Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 16.5

Chapter 16.0

The battle had lasted less than two minutes. Once Bridge was sure it was safe, he stood along with Lydia and Janicki, all too stunned by what had happened to speak. Finally, Lydia whispered, “Quon, what have you done?” Her raspy voice sounded deafening in the silence.

Wong stood shaking, his hands quivering, sparks dancing off both his metal and flesh fingers. His eyes were completely vacant, staring at the charred remains of his former rival, his mind a million miles away struggling to come to grips with his actions. Bridge had seen that look before. It was the haunted look of innocence being snuffed out, the tell-tale sign of someone who had never killed before realizing that they’d taken another human life. Bridge had seen it all too often in the riots, once the fever of the mob mentality had worn off and the full weight of sin had come crashing into focus. Everyone reacted differently. Some got colder, accepting murder all too easily, and those were the ones Bridge feared. Wong, however, was not one of those as evidenced by his tears. Somewhere in the boy’s fragile psyche, a torrent of emotions was building, and Bridge really didn’t want to be there when those emotions broke to the surface. Whoever was around when that happened would be lucky if Wong only hurt himself.

Wong fell to his knees. Lydia walked towards him slowly, repeating like a mantra, “Quon, what have you done?” She completely ignored the blackened resting-place of her former colleague. Janicki followed her, but his interest lay in the remains. He ignored Wong completely, picking up the melted cyberarm and examining the dust.

“That’s amazing!” he exclaimed. “It’s completely ashed, even the dirt and bones are gone. The temperatures, the energy required to do that is insane!” He seemed to be speaking to Bridge who ignored him in disgust. These people were crazy. Bridge stared down at the sinkhole, at the coldly calculating scientist picking at the ashes and somewhere in the back of his head a seed of an idea began to germinate. Not even consciously aware of what he was thinking, he let it sit in the back of his mind growing of its own volition. “One would need to heat bone for five minutes straight at over 900 Celsius to ash bone like this and he did it in seconds! Do you know what this means?”

Bridge scowled. “That you are a sick fucker?”

Janicki waved a hand dismissively. “Bah, Rolfsberg was a cock. If it wasn’t Wong he pissed off, it would have been one of us eventually. Besides, Wong is right, his math was weak. He couldn’t even break down Wong’s force field. The most interesting thing he managed to come up with was the mana engine’s casing, and I would have gotten around to that eventually. I’d better take this.” He indicated the cyberarm. “Wouldn’t want someone finding the engine when we leave.”

“You geeks going somewhere?”

“Yes, Mr. Bri… Bridge,” he replied. “That’s why you’re here. We’ve painted ourselves into a very tight corner and we need someone with your particular skillset to provide us with an exit strategy.”

Bridge was about to reply angrily when he heard Wong stammer to life. “He kept pushing me,” the kid mumbled. “He wouldn’t stop, you saw him. He attacked me first. He attacked first. I need to sit down.” Lydia had reached him by now and was guiding him to an awkward tumble back onto his bottom. His legs didn’t seem able to support his weight anymore. “You saw it, right, Lydia? You saw him attack me?” Lydia nodded sadly. “He just wouldn’t leave me alone, had to keep egging me on. I couldn’t let him hurt me, could I?” A frightened look came into his eyes. “You won’t tell Balfour, will you?”

“I’m going to have to tell him, Quon,” Lydia replied in a matronly tone. “We’re all in this together, and he needs to know what happened so he can decide what to do about it.”

“You don’t think he’ll take my engine away, do you? He can’t give it to me then just take it away when I make one little mistake.”

“You killed Rolfsberg, Quon. That’s not a little mistake.”

Bridge cut in angrily. “Look around you, lady. There’s not one goddamn body left in this place. Did you kill them all like Rolfsberg?” Wong flinched at the mention of his dead colleague’s name. “There’s supposed to be what… 20, 30,000 people in this part of Boulder? Where are? Are those ghosts I saw REALLY ghosts?”

“They’re… gone,” was all she said. “We really must be getting to the Center. Balfour will explain it all.” She stood and offered a hand down to Wong. “Quon, are you going to come with us?”

“Can I just stay here for a little while, Lydia? I have to… I have to think. I… I need to be alone, ok?”

She didn’t seem pleased, but she relented with a sigh. “Ok, Quon, we won’t force you. We aren’t like… him. But if we call you, you need to come, ok?” He nodded meekly, wiping the long streaks of tears from his face. “Shall we go, Bridge?”

“I think we’d better.” Bridge was all too ready to find out what the fuck was going on with these geeks. Lydia collected Janicki and his melted trophy and led them to the car.

Go to Chapter 17.0


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 16.0

November 7, 2028
Time Unknown

Bridge dove for the cover of the car, losing sight of Wong for a second. Spots flashed on his vision, the afterimage of the lightning bolt still seared on his eyeballs. Lydia and Janicki had retreated with him, and they all peeked cautiously over the hood. A ball of lightning still sputtered in the air where Wong had stood, tossing off rivulets of electricity before dissipating completely.

