VIN 2- TGFJS

Jim Sterling’s videos detail what is happening in gaming, but the corruption of these tactics is now pandemic. It has become an ubiquitous effect of competition in the corporate market, that corruption and poison must needs be used. More than likely, because people are inoculated against anything less.

All the same, it makes you wonder; who are the corporations really serving with these acts?
The answer, as always, is themselves; the people directing and allowing their corrupted functions; those benefiting most directly from the corruption.

Look at Jim Sterling’s videos, his revelations on the gaming industry. Recognize this is inherent anywhere there is corporate money, influence, or competition. Then remember, you as a human, are the object of competition– as a ball is to a ballgame.

You are being battered for the sake of the satisfaction (of greed) of those involved. This is pandemic!

Thank God for Jim Sterling. He makes my job infinitely easier.

 

(For those interested) http://www.thejimquisition.com/

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Short Story: Birth of a Tyrant

Unlike the giants of and before its time, spawned of boardroom wars and the reverse cell-division of elderly mergers, Arc Systems started in a garage with two key-jocks. Theirs was the same rags to riches tale as their one-day benefactor Cameron Mobility. A tale more rare by the day. In an era where days were already far shorter.

Night was taking over. Not true night, but night all the same. That perma-twilight hailing the realities of Sprawl living, its police-state of corp control, currency, and finally, collapse. Long before Augs and their struggle, their coder-fathers were dreaming big.

They had to be. They’d conquered the planet. Where else was there to go but parts beyond?

Countless, open-platform and proprietary systems; OS, informatics, GUIs both human and automated– all software coded for so-called next gen tech, meant to revolutionize the industry. It never did, of course, but that didn’t change that modules, portions, or whole programs of Arc’s code were running all over the world.

In short, brothers Hank and Allan Womack, were software geniuses well-placed to make change. More than Hackers, they were virtuosos. Their code backed a million computers and security systems, globally. They’d cornered market share on corporate sector when it mattered most; long before anyone else.

In their case, before anyone realized the extreme importance of software security to begin with.

Arc and the brothers were simply waiting for their opportunity, their opening. When it came, they grappled with both hands, wrestling it into submission.

An old schoolmate had seen Allan on a vacation-trip to town. Over beers, he and Allan spoke of work. Thomas Marin, former Marin Medtek CEO and now major share-holder and partner with Cameron Mobility, spoke vaguely of designing “next-gen” prosthetics.

Apprehensive but enthralled, Allan agreed to a preliminary meeting.

Truth was, everything was “next-gen” in those days. It was a buzz-word. Used by people who didn’t understand a generation was just the gap between eras. There was nothing noteworthy in the design, apart from revelations of the speaker’s ignorance.

Allan knew Thomas though. He’d never spoken in hypotheticals, was far too intelligent to be ignorant of his own implications. If he truly believed it a wave of the future, it damned well would be.

Or, at least, could be.

Thomas and his employer needed software. Good software. Cameron couldn’t risk their in-house teams knowing or screwing up the code. They wouldn’t have the chops, anyhow. They were GUI programmers, less than hobbyists in comparison to specialist virtuosos like the Womacks– Arc.

That meant outsourcing the designs, ensuring against information leaks, potential saboteurs. The best way was NDAs; small firms, a whole helluva lot of money on the line. In the end, the brothers saw no logical reasons not to pursue the contract.

Decades later, they’d remember Thomas’ arrival with the on-call Cameron Mobility Lawyer. The pair strolled into their new, strip-mall location, sat down at the six-person conference table, rented just for the occasion. There they remained…

For all of fifteen minutes.

The lawyer’s eyes said he didn’t know such squalor could exist, let alone spawn business. Hank was testy. Allan saw it in his eyes. From then on, he did the talking. Hank added only a few words for things he’d forgotten.

Intros and NDAs aside, they outlined the project’s particulars: Arc Systems would receive prototype prosthetics and comprehensive instructions on use, purpose, ability. Then, beneath corporate oversight, Arc would program them to specification regardless of time required.

Money was no object either, the brothers were assured, but the prototypes were irreplaceable. In addition, Thomas would act as liaison; the corporate oversight and link between companies, present at all meetings and often enough in the office to verify work was being done.

The Womacks received an advance, torn from a corporate check-book. The lawyer held it to himself thereafter like an undertaker his mortician’s log. Reading out zeroes but incapable of much else otherwise, the brothers Womack, Marin, and the wage-slave parted.

The rest is history. Arc Systems received the prototypes and set to work, eventually revolutionizing the prosthetic industry by forming the basis of something much larger, grander. Few innovations have had the lasting effects of Arc’s.

Even Cameron Mobility, on the cusp of every advance in prosthesis since the 1950’s, had admitted they were out of their element. Hiring the Womack’s meant bringing people skilled in tech. The same people giants and Titans of industry refused to allow pre-digital kids access to.

Ones like the Womacks, whose expertise was now invaluable, begrudgingly needed.

That collision of worlds had been long approaching, but it gave birth to bionics, Augs, everything after. Optics and mental control, though still in concept stages, existed then too. Controlled by tiny, photo-reflective rings, wire receivers, or headband-interfaces– the bases of all, optic, aural, and HUD-based controls.

The first wave of augments were designed, completed, tested. The eventual, human subjects to were merely the first prototypes of a species’ post-evolutionary dreams. Before the phenomena, the endless ethics arguments, the corporate-take over and catalysts that lead it– and the greatest mass-conflict in history…

Until then, the corporation was the future.

Arc Systems learned it first-hand, growing tenfold in its first year. By the fifth, when its contract with Cameron Mobility was finally completed, they were on-par with the Med-Tek giant. Equals, as much as two Colossi could be when not at one another’s throats.

