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 -on orders from the tyrannical Mayor Bloomberg- 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 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, even legendary musicians like Tom Morello.” he paused. “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. What it fails to realize is that we do not need one. Our movement is a true example of a stand-alone complex: a phenomenon of unrelated -yet similar- actions undertaken by individuals or separate coalesces to create a seemingly concerted effort. No single individual can claim credit or leadership because no single individual started this protest. Hundreds of different groups from labor unions, to anti-consumerist magazines, to online hacker collectives each arrived at the idea to stage our protest independently and coincidentally at roughly the same time. And there is a very powerful reason that so many would all come to the same conclusion all at once. But while millionaire comedians and talking heads have spent the last three months mocking us on television, we have been operating under the principles of horizontal organization and mutual aid with one goal in mind.
“So while I have no doubt that media outlets and politicians who are owned by the wealthiest men on the planet will try to name me, this faceless herald speaking to you now, as the “leader” of the Occupy movement. Know that the reality could be no further from the truth. As we have from our beginnings, we reject the notion of hierarchical organization as it has lead to the very system we are against. And I am nothing more than a faceless individual delivering a message. A message to the one percent.”
“You’re lives and souls are thoroughly corrupted by greed. Your desire to hoard all of the wealth and resources of this planet has turned all twenty two hundred of you into nothing more than dragons atop golden treasure troves. And in your desire to own everything on this planet and beyond you have polluted it beyond the point of no return. As your hoards grow larger, and as our planet dies, your employees starve under starvation wages, minimum hours, and under the constant threat of termination, as if they were replaceable automatons. And those are just the ones in this country. It says nothing of the millions in the global south and east who live under slave conditions in your mines and sweatshops. All for the sake of squeezing in even more wealth into your hoards. Even those who live in the increasingly shrinking middle class now feel the weight of your plutocratic stranglehold on the global economy and political system.”
“To you we issue a single ultimatum, abandon your greed. Turn loose your hoarded wealth and give up the ways of the dragon. Help us build a sustainable society. If you don’t, then those you oppress will rise up against you. It’s already happening. You know it is happening. Our occupation is proof of that. There are no guillotines being erected in front of your ivory towers –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: We have the power to make our lives better than they are now. Our lives can be infinitely more than what they are now! There is no need to slave away on minimum hours for minimum pay! We do not have to stand by while our fellow human beings suffer under the brutality of the same machine that presses its weight on our necks. We are not machines! Rise up! Take back what is ours! A wise person once said that we have nothing to lose but our chains, and the world to gain. It is high time we all remember that!”
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 commercial 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 the Almighty-Dollar and Golden Bull of Capitalism. This fine example of corporate perversion 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 sun 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. “Are 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 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. The Mayor’s no doubt furious about your stunt and if they get you you’ll be lucky to see daylight again before you’re seventy.”
“Yeah,” he replied as Karie-Anne walked out of the tent, “but if I gotta look out for myself then you’d better promise me that you two will do the same.”
She nodded and the two comrades, one old the other young, hugged a final time before the former left the tent. The young man sighed and 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. Once he was sure that not even the gods themselves could trace his broadcast back to him, he looked at his computer. “Ready to go RENA?”
The digitized voice 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.”
“It’s not like we’ve got any other options.” He jacked his phone into the computer and replied, “It’s a risk we’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 series of thundering crashes and wailing sirens from every direction heralded the response of the fascist establishment. He glanced outside his tent. The NYPD were swarming the park. “Remain calm” he told himself alongside several deep breaths. Panicking now would lead to his meeting the business end of police baton, or worse. There were contingency plans in case something like this happened.
He wrapped a black scarf around his nose and mouth, and pulled a matching bike helmet over his head. The computer beeped, transfer complete. Rena now spoke through his phone, informing him the police had the park surrounded.
He unplugged his phone, stowed his laptop in his backpack next to a change of clothes. Into the pockets of his duster went a Taser, his silver amulet from the broadcast, and a pair of red tinted wraparound mirrorshades. Something hit the wall of the tent just as he finished donning a pair of red leather gloves. There was a bright flash of light and sparks accompanied a deafening ring.
