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

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