We helped Shanghai Lily, Mila, and the rest of the Kennedy High World Class War encampment out of the Gnossis network coverage area, also known as the “Red Zone”, to the greater urban wilderness of The Offline. To do so, I called in a personal favor with a lithium runner I’d saved from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The ICE sting teams maintained the Big Tech triumverate’s monopoly on the scarce electrochemically active metal that was the lifeblood of all electronics, and the corp-owned government “regulators” took lithium control even more seriously than information control. The runner had been moving several tons of Chilean lith-juice through the San Fran port when a pack of Cerberus EX341’s sniffed the payload. Suffice it, I scrambled the dogs organoleptic senses, gave the bitches e-worms right up their cold myomer rubber noses.
The new WCW outlaw/refugees waved goodbye from inside the tunnel of an opaque plastic thousand gallon water tank filled with argent metal contraband, like an Olympic-scale tube of silver dollars. It was hard to believe you would ever need to run away from a shithole sewer like District Ten, but all kinds of things hard to believe happened in our most interesting of times.
Aliyah was now a POW in CyberSec custody, in the process of being shipped off to a “detention” facility in which she would be continuously fed high-calorie corn syrup-lacquered soy biscuits. The chemical energy would then be extracted methodically from her body in the form of a non-stop stationary biking marathon, converted into electricity to feed the automated robotic infrastructure of the impossibly wealthy. Or, possibly, she would end up a “meaty” biological prostitute, a rarer confection in a market of wind-up love dolls and battery-operated wives. Krash tried to pretend he didn’t feel anything about the matter, but I could tell from his unusual introversion that the guilt for having largely enabled Aliyah’s capture was starting to weigh on him already.
“Try not to think about it. Only makes it worse.”
“Think about what?” Krash pinched his fingers into the pockets of his skinny jeans and shrugged, with an expression that would’ve been subtitled “WTF?” if I’d spurted a picture of him online into a demotivational poster auto-caption generator. Either his Kontakts were itching or he had developed a nervous twitch in his right eye.
“Never mind,” I said.
“Double-you tee eff are we doing here? I mean seriously. We just got owned back there. Major failitude,” Krash complained, kicking a discarded soda can with a mint green alligator shoe.
“Operation Forster is still underway. We’ve had some minor setbacks but we’re in this, Krash,” Leeloo said, one hand lodged in the front pocket of her pleated empire waist coat, the other lacing its way between his fingers unconsciously.
“Setbacks? Like holy overstatements, Batman!” Krash turned, holding his head in his hands. Wearing a look that was hip this minute in a virtual community of Asian boys with swords the size of ironing boards, Krash’s Technicolor-yellow spiked hair, still marred with blotches of ash from the Sharper Image fire, puffed sooty clouds as he shook with mock-outrage.
“Understatements…” Leeloo sighed, hurt in her brow.
“Whatever. It’s all gone to shit. We’re taking a little walk through the Ashlands to who the fuck knows, people were thrown in re-education prison cause of us, and Maxx is probably on his way there.”
I just managed to halt the words, “Because of you,” from crossing the border of my lips.
“Krash, you better just deal with it because this op is still in motion, and it’s staying in motion till we hit a wall or completion. There’s no going back.” It was morning, but the air was still tart with airborne carbon, still sallowing the sky that ambiguous fleshy color of botched petri dish cultures. Because of all the firefights, bombing, and arson left unsnuffed by a terminally cut fire department, the atmosphere was like a continuously-shaken snowglobe of cinders, which is how The Ashlands acquired its name. Krash scoffed but said nothing intelligible. Probably the only thing causing him more inner turmoil than the guilt was his inability to blog to the world about his inner turmoil. For his generation, nothing was private, the inner life was a foreign concept.
“Maxx is right where he needs to be. We’re going to get him out, don’t worry. And Aliyah will be fine too. Hex Gen will figure out an extraction plan.” That last part was a flat lie. In all probability, no one would come for Aliyah, and she would be a slave of Ameribank City as long as the Feudal Lords running said gated-megatropolis deemed appropriate. Wouldn’t be the first or the last time I would lie for the sake of morale, and I needed some way to snap Krash out of his Kradle-of-Mudd self-pitying funk. Post-traumatic guilt tripping would not be tolerated while on duty.
