Thursday, July 30, 2009

Holy S&@#$@: Growing a New Nose

This is yet another example of the incredible medical technology being worked on. This video tells the story of a poor woman whose nose was shot off during a drive-by in her native Ghana. Thanks to a program called Face to Face that gives free reconstructive plastic surgery to disadvantaged people, this poor young woman was given a new nose. The interesting part is that the nose was grown on her arm. The video is a bit graphic, showing many images of her new nose growing on her arm. Creepy, but that is some seriously awesome meatpunk work. I guess free healthcare can have good outcomes after all.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Know Circuit - Epilogue - Part 2.0

Epilogue - Part 1.0

The next few months were hellishly busy. Bridge had gone back to LA, sending each of the technomancers to separate locations scattered around the country. His instructions were clear. They were to meet in the flesh only if absolutely necessary. They could live anywhere they chose so long as it was away from other people. The five founders would be known as the Council of Five. The Council would meet regularly using a nest of hidden GlobalNet sub-channels created by the mana engine. They would continue their personal experiments separately, but any spells they created would be freely shared amongst the Council. Within a month Carl, Lydia and Wong had set up a hidden virtual city online, accessible only to the Council and of course, Bridge, the Council’s silent partner.

The video of the dragon battle had been seeded liberally by Michael Freeman’s wonder program. It made international news, replayed over and over by local, national and global news networks. The imaginary journo Sanderson Fielding was an overnight media sensation. The corporate owned networks searched high and low for an interview with the reclusive reporter, as much for the ratings as to target him for elimination. Bridge continued sending dispatches from the phantom journalist, spinning a fantastical narrative of a rogue freelancer pursued into hiding by a corporate conspiracy. Fielding’s investigations into the technomancers helped create the cult itself, as hackers, cyberpunks, geeks and young scientists around the world sought to transform themselves into powerful wizards.

The Order of the Technomancers became a real entity, a myth given form. Bridge was the secret brain behind the power, setting up the organization’s structure as a franchise system. He divided the world into five regions, each made up of isolated cells of mages completely unaware of the existence of other franchises, and certainly unaware of Bridge’s participation. Each of the Council was in charge of one region’s cells. They were allowed to recruit a small number of neophytes, who upon passing the showy initiation rites would be implanted with mana engines. The law of the technomancers stated that there could only be 100 mages in existence at any time. Since the new technomancers only knew of their recruiter, the Council and a few others, and only met with the Council online by petition, the lie held. Bridge envisioned a lot more than 100 technomancers, of course. But that belief, that faith that they were one of a special few gave the technomancers a confidence and some much-needed arrogance. They were discouraged from working in teams for extended periods of time. It became quite clear early on that the power of the engine inflated egos dangerously, and there were incidents. The battle between Rolfsberg and Wong was small compared to some of the blowups in those first few months. The technomancers were encouraged to roam free and roam alone, selling glowbugs to whoever could pay. The Council got a percentage, and Bridge got a cut of that. The engine’s GlobalNet sub-network allowed them to move money around at will, and Bridge began amassing a large war chest.

Every technomancer was given one unbreakable covenant. Their mana engine could not fall into corporate hands. If in danger of death, a technomancer was instructed to destroy his mana engine even if it meant destroying himself, disintegrating the engine at the cellular level by implosion. Killing another technomage was frowned upon, but if it happened, the victorious mage must make every effort to retrieve and destroy the loser’s engine.

Bridge took advantage of his silent position with the technomancers. Aristotle had begun to withdraw from their arrangement almost immediately, and Bridge suspected he was drinking pretty heavily. Needing a more reliable bodyguard, Bridge “hired” one of the newly recruited technomancers, a lanky Chinese-American kid who had renamed himself as Mu. Just the rumor of Mu’s presence decreased the drama around Bridge significantly to the extent that he began to forget what a beatdown felt like. Once the Paulie situation had been resolved, he almost began to feel safe.

It wouldn’t last, of course. Bridge had put himself on a collision course with some very powerful forces. There wasn’t a corporation in the world that wasn’t after just one sample of the mana engine, and most would kill to get it. The glowbugging operations took off slowly at first, but as the rumors about the technomancers spread, business boomed. Chronosoft LGL very quickly passed a law outlawing the practice, announced smugly at a press conference by Los Angeles mayor and Chronosoft puppet Arturo Soto. Bridge grinned madly every time he thought about the trouble that he must have been causing Chronosoft Utility’s bottom line. For them to have gone to the trouble of outlawing the practices of an organization whose existence couldn’t be officially confirmed meant they were worried, if not outright panicky.

A reckoning was looming. Bridge would need all his skills, all his connections to emerge intact. At times, he wasn’t even sure the outcome would be worth it. Glowbugging was damaging the LGL system, chipping away in small chunks at one of the pillars of its social power, its death grip monopoly on energy. It might take a hundred years, but as the price of energy tended towards zero, the system’s power over commerce evaporated. The technomancer’s could hide money from the banking system completely. Control over the flow of money, over liquidity itself was no longer the exclusive domain of the LGL’s. Money by itself was useless, but money in liquid form was power. The technomancers, used correctly by someone as devious as Bridge, could whittle away at the entire LGL system, one sliver at a time. He cared nothing about the LGL’s existence or survival. If his efforts destroyed the system, he would laugh, if not, he would use the system to his advantage. He gave no thought to what would take its place were it to fall. The system was corrupt, as amoral as he had ever been at his worst, but more importantly to Bridge, it had crossed him more than enough. Surely something else would be better than the shiny-happy face of corporate dominance that lied with every collective breath. If the American Dream had been a sanitized version of “I got mine,” the LGL version was “You’ll take what we give you and like it.”

For Artemis Bridge, that was a challenge he couldn’t refuse.



Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Know Circuit - Epilogue - Part 1.0

January 4, 2029
1:22 a.m.

Their escape plan had worked, better than Bridge could have hoped. All five of the technomancers had made it out of Boulder without being pursued. Bridge’s group switched cars a few times on the way to the Naturalist compound, sending each abandoned car away on autopilot from where they’d abandoned it. Bud was extremely put out by the surprise guests, even more so when he learned that Bridge had not found his missing recruiters, and the unwanted guests had been responsible for the recruiters’ deaths. Bridge managed to talk him down from shooting the whole lot, but it was close.