Partnering not long after allowed the Womacks to buy out.

Selling the name was easy. In the end, it was the people that mattered. Though neither cared to anymore, nor needed to, either could have made a living working alone on hobby-projects.

Nonetheless, the two-sided blade severed something deeper, more important.

In their quest to gouge themselves on the new, black gold of trans-human and elective augments, the corporation became a monster. Each one, in its own way, contributed to the Paris Incident. Yet equally, had the brothers not contributed to the corps, history would not remember either.

The past, like the inevitability of one’s moving further from it, cannot be changed. The Giant’s birth that was Arc Systems, would one day prove more sinister than anyone could have anticipated. It would prove it was not just another giant born, but another tyrant, too.

Short story: Christmas in the Sprawl

Kaylee Hamir was one of the first-gen mixed kids from the Great Wall flood. She knew all about that flood, but personally more than officially. Other than marking her conception and the start of her parent’s noncommittal, faux-intimacy, she’d grown up dealing with its effects. She lived in its world, breathed its air– even if she shouldn’t have. Because of everything else, she also occasionally dealt with its trash-heap refuse. Often by being confronted with it directly.

Her first night on the street after the war had taught her that. While the corps were busy pulling up their drawbridges Mom and Dad were scrambling with the masses.

Then, madness. Chaos. Far-off thunder. Sustained.

Dad got in. Mom didn’t. They’d never been together strictly speaking, but whatever had held them ’til then, ended then. Mom fled. Kaylee with her. They ended up under old infrastructure, more damp than wet, and stinking of human refuse and waste.

Kaylee learned the hard way what corporate love felt like; nothing. There was none. Love wasn’t cost-effective.

Though it felt longer to her young mind, Mom was hooking shortly afterward. Three years later, she was being thrown out for refusing to herself. In fairness, Madame Mimi had given her a choice. Kaylee’d chosen, but it still felt like a kiss-off. Since then, she’d been street-living in hovels, hideaways, crashing on the least forsaken couches of the countless, rundown apartments.
On the drier and warmer nights, she slept beneath stars and a mostly-shattered greenhouse. The stillness of the abandoned, thirty-story mini-tower whispered cold but not bitterness. She settled the old mattress in the driest corner of the day, then she looked up, out.

On clearer nights, she could even ignore humanity’s best attempts to batter its way in. Even if for only moments, it was something.

She’d gotten lucky tonight, lifted enough from the markets to form a proper meal; hunk of precooked ham, block of cheese, half-loaf of bread. She’d have to fight rats for scraps in the morning, but she’d even have enough for breakfast.

Meanwhile, she could eat, eyeing reality through electric-and-neon polluting the lower world.

Fact was, she didn’t need to live the way she did. She could’ve easily been one of Mimi’s girls like her mother. It just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t for her.

Part of the Madame’s goodbye seemed to take as insult that she hadn’t wanted to be a whore. She didn’t, nor did she think she needed to be, but it wasn’t meant as a slight.In the minds of Kaylee’s generation some people sold wares, others sold themselves. There was no judgment, just facts. Ones and zeroes.Her mother had been one of the prototypes of that mentality, that eventually gave it cause to form as it did.

The former trophy-wife of an Arab exec, Kaylee’s father chose lifestyle over family once forced to. Her mother then, rather than rebel against the decision, coped. It wasn’t that he’d always had to balance the two, he just did. When he couldn’t anymore, he didn’t. There was never uncertainty where his priorities lie. It was only Kaylee’s young mind, rich with naivete, that felt otherwise then.

Fact was, her parents hadn’t always felt their distance, but they could. Sometimes, they did. Eventually it became more trouble than it was worth. Way Kaylee saw it, that was change. Just a thing that happened, was happening, eternally.Accept it as inevitable.

Her generation’s collective grasp on that was a social defense mechanism against repeatingthe world’s dismal state. The war had done a lot to many. Most of all, it profoundly impacted the social psyche. Kaylee and her ways were part of that. She and all the others like her knew it. That truth was as much part of their own, individual legacies as of their collective one.

At its purest essence, that legacy said only, “accept change.

At its more complex layers, it told to accept the world not as one constant, but as subject to one constant. Change was eternal. Everything else was passing. Only context differed; from global landscape to personal routine. Change drove reality and everything apart of it.Change was the fourth dimension, that of duration. Flowing in only one direction.

The purity of the message itself contained a thesis on human-life.Why accept change? Because it is eternal, and you are not. Any thing subject to it is riding its own piece eternity, letting it constantly and rapidly change. But why? To what end?

The answer, ingrained in the universe down to the purpose of life itself, was refinement.

Refining oneself through existence among a system of constant change. Only then could each action to become an engine of change, refinement.

In the meantime, each iteration was one step closer to perfection– because of its nonexistence. It didn’t need to exist, because ultimately perfection wasn’t the point. It was the excuse, continued existence and refinement was the purpose.

Accepting the constant of change allowed one to continue discerning the variables of life’s equation. That was the whole point to the take-over, the war, its aftermath. A force– people, couldn’t be constrained. Shouldn’t be. Not just for their own benefit, but everyone’s.

Even the uneducateds like Kaylee knew that, because that was the point too; imprinting an ever-lasting record on both individual and collective human psyches.

Yet here she was. Alone and profoundly feeling it. Then again, she’d done it to herself. In that way, it was neither good nor bad. It just was.

Few cared about holidays. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone celebrated, let alone Christmas. Shameful memories of rabid consumerism still wounded the previous generations. While Kaylee’s was still too young, too scattered, to have yet formed any conceivable culture. It’d take longer than usual for them to get there, too.

