November 15, 2011 12:50am
Times Square hummed with thousands of little electrons walking their way from A to B, stopping and going, crossing and waiting to the whim of the machine that is Manhattan. Some wore the height of modern fashion, others clothes they’d worn for days if not weeks in a row because they had nothing else. There was even the odd celebrity enjoying the anonymity granted by being a single person in a throng.
New York is a machine in that regard, a congested grimy machine that’s parts groan and gripe when the machine breaks from routine. Tonight the griping was because all southbound lanes were closed. Everyone in the crowd knew the reason why. Lines of police cars and SWAT vans traveled in procession like a display of Cold War military might, and with appropriate reason. Tensions had been getting high with the protesters downtown. They’d grown loud, and their message was resonating at frequencies that threatened the stability of the machine.
Fifty minutes ago, the police issued their ultimatum. Occupiers had one hour to vacate. The official reasoning was that the park they were using as a camp had become unsanitary and it needed cleaning. As the SWAT vans rolled south through Times Square, some cheered “Get em!”
Others remained silent.
More than a few pedestrians shouted, “Nice sanitation trucks ya fuckin pigs!”
But all of the machine’s groaning came to a screeching halt when the thousands of ads that bombarded the public cut to static. Everyone paused and looked into the hazy glow. For a few moments, there was silence. Then a man appeared on every screen. He wore a shining silver pendant engraved with occult symbols. Where his face should be was an image of a red right hand, circled by the phrase ‘We are the 99%.’ Some people took out their phones and started recording what was about to play out.
“Good evening New York, I’m here to talk about the battle being waged downtown.” The man’s voice was electronically distorted distorted voice. “For three months, we have occupied Wall Street with people from all walks of life. From disenfranchised youths, middle-class cubical workers, retired veterans,” he paused, “I even saw the guitarist from Rage Against the Machine around camp a few times. Our message is simple. You’re reading it now. We are the 99%”
The parade of paramilitary might ended as the last cop car rolled by in willing ignorance of the messenger on the signs. There were many in the crowd that laughed, calling this all a publicity stunt. Many others just continued about their business. They had to get to work, to their apartments, to the bodega for groceries, or to the subway so they could flee to the suburbs for the night. But there was a few that could see where this was going.
“The corporate media has mocked our lack of centralized leadership. Until now, we haven’t needed one. We’ve operated as a stand-alone complex, a phenomenon where unrelated, yet similar actions of individuals create a seemingly concerted effort. However, you wanted a leader so I have volunteered. Here I am, and this is our final ultimatum to the One Percent before you force us from our camp.”
“Greed has corrupted your souls. It’s made you destroy our planet for the sake of lining your bank accounts while your employees starve under minimum wages, minimum hours, and under the constant threat of termination, as if they were replaceable automatons. Even those who live in the increasingly shrinking middle class feel the weight of your plutocratic stranglehold on the economy and the American political system.”
“Abandon your greed. Help us build a sustainable society. If you don’t, then those you oppress will rise up against you. It’s already happening. Our occupation is proof of that. There are no pitchforks pointed at you –yet. If you don’t change though, there may well be.”
He paused, possibly to collect his thoughts, or to let his last sentence sink in. He shifted gears. “To the people struggling to survive, to the middle-class, to the other ninety-nine percent, to you I have this to say: You have the power to make this life free and beautiful. There is more to your lives than slaving away on minimum hours for minimum pay, or standing by while your fellow man struggles. You’re not machines! Rise up! Take back what is yours! Join us, let us all unite and together we will fight for the bright sustainable future humanity deserves.”
Every screen in Times Square cut to black, as if someone had pulled their collective plugs. When they lit back up everything was back to regularly scheduled broadcasts. Sixty-six blocks down the sprawling Manhattan grid from Times Square was a copse of trees planted directly into the concrete and surrounded on all sides by monolithic towers of glass and concrete, temples dedicated to human greed. This fine example of corporate control of nature was Zuccotti Park, the headquarters of the Occupy movement in the heart of Wall Street, and the NYPD had just cut off internet access in preparation for their next move.
