I sit at the Gate Clock Bar at Dublin Airport with a pint of Guinness in hand. Guinness tastes much better here in Dublin, only miles away from the brewery. I take a long drag and sigh. Despite how lovely Ireland looks this time of year I miss home. Mostly I miss Scarlett.
A leggy brunette with hair as dark as my own short cropped hair sits next to me. She has delicate features on a V-shaped face. Before I can take another drink, she lays a hand on my arm. Her eyes linger there, admiring my strong arms.
“Hey handsome, buy me a drink?” she says, as our eyes meet. I free my arm.
“Sorry, I have a flight to catch,” I say, looking at her with compassionate eyes. I check my watch so that she can’t help but see my wedding ring, an unadorned twist of black carbon fiber that displays our wedding vows when viewed under UV light. 5:17 pm. Still plenty of time before my flight.
“Oh, sorry to bother you then. Don’t mind me,” she says, with undertones of disappointment beneath her cheerful Irish accent. I quickly finish the rest of the pint, close my tab, pickup my black duffel bag and head over to gate C4.
I picked a good time to leave. Outside the clouds drizzle lightly, and the sky looks as grey as… well, I suck at similes, but my retina implant says grey #322. In the reflections cast by the LED lights my fellow passengers look sullen. Having nothing better to do, I check my email on my retina. Nothing looks particularly interesting, as usual, but I answer a question from a new developer regarding the nature of our unnecessarily complex middle-ware system. I feel someone brush me from behind, and behind the semi-transparent retina display I see a large dark Irish behind me. He also clutches a black duffel, so I reflexively reach for mine and feel it still there. He walks away, and I return to my email.
A while later I receive a notification on my retina that my seat awaits me. Most people receive their notification on their phones, as I adopted retina technology relatively early. Plane boarding feels much more efficient now that the programmers convinced airline companies that using an actual boarding algorithm rather than chaos would more efficiently board customers. Just another way that my field has made the world better. My bag seems lighter than it did before, but my arms do feel better rested now.
The seat next to mine has no occupant, so I feel left alone with my devices and thoughts. The ridiculous superstition against having electronics on during flight has lifted finally, but to speak frankly, I feel tired of technology. I just want to see Scarlett again. Do you know that dull heartache when you’ve stayed away from your loved one? Well, it no longer feels like a dull heartache. It feels more like a throbbing toothache stabbing into my heart.
As I look out the window and I realize I won’t see Dublin recede into the distance, as the clouds have covered everything. I sigh. I never thought that I would come to love someone as much as I loved Scarlett. Obviously, I find it mostly upside, but then there come afternoons like this. I find it the silliest problem—of course—I found someone who fulfills me completely, feeling the absence of that almost feels unbearable. Traveling wouldn’t feel so bad if only she could come with, but with her job as a cardiac surgeon she just can’t do it. Instead of torturing myself with this anymore, I decide to try and sleep.
My door recognizes me and I pause in front of it, listening to the faint whirl of gears. Then the door slides aside. I step into my condominium and sigh with relief. Home sweet home. For the most part the decor looks sleek, modern, black and white electronic embedded plastic. But there also sit some choice antique like the comfortable leather couch that Scarlett added. Scarlett also insisted on plants, and on this point we reached a happy compromise: the basil, heirloom tomatoes, and other plants all grew happily and without human interference in state of the art hydroponic systems. I sniff. The aroma of fresh baking peanut butter cookies wafts through my consciousness. I feel so lucky.
“Honey!” Scarlett lilts as she runs to embrace me. She seems to wear very little underneath her bright red apron which intensifies her flowing auburn hair. Before I can get any ideas she jumps at me. I have to drop the bag to catch her. “You’re hommmm—” she says, nuzzling into my chest and wrapping her legs around my waist. I can feel her soft yet firm curves against my torso as she wiggles in my grasp and kisses my neck. I lower my head and take a long deep drag of her hair.