Picking up the war’s pieces wouldn’t be easy, but they knew damned well not to rush it. If you rushed it, before long you ended up like all those corp-execs; bound to sacrificial altar of Human social-evolution. By that point, all you could do was hope to go gracefully. The idea was, never let it get that far.

She bit a hunk off her bread and chewed. She stared up, out, thinking.

Broken glass perfectly centered a line of stars through the missing hunk of window. She’d learned the hard way that it flooded the room anytime it rained. The first time she slept-in on a rainy day was also the day she learned to chuck the mattress just inside the roof-access too.

Change was a constant, after-all.

The best way to cope with change, Kaylee’s generation had learned, was through contingencies, redundancies, rigid logic-structures for support when needed. Ideas and systems engineered with switches, gates, walls and moats. All of them, too, built around digital principles dominated by duality. One and zero. On and off. In/out. The standby state was persistent, guaranteed, and because of that, moot.

Kaylee sighed. The weather was perfect. Cold, but neither bitter nor windy. Kaylee guessed this was what they’d meant by global warming. Too bad the planet was fucked now. They might help it recover in time, and she certainly saw no reason not to, but human focus had turned outward again. She felt it herself through the broken window.

A nearby scuff gave way to the roof-access door easing open. Kaylee froze. Part of her was ready for a fight from the desperate, post-war refuse. The rest of her was stunned; astonished anyone would bother to climb thirty floors for nothing. It took the girl in the doorway six, eternal seconds to find Kaylee in the darkness.

Kaylee sized her up, gauged her for threats. She was small, more than Kaylee. Long clothing hung off her enough to bulwark against the warmth, but not hinder her in fight or flight. Kaylee guessed she was armed, too, but unlikely to draw a weapon if it weren’t drawn already.

She was a streeter, and streeter’s lived by a certain style of thinking.

Months of street-living had thinned and leaned Kaylee considerably, but she didn’t have the same look or mentality as a streeter. This girl was street, through and through. Kaylee’d been plump in childhood from Madame Mimi’s good graces. It still showed in her lean-toned muscles, formed well despite recent scant nourishment.

Like most streeters, this girl had none of that. Daily fights for survival and sustenance had pulled any exposed skin taught. Her clothing was something between armor and all-weather gear. Each component cherry-picked as diamonds in the rough from the ruined chaos. The tatters said she’d fought every day of her life. And won. Likely, from an early age.

Yet her caution was almost apologetic, as if conveying she knew she was interrupting, but needed to anyway. Those extra seconds were enough for Kaylee. She took a chance.

“Occupied.” The girl homed on the sound. “Here.” Kaylee said to relax her.

The girl appraised the room’s remainder with a feral sweep. Viciousness pointed her features and firmed her spine. It flashed, relaxed back into human easiness.

“Got room?”

Kaylee almost said no. It was gut-reaction. The food weighed her hand, its purpose moreso.

“Just you, right?”

The girl half-nodded, knowing Kaylee saw it perfectly despite the darkness. She motioned her in and over, began tearing bread. The girl did another, feral sweep. She slid in and around the door, closed it as quickly and quietly as possible; an obvious manifestation of lethal paranoia.

Kaylee offered her a piece of bread and the Girl’s eyes lit up. She hesitated, “You’re not going to rape me, are you?”

The girl’s spine loosened with uncertainty, eyes on the food. “If you want.”

She shrugged, “Nah, not my type.” She offered the food, let her settle. “Kaylee, by the way.”

“Laura.”

She passed over the hunk of cheese, “Merry Christmas, Laura.”

She laughed harder this time.

Short Story: Digital Tsunami

The light-net’s fracture was the trigger to a digital tsunami that came in three, tidal depths. Its waters receded further each time, yet rose, preparing to drown the world. Preparation was most obvious in the power-user groups, often tech and software companies full of innovators. When their innovation gave way to investment and castling; withdrawing from the public behind their own, flood-proof walls, danger was imminent. Those doors remained open long enough for the last, aging gen-x’ers to hustle in, then shut for good before a stillness set about.

It lasted all of thirty-seconds before the first, vomitous tidal-wave poured in.

Users craving net-fixes of gray-market things turned to the dark-net. The one-time loose affiliation of shadow users known only by their silhouettes and negative space, were connected via specific protocols to form a world-wide net as vast as the light-net. Indeed, formed seemingly of its own, collective will. Exclusive clubs and cliques, hidden from public scrutiny for decades, were exposed without warning to oft-voiced, petty or righteous anger.

Simply, light was shed across darkness into even its deepest corners.

The effects too, came in waves. The worst dark-net offenses drowned first from corporate bodies and watch-dog groups, even PTA and church congregations, all rallying against the trafficking and murder-for-hire it was notorious for. These things, existent regardless of action, were merely avenues for opportunists using the net’s openness to communicate. (Later, the avenues to corporate domination.)

Most readily agreed to the moderation, but it was the cunning cruelty of their strategy that allowed them to use such shame and fear in unseating people. The precedent set, it could now be used to order and occupy them.

All the same, silence only made people less aware of their own existence– that of the individual. Worse still, within that silence was a vaccination formed of mixes of outrage, fury, and righteous validation. Those not inoculated against their future’s diminishing rights felt tremors brewing. It was only the second wave that finally swept them off and into the world.

If the first wave made the former dark-net lighter, the second immolated it.

Users founded and contributed to communities the same way they had when the light-net was built in, but in an age following the (CDCA) Corporate Digital Communications Act, which banned sedition or dissent in all corp-owned blogs, forums, and chat rooms or their subsidiaries.

The new light-net could look identical to its former self, but along with reasonable, civil discourse, even lamentations vilifying certain corp-assets was grounds for legal action. To those relying solely on public access, but fundamentally wishing structured debate in a calm order, the net seemed unrecognizable.

