as if the car itself was being lifted off the ground. Turning his head to look, the headlights blinded him momentarily. Shading his eyes, the headlights shifted, moving downward towards the ground as if pushed. He became aware of a sound, the sound of rending metal twisting and bending like paper. The headlights were pointed down at the ground now, and he could finally see what was happening. The car was reshaping itself, its frame twisted, manipulated into a different shape by invisible hands. The windshield flattened and splintered. The roof lights formed a glittering forehead. The doors opened and were twisted into makeshift limbs, the back tires into stubby feet and legs. The whole time the car was bathed in a faint golden orange light, and the light seemed to twinkle in tiny runic shapes as it danced around the deformed car. “What the fuck is that?” was all he could think to say. Bridge’s interface jack itched.

The trooper turned to see what was transfixing Bridge. At first, all he could do was whip off the sunglasses and stare in awe, his gun held aimlessly away from Bridge. He regained some of his composure, directing questions at the car. “What the fuck did you do to my car?” he stammered.
“I didn’t do anything!” He leaned up to whisper in Stonewall’s ear. “Stoney, when I give the word, get us the fuck out of here.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice, Bridge. Angie doing that?” he whispered back.

“No way in hell.”

The cruiser bot began to walk, awkwardly putting one twisted tire foot in front of the other. The cop cursed loudly and pushed away from their car, aiming the gun and firing. The hand cannon made an impressive sound, its .44 caliber shells booming in the still night air. The bullet lodged harmlessly in the splintered windshield. He fired again twice, trailing bullets down the car’s body. A headlight, located somewhere around stomach level, shattered in a shower of sparks.

“Punch it!” Bridge screamed. Stonewall obliged, turning on the car and gunning it down the shoulder, spitting gravel with a shrieking of tires. The trooper screamed at the car fruitlessly, refusing to divert his attention from the lumbering metallic threat. Bridge heard a few more booming shots and screamed curses before they pulled out of sight around the corner.

“Bridge, what in the world was that?” Aristotle asked frightfully.

“Don’t look at me. I’m as shocked as the rest of you.”

“Somebody out there must really want us to get to Boulder,” Stonewall said, and the unsettling truth was that Bridge couldn’t disagree.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 7.0

November 2, 2028
7:08 p.m.

Bridge managed to get restful if not quite comfortable sleep on the other side of Vegas, waking sometime in mid-afternoon as they lumbered past Salina, Utah. Stonewall maneuvered around the I-70 traffic with dispassionate haste, cutting through what rush hour traffic there was with ease. Had Bridge not gotten the rest before, the lack of landmarks along the interstate would have put him right back to sleep. Four lanes of seemingly endless tarmac cut through hilly scrubland populated with little more than cactus, broken up by gigantic buttes and blood orange cliff faces hewn by millennia of wind, sun and rain. The isolation, the vast open spaces, the pure distance from person to person was enough to make him shudder at the thought of living in this barren wasteland. As dusk started to settle over the highway, Bridge noticed the air growing thinner with elevation, the roadside vegetation turning a more fertile green despite the fall chill. The temperature had steadily dropped as they made their way east, causing him to huddle into his jacket for warmth.

With night almost completely blanketing the highway, they crossed the Colorado state line. A gigantic sign celebrated their passage. Stonewall’s voice broke the silence that had permeated the car for the last hundred miles or so. “Uh oh,” he said with a hint of worry.

“Uh oh? What uh oh?”

“Read the sign, hombre.” He pointed to the fifty-foot billboard by the side of the road. It was lit as brightly as an airport landing strip. It read:

“The Legios Corporation welcomes you to the LGL District of Colorado. Your vehicle’s registration has been automatically scanned and is being tracked. The friendly troopers of the Legios Rangers will detain vehicles not licensed for use in the state of Colorado. Welcome to Where the Columbines Grow!”

A not entirely inviting picture of a Ranger pointed out at the passersby with an expression that was half-friendly smile, half-interrogatory warning. His uniform was paramilitary SWAT gear littered with corporate logos, topped by a cowboy hat bearing the new state flag. Rather than the red “C” on a field of blue and white, the flag bore the stylized red “L” of the Legios logo over the typical colors.

