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?”
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
Thursday, April 16, 2009