Once tempers had calmed, Bridge laid out the entire scenario. He explained who the technomancers were, what they had done and what Bridge planned to do with them. Rather than try to lie his way through it, he told Bud the whole truth. Though every additional person that knew the skinny endangered the whole conspiracy, Bridge figured he could need Bud’s help in the future. Any little lie would jeopardize that future relationship.

As the plan was laid out, the elderly naturalist stared at Bridge with bemused shock before flashing a begrudged smile. “You are the craziest sumbitch I think I’ve ever run into in all my years,” he admitted. “But goddamn, if it works…”

Bridge sat back with a smug smile plastered across his mug, much too satisfied with his own cleverness. Bud leaned over the table and laid a firm hand on Bridge’s wrist, like a massive anchor tying Bridge’s inflated ego to the earth. “You’re going to get a lot of people killed, you know. This thing… it’s going to get people killed. You better make sure it’s worth it.”

Bridge nodded grimly. “It’s worth it.”

Later that evening, he had an even more important conversation. Bridge led Aristotle out into the crisp night air after dinner, making nervous small talk while avoiding looking at his bodyguard. Aristotle let Bridge chatter on for as long as he wanted, oblivious to the silent tears in the larger man’s eyes. Having finally worked up the courage, Bridge stopped along the isolated trail and put a hand on Aristotle’s arm. Everything important that he needed to say was already reflected in the big man’s coal black eyes. “You know she’s dead, right?” Aristotle nodded. “There wasn’t nothing you or me could have done about that. You know that, right?” Again, a nod.

Bridge laid out the whole story, sparing no details. The culpability of the technomancers, the reasons Bridge had brought them safely out of Boulder, the visitation with Lalasa, Bridge repeated the entire story to his stoic bodyguard. Aristotle’s value to Bridge might not have been as vital as Bud’s, but Bridge needed his friend to understand, to come with him. Bridge couldn’t even admit to himself why. The unspoken need galled Bridge, and he tried to make excuses to himself that he dismissed as soon as he thought them. Whether from guilt or affection, all Bridge would admit for sure was that he needed Aristotle. “You can’t retaliate against them, brother,” Bridge finished, emphasizing the obvious. “I need them.”

Aristotle wiped his eyes. “I realize exactly what this means,” he stated without emotion. “I will not harm a hair on their head. You have my word.” They stood apart in tense silence for long minutes. “I need… can you go back? I would prefer to be alone with this for a bit. I need to process.”

Bridge nodded and headed up the trail back towards the compound. Aristotle’s steely voice stopped him. “One day, there’s going to be a reckoning for the things you’ve done here, you know that?”

Bridge didn’t turn, concealing the hollowed stare that broadcast his guilt in mile-high glowing letters. “Don’t I know it, brother.” He walked back to the compound with a soldier’s eyes following his every step.

Go to Epilogue - Part 2.0


Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 19.66

Chapter 19.33

The final component of Bridge’s escape plan was the most important and most perilous, as Bridge had to rely on Wong to pull it off. Since he was the only one besides Carl who could fly, he would be able to reach the dragon-man faster than anyone else. The two of them could escape as the bird flies, avoiding any checkpoints. But they would also need to create the biggest diversion, pulling off a pantomime act that would distract the corporations, governments and media from the real escape while also setting up the mythology Bridge had hastily crafted.

Carl had been seen multiple times as the dragon. If the last message the technomancers had received from him was accurate, he would eventually be caught and killed if he hadn’t already been. Bridge knew the mentality of the Legios management. They would want to capture the dragon and dissect it, and the federal government wouldn’t be far behind them. If they managed that feat, they would have their hands on a mana engine. They’d figure out how to recreate the technology somehow. Bridge had to give them Carl, or at least the illusion that they had taken care of Carl, but without letting them actually have him or his technology. That particular sleight of hand was going to be tricky, but like all magic, it had to be done in plain sight.

As soon as the dome dropped, Wong sent a message to Carl. The technomancers could communicate with each other on a GlobalNet sublevel that possessed the same impenetrable electronic invisibility that the mana engine gave to their physical forms. The message outlined the plan and set up a rendezvous point. Wong would meet Carl and the two of them would head towards the nearest checkpoint, staying out of sight. Once there, they would send the empty dragon skin illusion on an errand of mayhem, attacking the nearest opposition it could find as loudly as possible. In the end, the dragon would lose and be destroyed, at which point the two technomancers were to fly to a rendezvous with the rest of the group before driving on to the Naturalist compound.

Of course, merely sending the dragon out to die wouldn’t establish the technomancer’s reputation. Bridge assumed the Legios Corporation or the feds would do their best to keep the dragon under wraps until they could devise a plausible cover story. Bridge needed his version of the story to get out, needed the world to see the magic, to establish the technomancer brand. Wong would send a nanobot camera to take up a position behind the checkpoint and film the whole thing. A little creative editing and extensive viral distribution would reveal the technomancers to the world, thanks to the dogged freelance journalism of Sanderson Fielding.

Fielding didn’t exist, of course. Once clear, Bridge would put Angela on the task of creating him from thin air, crafting an imaginary persona that could populate the video without the worry that an actual journo would get shut down by the corporations. Once in the wild, the video would spread the brand far and wide.

Bridge watched the video hours later at the Naturalist compound. It was impressive. The raw footage was spectacular, and the work Angela’s guys did with the final product was genius. As soon as the dome dropped, the Legios Rangers and the Guard moved towards Boulder with whatever vehicles they could find handy. The columns of car golems slowed them down briefly, but once armed vehicles moved up into the town, the columns of Legios’ Gunheds and Guard APC’s made short work of the metal army. The road ahead of the Guard was littered with smoldering heaps of metal, makeshift arms blown off torsos, craters in the pavement smoking, dust and dirt and smoke obscuring the road.

The camera panned up quickly, as if startled. The sound of shrieking modems pierced the air. The fiery form of Carl’s dragon swooped out of the sun, a shimmering silhouette with a massive wingspan diving into battle. The dragon dodged a line of tracer bullets fired from the machine gun mounted on the back of an APC, gracefully twisting right before opening its mouth to unleash a gout of flame that crackled with tiny rivulets of lightning. The APC exploded in a shower of burning bodies and shrapnel. The camera mimicked its bearer going prone. Carl’s digitally-enhanced voice boomed out over the landscape.