“Does that mean what I think it means?” Bridge asked.

“Yep. That shit's new since the last time I was through here. Like within the last month new.”

Aristotle’s voice betrayed a growing nervousness. “I thought this car was clean.”

“Oh it’s squeaky clean anywhere west of the Mississippi, except apparently Colorado. I’d heard these Legios pendejos were puckered tight, I just didn’t know how tight. Their troopers are… let’s just say before the riots, their troopers were probably stockpiling guns and canned goods in some remote compound bunker.”

“Great, redneck militia with corporate gear and license to pull over anybody they want. Fuck.”

“We can get off the highway; try to work the back roads.”

“Let me think for a minute.” Bridge pondered the situation and immediately hit upon something of a solution. He dropped down into a link up with Angie, thanking the Legios Corporation for its commitment to keeping the interstate's cell connections pristine. “Angie, we got a problem.”

Her voice was a welcome tonic, a calming agent to the growing ball of nervousness in his stomach. "Yeah, baby, I’m with you. What do you need?”

“We just crossed into Colorado. Apparently the Legios LGL is super paranoid, scanning every car entering the state. Any chance you can work us up some clean Legios paperwork?”

A pause. He could tell Angela had dove into the vast expanses of emptiness between data locations, skidding through the GlobalNet’s ocean at the speed of thought. “DMV is fucking gigantic. There is no way any motor vehicle bureau should have this much security. Fuck!”

“What is it?”

“Just dodging some roving ice. The whole fucking state’s buzzing with security drones. I can beat it, but it’s going to take time.”

“How much time do you think we have, Stoney?”

“I’d say about three minutes based on those lights I see up ahead.”

“Three minutes, Angie. What can you do for me?”

“Not fucking much, Bridge. You think you’d have researched this shit beforehand, huh?”

“Last minute, babe, you know the drill.”

“Yeah, I got… motherfucker!” Bridge tried to keep his anxiety down, to not scream out with each exclamation. He was just as worried for her as he was for himself and his companions. “Sorry, just had to gank a robot. The whole goddamn state is on high alert. It looks like they’ve shutdown most Net communications in and out except on authorized channels. The news says they think some kind of Net virus is being broadcast from Boulder… whoa.”

“What whoa?”

“It’s gorgeous. I never imagined…”

“Ange, you’re going space cowboy on me. What’s gorgeous?”

“Boulder. The whole fucking city is sealed off in a giant dome, just like in real life. There’s something being built in here, something fantastic. I’ve never seen anything like it. The whole thing is crawling with builder bots.”

“Can you admire it later?” He could see the flashing blue lights ahead, the trooper’s headlights filling the front windshield. “We got company.”

“Ok, I’m going. I think I’ve got an opening into the comm channel for the trooper’s cars. Can you get me a trooper badge number or a car number?”

“I’ll see what I can do.” The trooper’s cruiser had passed them and turned around in the median, roaring up behind them with lights ablaze. The car’s satnav screen flashed to the Legios logo, its cold computerized voice informing the passengers that the Legios Corporation requested the car pull over to the shoulder at the earliest convenience. Stonewall eased the car to a stop. Bridge heard the hammer of a pistol clicking into place.

“Bridge, whatever your girl is doing, she better do it quick.” The nervous tension had dissipated from Stonewall’s voice, replaced with the hard steel of a killer prepared to do what he must. “There’s plenty of books that still got me wanted as a cop killer, you know.”

“I know, brother. Keep it holstered and give her a minute.”

The ominous crunch of gravel under the trooper’s boot heels sounded deafening in Bridge’s ears. He peeled his eyes for any identifying number on the trooper’s person.

“Welcome to Colorado, friends,” began the trooper in a steely tone of faked hospitality. “Would you like to tell me why you’re entering our fair state without proper authorization?”