Even before the second wave, the Darknet was ordering itself into a functioning organism, as yet not entirely hell-bent on scum and villainy. It was never meant to stay so. Such is the way of the human frontier. No matter the subject, nomadic susceptibility exists within all humans. The ideal goal therein, creating so much between camps that each becomes interconnected with the rest. The net was that, and more.

But the nature of the universe demands chaos. Thus chaos dominates where it can.

Once loose affiliations climbed toward critical mass with new light-net users, their formerly-open discussions censored by those shouting dissenting opinions. These first, biased few were quickly swatted down, banned, and otherwise digitally reprimanded. It would do little good, in time proving them merely sacrificial lambs for those seeking to establish controls and boundaries.

Rank scents of money and greed began tainting communities.

Once-proud, vocal proponents of free speech and net rights went silent, bought by corporate affiliates or coaxed into relaxing certain restrictions while tightening others. It wasn’t long before the corporate take-over manifested in certain, glaring changes that otherwise would go unnoticed if natural. Though some argument to their validity existed, few doubted corporate involvement in the incidents, most simply did recognize its importance.

The second wave hit without ceremony. Its effects, undeniable. Soon more and more boards– of questionable repute but ultimately victimless, disappeared; illicit drug swaps, sexual expression, even banes for corp-aligned politics, gone. Their eradication was slow, timed. The only proof for members’ wrongdoing when reported, those of dubious, “friend of friend” sources.

The new light-net was nearly complete, now gray to off-white.

Drawn by media frenzies– engineered by parent corporations to gain information on citizenry– new users flooded the former dark-net. Their renewed vigor promised supposed freedom, a veneer for the reality of controlling, corporate interests. Even then, many speculated of newer, more clandestine dark-nets forming regardless of skepticism.

Indeed, that second wave saw the rise of operators. Former tech-nerds in hideaways, safe-houses, and literal holes in walls of crumbled infrastructure bought out and never used. They were there, establishing new net-protocols and servers even they might forget the location of, to further protect against centralized nets.

The system’s redundancy was perpetuated by its nature. “The Darknet,” would be the unshakable foundation upon which a permanent system could be established and relied upon. In wake of the Paris Incident, it became that, and much, much more.

The third and final wave directly preceded the Paris Incident, catalytic nexus-point for change that it was. What darkness had remained was deloused in glaring floodlights; corporations could never censor information altogether, but could vicariously outlaw access to it.

And did.

Under the guise of new tele-comm acts, and by degrees of outlawing any person or group from interacting with so-termed “threats,” all possible room for discussion, dissent, or sedition vanished. What remained of free-expression was outright banned or manipulated into suiting corporate aims and bottom-lines. Everything from pornography to inflammatory anti-corp language became grounds for search, seizure, and arrest.

That final wave signaled the last remnants of the digital tsunami rolling through. It began and ended so quickly people couldn’t help finding themselves reeling. In it however, came the formation of a true Darknet, its decentralized existence and expert, ever-changing encryption, their shield and sword– and later, the resistance cells’ blood and spine.

Through simple coordination and code, the Darknet allowed information exchange while maintaining a one-way link to the light-net for intel. In effect, the digital tsunami seeking to drown the people showed them their true strength, allowing not only their survival, but their prosperity. The Darket’s inherent security allowed any willing, to access it, but few undevoted, to understand it. Extra precautions in its planning allowed operators on either end to pass free communications over encrypted channels.

Its openness allowed it to remain an entity capable of safe-guarding freedom and liberating oppression.

When the waters finally receded, little debate existed over the Darknet’s permanence. It could not be taken over. Especially not as before. Its connections were remote, isolated, only exchanged via masked, encrypted data requiring specific codes to crack. Every person in the world could try until the end of existence, and still not crack one key. Even so, the chance at intercepting one in the din makes it pointless to try.

It was built for that very reason; as a bulwark against future tsunamis engineered to sink it by over-intelligent, impetuous babes. The framework is modular, but thus adaptive, infinite. It cannot be conquered, because the idea is not capable in its system.

In the end, information– avarice of the corps, proved their greatest enemy. Poisoned by the limitless liberty of their own wine, their downfall became freedom for all. After all was said and done, their corpses were merely breeding grounds for carrion, as equally as indifferent as they’d been. Those long left behind picked bones and scraps as scavengers were wont to do. Meanwhile humanity lined the oceans with towers and soaked in the view together, no longer afraid of any storm to come.

Bonus Poem: About the Future…

When in space,
do not do as we humans do.
We fire men and women up,
to sit alone,
watching Earth from orbit,
and convince ourselves,
that we’re fighting the good fight.

Meanwhile,
half a world away,
a corporation is making greater strides,
than the whole world,
during the Cold War.
Is this how we want,
to leave the earth?
Our legacy, built on dollar signs,
corporate lines, extorted fines?

Imagine,
a whole planet,
owned by a corporation;
charging for food,
water, land, air.
No regulation. No oversight.
No-one arguing for civil rights,
nor human decency or pollution laws.

Think carefully about the future,
no matter how far ahead.
We’ve begin laying a foundation,
on unstable ground,
one that might topple,
the very future,
we seek to build atop it.

Hijack: Part 10

10.

Gail and Marla rushed from the office with Nora. They moved so fast the dispatchers strained just to see them leave. Standing before Darian, they were suddenly wishing they hadn’t eaten lunch. He held an engine control module– a large computer-chip Gail knew to be hard-wired for safety protocol deployment– with its casing removed to the bare circuit board and the myriad of transistors, resistors, and miscellanea. What made Gail want to toss her lunches was significantly smaller.

Darian had it held up by two fingers beside the heavy module. It was small, square. A pair of short prongs protruded from it, bent as if violently tossed about and wedged somewhere.