“This city is ours!” it screamed, the sound of a thousand nails on a chalkboard. “You intrude on the domain of the technomancers at your peril!” Another fireball torched a swath of road before igniting a Gunhed, sending its occupants scattering in screaming panic. The dragon landed on a Guard APC, wrapping its talons around the jeep before lifting it into the air with awe-inspiring strength. Having reached its desired height, the dragon tossed the APC. The camera tracked the vehicle’s flight path directly overhead, following it to its landing point on top of another Gunhed.

Several more minutes of wanton destruction followed before the Guard brought up the heavy gear, a pair of massive tanks. The dragon laughed at the tanks, spitting fire at the nearest. Though absolutely engulfed in flames, the tank continued rolling towards its target. The camera shook dizzyingly as both tanks fired in tandem. The first missed. The second caught the dragon full in the chest, exploding a hole directly through the beast in a shower of sparkling embers. The dragon recoiled in pain, its scream echoing through the hills. A third cannon shot shook the air, and the dragon lost a wing, its graceful flight turning into a sickening, twisting death spiral. The ground shook again as the dragon slammed into it full force. The snow instantly melted around it, clumps of flaming dirt flying into the air.

The crater it left behind was swathed in smoke and steam, and the camera zoomed in awkwardly for a glimpse. For long moments, the area was still as the tanks rolled forward. Finally, a flickering claw reached up to grab the lip of the crater. The beast staggered up, its chest bleeding fire and ash. The tanks fired again, blasting its arm off and throwing it back against the far side of the crater. It stood one final time, its jaw slack as it spoke its final words.

“They’re everywhere! Tanks and soldiers. I’m hit bad. I don’t think I’m going to make it. I can’t believe it. I didn’t think it was possible. They’ve killed a technomancer.”

With that final statement, the exact phrase Bridge had heard before echoing throughout the GlobalNet, the dragon evaporated into a fine ash that blew away on the wind.

Go to Epilogue - Part 1.0


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 19.33

Chapter 19.0

The car jumped, snapping Bridge’s eyes open, his breath caught in his throat. Another bump caused him to check the rear view mirror, which was filled with the hood of the car directly behind. He shook the cobwebs from his head and put the vehicle in gear, pulling out slowly to maintain pace with the cars to either side and in front. The rest of the car shook to awareness as well, staring around at the world as if seeing it for the first time.

Early morning daylight bathed the road. The buildings to either side were lit, the power having returned once the cloud generator was switched off. Bridge took a chance and tried to establish his wireless GlobalNet connection, which worked flawlessly. He checked the date and time. It was early morning, a day and a few hours after he’d entered the dome. “It’s only been a day,” he told the technomancers.

“Time to jam the lines,” Janicki said and closed his eyes, concentrating on a spell. “Done.” To disguise their movements, they would need to disrupt the restored communications between Legios and the National Guard. Janicki’s spell would activate every switch it could find, sending reams of complete gibberish over phone lines, cell towers, and the GlobalNet. With that much static, Bridge’s call to Stonewall would go completely unnoticed. He had to make sure Stonewall and Aristotle arrived at the Naturalist compound ahead of him to prepare Bud for company.

The four lanes of Canyon Boulevard were packed with cars moving westward. A few vehicles were left abandoned in the road. As soon as an obstacle presented itself, one of the front line cars in the parade would transform with a screech of metal and the tinkle of exploding glass. The auto golem would smash, toss and kick the road clear for the rest of the convoy. Once the last vehicle passed, the golem’s work done, it would fold in on itself, ending life as a ball of fuel-soaked steel, glass and rubber. Bridge imagined the same thing happening at all the other spots around the city, the automatons blindly following their programming to the end.

The procession continued at around 20 miles an hour, receding as golems sprouted to deal with the obstructions. The buildings began to thin as they reached the outskirts of town and nervousness flourished in Bridge’s belly with each side street passed. Houses were replaced by trees and their army of cars seemed to get dangerously thin on the ground as they neared the cordon. Only two rows of vehicles were ahead of him as he spotted the first checkpoint. They had gone slightly less than a mile.

The checkpoint was a makeshift barrier manned by the National Guard with four cars pushed together to block the road. The soldiers seemed to be scrambling around in disarray, surprised that their communications gear was not only working, but was being overwhelmed by thousands of random messages. “Get your heads down,” Bridge commanded the technomancers. “Whatever happens, do not poke your heads above the windowsill until I tell you its safe.”

One of the soldiers had spotted the procession of cars coming towards his position and was frantically pointing it out to the rest of his team. Bridge counted at least ten soldiers, and they snapped into action with mechanical precision, ducking into cover behind the barrier while one stood holding up an arm to command the vehicles to stop. The cars continued to come and he repeated the command, his lips moving furiously with vain shouts. The cars continued. He raised his rifle and his team followed suit. Onward the procession rolled.

In the split second before he was prepared to fire, the point soldier realized that the cars were unmanned, that there was no driver to shoot. As time compressed into a slideshow of impressions, Bridge could see the confusion burst across the soldier’s face before quickly melting into horrified surprise. The front row of cars began to twist and shriek in tandem, transforming on the roll into a ten-foot tall wall of robot. Bridge could hear the thundering footsteps of the metal men, interspersed with the staccato pops of automatic weapons fire. Bullets bounced off the golems, or lodged in shattered windshields and burst tires. Shouts and screams erupted from the line as the golems made contact, tossing aside cars as easily as men.

They had discussed trying to keep the golems from using lethal force, but given the time frame, Wong couldn't guarantee they would do the job at all with such parameters. In the end, Bridge had ended the discussion. “You may not want to kill those soldiers, and I don’t blame you. But think about it like this. You’re already on the hook for about 30,000 deaths. 10, 20, 30 more ain’t gonna make any difference.” The mood darkened, but the point was well made. Whatever guilt they might feel over the deaths of these soldiers couldn’t be worse than their original mistake.

