SCREENS

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Chapter 5 - Decadence

Chapter 5

I was blinded by the light of the sun overhead. Just as a shielded my eyes I caught some relief from those beating rays on an abnormally hot October day, it was an airplane and behind it was towing a banner that read: “Don’t Panic.” The same message spread across all of our phones, all of our computers, anything with a screen.

“Excuse me miss? Don’t Panic t-shirts for sale. Get ’em before the world ends right?”

Trevor and Courtney then shoved the crazed merchant away. Selling white T-shirts, he had crudely drawn the symbol on. “Get the hell out of here! Nobody wants to buy that shit!” They were proven wrong as several people ran up from the street behind up and began to hand him cash. We looked over and saw the chaos, like watching a flower bloom, or a tightly wound cable unravel. In downtown Oklahoma City - everything was becoming undone.

I quickly looked to the street ahead of us, and my hearing began to adapt to the outdoor environment. All authorities were broadcasting the sign and whatever media was still somewhat working.

“Don’t Panic.”

We kept moving towards our destination on the next block and on our short journey we heard all sorts of crazy theories. People are instantly drawing conclusions, instead of attempting to solve the mystery.

“These terrorists finally got us! They’ve hit us where it hurts most, next they’ll aim for our power! Our phones are gone, but they won’t take our guns!”

“The only thing that could’ve caused this is Extra Terrestrial life. Everyone, please follow the message and be calm. There is a spaceship in our atmosphere, and it has knocked out all of our communications, they will contact us soon!”

“It’s the government you idiots, they’re taking control of this nation, don’t you see all of the military helicopters and jets flying above us?“′

The lines at the pay phones were a cluttered and overwhelming mess. People fighting other each other in the crowd, and unaware that the individual on the end of the line could not be reached. People were going insane; cell phones, computers, and televisions all of them now disconnected. With their separation came the crippling of the society that depended so dearly on it.

“This is beautiful. Pure chaos.” Trevor gawked.

“Beautiful? My Twitter is down, I can’t check my texts, I probably can’t access my money at bank cause that’s all ran by computers, what about this is beautiful dumbass? You have any idea how badly I’m freaking out about this!”

“Honey, I think I can live without my phone knowing that Sasha’s might be right and will give us anything we want when we get to Boston.”

“I’m glad you can contain your hatred of everything for a few moments Trevor, now shut up we’re here.”

Pushing our way through the crowds, we saw there was a massive line of people at the bank; ATM’s were packed, they weren’t working either. It wasn’t just the mass of people at the ATM, the bank was stuffed to the walls with outraged citizens, and it was becoming very unstable very quickly.

“I can’t get my money!”

“Oh god!”

“Get out of my way! I have to see!”

People were pushing their way towards the ATM as if their favorite performer was on stage, rushing it even, but violently almost. It was madness, and I didn’t see how we could make it through.

“Well, this is a fail.”

“Could we distract them somehow? Maybe?”

“I’d say get naked Courtney, but you’re no supermodel.”

“I’ll kill you, Trevor. Just lift your nasty ass armpits up around them. Let them breathe in your filth they’ll scatter.”

“Sasha, what about your phone?”

Floyd nudged me I then looked down, unafraid to pull it out around the people who were too worried about their money to care about anything else surrounding them. Nothing less than another technological meltdown could tear these people away from this. They began to beat, and tear at the machine - they were going to get their money no matter what.

“Is there anything you can do to distract these people?” I asked it, and sure enough it offered a solution almost instantaneously, one of the ATM’s began to spew out money, and the people began to scramble, toppling over each other, to grab every bit they could. Even the people in the bank flooded outside to take their piece of free credit. The people once infuriated and worried were now struck with opportunity and joy and the path to bank behind them was now clear. Then my phone spoke to me through its ping.

Re-routing. Destination in 75 feet.

“The teller.”

We walked into the now desolate bank, security had rushed out and was trying to take hold of the situation. I saw a girl calling who I was sure was attempting to reach the police, her feeble attempt to use the bank phone.

“Anything?”

“Nothing, landlines aren’t even working.”

“God, we can’t even call 911?”