Wong floated there unharmed. Anger was etched across his face, his teeth clenched and his fists balled. He looked every bit like a child throwing a tantrum in mid-air. “I’ve put up with just about enough of your shit, Rolfsberg!” he screamed. “I told you I was running a simulation, told you to leave me alone. But you can’t do that, can you? You have to feel like you’re in charge! Well, you’re not in charge of me!” He tossed off two fireballs directly at Rolfsberg.

The Norseman barely had time to raise a shield of his own, and the force of the blasts hitting his shield drove him back a few feet, buckling his knees. The area around Rolfsberg was charred, the grass singed, tiny embers glowing in the night like fireflies. Before Rolfsberg could prepare another attack, Wong sent his metal minions into action. Twenty-two players and even the ref charged at Rolfsberg with clanging ferocity, surrounding his bubble shield. Those who couldn’t reach it on foot climbed on the backs of the front ranks, creating a gigantic steel pile-on, until Rolfsberg was completely enveloped in metal. At first, they pounded on the shield, fists flying with awkward stop-motion violence, but with a few flicks of Wong’s fingers, they merged into a metallic cocoon that encased the Norseman completely. The metallic shell then began to contract with a sickening grinding sound.

Bridge felt the ground rumble underneath his feet. Small at first, it built until he could see the car shaking with the tremors. The ground imploded at the feet of the metal cocoon, a sinkhole about ten feet across forming, before exploding outward and upward in a shower of dirt. The cocoon flew a hundred feet into the air before crashing into the dorm behind Bridge. Rolfsberg knelt gasping at the bottom of the sinkhole. His lab coat was soaked in sweat and caked with dirt. His arms were outstretched at his side, and he brought them crashing together in front of him in an exaggerated clap. Lightning arced from two of the lighting fixtures on either side of Wong, trapping him in a circuit of boiling electricity.

Wong paid no notice to the lightning storm enveloping him, his fingers dancing. Bridge was unsure what was happening at first, but it quickly became obvious that the light from the electricity was dimming, draining into Wong’s hands, forming a ball of lightning that grew with every effort Rolfsberg thrust into the attack. Wong was stealing Rolfsberg’s power.

Sickening realization struck Rolfsberg and he redoubled his efforts, pouring more power into his attack. It did no good. Wong had the upper hand. Fear wrote an ending across Rolfsberg’s expression and he screamed, throwing his arms in front of his face to ward off the final attack. It was in vain.

Wong redirected all the power back at Rolfsberg, throwing back a mixture of Rolfsberg’s lightning and Wong’s fireballs. Caught full by the blast, Rolfsberg’s shield was too weak to save him. Bridge caught a glimpse of Rolfsberg’s body being disintegrated, a Hiroshima shadow being wiped clean by a fiery wind, and then he was gone. Where Rolfsberg had crouched, there was only a blackened circle of earth and the melted remnants of the dead man’s cybernetic left arm.

Wong panted, his body covered in sweat with tears streaming down his face. The full realization of what he’d done was writ large in his eyes.

Go to Chapter 16.5


Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 15.5

Chapter 15.0

“Is this the guy?” the woman asked.

The Norseman responded with bitter irritation. “He’s got to be. How else would someone get in here without the wards frying him? And if Wong here had half a brain instead of being obsessed with his little toy footballers, we’d already be on the way to the Engineering Center. Wong put him down.” Bridge drifted softly to the earth, relieved to finally feel solid ground beneath him again. “You!” The blonde’s finger stabbed at Bridge like an accusation. Bridge had been in this man’s presence less than one minute, and he already wanted to kick the guy in the balls. Based on Wong’s descriptions, the blonde must be Rolfsberg. “What’s your name?”

Bridge decided to play it dumb, if for no other reason than to tweak this douche. “Me? I’m nobody.”

“You told me you were Bridge, that the dragon sent you here, Carl sent him, he said,” Wong stammered before finally catching on to Bridge’s joke. “Ohhhhhh, right.” The kid might be brilliant with whatever kind of magic physics simulation he was running on the football pitch, but he didn’t seem to have any idea how to read actual human beings.

“So you’re the one Balfour sent for? Artemis Bridge?”

Bridge tossed a sarcastic salute from his non-existent hat. “Artemis Bridge. You need something, I’m the Bridge, the path to whatever you want, so long as whatever you want is hard to find and someone else has it. I’m the go-between and the get-to-know. You stand over…”

The man in black interrupted him. Bridge guessed this was Janicki. “Save the spiel. You spoke with Carl?”

“The dragon?”

“He’s not a goddamn dragon.” Janicki let out a sigh of pure exasperation. “He’s a man just like you and me. Well, not you. The dragon skin is an illusion.”

“That’s one helluva an illusion,” Bridge retorted. “I saw that thing’s claws crush a car. How’s an illusion do that?”

“That’s complicated,” the woman, Lydia, replied. “Balfour will help explain it as best he can.”
Rolfsberg began to rapid-fire questions at Bridge. “When did you see Carl? How did he die? Who killed him?”