We ate pavement up Soros Avenue, or at least up the weather chewed gravel that used to be pavement. All the infrastructure in the US was picked clean by the vulture capitalists after the scorched Earth austerity-measures. With the new BRIC alliance having finally created their own reserve currency, popped the Wizard of Oz monster of the US dollar, the infinite money presses of the federal reserve began to collapse, and the Faustian bargain between banks who needed politicians to enable them to print zero-interest rate predatory “bubble” money and the politicians who needed the banks’ printed money to finance campaign promises for another election year finally went critical mass. The next year, China and the Germany in partnership with Goldemann Barclays bank did what Germany had done to Greece in 2011/2012. In return for Trojan Horse “bailouts”, they forced a carpet bombing of budget cuts that annhilated basic services in the US. Public roads, airports, hospitals, gov buildings sold off by lackeys in the government at pennies on the silver dollar to the megabanks who intentionally blew up the Greatest Nation on Earth with their subprime looting and derivative WMDs lit by high frequency trading, more effective than any actual nuclear weapon. Allowed thanks to the puppet president Ryan Vanderlyle, who was essentially a braindead life support system for a bill-signing hand that passed whatever piece of e-paper his leash holders put in front of him. The rest of the cabinet and congress, who were by now all installed “technocrats” AKA former Goldemann executives, took a percentage in the form of campaign donations, back-door IPOs and choice swaths of Boca Raton beachfront property that hadn’t been destroyed by MOAB-size IEDs detonated by the 70% unemploymed protester/insurgent population. Mansions the size of colloseums, Kim Kardashian Klone and a dozen kilos of cocaine-grade wyre included as party favor. Asslicking jackals killing each other for the opportunity to fuck Violet Johanssen and rub shoulders with the Michael Jordan of megalomaniacal trillionaires, Robert Diamond, CEO of Ameribank. All while the rest of America was thrown into the street to rot, homeless, uninsured, and hungry.
I remember it clearly; one week everything was (relatively) normal, the next the San Fran General Hospital staff was financially decimated, and mom couldn’t even get the insulin for her diabetes. “We’re strapped for resources.” “Triage” they said they had to perform. A nice way to say that if you weren’t connected, you got tossed in the “Deadweight” bin, chuted post-haste down to the morgue. Vitanet Medical even denied access to crucial smart-heart firmware updates and the latest ImmunoSys pathogen and flu definitions. I knew a kid at my school died cause he couldn’t get simple penicillin for strep, story was the in-sourced corporate doctors just pumped him full of sedatives, zipped him up in a Hefty bag. The looting really took off shortly after when the cops started getting laid off. Some of my “friends” at the time peer pressured me into helping them rip off a BankstaBling clothing store with some ski masks and the poorly-remembered plot of some bad heist movie. Being stupid drunken careless punks, we got caught, of course, but the judge threw out the case after the officer that caught us lost his job. The judge was out on the street jacking 711s like us soon after. And the US was late to the destruction-for-profit party. The Greek Acropolis had long become a Super Bowl half-time light show of Nike footwear ads, the several thousand year old pinnacles of civilization had their Triumphal Arches bought out by McDonald’s on the cheap, defiled with yellow paint, used to sell greasy GMO meat-product burgers. The Greek experiment ended not with a bang but a “Can I take your order?”. After the fat cat cartels finished making their billions subcontracting illegals to re-model New York, Chicago, LA into an endless megamall/urbclave, they had all their photo-ops taken hugging those same one-legged North Korean and Mexican immigrants in front of their neo-Art Deco, onstensibly philanthropic schools to help “lift America’s youth out of the ash”. Once they published all their press releases and had given enough diplomats walking tours to appease their Bleeding Heart Scandinavian business partners, the rich fucks then flipped the shiny new municipalities back to the state, and let the buildings and roads rot in their fundlessness and economic voids. Like the Chinese ghost cities earlier in the century, forever awaiting the arrival of an imaginary future that was and always had been a Ponzi scheme.
We rounded the corner of Geithner and 4th, up along the long stretch of former AT&T Park, now Gnossis Park, and so overgrown it resembled photos of Chernobyl factories, decades post-meltdown. Here in SoMA district were also San Francisco’s last erected skyscrapers, design-heavy glass pyramids straining to hold on to the monolith of US techno-innovative superpowerdom amongst Mumbai and Beijing’s architectural phalli rising on the backs of smog-smothered grindhouse-sweatshops pumping out Gap wear and smart phones. The towers were never filled, hollow vessels of a squandered future, and were touched only by the high-water mark of the Unemployment Riots; windows broken and graffitied up to the fourth floor, attacks that peeled away designer glass to expose raw sandstone frame, making the structures appear as if they were wearing giant cement shoes.
Krash was right about one thing; it would be a long goddamn walk up out of San Fran to Ameribank City. And the next phase of Operation Forster would require vehicular assistance eventually. Magpeds whirred past along the diamagnetic tracks, clanging occasionally as they hit dents and other imperfections in the dilapidated rail. The autonomobile traffic was still fairly light this far into the Bay Area Ashlands, where few could afford the thousand dollar monthly Premium Internet to stream the equally costly Cloud-based driver AI required. Nevermind the price-monopulated car notes that gave the New Malibu floating house mortgages a run for their money. Just ahead, getting out of their multi-million dollar Autonomobile Quicksilver with their retro-analog Kodak cameras in hand were the usual suspects: Enclave Bleak-hunter kids, playing out teenage cutesy rebellion in their custom-fit ironic shirts, interesting socks, and jeans made and degraded by real human beings. All that purchased authenticity. Ex-makeup artists from the Hollywood Crash and MPAA implosion were routinely recruited, given job security applying fake grime, high fructose cuts and bruises to angsting trillionaire magnate spawn looking to loose their virginity in the musty catacombs of a condemned Xerox factory turned wirehead crack house. Necropolis porn, literally, smut involving homeless unwashed Plebians fucking in urban North American ruins had matured into a major long-tail XXX market.
