Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 12.5

Chapter 12.0

Bridge walked along in darkness, tripping here and there while trying to keep an eye on the flickering form of the dragon. The creature often flew too far ahead and would have to circle back to allow Bridge to keep up. Feeling petulant, Bridge did nothing to quicken his pace. On one of its return circuits, Bridge tried to engage it in conversation. “So should I just call you Mister Dragon, or do you have a name?”

The beast pulled up sharply, hovering beside Bridge with tight flaps of his fiery wings like a monstrous hummingbird. “Carl,” he said flatly before flying off again.

Bridge yelled at the dragon’s back. “Carl? Really? Carl? What kind of a dragon name is CARL? Shouldn’t you be called Firebelly or Phoenix or something?” Carl looped back and landed forcefully in front of Bridge, his feet melting the snow. Bridge pulled back. “Not that Carl is a bad name, I’m sure your mother was quite happy with it. But I mean, really, Carl the Dragon doesn’t inspire fear, you know what I’m saying? You need something with mystery, excitement. Like Draconis.”

Rivulets of steam escaped from Carl’s nostrils. His front toe tapped on the pavement, making a sound like striking matches. “You think I should change my name?”

Bridge shrugged. “I’m not saying it’s crucial, just that if you’re going to try to intimidate someone once they wrap their noodle around the idea of a giant flaming fucking dragon, telling them to obey the commands of Carl the Lizard King ain’t cutting it. You’re going to end up having to blow something up again, and pretty soon you’re out of shit to blow up.” Carl responded by breathing boiling gouts of fire on a nearby tree, exploding it in a shower of sickly orange light. “Yes, very impressive. I’ve seen that, not feeling it.” Carl bent down even further until they stood nose to nose. Bridge could feel the waves of heat coming off the dragon’s body. But he was surprised to note that the dragon didn’t smell. There was no scent of brimstone or charcoal or anything burning. Though he could feel the flames, his sense of personal space did not feel violated by the dragon’s physical presence, almost as if the creature occupied no corporeal space.

“What are you doing out here, Carl the Dragon?” Bridge asked, standing defiantly straight despite the attempt at intimidation.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you closed off Boulder, you downed a news chopper, you blew up some shit and chased off the National Guard, all to get me to come with you. Why? Why me? Why are people with interface jacks compelled to drop everything and come all the way out here? You’re holding most of a city hostage, you know and after four days, you haven’t released any demands, haven’t appeared other than these two times. How does a dragon hide away from satellites and soldiers and cops for four days?”

Rather than answer, Carl took off again, rising into the air with a snort. “Do you ever stop gibbering?”

“No,” Bridge replied with a smile. “My girlfriend says the only way to kill me is to gag me. Says silence is my kryptonite. She’s probably right.”

“I’m not the person to answer your questions, Mr. Bridge,” Carl said. “I’m just supposed to bring you here alone. Balfour will have your answers.”

“Fair enough. Who’s Balfour?”

“You’ll find out,” was all the answer Carl would give. He flew on in silence for a minute then abruptly switched back to hover over Bridge. “Give me one good reason I shouldn’t torch those two following us.”

Bridge didn’t bat an eyelash. “Because they’re my bodyguards, like I told you. And if you think I’m going to tell them to just let me go alone with a flaming dragon, you’re crazy. I’m lucky I can go to the can without one of them on shaking duty. You want me in Boulder? You leave them alone.”

The dragon turned back towards the dome without comment and Bridge let out a slow sigh of relief. He glanced around trying to get some idea of where Stonewall and Aristotle were, but couldn’t see them. They were good. He walked on, staring up the road and trying not to get too fatigued. The day’s walking was starting to wear him down. “Hey, can we take a rest? I’ve been walking for hours.”

“We don’t have time for this,” the dragon said peevishly.

“Unless you’re going to offer to carry my ass, you’re going to have to give me a minute to catch my breath.”

“Shouldn’t have been talking so much,” Carl said, but settled down in the road to allow Bridge a breather. When Bridge felt a little steadier, he started in motion again. They walked on in silence until the dome appeared out of the darkness. Bridge had gotten glimpses of it now and then, but its proximity was such now that it dominated the view, a shiny black omnipresent deity peering down oppressively on the ants walking below. This close, the dark material seemed to glow faintly, grasping every iota of the moonlight and in reflecting it, amplifying the light. Bridge became aware of a buzzing hum of energy that made the hair on his arms stand up. He felt that charged expectant potential in the air like the seconds before lightning strikes. Anxiety and anticipation grew in the pit of his stomach as he approached the mysterious construct. Finally, the dome swallowed the road, the houses, and the sky, everything in front of Bridge. There was no more city, just the dome.

With distracted disinterest, Carl said, “We’re here. Go on in.”

Bridge looked at the dome’s surface, then back to Carl with skeptical irritation. “Wait a minute, you want me to touch that thing? Just walk into it?”

“Just walk into it.”

“Hold everything. I’ve seen the video on the Net. That thing fried the last jackass who touched it. What are you trying to do, electrocute me?”

“That idiot wasn’t allowed in. You are. If I had wanted to kill you, I’d have done it back there when you made fun of my name. Now go on in, the force field is calibrated to allow you and only you through.” Carl shouted back over Bridge’s shoulder at the bodyguards. “That means your bodyguards should not expect to be let in. Do not touch this thing or you’ll get fried. Do you understand?”

Si,” Stonewall answered. Bridge picked out their location as the Mexican stood up from behind a building. “You ok, Bridge?”

“I’m pretty far from ok, brother,” Bridge replied. “But I got this. Marcus, if your grandmother’s in there, I’ll find her.” Again, Bridge refused to promise. Aristotle just nodded sadly. “If you can, let Bud know what’s going on. I’ll see what I can do about his people while I’m at it.”

Bridge stared at the dome, then back up at Carl, trying to read the creature’s emotions. There was nothing in the flames that would give Bridge comfort either way, no sense of sympathetic feelings that would bolster Bridge’s shaky confidence. The dragon motioned a talon towards the dome again, shooing Bridge forward impatiently. “Well, fuck it,” Bridge said finally. “I didn’t come all this way to pussy out now.”

He stepped into the dome with his teeth clenched and eyes closed, expecting to be thrown backwards by electric shock any minute.

Go to Chapter 13.0


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 12.0

November 7, 2028
12:13 a.m.

Bridge knelt dumbfounded behind the fence for a long moment. Nothing moved. The crowd had frozen where they crouched, fell or stood, staring in awe at the impossible sight towering over them. The only sound was the torch flicker crackle of the dragon’s fiery body and the flaming car. “Well, are you just going to stand there holding your dick or are you going to say something?” the dragon finally said rudely.