“This is it.”

Gail was almost forced to squint. Marla was already a mile ahead, “Another transistor, right? What’s the big deal?”

“It’s not on the specs,” Darian said.

“It’s not supposed to be,” Nora added.

“And judging by the lack of wear, it was put on in a recently.”

Gail’s head began to spin. Every question she thought to ask was like a dam. Thought-rapids wanted to rush in. She stammered a few words through the spinning, “Wh-what does it mean?”

Nora and Darian exchanged a look, but Marla responded. “You were right,” she said, hands on her hips. “Someone did this.”

Gail’s head shook. Her eyes fell to her feet. A hand went to her forehead, “I can’t believe it.”

Darian grimaced, “It was your suspicion.”

“I must admit to some skepticism myself,” Nora added.

Gail steadied herself on the Kenworth’s fairing, sat down against it. She took a few, deep breaths. The group shifted and reformed before her. She kept her eyes closed, mind on her breaths. She wanted to explode in a murderous rage, but it wouldn’t help. Even if she’d had someone worthy nearby, she couldn’t have let it happen. However stubborn and hot-tempered she was, this was a time for caution. She needed to be smart, above all. Flying off the handle would only complicate matters.

“Okay.” She repeated it a few times to keep calm. Her hands visibly shook, but she kept her eyes shut. “Okay.” Her voice quivered, “J-just walk me through it. What do we know?”

The trio exchanged looks, hoping to decipher which of them was least likely to incur her wrath. Nora drew the short straw. It was for the best. She was a neutral party. Given her background, she could lay everything out as factually as it was. What was more, she had a voice that could soothe long before enraging.

Nora sighed, spoke as though writing a report. “The facts, as I see them, are this: After examining the video footage, I have concluded the accident’s cause was not driver error. In addition, upon examination of the vehicle’s history, it appears to have functioned nominally through expert maintenance. Furthermore, upon inspection of the vehicle’s remnants, possible evidence of tampering was located on the Engine Control Module. When compared to a stock model of said module, the suspect chip was not found. Thus, it is conclusive the suspect chip was placed there by a third-party.”

Gail nodded, opened her eyes. She swept the other two with a look, came to a rest on Nora, “What’s the purpose of this module?”

Darian cleared his throat, “An ECM is a common component of every road-vehicle. Among other things, it’s responsible for the control and priming of safety features, triggered by various instrumentation readings– speed, brake pressure, fuel-level, etcetera– in order to better protect accident-victims or to avoid accidents entirely.”

Gail stared at her thumbs. The group sensed her mind working, allowed it. Her face was intense, brows knitted and touching over a tight jaw. “Having seen the accident footage,” she said finally, eyes darting between Darian and Nora. “Would it be possible for the ECM to be manipulated in such a way as to cause it?”

Nora eyed Darian. Admittedly, she was out of her element there. Darian knew rigs inside and out. She knew most mechanical skills through a rigorous application of discipline, deductive logic, and research.

He seemed to sense her ignorance, “I can’t say, definitively, until we can access the chip’s firmware… but my best estimate is, “yes.” Gail asked him to clarify. “Those chips were put there for a reason, and not by my crew. Likely too, when the rigs weren’t being serviced. Which means they were in the yard. You’d have seen it happening on the road during a rest-break.”

Nora was nodding along, working her deductive mind to form a theory, “It would have been at night. They might have been caught otherwise. But that also means they’d need knowledge of the usual comings and goings to ensure they had enough time to plant the chips.”

“Intimate knowledge.” Darian said with a sweeping look. Marla’s mind was working, it showed on her face. He eyed Nora again, “You think someone’s been watching the yard?”

“Or the company, yes.”

“Or they’re in the company,” Marla said finally, eyes glistening.

For a moment, Gail thought it was tears, but something insightful flared behind it. She might have overlooked it on a normal day. Today was anything but.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Darian countered. “Who here’d risk their job or their friends’ lives?”

“Why do anything malevolent?” Gail retorted. “Power.” Her nostrils flared like a bull ready to charge. She kept herself contained, “But in the business world, money is power.”

“You think someone sold us out?” Darian asked with shock.

Nora’s mental gears were turning again, “Logically, it makes the most sense. A disgruntled employee, or former employee seeking revenge.”

“No,” Marla said.

Gail agreed, “We don’t have people like that here.”

“No, what I mean is, it isn’t someone former.” The trio looked to see what she’d puzzled out. She left them in suspense to better convince them: “It’s someone hurting. Someone that needs money. Has nothing to lose. Someone who feels there’s nothing sacred left, because they’ve been betrayed, so betrayal feels right. Fitting. Someone… like Carl.”

Gail’s eyes bulged. “Jesus Christ!”

Darian stared, open mouthed. Marla’s jaw clenched, “Earlier, what he said to you–”

I knew you’d pull through!” Gail repeated. “The son of a bitch knew it was going to happen.” She stood fast, “He planted the chips when he was sleeping here, between shifts. Then, when he saw we were getting close earlier, he took off.”

Gail moved to start jogging away, but Nora stopped her, “Wait. Gail. This is supposition. You need proof. Arrests cannot be made on hunches. OPD could never put him away for it. Any Judge in the state would overturn it.”

Gail stopped in a poise, “I can get evidence.” Nora was hesitant. Gail motioned her along. The other two followed on instinct. “We don’t have security cameras in our lot because they’re useless. No-one keeps anything in the rigs when they’re here, and any insurance claims are usually automatic for theft.” She pushed out into night, marched for the yard’s front-gate. “Not to mention rigs aren’t exactly the easiest things to drive. It was something I had to compensate for when I installed all of the dash cams. We could afford lot-surveillance, or road-cams, not both.”