Go to Chapter 7.5


Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 6.5

Chapter 6.0

The combination greasy spoon, convenience store and gas station on the far side of Vegas was the typical American road joint, a loud choir of shrieking waitresses, thunderous freight trucks and slamming dishes, with the jingling of coins in slots unique to Vegas. Bridge felt smothered by the humid scents of horribly fried food mixed with the choking oily stench of biodiesel. They ordered lunch and relieved their bladders, Bridge sitting in quiet contemplation while Stonewall and Aristotle nattered on with copious amounts of pseudo-philosophical political science. Bridge would grunt every now and then at some of the naïve notions both men held about capitalism, socialism, communism and whatever other theoretic –ism they could remember.

Bridge was staring out the tinted window of the booth while digesting the poorly prepared meal when his phone buzzed. “Shit,” he cursed under his breath.

“What’s wrong?” Aristotle asked.

“Ms. Angst.” The bodyguard nodded in understanding. “I forgot to call that guy about that thing. She’s gonna whine. I hate it when she whines.”

“You could just not answer,” Aristotle offered with a gleeful shrug.

Bridge frowned. “Gotta do what I do.” He stood up and went outside. The diner was loud enough to mask his conversation, but the outside was louder. He would have no trouble hearing her, as the connection piped into his brain through his cybernetic interface, but without his white noise generator, he would be vulnerable to eavesdropping. He may have left town, but he packed his paranoia with him.

“Ms. Angst, to what do I owe this early morning pleasure?”

“Where’s my sample, Bridge?” All right, she wasn’t in a cordial mood.

“Circumstances have intervened.”

“What the fuck that mean, Bridge? You trying to screw me? It’s that Zbone, you’re getting it for him, ain’t it? What’s he paying? I’ll pay more, I’m good for it.”

“Whoa, Angst, hold up, hold up. I’d never do you like that, girl, you are a valued client.”

“Bullshit, Bridge. You’d sell me to some Singapore sailor hump-hump bar if you thought you could get 20%. Where’s my sample?”

“Look, I can get it, but I’ve been called away from LA. It’s going to be a few days before I can hook you up.”

“You can’t handle business over the phone, brau?”

Bridge’s frown had to have been audible across the distance. “This is not the kind of thing you leave to a phone call, girl. You know that.”

“Few days is not going to do it. The news will be all over everywhere by then. I don’t break this in twelve hours, it’s broke fo’ sho’. Now what you got for me?”

He let out a weary sigh. “Nothing, Angst. I got nothing. When I get done with this Boulder mess, we’ll talk, work out some kind of equitable makeup, k?”

“Boulder? You’re in Boulder?”

Bridge cursed at himself silently. He must really be beat. Never reveal your location over the phone. “No, I’m not in Boulder.”

The teenager sounded excited now, her anger all forgotten. “Shit, yo, you’re going to Boulder. You’re going to the dome! Why didn’t you tell me, brau? This is perfect!”

“What do you mean?”

“Forget the pop princess. Everybody’s talking about this Boulder thing, this explosion and the dome and the hacker hallucinations and shit. I got ‘em. Did you get ‘em?” Her words and sentences were running on now in one almost unintelligible stream. “You got to get me some of that, some footage, some audio, an interview, something! You gotta!”

“What do I look like, Tom Williams, Nightly News Twat? I’m not going to Boulder for a story.”

“But you’re going, right?” He reluctantly confirmed. “Look, I’ll take anything you can get, anything, brau. Just get me some video or audio, I don’t care if it’s grainy cell phone or cybereye shit, just get me something and we’re square.” Bridge considered the pros and cons. He would be there anyway, all he’d need would be a little easy-to-get footage of the inevitable cordon around this dome thing, package it up and email it to Angst, and his failure would be forgotten. Fixing a broken deal was rarely so easy.

“Yeah, all right, Angst. I get you something. Then we’re square, capice?”

“Square, brau.” He hung up the phone and shrugged as Stonewall and Aristotle strode out of the diner. They left quickly, bopping down the road towards inevitable weirdness.

Go to Chapter 7.0


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 6.0

November 2, 2028
11:14 a.m.

With the car slowing to accommodate the slower traffic of the Vegas outskirts, Bridge woke from an uncomfortable sleep. He poked his head above the windowsill to see the towering casinos in the distance glittering through the sandy desert haze. “Vegas already?” he asked, sniffling and stretching and straightening his mussed up tie. He checked the clock on his internal HUD. Despite a stiff back, the few hours sleep had helped. “We gonna stop to toss a coin in the slots?”