“Oh-Em-Eff-Gee look at these fucking poser bitches, thinking they got shit,” Krash Koarse snubbed, utterly oblivious to the irony.
We paused casually nearby at a bullet-bus-stop bench, built for a form of public transportation that had stopped functioning years ago. We pretended to examine our Hex Slates as if looking at a map of the area or checking out restaurant reviews in the vicinity, keeping an eye and a transceiver on the clique of Ameribank teenagers.
Like most privileged Blue County people, they were hard net addicts, social media freaks, who texted to one another through their dVice touchscreens and eye-mounted Oracles even when they were having a physical meat up, not three feet from each other.
“Fuck me, that is a slammin’ set of wheels,” Krash commented. He was right, the Quicksilver was pure vehicular orgasm, so elegant it was almost an anomaly of physics. A three dimensional oval of mirror-like material was broken only by four omni-directional wheels. Wheels which, rumor had it, could convert at the push of a button into amphibious turbines or harrier jets burning some hopped-up form of ionic magnetoplasma, that stuff all the corporate spacecraft used to take the Plutos up for their supra-orbital zero-g weekend raves . The Quicksilver was a mathematical abstraction of aerodynamics, intelligent nano-metal parting like Red Sea to admit passengers, then sealing over again to form a perfectly smooth, Bernouli surface. And, fully autonomous, as all legal cars were by now. Also cost about as much as a city block’s worth of real estate.
“Outstanding. Krash, you’re on point, start sniffing their traffic,” I said. He turned to me, eyes bugging.
“Dude, are you fucking insane? That’s a Quicksilver. A Quicksilver.” Also included in the car was the bleedingest edge of cybersecurity this side of a rent-a-military command and control center. I laughed.
“Wasn’t it Seneca that said, ‘It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.’” Or some shit.
“Um, gee, what the fuck does that even mean, man?” Krash confuzzled.
Course, all Seneca and the Romans had to worry about were human Persian armies, they hadn’t invented super advanced killer robots yet. I’d wager the outcome at Thermopylae would’ve been different if Xerxes had an infinite supply of fully expendable, tireless, fearless, unflinching machine Terminators at his command.
Reluctantly, Krash launched his Airscanner, zeroed in on the GPS coords of the Quicksilver and started intercepting wireless packets emitted in the vicinity.
“It’s encrypted, XPA I think,” Krash said, flipping through a cascade of five devices fluctuating lime green with activity.
“Leeloo, canopener, please,” I whispered, winking off images of individuals in the posse as each turned enough for me to get a facial grab. I ran the mug shots through a Swedish Pirate Alliance server hosting an instance of Gnossis’ facial recognition database and algos, checking for matches. Gnossis’ spy dossiers on its users were completely opaque, hyper-encrypted, secured by armed guards in Antarctic servers, but had been leaked by a Big Brother whistleblower in the company to IlluminatiLeaks.com. The online biometric identifier was imperfect, slightly out of date, but would do the trick for our purposes. The faces popped up like playing cards in my Hex Slate, names like “Alistair Koch Jr.”, “Mildred Sachs-Page”, “Markus Sleisinger The Twelfth.” All kids of ‘respectable’ Ameribank City executives and other New Royalty whose sole job it was to own the robotic means and labor force of production and make sure it was handed down to their Morlock posterity until they inbred themselves into a gelatinous morass of neuron-free, asexual, media-consumption organs. Their robot workers would provide everything they would ever want, their robot servants would attend to their every need, and their robot soldiers would keep them forever safe, and worship of The Machine would become a religion. Nothing would ever be asked of them and they would grow old and die, never having known the meaning of real relationships, of earning one’s survival, of fighting for something they love. The children of infinite infancy. I couldn’t decide if I despised them for their wealth or simply pitied them.
Leeloo sided up to Krash, jacked her Hex Slate into the stream.
Having worked in IT for years before human network administrators were replaced by mass-produced “Tech-E” bots, Leeloo was our wing-woman for crypto, and she cut the dVice ICE like a knife through soy spread.
“Got it, feeding decrypted signal now,” A flurry of almost unreadable, multi-colored, image-heavy txt-speak projectile vomited itself up a window in my Hex Slate.
“Fuckbats, I can’t understand a word,” Krash complained.
“Yeah, me neither, that spelling is burning my eyes. English is dead,” I footnoted.