“How can we -.” I startled her as we walked up to the counter. I’m sure she was shocked that we weren’t amongst the crowd of people collecting the free money spewing out of the machines. “I’m sorry miss, our whole computer system is down and we can’t even access our drawers without a connection. Wait.” As the teller began to apologize to me in a sympathetic fashion, their system was rebooting.

“It’s working again!”

“Shh! Don’t let the people outside hear that! Quick let’s pull out our money before it crashes again.”

“EXCUSE US!” Courtney screamed, and the entire bank staff stopped in their tracks. “We are members of this bank, and you are obligated by your employer to serve us first! You want to lose your jobs now too?”

“No, no, no. I apologize. Please, Miss, don’t report us. What can I do for you?”

I paused for a moment, struck, I didn’t know what to say. So Courtney came up behind me and laid her arms on my shoulder, improvising being her specialty. “My sister here needs to make a withdrawal. Sorry, she’s still a little stunned by what happened earlier.”

“Aren’t we all. Your name miss?”

“Sasha Taylor,” I responded with a disgusted look dealing with the overwhelming odor of the excessive amount of perfume Courtney was wearing.

“Okay let me look you up.”

The teller typed away, and I anxiously waited to see what would happen. I had a bank account, once. Now I didn’t have a job, and I had never even heard of this place before. For the first time in months, I was living in the anticipation. The moment of truth, could this program in my phone be what Nyström said it was?

“Okay, how much do you want to withdraw?”

“$500,000.” Courtney blurted out.

“Um, we can’t give out that much without notice. The most we can do is 50,000. And it’s Sasha’s account I need to hear it from her.”

I silently stomped on Courtney’s foot and she stopped her nonsense. “Courtney, sis. Shut up. It’s my money, and I want to be able to carry it in my hand and not a suitcase. Let’s do the maximum then.”

“Okay then I’ll be back, I’ll need to go to the vault. Do you want that in a bag or multiple envelopes?”

“I have 50,000 dollars?” I asked in disbelief.

“Miss Taylor, you have 6 million dollars in your account, you didn’t know that? it says you’ve been a member with us for two years?” I wanted to drop my jaw, but I couldn’t afford to give myself away. I acted casually as I felt the shock of the others around me. Floyd signed to me:

“Sasha. You are rich!”

I then responded quickly as I felt my phone in my pocket vibrate. I couldn’t arouse suspicion. “My inheritance. Sorry, I sometimes forget still being in high school and all.”

“No worries it has been a long day; I’ll be right back with that for you Miss Taylor.”

Trevor then punched me in the arm. “Do you see Sasha?”

“You know sis, I think we got off on the wrong foot, we should go shopping sometime.”

“Courtney, I cannot imagine a more boring way to spend an afternoon. This money is worth nothing unless we can fix this problem, so let’s just get to Boston as quickly as possible.”

The teller then came back and handed me a very thick and surprisingly heavy bag with a security zipper on it. I made no attempt for small talk. I wanted this done, and it needed to be as fast as possible. I felt like this was something I had to do, but that didn’t mean that I wanted to do it. A small voice in my mind differed, but its reason was being drowned out by my desire to recede into my lair of self-pity. I was the last person that wanted the world to reconnect.

We walked out those doors, and the others felt a new ray of hope from the sunshine. I was still skeptical.

“50 grand later. Where’s the next stop, Sasha?”

“Well we go back to Floyd’s car, and we drive back to –”

“Hell no, I’m driving my convertible!”

“We’ll take FLOYD’s car back onto –”

“We can’t drive anywhere stupid.”

I had enough of Courtney and Trevor’s incessant interruptions by the time we returned to the street our school was on. “Both of you shut up! I’m the one with the phone, and I’m the one with the money! We do things my way! We are taking Floyd’s, not Courtney’s, car back to my Uncle’s apartment and gathering whatever we need to do this over the next two days!”

“No way I’m wearing any of your out-of-date clothing bitch.”

“Then stay in your dirty clothes for the next two days. I don’t care what you do Courtney. We need food, water, supplies.”

“She’s right Barbie. You know Floyd you’re awful quiet.“I then glared at Trevor maliciously after hearing him insult my cousin. Hoping he would stop talking before we reached the car. “You know why he’s quiet asshole.”

“Can he drive?”

“Of course he can drive! He’s not blind! He just can’t speak!”