Bridge was distracted by the sound of metal scraping against metal. Wong had lost interest and turned his back to the discussion, waving his arms up and down to bring the players back to life. “Like I was telling your buddy over here, I left Carl outside the dome two, maybe three hours ago tops. Of course, when I walked into the dome, it was late night but when I got inside, it was daytime. I swear I haven’t been in here more than an hour or two and it’s already nighttime. What the fuck is going on around here?”

As a group, the three dropped their eyes to the ground, as if embarrassed to admit what they knew. “That’s impossible,” Rolfsberg said.

Bridge stabbed an angry finger at Wong, who had floated a little ways off the ground. “I’ve seen a gigantic impenetrable dome cover a city, a flaming dragon and that motherfucker over there is FLYING while playing with life size toy footballers made of car bits. Impossible appears to be a relative term. You asked. I’m telling you what I know.”

Janicki responded, “Rolfsberg says it’s impossible because the last transmission we got from Carl was five days ago. And that was three days after he said he’d escorted you into the dome.” He seemed to mull something over in his mind. “How long ago did you get the call?”

“You mean the giant brain-stabbing hallucination you sent me and every other son-of-a-bitch with an interface jack from here to Los Angeles?” Janicki nodded. “Four, five days ago. Same time the dome appeared.” A panicked look spread from Janicki’s face to the others in the group. “What? What is it?”

“We sent that message over two weeks ago, right after the dome went up.” The night had well and truly fallen by now. Janicki’s face was swallowed in shadow as dark as his mood. “Temporal distortion?”

Lydia nodded. “I concur. That’s the only possible explanation.”

“Unless Bridge here is lying to us.”

“Yeah, fuck you, buddy. You think I’m lying then give me a goddamn car and I’ll drive my ass right back to L.A. where I belong. I didn’t come all this way to get insulted, attacked by ghosts and jerked around by the geek gaggle.”

“Ghosts?” Lydia asked with sudden, panicked interest. “You’ve seen the ghosts?”

“Seen ‘em? Shit, they almost got me killed. I ran one over with a truck. Well, ran through her anyway.”

“I want to apologize, Mr. Bridge,” Lydia began.

“Just Bridge.” Bridge gave her a smile that was full of charm. She scoffed like he’d just tried to pick up the last lesbian at the man haters bar.

“Bridge then. It wasn’t my call to bring you in on this. But now that you are, we all need to go back to the Engineering Center and sort this out with Balfour. He’ll be able to explain more when we get there.”

“Then what are we waiting for? Let’s all fly there now!”

Janicki coughed. “We’ll have to settle for the car.”

“Yes, we’ll have to take the car! Our buddy Wong doesn’t feel like sharing his flight equations. Isn’t that right, Wong?” Rolfsberg yelled angrily at Wong’s back, spittle flying from his mouth. Wong floated ten feet or so off the ground, his back to the group, ignoring the abuse completely. “Didn’t you hear me, Donger? I said you should share your flight equations so we can all fly like you and Carl!” Wong continued to ignore the insults, which only served to infuriate Rolfsberg more. “I’m talking to you!”

Lydia put a calming hand on Rolfsberg’s shoulder, but he shrugged it off angrily. “No, I’m tired of this shit. You! Ding Dong! We’re all going to the Engineering Center to work this out. Stop playing with your dolls and move your ass.”

“They’re not dolls,” Wong said silently over his shoulder. “It’s a complex physics simulation.”

“It’s junk science, you twerp! We have important work to do, and despite your painful immaturity, we could actually use your help. And it’s effing poor form to hold out on the rest of us. I’d like to fly. Wouldn’t you like to fly, Lydia? Janicki? Aren’t you goddamn tired of trotting around like a grad student while he gets to fly like a bird?”

“You couldn’t handle my calculations,” Wong said icily. He’d turned to face the group now, and a cold fire seemed to be building behind his eyes.

“What? You little shit. I could run rings around your math in my sleep. I spit differential equations and piss matrices. I don’t have to listen to this drivel from my intellectual inferiors. Why don’t you come down here and say that to my face?”

“Why don’t you come up here and make me?” Wong retorted with a puckish grin.

Rolfsberg’s face was fire engine red by this point. Lydia’s snickering didn’t help, only serving to enrage him further. He looked down at his flesh fist, which was squeezed so tightly the knuckles had turned white. Bridge began to feel crackling in the air, a building buzz of power consolidating in a single point of electrical energy. Rolfsberg’s fist began to shake and glow. Bridge unconsciously began to back away, aware at a cellular level that something bad was about to happen.

“That’s it!” Rolfsberg screamed, throwing his fist out at Wong. A blinding blue arc of lightning flew from his outstretched hand to strike Wong dead center with explosive force.

Go to Chapter 16.0


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 15.0

November 7, 2028
Time Unknown

Bridge hung with his arms pinned to his side staring at the angry Chinese man floating above him. He wasn’t sure whether to be afraid or laugh hysterically. Other than the blue sparks dancing from the man’s fingers, the flier was almost comically non-threatening. His spiky hair was matted and unkempt, his skinny human arm probably couldn’t bend a wet noodle and his clothes gave him the appearance of a college nerd. Nevertheless, Bridge recognized the dangers of whatever invisible force this little geek was using to hold Bridge captive. Once he’d realized his predicament, Bridge stopped struggling completely and played possum. “Calm down there, dude,” Bridge quipped nonchalantly. “My name is Bridge.”