“Scar, you smell amazing. The cookies do too. You didn’t have to ba—” I try to say, but she interrupts me with a kiss.
“Nonsense. Only the best for my papa,” she says. The door closes itself as I march Scarlett into the bedroom, thanks to some smart programming.
“Ohh, someone missed me while away,” she teases, while feeling me down below. I just grin and lay her on our plush white king sized bed. She lays there staring into me with her light green eyes as I hastily pull off my shirt.
Scarlett’s phone blares from on top of the dresser. We both give it death stares. We look back at each other. Scarlett looks crestfallen, I probably look like a depressed puppy just kicked by his owner even though I try not to.
“Sorry Gerard, duty calls,” she says. I nod knowingly as she starts to get dressed. Suddenly I feel more tired from my travels, so I lie down as Scar bustles about. Off to save more lives. “Bye honey!” she says on her way out.
“See you tonight, Scar,” I manage. It took her maybe three minutes to get ready. When we dated I loved that about her: quick dresser; made adventures possible. Well, now that she has gone, no point in wasting time. Might as well shower. I feel happy the oven also acts smart enough to turn itself off when the cookies finish baking. Programmers have really managed to remove about eighty percent of the drudgery for the two percent of people who can afford it. When I step in the shower it automatically starts washing me in the sequence I preprogrammed. Scarlett likes to use the manual controls, old school style. Metal knobs and such nonsense. After I shower and I savor two of the cookies. The oven has kept them at the ideal temperature. They feel crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside as the chocolate explodes in my mouth.
It takes me a moment to summon the motivation to walk back to the front door and pick up my duffel. I bring it back into the bedroom, plop it on the bed and unzip it. White bricks. I zip it back up and stare. Suddenly I feel incredibly paranoid. I use my retina to tell to the house controls to lock all doors and shade all the windows. Then I unzip the bag again. No mistaking it. Instead of my luggage, there sit white bricks in my bag. With trembling hands I unpack them all, counting as I go. Eighteen in all. Very dense, very hard packed. I pace back and forth across my room. Okay, I know what to do. I rush out of the room and return with the kitchen scale and a knife.
I place one of the bricks on the scale. One kilogram. I carefully slice off a tiny portion from the corner of a brick with the knife and contemplate it. Testing this feels slightly stupid, but I have no other means of identification here. What the hell. I walk carefully over to my dresser with the corner chunk balanced on my knife and dump the chunk on the shiny black plastic.
I chop it up into a fine powder, like I’ve seen them do in the movies. Then I pull out my wallet and remove a one dollar bill. Ehhh, I put it back and remove a hundred dollar bill. Go big or go home, kid. I roll it up into a tube and kneel before the dresser, exhale deeply, bring the tube to my right nostril and plug my left, and then all at once take a big snort, sucking it all up like a vacuum cleaner.
For a moment I feel nothing, and I want to laugh. What did I expect. Just compressed bricks of flour or talcum powder or something. Then I feel the burn. Like fire and barbed wire raking across my entire nasal cavity.
“SON OF A BITCH!” I yell. Then the burn gives way to the rush. Oh, the rush. Ohhhhhhhhh. I fall through a tunnel of crinkling aluminum and then I land inside myself… only I feel better than myself. I feel like turbo-freaking-charged Gerard. I clench my hands into fists. I feel so strong. SO STRONG. I feel like I can hurl tables and crush skulls. But what? My brain? Oh, it moves so fast. So many thoughts. So many brilliant thoughts. I think I am the smartest man there ever was. I probably am. How could I not have seen this before? I obviously am. It’s never been so clear. There is no doubt in my mind that I can do anything I want. All the things. Every of the things. The things, the things.
Okay, calm down. My heart races. I pace. Yes, this is the stuff. This is the stuff. What stuff is this? This is coke. This is coke. Calm down. Take a chill pill. Don’t take a chill pill. Enjoy this rush. I can’t have it again. Gotta use this wisely. Yes, have to sell it. Can’t use it. Have to, have to. Maybe just a little bit more. A little more. Just a little. Okay, just a little. A little line. A little line isn’t much. Okay, okay. Okay buddy.