When he could see again, his first image was the polycotton canvas wall of his tent going up in roaring flames. His heart-rate rose to a fevered pitch as flashback images of buckshot shedding lockers to swiss cheese, dead mentors and lost friends roasting in locked rooms, and flame scorched bricks filled his mind. A calm voice took hold of his mind and wrapped itself around these images as it said to him, “No time to think about this now. Now’s the time for escaping.”
He clinched his right hand into a fist and swore as he ran out of the inferno only to find that his tent was not the only one that had been engulfed in fire. 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 and baton rounds soared into the park as cops in riot gear marched in, gasmasks on, shields up, iron truncheons out like competent and deadly effective storm troopers. The smoke whirled into what looked like the shape of a skull from the Hacker’s perspective. Protesters tried to escape, only to run straight into the batons of the NYPD. The Hacker craned his head 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. He could be no more than twenty feet away, and if he could get the cop in the neck between his helmet and vest then–but it was no use. A teargas canister bounced off Karie-Anne’s husband Paul’s head and landed a few yards in front of the Hacker, blocking his path. Paul crumpled into an unconscious heap. Blood oozed from his head, feeding the concrete. Part of the Hacker’s mind wanted to charge through the smoke and do the right thing, but the same cold, calming voice from before argued against it.
He swore again 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 and scarred from the tear gas. “Where are you going?”
“Away from here,” replied the Hacker in a gravely tone, his throat also aching from the teargas fumes.
“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.” He climbed out of the hole and motioned for them to descend before him. “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.
The masked woman reached into a riot kit she brought with her into the tunnel and passed around water and saline solution to get the tear gas off of their face, hands, and other exposed areas of skin. The Veteran took special care to ensure the kid was okay before helping himself. The Hacker went as far as to take off his gloves, revealing a glossy red scar from a third degree burn on his right hand. He bagged his gloves, washed his hands, and donned a fresh pair from his backpack. All of this was far from enough the sooner they all got out of their teargas stained clothes the better, but this was than nothing.
When they were finished the Hacker laughed nervously and dusted some grime off his black duster. “That trick with the manhole was brought to you by the city’s newest ‘technological innovation in modernization’. Their plan’s to have all maintenance tunnel entrances automated by 2020. Naturally, right now, it is only in place in the wealthiest parts of Manhattan. The rich get the newest tech before anyone else as befitting a technocratic neoliberal society, go figure. To cut costs all of the entrances use the same RFID signal. No big deal though, ’cause supposedly only city maintenance workers have access to it. Problem is, like all RFID signals, there is zero security protection, so if you know what you’re looking for –which I do– you can tap 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 darkness below Manhattan. 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, which knowing the NYPD, they absolutely would.”
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 nodded and held out his hands, indicating that he meant not offense, “Then let’s say that it’s in case I get caught. I don’t want to be the reason anyone else 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, a little basic and a touch cliche but it gets the job done.” He then turned and started down the tunnel.
Navy stopped him. “And just 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. And if we happen across anyone from the NYTA we’re in as much trouble as we’d be in if the gestapo upstairs did. But as to where we are going: 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?”
“Originally I was just planning on hoofing it down the tunnel until the next station, not an easy task solo what with the third rail, train dodging, and vigilant transit authority workers but doable if you’re on your own. But now that we’re together, and seeing as trains still loop around the station, I should –in theory– be able to get one to stop 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 again but this time with noticeable anxiety, “Clarke’s third law. Hacking, like all seemingly advanced science and technology is the magic of the modern age to those who don’t understand it –namely Hollywood and writers of cyberpunk fiction. Hell, it’s practically magic even to those who do understand it. Now not to be rude or pedantic, but I recommend 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. “You and me both Navy, you and me both, 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 be the voice for.”
“I only said that I was sending a message, not leading the movement, but I get your point. But I’m of more use to the 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 we’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 would go viral.”