“I do not believe that would be wise,” Aristotle replied. “It occurs to me you’d be a terrible gambler.”

“Gambling is for suckers and rubes. Dropping two bits into a random number generator is flirting with the universe.”

“We’ll stop on the other side of town for a piss break and some lunch,” the Mexican said. “I do not want mi cara showing up on some Strip casino’s security cameras. CLED has a partnership with NVCED and they’re still after me for that warehouse thing. Don’t matter where we go, even the churches got slots.”

“I’m surprised you never worked Vegas, Bridge,” commented Aristotle.

Bridge shrugged. “What can I say, I’m an LA boy. Vegas really ain’t my scene.” He noticed the questioning look on Aristotle’s face. “Look, everybody’s a liar. LA, Vegas, New York, Istanbul, wherever, everybody lies. Nobody expects sincerity in Los Angeles. They expect everybody and everything to be fake as starlet boobs. But they do expect to have their dreams fulfilled, so even though your client knows you’re lying to them, they still believe you’ll get them whatever they want. It’s all fantasy land out there, and I’m Mr. Fucking Roarke.” Aristotle appeared confused by the reference. “Old TV show. I mean, REALLY old. Anyway, Vegas ain’t like that.”

“How do you mean?”

“You ever been to Vegas?” The bodyguard shook his head. “Vegas is all glitz and glamour. It’s big shows and huge productions, but deep down, underneath all that put on is the con. Only it’s a different brand of con then LA. See, Vegas is where dreams go to get bought and sold and lost. Everybody in Vegas isn’t just lying to you, they are lying to you to steal every single thing you got and you know they are and they know you know. There’s liars, and there’s criminals, and there’s thieving lying criminals and Vegas is full of those. You work Vegas you expect every motherfucker you work with is angling to get at your back to stick in the knife. If LA is a fantasy, Vegas is a straight-up heist.”

The Strip had come into sight now, coalescing out of the hazy morning into nightmarish unreality. Even with the blistering sun baking the desert with blinding illumination, the carnival lights of the Strip’s daily put-on was evident, every twinkler twinkling, every barker shouting, every promised lie and lying promise on display to draw in the unwary. And on every corner, on every sidewalk, in every doorway, the crowds gathered, rushing from imagined payday to crushing disaster with wide-eyed insatiable zeal.

“I spent a month here one week. Vegas and me don’t get along,” Bridge mumbled as the Strip began to fade behind him. The dusky shimmering curtain of the desert heat shrouded the city’s shiny rotten heart.

Go to Chapter 6.5


Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Know Circuit: Chapter 5.5

Chapter 5.0

“No, man, the fundamental, the very core of the thing you are ignoring is that a capitalist system, no matter how regulated is inherently exploitative.” That diatribe was the first thing Bridge heard as he snapped back to consciousness. Stonewall was immersed in a heated discussion with Aristotle as he drove, his hands flying off the wheel to add emphasis to his points before coming back to keep the car on track. It was hardly necessary as the car rode straight as an arrow despite going over 80 mph. Bridge rubbed his eyes and checked the clock on his HUD. He’d been out for less than two hours, and his body was leaden. The echoes of the dream still reverberated around his dome, bouncing back and forth off of other thoughts to the rhythm of the music he’d launched on his internal player. He shut off the music and leaned back with a sigh, listening to the discussion between his two bodyguards.

“Capitalism isn’t inherently exploitative,” Aristotle replied meekly.

“Of course it is, brau. Big businessman with all the ideas and capital in the world still has to pay someone to make that idea into a product. And to make any money, he is duty-bound to pay the absolute lowest wage to maximize profits. In fact, he has to continually re-examine his operations to minimize costs. Capitalism must treat the worker as a depreciating commodity. Loyalty is expensive. The worker inevitably becomes too expensive to be profitable, so the capitalist must replace him with a newer, cheaper worker to continue to maximize profits. He must refresh the exploitation pool periodically or business grows stagnant. The exploitative capitalism we practice puts more value on the company with negative growth than those with flat growth, because at least the company that shrinks is a target for some other shark’s expansion.”