At its center, there was an old green tent. A woman who looked like an age worn relic from the summer of love approached and poked her head inside. She smiled revealing gnarled teeth in need of braces, but would most likely be pulled in favor of dentures. “Hey Red, I caught the last few minutes of your show before the internet cut out. You’re doing a great thing here.”
“I hope so Karie-Anne,” replied the man. There was uncertainty in his voice as he said it. He removed the silver medallion, and switched it with one made of bronze. “Take care of yourself, and try and find a clear way outta here. You sure you and Paul don’t wanna go with me? I’d hate if something bad happened to you two when the cops get here. I feel I gotta repay you two for being such kind neighbors these past few months. I probably would have starved if-”
“You don’t owe us a thing Red. We’ll survive.” She walked over and gave the man a hug. “This won’t be our first dust up with the man after one of these things goes sideways. We were in Chicago during the Convention of '68.” She pulled back and poked him on the chest. “You just do what you gotta do for you.”
“Yeah,” he replied as Karie-Anne walked out of the tent, and he set to work in covering his tracks. He turned back to his laptop, fingers danced across his keyboard like lightning across the night sky as he executed programs on a command prompt. When he was sure that not even the gods trace his broadcast back to him, he looked at his computer. “Ready to go RENA?”
The digitized of a young woman replied, “As ready as I’m going to be. You know I won’t be of much use until you re-establish an internet connection. My processing power will only be further limited by the memory on your phone.”
“I don’t have any other options.” He jacked his phone into the computer and replied, “It’s a risk I’ll have to take.”
He executed a final command: Transfer: This PC/C:/Program Files/whte_rbt.obj to F:/APPS/TPS Reports. The progress bar inched across the screen. He took a step back. Outside a CRASH heralded wailing sirens from every direction. He glanced outside his tent. The NYPD were swarming the park. He took a deep breath and told himself to remain calm, that panicking now would lead to his meeting the business end of police baton, or worse. He reminded himself of his contingency plans in case something like this happened.
He wrapped a black scarf around his nose and mouth, and pulled a matching beanie over his head. The computer beeped, transfer complete. Rena now spoke through his phone, informing him the police had surrounded the park.
He unplugged his phone, stowed his laptop in his backpack next to a change of clothes, and shoved a Taser and a pair of red tinted wraparound mirrorshades into the pockets of his duster. Something hit the wall of the tent. There was a bright flash of light and sparks accompanied a deafening ring. When he could see again, his first image was of the polycotton canvas wall of his tent going up in roaring flames.
He swore and ran out of the inferno. His tent was not the only one that had engulfed in flames. Hell had come to Zuccotti Park as the Hacker ran to a nearby manhole cover. He pressed a button on his phone. The electronic lock on the cover beeped, and it swung open. He got down on all fours, and stepped into the hole.
Teargas canisters soared into the park as cops in riot gear marched in, gasmasks on, shields up, batons out. The smoke whirled into the shape of a skull. Protesters tried to escape, only to run right into the batons of the NYPD. The Hacker looked up just in time to see Karie-Anne receive an excessive blast of pepper spray to the face. He scrambled out of the hole to help her, his hand reaching for his Taser. If he could get the cop in the neck between his helmet and vest –but it was no use. A teargas canister bounced off her husband Paul’s head and landed a few yards in front of the Hacker, blocking his path. Paul crumpled into unconscious heap. Blood oozed from his head, feeding the concrete soil. Part of the Hacker’s mind wanted to charge through the smoke and do the right thing, but another, colder, more rational side argued for flight.
He swore and ran back toward the open manhole cover. He was halfway in the hole when three people approached him in a panic, one of them, a woman in a Guy Fawkes mask, her voice filled with panic. “Where are you going?”
“Away from here,” replied the Hacker in, gravely tone.
“Where?” asked the black man behind the woman. The Hacker noticed he was wearing a US Navy Uniform decorated with medals from Vietnam. Behind him was a kid who couldn’t be older than eleven.
The Hacker looked at them. “Safety. Feel free to join.”
A minute later, they stood in a shaft of light at the bottom of the ladder. The Hacker pressed a button on his phone and the manhole sealed itself, leaving them in complete darkness save for the phone’s pale glow.