Bridge inspected the creature from head to tail. It stood a good twenty feet, the bottom of its barrel chest an arm’s length above Bridge’s head. The flames that made up the dragon’s body were shaped intricately into various hues, making the beast appear frighteningly solid even though its form shifted chaotically in a constant rhythm. Unnoticed at first, it finally dawned on him that the wind, which was busily tossing snow around them in a lazy swirl, never seemed to affect the flames. They burned where they would in conspicuous indifference to the environment in which they existed. Stonewall nudged Bridge out of his staring stupor. He finally responded with painful uncertainty. “What is it you expect me to say?”

“Thank you would be a good start.”

“Umm, thank… you?” He walked warily towards the mythical beast, his hand reaching out to touch the thing, to feel the reality of impossibility, to ensure he wasn’t just fucked in the head. “What am I thanking you for?”

Noticing that Bridge was close to touching its leg, the dragon barked, “Don’t do that.” Bridge withdrew the hand as if he’d been slapped. “Driving off those soldiers so you can go on to where you’re supposed to for starters. We’ve been waiting.”

“Who’s we?”

“Come with me and you’ll find out.” With a graceful shrug, it pulled its wings in towards its body then stretched them to full extension. Its wingspan was massive, spreading a shadow over the entire roadblock. Some of the crowd lost their nerve and bolted, while most could only stare glassy-eyed with whispered incredulity. The cars underneath its talons crunched and sighed as the beast propelled itself into the air with one swift motion.

“Wait, where are we going?”

The dragon had already flown a good twenty feet ahead. It banked back to hover in the air above Bridge. Though its face expressed little emotion, its voice dripped with pissy irritation. “To the dome, you nob. That’s what you came out here for, isn’t it? You weren’t just harassing the National Guard in the freezing ass cold for shits and giggles, were you? Do you want to go or not?”

“Of course I want to go,” Bridge replied with equal peevishness. He motioned to Stonewall and Aristotle. “Come on, guys, let’s move it.”

The dragon shook his head. “Uh uh. Just you, Cochise.”

“These are my bodyguards. You expect me to follow a flaming dragon without bodyguards?”

“I don’t expect anything. But if you want to go with this flaming dragon, you lose the man-muscle. Your safe passage is guaranteed. Scout’s honor.” The dragon raised its front talon and crossed its claws while placing its other arm over where a heart might beat within its massive chest. Bridge returned a puzzled look.

“Scout’s honor? What is this, summer camp? Who the fuck says Scout’s honor?” He muttered as he turned to his friends.

“What about us?” one of the crowd shouted at the creature. “Can we come?”

“No,” the dragon said. “And if you try to follow, I’ll nuke you where you stand.” His eyes burned in threatening red pulses.

Ignoring the crowd, Bridge pulled Stonewall and Aristotle into a close huddle. “Ok, guys, I’m going to go with him… it… whatever.” Aristotle started to protest. Bridge cut him off. “No, I’m going. I’m going to look for your grandmother and I’m going to try to find out what the fuck is going on. But I want you two to follow me. Get as far back as you can without losing me. Don’t even get within eye sight but you know where we’re going so either get there before me or after me, but make sure that fucking thing doesn’t see you, you feel me?” Stonewall nodded.

“You’re going to go alone… with a dragon?” Aristotle asked incredulous. “I can’t even believe I’m saying dragon. Have you taken complete leave of your senses?”

Bridge fixed him with a cold stare. “That ain’t no dragon. Ok, maybe it looks like a dragon and flies like a dragon and has flame breath, but something ain’t right. Where’s a dragon going to pick up a phrase like ‘scout’s honor,’ huh? That may impress the rubes but I ain’t no rube. Just come up behind us and don’t get seen, got it?” Aristotle agreed hesitantly.

“All right, Mister Dragon, let’s motorvate. You gonna carry me or do I have to hoof it?” The dragon turned and flew off. Bridge tossed a Sicilian salute at the creature’s back. “This dragon is a real dick.” Stonewall couldn’t help but chuckle. Bridge just shook his head and started walking in the path of the monster.

Go to Chapter 12.5


Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 11.5

Chapter 11.0

Stonewall led the group through the dark, cutting cross-country in the general direction Bridge indicated. Over backyard fences and well-manicured suburban lawns, the group staggered along slowly for miles. Bridge lost track of time, as the clock in his HUD blinked in and out of operation indicating interference with his slow wireless GlobalNet connection. Somewhere around the first hour, a light snow began to drift through the woods, dusting the ground with a ghostly powder and chilling the group to the bone. Bridge tried to engage the rest in conversation but none were interested in getting acquainted.

Corporate cops or National Guard squadrons blocked off every road they found into Boulder proper. The corporate cops were armed to the teeth with the latest gear while the Guard’s equipment appeared substandard and threadbare. Stonewall skirted around the roadblocks with professional efficiency despite his unfamiliarity with the terrain. They must have been walking for at least three hours when Aristotle called a halt. Bridge was exhausted, sweating underneath his heavy coat while his exposed face was chapped and dry from the freezing wind that swirled the snow around their heads. “What is it?” Bridge whispered in the darkness. His voice sounded deafening in contrast to the hours of silence they’d observed.

“That’s the road into the university. About three miles up that four-lane road is the campus.” He pointed down a grassy hill towards the road curving off to the northwest. Bridge could see a roadblock about a half-mile ahead.

Arc lights framed the National Guard post but the lights were flashing sporadically, as if their power source was unsteady. The checkpoint was a makeshift barrier with cars pushed haphazardly together. Bridge expected the checkpoints, whether corporate or military, to be staffed with some kind of vehicle, whether a personnel carrier or a tank or even a jeep, but none were. Seeing the state of the lights, as well as the difficulties he was having with his GlobalNet connection, it was obvious that the dome’s presence was affecting electronics in the area. That must have been why the driver had refused to take them any closer. He guessed that the soldiers he saw below had been forced to set up the checkpoint with whatever was available, hence the slap-dash arrangement of cars blocking the road. As best he could tell, there were six well-armed soldiers manning the post.

Unlike the other checkpoints they’d passed, this one was a beehive of frantic activity. The soldiers were busy keeping a mass of people, perhaps fifty strong, from crossing the checkpoint. The crowd was an eclectic bunch, many of them with the sallow skin that instantly marked them as crèche-bound hackers. Tensions were high. The crowd was slowly but unconsciously pressing the soldiers, trying to work themselves past the checkpoint and onward towards the dome. With every civilian that stepped forward to crowd the checkpoint, the soldiers grew visibly more nervous. Weapons crossed over their chests, they shoved the crowd away one step only to be leveraged back two steps by the insistent mob.

