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THIRTY-SEVEN

July 2nd

Dangerous ft. Joywave, Big Data

It hadn’t been easy, but Greenpeace had finally managed to get permission to use The O2, an entertainment center under the massive former home of the Millennium Experience, the Millennium Dome tent, in London. The Millennium Experience had been something of a financial flop. But now the site was doing reasonably well, hosting music events, sporting events, and campaign rallies, and selling apparel and food. The canopy itself was bright white with tall yellow spires sticking out of it, looking quite retro. But it was an appropriate place for what they were doing because it was in a low emission zone and had a system in place to compost garbage. It was also cutting edge. Flat screens were EVERYWHERE, flashing vivid advertisements for everything from Virgin Mobile, Airbus, and restaurants in situ, to resorts and sporting events. The monitors’ brightness was juxtaposed against the subdued lighting, making them more prominent. Merging with the colorful signs above the various restaurants and shops, and the dynamic hues painted on the walls by tinted lamps, the screens contributed to manufacture an immersive sensory experience.

Observing them silently, Nadia Ingraham touched her microphone to make sure it was still there and looked at her watch. They were late. So typical. Behind her, a silver food cart rolled by. She paced, watching the second hand tick inexorably.

André had settled down in a good location in the library of L’Ecole d’Ingénieurs du Littoral Côte d’Opale and set up shop at a table by the window, close to a cluster of students. The glare from the lights overhead sparkled across the LCD screen of his laptop and he moved his head to compensate. On the screen in front of him was a Dark Web chat room. Somewhere in the world, obscured by decentralized software, someone from Anonymous was viewing the same chat room. And waiting for a single phrase from André. Sitting there, immersed in the soft chatter of the room, he glanced around, confirming once again there were no concealed video cameras. Cracking his neck, he looked down and typed the phrase. Anubis Judge.

In the North Greenwich Station parking lot, a big multicolored bus screeched to a stop, its airbrakes whooshing like an exhaling dragon. The door in front snapped open and four individuals jogged down the lines of cars, equipment in hand.

“They’re here,” the voice said in Nadia’s earphone. Thank god. She looked at her watch again. Listened to the crowd chattering. Ten minutes later, there were cheers. She went through the doorway to the arena and peered up as white lights traced across the massive ceiling. Camera flashes went off. Normally, that wouldn’t have been allowed but this wasn’t for profit. The four figures on stage assumed their positions. The lights behind them came up from absolute darkness and Nadia brushed her hair out of her face with her hand. They began.

A hundred yards away, a Citroën C5 rolled to a stop, followed by a Peugeot. Their occupants had ridden over on the Eurotunnel shuttle, which had been an experience. Yellow lit interior. No windows. The kind of light that made everything seem more edgy. Now, dressed in dark colors, seven young men and women stepped out onto the pavement and unzipped a bag to inspect its contents. One of them bent down and plugged a pair of cords into an uninterruptible power supply. LED’s lit up. Good. They turned on the laptop.

Yan Rudenko body slammed the polycarbonate door of the server room and ran down the banks of Rackable Systems servers. Lights on their bodies flickering, they exhaled warm air and chattered. Overhead, cooling tubes crisscrossed. He went through a reinforced door, into a sterile alcove with dark countertops and LCD screens hanging from the walls, the latter which were filled with lines of text that meant absolutely nothing to him. Two other men were there, one banging on a keyboard.

Suddenly, the text on the screens changed. It quivered. Then disappeared. Rising from the chair he’d settled into only moments earlier, Rudenko read the letters that were now centered on all of the screens. Translated literally into English it read simply Always Consequences. He looked down slightly. Through the glass of the alcove, he saw that all of the blinking lights on the servers had gone static. Like one long flatline.

He picked up the telephone.

The servo motor deployed without a problem. They reset it.

Scott Boles hadn’t wanted to tell Elle what he knew. But after she’d shared some choice words with him, he’d cracked. London. He was going to London. Now, as the train closed on North Greenwich station, Elle eased her glasses up her nose and looked at the newspaper she’d purchased. The main article on the front page was about the Greenpeace bombing. Adjacent to it was another article about a site in the mountains of Russia that was allegedly pumping super greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. All over Europe, peace signs were appearing in cornfields and on mountainsides. The impact from both stories was remarkable. Doves were being spray painted on buildings and stop signs. There was some rioting going on. And in one cornfield, the electronic symbol for carbon. Spooky. As for her destination, it was a long shot but... Two more stops.

They closed the bag.

The car in front of him finally changed lanes and Ruslan Chernecov gave the accelerator a firm press.

One more stop.

From the back of a large crowd, Kurt Stover looked on. To his right, Kabul stood motionless, earpiece in his ear, and to his left stood Bernhard. Bernhard looked at the two other men, multiple colors washing over their faces. And returned his gaze to the stage.