Bridge clenched his teeth. Though the golems were doing their job, the road wasn’t completely clear. Soldiers ran towards the shelter of the trees to either side of the highway, but the golems had only managed to toss three of the four cars away. The now front line of the procession was transforming to help clear the way. Bridge’s line of cars was going to have to swerve to get around the last obstruction, and soldiers still sheltered behind the final car. An explosion rocked the scene as one of the soldiers fired a shoulder rocket into the face of a golem menacing him, showering the road with sparkling bits of steel shrapnel, some of which struck Bridge’s windshield. Spider-web cracks appeared all along the surface. Bridge was going to pass the last car in the roadblock to the right. As the car passed the barrier, the rocket-firing soldier’s nerve broke, and he half-turned to run for the shelter of the trees.

Bridge had no chance to miss him. The soldier struck Bridge’s side of the car, the mirror catching him on the hip and spinning him around hard like a broken marionette. He slammed across the hood of the last car, his head slamming into the windshield with a sickening crack. Past the barrier at last, Bridge snapped his neck around to catch a glimpse of the damage he’d done. The soldier lay limp across the car’s hood until the golems managed to lever the car off the road. The rag doll soldier’s broken body slumped sickly to the pavement and lay still. Bridge gritted his teeth and drove on, trying hard to shut out the sounds of the golems shrinking into inert spheres.

Go to Chapter 19.66


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 19.0

November 8, 2028
6:36 a.m.

The escape plan was a simple application of misdirection played out on a grand scale. Bridge needed to get six people out of the most watched city in the world without revealing their escape route. Between the press, the National Guard soldiers and Legios Corporation goons, and the unknowable number of government and private satellites likely trained on the city, the city was under constant observation. When the dome was dropped, the electrical dead zone around the city would go with it, and all those eyeballs would focus on Boulder unless he gave those eyes something else to see.

Getting out on foot was out of the question. Even if they could manage to stay unseen, the weather and distance would take too much out of them. Wong had not yet gotten enough control over the flight equations to carry other people, so flying was out of the question. A single car driving out of the city would be spotted within minutes. Bridge wasn’t confident enough in the mana engine’s ability to hide an entire car from satellites. While Bridge spent the day waiting for Aristotle’s grandmother, the technomancers gathered every car they could find, driving them to the edge of the dome facing outwards along six different exit points. Wong meanwhile modified his soccer AI, creating a sophisticated driving intelligence that could maneuver one car to a predetermined destination. If the car encountered an obstruction, it would transform into a giant golem robot like the car that had attacked the Legios Ranger on the journey to Boulder. Somewhere in the design phase, Bridge began referring to their abilities as spells.

Balfour scoffed. “Spells? I really think you are taking this wizard thing to a ridiculous conclusion.”

“You’re goddamn right,” Bridge countered. “And you had better learn to get used to it if we’re going to sell this technomancer thing. You don’t write programs, you create spells.”

“Why magic?”

“Because the church cornered the market on miracles. You have to make people believe in magic, because belief makes people stupid. Stupid is predictable.” Balfour appeared to want to argue, but as his mind chewed over the concept, his expression changed, first to one of confusion then acceptance. From that moment forward, he relished his role as the Alpha, first of the technomancers.

As sunlight broke on Bridge’s second day under the dome, they stood ready. Bridge, Janicki, Lydia and Balfour chose an unremarkable station wagon as their escape vehicle. They stood beside it as it lay idling at the intersection of Canyon Boulevard and Broadway surrounded by four lanes of cars pointed towards the western mountains. Six other major roads out of the domed area sat clogged with cars stacked three and four wide, each controlled by Wong’s spell.

The thorny problem of gathering up Carl was left to Wong. The youngest technomancer had been sullen but agreeable during the entire preparation. Bridge could tell that Rolfsberg’s death still weighed heavily on him, despite his enthusiasm for the programming challenge. Wong’s task was perhaps the most dangerous. The second the dome dropped, he was to send an encrypted message to Carl, giving him the details of the plan before joining the illusionist in executing their part. Balfour assured Bridge that the message would not be intercepted or decoded, another of the fringe benefits of the mana engine. Of course, they couldn’t be sure that Carl would still be alive to receive the message. They weren’t even sure when they would be emerging from the dome. Days, hours, weeks or minutes might have passed since Bridge had entered, and the message Carl had sent regarding his death might be genuine. If Carl was alive, Wong was to find him, but if there was no answer, he was to haul ass out of there, meeting the other technomancers at the Naturalist compound.

Bridge was unsure if Bud would allow him back into the compound with five new fugitives. Once the aging Naturalist found out that these fugitives were responsible for the deaths of his people, he’d probably be even less inclined to let them stay. But it was the only place Bridge had. All he would need would be a day, just a day to gather his resources and get them all to somewhere else, somewhere out of Legios territory. He wasn’t quite sure where they would end up but he was making it up as he went along.

“Are we ready?” Bridge asked. He took another hard look at his new associates, the tiniest bit of apprehension twisting his guts for the briefest of moments. But his course was set. These were the cards he’d dealt himself. Time to play them.

The group nodded. Bridge climbed behind the wheel, as he was the only one who knew where they were going. “Then let’s set it off,” he said through gritted teeth. Balfour gestured and a ball of lightning shot into the air, then split into hundreds of tiny fingers of electricity that shot off in all directions. The cars surrounding Bridge each got a jolt, and they started in tandem, a roaring grumble of automotive thunder. The first line of cars six lengths ahead jittered into gear and began to ease off the line.

Bridge turned his head to the southeast, gazing towards the Engineering Center. At first, he couldn’t see the tower over the trees and intervening buildings. But then he heard it, the crackling of energy gathering, building to some explosive crescendo. The Engineering Center had too much evidence of the technomancers’ presence. The cloud generator alone would be enough to sink them, even though no one outside of this group would have been able to decipher its uses for years. But the nanotech constructors, glowbugs and other experiments would be too valuable, too important to the upcoming investigations to let it stand. The technomancers knew they had to keep those things to themselves, at least for now. So rather than just shutting down the cloud generator and removing the dome, they needed to remove all evidence of their passing.

The technomancers turned the cloud generator’s energies back in on itself. They would implode the device, and the resultant implosion would wipe out the entire Engineering Center complex. Just as Wong’s fireball had disintegrated Rolfsberg’s body, every iota of physical evidence of their experiments in the Center would end up as ash.

