Chapter 6 - Discovery
An hour later we were finally home, accompanied by the two people I hated more than anyone else in my life. The traffic wasn’t standstill, but it was pretty damned close. So, we may have we driven through a couple of alleys, and a jumped over a few sidewalks. And at long last when we arrived at our complex, we frantically sprinted to get home. Floyd and I ran upstairs while the other two took their sweet time.
“I’m free.” Our neighbor Colton was standing out in the hallway holding his house arrest bracelet.
“I’m finally free bro! Be good you two!” He darted off, for the first time in four years he was finally able to leave his apartment. He was so excited I thought his heart was going to burst, it was enlightening but at the time scary to think people much worse than him were now free. Some people were happy that the network was down, I’m sure some of them felt like they were prisoners in their own lives absorbed by the internet and the many things it can offer us.
Floyd fumbled the keys around in his hands before anxiously unlocking the door. Usually, you could hear the television or music. I’m not sure what beckoned me to fly up those stairs, I knew he was okay. I think I just really needed his opinion on this. Our worry would cease when Floyd swung open the door, and Ted pointed his shotgun at him.
“Jesus Christ! You almost got yourselves shot!”
“Did you not hear the key turning in the lock?”
“Someone might have been trying to pick the lock. I couldn’t know! You see what’s happening out there? It’s madness!” Floyd grabbed a hold of his father and held him close and tight. I don’t think Floyd’s life was ever this eventful; it was becoming a lot for him to handle.
“What is that giant bulge in your pocket, Sasha?”
“Um.” Uncle Ted then pulled out the envelope and flipped through it, his suspicions rapidly climbing as he moved on from each line of questioning.
“Where did you get this much money? What have you two done?”
“We haven’t done anything! It was done to us!”
Floyd tried to come up with a sign to explain what had happened when I interrupted him. “This will be easier to show him, Floyd.”
“Ah, a warm family reunion I see,” Trevor said when he and Courtney finally arrived at the door.
“Friends of yours?” My uncle had asked before he let them in.
“Hi, I’m Courtney.”
“And I am Trevor.”
“I suppose you two will help explain how my niece has an enormous pile of cash? Come on in just let me put this gun away.”
“So this is how you were raised. I get it now.”
I leaned back and whispered to Courtney as my uncle was clearing space to take us all in. “Nobody cares about your judgmental opinions Courtney. Behave yourself.”
“Yes, Master,” Courtney replied sarcastically, and I glared at her before we entered the apartment. Floyd immediately ran to his room to check his audio station, which of course was now as useful as any other computer or mobile device.
“I already checked it, Floyd. I tried plugging in an old computer earlier. It worked completely fine until I tried to connect to the wifi. And bang/ nothing now. Network failure.”
“So, it is the internet.”
My uncle threw up his hands while he paced around our living room. “It could be any number of things. Nobody knows exactly what is going on, it’s not possible to get a whole idea of what we’re dealing with, yet everyone is already drawing conclusions. It’s a virus they say. Also, say they got a remedy to fix it. I don’t know about Y’all, but I will not place my source of hope in what the media says.”
Floyd then nudged me, and I felt around in my pocket until I found my phone.
“What if I said, I had something to give you hope.”
“You owe me an explanation, Sasha. Show me.”
Pulling out my phone, I glanced up and saw his jaw drop, overcome with shock but with a hint of happiness. He knew hoe significant this was, probably more than us. “Does that work Sasha?”
“I got an upgrade.”
“Let me see.”
I handed my uncle the phone, as soon as he grabbed it the incredible brightness of the icon began to fade and with it, my Uncle’s smile. “No, wait.”
I snatched my phone, back and immediately the icon appeared once again. I unlocked my phone, and a new background message popped up. I had seen this before somewhere.
Ask me a question.
“Sasha, is this a trick?”
“No. it’s… I haven’t seen that before.”
“Can you turn my phone back on!” Courtney’s outburst after seeing the question sparked a group shout out.
“What are you?”
“Seriously, I asked first. Can you turn my phone back on?”
