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

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