“So? Where are we going?” Nora asked, oblivious. Marla and Darian kept stride, evidently aware of Gail’s bend.

She waited for cars to pass, then jogged across the road, the group in-step. “Two years ago, I filed an insurance claim for damage to our perimeter and one of our rigs. A drunk driver slammed into the fence, up-ended over the wall, bent the wrought-iron, and landed upside down on the fifth-wheel of one of our Macks. The police got involved and learned the lot here–” she said, crossing to a small, local courier company. “Has camera’s facing the road that also have views of our front-lot.”

“And you think they’ll have video footage of the tampering?”

“It’s worth asking.”

“Would Carl have known about them?” Nora asked.

“No,” Darian said, recalling the accident. “He was on a long-haul from Georgia to Oregon at the time. When he got back, it was long over.”

Gail marched for the door, “You have a badge?” Nora’s brow pinched tight over a nod. “Use it. Get them to give us the tapes.”

She nodded. Gail threw open the door, entered into a small lobby and waiting room. It looked like the front of a clinic. Gail knew the appearance to be deceiving. Behind the windowed reception-desk was a complex of accountant and employee offices spanning the distance between the building’s entrance and its sorting floor. From there, courier trucks were loaded with deliveries.

The group approached the window and the young blonde there looked up with habitual boredom. At first, Gail sensed another air-headed Brianne, but the obvious presence of a personality infected her voice with slight fear voice.

“C-can I help you?”

Gail urged Nora forward. She cleared her throat and removed a badge from her belt, held it out as her accent firmed with authority, “I’m Nora Roselle with the OPD, I need to see your supervisor.”

Five minutes later they were meeting with a balding man with coke-bottle glasses that appeared to be Walt Thacker’s long-lost, identical twin. Ten minutes later, they were in a security office watching a progress bar fill on a flash-drive’s transfer prompt. By the time they’d returned to the garage and slotted the drive into Gail’s computer, her fury had turned to determination. It spread to the others. The files transferred over to her hard drive and opened into pairs to the two angles the courier company had of Lone Wolfe’s lot.

“This could take some time,” Gail admitted, watching the near-endless loop of stationary images. The only of progress was the occasional, lone car or pigeon flitting past in the street-lights.

“Jump to the night before the Gary delivery,” Marla said. “Between midnight and three. That’s when no one was in here.”

Gail did. She doubled and tripled the playback, stopped around 1 AM when someone had slipped outside in shadow. It was difficult to tell for certain, but Gail sensed Carl’s presence. He strolled across the lot, came into sharper focus. His face was still hidden by the grainy, wide-view, but she knew it was him. He had something in his hand. His head swiveled both ways. Headlights split the darkness from one side of the road.

Nora pointed, “There, that frame.”

Gail rewound, slowed the playback. Headlights hit Carl’s face. “It’s him. I know it.”

“It’s not good enough for a court-case, but I might be able to clean it up.”

“He hasn’t done anything yet,” Darian reminded them.

Gail resumed the playback. The four poised orward to watch. The headlights hit Carl’s face again. He continued forward, suddenly ducked down. Gail’s brow furrowed, but it and her eyes quickly slacked in sheer amazement.

“That son of a bitch!” She growled, watching her car pull to the far-side of her rig as Carl hid beside it. “That son of a bitch! I was right there!”

She knew what would happen next. She watched in utter amazement at the sheer audacity the man contained. Her figure angled up from the far-side of the truck, headed for the garage. Carl’s head and body tracked her, a tool-pouch in his hand coming into focus. He watched her enter the garage, and didn’t even wait to open the rig’s door. He slipped in. Moments later he was at its side, lifting the hood.

Gail wanted to explode. She kept herself composed with planning. She was going to bury the bastard. Then, as soon as possible, M-T with him.

The playback finished and she was grabbing her jacket to head from the office. “Darian, crack the code on that chip. Nora, come with me.”

Marla rushed after them. “I’m going with.” Gail hesitated at the door, eyed her. Her face hardened, “I’ve earned the right. He killed Buddy. He almost killed you. I want him to tell us why.”

Gail studied her a moment, then relented, “Fine. Let’s go.”

Hijack: Part 9

9.

The delivery and flip-flop from Gary was otherwise uneventful. Gail was grateful. She’d had enough of a close-call to last another twenty-years. Before signing off, Thacker alerted her to Darian and Nora’s return. Brianne took over. Minutes later, she relayed news from Sharon Ferrero; Bud’s funeral was set to be held in two days. Gail confirmed with a “10-4,” and dispatch fell back into its idle chatter on the CB. It followed her back home, a constant thrum of noise in a mind too fatigue-wracked to notice it.

Gail found the garage in a somber mood. The T680’s damaged husk was had been torn down to its basic components. Everything from the engine block, down to the remaining lug-nuts were arranged in specific fashions. It was like someone had sent the 680 through a time-warp, with only the scored, charred, or road-rashed parts to separate it from a yet-to-be assembled new vehicle. Likewise, Gail’s W900 had become the focal point of the crew-chief and OCF’s attentions. Together, they were disassembling the engine and its various parts, aligning them in the meticulous fashions, or comparing them to the T680’s.

Gail was glad to see Nora getting her hands dirty. The rest of Darian’s crew had sequestered themselves to the garage’s edge. Whether ordered there, or gravitating there, they did their best to watch without gawking and speak in silences. At Gail’s appearance, the entirety of the garage eyed her. She caught onto it in a flash. Dozens of eyes darted away, as though somehow guilty through inaction. Gail hesitated, bag on her shoulder.

