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

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