“While it is true that capitalism must continually lower costs to maximize profits, that doesn’t mean the system must exploit in order to do so. Capitalism infused with the proper responsibility to the community and transparency has accomplished great things.”

Stonewall chuckled. “You mean like the railroad built on Chinese and Irish slave labor? The outsourcing of manufacturing to increasingly more destitute third world countries in the 90’s that wrecked American manufacturing? You mean that responsibility? Capitalism has one responsibility, to constant profit expansion. Everything else is an expense that goes against its fundamental spirit.”

Aristotle rubbed his chin then took a different tact, pointing his finger for emphasis. “So communism is the answer? Forcing everyone to give up the fruits of their labor to their neighbor regardless of worthiness?”

“Straw-man argument there, my brother. From each according to his ability to each according to his need is what the man says.”

“Sure, but that means those with more ability are supporting those with more need. That’s not equitable, that’s state-sponsored slavery to the weak. And for that matter, who gets to decide the measure of the distribution? That’s where the problem lies. The apparatus that distributes the state’s assets is just another flawed oligarchic institution. It is entirely too vulnerable to corruption because just like unchecked capitalism, it puts all the power into the hands of the few. You are trading exploitation by the bourgeoisie for exploitation by the proletariat.”

Stonewall vehemently disagreed. “Not if you have the proper democratic process, either through one-to-one representation by the technologically-enabled proletariat or proper, transparent representative democracy by the academic elite.” Bridge let out a loud guffaw from the back seat. Stonewall glanced back over his shoulder with a smirk. “Welcome back to the living, Bridge. You got something to add to the discussion?”

“You’re both nuts.”

“That’s very illuminating, Bridge,” Aristotle quipped. “I’d like to subscribe to your newsletter.”

Bridge shifted in the seat and laughed. “You’re both missing the fundamental problem with all that shit. You can talk around the issue with flowery language and academic labels but it all falls apart the minute you put it to practice. Human beings are fucked up creatures. Too much is never enough. Put a man in charge of feeding the poor and he will be eating caviar while doling out government cheese covered in rat droppings. Give him $10 profit by employing American adults and he’ll drop them on Skid Row the minute he can get some three-year old in Botswana to make the same product for ten cents. He can’t help it. We may have mapped the DNA of humans, but we missed the most important gene of all – the asshole gene. Everybody’s got it, every race, every sex, every creed, every country. We’re all just gigantic assholes in waiting.”

“So what’s your solution then, Mr. Cynical?”

“You know my system, boys,” Bridge said, settling back into the seat for another nap. “Fuck him first before he fucks you.”

The car was silent for a moment. Finally, Stonewall broke the tension by saying, “And this is why I always keep Bridge to my front.” All three erupted in laughter as the car zoomed down the interstate.

Go to Chapter 6.0


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Know Circuit: Chapter 5.0

November 2, 2028
07:02 a.m.

At Aristotle’s insistence, they piled into the car entirely too early for Bridge’s liking. He was used to working on very little sleep from his days as a crèche-bound hacker, but a cross-country trip was going to severely test his stamina. Stonewall’s gangster friends came through perfectly though. The car was a cherry, a 2027 Toyodyne in impeccable shape, with a satnav system hacked to prevent trackback, long-distance wireless Net connects for constant contact with Angie when necessary as well as news feeds to monitor the situation in Boulder. They headed out of Los Angeles and caught the I-15 east of Rancho Cucamonga, hoping to reach Boulder sometime around midnight, with stops for food and bio breaks.

Stonewall and Aristotle insisted on Bridge being a passenger. While they half-joked that he was a terrible driver, Bridge believed they were reluctant to put their lives in his hands in case the wave of hallucinatory seizures from the previous evening returned. He didn’t mind, however, as long car rides made him sleepy anyway. The ride began in silence, but by the time they’d begun the ascent into the San Bernadino Mountains separating the LA area from the desolate scrublands of the High Desert, Aristotle and Stonewall were chatting away in the front. As Bridge listened, the discussion swerved into academic talk of Hegel and Nietzche, causing Bridge’s attention to wander. The droning buzz of the engine combined with his fatigue was enough to put him down for the count.