“We need to be down there,” one of the escapees said. The short pudgy man who’d identified himself as Roddy stepped out of the shadows and strode towards the checkpoint quickly. Bridge tried to grab him but was too late. The others followed suit. Shuffling slowly at first, the closer they got to the checkpoint, the faster they walked. Bridge could feel it too, the tugging at his jack practically burning a hole in his head. He wanted, he needed to go down that road, and every nerve in his body screamed with the desire to follow.

“Where the hell are they going?” Stonewall hissed.

“Based on the itching I’m feeling in my jack, I think they’re going to the dome.” Aristotle and Stonewall eyed him warily. “Don’t ask me why or how, but ever since that seizure in the club, I’ve felt like something is calling me here. Right now, I want to run down there like the rest of the lemmings. I know that sounds crazy. This whole goddamn thing is crazy. But I think we gotta go that way.”

Aristotle stared into Bridge’s eyes with solemn resolve. “Is my grandmother in there?”

“I don’t know, Marcus,” he replied with real empathy. “I don’t have any idea if your grandmother is in there, is in Denver, is even alive. I don’t know if any of them are. But I do know that if we go that way, we’ll find out.” Bridge didn’t know, not really, but he knew where he needed to be and he wasn’t above lying to Aristotle to get there.

Aristotle nodded at Stonewall. “Then let us join the lemmings,” he said with cool determination. The Mexican nodded in agreement.

“Let’s go start a riot then.”

The trio jogged up to join the crowd, which by now had swamped the troops. The soldiers were shouting orders at the crowd from behind the makeshift barrier, their voices aimed like bullets, but the desperate mob ignored them. Bridge could see fingers twitching on triggers.
And then a sound drowned out the shouting, a reverberating roar like thousands of modems screaming out a triumphant command. The arc lights sputtered and died, then exploded in a shower of sparks. A flickering torchlight illuminated the scene as if a giant candle was descending on the road. Bridge had flashbacks to the riots of last year, to savage mobs burning cars and attacking anything within reach. One of the soldiers raised his rifle skyward and fired wildly, his incoherent screams chilling Bridge to the bone.

The gunshots broke the spell that had settled over the crowd. Self-preservation instincts kicked in and they dispersed like cockroaches, running in every direction away from the shooting. Bridge, Stonewall and Aristotle ran together to huddle behind a nearby fence. Peeking over the fence, Bridge saw that the soldiers had forgotten the mob and were firing into the air. His eyes tracked upwards as the flickering light grew stronger. What he saw was impossible.

Swooping down through the snow was a construct made of fire, an impossible being of pure, shifting flame. It landed on the middle car with a metallic crunch, a talon crushing the vehicle before tossing it aside like a twig. A swishing tail slammed into and through the line of soldiers, scattering all six of them like leaves in a hurricane. That screaming modem shriek erupted from the being’s mouth as a ball of flame engulfed a second car. The soldiers’ frazzled nerves snapped and they ran. Wings of flickering orange flame spread wide in victorious celebration. Eyes like white-hot coals fixed Bridge in a burning gaze.

The dragon spoke directly to Bridge with a voice of grating digital shrieks. “Welcome. We’ve been waiting for you.”

Go to Chapter 12.0


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 11.0

November 6, 2028
8:20 p.m.

Though the residents of the camp were technically free to come and go, in order to be allowed to return, they were required to check in and out at the aid stations. The evacuees were tracked with armbands containing a digital ID linked to a particular camp. Leaving one evacuee camp without returning to that same camp would disqualify an evacuee from receiving any future aid. The mysterious interference had allowed Bridge’s group to move in and out of a number of the camps, but he didn’t want to keep relying on that trick.

Shaky Peter had the in with a few of the less altruistic aid workers, which allowed him to pass a few evacuees in and out of the camp without ID checks. Bridge admired the simplicity. Aid workers were usually badly paid. Finding the few with a flexible enough sense of morality to perform whatever ethical gymnastics were required to allow them to profit off their altruism was a simple matter. Whether paid by corporation or government, the pay was just bad enough to encourage creative rule bending.

Leaving a few at a time, the escapees would wander in small packs towards a rendezvous point four blocks away. There they were met by a bakery delivery van. The driver ushered everyone into the back quickly, barely waiting for the last man to close the back door before peeling out. One of the escapees urged the driver to wait for their late friend, but he would have none of it. This coyote was on a schedule and he wasn’t about to deviate from it.

“Feel like I should be passing out tacos,” Stonewall quipped. Bridge raised a questioning glance. “Reminds me of the last time I went home.”

The ride was uncomfortably bouncy, the van’s suspension as tight as a drum, the route taken full of twists and turns. Bridge tried to ascertain their general direction by staring through the windshield, but within minutes was utterly lost. The driver avoided the main highways, sticking to the lower roads of Denver until they reached the outskirts. The lights of urban Denver gradually gave way to the lower lights of the suburbs until with surprising swiftness, darkness swallowed the road whole. Bridge looked to either side of the road. They were still in the suburbs, houses on either side in neat, compact rows, but all the lights were dark. Nothing moved. No streetlights buzzed. No traffic passed. Wherever they were, it was a ghost town.

As the van’s lights began to flicker, it shrieked to a sudden, jarring stop. “Get out,” the driver said sharply.

“Which way?” Bridge asked as he climbed out.

“If you’re smart, you’ll go back the way you came. The first checkpoint’s about a mile that way. I’d suggest going around it. Now shut the fucking door.” The driver made a point of showing the pistol stuck in his waistband. Bridge threw him a mock salute and slammed the door angrily. The vehicle screeched away and just like that the group was alone in the dark. Bridge couldn’t help notice the silence. No buzz of electric air conditioning, no murmur of people and pets and children, no humming undercurrent of street lights, no distant sounds of cars, not even the chirping of birds or crickets or anything living broke the eerie silence. All he could hear was the labored breathing of the people around him.

Bridge could feel something now, something that had been growing more noticeable with each passing block. Something tugged at the jack in his neck. It grew stronger as he walked in one direction and weaker in the opposite direction. Feeling like a needle on a compass, he looked around at the escapees with him and pointed in the right direction. “Yeah, that way.” They all nodded in mute agreement and started walking. Aristotle and Stonewall exchanged uneasy glances. “If anybody gets nicked by the Army or the Rangers or whoever else they got out here, make like you’re just getting out of Boulder. They’ve got to help you get back to the aid stations, I’m sure.” It sounded plausible but based on what he’d seen so far, he wasn’t so sure.