But wait. Thinking first. Do the smart thing first. Use it as a reward. Good Gerard, good. I am smart, use the brain.
I turn on privacy mode on my retina and determine that the market value of a single brick is around twenty thousand dollars, depending on my ability to sling it. Three hundred and sixty thousand dollars. Damn. Even with my salary and Scarlett’s salary that seems like a lot of money. Especially to get all at once, tax free.
Then I realize. The bag is bugged. It must be bugged. No way it isn’t. How to get rid of the bug? Where is the bug? Burn the bag? Burn the bag. Burn the bag! Burn. Yes, yes. No, no, I’m a hacker for god’s sake.
I grab the bag and run to my workshop. The shelves of this small room are strewn with electronic gadgets, tools, soldering irons, a fabrication machine, discarded monitors, and miles of cable. I search the shelves until I find my EM field detecting wand. I sweep everything off my workbench and drop the bag on it, then begin methodically scanning the bag with the wand. Nothing, nothing. Then finally, beep beep. The bug must be embedded in the fabric somewhere. I grab a pair of wire cutters and begin cutting apart the fabric until I unveil a small black chip, about a quarter the area of my thumbnail. I extract it carefully.
A normal person’s instinct here would be to destroy the chip immediately. But I have better ideas. I turn on my workshop computer, and while it is booting up search for a set of wires. When I find the green cord I am looking for I solder two electrodes from one end of it to the chip, and then plugs the other end into my computer. I’m familiar with this kind of chip. It’s a generic component manufactured in Africa.
Quickly I write a program. Unfortunately, the tracker has already indicated this apartment. There’s no getting around what’s already been revealed. For the time being, I feel very justified in paranoia. If there is a tracking chip, there are almost certainly people coming for it. Maybe I can throw them off my trail, so long as they don’t find me here. The program will hack the memory address containing the chip’s location and cause it to display whatever coordinates I desire. I decide that it is imperative they don’t realize the chip has been compromised, so I program the chip to show my location as moving from my apartment to a series of motels and hideouts, as if the chip were tracking my location while on the run. I smile in satisfaction. This way I can even survey from a distance a location that the chip report me to be, and see who shows up, if anyone.
I hear loud banging on my door. I jump and have what feel like an almost heart attack. Fuck. I switch my retina to view the front door camera. Shit. There are two burly Irish blokes banging on my door. One of them has long ugly arms like a gorilla, and the other has the cauliflower ears of a boxer. Damnit, too slow. They must think nobody is home, because they stop banging and take out an electronic door breaker. That’s not going to work on my door. My door is custom. But it seems they have a plasma torch too. Shit, gotta think fast. I run into my living room and grab my hickory baseball bat singed by Ty Cobb off of the mantel. Then I hide behind my kitchen counter. Then I calm myself, and open my door with my retina.
“Told ya the fuckin door break would work eventually, ya cumsprite,” I hear Gorilla say. “Them software shit heads canna do a thing right.” I smile slightly. We’ll see who’s a shit head in a moment.
“Shut yer fuckin mouth. You want a neighbor to hear us?” Cauliflower says. Gorilla and cauliflower move in and close the door quietly. Thanks to the cameras I have set up I can watch them search my living room from behind my kitchen counter. It is nerve wracking to be sitting here with just a counter separating us. I try to take long quiet breathes to slow my racing heart. It’s not much use. They are making a fucking mess, Scarlett is not going to be happy.