At the sound of the door, Marla stopped mid-pace between couches. She caught Gail’s gaze, and the gaze of the garage eyeing her. Half-snoozing on a couch, Carl was jerked awake by Marla’s sudden burst of movement. She rushed Gail: a million worried questions spilled from the girl. Each one welled more water into her eyes. Gail swallowed hard, paradoxically comforted and uncomfortable by the level of water she’d engendered. She almost seized up from the opposing states.

She cleared her throat, “Marla, thank you, but I’m fine.”

Marla’s eyes gleamed, “Are you sure? Can I get you anything?”

Gail shook her head as Carl rose from his half-sleep. “Hey Gail, knew ya’d pull through!”

Gail threw him an affirming eye, and turned for her office, “Marla, unless you can turn back time and resurrect Ferrero, there’s nothing you can do.”

Marla followed like a puppy, nipping Gail’s heels, “I would if I could, believe me.”

Gail quietly rolled her eyes. She was less exasperated than displaced. So much had gone wrong so fast. It had been one thing after another, since Bud’s death. There’d been days between certain things, but the time-lapses were too enveloped in shock. No proper comprehension of things could come from them. Even the short-hauls Gail had caused more problems. There had been no escape.

Gail needed to reassess, view things from all angles. Whatever she’d missed would be there, between the lines. Only a proper examination could reveal or connect them. She sat down at her desk with Marla at attention before her.

“Give me some time to think.” She slipped a company credit-card from her desk, “Get lunch for us. Take your time.” Marla nodded quietly, took the card. “And close the door on your way out.”

Marla left. The door shut. Immediately, Gail had a glass on the desk. She poured two-fingers of whiskey from her flask. She sipped once, then set it down to fix her eyes on the remaining liquor.

Everything pointed toward her refusal to sell. Ferrero’s damaged rig rang too reminiscent of sabotage. Nora’s assertions only furthered the feeling. The accident and the sale were easily linked, at least in her mind. She’d need proof to convince others, but it wasn’t necessary for her to think on it.

M-T was angry about her refusal to sell. That much was obvious. That the accident occurred only hours after had triggered Gail’s mental alarms. Instinct or not, she knew she was right. Then there was the ongoing campaign against Local 413 and the industry. Somehow, this was linked to that– either through M-T, or as a result of their malice.

The Union had long been fighting the NHSB. It had always been at the latter’s loss. Until recently, the watchdog group had only minor influence. Usually, over officials or politicians the Union had long been allied with. Now, they were making massive strides in their agendas, forcing 413 to kowtow to their demands or face very public repercussions. There could be only one reason for that; power. Where grabbing for more, or as the result of a shift, all of this revolved around power.

But in the business world, money was power. Gail’s only fears of losing to M-T spawned from that. Mechanized Transport was big. Their Oakton division’s bottom-lines could buy and retrofit Lone-Wolfe’s fleet a hundred times over. Oakton was only one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of divisions. Mechanized Transports was like a hydra. It was big, amorphous, and well-rooted in the world and its economy. Even if she managed to prove wrong-doing on Wembley or the other pricks’ parts, there was no doubt the beast would just lop off the withered heads to grow new ones.

Comparatively, Gail was flea’s tits on a big red dog’s ass. Small. M-T Inc could scratch her from existence without even realizing it, or caring. That obscurity had been important. Until the refusal to sell made her known to them, they’d had no more care of her than she had for a bug splattered on her grille during a long haul. Now they saw her. It was bad news. That hydra had turned at her, and was rearing. Bud’s death wasn’t even the rigid crack of a vertebrae below a single head.

Gail employed a little over twenty employees. M-T had somewhere on the avenue of three times as many bathroom attendants in the US alone. That, to say nothing of the scores of blood-thirsty lawyers and money hungry executives. Now, every single one was turning at her. The odds were not in Gail’s favor.

Even the NHSB wasn’t comparable. Some members were independently wealthy, but used the organization to bolster their clout and waste others’ time. That was how they’d been overlooked as a threat. No one in the organization had wanted their agenda to pass. If it did, the NHSB ceased to grab headlines, make profits off donations, garner publicity. If it succeeded, it ceased to be relevant. The NHSB’s motivations had always reeked of money to Gail. Always.

Something was different now. The recent flexes of authority reeked of motivation. As if it were all part of a longer game-plan with no room for failure at this level. Not because it couldn’t tolerate it. Rather, because the plan said this level wasn’t open to failure or success. The NHSB didn’t work like that. They never had. Moreover, neither their donors nor members had the private fortunes required to squeeze the Union.

But Mechanized Transports most certainly did.

Since their inception, over a decade ago, M-T had grown into a thorn in shipping’s side. And Gail’s too. Whether private or unionized, drivers and owners alike loathed them. The one-time, meager software company grew big, brass balls almost overnight: Clever maneuvering made them a monstrous entity looking to monopolize an industry they’d never been part of. Their strategy for doing so was swallowing and downsizing the competition so fast and severely it kneed the guts of anyone watching.

It wasn’t anything that hadn’t been attempted though. Since the first boat owner began charging to ferry things across a river, to the trans-pacific railway and modern rigs and air-freight, people and companies big and small had vied for the biggest slice of the transportation pie. M-T had ruffled feathers by coming in and trying to take over. They weren’t a shipping company. Not really. They did R-and-D for A-I and self-driving cars. Yet, they were suddenly trying to dominate the industry. They were attempting to take over, to monopolize a behemoth so massive and enormous most others had quit trying.

And, above all, they were succeeding.

One, particularly successful software contract allowed M-T to patent and trademark designs for a self-driving freight-vehicle. The first public tests succeeded. Their stock soared. Larger companies lined up to purchase tech from them. They were literally eating their industry’s poison out of M-T’s hands. Willingly. With a smile. All to save a few bucks and remove the “human” problem.

