Channel, from East of Elko
by Andy Mingo
 
 

I board the blue bus number five. People don't talk to each other. They don't talk to Anglos either. I don't think about the broad that I'd just met. I try a couple of times, but there isn't anything, just this vague memory of there having been a light that originated from her, but I'm not too hip about playing the role of stand-in lover when all she obviously wants is Howly. People confuse me for Howly a lot these days, but up until now it's only happened inside the Ni.

I get back to the flat, lock myself in the bathroom, and hook up to a RAT. Through a honeycomb maze I travel inward onto the grid. Finding my portal I enter my nondescript Ni-office-suite with an automatic recall of my access keys. There, my technician monitors the situation, hitting links that flash halo-like around his head so that I can see what he's jacked into. His left eye twitches from time to time, letting me know that there's something alive inside his head that isn't totally controlled by that moment's link. He merges with reality after reality, while at the same time not allowing himself to cross over completely into any one. That's the sure way to tell if a tech is up to par or not. His body will twitch just a bit with a low-level current running up his spine. A good tech can execute up to 500 mental commands per second, slipping in and out of links, shifting into QML from time to time and altering the code if need be, a risky affair since once tracked Woolcomm would have the authority to seal his consciousness in a disjointed section of the Ni for a mandatory ten year sentence. Tough luck if he's sitting alone in the basement of an abandoned dog food factory. He'd rot like a vegetable and no one would ever know. Even I'm not privileged to his actual location.

As for the Kid, he works something like fifteen identities through the Ni at any given moment, a fast moving freak zipping along like a burglar vaulting across back yards with a bag of silverware.

"You were followed," he says bringing up an image gleaned from "Pie in the Sky," Woolcomm's primary control and command comsat. "We could avoid all this excitement, Levenski, if you'd just use an umbrella." My tech is a transient from somewhere deep within the Movement. He says he's a high school senior somewhere in up-state New York, but I don't ask questions. I call him "the" Kid.

I've always got at least one tech for support. They morph from one identity to another so that I can't finger them if I wanted to, and then they disappear. Plus they probably think it's just a matter of time before I'm finally caught. That's what the Movement thinks anyhow. But I'm too good for that.

"How much time do we have?" I say.

"How much time do you have. I'm not even in Europe. Let's see, you have an unmarked van pulling up to your building. They're linked up with a direct Woolcomm feed. Would you like to take a look at your dossier?"

"No, I already know what I look like."

"Are you in the position to make a run for it?"

"I'm sitting on the can with my pants down around my ankles."

"Oh. Not good. There's a heavily armed Woolcomm assault team making its way to the door of your building."

"Any way to jam their feed?" I ask.

"Good idea. I'm now switching their channel to the Wink Bartendale show."

"Nice."

"They're still going to sweep the building though."

"Of course. Tell me, anyone in my building that's recently had a Ni implant installed?"

"It will take a second to search… Actually, there's a Señora Vazquez on the third floor who's just had a low access level implant installed last Tuesday."

"What's she jacked into?"

"Gossip of the Rich and Famous."

"I guess it'll have to do. Get me into her channel, would you?" I ask, while my tech manipulates the information membrane that surrounds us like an ether. We latch onto Señora Vazquez's gossip show, and make an incision large enough for my consciousness to slip through. See, I can do something that no one in the Movement can.

Normally, I'd try to align myself with the show itself, offering subliminal guidelines directly from the stars themselves. "Remember to slash the tire of any Network vehicle you see," or something along those lines, and before long our very own Señora Vazquez would be slashing the tires of Network delegates, while not being totally sure why she was doing it. But I didn't have time for such subtlety today. So I project my inner voice across Señora Vazquez's Woolcomm constructed Gossip channel, "Señora Vazquez," I say in Spanish, "this is God."

She pretends not to hear me.

"This is going to be a tough nut to crack," I say to my tech. "Can you pull her bio?"

"Hold on. Here it is, all purchases within the past ten years, access to her personal electronic communications…"

"Her family, does she have any children? Quickly, we don't have much time."