There wasn’t much security because this wasn’t technically an O2 event. And so, as anticipated, they had had very little trouble getting in through the back. Now, as they walked in step, seven of them, a motley crew, the band came to the final chorus of its second song. As they did, John peered up at the enormous domed ceiling. Listened to the deep bass, and heard the cheers. The final yeah was drawn out and the song ended. There were cheers and laser beams flashed over their heads. There was applause. It was time.

“Thank you. Thank you. How’re you doing tonight, London?” Cheers. In the empty back third of the arena, they walked towards the elevated stage and the enormous projector screen behind the band. Behind the screen was a bank of audio equipment, linked to backlit control panels, and these were minded by a man facing away from them. Other dark figures were behind the screen as well. In the low light, they crept towards them, keeping low. Selecting a good vantage point, they set the bag down and unzipped the top.

“So I understand you guys are fighting for the environment huh? That’s awesome.” Louder cheering.

They took out a projector and a laptop that were attached to an uninterruptible power supply and unscrewed the forward legs of the projector until it was tilted at about a twenty degree angle. Taped to the side of the projector was a mobile phone connected to a circuit board with a servo motor on it. The motor was connected to the projector’s lens cap. Realizing the projector wasn’t inclined far enough, they set a brick under the front. Then, tapping the power button on the projector, they looked at the screen of the laptop before shutting the lid, keeping the lens cap on. They stood and walked away.

She felt the forward pull of deceleration and braced herself against a railing. Waiting till the train came to a complete stop, Elle rose to her feet. She stepped across the small gap onto the platform. The station itself was nice but she wasn’t in the frame of mind to appreciate it right now. She walked outside and jogged to the gigantic tent in front of her from which loud pulsating music was emanating. Inside, she found a map and, after figuring out where she was, headed for the arena. When she got there, she pulled open one of the doors. Sound blasted out at her. She walked inside and stared at the ceiling. The room was vast. Starting around the back, she weaved through the crowds of people, looking at people’s faces. Sometimes, she stopped and moved in closer, inspecting their profiles until they finally turned to her in annoyance and it’d turn out it wasn’t who she was looking for. Then she’d look away, resuming her slow search. Face after face after face. There were people sitting in bleachers above her too. She would have to check those afterwards.

Another song began. She came to the edge of the bleachers and reversed direction. Going in the opposite direction, a man with short cropped hair brushed by her and disappeared into a crowd.

Ruslan Chernekov didn’t know who he was looking for, other than the one young man. But if something happened, he’d be here to see it. He looked for groups of young people together, examining them. The daunting scale of the task sunk in and he paused. This was asinine. So many people looked like this kid. Groaning, he continued walking.

There was a speech. A long, boring one by a writer and Yale professor. As it neared its end, Stover inched towards the stage. Josh and John looked at each other in the crowd. This was it. The moment of truth. When the speech ended, a girl from Greenpeace introduced Stover, who took to the stage. There were claps. And quite a few boos.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I am very honored to speak with you tonight.” Josh took a phone out of his pocket and tapped it. John looked over his shoulder. Nothing yet. He glanced at Josh who held up his hands and then tapped the phone again. The speech continued. Still nothing happened. John looked back at Josh, who shook his head. John saw Viktor look at Josh and walked over to him.

“Did you press it?” he whispered.

“It won’t work,” Josh said.

“The battery!”

“No, it’s new.” They had tested it for range beforehand. John thought hard.

Katie walked over to them. “Is something wrong?”

“The remote won’t work.”

“Shit!” she exclaimed.

“It must be interference,” John concluded.

“Or the battery for some reason.” She took her backpack off and handed it to John.

“Here’s a spare. Just in case.” John looked at it and then pulled it over his shoulder. Viktor appeared next to them.

“Is it not working?”

“We think it’s interference.”

“I’ll go check it,” John said.

“Hurry,” Katie said. John disappeared into a crowd.

“Do you see Cory?

“She’s over there,” Katie said, pointing to a cluster of people a short distance away. “Fuck, my throat’s dry. I’m gonna get a drink. I’ll be right back.”

“Our only future is a renewable one,” Stover’s voice said. There was sparse clapping. People weren’t responding well. Well, some were. Conservative students from a local university.

Walking around the back of the arena, John pushed a door open and stepped inside. “…I fully endorse measures that will responsibly bring us to that end goal.” More sparse clapping. As he got closer, he saw that behind a vent for the cooling fan, the projector’s bulb glowed intensely. As he thought; the servo hadn’t gotten the signal. John grabbed the lens cover and pulled it off manually. He tossed it aside. Smiling, he looked up at the ceiling. No one in the audience noticed it at first. Until the symbol appeared. Stover certainly saw it, but he didn’t waver. He kept talking. Until people started clapping. He assumed they were clapping for him. But they weren’t, which he realized a short time later. As heads started to turn around. And look towards the ceiling.