He laughed and dusted some grime off his black duster. “That trick was brought to you by the city’s newest modernization attempt, Their plan’s to have all maintenance tunnel entrances automated by 2020. Right now, it’s only in place in the wealthiest parts of Manhattan. The rich get the newest tech before anyone else, go figure. All of the entrances use the same signal. No big deal though, ’cause supposedly only city maintenance workers have access to it. Problem is, the signal has no protection, so if you know what you’re looking for –which I do– you can hack into it.”
The kid complained about the dark, she had a thick Brooklyn accent. Without a word, the Hacker activated a flashlight app, as did the others. In the newfound light he could see that the kid looked at him as if he was some kind of wizard. The Veteran looked him up and down with a glare and raised brow, curious of just who he’d followed into the dark. The woman however stared calmly behind her mask of smiling rebellion.
He sighed. “Alright so for our safety, I’ll give you each an alias to use while we’re running together. That way if the cops catch any of us, we can’t turn anyone else in. Even if the cops apply pressure”
The Veteran spoke up, “Son you don’t know shit about pressure. Besides, what if we already know someone’s name? What then?” his eyes glanced at the teenager.
“Good point.” He rubbed his chin, “Then let’s say that it’s in case I get caught. I don’t want to be the reason anyone gets locked up if I can help it.”
The Veteran smiled at that.
“Alright then if there aren’t any more objections, here’re your names,” he said as he pointed at each member of the group. “Navy, Brooklyn, and Lady Fawkes.” He then turned and started down the tunnel.
Navy stopped him. “And who are you, and where are we going?”
The Hacker stopped and laughed. “Both excellent questions,” there was a bang on the manhole cover, as if someone was trying to pry it open. “Sadly there’s only time for one answer because I don’t think they liked my short circuiting that cover when I closed it. Right now, the plan’s to head to the abandoned City Hall Station.”
Brooklyn looked over at the Hacker. “Why we headin’ there if it’s abandoned?”
“The rails still work, and now that I have company I can have a train sent for us,” he explained.
Brooklyn shook her head. “How?”
The Hacker again tried to proceed down the tunnel. “Same way I hacked the ads in Times Square.”
“That was you?” asked Lady Fawkes. However, this time the Hacker didn’t stop and turn around. She ran up to him and turned him around. “How’d you pull that off?”
The Hacker waved his phone. “It’s a kind of magic. Now, if you please.” He again motioned down the tunnel.
Navy cocked his head to the side, “Thought you said you hacked into them.”
The Hacker laughed, “Hacking, like all seemingly advanced science and technology is the magic of the modern age to those who don’t understand it –like Hollywood. Hell, it’s practically magic to those who are in the know. Now, a little less talking and a little more escaping.”
They could hear the sounds of chaos on the streets above them as they advanced, the group followed closely behind the Hacker as they traversed the dank tunnel, especially Brooklyn, who positioned herself in the middle of the phonelight. Navy grunted. “I should be out there fighting instead of hiding in tunnels like vermin.”
The Hacker didn’t stop. “Yes, but when it’s a choice of standing and falling like a Spartan or falling back to fight another day. I’d rather fight another day.”
“I get it son, you fight your battles on the digital frontier, but it wouldn’t hurt to be out there with the people you’re claiming to lead.”
“I’m of more use to this movement free and with access to the net, than I’d be if caught and banned from owning a computer unless I use my skills to help the system I’m fighting against.”
Lady Fawkes broke her silence, “Notitia vult esse liber gratis.”
The Hacker raised an eyebrow.
She rolled her eyes, “It’s the Hacker’s creed: Information wants to be free and without cost.”
The Hacker nodded as if in agreement. “Yes, exactly that.”
From behind her mask, Lady Fawkes detected the slightest hint that this could have been news to him, “If you’re caught then the message you’re trying to spread is suppressed, or at worst you become an example of what happens to those who rebel. But have you considered that if captured you could become a martyr and your message goes it goes viral.”
The Hacker laughed. “Have you seen Ghost in the Shell? Because I’m starting to think I should have called you Major Kusanagi." he shook his head. "No, I’d more likely end up like Winston Smith than Jesus Christ.”