“No, I mean, it’s like I’m only seeing half the conversation here,” Krash corrected. Of course. The hybrid text/speech conversation the silver spoon teens were having was coming in broken up into just the audio fragments. Turning to lean against a bent, rust-chewed bus stop sign, I casually angled the Hex Slate such that the micro-shotgun microphone hidden in its anterior was aimed at the group. The supercardioid mic picked up the group’s vocalized speech, filling in the rest of the dialog.
Most of the typed bits were nearly incomprehensible to me, but there were a few parts I could make out such as:
DarkShado: “dude, SPAF! Dat iz so Plebian… do deze jeens maik me luk 3rd Werld? ADHAH?...”
Febressa: “MFTOOH. So Poverty Line. Awsum.”
Kid Charlemagne: “hay…can we cut owr vizit to the Haight District Ruins short…der iz a shampane toast 2nite 4 my dads inagurashin…”
DarkShado: “fuk that… keger at my plaice. Im bringin sum Plebian slumgirlz up… our maids sister n frends… slumgirls are freaky nasty….”
Kid Charlemagne: “Sz gaiz… I knt… I gotz finals… MMOPAF…”
DarkShado“D00d…yer dad iz on te ASAT and Hravard Board. FGAPH… Hez goin 2 make sur u get in even if u epic fail ur Augmented Scholastic Assessment Test… U kno dat. …”
Kid Charlemagne: “Huh… yeh… I gess ur rite…. lets fuk us sum dirty getto bichez!”
Krash’ specialty apart from being our resident monkey wrench was having his antennae buried deep in youth and net culture, or absence thereof.
“This one, Darkshadow, he’s kind of BFBF with Febressa, but wants to take it up to GKOS.”
“Um, dude, like what the fuck does that even mean?” It was my turn to ask.
“He’s Best Fuck Buddies Forever with her, but he wants to start Going Kind Of Steady,” Krash elaborated. Right, I knew that. Paradoxically, the hoi polloi txt speak had come to be as unintelligible as the “1337 sp34k” that the original hackers used at the genesis of the internet in the 1980’s. Except where 1337 was intentionally coded obfuscation, txt speak was accidental illiteracy.
“Leeloo, see if you can pull a password off the log, rainbow tables.”
“No need, I already know their passwords,” Krash informed us.
Well, holy shit, maybe I’d underestimated Krash, that would be some serious good work if he’d already managed to steal their logins.
“Ok, what is it?”
“Their passwords are ‘password’.”
“How do you know?”
“Cause that’s my password and all my friends’ ones too. It’s really easy to remember, duh,” Krash said, slapping his forehead.
I mentally slapped my own forehead, and cried a little inside.
“Krash, I think I can hear myself losing faith in what’s left of the human species. Thank you. Thank you for that.” I tried to remain optimistic and remembered at least we had the passwords. Now it was just a matter of the hijacking.
The teens approached the boarded-up museum of the San Francisco Giants, whom had all been eclipsed by the superior athletic and viewership performance of robotic-limbed Augmented League teams whose intentionally replaced prosthetic arms could pitch balls a scorching half-speed of sound and who required fields the size of entire zip codes. Several hobos were lying out front of the museum, sleeping in beds made of trash-stuffed plastic bags and sleeping bags that smelled of ammonia and vodka. There was a neon marquee, which was, amazingly, still powered, but several letters had burnt out. The sign now read: “San Fr n ants.”
“OMFG we hav 2 get pics or it di’n happen” I heard come in from the mic, and my brain automatically subtitled it misspelled. One of the kids lead the others up towards the Giant’s Museum. He was in some kind of steampunk version of the Mad Max getup with cumbersome, decorative clockwork gears in his one-armed leather jacket. The others followed, and asserted themselves into poses around the washed-out mottledness of the collapsed museum double doors, three sets of security chains broken and replaced hanging around the door handles. The Quicksilver automatically started, shifting itself in order to have its roof-mounted cameras snap pictures on douchy Mad Max’ verbal countdown.
“We’ve got to draw them away from the car,” Leeloo said.
“Right, ok, let’s change up their stage directions. We need a distraction.” Using the login we stole by snooping on their wireless, I crossed my fingers and tried Krash’ “password” theory. And, to my delight/horror, it worked, and I was staring at the Social Lyfe console of “DarkShadow”, being bombarded from every direction by drunk cats in tutus, Lovecraftian mutations of the English language, sexting pics of girls cosplaying Princess Leia/faerie hybrids, and two videochat sessions going on simultaneously. Great, how the hell do you distract someone who’s life is an endless epileptic paroxysm of distractions?
“Krash, can you glean anything from this trainwreck?” I rotated my screen, my Hex Slate accelerometer automatacially flipped the orientation towards Krash.
“Well, that Avatar 3 Na’vi-themed Eye-Pods are totally fawesome and I’m so getting them.”
“Thank you, Captain Irrelevant. Now, what is he actually talking about?”
“Um, looks like he’s having a major KOSOW with his NYGF.”