The Hacker nodded. “Have you seen Ghost in the Shell? Because I’m starting to think I should have called you Major Kusanagi instead of Lady Fawkes.” he shook his head. “No, I’d more likely end up like Winston Smith than Jesus Christ. At worst I’d end up like Che Guevara and have my face end up on t-shirts sold at Hot Topic.”
They continued onward, having to stop occasionally as sounds of police rioting broke out above. More than once they had to turn out their lights and hide in the dark when a tac-geared cop would open a manhole covering above them and peer into the dark. After one such occasion, the Hacker’s scar caught her eye.
When it was quiet and clear enough for them to proceed she gently tugged on his sleeve. “What happened to your hand?”
“Huh?” The hacker held up his right hand and flexed it. He heard the booming of shotguns –thankfully only in his mind– and for the briefest of seconds he was in the crossroads of a school hallway. Ahead of him and on the other side of flaming debris was a boy he once called friend and a girl who was once his world. Her back was to a locker wall and he was pointing death at her. Fear and loathing enveloped the Hacker and he charged forward his hand stretched outward–”
The cold, calm voice in his mind again took hold. He could almost see the face associated with it standing in front of him. “I told you now was not the time for such things. I suggest you heed that advice.”
The Hacker shook his head and found himself back in the dark labyrinth below Manhattan somewhere halfway between Zuccotti Park and City Hall. He shook his hand wildly as if to shake off a bug and looked at the young Brooklyn with a smile behind his scarf. “I was in a fire a few years ago. I burned my hand pretty bad, I –don’t– exactly remember everything that happened, which can happen to folks when they experience something really bad. Their brains just won’t let em’. But, I-I’m pretty sure it, uh, had something to do with me trying to save someone” he paused, “from getting hurt worse than just a burn on the hand.”
Navy’s eye caught the Hacker’s and he recognized something all too familiar there. He took Brooklyn gently by the arm and said, “You know its not right to just go asking people things like that.”
Brooklyn rolled her eyes, “I was just asking to see if he got hurt from the police. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
The Hacker chuckled, “It’s alright Brooklyn. No offense taken. Now we should be getting close.” He glanced down at his phone. “If my map’s right it should be just ahead.”
He was right. The next turn in 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 also murals dedicated to urban decay crafted by anonymous urban spelunkers. All spelling a rich history of a time and city long lost to decades of gentrification. 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 has connected the station to the Transit Wi-Fi network.”
“That,” the Hacker shook his head, “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!” the look in his eye told the girl that she’d better not offer again. Navy then turned his gaze to the Hacker, “I’ll go up.”
“Alright,” the Hacker lowered himself to one knee and asked as kindly as he could, “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, his hands again raised at waist level meaning no offense. It only took a Navy second to find the right menu. “You’re the one that seems to know how to get us out of here. 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,” thinking quickly and running the rough math in his head, “Shouldn’t take more than...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. If you don’t hear from me in five minutes, get back down here and we’ll do this the dangerous way.”
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 bronze 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 –a literal ghost in the machine. 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 you were talking to?” 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. But I remember a little while ago you were giving away details about being in a fire so we can drop a bit of the anonymity.” She hesitated. “My point is: true artificial intelligence technology is still at least a decade or more away.”
“Then welcome cyberpunk future of last year.” He went back to scanning for a signal, only to stop a second or so later. “That’s a joke you don’t have reference for, um, 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. “Sorry, I don’t mean to sound pissy, Navy still hasn’t gotten a clear signal. Her name stands for Remotely Executable Networked Ally. She’s the one who helped me get into…” His voice trailed off. The 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 as the saying goes,” the Hacker explained as he started tapping into the New York Transit Authority. “I chart the course; RENA takes care of the finer details and computations that would take a meatbag like me months to sort out.”
“Which, going from my current memory capacity, this particular hack should take –me–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. Just know, anything we do to help will slow down how long it’ll take me to get a train.”