“You’re named after a bridge?” The kid’s brows knotted in confusion.

“No, my name IS Bridge. Artemis Bridge.” The name didn’t seem to provoke any sort of reaction. “Come on, surely you were told I was coming. Carl said you were waiting for me. Are you Balfour? He told me to go see Balfour.”

The name-dropping seemed to confuse the kid even more. His hands relaxed a little. Bridge felt the vice group loosen on his arms enough for him to wiggle his hand free. "Carl… sent you? To see Balfour?”

Bridge shrugged. “Well, that’s what he said. I’m supposed to ask Balfour all my questions, and boy do I have a bunch. What’s your name? You already know mine so how’s about you tell me your name and we put me down.”

“Wong,” the kid said absentmindedly. “Quon Wong.” He seemed to come to some kind of decision, tightening his metallic fist. Immediately, Bridge felt the constricting grip close on his ribs, choking some of the breath from his lungs. “You’re lying!”

Bridge squeezed out, “WONG, WONG! I swear… Carl… the fucking… flame dragon… sent me to see… some guy named… Balfour!”

“Carl’s dead! We heard his last transmission. This is a trick! Who are you really?”

“I’m… FUCKING… BRIDGE… GODDAMNIT! The dragon… sent me! He said only I could come through… the bubble… it was… set to allow… just me... how am I… going to… fake that?”
That gave Wong pause, and Bridge felt the vice loosen slightly again. “I swear I’m Artemis Bridge. You’ve been sending me signals over my jack for five days.”

“Hold on,” Wong snapped. The flames on his fingertips were extinguished as he made a flourish with his left hand. A dual-sided screen of data popped into view in the air above Bridge. He could see the mug shot he’d taken in ’26. Wong compared Bridge’s face with the mug shot, squinting and scrutinizing the grainy black and white photo. “That photo doesn’t flatter you. You should have been here days ago.” The grip was now loose enough for Bridge to move, and his stomach lurched a little as the invisible hand seemed to cradle his rear end in a floating invisible chair. “Carl told us you were coming three days before those bastards killed him.”

“Three days?” Bridge asked incredulous. “Dude, I just saw him two hours ago. At least I think it was two hours ago. It was nighttime when I left him, and it’s daytime now, so I’m really losing track of time here, but it feels like two hours. Maybe three.”

“I know, I have to turn the lights on and off all the time,” Wong complained. “I have to pause the simulation every time I do that, and it’s really interfering with my work. I tried to set a timer on the lights but it kept getting reset. The physics engine alone is enough to take up most of my cycles, and I can’t squash this glitch with the crosses from the left corner. The fullbacks want to follow the cross in rather than try to block it, but I think I have the subroutine located.”

“The simulation? You mean that freak show of metal men you got running around tearing up the pitch down there?”

“Frikkin’ awesome, ain’t it? I can alter the metal’s surface to put whatever kits I want on them, and I’m using the latest FIFA player rankings to set play characteristics, with my own special tweaks, of course, ‘cos those Man. U. rankings are way overrated. I thought about trying to put down an artificial surface to keep from tearing up the grass but then I’d have to alter my ball physics to work like grass, so just keep grass, you know what I mean?”

“Whoa, whoa, man, you’re losing me. Focus.” He waved a hand in front of Wong’s face to fix the kid’s eyes on him. “How many of there are you?”

“There’s me, obviously, and then there’s Balfour, you know about him, and then there was Carl but he was out there until he got killed and there’s Lydia and Janicki and that douche Rolfsberg. You don’t want to meet him.” Bridge was already tiring of Wong’s chattering. The kid had a horrible case of the motormouth, and most of it was a blithering spew that seemed to come from some other dimension, ideas sparking into words with little thought behind them. Just as Bridge was ready to cut the geek off, he was interrupted by the squealing of tires.

A car had sped up to the field and stopped suddenly, disgorging three figures. The driver was a tall Nordic-looking blonde man with a stern, square chin and short, tightly curled hair. He wore a white jacket that looked like some kind of lab coat. The front passenger was a slightly stocky woman with close-cropped auburn hair dressed in dark slacks and a conservative silk blouse. From the back seat stood a towering bald man with a gray goatee dressed in a black button-up shirt and black jeans. All three appeared to have at least one arm that was cybernetic.

“Wong, who the hell is that?” screamed the blonde. “Why didn’t you call and tell us there was someone here?”

“Oh goodie, it’s the asshole brigade,” Wong muttered.

Go to Chapter 15.5


Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 14.5

Chapter 14.0

Bridge’s legs began to move before his mind could work out the details. He bolted from the room and around the corner, slamming through the locked door at the bottom of the stairwell and out into the fading light. He barely noticed the fenced area covered in beach sand and volleyball nets. He was past the other residence hall before he even knew it. Bridge kept his eyes locked on the flying figure, expecting it to dissolve into ghostly nothingness any minute.