Brooklyn groaned. “How much further?”
“It should be just ahead,” the Hacker replied gently, and he was right. The tunnel ended in a rusted steel door. The hacker pulled on it with all of his strength, but the door was rusted shut. “Would someone care to give me a hand? I’m afraid there’s no technomancy to use here, just old fashioned physics.”
Together with Lady Fawkes and Navy, they forced the door open. The Hacker walked out first, phone held high, trying to get a signal. The air was cold, heavy, and stale. The only light came from their phones. Lady Fawkes shined her light on the walls revealing decades of graffiti. Most were gang tags with bold letters displaying names like the Deckers, Riffs, Fixers, and Rogues. However, others were murals dedicated to urban decay crafted by anonymous urban spelunkers. A mosaic of beautifully arranged tiles decorated the vaulted ceiling above. Like everything else in the station, the tiles had sixty-six years of grime molding over them.
RENA sighed, her voice even more digitized. “It won’t do any good. I can’t tap into the Transit Authority without a viable connection. And it doesn’t look like Calway Construction’s connected the station to the Transit Wi-Fi network.”
“That,” the Hacker said, “is precisely what I was afraid of.” He turned to the others. “Do any of you have a phone that can broadcast a mobile hotspot?”
Brooklyn raised her hand. “Mine can.”
“There’s no way in hell you’re going up there.” Navy gave her a harsh glare.
“I want to help.”
“No.” he looked at the Hacker, “I’ll go up.”
“Alright,” the Hacker looked at Brooklyn, “would you kindly give your phone to Navy.
Grumbling, she handed it over.
The Hacker moved over to help him find the right menu but Navy stopped him, “Son, I’ve worked in Navy Telecommunications most of my life. I think I can find a menu on phone.”
The Hacker backed off with his hands raised in the universal sign of no offense. It only took a Navy second to find the right menu, and locked eyes with the Hacker, “You’re the one that seems to know what to do. What’s the plan?”
“Go up those stairs,” he pointed to a flight of stairs that had the words ‘City Hall’ over them in grimy sapphire letters, “until you have at least four bars. Then launch the hotspot and wait for me to text you that the job’s done.”
Navy nodded. “How long do I need to be up there?”
“Uhh,” he thought quickly, “Shouldn’t take more than,” he tried to sound reassuring, “three minutes?” He paused, “If we are lucky.”
Navy was hesitant. “And if we aren’t?”
The Hacker patted him on the shoulder, his eyes full of uncertainty and concern. “Just don’t get caught. There’s liable to be security at the construction site, and if not, well, you saw how many cops converged on the park. They probably have a mobile command center nearby.”
Navy sighed, “Sun Tzu would be so proud.” And walked toward the stairs.
Then a bolt of realization hit the Hacker, an idea, possibly a bad one, he ran toward Navy, “Wait.”
Navy stopped, and the Hacker took off his amulet. “Wear this. I’m an idiot for not remembering it right away. It’s a device I cooked up for jobs like this. I used a fancier model during my broadcast. This one’ll just scramble your image on electronic surveillance, cause you to appear as a blur on cameras, mask your phone’s GPS, that kind of thing. People can still see you of course, but on tech you’ll just be a glitch in the matrix. Try and bring it back in one piece.”
Navy thanked him, donned the amulet, and ascended the stairs. Within seconds, the only trace of him was the light of his phone fading into the darkness. The Hacker went back to looking at his phone. Lady Fawkes leaned against a wall next to a tag for a gang called the Phreakers. Brooklyn meanwhile, stood in the light of the Hackers phone.
After a minute, Lady Fawkes spoke up. “Who’s that woman on your phone?” She paused. “How can she reach you if you don’t have a signal?”
“Because she’s on the phone.” He said as if it made perfect sense to him.
“That’s my point. She can’t be without a signal.”
“Correct, but she’s on the phone. As in she’s part of it.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
He shrugged innocently. “It does if you consider that she’s an A.I.”
“Impossible. I study Cyber Security Systems at St.-”
The Hacker cut her off. “Someone’s forgetting rule three of the internet. We are-”
“Anonymous. I know but still.” She hesitated. “True artificial intelligence technology is still at least a decade away.”