“Okay, okay. If we’re all in this together, I’d like to hear Floyd’s opinions too.”

“We can’t trust them Sasha” Floyd signed to me and when I began to sign back, Trevor interrupted us. “Hey see that’s bullshit! How can I trust you if you two can communicate behind our backs like that!?”

I rushed Trevor, knocking him down. I kneeled next to him, he needed to hear my honesty.“I never asked you to trust us! You’re only here because this psycho over here blackmailed us! We don’t want you with us! But we have no choice! It sucks! You have given me no reason to trust either of you.”

I misjudged Trevor, I thought his remark would be some sarcastic comment, but what came out of his mouth was sincere.

“Look I know that you have no reason to trust us, we are along for the prize at the end. I know you think we’re evil people, but no matter our personalities we are people too. I promise we won’t hurt you, Sasha.”

I didn’t believe him: he had to be more convincing than that. “Yeah right.”

Then Courtney stepped up and gave me her input. “Look we can’t screw you over, you’re the one the phone listens too. Without you, we won’t get what we want. I’m not ready to say I’m sorry for earlier today, but we can’t hurt you.”

“You’ve already hurt us, my friends so much Courtney. I hate you; you cause nothing but pain.”

The air was thick with emotion between all four of us, but she cracked a little bit, I’m still not sure if it was real. “Maybe my friends made me this way; maybe it was my parents, maybe I’m just lost and trying to find my way like you. Maybe this will help.”

It was a dilemma of morality, be the bigger person type shit. Courtney may have been attempting to manipulate me, but I knew that neither of them could do me any harm. They needed me. I felt my next message was significant to them, “I killed my family. You can never be like me.”

Trevor then leaned in my moment of vulnerability and gave me the convincing I needed. “Everybody hates me at school Sasha. I deliberately aim to be different. Nobody is like you Sasha, I know we blackmailed you, but now we’re in this together, and we’re going to help in any way we can. You know you’re gonna need help.”

“That’s right.” Courtney bowed to me.

“Only to get what you want in the end,” I replied.

“That’s what every journey is about, to get something you want, hell maybe even your depressing ass will gain something. So, are we good?”

After a brief moment, I extended my hand to Trevor and offered to lift him off the ground. He smiled and took my arm.

I’m sure I showed my hesitation as I gave him a fake smile back. He and everybody else knew it wasn’t real. Why did I have to spend this with my two least favorite people in the school? And how were they connected to this? My brain was working in overdrive to try and solve this puzzle while, without speaking a word to each other, we entered the Jetta and began to drive back to our apartment.

*****

- Special Agent Andrew Quinn.

- FBI Command Center Tulsa, OK.

- 1:32 P.M.

I’m trying to choose a beginning. I have no idea how to write this all up. I’d first like to state that I never intended to commit treason. I was always thinking about how to save my country.

We first experienced the shutoff in Tulsa, Oklahoma after anticipating it the night before. Our command center there was far too reliant on technology, the alarms, and the flashing lights made it impossible to work so we relocated to an empty elementary school minutes after the network crashed.

They’re saying that this is the end.

Only, they have no idea what’s going on. Unlike us, the Public has no idea how bad this truly is.

I told them this would happen. Let’s forget the fact that I’ve been with the agency since 2004 and I have been one of the leaders of their cyber-terrorism department for the last five years. This was no time for I told you so’s though. Since we heard its warning nearly 24 hours ago our team has been working non-stop since; I figured while our staff was temporarily full, I could try to catch some sleep. I got a solid 20 minutes.

“Andrew! I need you back on earth buddy!”

I opened my eyes, and the visions of reality began flooding in. 20 agents around us, all of them steadily shuffling through their papers, the work moved so slow without any of our tech working, and we were rushed to this ridiculous location for a command center so fast that nobody was able to manifest the right mindset. However, I could tell they were no longer nervous, but anxious; they found something.

“What did you find Harry? Something that’ll get us outta the frying pan?”

“Two things. Come with me.”

I narrowed my eyes and began to scan around, ready myself for these discoveries. Harry wasted no time and brought me to the chalkboard where a school projector had been rolled out and was flickering with power shortages.

“Never thought I’d be using a 20-year-old projector in this age.”