The road he’d crossed earlier curled around northwards past the second residence hall, and beyond that were three open sports fields along the eastern side of the road, bounded by a line of boulders that followed the street’s curvature. Towers of arc lights had just exploded into life, outlining the fields with pools of light. The man hovered over the northernmost field, and as Bridge rounded the curve, he caught sight of other figures on the field, oblivious to the flying impossibility above them. In fact, the figures on the field were playing soccer. Bridge pulled up short in disbelief.

A full game of 11-a-side soccer was in progress under the watchful eye of the flying man. Bridge wanted to run, to join the group, his desperate loneliness drawing him to the crowd. He so hated to be without a pressing mass of people around him that his natural inclination was to immediately join any crowd regardless of the potential danger. He forced his pace to a walk, wiping the sweat from his brow. His natural paranoia made him double-check the gun tucked into the back of his waistband.

Every step closer brought the scene into more stark detail. He eyed the figures in the distance closely, and to his relief they were not ghosts. He didn’t feel stable enough to deal with another set of phantoms. Bridge guessed the flier was about 5”9”, though it was hard to judge his size with only the sky to measure him against. He was wiry thin, wearing jeans and a white T-shirt with some slogan on the front made up of mathematical symbols Bridge could not decipher. The man looked Chinese, with spiky black hair and olive skin, likely a few years younger than Bridge. He was furiously waving his arms at the players like a maestro conducting a symphony.

Bridge scanned the football players. From a distance, they appeared normal, but on closer inspection, they were nowhere near normal. He recognized the uniforms they wore almost immediately, the familiar reds of Liverpool facing off against the white kit of rival Manchester United. The players’ skin shined in the sunlight, but not from natural perspiration. In fact, their skin was a patchwork quilt of metallic detritus. As he reached the near touchline, he realized that the players weren’t human at all. They were walking Frankenstein constructs, made of bits of scrap metal and car parts. Every movement they made was accompanied by the faint sounds of twisting metal. The flying man’s excited gesticulations matched the player’s movements as if he was the puppet master Geppetto directing two teams of Pinocchios.

None of the figures noticed Bridge’s approach. He stood watching the game in silent awe for minutes, until the United team slotted a silky header into the goal. The flying maestro cursed loudly. Bridge yelled up at the man, “Ummm, hello?”

The flier screamed in shock, and gestured at Bridge as if throwing a baseball. Bridge’s eyes grew wide as a ball of blue fire erupted from the ends of the man’s fingers and he dove to the side just in time to avoid the explosion that engulfed the spot he’d vacated. Bridge rolled and tried to pull the gun out of his pants, but it had fallen to the ground in the awkward motion. He threw his arms out, palms forward in a gesture of empty-handed peace.

“Whoa, whoa! Hold it, hold it! I’m not here to hurt you!” Bridge marveled at the idea that he could harm a guy who’d just tossed a fireball at him.

“Who are you?” the flier screamed in response, his left hand held out in preparation for another fireball. Bridge could see tiny arcs of blue flame hopping from the man’s fingers. “No one is supposed to be here! Can’t you see I’m trying to run a simulation? You ruined it! I’m going to have to start over!” The clatter of collapsing metal filled the air as the soccer players crumpled to the ground. Something grabbed Bridge, an invisible hand that pinned his arms to his side and lifted him off the ground like a rag doll. The flying man’s right hand gripped air and as he raised the hand, Bridge was pulled into the air to levitate at the flying man’s feet.

Go to Chapter 15.0


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 14.0

November 7, 2028
2:07 a.m.

Bridge stalked past the shopping center in a daze, stewing in mystified confusion and bone-wearying fatigue tinged with impotent anger. He wasn’t even sure who or what the anger was directed towards, just that it simmered in every cell, every pore of his being. He was angry at the dome and everything in it for the goddamned invasion of weirdness it had injected into his life. He was angry at Aristotle for giving him the sob story that had landed him here in the first place. He was angry at Carl the Dragon for being a mysterious dick. But mostly, he was angry at himself for being a soppy bitch and letting all of them push him along to this upside down bizarro world where he felt sure he was going to die. Based on how strange his time in Boulder had been so far, he half-expected that inevitable death to come from a 16-ton weight being dropped on his head from a very great height.

Just north of the shopping center was the intersection of Baseline Road and 93, a crisscross of perpendicular six-lane highways. His route should have followed the highway northwest, but something told him to veer directly north through a large compound of sandstone brick buildings with Italian-styled red tile roofs. The itching pointed towards the compound and beyond, so he left the road for the verdant shade of the trees in front of the compound. A small sign in the meadow informed him that he had finally reached the University, or at least the part of the school known as Kittredge Complex. Though Bridge felt a load-lifting relief at reaching his destination that was as palpable as the bone-deep fatigue that dragged him into a panting stoop, the lack of any visible sort of resolution made that success all too anticlimactic.