“What’s the maximum amount of blog hits you can get me a month!”
“SHUT UP!” Everything was still after I screamed to all of them. Floyd smiled at me, and I nodded back. The phone had not listened to them at all. After it had introduced itself, I noticed a gravity forming between us. It made me very nervous, this connection between us, and again I began to reevaluate my actions.
“Floyd gets to ask the question. Anybody object?”
“I always object!”
“Trevor. Shut the fuck up.”
“Okay,” Trevor replied with complete intent. I’m sure he sensed the hostility in my tone.
“Make it do something. Ask to prove itself to my dad.”
“Show us something you can do.” Just as quickly as I gave my request, the camera app on my phone opened, I was very confused at first. Then I had a thought. Is this how it sees? Through facial recognition, it knows my face, through the front of the camera it knows our group and through the rear view. It perceives the world through a 12-megapixel camera.
“I don’t get it.”
My uncle’s television screen flashed brightly and caught our attention. We moved towards it and sure enough, Nyström, popped up again wallowing around in the same jazz club as before.
“There is a failsafe if you cannot make it back to me, a design in the A.I. will allow you to reconnect other cell phones manually.”
“Why didn’t we know about this earlier!” Courtney interrupted, and Trevor slapped her while we continued to listen to Nyström’s instructions.
“I will admit to you that my partner created the virus, so I generated a cure, your new phone. You can reconnect individuals to a new network and recover data if requested. To do this, simply open your camera and take a picture of the device you want to reconnect. Results are instant. Good luck. Professor Leo Nyström, signing off.”
I nodded to my uncle. He picked up his frozen cell phone off his nightstand and walked back over to me. He anxiously held it up, and with his hands shaking incessantly I prepared to take a picture.
I took the picture, and my uncle’s phone began to radiate with vibrant light. Colors flashed in his face, and he became consumed by the moment, hypnotized by everything going on with his screen. And when I looked around everyone else was too, they gathered around him.
“Sasha! Do mine next!”
“No. you don’t need your phone, Courtney. Uncle Ted, what does it look like?”
Ted rubbed his eyes and began swiping through his phone. “Everything is still here, contact numbers, saved files, but every time I try to go to an app that is remotely related to the internet, this blank screen pops up. Let me try calling you, assuming you still have the same number.”
Uncle Ted speed dialed me, and sure enough, my phone began to ring.
“Incredible, you’re like the Jesus Christ of cell phones. No even better - the Chris Angel of cell phones.” Trevor said as he shoved his phone in my face along with Courtney.
“Come on Sasha!”
“Why do you want your phone to work? The internet is nonexistent right now. Nothing either of you value will work.”
“Maybe it will give us comfort in this dark time,” Courtney said.
“You two need to experience real human connection.”
My Uncle moved close to me and broke my stare with Courtney. Though he wasn’t my father, and as much as I tried to suppress my emotions around him, I teared up slightly when he gave me his speech. I did love him and appreciate him for everything he did; I just didn’t know how to show it to him.
“Sasha, I know I’m not your father. I’m not the man my only sister married. But I love you, and I swear I will do anything in my power to help you. I don’t know how you got a hold of whatever that thing is, but I do know what you have is very special, something like that will change the world. I know you’re going somewhere, all of you are itching to get out of here.”
My uncle and his mute son were the most connected people I have ever met because they can’t rely on technology to communicate, I think he knew that I was scared. My lip began to quiver, and he smiled, he was always so patient with me even when I acted crazy towards him. I needed him to comfort me before we made our leave.
“I think you need this Sasha. Your mother taught you not to believe in coincidences. You need, to be honest with yourself. Are sure you want to go through with this? Nobody will be mad at you if you do.”
“Uhh… We will.” Floyd then slapped his hands over both their mouths and I thanked him.
Of course, I didn’t want this. This world will be a better place without cell phones, but at the same time, I didn’t think the world would be consumed with panic and be on the verge of ending when it actually happened. I feared that it would lead to something far worse, a real apocalypse and I would lose everything again, and so would everyone else. So after a minute I responded and finally spoke with my heart.