“Never thought the FBI would make a base in an elementary school.”

“Desperate times Andrew.” Harry then put on his glasses and began to shuffle through the slides we had made for the projector. It was a miracle he still knew how to work the damn thing.

“First up, I received a full damage assessment over the radio. Thank god those still work.”

“Worse than before?”

“Nothing good. Any device that has ever been touched by the internet in any way, shape, or form, has been cut off. So that’s all computers and all cell phones. They’re calling it an EMP at this point. It’s affecting all electromagnetic waves. And worse, it’s spreading; it can only affect devices that are on. We just can’t spread the word fast enough.”

The most popular theory among FBI agents is that it’s a virus. But no virus could do this. This isn’t just a program, a malware issue, a computer is doing this. A very powerful one. And someone is using it for something malicious.

“What do you mean it’s spreading?” I asked.

Harry then rubbed his eyes, preparing me for the worst. We’re on the frontline again. “We have 16 hours until the virus disables everything using electromagnetic waves - that’s almost all communication, even radios. And 32 hours before the entire world starts to go dark. Not just the internet but all electricity. It’s a world ending event my friend, and we are the only ones who can figure it out.”

“There’s gotta be something, a connection somewhere to this virus, this computer, whatever the hell you want to call it.”

“Are we relying on hope Agent Quinn?”

I rubbed my head and looked toward the projector. I knew there had to be some positivity in this. There’s always a flip side. Harry always had this way of answering my optimism with a question, I saw the faintest hint of a smile on his face, and I knew. There was indeed a connection or at least a hint of one.

“What’s that second development?”

“About an hour ago, Agent Gutierrez over there was compulsively listening to news radio in Oklahoma City to see if anything stood out and….”

I leaned in; my curiosity had peaked. “What did the paparazzi get to before us?”

“An ATM, well several, went berserk and began spitting money everywhere and people were trampling over each other.”

“You think it’s the machine?”

“It gets better. We watched the security footage; it was from an old streetlight camera. It was a standalone unit that had no internet or connection whatsoever. It’s about 15 years old, so the quality isn’t the greatest but here’s what we got.”

Harry inserted a black and white photo of the ATM frenzy, and I began to search for a clue. When I directed my attention away from the crowd of people I found what Harry expected me too; He was testing to see if I still had what it took to go out into the field.

“Four kids. How long did they spend there?”

“Not 2 minutes. The banks aren’t working Quinn; this girl had to have walked out with a deposit. We are leaving to ask the bank staff about these suspicious customers they had today. I know it’s not much, but it’s all we have. Are you with us?”

“You’re taking me with you. You need all the help you can get.”

A heavy and suppressing hum began to form outside the window. A Blackhawk Helicopter. A beautiful relic now 30 years old. Its blades beat down on the ground mercilessly centering itself for a landing. With national air traffic control out of commission, we would be flying close to the ground. I wasted no time grabbing my coat and briefcase.

In this time of my mid-life crisis, this sounded like one hell of a good idea, especially with my tiny flask I always kept handy.

“Riding into the battlefield in style. I’m a 90′s kid; this is a dream come true.”

“Weren’t you raised in the 80′s?”

“I’m a late bloomer. But I’m getting impatient to ask some bank employees some questions.” I yelled to Harry as we entered the helicopter. Harry got in quickly and put on his headset before he spoke to me. Damn near ear bursting in that chopper. The pilot saw Harry, and I enter the chopper, and he began to take off.

“Let’s get to these kids before the military gets in on this!”

I gave him a rock on, and I heard the end of his laughter when the Blackhawk had taken flight. Nothing like it, flying, it’s pure freedom. I resisted no urge to hang out the edge as close as my seatbelt would let me go. I let the force of the wind in a vessel traveling 120-150 miles an hour liberate my senses, and I drifted off to my own little world. It gave me the thought process I would need before we reached our destination.

“Just one thing Quinn.”

“What’s that boss?” I asked suspiciously through my headset.

“We gotta talk about your hair buddy. Pink now? Come on.”

“You’re just an old man Harry. You don’t get it.” I said as I played with my pink highlights. It looked magnificent; I didn’t care what anyone had to say about it.

“And you’re in denial. I think it’s hilarious at any rate. You look ridiculous.”

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