Go to Chapter 11.5


Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 10.5

Chapter 10.0

Shaky Peter got his name from a random twitch of his left arm, a shaky almost-seizure that gripped the limb at odd times. He was a lithe towering blond beanpole, always stooping over to talk in a conspiratorial manner with anyone shorter than him, which was essentially everyone. As he spoke stooped over, his spiky hair twitching with his enthusiastic motions, his left arm would start twitching, subtly at first but growing in intensity until the wave passed. He never really paid any attention to it whatsoever and when asked, would shrug it off indifferently without explanation.

Bridge had been in North Hill about two hours when he met Peter, the first hour lost in the glitched Legios screening process. He spent the second hour asking shell-shocked survivors questions about the city, which he turned subtly into questions about getting things. All those questions led to Shaky Peter. Bridge recognized an equal the minute he caught sight of the gaunt giant. Bridge caught Peter’s eye and nodded. Glancing one way then the other, Peter strode awkwardly over to Bridge. The tall man acknowledged that Bridge wasn’t alone, indicating Aristotle standing watch a few feet from him. Before Peter could even speak a word, Bridge cut him off. “Don’t worry, brother, I’m not here to horn in on your turf.”

The tall rival was taken aback. He leaned away as if struck then bent over with a smile that was all crooked teeth. “That’s good, because I’m not about to let you. Now tell me why you’re here before we see whose boys are harder.” He finished the threat with raised eyebrows.

“Not here to unzip and compare, brother…”

“Not your brother. I been working these skels since we wandered out of that hell and I don’t take kindly to slicksters from… where is that I smell… L.A.? This ain’t L.A. and these people ain’t your marks.”

“Only thing I want is information,” Bridge said. “My bodyguard over there? His grandmother lives… lived in Boulder. He can’t reach her, and you know how much good the official channels are. Little old black lady named Lalasa Freeman, lived near the university. Heard of her?”

Peter stretched back to his full height. “The university? Did you not see that gigantic fucking dome parked on top of the school? If she was anywhere near there, she’s fucked. Nobody knows anybody that made it out of there.”

Bridge indicated the hundreds surrounding them. “What about these people? They made it from somewhere.”

Peter leaned back into Bridge. “Look, I feel your boy’s pain. My grandma was in that shit, I’d be ready to tear the place down with my bare hands. I know just about everybody in here. I know the aid workers. I know the skels. And the ones I don’t know, they know somebody I do know. I ain’t seen anybody living that was close to that dome. Every one of them walked miles to get here. You wanna know why? Their cars wouldn’t work. The buses wouldn’t work. The lights wouldn’t work. NOTHING worked. Water, electricity, GlobalNet, all dead. My goddamn cell didn’t even work until we were halfway here. So you ask me if anyone has seen a little old black lady? She ain’t in my database, know what I’m saying. And if she was where you say she was, your buddy needs to prepare a funeral.”

He started to turn away from Bridge. “Has anyone tried going back there?”

Peter stopped dead in his tracks and whirled on Bridge angrily. “Are you fucking mental?” His left hand started twitching again. Suddenly, the anger drained from his face to be replaced by a cautious understanding. “You feel it too, don’t you?”

“Feel what?”

Peter pointed to the back of his neck. “The itch. The itch in your jack like it wants to burst out of your neck and go follow whatever it is out there. That’s why you’re here, ain’t it? It ain’t about your boy’s grandmother. You hear that thing calling you.”

Bridge started to protest but Peter cut him off. “Don’t worry, you ain’t alone. Everybody in this joint with steel in their skull is feeling it. I’ve been smuggling people out of here so they can go back to that thing. I got a group going tonight.”

“What are they doing once they get there?”

“Not my problem.”

Bridge thought it over for a second. The plan he had in mind was crazy. Batshit insane, actually. But he didn’t have a better idea and he did feel… something. He didn’t know what it was, but it all pointed to that dome. The hallucinations in L.A., the dreams, the itch, the hackers, something in that dome was calling out to people with jacks including Bridge. “I want to go with them,” he told Peter.

The change in Peter’s attitude was immediate, his eyes lit up with greed. “Of course you do. And just what are you going to give me?”

“The same thing you’d give me,” Bridge said with slick certainty. “You’d know me and all the people I know in L.A. You may have a good thing going here, but who do you know west of the Mojave?”

Shaky Peter tried hard to make it seem as if he was considering the offer, as if there was any chance he’d say no to such a proposal. The two of them lived and breathed on their connections, on who they knew and what they could extract from their know circuit. Good local connections were golden. Inter-city connections were platinum. Connections to major hubs of the kind of people Bridge knew in L.A.? Those connections were manna from heaven.

“Let’s talk,” Shaky Peter said, his left arm flapping in an excited spasm next to his side.

Go to Chapter 11.0


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 10.0

November 6, 2028
11:48 a.m.

The next few days would be a blur for the trio. Bud was true to his word. He provided room and board, a vehicle with clean papers, and even some discreetly armed muscle when needed. Every day he would wave to the group leaving from the compound’s front gates, and every day as they drove up, he’d be waiting for any word of his people. Every day, Bridge gave him a disappointed head shake and the elder man’s eyes fell to the ground with a grim nod.

After ordering a general evacuation of the entire city of Boulder, Legios, FEMA and the Red Cross had begun housing the survivors in evacuee camps all over the Denver area. The largest was a gigantic tent city at Invesco Field, but there were others in the city’s convention centers, indoor sports arenas, high school gymnasiums and anywhere else large groups of people could be housed cheaply on short notice. The city had become a snarling mess of traffic. The group was forced to find a parking spot within a few miles of the camps they’d be visiting and legging it all day. Legios wasn’t allowing non-governmental vehicles within a half mile of the camps, citing vague threats on the survivors by “terrorist” groups. The city’s nerves were frayed. Bridge could feel it while walking down the street, read it in everyone’s faces, in their every movement. Most appeared ready to jump out of their skins at the next loud bang.

Their first attempt to infiltrate the camps was a miserable failure. Posing as relatives of survivors should have done the trick, but the ultra-paranoid Legios officials required that such claims be backed up with proper ID and the name of a relative. Aristotle spent five hours in an “interview” with Legios Ranger and FBI agents, being grilled about everything from his first conviction to his current employment. While Bridge and Stonewall waited outside for the interview to end, they did as much recon of the camp as possible.