“Well, I’m fucking here, you bastards!” he screamed at the barren campus. “I’m finally here. Now what?” The abandoned buildings stared on in mute indifference.

Bridge continued on to the nearest building, which was named the “Wolf School of Law” by signs at either end. The main door was locked. Rather than try to break in, he moved on. “Last thing I need is a building for future lawyers,” he muttered to himself. Talking to himself had become way too routine. Crossing the street presented two more buildings. The one on the left appeared to be another academic building. He ignored it and approached the building on the right, which was set back from the road in a shaded grove. A quick survey of the ground floor windows revealed a series of dorm rooms, all as empty as the house he’d raided earlier. Beds were slept in but uninhabited. Spotting a mini-fridge in one of the rooms, he realized how thirsty he had become. His body was not used to this much walking.

Quickly glancing to either side for onlookers, he pulled out the pistol and cocked it. One shot sounded thunderous in the emptiness of the dome, but it did the job. The window cracked enough for Bridge to finish the job with a well-placed kick. Using the gun butt to clear the rest of the glass, he reached in, undid the latch and climbed carefully through the window.

The electricity still hummed along like the other buildings he’d seen in the city. Bridge searched the room hungrily, snatching a bag of chips from a shelf overlooking a cluttered desk. Opening the mini-fridge revealed only a sparse assortment of vegan food and bottled water. “Fucking kids these days,” he grumbled. “Where’s the beer?” He was sorely disappointed in the room’s former occupants. He ignored the water and munched on the chips while pilfering the room, scoring a few more credit ID’s.

Done with his search, he opened the door and peered up and down the hall carefully. The hinges squeaked too loudly, echoing down the empty hallway with enough volume to make him flinch. Seeing no pursuit, he began a thorough room to room search of the hall. The third mini-fridge he raided contained a stash of the sought-after golden elixir. It was a cheap brew, the kind college students drank because they couldn’t afford the good stuff, but at least these students had had sense enough to make sure it was absolutely ice cold. Bridge popped the top on the can and drained it with zeal, pulling another to carry with him along the way. The frigid liquid gave him a brain freeze and he felt the slightest hint of a buzz building. The bed next to the fridge beckoned to him with the promise of much-needed rest, but he resisted the urge. As fucked up as this place was, he’d likely wake up with three pissed-off bears fussing over his body, ready to revenge Bridge’s theft of their beer.

By the time his search had reached the last door on the east side of the building, it was necessary to switch on the light to dispel the rapidly gathering gloom. It was only after minutes of searching the room that it occurred to him how unnaturally dark it had gotten. He could see the afternoon shadow of the building stretching out on the ground, inching too quickly forward. He had not noticed the quality of light before, but seeing the shadows now reminded him of those old time-lapse photography films of plants growing. It wasn’t quite noticeable at first glance but careful observation confirmed it. The sun was moving impossibly fast towards the western horizon. On the shelf to his right directly at eye level, a digital clock blinked, the numbers cycling through their sequence at breakneck speed. Time was almost literally flying past him.

He tried to connect his jack wirelessly to the GlobalNet. He could feel a definite connection, but where the GlobalNet’s data stream should have been was only the void. He couldn’t check the actual time from the GlobalNet, so he tried to trace his steps back to his entry into the dome. He had left Carl at the entrance at somewhere around 1 or 2 in the morning, yet the dome’s interior was bathed in early morning sunlight. He had perhaps walked 20 minutes, spent another 20 in the house before stealing the car. The ride had been interrupted by ghosts perhaps five minutes after it began, and he had spent another 30 minutes walking from there to his current location. In all, he’d spent no more than two hours under the dome, and yet he could swear it was now as late as 4:30 or 5 o’clock.

While he pondered the issue of time, his eye caught something in the distance, something moving. He could see it above the red-tiled roof of the residence hall to the northeast, floating probably 50 feet in the air. Bridge blinked two, three times, trying hard to comprehend what he was seeing. “The fuck…” he stammered. His mind could not comprehend what his eyes confirmed. Floating there effortlessly stood the figure of a man.

Go to Chapter 14.5


Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 13.5

Chapter 13.0

Despite his impatience for answers, Bridge took to the road at a sluggish pace to avoid the few cars left stranded. The longer he stayed under the dome, the more he felt that tingling nervousness like walking in a graveyard at dusk. Bridge’s comfort zone was the breakneck pace and claustrophobic press of Los Angeles’ 24-hour lifestyle. The overcrowded atmosphere of Denver had a different vibe but it was one Bridge could grasp . Suburbs made Bridge nervous at the best of times, probably residual resentments from his pampered teen years. But this emptiness, this isolated silent wasteland without the slightest human presence gave Bridge the willies on a level he’d never felt before.