“He’s having Kind-Of Sort-Of Words with his Not Yet Girl Friend.”
“Wait, I thought he was ‘Best Fuck Buddies Forever’ with that other girl?” Krash gave me this look like I was from another planet, or from Alabama or something.
“Your ‘NYGF’ is, like, a whole ‘nother level from your BFBF. You could totally have two at once. It’s like, apples and coconuts. Obviously.”
Ok, I officially give up on understanding youth culture. It really is another planet.
“Ok, got it. Leeloo, let’s get into, what’s her alias? Dreama. Dreama’s account.” Leeloo cracked the password in under a minute. It wasn’t “password”, but it was another common insecure login. They used to have password strength filters that required you to use capitals and number/letter combinations to ensure security. Then tech companies realized that letting everyone have their idiotic insecure passwords made it a lot easier to scapegoat the blame to hackers and users when the companies themselves misused people’s personal data for profit. Plausible stupidity.
“Alright, now Leeloo, I need you to break up with him.” Leeloo looked at Krash, then they both looked at me liked I’d just asked them both to commit Romeo and Juliet suicide.
“What? No, no, I need you to break Dreama up with this DarkShadow kid.” She was still looking at me, although differently troubled.
“But Spook, they don’t deserve… they’re just-“
“Just do it. I’m sure they’ll smooth it out after their OSIGH moment.” I reprimanded.
“Wait, what’s OSIGH?” Krash asked.
“Oh, Shit! I Got Hacked.” I smirked.
Leeloo sent what every hormony teen who lives their life through the internet fears; the dreaded “Facebook break up” message. Another reason people were glued to their social media like wirehead junkies awaiting their next hit, the next pellet of stimulation; at any moment the social world could be turned upside down, your “significant other” could dump you and everyone and your cat could know before you and if you weren’t there to do damage control your online life (which was your entire life) could be completely “finished”. It was like everyone on the planet was eternally running for president.
The Pluto Spawn kids we could deal with, probably just waltz up, tell’em that we were routine roadside maintenance technicians from some made-up alphabet soup agency, needed to do some quick tune-ups on the Quicksilver at a nearby shop, and “Would you like us to drop you off at the nearest Starbeans Coffee while you wait?”
The problem was the vehicle would react if we tried anything suspicious on them. The problem was the Quicksilver itself.
The car was far smarter than its passengers.
By this time, the kids had started making videos of themselves dry-humping the faces of the sleeping homeless. One of them looked a lot like the former San Fran Giants baseball legend Lex Rodriguez, but it was hard to tell with all the thrusting crotch in the way. Then they woke up a couple of the Ashlanders, one of whom looked to be a long-laid off policeman from the tarnished, wilted metal star at his breast that looked almost as broken as the man’s spirit. The other probably a former accountant from his very formerly expensive suit, and a certain flimsy nerdiness, a residual omega-male personality that couldn’t have been a lawyer or a stock broker.
The kids surrounded the two Ashlanders, and the rest of the group seemed to be pressuring one of them into something.
Kid Charlemagne: “Hey, gaiz, come on… This Battle Royale thing is so 2015. Don’t we get enuff blood and gore playing ten hours of Call of Halo: Modern Massacre every day? Can’t we just HSGCF?” (Have Some Good Clean Fun)
DarkShado: “dud… u r a lil pussy bich sumtaims u no dat? U need to MTFU or GTFO.”
Febressa: “Yae… Don be a FBM…” (Fucking Bleaky Mangina)
Kid Charlemagne: “FU Dark, just cause my idea of a good time doesn’t involve Roman-style gladiatorial combat of the sub-working class post-letariat doesn’t mean I’m female anatomy.”
Darkshado: “stop talking like a fag, CWF” (Cunt Wipe Fag) “fuking do it… or il txt ur dad ur lil seekret.”
The one aliased Kid Charlemagne apparently relented, head turtle-shelling into the upturned collar of his nu-rennaissance chic double-button trenchcoat. The Plutocrat Spawn reluctantly waved grease-stained bags of McSwift double cheeseburgers in the faces of the emaciated shadows of former middle class men. The youths then demanded that the two grey-collars fight one another, and to the victor go the unspoilable fast food. At the prospect of actual calories, the human husks suddenly came alive, fists flying madly. Blood, teeth, and hair rending from split skulls as they tore at one another, slamming heads into fire hydrants. The kids cheered manicly as they videotaped the police officer and the accountant claw at each other literally with their teeth and nails for the merest scrap of genetically mashed-up, robot-cooked food.
Oh, good. Now I really wouldn’t feel bad about what I was about to do to these trustafarian pissants.
I could tell the precise picoseconds DarkShadow received the ‘breakup text’ from Leeloo impersonating his netsqueeze from the way his stupid laughter cut off, and his knees began to wobble. He turned and skulked off away from his buddies, around the corner of the museum.