“No one should ever know what it’s like to lose everything. I’m sure.”
“You may have lost a lot Sasha, but you’re my family now, and you better embrace these other two before that becomes a problem. You two hate them.”
It was almost like he could read our minds, then again I remembered he was nearly 60 and had seen a lot more of the world than we ever had.
“Yeah. We’re more stuck together. This one said she’d tell the whole world about me.”
“Oh really?” I finally saw that I made Courtney uncomfortable, I didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty about ratting her out either. “Well even if these two are blackmailing you. I will be here to help you. I’ve seen and done so much in my life. So listen to me: I’ve learned from the mistakes you haven’t had the chance to make yet.”
I followed his resolve, my phone must have sensed something between us. Maybe it was reading our body language as we hugged, but it pinged on the table, and it all caught our attention when we saw what it sent to my uncle. The GPS signal had been sent to him our location beeping on his screen.
“It listens. Now I will always know where you are.”
“Maybe,” I responded.
“Well, let me help you four get ready for the trip. If you two even think of harming my family to take this phone, I will find you; I know where you are at all times now.”
Trevor and Courtney nodded in sarcasm. Uncle Ted went to his son, patted him on the back and began to hand us supplies. I remained silent the rest of the time, reflecting on the decision I had just officially made. A journey, an experience, I do need this, I can’t give up, not anymore. I had to see the end, no matter what it took.
Special Agent Quinn
Family Financial Bank Helipad, Oklahoma City
That stupid helicopter, as much as I loved the ride in it had totally ruined the consistency of my hair gel. I was furious landing in Oklahoma City readjusting my flow. I had to let the blonde highlight on my cowlick stick out. That was my shit.
“Why mess with it? It already looks ridiculous enough, and your soul patch? My lord, what the hell is going on with you? Do I need you put you through a psychiatric evaluation?”
“I’ve never felt better Harry!” I shouted back over the eruption of sound and turbulence from the helicopter’s blades looking at him through my pocket mirror. I needed, above all things, to comb my hair until it no longer looked like a catastrophe. I was starting to fear growing old; time was the only thing I was afraid of; I guess this was my way of stealing it back. We all lie to ourselves that we’re happy, why was this so different? A psychiatric evaluation? Really?
“Right this way gentlemen.” The bank manager held the door open for us, and we made our way down the staircase. I know it was out of the ordinary, but did every single stranger have to stare at my hair?
“What are you looking at,” I asked the bank manager.
“Sorry, seen enough strange things today is all.”
I ignored him, and Harry immediately shot in. “Alright, the objective of our visit is to see the surveillance videos of this girl and her withdrawal. What’s her name and what does she look like?”
“Her name is Sasha Taylor. The girl is half-black, probably 5′8" and three others were with her.”
Pretty name I thought. Could she lead us somewhere though? I’d hate to have wasted this time on a false lead. Despite pure speculation and instinct on our end, I remained optimistic.
“Friends? Family? Did they look alike? Come on man.” I snapped my fingers in his face as we left the stairwell and entered the security room.
“One tall and built one acne-riddled and hunchbacked, and one blonde straight out of a soap opera. I figure you’d rather see it with your own eyes. Here we are.” The first I noticed was that the door had been pried open, by something heavy duty, this was a very secure door.
“Did you do this?”
The manager rubbed his head as he opened the warped door for us. “Yeah. Me and a couple of the bank staff downstairs. These two in here were locked in. The computers were not connected to wifi but connected to a mainframe, which eventually got infected somehow, we don’t know the source, it caused some major problems though. It locked these poor bastards inside, and we had to get them out.”
“So if your computers aren’t working can you still show us a tape?”
“We have a backup just in case. My boss is paranoid.”
“Rightly so it is a goddamn bank. Time is not something we can afford to lose right now. Show us to the tapes and bring up the teller who gave Sasha the money. The world is coming to an end pal, chop chop.” I again hurried him on his way.