Bridge finally located the Center by the pillar of light. It began to blink, to fade, falling away towards its source in a cascade of blinding light. The dome, deprived of its support, evaporated like the morning fog. All Bridge could see was light, a stunning white light that engulfed his vision. He squeezed his eyes shut and the world blinked.

Go to Chapter 19.33


Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 18.66

Chapter 18.33

Bridge laid out the logistics of his plan to the skeptical group. It was bold, ambitious and larger than life, but he was sure it would work. Once they’d all bought into it, he set them to their individual tasks. As they went about their work, he went about his. He had one thing more to do before leaving Boulder, and he needed to do it alone.

The address was easy enough to find. He drove to a modern, somewhat swanky condo complex near the Pearl Street Mall. Bridge wandered through the halls until he found the right door, Condo 17 A, just like the book had said. The place was deserted, barren like every other place under the dome. Though it took only a few minutes to drive there, the sun was already peaking up over the mountains in the distance. He wasn’t sure if the temporal distortion was accelerating or not, but his body sure wanted that sun to be the signal for sleep. He would usually be in bed right about this time and his arms and legs felt as if they moved through molten lead. But he struggled to the door and made his way through it with a few well-placed kicks. He chuckled at the dichotomy of such an expensive place buying such cheap locks. The alarm system blared a deafening claxon to an audience of one. He ignored them as he entered her apartment and sagged into a chair with an audible thud.

He had asked Lydia about the ghosts before leaving. “When do they show up?”

“Random times. I tried to track it the first few days, but there was no discernible pattern other than that they show up once a day… er, once a solar cycle, that is. Close enough to a day for us.”

“So if I hang around here at least a day, they’ll come back?”

She nodded. “For a few minutes. Why do you ask?”

He just waved her off. “One more thing I have to take care of.”

There he sat in Lalasa Freeman’s apartment, waiting to meet her ghost while hoping he didn’t, hoping against every cynical bone in his body that she wouldn’t be here, wouldn’t have been affected, a strange guilt weighing him down. Of course, he didn’t cause her death anymore than he should have felt guilty for not saving her. Guilt was one of the emotions he rarely felt, as if it was a disease and he was immune to its contagion. But he felt the guilt now, felt it like a two-ton stone in his gut. He knew better, but he still found himself hoping she had taken a trip, had gone to visit a friend outside the dome’s range, that they would yet find her somewhere safe and sound. He hoped and he blamed himself and he sat waiting. He tried to stay awake, marveling at the powerful paintings that hung all over the place, but his chin fell to his chest as his body gave in to the urge to sleep.

He woke to the rushing of blood in his ears, the itch of his jack burning on his neck. The hairs on his arm stood on end. He could feel something about to happen, just like it had the first time he’d seen the ghosts, and he steeled himself. The world blinked.

He opened his eyes and there she was. A short, slightly stocky black woman with neat cornrows in her hair and glasses perched on her nose, the ghost of Lalasa Freeman stood before Bridge. She seemed to be staring around the apartment, at her artwork, her counters, her chair where this young intruder sat staring back at her agape. “Who are you?” she asked, the hint of fear cutting through the distortion in her voice.

“Mrs. Freeman?”

“Mrs. Freeman was my mother. My name’s Lalasa, son. Now what are you doing in my apartment? Did you bust open my door? Why can’t I see right?” She adjusted the glasses on her nose and scowled. “My prescription ain’t due up for another six months. What’d you do to me?”

“Nothing, ma’am,” Bridge said, an unconscious respect appearing in his voice. “Well, I busted in the door, but didn’t figure you’d be in a position to mind.”

“Mind? Hell yes, I mind, you little fucker. You here to steal an old lady’s purse? I’m on a fixed income and my credit is tied up in this place. You won’t get nothing worth a damn out of me.”

“I’m not here to steal from you, Mrs. F… Lalasa,” he replied. “I’m here because Marcus sent me.”

“Marcus? That boy needs to learn to call his grandmother. I ain’t gonna be around forever.”

An unfamiliar sensation of regret stabbed at Bridge’s heart. “Yeah, about that,” he choked, “he’s fine. But you aren’t. You’re a ghost.”

“Nonsense, boy. You’re the ghost. How you do that, by the way? Gas? Nanovirus? Cloaking suit?”

“It’s not me, it’s you,” he said firmly. “There was an accident, and everyone here is… well, they aren’t dead, exactly, I guess. There’s just ghosts, like you. You blink in and out for a few minutes every day. We don’t have much time.”

She seemed to take the news of her condition in stride. “Well, you’re obviously crazier than a bedbug, but I’ll bite. How is my grandson? Is he keeping his nose clean? No more drugs, gangs?”

“He’s clean,” Bridge lied. “He’s working for me.”

“Doing what?”

“He’s a bodyguard. But he’s going to college, he’s getting a philosophy degree.”

“Good, good. Boy always was smarter than he let on. I tried to teach him right, teach him that money wasn’t as important as a peaceful spirit. Why’s he bodyguarding you? You ain’t doing nothing criminal, are you?”

He lied again. “No, not exac… no. He’s safe, and I intend to keep him that way. I just wanted to know if there was anything you wanted me to tell him. You might not ever be able to see him again.”

“Oh, I’ll see him again. One day we’ll all be one with the universe, and his spirit will be there right beside mine.”

“Ok, sure, we’ll do that. But while he’s here, is there something you want to say?”

The ghost stood for a moment in concentrated thought. “I don’t know that I believe you, what with the ghost thing, but yeah, I got something to tell him.”

Bridge began to feel the encroaching event, his body tingling, his jack burning. The ghosts would be gone soon. “You don’t have a lot of time, ma’am. Please.”

“Tell him I was always proud of him. Even when he was at his worst, I always knew he’d succeed, he’d get it together. Deep down, he knows who he is. He…” The world blinked, and when Bridge opened his eyes again, she was gone.

With an exhausted sigh, he left the apartment and drove back to the Engineering Center to prepare for the escape.

Go to Chapter 19.0


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 18.33

Chapter 18.0

“I gotta freshen up,” Bridge muttered. His head was spinning, fatigue beginning to take its toll. “Where’s the can?”