The building was locked up like a maximum security prison as opposed to a place that existed to provide charitable aid to citizens. Stern-faced Legios Rangers with shiny cyberware and shinier guns guarded every entrance. Neither Stonewall nor Bridge could find an opening in the security cordon. Only those with proper badges were allowed in without strip searches, ID checks and intense grilling. Oddly enough, Bridge noticed that some of the Legios uniforms were ill-fitting, as if they belonged to someone other than the wearer. Bridge sidled up to one very bored individual and managed to get him talking. Legios had been stretched so thin by their statewide lockdown that they’d drafted mall guards, private security and anyone else who could point a gun and look menacing to guard the camps. When asked why the camps were being guarded so heavily, he just shrugged and grumbled something about terrorists and the criminal element.

While wandering around a service entrance, the two caught a glimpse of something that chilled Bridge to the bone. Many of the aid workers using this back entrance were being fitted into chemical/biological/radiological suits. Bridge took a few discreet snaps with the camera built into a pair of sunglasses he’d purchased. Legios was either being incredibly cautious, or they knew something they weren’t telling anyone. Bridge took perverse pleasure in sending those pictures to Ms. Angst and watching the news feeds explode. Barely an hour after air time, a plastic Legios spokesperson stumbled and fumbled through an impromptu press conference outside Invesco. He awkwardly denied the existence of any contagion with an ashen face. Bridge believed him, of course. If the company had found a dangerous contagion, they’d have nuked the site from orbit rather than cover it up. An irradiated hole in the ground can at least make money as a landfill. Mass graves were terrible public relations, and no one would want to buy real estate at the site of a biohazard.

Aristotle’s interrogation convinced Bridge that the honest truth would get them nowhere. The bodyguard had been released with nothing more than vague promises that the Legios’ officials would let him know if they heard anything. Underneath the dismissal was the unspoken hint that Aristotle should probably just get the fuck out of the state if he knew what was good for him.

They changed tactics on the second day. They would pose as survivors themselves rather than concerned relatives. They dirtied themselves up with torn clothes and a few minor scratches, and wandered in without any identification. In case the emergency personnel tried to use fingerprints or DNA to identify them, Stonewall would hang back outside the camps. A few of the Naturalists without a record would accompany them for muscle.

The first attempt was much more successful than Bridge thought possible. As expected, the aid workers tried to gather fingerprints from the new arrivals. As soon as Bridge’s index finger touched the pad, every computer in the office went dead. Every subsequent attempt to identify Bridge failed miserably. Photographs went blank, video cameras shorted out and the computers would spontaneously reboot. When it seemed the group would get turned away, Bridge feigned a fainting spell, claiming that he’d gone two days without food. The aid workers reluctantly allowed them into the camp with a promise that they’d come back to be processed later.

They would repeat the process at three more camps that day, and another four the following day. Each time, the aid workers would try to identify them, and each time, their systems would glitch. Bridge stopped believing in luck after the second time, and by the fourth he was convinced. Of what exactly, he wasn’t sure, but something strange was happening around them. His first thought was Angie had worked her magic, but she had been unable to do much of anything in the Colorado GlobalNet. Just like the real world, virtual Colorado was locked behind an impenetrable dome.

“Hey Artie, be careful out there.” He could hear her heartfelt concern bleeding through the connection when he spoke with her about it that night. “No, I mean it. There’s some strange shit going on with this thing and I don’t just mean online. You know how many hackers have just packed up and run off to Colorado? Ten. Ten of the most shut-in, living in mom’s basement, afraid the sun will turn them into dust hackers. I asked a few of ‘em why and they just said they gotta go and snap, they’re gone.”

“Like who?”

“Like B@rr@cUd@. Like The White Whale, even.”

“The White Whale? That fat bastard hasn’t left his apartment since they invented the goddamn jack. How’d he propose to get there, by crane?”

“I know, right? He got his cousin to come haul him out there. Bunch of others, the more shut-in the nerd, the faster they left. There’s some messed up stuff out there. Be careful, baby.” She seemed on the verge of saying more but didn’t and Bridge let her go.

Ms. Angst had similar stories. Every picture, every video clip, anything she ran on her vlog concerning Boulder was an instant success. The numbers eclipsed the story she ran confirming Shawnee’s pregnancy. She reported on the exodus of known reclusive hackers pulling up stakes and driving to Colorado. By the morning of the third day, the story had reached the mainstream, complete with video of hordes of pasty white hacker types clashing with Legios Rangers and the National Guard at the Colorado state line.

Each night Bridge would curl up for bed after a long, exhausting day, but his sleep was anything but restful. He tossed and turned like a pig on a spit, feverish night sweats accompanying dreams he either couldn’t remember or couldn’t decipher. He’d wake every morning with a burning pain in his neck, a phantom itch underneath his scalp and the quickly dissipating feeling that he was forgetting something important. Coal-black eyes with no pupils stared at him from his subconscious.

Every camp they visited had developed its own ecology, its own food chain of helpless and helpers. The aid workers were a mixed bunch, some of the stern Legios variety, who seemed to resent the need to help these people, and some showing genuine empathy for the survivor’s plight. Each camp had its share of fixers, of guys one “needed to know,” guys who could get things despite the conditions. Bridge would scout the camp until he pegged the need-to-know guy then approach, making sure to point out that he wasn’t there to horn in on the action. More was accomplished in 10-minute conversations with these types than in entire days worth of questions posed to the aid workers. One such go-to-guy was Shaky Peter at the North Hill shelter.

Go to Chapter 10.5


Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 9.66

Chapter 9.0
Chapter 9.33

The amphitheater was smaller than Bridge had expected, perhaps 400 feet in diameter. Resting in a clearing carved out of the forest, the seats were cobblestone constructs in a series of concentric circles facing a raised stage also made of rough cobblestones. The whole area was overgrown, as if nature had decided to take back the site from human civilization. Grass grew around the seats up to Bridge’s knee. Behind the stage was the most gorgeous backdrop of the surrounding area looking off east into the sunrise. Bridge could see for miles.

And there in the distance was what Bridge had come to see. As he gulped up the thin mountain air, his jaw dropped open and the breath caught in his throat. Normally, he’d have been at least struck dumb by the gorgeous scenery, the greens and browns of verdant mountains majestically overlooking the valley below. But today, he was awestruck by the construct that dominated his vision.