His sleep was fitful. A mind-itching buzz filled his dream ears, like static from a television constantly looping around him. He stood before his goal, an immense coal-black dome of translucent energy stretching miles into the sky and as far as the eye could see in all directions. Behind him stood only empty desert. He reached out a timid hand to touch the surface, and immediately withdrew the hand as a shock of static discharge arced from the dome to his fingers. He could feel the tingling in his toes, his genitals, his ears, even to the tips of his hair, which was standing on end. The surface began to glow, almost to breathe with flows of energy. Glowing softly at first, then stronger, patterns formed on the surface, in the surface, swimming deep like fish in shallow water. The patterns formed letters, though not exactly letters, but definitely writing of some kind, almost a kanji-like series of symbols and pictograms. The orange symbols formed lines of undecipherable text, then paragraphs of glowing orange hieroglyphs, and it began to scroll up the dome like text on a computer screen.

The static in his head had grown the sounds forming into words, into a jumbled mess of syllables that did not fit into any pattern his brain could discern. It was as if someone was whispering from inside his skull, vibrating his teeth with a growing urgency to be heard. Finally, a phrase made some form of sense, understood without hearing, and he followed its suggestion to look up.

Figures had emerged from the dome, three vaguely humanoid shapes emerging out of the now liquid surface above. Like coal-black naked angels approaching from on high, they peered down at Bridge with emotionless gazes, hands spread out openly at their hands as if letting the light of heaven flow from their bodies. Their lips were moving and every twitch of muscle was accompanied by a short, sharp discharge of blue and orange lightning. All three spoke as one with the voice of thousands.

"They need you. You must save them from themselves."

Bridge woke up with a start, the interface jack in his neck buzzing an itchy dance of pain.

Go to Chapter 5.5


Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 4.5

Chapter 4.0

The subways of Los Angeles had been taken over shortly after the 2027 riots by the various street gangs and indigent downtrodden, a result of the Chronosoft LGL’s policy of willfully ignoring anyone that didn’t contribute to the company’s bottom line. Stonewall led one of those gangs, the Los Magos family. They used the term family in the loosest sense, modeled somewhat after the mafioso crime family system from Italy. Los Magos was part of the collective called the Five Families, and each claimed a portion of the subway for itself. Despite the LGL’s withdrawal of funds, the Families kept the subways in tip-top working order, in part due to their policy of shelter for all. The Families could count former engineers, computer whiz kids and other professionals left homeless by cred-crashing, riots and corporate indifference.

Kilborne Station was El Diablos territory, and they appeared none too willing to help out any friends of Stonewall. No one got onto the subway without a thorough search for weapons, but the Diablos were especially rough on Bridge and his companion. He got the feeling they were deliberately attempting to insult Stonewall but he let it slide. No sense causing Stonewall any more headaches.

The ride to Stonewall’s quarters was uneventful, other than the smoldering glances thrown at the passengers by the guards. On arrival they were rudely forced off, causing a tense moment of hostile stares between the greeting party and the train’s guards. Bridge defused the situation with a little bit of humor, but it was obvious the two Diablos guards had beef with the Magos. One of the Magos guards kissed his trigger finger and pointed it at the departing train. The target just pounded his chest and smiled as if to say, “Bring it on.”

As they were escorted to Stonewall, Bridge got a glimpse of the troubles the ex-footballer suffered from. In a scene reminiscent of the Tanz, at least one out of every three people were recovering from the seizures, their eyes glassy, their friends helping them just as Aristotle had helped Bridge. Seeing the afflicted rub their necks, Bridge was reminded of his own splitting headache, a pain he’d been repressing in the rush of preparation.

The gigantic ex-footballer turned gang leader Stonewall Ricardo was leaning over one of the stricken when Bridge reached him. He stood to his full 6’5” height, all lanky muscle and deceptive grace. He ran a hand over his dyed-blonde hair, which was tied in hundreds of neat spikes. He had been a professional soccer player before injuring his knee in a training ground accident so horrific, it had required a cybernetic replacement. To this day, the league banned cybernetics, depriving him of his life’s passion and his livelihood. To make ends meet, he’d taken to enforcing for one of his soccer buddies. Unknown to Bridge at the time, Stonewall had also risen to a high rank in the Magos family, to the point where he was their leader in all but title. He was one of the toughest and most resourceful men Bridge knew, and Bridge knew everybody. Bridge owed Stonewall his life twice over.