The scientists all looked at each other in puzzlement. Janicki pointed out the double doors. “Down the hall.” Bridge strode out of the room shaking his head, barely noticing the others. His mind was racing from idea to idea, analyzing the events of the last days and formulating plans he couldn’t even consciously grasp through his weariness. He half-staggered down the hall to the bathroom, absentmindedly walking through the ladies’ room door before realizing where he was and turning around.

He stood before the mirror in the men’s room, the water swirling loudly in the sink. Reaching his hands into the cool water, he splashed his face. The shock of the near-freezing liquid took his breath away for a moment, but it crystallized his subconscious musings into concrete conscious thoughts. The scheme he was cooking up was big. It would require some long-range commitment on his part, but if it worked, he would personally benefit as much as the geeks. One cold, hard look in his own eyes, the mirror reflecting his desperate cunning and fatigued sparkle of insanity, then he self-consciously straightened his clothes. The last thing he needed was the grin, the cocksure slight uptick of the corner of his lips, the expression that said he had the situation under control.

When he returned to the lab, the four scientists were huddled around whispering in conspiratorial tones. They went deathly silent when they saw him. “You geeks ready to perform the biggest magic trick in the history of the universe?” Bridge said with that crazy confident smile.

Their stunned silence was answer enough. “Here’s how it’s going to go down. You’re dead, all of you, even your buddy Carl out there. In fact, you never existed. You cannot exist now or in the future. To even leave a hint that you were ever here during this clusterfuck is to sign your own death warrant, for realz.”

“How do we do that?” Lydia asked.

“Magic, baby. Magic.”

“There’s no such thing as magic,” Balfour scowled.

“Flying fucking dragons, guys tossing around fireballs like baseballs, energy shields, football golems, need I go on? You guys are wizards if ever there was one. You show one-tenth of what I’ve seen to the knuckle-dragging rubes on the street, they’ll either think they’re in a movie, or you’re some kind of magic man.”

“But everything we’ve done is a side-effect of this dimensional-particle technology,” Balfour insisted. “We can’t quite explain all of it, but there has to be a rational, scientific explanation for it. Just because we’ve discovered how to use it doesn’t mean we’ve been able to understand it all. Marie Curie discovered radiation without understanding the dangers.”

Janicki snickered. “Until the radiation sickness killed her.”

“Yes, but that’s what I mean. Eventually, science found a logical explanation, and we can find one for all of this.”

“And until then, you guys are magicians. Wizards.” A name he’d heard on science-fiction TV during his childhood leapt to mind. “Technomages, technomancers. Wizards whose spells are created using technology. Does that sound more acceptable?”

Balfour shrugged. “It makes as much sense as wizards. One doesn’t weave spells from technology, one just applies theorems to practical…”

“Yeah, you? You don’t get to speak to the public. You could ruin a wet dream.”

Lydia interrupted. “Great, we call ourselves technomages or technomancers then. Are we going on television to reveal ourselves to the world?”

“No,” Bridge sighed. “I’m creating an event here, lady. Do you want the Chronosoft’s of the world finding you and picking your brain for every little trick you can think up?” She shook her head. “Then you have to distract them. People are going to want to know what happened here, and the less they know of what actually happened, the less chance you five have of being blamed for the deaths of thirty thousand people, got it?”

“But how does calling ourselves technomancers help us?”

“You guys know anything about history? Probably not, you’re more concerned with the Big Bang than with history, am I right? Anyway, you know about the Crusades right? Good.”

Bridge crossed his arms with casual confidence as he began to tell the story. “Well, the Christians, these Frenchies and Germans and whatever captured this town called Antioch from the Muslims. One of the priests with the army, guy named Peter Bartholomew, claimed to have a vision. This vision told him that a holy artifact was buried in some church in Antioch. He probably made the whole damn thing up to inspire the troops. After all, the Crusades hadn’t been the cakewalk most of the idiots thought it would be. So, he goes and digs up the floor of the Church and lo and behold, there’s this lance head buried underneath the Church. ‘A miracle!’ he says. ‘This is the Holy Lance that the Romans used to pierce Christ’s side on the cross,’ he says.”

“The Spear of Destiny?” Wong asked.

“Holy Lance, Spear of Destiny, who knows? Not important. They find this lance head and show it off to the army. The head Crusaders, they’re real skeptical. I mean, it looks just like one of their spears, so they figure this guy’s yanking their holy chain, right? But as soon as the grunts see this lance, they go ape shit. I mean, any army that carries the Holy Lance of God cannot possibly be defeated. They’ll just rampage over the heathens. And these happy assholes believed it.”

“Maybe it was the starvation, the heat stroke, the fasting, or maybe the lance really was some kind of magic holy mojo, but whatever it was, the army starts winning. Guys are running into battle getting shot to shit by arrows and shit, but they don’t care. They’re totally oblivious to their own wounds, slaughtering Muslims left and right, just batshit crazy suicide bombs in armor tearing ass from one side of the Holy Land to the other. They drive off the Muslims, but instead of thanking old Peter there, the leaders of the Crusade accuse him of making the whole thing up.”

“You know what an actual trial by fire is, right? Light up this stretch of ground between two points and force the accused to walk through the fire. You live, you’re innocent, you burn and you’re a liar, liar pants really on fire. Well, they put Peter through one of those and he comes out totally unscathed. Scared shitless, but unharmed. They make him do it again. Once ain’t enough proof, get it? It makes them look bad. But he makes it through again. Now, he’s probably thinking he’s either the luckiest motherfucker alive, or maybe God really has blessed him. What’s that got to be like, going from scared of being a crispy padre to thinking you might really be some kind of messenger from God? The crowd fucking loves him after that. Here’s the guy that’s brought them the bomb, the divine intervention that will save their asses from a slow, scorching death in some fly-ridden foreign shithole. They start to cheer. They start to paw at him, ‘cos everybody wants a piece of this lucky divine son of a bitch. Everybody wants a bit of hair, or some of his robe, because if this fucker is blessed, maybe I can lucky rabbit foot’s my way to surviving this crazy ass war by pinning a pound of his flesh to my armor.”

“And they pick at him for days. By the time they’re done, he’s been trampled and ripped apart by this insane crowd of fanatics. He inspires them to victory and he gets ripped to pieces for it. I heard that story when I was twelve. Not sure how much of it is true, but it always stuck with me.”