Here and there, buildings and scattered houses poked through the greenery, their roofs shining brightly as the morning sun glinted off their snow-covered rooftops. But as his eye tracked farther east past the outskirts of Boulder, the inconceivable swallowed the view. The dome was too large to comprehend; its inclusion in this scene so incongruous that his mind rebelled. Like the back of a gigantic beetle, its black surface shone smoothly in the rising sun. It was a giant polished basalt stone in the river of green, not even patches of snow breaking the smoothness of its surface. The television cameras could not have done it justice. Bridge did not believe in a God, but he could imagine some impossibly gigantic hand reaching down to pick up this stone and toss it across the ocean like some colossal child skipping a stone. Beyond the dome, many more miles away, Bridge could see the eastern areas of the town that had not been covered. The dome dwarfed even the largest man-made buildings. A lump of primal fear caught in Bridge’s throat.

Aristotle shuffled down the main aisle and onto the stage, his shocked silence a palpable thing. Bridge felt the tiniest pang of sympathy for the man. Aristotle had always been so calm in the worst of times, unflappable even facing the business end of a gun. For the first time, Bridge wanted to be here, wanted to help this man find his grandmother, no matter how impossible that seemed in the face of such a monstrosity. Aristotle’s feet failed him and he slumped awkwardly to a seat on the edge of the stage. “How is that possible?” His voice broke with emotion.

Bridge put a steadying hand on Aristotle’s shoulder. “We’ll find her, big guy. We’ll find her.” He stopped himself from turning that into a promise, as much as he wanted to reassure his friend. Bridge knew as well as anyone there that the chances of finding Aristotle’s grandmother were slim, but he resisted his natural inclination to say so. Better to leave it unspoken.

“We used to come up here every July when I was a kid. The vacation bible school would bring in some Passion Play troupe to put on a show. Do you realize the kind of effect seeing Christ crucified and resurrected on this backdrop has on a 12-year old? Gram always said a little religion would keep me on the straight and narrow. Not that it did, of course, but that never stopped her. I guess I had to learn my own lessons.”

“We all do, brau,” Stonewall said. “Mi madre was dead-set on me being some kind of teacher or something, but I had to go play football. Not listening don’t mean we don’t love ‘em.” Aristotle nodded grimly. Bridge left the two talking.

“So how much support can Stonewall’s friendship buy us?” Bridge asked Bud with a steely directness. “You ain’t just letting us stay here out of the goodness of your heart, and you and I both know we’re unlikely converts. What’s the vig?”

Bud gave Bridge a wry smile, but his mood was deadly serious. “I do you a favor, you do me one,” he began. “I told you we send out recruiters to the cities, they stay for a month or so and rotate back. Well, one of those cities is Boulder. I had a team of three living near the university. We get a better response from the college kids, though they aren’t always the most committed to the cause when they get down to the nitty-gritty. Now maybe they got out, and maybe they didn’t, but we haven’t heard from them. Juan tells me your man’s grandmother lived near the university too, so I figure if you’re looking for her, she’ll be around the same place as my people. Since you’re already looking, what’re three more names?”

“And why haven’t you already sent some people to look?”

“I may have bought this land from Legios, but that don’t mean we’re friends. I’ve seen the news. Those boys are tossing around the terrorism label like it’s going out of style. How much of a stretch do you think it would be to label a bunch of well-armed anti-corporate types living like mountain men as some crazy militia plotting to overthrow the LGL?”

“Not much of a stretch at all,” Bridge agreed.

“Juan says you’re the magic man, the golden-tongued con man can charm the panties off a nun. That true?” Bridge just shrugged with a sly smile. “You put my people’s names on your list, you got whatever you need to get it done.” Left unsaid was the other alternative. Don’t help and get sent packing.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Go to Chapter 10.0


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 9.33

Chapter 9.0

Their accommodations were Spartan but more than adequate. The tiny cot with its scratchy sheets was a divine luxury compared to the car seat Bridge had slept in most of the day. Sleep swallowed him as soon as the light was out, but he tossed and turned with forgotten dreams all night. He woke with a start as sunrise broke through the window directly into his eyes, his interface jack an itchy distraction. The sounds of feet on the hut’s porch let him know that Bud did not intend his visitors to sleep the day away. Immediately after a breakfast of surprising quality, Bud mustered an escort party of three burly men carrying rifles and side arms. The group headed off on an eastern trail with the sun’s rays barely peeking above the tree line.

Bridge had expected to see the dome just over the next rise. After ten minutes of walking through mountainous forest on tracks that barely qualified as a trail, he asked with ragged breath how far they were going. The Naturalists chuckled. Bud said, “Well, best vantage point is the amphitheater ‘bout two clicks thataway.” He pointed into the rising sun. “I reckon it’s about forty-five minutes at you city boys’ pace.”

Bridge ignored the snickering and continued walking. “Two miles, huh? I should have packed my hiking boots.” The Naturalists kept snickering while they walked, their breathing much less labored.

“So how do you guys stomach living all the way out here without any of the amenities of the modern world?”

Bud let out a boisterous laugh. “Amenities? Like GlobalNet access? We got that. All the TV streams, full running water, electricity 24/7, hell we even have a crèche for those so inclined. We’re not Luddites. We use all the tools of modern life; we just choose not to be chained to them.” As he said that, Bridge noticed the scar on the back of Bud’s freckled neck. The weather-beaten skin of the old Naturalist’s neck was the color of old newspaper with the textured marbling of age, except for an area that almost glowed white with scar tissue. At the base of the skull along the hairline sat a roughly circular area of healed-over skin, bereft of the gray stubble of hair on the rest of the man’s head. Bud had surgically removed an interface jack.

“You used to be a runner?” Bridge asked.

“No, they jacked me up to kill people. And I did a damn good job of it,” he commented matter-of-factly in a thick Texas drawl. Bridge had noticed the tattoos on Bud’s right arm indicating Marine service the previous night, but in the daylight he finally got a good look at Bud’s other arm. The skin was much less weathered than the rest of Bud’s body. It still had the well-tanned coloration of the rest of his body, but without the freckling and leathery texture. The hair on the left arm was darker than the stubble on his chin or the gray hair on his right arm. The limb wasn’t an original; it had to have been vat-grown. Bud had not only removed his interface jack, but a cybernetic arm as well. Stonewall was right. This motherfucker was hardcore.

“And now I rescue people from that soul-destroying grinder you call cities and bring them back into a relationship with nature like God intended.” Hardcore and a zealot. “You’d be amazed how much about living off the land is stored in our DNA. We bring people out here and teach them to remember their roots as stewards of nature, not masters. Farming, eco-conservation, we teach a holistic life that has a symbiosis with nature. We aren’t meant to push numbers around in the ether while our bodies vegetate in a coffin full of cold people soup. I’ve turned doughy cube farmers into lean, mean farmers, ain’t that right, Darryl?”