“Then welcome cyberpunk future of last year.” He went back to scanning for a signal. “RENA turns a year old in a month.”
Brooklyn, who up until now was content with just listening, spoke up. “Rena?”
“Yes,” his voice filled with agitation, not at her, but at the situation. Navy still hadn’t established a clear signal. “Her name stands for Remotely Executable Networked Ally. She’s the one who helped me get into…” His voice trailed off. His phone was picking up a Wi-Fi signal. “The old man’s come through! Rena’ll get a train down here in no time.”
“I thought you were the one who pulled off that job in Time’s Square, or was that just your robot?” Brooklyn said in an accusatory tone.
“I think of her as my partner in crime,” the Hacker explained as he started tapping into the New York Transit Authority. “I give the orders; RENA takes care of the finer details.”
“Which, going from my current memory capacity, should take about five minutes,” RENA said. “I’ve tapped into the nearby CCTV cameras as well. You should take a look. Navy’s a bit too close to the surface for my liking.”
“Wait, like?” Fawkes paused, “That thing is sentient?”
The Hacker nodded.
“She passed the Turing AI test with flying colors about nine months ago and has only gotten smarter sense then. And she’s sentient enough to claim a gender identity, which I use out of respect for her.” The Hacker pulled up the security footage displayed on his phone. “Now if I may beg your pardon.”
Navy appeared as a patch of scrambled pixels on the stairs that led to the platform. He was in the guards’ line of sight and if he so much as sneezed, they’d spot him.
The others gathered around the phone. Brooklyn panicked when she saw the footage. She said that the guards were going to get Navy, and that he had to help him because if he didn’t they’d be caught too. Lady Fawkes, however, remained quiet, observant. Brooklyn’s screeching voice echoed and rang in The Hacker’s ears.
He turned and snapped. “Quiet! I can’t do anything with you going on like that.”
She stopped. The Hacker groaned. “I’m sorry. I’m going to help him, but I need to concentrate.”
RENA displayed a progress bar over the security footage. She was just over halfway through breaking into the transit authority and sending a train their way. On the screen a guard turned. The Hacker was sure he’d spotted Navy. The Hacker tapped his phone over a streetlight. RENA’s progress paused briefly as she hacked into the power grid and sent a surge of electricity to blow the streetlight. The guard that spotted Navy jumped and looked back. The three other guards were now moving toward the blasted light.
The Hacker tapped the phone in Navy’s hand and said. “Move back, you’re visible.” His words were transmitted into a text message, and sent to Navy’s phone. Judging by the scene playing out on the security footage, Navy got the message, but he apparently left his volume on because a couple of guards jumped in fright and approached the stairs just as Navy stepped back.
“They’re gonna catch him!” screeched Brooklyn.
Lady Fawkes put a gentle hand on Brooklyn’s shoulder, and calmly asked her to stay calm. Lady Fawkes nodded to the Hacker, who tapped the screen again, and the lights in the construction area’s office trailer turned on and off in rapid succession. The guards looked at each other for a moment; the one that had first spotted Navy was clearly barking orders at the rest. The three subordinates went to investigate the office, while the supervisor continued toward Navy.
The Hacker looked at RENA’s progress. The percentage next to the bar read ninety-nine percent. He tapped the footage of the guard supervisor and hacked into his phone. In one second, he had complete access to the guard’s personal data.
His name was Tim Colding, age forty-three, ex-Army Ranger. The contents of his photo gallery made the Hacker gag with disgust. He dialed Colding’s number. Colding stopped, pulled out his phone and answered. “Hello, who’s this?”
The Hacker cut right to the chase. “If you don’t want the FBI knowing about the contents pictures on your phone, I’d back away from those stairs if I were you. Which by the way; keeping child pornography on your phone is perhaps one of the dumbest moves someone could possibly make.”
Colding sounded nervous. “Who, how can you, is this a prank?”
“You have five seconds to back away and sound the all clear or you go to jail and your name goes on a very embarrassing list Lieutenant Colding.” He took a screenshot of Colding’s gallery and sent it to him.
Colding’s voice cracked,. “Alright, I’m backing away. You win.”