The bank manager gave me a dirty look leaving the room while one of the security officers brought us to the tape recording closet behind him. He slid open the door and turned on the television.
And we waited. And waited.
“Hey, is this thing ever going to turn on?”
“It’s loading the tape, God what did we do before computers came along?”
“There it is.”
“Alright fast forward it to the point where Sasha enters the bank.”
The tape was black and white and skipped in quality as he brought us up to 1:27 in the afternoon. This job was not going to be easy; I had used the internet constantly in investigations for research and other things. Everything felt so distant from me in this job, if we could just communicate, that would change everything. But I didn’t want to waste my thoughts on complaints, we were the ones at the spearhead, and we have a job to do.
Harry and I wasted no time and wrote down every detail we could. We wrote for a few minutes after Sasha left the bank, and, right on time, the teller was then brought up to us.
“Sorry Sirs, we had some trouble locking the door. People and money problems, bad combination. You wanted to ask me some questions.?” I turned around and grinned at her until I caught her looking at my hair, and I saw a giggle escape her.
“Something funny darlin’?”
“No, no. Go ahead and ask your questions.”
I glared at her and stared down at my notepad preparing to write down the answers. I clicked my pen and wasted no time ogling the woman with beautiful gray eyes in front of me. “What did she come into the bank for?”
“She wanted to withdraw some money. But she seemed very surprised when I told her what her account balance was.”
“How much?” I ignorantly asked.
“Even if you are FBI, I can’t lose my job. It was a lot, more than I could ever spend.”
“Did she say anything to you that made you suspicious of her?”
“No, she was quite polite. But I have never seen her in this bank, and I’ve worked here for five years. It’s just strange. She may have inherited the account, but wait there was something.”
Harry and I leaned in, extremely attentive. “Go on.”
“I overheard her saying something about Boston, I think. A trip or something.”
“Strange time to take a trip don’t you think Quinn?”
“Yes, I do Harry. You can go now and don’t release that information to anyone else; we can’t trust anyone.”
“Are you going to fix this?”
“We’re going to try our best. Don’t let us keep you.”
I didn’t even notice her adorable gestures as she left the room. We had learned something very significant from talking to her. In the helicopter, Harry told me of the six locations in the United States where a computer powerful enough to have a significant effect on the internet were residing. One very recently in Boston, unfortunately, the precise location was not available, this is shrouded in secrecy, and the girl might lead us to it.
“First thing we need to do, find out what she is driving and the people she has in her company. You,” Harry pointed to one of the security guards.
“How fast can you get printouts and send them to this address?”
“By mail? 3-4 days. Maybe longer with this thing going on.”
Harry sighed and flipped through his wallet. “Alright if I give you a hundred dollars can you deliver them to our headquarters there?”
“Of course. I’ll get started right away, detectives.”
Harry smiled and patted me on the shoulder, signaling our leave. “It’s the only thing that still works Quinn, the courier. We’ll set up a command center here; I’ll radio it in when we’re outside. 30 minutes from now, I think we should split up and look for records we have to find out who this girl is before anyone can get to her. I got a good feeling about this one.”
“Me too Harry. But you know looking for her through records at city hall will cost too much time. We need to think on our feet; we don’t have those advantages anymore. I know there’s a school just around the block. Those kids are high-schoolers I can tell by how nervous they seemed in the bank; they knew they are out of place. Let’s start there.”
We hurried out the door; the others were anxious to start our journey. Four backpacks loaded with enough supplies to easily last a week. They were ready to go, but I didn’t want to leave. I felt nervous and feared to leave my sanctuary that had contained sorrowful existence for the past four months. I was afraid to show these two morons and my cousin who I really was. Maybe I was afraid to find out myself.
“Goodbye Son. I love you, don’t let Sasha leave your sight you hear?”
“Yes, sir.” Floyd signed as a single tear slid down his faint smile. It was just then that I think I figured out what had been bothering me.