“um… what?2 hahaha, lolololol… I break up wit u 2. very funy,” I saw him shoot back to Leeloo over her shoulder. Leeloo hesitated, looked at me like I was one of the Chinese PRC enforcers, ordering her to shoot a union-starting factory worker into his self-dug shallow grave. I just stared back, unblinking.
“Do it. Now.”
Reluctantly, and with shaking thumbs, she completed the text, fully severing the relationship.
“not joking. Srsly. weer so over. dont talk to me, ever, loser. GFYS.” (Go Fuck Yourself) Leeloo replied.
I think I might’ve heard sobbing coming from behind the building, but it might’ve just been the agonized moans of the accountant, now lying in a bloody heap of his own broken bones, blood and snot. Febressa tossed the fast food bag, which was snatched up by the brawl winner so fast that it broke, spilling gobs of pure animal lard passing as French fries and vat-grown burger all over the bloodstained ground. The cop mashed the congealed fatty cheese, meat and bleach white bread with the teeth that hadn’t been knocked out onto the pavement. I mean gravel.
The kid would live forever thanks to gene therapy afforded by his parent’s fortune, but think his life was over because he’d broken up with a string of characters in a computer screen. The cop’s life would soon be over from starvation, but feel immortal in a fleeting moment of gladiatorial victory and satiated hunger. Morlock and Eloi.
“Ok, that’s one. We’ve still got to do something about the other two.” The Febressa girl and another boy were there, still videotaping the aftermath of the fight with their eye-cams. I had to get into their Life Planners.
I tried the ‘password’ password trick, but no dice. From inside Febressa’s Social Lyfe console, I scanned her status updates and email, sifting through miles of spam and Nigerian scams (many of which had been replied to, not that Plutocrats noticed a few million missing from a wealth haystack of trillions). Eventually I dug up a password reset automessage from her Life Planner App. Bingo. She hadn’t changed the randomly-generated temporary password “1kfid83” since the email, and was probably just using an autocomplete macro whenever she logged in.
The Gnossis Life Planner was the crown jewel in the nerd dictatorship’s version of the New World Order. No longer was it a “search company”, but rather a “personal guide” for each and every person, giving you recommendations on everything from what to wear to what to eat to who to hang out with to what to do the next moment, popping up in the touchscreen of your ever-present dVice or iris-mounted Oracles. Proponents in the tech mediasphere called it, “The best thing since the internet, a personal ‘life assistant’ that would give you exactly the information you needed for every second in every day.” Skeptics called it, “A set of human blinders built to dictate and manipulate all human behavior, from purchases to politics to thought itself.”
Once in Febressa’s Life Planner, I faked a ‘recommendation’ for her, “You are hungry, and based on your previous tastes, you would most enjoy a crispy coyote taco from Paco’s Taco Truck. (5 out of 5 stars, our best guess, for you) Please blink to accept recommendation. Follow the green arrows indicated on your retinal compass: 150 feet east on 9th avenue, 45 feet north on Zuckerberg Street.”
Of course, she’d probably never eaten real Mexican food from a Mom n Pop stand in her life, as fast food MegaGlomerates like McSwift’s ‘purchased’ the priority recommendation spot in the Life Planner, and 99% of users never disagreed with Gnossis’ “suggestion”. Whatever the Life Planner said you wanted had to be what you wanted, right? Gnossis knew every personal datum to know about you, therefore, like an omniscient benevolent computer deity, Gnossis Knew Best.
Febressa didn’t even stop to think about whether she was hungry, which she obviously wasn’t given that they had just come from a McSwift’s grease pit. She just followed the Life Planner like some child trailing the tune of an invisible Pied Piper, wandering off towards the little taco stand, tracing the green-arrows overlaid over her vision like a rat mindlessly gobbling up a trail of cheese pellets in some behavioral science experiment.
I repeated the same steps for the third kid, BeeberBoi or whatever, who’d suddenly found himself watching the bloody cop munching his cheeseburger all alone. I inserted into his Life Planner an urgent update: that he had to evacuate ASAP because underclass World Class War insurgents had just planted a bomb in the Quicksilver which might go off at any moment, Alert Level: Red. The boy stood there for about ten seconds texting “bomb!!!” to everyone in his friend list, then ran screaming, “bomb!”, still staring at his dVice the whole time, and thus ended up tripping over the half-dead accountant’s body. He disappeared up around the block kitty corner to the museum on Page Avenue.
Hacking Ameribank City netfreaks was even easier than hacking machine drones. Probably because they had, for all intents and purposes, dumbed themselves down into mindless gadgets themselves.
Scoring the Quicksilver would prove more challenging, given that there were no 50 IQ teens splashing their personal info around the internets like they do their bodily fluids at some “getto bich kegger” party, to have the data-stains blacklit, tweezered, ziplocked, and used against them. No social engineering here; machines were like baking: a test of pure technical skill.
“Let’s get this done quick, before the retards get un-distracted.”