“Good.” The Hacker hung up and sent an anonymous e-mail to the head of the New York FBI office containing Colding’s name, home address, and the gallery screenshot. He then sent Navy another message. “Mission accomplished, return to the platform, double time.”
Navy descended the stairs, while the other guards met up with Colding. They talked for a few seconds then started toward the stairs with their guns drawn. The Hacker moved to cause another diversion but lost the security feed. He swore loudly, his voice carrying through the darkness. There was a faint rumbling coming from the tracks.
Brooklyn flinched. “What is it?”
He killed his phone’s flashlight app, “Lights off, We’ve been made.”
Lady Fawkes did the same; Brooklyn resisted but gave in when Navy arrived back at the platform panting. He said that they were right behind him, but he threw a bundle of lit firecrackers at them to hold them off for a few seconds. The Hacker complimented his ingenuity and ordered them off toward the platform.
Lady Fawkes stood for a moment. “What about you?”
The Hacker pocketed his phone, and replaced it with his stun gun. He slipped on his mirrorshades. He pressed a button on their side and they glowed eerily in the darkness, “I’ll be right behind you.”
“No.” replied Lady Fawkes as she whipped out a collapsible baton. “We’re in this together.”
They didn’t have time to argue because they could hear the guards at the top of the stairs. They had just enough time to hide on either side of the stairs when the guards turned the corner. Four shafts of light hit the platform floor. The rumbling intensified as the train approached. A halo of light brushed past Brooklyn’s ankle.
Colding yelled, “STOP!”
The Hacker whirled out of the darkness. Colding only saw a flash of two glowing eyes as the Hacker tackled him, driving his stun gun into Colding’s stomach. Colding went down, twitching and screaming in pain. His gun skittered across the floor into darkness. His flashlight rolled onto the tracks.
The Hacker rolled out of the way just as other three guards turned their lights onto their comrade. He landed wrong, and banged his knee. He knew he wouldn’t be able to do that again. He was breathing hard. It was only a matter of time until the remaining guards trained their guns on him.
Lady Fawkes extended her baton with a flick of her wrist, ran up as quietly as a ghost, swept one guard’s feet out from under him, and brought her baton down on his sternum. She swung upward, and caught the next guard in the armpit. He howled in pain, which gave enough time for Lady Fawkes to pull out her baton and whack him across the underside of his elbow. He dropped his gun.
The train arrived, its cars filling the platform with blinding fluorescent light. Navy grabbed Brooklyn and dove in. The final guard wheeled around, raised his gun, but then fell and writhed on the ground. He had two barbs stuck jutting from his neck, attached to thin wires that snaked their way to the Hacker’s Taser. Lady Fawkes’s save had given him the time to attach a projectile clip to the end of it.
The revulsion was clear in her voice. “That’s a little excessive don’t you think?”
He was breathing heavily, dust from his fall covered his clothes, and his scarf was askew, almost showing the lower half of his face. “I was aiming for his chest.” He removed the clip and with a simple hand gesture, the Taser disappeared into his trench coat. He scrambled onto is feet while dusting himself off, “We should probably get out of here before they have a chance to recover.”
Lady Fawkes nodded and they ran to the subway, the Hacker apologized genuinely to the security guard he face-tazed as he passed by. They entered the car just as the doors closed and sat down opposite from one another. Both were breathing hard. The Hacker clutched his sides. Brooklyn had fallen asleep, her head rested on Navy’s shoulder. The train jerked and pulled away from the station. It darted around a loop and shot north like an electron coursing down a circuit board. Navy looked at them and smiled. “That was some impressive fighting you two.”
“She did most of the work, I have no idea what you’re talking about on my end,” the Hacker wheezed. “Christ I’m out of shape.”
Lady Fawkes panted, “Cardio.”
“Probably something to take up.” The Hacker coughed. When he caught his breath he said, “This train’ll take us up to Grand Central, I suggest we go our separate ways there.”
Navy nodded. “That sounds like a plan to me.” He nodded to Brooklyn. “This one’s Mom’ll be a wreck after what went down tonight.”
