Guardians of Liberty: Part 10

10.

Fickle Youth

N1T3 paced himself over a mound of debris. The London Riots had been worse this time ’round. Military arms were too advanced. Civilian arms too accessible. Luckily, most damage was by nonlethals. All the same, a rubber bullet hurts no matter how alive you are afterward. Besides, the damage wasn’t done during the riots. It was the aftermath.

The ’08 crash was a great moment of effect in Human history. In the pejorative sense, that is. Not necessarily because of its subjects or its benefactors either, but because of the method by which it was discovered– and summarily ignored, by the people paid to care.

Nobody could deny who benefited from the state of things. It wasn’t the people being targeted— those like N1T3, Ket, An33$a, Clockwork that were trying to keep society from being poisoned. It was those fighting them tooth and nail to pour the stuff in. In short, the obvious benefactors of the hunt were those doing the hunting.

Meanwhile, the hunters underhandedly double-dealt blame on those they were supposed to be feeding. Any time or period of history thus-far passed would have seem such treachery beheaded, shot, drawn and quartered, and bronze-bulled for their flagrant disrespect. Not just for their fellow man, but for their species as a whole.

Until such an equivalent was met, the world wasn’t going to get better until after it got worse. Much worse.

Part of N1T3 remembered the madness as he followed the utterly emptyA200 through Deptford. The roads had been in flames from the cars that lined the streets ablaze in mile-long lines. The occasionally distant rock and shatter of a fuel tank broiling into combustion had barely honed the scattered madness of smashing windows and chanting.

Home was North, now, but in those moments it hadn’t existed for anyone. Then, any hovel you could hole up in or hollow out to avoid death, beating, or innocently-bystanding was home. The now-abandoned Greenwich University lay to N1T3’s East, where the smoke had plumed from the night the CRA past.

He cleared his throat painfully. Ahead, lay narrow English roads built for a time and world so far gone it might never have existed.

The place was dead. Zombie movie, Human-ambush scene dead.

He hesitated, listening for the sake of instinct alone. Distant observers always seemed a given, but he made himself look busy a moment then thoroughly scanned the area.

Not another soul for kims. That was how the world had turned. Big, massive Metros of former, smaller neighborhoods. Suburbs now forming unholy swaths of corp, or bank, or etc-aligned and occupied land, or owned and abandoned land.

Automated currents and channels of auto-cars and corp-courier traffic connected various oases of life, but thesedeserts separated them. Visited by life, but only in passing. Humanity had more or less forgotten about the outlying, in-between areas; conceptually and otherwise.

In some cases, separate but adjacent city-blockssaw traffic once a week and consistent jams each day. Companies like Hyper-Dyne and Third-Rail wanted it that way: when they weren’t goring each other for market-share of transport, they were deliberately clogging arteries of society and calling it progress because others never stopped moving, flowing.

In the end, there was only one, positive effect of universalizing transport; networking it.

N1T3 hesitated at the apex of a corner. A distant observer’s presence prickled the back of his neck: a personal sixth sense grown from decades of introversion, hiding in crowds, fearing public recognition.

A hint of sound. Far too distant to make out. Too quiet.Something was watching.

How? He’d have sensed other rats through the ruins. That was how they ended up in such large masses: they gravitatedtoward one another like ferrules to magnets. Really, it was only food that drew rats together, but in this case N1T3 mused, he guessed that was the need to stay off-grid.

All the same, someone was watching. A half-second of recalling his surroundings and he knew who.

He dropped from sight into the nearest open manhole. Another sign of society’s implosion. The same sewage lines here connected to others, forming a network that drained into the river. Near one of its outflows was his hideaway.

Sooner or later that hideaway would be compromised. The hope was to have outgrown it by then. Eventually it would be just another crash-pad where kids got high, drankstolen beer in cans at a time, and convinced themselves the best was yet to come.That was the real joke though.

Things wouldn’t get better. How could they without working to make them better? What kid had the power to do that? What adult had the freedom to? Each knew their place in the world was secure, immutable. But was it really?