I queued up the audio transcript of the Pluto Spawn’s earlier conversation, extracting just DarkShado’s voice with repeated finger-scissors gestures, leaving an MP3 salad of his vocal samples on my Hex Slate’s desktop. I popped open the Voxynth vocal profile analyzer, tossed all of the dialog into the oven and started the Voxynth baking a model of DarkShado’s vocal chords. Finished, I loaded the .VX file into my intralaryngial formant morpher.
“lolz I lose at laif,” I said, speaking in DarkShado’s emulated voice, pubescent falsetto cackles suggesting balls that hadn’t quite dropped.
“Definitely you,” Leeloo taunted. I retorted, but the ILFM automatically translated my comeback into some acronym I didn’t recognize.
Breaking the Quicksilver’s voice ID was fairly straightforward, if time consuming, and defeating the car’s retinal scan was just a matter of ripping the hashes out of the car owner’s dVice biometric registries, then holding a to-scale image of DarkShado’s inner eye up to the scanner. The PIN proved a bit trickier, but we managed by emailing DarkShado a “You just won a lifetime supply of Biggus Dickus Brand intravenous penis nano-augmenters! Just fill out this form…” phishing his number out of him, along with his credit card and bank account numbers. His parent’s ten thousand dollar allowance for this week suddenly vanished from Ameribank, through a dozen firewall fences, transmuted into untraceable e-bullion, stashed into a black box hosted on a server in Iran, reserved for Hex Gen. The money would be going to a good cause, for the first time in the Plutos’ lives.
“Shit, Spook, hold on.” Krash held up a readout of the Quicksilver’s system control panel displaying the bad news. Tyr X2 synthetic bodyguards, on active duty. Two of them.
“Manikins. Just when I was starting to get bored.”
The Tyr X2s were not exactly a cadilac model. Clunky first-adopter stage prop for transhumanists interested more in living in a nerd-mythological 2027 than in functional robotic security personnel. Form over function. They were aimed to be blend-in humanoids, but never made it across the Uncanny Valley, falling deep into the weird, and they were fairly easy to distinguish. The old-hat servo actuators growling and jackhammering like 1990’s MRI machines were a quick giveaway. And there was the too-specular, shiny plastoid skin, glistening like lacquered Japanese display-food. Not the brightest either, with primitive pyramidal logic trees, no evo-neural systems. It didn’t take a gold-medal gymnast genius to operate a submachine gun, though.
“Let’s get the GPS lock on them,” I said. I started drawing up a loose strategy for neutralizing the Tyrs with Leeloo, I noticed Krash standing there, staring vacantly at the ex-accountant, lying there with his misshapen face, his fractured leg twisted at a grotesque angle, his life leaking out of him at 60 bpm into a vermillion pool spreading beneath his body.
“I said. Let’s get the GPS lock on the Tyrs.” No reaction. I approached him, touching his shoulder, “Krash-“ he shrugged it off. Leeloo tried to console him, to no avail.
“I can’t do this. I can’t deal with those robots again. What if I fuck up and hurt someone again? I didn’t mean it! I’m so sorry!” Krash had grabbed the accountant by his frayed collar and was shaking the unconscious man. He was visibly hyperventilating by this point. Fuck, the shellshock was starting to set in.
“Krash, hey, look at me. Look at me,” I latched onto his arm, forcing him to turn around. “Listen to me. What happened back in Kennedy High? That was a mistake. It happens to the best of us. I’ve directly or indirectly been responsible for more than one lost life, but I don’t let that shit take me out, you know why? Because if I don’t keep fighting, I know that a whole, whole lot more people are going to get hurt eventually.” But he wasn’t, couldn’t hear what I was saying. He just stared at the pool of blood, and wouldn’t budge.
“Fuck. Ok Leeloo, Krash may be MIA but we still need to handle this, ok?” She looked to Krash, then nodded In resignation.
Leeloo took Krash’ Hex Slate, navigated the Quicksilver’s 3D holographic interface, pulling out the lat/long and height above sea level of either robotic bodyguard.
“There, guy in the blue windbreaker leaning up against the telephone pole. Other one is in the black Phasma parked three cars up.”
I strolled casually up the street, shouldering past the occasional passerby. The humanoid began to track me as I was close enough to identify his boots as two-year old military surplus. Cheap and plentiful, since 100% of US armed forces had been roboticized.
“Excuse me, do you happen to have the time?” I said.
I could hear the active motors humming as the Tyr’s shiny polyethelene face turned to face me. Hello, airbrushed Michael Sera in triangular shades. The bot’s face was the platonic ideal of technothriller badassness in the mind of some half-autistic nerd, probably a UC Berkley cognitive computing/robotics double PhD who snatched up a military contract when all the grant money for the US university system was swallowed by bailouts for giant banks.