Lady Fawkes looked at the two of them. “Is she your-”
Navy smiled. “Granddaughter.” He looked over at the Hacker. “I can’t thank you enough, son.”
The Hacker waved his hand and winced. “It was nothing.” He breathed hard, “Just trying to make the world a better place.”
As they entered regularly used tunnels the group was reconnected to the world via the Transit Wi-Fi system. Lady Fawkes took to checking social media, Navy sent a text to Brooklyn’s mother, while the Hacker executed his final run for the night. He and RENA hacked into the departure times signs in Grand Central, changing the words to a transcript of his broadcast, followed by the words, “You’re whispering my name through this disappearing land, but hidden in my coat is a Red Right Hand.”
The train pulled to a stop. Navy woke Brooklyn and they left the train with his arm around her shoulders. Lady Fawkes however, stayed behind with the Hacker. He glanced at her as the train pulled away from Grand Central. She was looking back at him from behind her mask. She was rocking slightly, as if apprehensive about something. The Hacker’s shoulders sagged. “I’m getting off at 68th street.”
She leaned back and hesitated for a few minutes. She glanced at him constantly, as if she wanted to say something, but didn’t. They arrived and departed 51st street station before she finally threw her hands up in the air and said, “To hell with the rules.” She pulled off her mask. Frizzy auburn hair framed her face. She had high cheekbones, soft freckled skin, bright tawny eyes, and thin bow shaped lips with snakebite piercings. “My name’s Amelia O’Neil.” The Hacker raised a hand to protest, but she cut him off, “Look, after what happened tonight I don’t want this to just be a story of how I had a run in with the guy who sparked the revolution.”
The Hacker raised his eyebrows. “What makes you say I did that?”
She scoffed. “Please, your stunt in Times Square’s all over the net.” He smiled at that. “People are calling you a modern Guy Fawkes.”
He laughed. “So, Amelia O’Neil, what do you want?”
“I want,” she said, her voice trailed off and her face grew red. She paused, trying to find the right words. “I want to do my part. I want to help you make a difference. And seriously, who are you?”
The train pulled to a stop at the 68th street station. The doors opened and he got up and walked over to them. Amelia looked up at him. He stopped, the door held open with his right hand. He looked back. “I’m a friend.” He paused briefly, and then chuckled. “Until I need you for something, then I’m a right bastard.”
She laughed at that.
“You can call me John. Just don’t go spreading that around.” She nodded emphatically and he stepped onto the platform. He turned to her. “I’ll be in touch, Amelia O’Neil.”
She was still smiling as the doors closed and the train carried her further north along the tracks. The Hacker meanwhile continued on –alone— up a flight of stairs and to the nearest restroom.
Five minutes later a man in his early twenties climbed the stairs of the 68th street station. He wore a Miskatonic University hoodie and midnight blue cargo pants and a rather full looking backpack on his shoulders. He was looking on his phone at the Facebook profile of a girl he met recently. He sent her a friend request as he crossed Third Avenue. He turned around the block and walked east along 67th street when she accepted and sent him a message: “Now I see why you wanted to be called John.”
He typed, “Do you? ;)” as he crossed First Avenue.
“Your secret’s safe with me,” she typed back.
“Glad you understand. I’ll talk to you when the sun’s up. Phone’s about to die.” He hit send and shut off his phone. He turned again and walked through the front door of Memorial Cancer Hospital. Requested directions to room 901 at the reception desk. Took the elevator at the end of the hall up to the 9th floor, and walked into the first room on his right.
“Where have you been? You had me worried sick,” said the woman lying on the hospital bed in the room. “I saw what the police did and-”
The Man smiled. “Don’t worry about me, Mom.” He sat next to her and held her frail skeletal hand, “I can take care of myself.”
His mother frowned. “You still should have called and said you were okay.”
“I’m sorry, Mom.” He brought her hand up to his lips and kissed it. “I didn’t have a lot of time. I caught the first train I could.”
“Well,” she stroked his cheek, “as long as you’re okay, that’s all that matters.”
He smiled and glanced at the nightstand next to her bed. There was a hospital bill lying open. He grimaced at the number of zeros on it. In a better world, it wouldn’t be this way, he thought,and that’s why this one needs to change.