The scientists stared at Bridge in confusion. Balfour asked, “I’m confused. In this allegory, are we supposed to be the crowd or the priest?”

Bridge grinned. “You’re the Lance, Mr. Wizard.”

Go to Chapter 18.66


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 18.0

November 7, 2028
Time Unknown

“Gone? Just gone?” Bridge had listened as patiently as he could to Balfour’s story, but the finality of an empty city, the sheer bleakness of having come all this way only to find Aristotle’s grandmother vanished crushed him with fatigue. He slumped further into his chair. “And you eggheads don’t have clue one where all these people went?”

“No, Mr. Bridge. We scoured the whole city in all directions. We didn’t find one corpse, not one molecule, nothing to show that any of the residents within the dome survived. These ghosts which you’ve already seen are the only evidence they ever existed. Most of the ghosts don’t even seem to know we’re here. They come at random times but never for very long.”

Janicki offered a theory with cool detachment. “I’ve considered the possibility that the cloud generator experienced a power surge. This surge might have disintegrated all non-plant organic matter underneath its area of effect. Plant life is unaffected but humans, pets… all gone.”

“And you guys,” Bridge replied.

“If we accept Dr. Janicki’s surge hypothesis, we can deduce that our mana engines rendered us immune to the effects,” Lydia explained.

“That is a logical deduction. After all, we can juggle fireballs and lightning without getting singed. The engine seems to lend us a remarkable resistance to electricity, heat, perhaps even other forms of more harmful radiation.”

Bridge scoffed. “Rolfsberg didn’t seem too immune to heat.”

Balfour peered down his nose at Bridge distastefully. “No need to be petulant. We’re still exploring the rules of our upgraded conditions.”

“Great. I’m dealing with wizards who don’t even know the extent of their magic. Five idiot savant Merlins.”

“Wizards? Magic? You sound like Carl with his dragon illusions. We aren’t magicians. There’s no such thing as magic. We’re scientists. All of our abilities can be explained by a more thorough understanding of the mana engine, something we’ve been trying to accomplish while we waited for you. Dr. Wong has been experimenting with his sports simulation. Dr. Carlisle has been examining the startling variety of dense particle combinations the engine can facilitate. Dr. Janicki and I have been attempting to better understand the cloud generator, and we think we can shut it down, though the results will be rather explosive.”

“Science, magic, same thing to a caveman.”

“There is another possibility.” The voice startled everyone. Wong had appeared in the doorway. His eyes were red and puffy, and he walked with his shoulders slumped as if they bore the weight of the world.

“Quon!” Lydia shouted and ran over to him. “Are you all right?” She clutched his face lovingly with both hands. He pulled her hands down softly, nodding his head. Though calm as a still sea, his expression betrayed a tumultuous spirit.

“You have a theory, Dr. Wong?” Balfour asked.

“The engines and the generators work off the principle of firing particles cross-dimensionally, right? What if the particular combination of particles we fired into the generator created a reaction that opened that dimensional tunnel too wide? The energies unleashed could have shifted the dimensional frequency of the organic material in the area of effect, except for those of us with mana engines whose bodies were already attuned to the engine’s dimensional energies. We’re anchored at the same frequency as the cloud generator, but those who weren’t at the time are constantly shifting back and forth across the dimensional barrier. When the ghosts appear, it’s just the echo of their consciousness coming close to the same phase as the cloud but never quite syncing up.”

Bridge tried to follow the Chinese scientist as best he could. “So you’re saying the people here could be saved? You could sync them back up with this cloud thingie?”

Wong stared at him with a puzzled expression. “Save them? Do you have any concept of how difficult it would be to try to guess the particular dimensional frequency of just one person and then sync that person in with the rest of us?” He laughed a hollow, soulless chuckle. “No, I guess you don’t. It would be like trying to catch one specific water molecule with a net the size of the Milky Way while that water is traveling at the speed of light. And even if we could reconstitute whatever energy state their consciousness is trapped in, their organic matter has likely been converted to that energy.”

“I’m sorry to say those people are gone, Mr. Bridge.” Balfour spoke with such detached certain finality that Bridge’s stomach burned.

It all began to swirl in his mind. Fatigue and despair weighed on him so heavy it felt as if a fully-loaded truck sat on his chest, restricting his breathing. They’re all dead. Or stuck between dimensions, whatever that meant. It was probably worse than being dead. Aristotle’s grandmother, the Naturalist recruiters, they were all gone, for all intents and purposes dead.
Despite all the talking and effort and wheeling and dealing Bridge had done to get to this point, to get to Boulder to perform some miraculous rescue, he hadn’t really cared. He hadn’t come to save Aristotle’s grandmother, no matter how much he had told his bodyguard. Bridge had always known that deep down. It was why he would never make Aristotle a promise. Not because he logically knew that the chances of her survival or of Bridge being able to do anything to find her were so remote as to be impossible, but because he hadn’t come here to help. He was here because he was angry. He was here because somehow these geeks had gotten into his head and compelled him to come here, had forced these choices on him. He was here because he was pissed off at being jerked around.

His anger, his fatigue, his sense of failure, and deep down his own self-loathing finally exploded. “GODDAMNIT!” Bridge snapped, lifting the desk next to him and tossing it aside. Papers and books flew everywhere. A console screen exploded in a shower of sparks. “I came here because my bodyguard’s grandmother lives around here somewhere… lived. And you fuckers are telling me that she's dead, just like that? She’s just dead?”

“No, Mr. Bridge, you’re here because we called you here,” Balfour stated without emotion. “We are fully aware of what our experiments have wrought. The Legios Corporation and the US government will find every excuse to blame the deaths of these people directly on us. And before they are done with us, Chronosoft and any other corporation that funded our research will claim ownership of every bit of it. They will bury us in a deep dark hole and they will steal everything we created. They will turn all of it into another means of exploitation, or another weapon.”

“You sound like my buddy Stonewall,” Bridge chuckled wryly.

Lydia elaborated. “We talked it over before we activated the cloud generator, Bridge. Whether the experiment had succeeded or failed, we were going to need someone to represent us, someone who could help us negotiate, or help us hide if the corporations went after us. We would need someone like you. Dr. Balfour’s friend Freeman said you were the man we needed.”