“I’ll search the kitchen, you search the rooms,” Cauliflower says. Gorilla heads into my workshop, leaving me alone with Cauliflower who is rapidly approaching. This is the moment of truth. As Cauliflower is about to round the corner to the counter and discover me I turn off all the lights. “Da fuck?” Cauliflower says as I rise, bat in both hands. I turn the lights back on so I can aim and for a moment I see his surprise in his eyes before I bring the bat down straight across his face with a loud thwack. He’s dazed but still standing. My blood is pumping hard. Shit this guy is tough. BUT I’M FUCKING STRONG. He doesn’t have time to react to me shifting the bat to the left and taking a huge swing. The bat impacts him right in the ear and I continue swinging through. The is a sickening snap, crunch, and spray of blood as the side of his head caves in, the bat snaps, his neck flaps wildly to the right like his head almost came off. Then he slumps over. Fuck, I am strong.
“Frank! What da fuck was that? Frank!” I hear Gorllia shout. Frank. His name was Frank, and I killed him. My stomach turns and I dry heave. I just killed a man, and I ruined my signed Ty Cobb bat to do it. What the hell. Gorilla storms into the living room and sees me, and Frank on the ground. “YOU SHIT HEAD!” he roars. Shit. I turn the lights off again. I don’t know what I’m going to to do now. My weapon is broken, and I no longer have the advantage of surprise. Gorilla knocks painfully into the counter as he tries to reach me. I can find my way in the dark here, but what’s my next move? I’ll be in trouble as soon as he gains his dark vision. I back into the living room and he is in the kitchen. Sounds like he is flailing his arms around trying to grab me. Since he is in the kitchen I can’t grab a knife from it. Ah, but I do have the coke knife. I work my way across the living room toward my bed room as quietly as I can. It is easy to track Gorilla’s position because he is breathing hard and banging around a lot as he moves. I am strangely calm now, I feel almost cold blooded. Something in me died with Frank, and all that’s left is a determination to get out of this alive.
When I get to my room Gorilla is in the living room. He’s not bumping around as much anymore, so he can probably see about as well as I can now. I don’t want to search for the knife in the dark, so I turn the lights back on. But I keep them dim in my room and I flash the lights in the living room on their highest setting and open the shades to try and screw with his eyes. I head towards the living room, knife in my right hand. Gorilla sees me and takes huge strides to meet me half way. As he’s about to reach me I turn the lights off, close the shades, and duck under his punch. I feel really clever for a moment, but then he connects with a left hook that sends me staggering. I back track as I am dazed but Gorilla presses his advantage. He can see? He must have shielded his eyes from the light? I turn the lights back on, no point fighting in the dark now. I step out of range of his right jab, but he keeps pursuing as I back into the hallway. I swipe at him with the knife, but his arms out range me and I get jabbed in the face. The knife is doing me no good, but I remember what Matt showed me. My stance is all wrong; I’m hardly using the knife. As Gorilla strikes again, I back step and turn my body so it is in profile towards him, my weight is on my back leg, my knife arm is extended toward him protecting my side. It all clicks, and the principles behind these stances make intuitive sense.
This actually stops Gorilla’s advance. Suddenly I’m presenting a much smaller target, and the knife is actually in the way. We have a stand off for a moment and both of us catch our breathes a bit. I stay on the ready though. Like Matt told me, not tense, relaxed but ready. Alert. “Always wait to receive an attack,” he said. Gorilla and I stare each other down. I decide to try something Matt showed me. I lower my right a bit, so the knife is out of the way, creating an opening to my face. Gorilla underestimates me and tries to punch my head. But I’m ready. My arm moves half circle as I shift my weight forward, knocking his arm aside. Now he is completely defenseless, so I continue my lunge, sinking my weight further forward and down and stab him in the gut. I shift back into my original stance, leaving him no opening to retaliate. Now he’s pissed and grimacing in pain. My leg is starting to tire though, I’m not used to this stance. He punches again and I move to block, but he was only feinting. He grabs my hand and twists it hard. Shit, I drop the knife. Before he can break my wrist I shift my weight forward, off balancing him, then I knee him in the groin. He blinks but hardly seems to react. He yanks me toward him by my hand and now I’m off balance. Then he grabs my head and slams it into the wall. My vision goes black. He chokes my throat with one hand and delivers brutal body shots with the other. I can t breathe. Stomach punches. I kick him in the side of the knee. To my surprise it buckles and he falls to the floor in pain. His head is by my knee and before he has time to protect it I knee him in the face, putting the full force of my body behind it. His spine arches back as his head whips into the floor. I jump on him and start pummeling his face but he’s already out cold.