“Sir, the time is. Nine. Thirty. Eight.” The programmed security bot replied, too stiffly. Its human psychology and speech pattern modeling software were also out of date and inconsistent. Made me nostalgic, almost, like seeing a bona-fide ZX-1 calculator or CasioTone 101 keyboard still working.
“Thanks! One more thing, do you know the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?”
I could almost hear the cascades of Newtonian logic codebase churning, the heuristic gears grinding up against an absence of information, unable to recognize the epistemological nonsensicality inherent in the question which more advanced social systems would have. (They’d also have picked up on the Monty Python reference and simulated laughter)
As the Tyr was busy iterating through windshear variants and Bernouli equations on its inner abacus, I swiped my thumb against a micron-thick touchstrip on my Haptek gloves, activating the supercapacitors in my impact-discharge, electromagnum knuckles. In a second, my central bioelectric reserves had juiced them up. The Tyr still distracted with unanswerable queries, I fired an overhead hook, smashing my fist into Agent Michael Sera’s Silhouette shades, fracturing them in a puff of lens crystal and bent plastic. On contact, the knuckles detonated a kilowatt electromagnetic burst into the Tyr’s occular cameras, temporarily disabling its vision systems. I barely managed to sidestep the Tyr’s automatic lunge for me, its reinforced alloy arm cracking me in the shoulder, like being hit by a bundle of steel girders. I spun off the momentum of the blow, ignoring the white hot pain, and slammed a metal Spinal TAC transceiver spike into the android’s C1 vertebrae (or where it would be on a human). The Spinal Temporary Alien Control interrupted the target entity’s motor autonomy, but it took a few seconds to break the affected OS, seconds I didn’t have. By this time, the blinded Tyr’s right forearm had already split open, a fully automatic 45 caliber gun emerging from between its radius and ulna. I hugged in close to the Tyr just as it swung its arm-cannon erratically behind itself, letting loose a defeaning hailstorm of gunfire that set my ears ringing. This close, I could smell the Ozony reak of fried circuitry mixing with the sulfuric tang of spent shells, and could hear the downshifting whine of deactivated actuators as the Tyr’s systems were compromised. The second synthetic bodyguard had by now exited the car and was approaching, although it hadn’t yet realized its machine colleague had been owned.
“Unit Four, what is your status? Repeat, unit four, what is your status?” The second Tyr said, mimicking a cosmetic finger-to-ear motion which was only a part of the human agent façade. The robots would’ve already communicated silently via wireless com.
“What. Do. You. Mean? The. African. Or. The. European?” Answered the hacked bot, just as I puppeted its arm-cannon up to aim at the other one, hosing Unit Three down with eight seconds worth of fully automatic bullets.
“Thanks, buddy, you’ve been a real joy to work with,” I said before overriding the Tyr’s self-preservation directives, forcing it to point its own gun at its head, pressing the smoking, glowing-red barrel against its temple, its plastic skin bubbling as it melted away. I don’t know if androids dream of electric sheep, but I certainly didn’t see any fleece come out the other side of its head.
“Leeloo, let’s go. We’ve been here too long as it is.” The glassy metal flank of the Quicksilver split in two, into three, in a process not unlike cellular division in appearance. I pulled up the gull-wing style door, which opened frictionlessly, and slid into the front seat. She pulled into shotgun.
“Krash, come on-“
“This is all your fault, you stupid motherfucking Blue County bastard! Look what you did! Look what you made me do! Fuck you! Fuck all of you!” Krash had knocked Beeberboi to the ground, straddled his shoulders, and was brutally bashing the kid’s face in with the blunt mass of his Hex Slate.
“Krash, no!” Leeloo screamed, barreling towards him. Beeber’s black emo-bangs were streaked with red highlights as his forehead opened split and cheekbones caved. Thin legs and arms flailed wildly, trying futilely to deflect the blows. Krash babbled incoherent acronymized curses as his heavy field-tablet covered itself in blood and Beeberboi’s protests ceased. But still Krash continued to pound away at the kid’s broken face, the dislocated jaw twitching like a dying insect with each impact.
By the time Leeloo and I pulled Krash Koarse off Beeberboi, it was difficult to tell if there had been a human being there before. I couldn’t stop that cold, hard, hate-filled piece of myself from taking a gluttunous pleasure in seeing this thoughtless, infinitely priveleged silver spoon’er crushed to death. But either way, this rampage would be very, very bad for business.
None of the locals payed the violence any mind, an everyday occurance, too caught up in their own Morlockian struggle. Neither did the next busload of uptown dystopia-tourists who’d pulled up, stepped over the two broken bodies like so much roadkill, to have their picture taken in front of the San Francisco Giant’s collapsing mausoleum. Afterward, the tourists coalesced around the gory scene, grabbing pics and video of the dying people like trophies, “street cred” fashion accessories to show off on their social media, commenting with glee on how “real world” and “jobless ghetto” it all was, not bothering to offer any assistance whatsoever, not even an “are you ok?”.
It’s not like there were any ambulances anymore, anyway.