The lead Naturalist nodded. “Yeah, I was a 60-hour a week crèche junkie a year ago. Now I rope cattle like a born cowboy.” Darryl was a wiry six-three, with a shock of tousled chestnut hair topping the shaved sides of his head. He had the natural muscle of someone who has worked for a living like most of the Naturalists they’d seen. Bridge was amazed how little clothes they all wore. Patches of snow were scattered all over the forest floor, and Bridge’s breath was visible on the chill air. He had put on a heavy trench coat, but the rest of the Naturalists ran around in short sleeves.

“How’d you end up out here?”

“We send out recruiting parties to some of the major LGL’s regularly,” Bud answered. “They’ll spend about a month out, then rotate back for another crew. Darryl here was…”

“I was a bad week away from a suicide,” Darryl finished. “Met Aretha at this GlobalNet support group and we hooked up in real life. She introduced me to the Naturalist Manifesto and I was here within a month. Best decision I ever made.” The funny thing was that Bridge believed him. He genuinely seemed ecstatic. Maybe there was something to a life of farming in the clear mountain air, but Bridge sure didn’t see it. He was already light-headed from the altitude, his nose was running and he was wheezing like an asthmatic.

“You gon’ be all right there, Bridge?” Stonewall asked.

“Yeah, I got it. How much further?” he gasped.

“It’s just over that ridge,” Aristotle said. Bridge tossed him a questioning look. “My grandmother used to take me to shows here every summer.” The bodyguard had been silent, but Bridge could read the pain on his face from miles away. The party continued on in tense silence.

Go To Chapter 9.66


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 9.0

November 3, 2028
1:34 a.m.

Bridge stepped out of the car gingerly, hiding his nervousness beneath the casual exterior of a bored tourist. He stretched and popped his stiff back with no more attention paid to the six gun barrels pointing at him than to the blinding floodlights. Tossing a glance at Stonewall, he was calmed by the lack of concern on the Mexican’s face. “Identify yourself,” a gruff voice said from Bridge’s right.

“We’re looking for Bud,” Stonewall replied nonchalantly.

“Bud ain’t taking visitors. Now take that pretty vehicle of yours back down the trail where you came from. This is private property.”

Bridge was about to turn on the charm, but Stonewall interceded calmly. “Is that you, Sly? Don’t you remember me?” The shadowed voice didn’t seem to. “S’ok, we’ll do it that way. The third tenet of the Naturalist movement is ‘Technology is a tool, not a master.’ The seventh tenet is ‘Use your power as nature does, sparingly.’ The tenth tenet is…”

“Yeah, ok, you’ve read the book. That don’t mean I let you in these gates.”

Another voice rang out of the darkness, its source unseen beyond the blinding light. “What’s the name of Bud’s first dog?” it asked with a hint of mirth.

“Bud, that you?” Stonewall replied, shielding his eyes and trying to peer past the lights. “Your first dog was named William Tell.”

Bridge couldn’t help laughing. “Who names their dog William Tell?”

“All right, gents, put down the heaters. This here is friends, more or less.” The guards looked nervously from one to the other. “Go on, unclench. Open the gate and let’s welcome our guests.” Bridge and Aristotle sighed with relief as the gunmen lowered their weapons. The dazzling lights went dark with an audible click, revealing a rather flimsy metal gate. Smaller lights to either side of the gate switched on. Bridge noticed in the shadows along either side of the road sat well-camouflaged sniper’s nest, just big enough for one or two prone shooters to perforate anything on the road. Bud stood leaning on the fence post beside the gate.

Tall and thick, Bud appeared to be 50 going on 70, his skin’s leathery texture hinting at years of living in harsh climes. He shifted a well-worn cowboy hat, revealing a tousled mop of graying dark hair shaved on the sides. Despite the cold, he wore a sleeveless wife-beater T-shirt and weathered blue jeans and was barefoot despite the patches of snow on the ground. As they drove past him into the compound, Bridge couldn’t help notice Bud’s piercing eyes. The man had the stare of a coldly calculating killer. The tattoo sleeve on his right arm Bridge recognized as the insignia of a Marine unit, probably acquired during the Chavez War of the previous decade. Bud looked nothing like the leader of a hippie commune. But then, the commune was nothing like Bridge had expected either.

The place was large, probably 2-3 square miles, much of it mountainous and heavily forested. The clearings were dominated by sturdy cabins, some still under construction. Small plots of tilled soil were everywhere, though most were covered with translucent plastic to keep the ground from freezing. Bridge was surprised to see that every cabin had ample electric lighting. Stonewall guided the car to a stop in front of a large communal cabin. A small windmill turned slowly behind the main cabin, the creaking noise sounding much too loud in the silent night air.

Bud led the trio into the main hall, dismissing most of the guards who had followed the party in. The gruff-voiced one, the one Stonewall had called Sly, was reluctant to leave his leader alone with the group. Bud dismissed him with a wave of his hand. “Me and Stonewall go back a ways, Sly. I’m sure he ain’t gonna stick a knife in me, k?” Bridge noticed a bandage underneath Bud’s shirt just above his right hip. He raised an eyebrow.

“Is that a common occurrence?” he asked, pointing to the bandage.

Bud just shrugged indifferently. “Bah, sometimes you think you know a feller and sometimes you DO know a feller and just ain’t fast enough to do anything ‘bout it. Getting slow in my old age.” He turned that piercing gaze on Stonewall. “All right, Juan, what’s the trouble? You on the lam again?”

“I’m always on the lam, amigo. But that ain’t exactly why I’m here. Mi hermano here, he needed my help.” He pointed at Aristotle. Bud nodded his head and listened to the story intently, interjecting questions every now and then. When the story was finished, Stonewall asked, “So can we base ourselves out here, maybe get a little help?”

Bud scratched the graying stubble on his prominent chin, the tiny white line of a knife scar twitching in the low light. “That dome thing’s causing all sorts of trouble ‘round here. These Legios’ assholes have always been puckered pretty tight, but with the Feds watching over, they are super tight. A couple of ‘em even got brave enough to patrol down by the gate earlier tonight. You reckon you’ll have to light any of ‘em up?”

Stonewall shook his head. “Not if I can help it, brau.”

“Too bad.”

“I just want to find my grandma,” Aristotle pleaded. Bud nodded resolutely, empathy plainly evident in his expression.