“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 since then. And she’s sentient enough to claim a gender identity, have her own desires, ambitions, and operate independently to achieve them so long as she has the proper processing power. And fortunately for us meatbags she cut her teeth on the works of Goldman, Kropotkin, Baudrillard, and Bookchin so she has and a strong desire to work in solidarity with humanity’s working class. She also has a fondness for post-modernism, but that’s just because she likes messing with right wingers on twitter.”
The Hacker pulled up the security footage displayed on his phone. 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!” She stopped. The Hacker winced, again regretting his temper and anxiety getting the better of him. “I’m sorry,” he breathed deeply. “I promise that 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 and backed down the subway stairs, but he apparently left his volume on because a couple of guards jumped in fright and approached the stairs.
“They’re gonna catch him!” screeched Brooklyn.
“Not if I can help it,” said the Hacker. He 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 pictures on your phone, I’d back away from those stairs if I were you. Which by the way; keeping that crap on your phone is perhaps one of the dumbest moves someone could possibly make. Do you realize how easy those things are to break into?”
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 for a long time 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 with a few swipes and a lot of work from RENA, every television and computer screen in the surrounding three block radius displayed Colding’s face, name, address, and the pixelated contents of his phone’s image gallery. The Hacker swiped back to the security footage, tapped on the haze representing Navy and typed, “Mission accomplished, return to the platform, double time.”
Navy descended the stairs, while the other guards met up with Colding with disgusted looks on their faces. They held up their phones to show him something, which only elicited a flurry of screams and threats of termination from Colding. Seconds later the security team 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 and somewhere in the dark there was a harsh screeching of steel against steel.
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 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 the other three guards turned their lights onto their supervisor. He landed wrong, and banged his knee. He knew he wouldn’t be able to do that trick 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 screeched upon its arrival, 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 cheeks, 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 shrieked as it pulled away from the station. The ear piercing sound of metal against metal continued as it made its way around the City Hall Station 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, “Rule one of Zombieland: 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.”
“I figured you two were close the way she’s been attached to your hip.” Lady Fawkes looked at the two of them. “Is she your-”
Navy smiled. “Granddaughter.” He looked over at the Hacker. “I wouldn’t have been out there if she hadn’t dragged me to these protests.” He laughed, “End of the day, I’m glad she did. I can’t thank you enough for helping us out of there, son.”
The Hacker waved his hand and winced. “It was nothing.” He breathed hard, “We gotta cooperate with one another if we have any chance of surviving this.”
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.” To accompany this grand gesture, for the remainder of the night all turnstiles at every New York Subway platform would operate free of charge for any and all.
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 –rocking slightly– as if apprehensive about something. The Hacker’s shoulders sagged. “I’m getting off at 68th street.”
“That’s a shame” She said, “one street shy of the sex number.”
The Hacker laughed, “I know right, if only there were a 69th street station on this side of the river.”
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 hands apprehensively. “I really didn’t do–”
She scoffed. “Please, your stunt in Times Square’s all over social media.” He smiled at that. “People are calling you a modern Guy Fawkes.”
“And I specifically said that wasn’t what I was doing.” He laughed and shook his head. “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 know you aren’t likely to let tonight be a one night stand, so I wanna help with whatever you’ve got planned next. And seriously, who are you?”
The train pulled to a stop at the 68th street station. The doors opened and the Hacker 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 actually figure out what I’m gonna do next, then I’m might be a right bastard.” He paused, “But I hope not.”
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 where he locked the door.
Half an hour, and a very impromptu –but thorough– bathroom skink bath 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 young woman 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, told RENA goodnight, 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.”
“You could have been arrested.” She said, barely holding back tears, “You could have been–”
“Mom,” the young man interrupted, “I wasn’t at the protest site when things got bad, I was using the bathroom at the McDonalds across from the park when I heard the sirens. I took one look outside and bolted. I promise you I was as safe as could be. I breathed in some teargas fumes which is why my voice is so raw, but they fired so much of that stuff that the entire block looked like it was a scene from The Mi”
“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.
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