|Art: P. Emerson Williams|
Don hadn’t been to an airport in the past year. It wasn’t an experience he much missed. He wondered how they managed to combine the feeling of a checkout line at a supermarket, a doctor’s office, and a gulag. It was well executed, though to what end was never entirely clear.
For better or worse his mission had been accomplished. He had a nice little chunk of change set aside for himself, so long as he could get out of dodge before someone found out that without his aid, all the social viruses that were biting the establishment in the ass now would have starved themselves to death long ago. It was time for him to find a nice plot of land to lie low in for the next millennium. Thailand seemed ideal. No questions, no pesky laws if you bought off the right cartels.
Lines of people shifted, clutching briefcases close to their bodies. Cordial, preemptive cavity searches had become standard. So had random DNA testing and crosschecking. Cotton swab brushed quickly across the tender inner cheek was all it took, and they could trace almost anything, if the system determined there was cause for a full query.
The group brusquely wading through the crowd was far more troubling.
He warily watched them pass from over the brim of the magazine he wasn’t reading. Ten of them, in black. No badges. Walking proudly, confidently, the pad of their boots on the carpet promising a near eternity of red tape followed by an abrupt death. Definitely a DHS mercenary group. They’d started seeing regular use in the conflicts in Iraq, but had been called in regularly for Homeland Security missions in the time since.
Soldiers didn’t even look like soldiers anymore. “Battlefields” no longer existed, they were replaced by intelligent, tactically audacious applications of force, on foreign soil or the privacy of your own living room. G. I. Joe was out of a job, Joe Public had taken his place – a sociopathic, genetically-enhanced Joe Public with reflexes like sweating dynamite.
Most didn’t understand exactly how the Leviathan worked in the modern age. This worked to its advantage. Terror breeds an obsequious, docile public. However, Don knew his enemy. It has been the bane of the free individual since the rise of civilization gave birth to it some eight thousand years ago. It changed guises over the years. As the thought-forms of a civilization gained consensus, it gained power.
Through thousands of years of cultural development, and tens of thousands of computer programmers, the Leviathan eventually spawned the Beast, a system that could be used to keep tabs on everything and everyone. A singularity of information was the intent; the end of privacy was the result.
Using WordNet-based algorithms it could actually generate a quantitative risk analysis on every conversation, every email, every text message, based on psychological profile, cultural bias, and a hundred other variables. If you weren’t deemed important, you could scream “kill the President crystal meth labs!” from a rooftop and nothing would happen. However, if you were flagged, even a sordid whisper in a basement might tip them off.
He continued staring at his magazine. The mercs were still prowling around the room. All experiments require a control. All systems of measure require internal consistency so as to mean anything at all. He thought that it was not without some historic irony that this creature was an embodiment of the English Enlightenment, gone berzerk. Only when everything could fit into an equation, no matter how complex, could the terrifying dark be peeled back, and the depths be measured. He could see a certain logic in this, but the cost to the individual was simply too high.
The mercenaries passed by, disappearing into the ever swarming crowd outside the metal detectors. Don snapped his magazine shut and headed into a nearby bathroom to wait them out.
The room appeared empty. He sat in the stall and wiped sweat from his palms onto his business slacks. The flickering fluorescent above made him twitch sympathetically as seconds crawled forward. How long should he wait?
The door to the restroom burst open, but the shuffling gait that followed put him at ease. Mercs wouldn’t walk like that.
A worn, crackly voice echoed in the small chamber.
“Entry: 2009, Los Angeles. Babylon burning. From 2001 on, the world was host to a series of brushfire wars between the U.S./U.K. alliance, various non-State military entities, and their State sponsors. Just when it appeared that the flames were petering out, someone went and bombed Los Angeles.”
A fucking crazy, Don thought. Terrific. He peered between the cracks in the stall. Standing in front of the mirror by the entrance was a man in a rumpled red suit, narrating into a Bluetooth ear piece.
“The device is a crudely fashioned thermonuclear weapon, somewhat more powerful than Little Boy, which did in Hiroshima a little over a half a century previous. A number of groups have been mobilized to find the agent before detonation, but I believe it will be a failure. If I knew exactly who the agent was, I’d probably stop him, if only to put off dying a little while yet. However, I do not, so I will likely wind up radioactive bone powder along with the rest of these poor fools.”
Don wasn’t too sure now. He was, after all, responsible for a multi-million-dollar war waged against a metaphorical construct. Who was he to say what was crazy?