The six-lane highway he drove on was in need of repair, the truck bouncing over numerous potholes. Lines of patched-over cracks ran up and down the street like varicose veins. Houses and office buildings stood mute watch over the road from either side of the highway. Two slow blocks later, with Bridge taking careful inventory of the scenery, he began to feel something just on the edge of perception, a slow tingling, the itching sensation in his jack sending tiny ripples of feeling up and down his spine. Incoherent but insistent at first, the feeling grew and grew, traveling through his body like the circulation of blood. All the hairs on his arm stood at attention. He could feel the anticipation in his genitals, his fingers, and his eyeballs pulsed with the sensation. His tongue tasted like he’d licked a battery. He heard/felt a rattling, murmuring drone just at the edge of consciousness.

“What are you doing in my truck?” The scream startled Bridge. He threw himself to the side of the truck’s cab, pressing up against the door as if trying to escape the moving vehicle. Sitting in the passenger’s seat was a stranger staring angrily at Bridge. The muted sunlight poured through the stranger’s colorless body. Bridge could see through the passenger. This ghost wore rumpled pajamas, his curly hair tousled as if from bed head. He appeared to be in his early ‘50’s and worst of all, he was visibly pissed. His stubby finger pointed accusingly at Bridge. “You fucking thief, you stole my truck! Pull this thing over right now!” Underneath the anger, the man’s voice held an unreal quality, a droning artificial timbre that sounded digitally altered, as if he spoke through a voice box.

“Nobody was around,” Bridge stammered, trying to keep his voice steady despite being freaked out. “The whole goddamn town is abandoned and I needed a ride.”

“What, your mama told you taking people’s stuff was ok long as they ain’t around? It’s still my truck! Pull over, I’m gonna whip your monkey ass right here! I’ll have you arrested.”

“By who? Have you seen the cops anywhere? Have you seen anybody? The place is a ghost town! Look at yourself! You’re a ghost!”

“What you talkin’ about, boy? I’m as real as she is!” The ghost pointed at something out the windshield. Bridge had been paying too little attention to the road, having grown accustomed to the idea of an empty city. He turned quickly to see what the ghost pointed at, but was unprepared for what he saw.

Directly in the truck’s path was a woman, wandering aimlessly across the highway. In that split second before reaction, Bridge’s senses expanded to encapsulate every detail of the scene no matter how trivial. The woman was young, perhaps a student, dressed to the nines in a short skirt, fuck me stiletto heels and a strapless top. Her body was on the chunky side of decent, but her face was plainly unattractive. Her eyes vacant, her gait a shuffling stumble, Bridge would put good money that she was well past drunk. She turned her head as the vehicle bore down on her, a scream building in her throat as she realized the danger too late. And then the truck passed through her transparent body. Bridge had swung the wheel too late to avoid contact.

The brakes screamed in protest, tires spitting smoke and cacophonous anger at the impossible intentions of their driver. The truck shuddered towards the shoulder and past it, spewing gravel in its wake as it tore into the grass on the side of the road. Bridge felt the truck slam into the guard rail, his body thrown forward into the inadequate cushion of the expanding air bag as metal screeched against metal and glass shattered into tinkling bells.

Bridge maintained consciousness, but everything hurt and his pulse thundered in his ears. He counted himself lucky to have been so cautious, as he couldn’t have been driving more than 35 miles an hour when he hit. Nevertheless, he heard the hissing of a punctured radiator and saw rivulets of steam escaping from underneath the hood. “Now look what you done, you motherfucker!” the ghost howled. “Do you know how much that’s gonna cost to fix?” He cursed Bridge, but Artemis just ignored it, opening the door slowly and stepping out. Bridge checked himself from head to foot. Nothing was broken, and other than a stiff neck and a motherfucker of a headache, he was unharmed.

He spit a little blood from a split lip and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Fuck it, I’ll just walk,” he said sardonically. “You hear me, you old cocksucker? You can have your goddamn truck back.” He looked back into the cab at the swearing ghost. His eyes widened.

There were ghosts everywhere, walking around in a daze. Some were dressed in their night attire, like the driver of the stolen truck, while others seemed to be going to work or shopping as if it was any other routine day. He stood on a hill overlooking a shopping center with a grocery, drug store, hardware chain and a few other sundry shops. There were people everywhere of all ages, all oblivious to each other and to their own immateriality. Though his head hurt and he ached from head to toe, his entire body vibrated with energy as if he stood underneath a gigantic electrical transformer. His jack was on fire. The scene was exactly like his first bout of hallucinations in the Tanz, only on an incomprehensibly grander scale.

The buzzing vibrations grew stronger. He could almost hear it now, a ringing in his ears that reverberated through every cell, every square inch of him. The light grew stronger, stronger, unbearably brighter and piercing. The ghosts reacted as well, fear growing in their ethereal expressions. They shielded their faces from the light and screamed, and Bridge screamed with them.

Just as suddenly as it had begun, the light show was over. Bridge stood on the hill over the shopping center holding his ears against a pain that no longer troubled him. He opened his eyes slowly, expecting a ghost to pop out of the nearby bushes. He swore. “This is too fucking weird for me,” he complained, and started walking towards the university again. The thought of taking another vehicle occurred to him, but he decided he did not want another visitation from a pissed off ghost owner.

Go to Chapter 14.0


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 13.0

November 7, 2028
1:04 a.m.