Of course not.

N1T3 dropped to the sewer floor and kept low. He knew the roads well enough to follow their drainage, was already mentally and digitally mapping the rest. For safety’s sake, he’d have to barricade and secure various entrances, but could likely move about unimpeded.

He hesitated inside, whipped out an old phone long ago converted to a digital note-pad. It automatically offloaded all new data anytime it was in range of his systems. Effectively, syncing his day to his vast, personal networks, both local and remote.

A digital note-taking system followed him anywhere he went. When he logged into anything personal, it appeared. Most people would’ve lost their minds for something that good; paid their souls for it. He did it himself. From widely available, free resources. Then, released it free.

And people wondered why tech-minded were angry at the world’s state…

He made his way through the grid-work, mapping what he could and notating the rest. He’d add to and refine the data later. He focused instead on making it through. He was near Deptford Fire Station. Directly above were narrow, once-prominent middle-class streets, emptied on the orders of CEOs of the Big-13’s banks.

Pre-digital, it was a world of pristinely-manicured 20×20, bi-and-tri-level cells, filled to brimming with the naivete of youth.Those youth inherited the cell and its reality, and the world outside summarily showed its indifference and collapsed. People had nowhere to go but beneath its weight.

The cramped aftermath felt more homely and freeing than a clean-street ever could.

It hit him then; the Station. He knew the place well enough to find it through any darkness. So long as he knew where he was, his sense of direction would do the rest.

He finally understood the sound he’d heard. Why he’d been allowed to hear it at all.

Drone-sounds were never good. Not these days. Once, those high-pitched thrums meant fun or awe. Now, they meant terror and fear at-best. Unlawful hassling, shakedowns and harassment, usually. And at-worst, dehumanizing violence…

Clockwork and An33$a.

Spykids tended to modify their drones to run silent, if only from their own desire not to hear them. Especially for a hobbyist hiding in a derelict part of London, no doubt of the same mind as N1T3, it would be foolish not to stealth your drone.

N1T3 knew then he’d been diverted into the sewer. Compelled there. By knowingly-manipulated instincts. Problem was, confirming his hunch exposedhim, but rooting out the controller might mean aid, resources. Or at least marking out an enemy, if it was one.

Find the operator’s hideaway, then.Likely impermanent. Passing attention, if nothing else. That meant getting close enough to see the operator face-to-face; risks forboth parties, but an easy trap too.

Anyone smart enough to find and understand N1T3, his movements, enough to divert him knew he’d figure out their reality a moment later. Were it not for his physical proximity to such a familiar– and otherwise utterly unremarkable landmark, he’d have immediately been on the defensive. Fact was, few whom knew N1T3 also knew Martin Black.

Fewer still knew either intimately enough to reassure the latter, however symbolically, of difference between friend or foe.

N1T3 relaxed then; he just had to find his way in.

He circled the block’s intestines three times before he saw it. Cleverly exposed, just precisely so as to discourage further inspection. In this case, a benign series of old bricks and tools so obviously out of place there was no way they weren’t a marker.

He dug carefully. Between a collection of tools and holsters was a door handle. It slid open on a heavier, thicker door behind it, unsecured by the looks of the un-padlocked door.

The firehouse was occupied.

N1T3 guessed it wasn’t who he’d hoped for. If so, why not signal him personally? Was concealment so important? Or was it concealing one’s association instead? The only way to know was to enter. The door itself would decide.

He opened it and crept in, heart pounding. He knew the place well. Knew its every corner and crook. As Martin Black had once known it. More, he knew inside lay a room and a way up into the station, and somewhere a confrontation.

He stepped into the center of the pitch-black room, and breathed “Stryder.

Deep curls of laughter echoed from the shadows, rebounding with added energy in defiance to physics. The echoes cut air like sabers from all sides, cutting his brain and body, yet leaving him whole.

Then all at once, it stopped.

Sweet, delicious silence reigned long enough to wilt into dismay.

At that precise moment, a voice challenged, warned, threatened, and welcomed him, “Hello, Martin.

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