“We’ll see what we can do. I’ll get you some beds ready, take a few minutes.” He called out to a woman named Janice, who came into the main hall and received instructions, nodded and went about her business. “Janice will get you set up, just take a few minutes. Better get some rest. We get up damned early around here. After breakfast, we’ll take you to see the dome.”

Go to Chapter 9.33


Monday, April 6, 2009

Special Extra Edition This Week

This week I've got a special treat for regular readers of the Bridge Chronicles. Normally, I update the page with a new chapterlet on Tuesday and Thursday. But since Chapter 9 ran so long, I've split it up into three chapterlets. So not only will there be a regular post on Tuesday and Thursday, but I'll also be updating on Wednesday! It's still just one chapter, but slightly longer than the others. Check back tomorrow for Chapter 9.0.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Know Circuit: Chapter 8.5

Chapter 8.0

Once their course of action was set, Bridge plugged himself into the news feeds to catch up on the situation. He needed to know as much of what was going on in the area, if for no other reason than to try to cook up some cover, some plausible if far-fetched reason to be in the area. He would need to brief Aristotle on the lies to remember as well. The well-meaning lug had been entirely too forthcoming to that cop. There were a few scary moments along the road as more Legios Ranger cruisers went blazing past in the other direction, but they paid no notice to Bridge’s car. Probably too busy worrying about the giant killer car robot attacking one of their own.

The news was all Boulder, all the time, filled to the brim with eyewitness accounts, user-submitted video, audio and photos, but most was little more informative than the previous night’s coverage. Bridge pieced together a timeline from the various mainstream sources. Around 1:45 a.m. the previous evening, an explosion occurred, possibly centered on the University of Colorado campus. All cell phone, GlobalNet, video, radio, all electronic communication channels with the city were immediately cut off. Within 30 minutes, some type of dome had surrounded most of the city, a perfectly solid, opaque sphere covering around three square miles. All roads leading into the area had been closed. Both local Legios officials and federal agents were on the scene investigating. Despite multiple rushed interviews and televised press conferences, neither offered any explanation. Of course, that didn’t stop the media’s talking heads from bringing in every kind of talking head expert they could find, from terrorism wonks to physics geeks, meteorologists and emergency management authorities. The Feds were there in a merely advisory role, as the terms of the LGL gave Legios emergency management authority until such time as they surrendered that authority upwards. Bridge’s contact Tom Williams of CNN tried to make an early controversy over images of idling FEMA trucks lined up in Denver, unable to move into the area without proper authorization. One commercial break later and that story had disappeared from the network’s archive footage.

The area of Boulder outside the dome was mostly intact, though there was no power, water or GlobalNet service. The Legios EMA had begun evacuating those people to various sites, and Bridge bookmarked some of the sites so he could go back and locate them later. He was likely to have to do a lot of legwork going from evacuee camp to evacuee camp trying to get information on survivors. Keeping Aristotle under control would be another tough task. If Legios or the Feds were already trying to position the explosion as an act of terrorism, a couple of guys from Chronosoft LGL in a car with suspect papers would lead to all sorts of questions. There was little video of the survivors owing to an apparent Legios embargo, but CNN did manage to get a shot of some very shell-shocked survivors trudging out of the city. Most seemed utterly unable to process what had happened to them.

Despite the tight-lipped Legios authorities, the story had exploded across the true fourth estate, the GlobalNet. Blogs, vlogs, chats, forums, web sites, anywhere that someone with a voice not connected to a corporate media outlet could speak was doing just that. Even searches that filtered out hits from mainstream media sources still numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Conspiracy theories abounded, of course. It was aliens, it was the government trying to queer the LGL deal, it was time-travelers, it was God, Allah, Buddha, Nature. The sinners were being punished, the Earth Mother was taking back her own, whatever batshit insane agenda Bridge could think of was being pimped to explain the unexplainable. Bridge just had to sit back and laugh at some of them. But at least the tinfoil brigade was thorough. The collection of hastily-snapped, badly-lit photos, shaky cam video footage and unfiltered eyewitness accounts was vast. All the information Bridge should have gotten from the official sources, the stuff Legios and the Feds would never have allowed to be publicized was all out there for the taking, if one was persistent enough. Sites were getting taken down left and right, but the information was like a ball of mercury; trying to grasp it just caused it to flow through the proverbial fingers, flowing around obstructions with blinding speed.

The most interesting user video was from a Denver resident who’d managed to sneak past the official cordons to actually touch the dome. The user, named AndrewCrazy7443, had gotten right up to the dome, and like any good caveman faced with the unfathomable, had decided to throw things at it. A half-full water bottle bonked off the surface loudly. Stones skittered off the surface harmlessly. Emboldened by his experiments, he ran up to the dome and gingerly put his hand on it, smiling back at the camera with the shit-eating grin of a man unknowingly about to be educated on the survival of the smartest. The shiny black surface, so reminiscent of a crèche, was inert for but a moment. Just like the footage from the chopper, the surface began to glow with orange runic symbols. Ignoring the warnings of his cameraman, the braggart continued to touch the surface, at least until the lightning arced off the dome. His screams would have been funny to Bridge if they hadn’t sounded so final. Bridge always did enjoy seeing a complete dumbass pay for his abject stupidity. The cameraman at least had the good sense not to try to grab a person in the throes of electrocution.

Bridge had gathered a good deal of information by the time they neared the outskirts of Boulder Mountain Park. Though the place was dark, the moonlight illuminated the park’s shabby state. Legios had done little to maintain the place once they gained control of local and state government. At least they had offered the land for purchase by groups like the Naturalists, but it was still a sad sight passing abandoned ranger stations, picnic tables and gazebos. Its condition reminded him of the state of the LA subways. Bridge quickly lost track of what direction they were heading, as Stonewall guided the car off the main paths and into pitch black roads that were veritable caves cut through overgrown forests. Back and forth they twisted and turned, possibly back-tracking and crossing over their past paths until Bridge just decided to look at the sky instead of trying to plot their location. Even the satnav was little help.

He was utterly blinded by the sudden illumination of gigantic arc lights shining directly in his face. Stonewall slammed on the brakes, throwing Bridge forward into the back of the driver’s seat. He cursed loudly, his eyes swimming in painful blinking lights. "What the fuck?"

"We’re here," Stonewall said.

Bridge blinked with watery eyes, seeing shadowy, armed shapes emerge out of the light. "Out of the car, now!" was all he heard before his door was opened and he was roughly yanked from the vehicle.

Go to Chapter 9.0



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