The smaller companies felt the change too, however indirectly. Drivers began demanding more from the Unions. More money. More vacation. More work for them. Less work for others. The Unions agreed. 413 agreed. The Unions forced new rules, used Senate and Congressional lobbying to push laws. The five-year unemployment report suddenly stated that 70% of drivers had been replaced by the new tech. People panicked. The Unions panicked. M-T profited. Like a creature thriving on chaos.

Things could only get worse.

M-T owned the patents to all the tech involved; software, sensors, GPS chips and monitors, everything. At every turn they banked off the upheaval. That money built fleets of driver-less vehicles, further dominating shipping.

Now to keep public support, they were buying up as many of the smaller companies as possible. Buying up and buying off. M-T were securing the silence against their actions. They’d partnered with larger corporations both stateside and internationally. The move was as much for the acquired companies’ profit as assurances of long-term survival. That survival though, was contingent on M-T’s whims. If they weren’t earning, they were non-existent.

As Gail figured it, this was about power– monetary power. That meant the pressure coming from the NHSB was fueled by M-T’s money. If not directly, then by some middle-man. She’d make a point to have Nora look into it. If she could prove her suspicion, she might further connect the rising political pressure, and thus M-T’s involvement, to the accident.

She was at a total loss for how she’d do that though. In fact, most of the “how” of things was so far elusive. How could M-T have hidden the money-transfer from the public? How had they managed, together, to pressure the Union and the OPD with it? How had they caused the accident? If it involved tampering with the rigs, how had they gotten to them?

The more she wondered at it, the more she went in circles. She was almost wholly absent when Marla returned with lunch. She’d knocked once on the door and let herself in. Gail was completely unaware until she appeared in her peripheral vision. Marla said something. Gail’s eyes finally rose from the glass.

“What?” She asked, oblivious to Marla’s remark.

“I said you look intense,” Marla admitted, setting a bag of food on the desk.

“I’m thinking,” she said, more caustically than she meant– a result of the bend her thoughts had taken.

Marla’s voice shied away, “Uh… okay. I’ll leave you to it, then.”

Gail eased her body forward, rubbed her forehead, “No. Stay. I could use the company.”

Marla brightened, but managed to keep her spirits contained. She sat before Gail’s desk, dug through her food-bag to eat. Over the crinkle of paper-bags, Gail drained her whiskey and replaced the glass and the flask in her desk. They were quiet for a few minutes until all that remained were the sounds of chewed food and sucked straws.

Marla clearly found it awkward, but hid it well in the few words that slipped past a cheek-full of food, “Mind if I ask what you were thinking about?”

Gail raised an eyebrow sarcastically. It seemed an unnecessary question. Marla must have missed the gesture, or deliberately ignored it, and instead stared for an answer.

Gail found her voice, “The accident.” Marla nodded over a sip from her straw. “I was thinking; “how?”

Marla squinted an eye at her, “How what?”

“How any of it.” She reiterated, “How’d someone force the Union to investigate, or pressure the Police Chief into political fears? How’d someone sabotage my rig, and Bud’s, and how’d they find the opportunity?”

Marla nodded with a distant stare. She chewed the last of her food, swallowed it down, “You’re thinking sabotage? That someone did this to you– and Buddy– so they could pressure the Union and police to investigate? To what end?”

“The pressure in itself,” Gail admitted. Marla’s brow furrowed. “Think about it. We have a massive corporation trying to buy us out so they can phase-out our drivers and monopolize the industry. Hours after we, again, reject their offer, the papers are warning the Union to integrate A-I rigs. Then, moments later, we lose a veteran driver with no history of accidents. What about that doesn’t scream sabotage?”

Marla looked away again, her mind elsewhere, “When you put it like that…”

“Exactly,” Gail said, finishing the last of her meal.

Marla finished eating in silence, mind elsewhere as she puzzled something out mentally. When she was able to speak again, she shoved leftover trash into a bag. More crinkling paper sounded beneath a long sigh, “We’ll if you’re right, then we’re screwed no matter what we do.”

Gail was taken aback, “What?”

Marla winced, shoved the bag into a trashcan beside her, and sat upright to address Gail seriously, “If someone’s sabotaging the company, and our fleet, they’ll find some way to keep doing it.” Gail was speechless. “Gail, admit it, we’re small fish. Even though the pond’s the same size as it’s always been, the bigger fish are taking over. They’re being helped by progress. By technology. If history’s any indication… well, drivers will be going the way of the Pony Express.”

Gail’s face stiffened with a stubborn will, “Not if I can help it.”

Marla shook her head, preempting any outburst Gail might’ve planned, “No. You can’t. And the more you try, the worse it’ll be for you. For all of us. Technology is the future, Gail. More than that, it’s the present. Every day, more and more people put their trust in it. It’s only natural. It’s like writing, or speaking. Communication as a whole. It’ll take over as much as possible. Romanticizing something beneath it, and fighting its evolution, is swimming against a current. Eventually, if you don’t adapt, if you don’t let the current take you, it’ll overwhelm you. You’ll drown in it.”

Gail stared at her. Wherever the insight had come from, she’d underestimated Marla and her perspective of things. She couldn’t help but think back to the Police Chief and his singling her out as the weakest link. Maybe Gail had been it after all.

“The way I see it,” Marla said. “You can either change– adapt– and swim with the current, or get out of the river. Either way, change is coming. For you. For them. For the industry. Maybe me too, but I don’t know. Mechanics are always needed somewhere. That’s how we’ve survived. My schooling consisted of more technical training than any class before me, and that was years ago. The trend won’t have stopped.”

The door opened behind Marla. Both women found Nora standing in the doorway. She’d stopped short, but the grave look on her face forced her inward. “Forgive my interruption,” she said with unequivocal gravity. “But we’ve found something.”