“Once we realized what we’d done,” Janicki took up the story, “we knew we had to have you here quickly. But the cloud was interfering with all forms of communication in or out. So we sent Carl outside the dome and sealed it, making sure only he could open it from that side. He was to send the message and wait for you to come.”

“He got a little overzealous,” Bridge responded. “Not only did he get me, he’s hypnotized every jack head from five states over to flock here like you were handing out free Trip. And he attacked a National Guard post, which has probably caused fifteen kinds of holy hell out there.”

“We think they might have attacked him. This is his last message.” Balfour gestured and Carl’s distorted voice filled the room. Though Bridge could see no speakers in the room, it filled his ears as well as any sound system could.

He recognized the nasally, artificially augmented tones of the dragon Carl. “They’re everywhere! Tanks and soldiers. I’m hit bad. I don’t think I’m going to make it. I can’t believe it. I didn’t think it was possible. They’ve killed a technomancer.” The message ended with a booming explosion and a burst of static.

“Until you got here, we assumed that meant he was dead. Now that we know he might still be alive out there, we need to find him. We need to disappear, to destroy any trace of our work and set ourselves up somewhere else with new identities and new facilities. We need you to get us out of here.”

“What’s the plan then?”

“We don’t have a plan, Mr. Bridge. That’s why you’re here.”

Go to Chapter 18.33


Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Know Circuit - Interlude - Part 8.0

Interlude Part 7.0

Balfour woke to sunlight streaming over his body from the hole in the ceiling. A moment's confusion left him unsure of where he was, but the steady hum of the cloud generator jarred his memory with a focused shot of dread. The pillar of light still stood, reaching up towards the morning clouds. As he studied the sky further, he noticed that the light was muted like a pair of weak sunglasses stood between him and the blue sky above. He sat up, noticing that Janicki lay unmoving next to him. Wong still hovered in the air despite being unconscious, his arms hanging limply at his sides. Balfour noted with a curious detachment that the flight equation didn’t require conscious maintenance. A groan from behind shook him from his musings.

“What was that?” Rolfsberg shouted from a heap on the floor. The Norseman pushed a robotic arm that had fallen over him aside and struggled shakily to his feet. “Hello, is anyone there?”

“Here,” Balfour answered while checking Janicki’s pulse. Alive. He shook the unconscious scientist awake.

“What… who? Shit, we’re alive.” Janicki seemed surprised by this fact as he stared up wide-eyed at Balfour. “Do we have power?”

A quick glance around the room confirmed that the generator was indeed working. “I’m a bit more concerned about what that flash was, but yes, it’s working. Better than we’d anticipated, apparently.”

“I told Wong that his math was off,” Rolfsberg hissed. Janicki threw Balfour a knowing glance and a wry smile.

“Still an asshole,” Janicki whispered under his breath.

Balfour’s connection to Lydia and Carl was still active. “Lydia? Carl? Are you two ok? Answer me.” He heard the pair stirring back to consciousness.

“What happened?” Lydia said sleepily.

“We’re still trying to determine that. Do you have power down there?”

“Yes. The generator worked?”

“Affirmative. Unfortunately, we’ve got a bit of a side effect here. And we’ve slept for… I’m not sure how long, it’s daylight outside.” He glanced over at the clock, but it had malfunctioned, its digital display cycling through its series of numbers at breakneck speed. He tried to connect to the GlobalNet to update his own internal HUD clock, but no connection was found. “Just get back here and we’ll figure out what happened.”

“I guess we wait for security to come and escort us off campus,” Janicki joked. Despite the humor, they all expected it. “I don’t think we make enough in a year combined to pay for that hole.” They sat in embarrassed silence waiting for the hammer to fall, each fidgeting with their own data from the generator’s operations. When Carl and Lydia finally burst through the double doors to the lab, Balfour jumped as if electrocuted. He sighed with relief to see his colleagues instead of a team of campus cops.

“You have to come see this,” Lydia shouted. “Come outside, quick!” She motioned at them with her hand then ran back out the doors, ignoring the hole in the ceiling completely. Balfour raised an eyebrow at Janicki and followed.

They ran down the hallway to the stairs, barely keeping up with Lydia as she retreated down to the ground floor. She blasted through a side door into the parking lot. Balfour stared around for a minute, seeing nothing out of place. The parking lot was mostly deserted despite the hour. He looked back up at the tower where his lab was located, scowling at the pillar of light poking out of the top. Then he noticed the dome, the polarizing effect of the energy field dulling the chill November sunlight. The temperature was a bit warmer and stuffier than he would have expected, perhaps a function of the dome’s translucence acting like the glass in a greenhouse. He followed the curvature of the dome across the horizon. It was enormous, possibly miles in diameter. No way could they hide their experiments with that overhead.

“The cloud appears to be visible,” he observed. “That was unexpected. Your calculations on the range were also incorrect, Rolfsberg.”

The Norseman started to protest but Lydia interrupted. “No, not the dome. Don’t you notice anything else? Anything missing?”

There was a silence in the air, a disconcerting stillness that distorted their voices with an eerie echo. Despite the proximity of the nearby buildings, he felt isolated on a clear open field, alone in a massive desert.

“No security. We ran into nobody on the way from the lab to here. No one in the parking lot. No early morning joggers. There's nobody here.”

“No,” Janicki objected. “It’s just early.”

“Do you ever remember it feeling this empty? This quiet? Even this early? And how early is it, anyway? My watch isn’t working at all, but it looks like class time to me. There should at least be the joggers or the security. Look at the street.” She pointed to a security truck sitting in the road. At first it appeared to be idling but on closer examination, the truck had drifted unattended to a rest on the cub. The cab was empty with the engine running. Balfour reached in and put it in park, then shut off the engine.

“She’s right. What kind of security guard leaves his truck running in gear? We need to scout out, see how far the dome extends and if there’s anyone else left here. Take a car if you need to.”

“I think we just made a city disappear.”

Go to Chapter 18.0



Chapters (17) Cyberpunk (26) GlobalPedia (10) Interviews (3) KCChapters (54) Meatpunk (4) News (76) Reviews (15) Tales (10)