“I forgot something I’ll be right back.” I squeezed past my uncle and made my way back to my bedroom. I flung open the door and eyeballed the still unopened gift from my father. I’ve always felt attached to it; I just didn’t realize why it till now. I swiped it off the table and put it in my jacket pocket gazing around my room giving silent farewells to everything I saw. I felt like this was the last time I would ever see this place.
“Goodbye,” I whispered. I sat down on my bed, and as I was about to shed my first tear in months, I heard my uncle knock on the door. Up went the drawbridge leading to my captive emotions.
“I am interrupting?”
“No. Just saying goodbye.”
“Well Samantha is here I told her you were leaving and she needed to see you.”
Samantha then peeked around the doorframe and waved to me; I could see in her face, something was troubling her.
“Come on in.”
My uncle walked back towards the living room, and Samantha kneeled to me and began to bombard me with questions.
“Oh my god Sasha this is awful. Did you hear what is happening? How can you leave now? You can’t leave without me I’m worried to death. Where are you going? And why are Courtney and Trevor here of all people? Don’t you hate them? What is going on?”
Just as Samantha was beginning to hyperventilate, I lightly held her shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Calm down. I wish I could tell you, but we don’t have a lot of time.”
Samantha then began to cry hysterically. “It’s all gone Sasha all of my writings. I stored them on the cloud, the last few years of my life is gone. No, I need you here, or I’m going with you.”
I would’ve loved to bring her along, but I knew I couldn’t. So I decided to ease her worry which I understood all too well by giving her back what she thought she had lost.
“Let me see your phone, Sam.”
“Why? It’s just as useless as anything else. Just like yours, I bet.” She stopped in mid-sentence when I pulled out my phone and went to access my camera. She had no words for the moment. And I repeated a phrase I had said earlier taking a picture and healing her phone.
“No one should ever know what it’s like to lose everything.” Samantha jolted up, waited for her phone to reboot and saw that it was working almost as it had before. The phone must have heard her request and processed it. Samantha no longer needed to worry that her writings were gone forever.
“It’s here! Oh, thank God it’s still here!”
Sam then pounced on me and held me tight; she truly didn’t want me to leave. “I don’t know how you did it, but thank you.”
“I’m still figuring it out myself. I’m sorry, but I have to go now, Sam.”
Sam wiped the tears from her eyes and rested her head on my shoulder. “Okay. I know you’re depressed Sasha, I know you think nothing you can do will fix what happened to you. You haven’t lost as much as you think, you have more than nothing. You’ll always have me, I am your friend, and if you need any help at all you better not hesitate to ask.”
Sam gave me a wink, and I was alone. Time here had never felt this precious to me until now. I looked down to my phone. I was entrusting this device with everything, but I still felt distant from it. Something about it just didn’t feel genuine, I needed it to feel human that had to change before we left. So, I decided to ask it a question.
“What’s your name?”
The phone’s central icon wobbled and waved and pulled up a text within a second.
The very poet who guided Dante Alighieri through the seven layers of Inferno.
“Are we going to hell?”
It then finally responded organically through text, I think it had to learn how to communicate with us. I kept forgetting that this A.I. was still in its infancy. There’s a learning curve to everything.
No. We are going to Tulsa, Springfield, St Louis.
This language barrier was going to be problematic. So I interrupted it
“I guess I’ll just be as literal as I possibly can with you.”
It felt better to know I could now be on a first name basis with my phone. Never thought that would ever be a scenario, for anyone, ever. Despite its simplistic and vague responses it began to feel less robotic and more organic. Everything has to adapt.
We said our goodbyes and I gave my uncle and Sam one last hug before I left to embark on this adventure. It was only their kind words that got me out of that house. Not even on the road and I was already feeling homesick. My uncle had tears in his eyes, I didn’t want to leave him, but I knew he was right. We were put on a path; I had to see what was at the end.
I must know that I can eventually get over what has happened to me, I need to believe that it will happen, and if this doesn’t do it – then nothing will. This is not about wanting, not anymore. I’m going to try as hard as I can to let go, to be free, and as much as it pains me to admit it – I’ll need my group’s help to do it.