“How did this snowball? You’ll have to inspect my recent entries. In the time left in this incarnation, I can say this much…The net crackled here and there with chatter, frankly predicting the complete destruction of corporate and governmental information architecture by agents unknown. No one knew how or why this would happen, or even questioned the meme’s credibility; they just passed it on, working it into their conversations without gravity.
“Looking back, it was the quietly asserted inevitability of the ‘404 attacks’ in these messages that in turn made the events inevitable. Whoever spread those initial communications is a genius of memetic engineering. Anyone with the motivation and skills to bring chaos to the infrastructure, receiving the meme, would immediately conclude that they were not alone, others had the same plans, and all they had to do was help it along. Soon artists, bands, hackers, and pretty much all those disenfranchised by the present regime passed this anarchistic mantra amongst themselves. What a joke. I doubt that the original authors had anything in the oven, save prodding everyone else into action.”
Don’s ego stung. If this bastard only knew.
“What developed was a new form of civil war. There was unprecedented violence against civilians written off as terrorists, however it truly came to a head September of this year. A rock and roll show turned bloodbath in Los Angeles led to a second gunfight in the nearby desert. They tried to brush the dirt under the carpet afterwards, but there was just too much of it. There was outrage and suddenly the citizens realized they were being targeted as the enemy. Still, at that point, no one did anything about it. Then in October, a number of hactivist organizations unleashed a long-brewing plot which attacked the status quo from every imaginable angle. The Justice Department was quick to label the perpetrators terrorists, and swore on a stack of Bibles to take them down. The destruction of many major power grids, in fact the result of natural phenomena, was also blamed on these organizations, in the hopes of rallying the support of the people angered by their sudden brush with the dark ages.
“Financial districts, corporate networks, and governmental mainframes blinked out overnight. The press conference that followed marked the beginning of the end. With their billion-dollar ‘cyberterror’ units flailing in the darkness, the government kicked and stomped like a blind giant. The Terror Alert went immediately to red, the borders closed, and National Guard troops circled suburban neighborhoods armed and ready to fight the wrong kind of war. Seeing all those sweaty palms holding all those guns, the hackers stepped up.”
“President Clay, in a press conference denouncing the continued attacks against the corporate-government infrastructure, found his words were being dubbed over with WWII Nazi propaganda. His explosive reaction, however, was not. ‘I’m gonna see those sonsabitches fry if I gotta declare martial law,’ the President was heard to say on National television. Guardsmen tossed college campuses top to bottom, seizing computers and tearing up fiber optic lines. Peaceful protests in major cities turned into riots when the troops rolled in, and loyal citizens berserked while their homes burned – collateral damage when the Guard struck ‘hacker dens’ where the neighborhood kids gathered to play Quake V.”
Finally deciding to play along, Don stepped off the toilet seat and opened the stall. The man greeted him with a smug smile from under a week’s growth.
“Can you hear Gabriel’s horn?” he asked.
“Pardon me?” Don asked, stopping in mid-stride.
“You look like a man whose time has run out,” the man said, pulling at a ratty length of rope dangling from his neck, a comical parody of a necktie. “Where you headed? Fresno? Bangladesh?”
Don was still frozen in place. He stammered but nothing intelligible came out. Too many questions…
“Who are you?” It was a stupid, pointless question, but it was the first one that managed to escape his lips.
“I’m a…journalist," he said.
“Oh really? For who?”
“You don’t have time for small talk. There’s a group of mercs out there.” Don stepped towards the far wall anxiously. “They aren’t looking for you…You know that part already, so stop giving off the scent. They can smell it, you know. Fear. They’re looking for a bomb. You don’t have a locker-sized nuclear device in your back pocket, do you?”
He put his finger to his ear, calling attention to some sort of receiver device planted there. His eyes widened for a moment. “I think our goose is cooked, as you say.”
“They found us?”
“No, it’s what they haven’t found that is your concern.”
“It isn’t yours, as well?”
The man laughed. “That isn’t your concern.”
They both paused, sizing each other up.
He scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Ever wonder, with all of the tentacles Leviathan has, why has it botched so many things? The war on their imaginary terrorists creates real terrorists – of course. But the truth…these are acts of desperation. You can at least go to your grave with this certainty, that for better or worse you have helped land a critical blow against your enemy.”
Don blinked. “You’re for real?”
He was pursing his lips, his eyes averted towards the ceiling. “Doesn’t really matter now.”
Both of them were pulled to the floor by the force of a shuddering gasp, as the air in the building rushed in, sucking doors from their hinges. This was the last thing they heard.
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