“Stoney, brother,” Bridge began with as much camaraderie as he could muster.

“Don’t butter me up, Bridge. I’m not in the mood.” His face was all worried frustration. He cared deeply for his people. He was practically a revolutionary martyr for these people. “I got people screaming and going into seizures all over the line. You telling me this Boulder thing’s got something to do with it? What do you know?”

“It happened to half the Tanz right about the same time Boulder went boom,” Bridge replied. “Did you see the video of that cameraman doing the flyover? Remind you of anything?”

Stonewall nodded. “Si. Now what the fuck does an explosion in Boulder have to do with my people?”

“Not a goddamn clue, brother. But I got a guess. Every one of the ones flopping on the floor like a fish were jacked, am I right?” Stonewall nodded and appeared about to ask another question, but Bridge cut him off with a raised hand. “Everybody in the Tanz that got hit was jacked too, including me. The cameraman on the TV was probably jacked. And I’m betting we all had the same kind of hallucination. It was like we got connected, like we all jacked into the GlobalNet wireless without trying. But we weren’t just there, we were out here too. Really fucks with your sense of equilibrium.”

“So what did you see?”

“I was in Perthnia with Angie. And she was sort of in the Tanz or something but neither image was solid enough to be real or virtual. It was like ghost images one on top of the other. You got any new cell phones in here?”

“Naw, brother, you know we use the old 3G stuff. That new crap is all traced up.”

“Just after the seizures stopped, the cells all got a text saying ‘Boulder’ too. All this happening the same time as that explosion is a coincidence? Uh uh, I don’t believe in coincidences that big. Whatever that wave was, it came from Boulder.”

“So what’s that got to do with you needing shit from me?”

Bridge pointed back at Aristotle. “Actually, he needs me. And I need you to do what he needs me for. Big boy’s grandmama lives in Boulder, and he’s got it in his head that with or without my help, he’s got to go rescue her. Now, normally I’d tell him to go blow, but I owe him.”

“You owe everybody, Bridge,” Stonewall said with a smile. Bridge knew he had little hope of ever paying back the debt he owed Stoney.

“I don’t forget my debts, brother. You help me with this, I help you with your little Diablos problem. I couldn’t help notice the tension there.”

“You know how it is, Bridge. Little trifling beef turns into tit for ratatattatting. Pedro’s trying to smooth it over.” Pedro was the Magos' titular leader, known among the Families as Los Reyes Magos or The Wise King, Pedro was evenhanded but disliked violence. Bridge knew that Pedro had lost much of the Magos' respect just by attempting peaceful resolutions. Gangsters used to solving things with a gun rarely got the satisfaction they desired with words. “What do you need?” Stonewall sighed.

“A clean car with net hookup and a bodyguard.”

“You got a bodyguard,” Stonewall replied, pointing at Aristotle.

“I need someone who won’t hesitate to take it all the way. I don’t pay him enough to fight, much less kill a motherfucker what needs it. More important, I need someone that isn’t distracted. No offense, Aristotle.” Aristotle just shrugged. “So really, you’d be doing it for him, not me.”

Stonewall pondered the situation hard, his brow furrowed. “For your abuela, I’ll do this. But your boss here is going to owe me again.”

“I appreciate it, Stonewall. If there is something I can do…”

“No. I got a grandmother too, eh? I’d be doing the same thing.”

“You’re both crazy,” Bridge joked.

“We’re just human, Bridge. You should try it some time.”