Fuck, fuck, fuck! I have to get the hell out of here. And I need to warn Scarlett.
I’m sitting in a kitschy Starbucks in DUMBO a few blocks from my condominium. I’m on my laptop trying to look as inconspicuous as a person can when the bags next to them are filled with kilos of cocaine and urban survival equipment. I’m also trying not to remember that I have one dead Irish mobster in one closet, and a duct taped and unconscious mobster in another closet. My hands are shaking as I type, and I keep tapping my leg. Where is Scarlett? The hospital says she never arrived, and she isn’t answering her phone. Right now I’m trying to break into the hospital parking lot’s security cameras. Our car reports that it made it to the hospital garage. Somehow Scarlett went missing between the car door and the ER door, and I have an awful feeling in my gut that I know exactly why.
The security camera system has a password, but no rate limiting. It might as well not have a password, idiots. I spin up a brute force dictionary attack and impatiently sip on my hot white chocolate. This might take a few minutes, so I try to take some deep breathes and calm down. I rest my foot, fold my hands in my lap, and close my eyes. On my retina I pull up a meditation brain entrainment program and relax into it, allowing the soothing female voice to guide me into relaxation.
Some time passes and my eyes snap open. I’ve broken in. There are a lot of cameras, far more than I can examine manually. However, I know when the car arrived in the parking lot. I tile sixteen camera feeds in a grid and fast forward to 6:45 pm. Stepping in fifteen second increments I see my silver Shelby Mustang appear on three of the feeds. Black racing stripes, that’s definitely my car. Scarlett is in the front passenger seat, reading a book while the car drives. The mustang switches onto another camera as it glides smoothly into its parking spot. Parked next to it on the right is an ominous black van. As Scarlett steps out of the mustang the van’s door slides open and two pairs of arms pull her in. The door slams shut and the van turns backward out of its spot and speeds out the lot.
Shit. Is there any way I can track the location of that van? City traffic cameras, intelligence satellites… all too risky, and beyond my capabilities anyway.
I close my eyes and breathe deeply. Then the solution comes to me. I’ll call Jenzen! She could totally help out in this situation. As I think of ‘Jenzen’ and ‘calling’ my retina prompts me: Call Jenzen? Yes.
Jenzen: Hello, Gerard. You: Jen, I need your help. Jenzen: I knew. Do you have the…? You: Yes. Jenzen: Bring everything to my fortress. You: Where the hell do you have a fortress in Manhattan? Jenzen: Hail a car, I'll bring it to me. You: Sure. Jenzen: Stay on the line, I will direct you from my birds-eye view.
I step out of the cafe with my bags. I think ‘car!’ and my retina hails the nearest empty car, which happens to turn the corner. I eye the attractive black Tesla model M. It smoothly pulls up in front of me and the passenger door pops open. I step inside. All the doors lock and the windows go black. I get a queasy feeling in my stomach.
Jenzen: Sorry Gerard, might feel a bit rough of a ride. Don't take this the wrong way but I'd rather you didn't know where my fortress sits.
Somehow Jen seems to have taken control of the car. The Gooverment Department of Transportation claimed the auto control system could not get hacked… shows what they know. Suddenly the tires squeal and my stomach feels a dreadful lurch as the car accelerates forward. The car swivels to the left then to the right. I feel the terror rising, Jen must have this car weaving through traffic and its velocity rapidly increases. I can’t see out the windows so I can only blindly hope that it doesn’t collide with anything at high speed.