In bright red letters it read EXTORTION BRIBERY INTIMIDATION CORRUPTION MURDER. Behind it, a video of the site in Russia played. On the bottom of the picture, the GPS coordinates were shown. It was the same video that was now playing on a Google bombed website. The words recycled. Then, YOU CAN’T FIND US. YOU CAN’T SCARE US. AND YOU CAN’T KILL US. WE WILL BE WATCHING. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. And then the symbol for carbon again. Stover saw it and frowned.

Ruslan saw it too.

His job done, John shouldered the bag again and jogged towards the door. The door was at the end of a long passage. He had made it to the beginning of the passage when all of a sudden, a horrifying realization came to him. Peering back towards the stage, he slapped his head with his hand. “Shit!” He’d forgotten to put gloves on before touching the lens cover. For an instant, he thought to just leave. No hope to find it in the dark. Maybe police wouldn’t notice it… Maybe… “Shit!” He found himself unshouldering the backpack once again, setting it down on the floor. He jogged back to the projector. Dropped to his hands and knees. Where was it? Where was it? He didn’t have a flashlight. Goddammit!

He moved farther in the direction he thought he’d thrown it and dropped down again. Where was it? Where was it? He glanced up at the stage, at the man working the audio equipment. He was peering at him. Where were the other dark figures he’d seen before? John ran his hand through his hair helplessly. Still on his hands and knees, he turned around. And then he froze.

Standing motionless on the other side of the projector was a man with short cropped hair. John stared at him as people cheered again and he knew more of the message was being displayed. The man took a step towards him. John rose to his feet and stepped back. The man took another step. John took another one back. The man reached into his jacket. And withdrew a knife. He took another step forward. John reached into his own pocket and drew out a pen, popping the cap off. They regarded each other.

And then the backpack exploded.

They were both blown off their feet. John landed hard as a dense cloud of smoke billowed over them. Wincing in pain, he clawed his way to his feet and ran, resisting the urge to kick the man. Ran through the fog. Towards the front of the arena, coughing as he inhaled the smoke. People were screaming. Reaching the stage, he shoved a man wearing a headset aside and ran towards the crowds of people.

The atmosphere in the arena had turned to pandemonium. Everyone was running in different directions. Yelling. Shoving. Tripping over one another. He saw Josh and ran towards him. Viktor and Brian were with him. John skidded to a stop.

“What the fuck happened?” Brian yelled.

“Katie gave me a bomb! And some guy tried to stab me behind the stage!”

“WHAT?”

“Yes!”

“WHO?” John looked behind him then back at them.

“I don’t know!”

“John Marshall!” His blood ran cold. He knew that voice. He turned seventy-two degrees. And saw his sister staring at him across a crowd. She started towards him and then there was a gunshot. Two gunshots, from directly behind him. He turned around, looked for the shooter, and then realized he was wrong. Those weren’t gunshots. The projector screen had tumbled over, striking the lights hanging from the ceiling, and was in the process of crashing down onto the audience. Whatever semblance of order there had been up to this point was completely lost. The throng around them erupted into outright chaos. John stared at his sister. She stared wide-eyed at him. And then he was shoved away from her and he couldn’t see her anymore.

The crowd pushed him inexorably. Then he was running. Running for his life. He got to the exit, Viktor behind him.

“WHERE’S CORY?”

“SHE’S WITH ME!”

Elle was knocked over by the throng. Rising to a crouch, she grabbed onto someone’s shirt and heaved herself up as the dense smoke washed over her, making her eyes water. Her nostrils flared.

They ran through The O2, down a flight of stairs, and through the entrance. Fuelled by pure adrenaline, they ran the dozens of meters to the cars. Josh saw his lights flash as his doors unlocked. Reaching the Peugeot, they immediately saw a problem, and John had the final confirmation he needed. The Citroën was gone. They hauled the doors open and jumped inside, Cory sitting on Erika’s lap. John fastened his seatbelt in front as Brian slammed the back door. There was the sound of an alternator turning over. And then they were backing out. Josh shifted into gear and headed towards the street. There was a crowd of people in front of them. Josh stopped.

Brian rolled down his window. “LET’S GO!” he yelled. The crowd ignored him. They inched forward. Halted. John bit his fingernails.

Brian raised his window. “So what the fuck happened?” he yelled.

“The backpack Katie gave me exploded!”

“Weren’t you wearing it?”

“I put it down. I… I forgot to put gloves on when I touched the lens cap of the projector so I went back to get it. I was looking for it when this guy just appeared. He was staring at me and then he took a knife out of his jacket, and then the backpack blew up.” John looked back at him. Brian stared at him. “That’s what happened!” Brian looked at Josh. Josh looked at him in the rearview mirror.

For an intolerable length of time, nothing happened. Then Josh saw an opening and took it. Squeezing through the hole in the crowd, he got to the street and turned onto it, dropping the accelerator. The Peugeot growled vehemently. With any luck, they would make it to the train station before the next Chunnel shuttle left.

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