With the deal settled, they chewed over the details. They would leave the next morning around 7 a.m. It was almost four before Bridge got home. Angie had shut down the crèche for the night, and sat on the couch, folding her legs up under her chin. Bridge spent another hour consoling her and explaining the trip. The shock of the wave had affected her more than either of them would have believed. At first, she was adamantly against Bridge’s trip to Boulder. Once she realized his mind was made up, she insisted on going along. Bridge refused to put her in danger, reminding her that she had duties to take care of with her virtual world and their information-trading business. She would not be dissuaded and eventually they compromised. She would stay in LA, but would tag along virtually. Bridge would use a wireless cell connection, checking in with her on the GlobalNet every hour. She would provide any hacking tasks they needed. Her regular duties monitoring the stable of hackers she had out at any one time would be delegated to one of her best assistants. That settled, they fell asleep spooning on the couch, a desperate sadness in their embrace.

Go to Chapter 5.0


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 4.0

November 2, 2028
02:43 a.m.

“Not a good time, Bridge.”

Right on the edge of Stonewall’s usual gruff tone, Bridge sensed a nervous undercurrent, a wavering insecurity that Bridge had only heard from the ex-footballer once. As they had sat over Twiggs’ body in that dusky warehouse, Stonewall had unleashed a torrent of pent-up anger at his late boss and Bridge had gotten a glimpse of a tiny fissure in the man’s callous façade. He heard inklings of that unsteadiness again and it frightened him just a little. Tonight had already put Bridge off his corn flakes. He needed some stability, some solid foundation in the face of unexpected weirdness.

“When is it ever a good time, my brother?” Bridge joked. The static-filled silence of the old cell network Stonewall used to evade CLED detection shook Bridge out of his typical routine. “What’s going on, Stoney? Are you alone?”

“No,” he replied, “I’m dealing with a situation here.”

“Mr. Johnny on your ass?” Bridge used their code words for Johnny Law, asking without asking if Stonewall was on the lam.

“I can deal with the man. This shit… this is different.” Butterflies spun around in Bridge’s stomach.

“We need to talk.”

Stonewall returned a sigh. “And if I said I wasn’t in a spot to talk, would it matter?”

“Hey, brother, you know me when I need something.”

“You always need something. When do I get to be needy?” Stonewall chuckled a little, easing the tension. “I got people down all over the station, screaming about some kind of rock or boulder or some shit. I’m a little distracted, homes.”

Bridge sat up straight in the back seat of the cab. “Did they all just flop around screaming ‘Boulder’ over and over again?”

“Yeah.” For the first time since the conversation had started, Stonewall sounded interested. “How did you know?”

“Because it just happened to me and about half the Tanz, right about the same time as that explosion in Boulder.”

“Boulder… Boulder, Colorado? What explosion? What you talking about?”

“Turn on your news feeds. I’m coming to you. What station?”

“Umm, shit. Go to Broad… no, hold on, Broad’s where the Kandor boys are right now. Don’t go there. Paulson Avenue. Tell ‘em the barn’s on fire. They’ll get you to the right station.”

“Right, Paulson. Gotcha. See you in a few, brother.” Bridge gave the cabbie the directions to the subway station on Kilborne Street. Stonewall never gave the actual directions to his location over the phone, even over the abandoned cell networks. Bridge and he had worked out a series of code locations when the footballer had returned to town a month ago. Stonewall would tell him a location that was at least four blocks from the real station, with the use of street indicating the real station would be south four blocks and avenue would mean to go four blocks north.

“Everything ok, boss?” Aristotle asked. His worried expression grew even worse at the sight of Bridge’s reaction to the conversation.

“Don’t know, big guy. Say, is your grandmother jacked in?”

Aristotle shook his head. “She’s the arty type, a real bohemian. She didn’t believe in defiling her body with metal. She wouldn’t even get a hip replacement when she took a spill skiing. The doctors and I had to fight her tooth and nail to get her to take nanomeds to rebuild the bone.”

“Good, because it looks like us dumb fuckers with metal in our brain stems got a dose of strange from this Boulder thing. Stonewall’s got folks seizing up as well.”

“Is it just the ones with interface jacks?”

Bridge shrugged. “Don’t know, but I wouldn’t bet against it. You sure you still want to do this? Weird shit always gets weirder.” Aristotle just glared back at Bridge. “All right, I gotta ask.” Bridge slumped back into the seat and stared out the window, putting together a mental list of the things he would need.

Go to Chapter 4.5



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