His first sensation was that of warm water on his fingers, palms and wrists. Every nerve in the affected area tingled like the static discharge of freshly dried laundry in winter. He slowly opened one eye then the other. His hands had sunk into the dome’s surface, which rippled like a moonlit pool around his outstretched limbs. His interface jack was on fire, the hairs on his neck surrounding the plug standing straight up. Stealing one more glance back at Carl, he saw that the dragon looked down on him with bored impatience. Bridge took the final step and plunged into the darkened surface.

Though he was on his feet the entire time, his senses screamed that he was falling through empty air. He took tiny tentative steps. His vision was blotted out yet his remaining senses seemed to expand as if he’d just jacked into the GlobalNet. But instead of that familiar blinding white rush of speed, there was wave after wave of black motion, as if the world moved around him, past him, through him. Time seemed to bend and though he knew it to be only seconds, the passage through felt like hours and days compressed into a singularity of perception. Before he knew it, he had made it through, back into reality and blinded by the sunlight.

Sunlight. That was the first thought he could grasp. The sun was too bright. He did not expect the sunlight. There should not be sunlight. There couldn’t be sunlight. But as he looked around him, he confirmed that the sun was indeed shining, though the quality of light was muted. Shielding his eyes, he peered upwards and discovered that the dome’s interior surrounded his vision, encompassing the entirety of the sky. The inside was translucent, dulling the light like a massive pair of sunglasses.

The dome had caused quite a lot of damage. On either side of the four-lane highway sat rows and rows of suburban-style houses. Many were cleanly bisected by the dome’s perimeter and those that were not crushed had been devastated by shockwaves. Windows were blasted out, roofs had lost shingles, and those in immediate proximity to the smashed houses leaned precipitously as if an explosive wave had knocked them off their center. The snow that had been on the ground outside was long since melted in the sun, and not even a hint of powder remained. The air was warm and stuffy, not quite at greenhouse levels of humidity but close. Bridge’s heavy coat suddenly felt very hot, so he took it off, draping it over his shoulder casually. The silence that was so prominent outside was gone, replaced by the normal hum of electricity.

The interior of the dome had electricity. As he walked further up the road away from the immediate blast area, he marveled at the houses which had porch lights burning. He could hear the low-level hum of heating units running. The only thing missing was the people. Scattered cars littered the highway, likely the remnants of the sparse night owls that would have been out at the time of the incident. But each car he approached was empty. Most were still in gear, as if their occupants had suddenly abandoned the vehicle while traveling down the highway without bothering to stop. Many had drifted into the median or the shoulder, some with catastrophic consequences.

One car that had stopped in a turn lane was undamaged, so he hopped in to the driver’s seat. If the lights were on under the dome, perhaps the cars would work too. Nothing remained of the passengers except a large cup filled with molding soda in one of the front seat cup holders. A purse lay mutely in the passenger’s side floorboard. Putting the car into park, he attempted to start it, but the engine refused. A look at the dashboard console showed why. The car had no fuel. Perhaps when its occupant disappeared, it had continued running until the gas tank was exhausted. Bridge wondered how long that would have taken. Curious now, he reached over and examined the purse’s contents. The wallet contained a few Legios’ dollars and a credit ID card with the name Lucinda Barnes. He pocketed the card and the dollars. Selling a credit ID for someone who obviously wasn’t there to object would perhaps make up for some of the money he’d lost on this trip. A quick examination of the car yielded nothing else of value, so he left it in park and continued walking. He tried a few other cars, but all had empty gas tanks.

He eyed the neighborhoods on each side of the highway. A number of cars were parked on the streets and in carports, so he took a detour in the hope that at least one would have fuel. There would likely be vehicles that hadn’t been running when everyone disappeared, and who knew what else he could scavenge. He might even be able to score a midnight snack, as he’d not eaten for hours and his belly rumbled. His first stop was at an older house on Ash Avenue, and he struck pay dirt.

After shattering a window, he waited nervously outside for any response from the residents, but the tinkle of glass was answered only by silence. The house still buzzed with active electricity, the refrigerator still hummed its cooling song, so he made himself a quick turkey sandwich. Stalking through the house carefully as he munched on the snack, he searched each room for evidence of life. Beds were obviously slept in but the sleepers were nowhere to be found. He found a couple more credit ID’s and a 9mm pistol with two extra clips. Normally, the last thing he’d carry is a gun, preferring to rely on Aristotle’s bulk to discourage violence on his person. These circumstances were hardly normal and without his friend’s muscle to back him up, he preferred being armed. He hoped he wouldn’t need to use it. His gun skills were such that he was more likely to do something as stupid as shoot himself in the dick than take down a would-be attacker.

The house search also yielded a set of car keys for the late teens model pickup truck parked on the street. He jumped in and crossed his fingers as he tried the key. The engine roared to life and he let go an exhausted cheer. “That’s what I’m fucking talking about,” he yelled. Realizing he was talking to himself, Bridge shook his head, and aimed the truck back towards the highway, making his way carefully through the minefield of stalled cars.

Go to Chapter 13.5



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