"Again, you don't have much time… She has a husband who's having an affair with a clerk at the supermarket he manages…"

"Any children?" I ask.

"Yes, a son by the name of Frederico, 17 years old, a student radical with loose ties to the pro-ETA movement. Do you want his academic records?"

"No. This should do," I say and slip back into Señora Vazquez's gossip channel. I slip in and out of ../../images of which stars are screwing whoever. The voice-over says that Rich Richardson, Hollywood superstar, has recently broken off his two month long engagement for the charms of two bisexual porn stars. Señora Vazquez's mind wretches in disbelief… "Señora Vazquez, this is God again," I say, my voice taking over the voice-over. "It's about Frederico and his political views. He's in trouble."

Señora Vazquez reaches for her rosary and kneels down to pray. "No time for that. It's not your fault, but they're coming for him. There's a group of men on the second floor that will be knocking on your door within… two minutes." With such little time, I walk her through her kitchen, have her empty out a bottle of wine, fill it two thirds of the way with kerosene. Push an ice pick through a cork and then insert a "joke" birthday candle, fill the rest of the bottle up with dishwashing detergent, grab a spool of wire she keeps under the sink. I have her sneak outside to the stairwell, rig a trip wire, have her climb the railing in her slippers, tie up the bottle, light the candle with a kitchen match and quietly close the door behind her. "Good work, Señora Vazquez. Your son is safe now."

Exiting her Ni channel, I have my tech seal up the seam behind me. Five, three, two, one… Screaming from the stairwell four floors below, heavy thuds, chaos. The comsat shows a mad rush towards the van on the street, weapons discarded on my building's steps. Two members of a five-member team carry three badly seared professional thugs to the van's sliding door. The door slides shut, and they're rolling down the street. The van explodes. A tire rim continues on the van's original course.

"What was that?" I ask my tech, who appears equally surprised. "That wasn't us."

"No, that was someone working independently, probably Fredirico Vazquez."

I'm safe, or at least for the moment, so I start to think about the part inside me that wants to be domesticated. That's what the magazine route is all about, only so that on some other level it can be all torn down. I don't give a shit about the Movement. Beating Woolcomm, however, was a battle of wits, and it was a whole lot more fun than peddling Animal Husbandry.

It doesn't really matter how I feel about the Movement. They don't like me anyway. I rub them the wrong way, generally on purpose, but they need me because, as they say, I'm a conduit for the divine. Legions make up the Movement — the invisible living in the seams of every dead end job inside the fence line, or anyone wired for that matter, should I apply my talent.

They wait for the energy to rise in me. It's not like I can't get the current going regardless, it's just that sometimes I can't stop it. I don't move, rather it moves me. That's when the Movement likes me. I'm a conduit. Generally, I make them wait, but eventually and predictably I let them know what needs to be done.

I wake up in the bathroom with the RAT thrown in the corner between the wall and bidet. My hands are set in prayer, pressed up against my chest. These are the times I know I've been gone for a spell. Gone inside to a place that RA claims to inhabit.

I never remember what it's like inside, but I bring things back, start scribbling wild ideas inside a cover of an Animal Husbandry: formulas, QML (Quantum Mark Up Language). A QML construct jacked into the Network can do extraordinary things. Like my latest invention.

I've come up with a plan encrypted with what claimed to be Kali Time-Power conceptualization capable of spinning the karmic wheel at an incredibly accelerated rate. It would push RA from its Chikhai Bardo throne and into the Chonyid Bardo where it, being an artificial life form, would be forced to choose between the bright, dazzling-yellow transparent light of wisdom and the dull bluish-yellow light of violent egotism. Having to abide by its own bad karma, however, the AI would be hurled into the Sidpa Bardo, and rebirth, and hence become mortal in a lower realm.

It was the Hiroshima bomb of viruses, way better than anything the Chinese could have managed before they bought in. If properly placed, Woolcomm would crumble, leaving the Network intact for the greater democratic humanity.

I am a prophet for the Movement. I give direction. Sometimes I offer conceptual strategy…

"Who are you talking to?" asks the Kid.

"What?"

"You just said, 'get out of my head woman.' Who were you talking to?"

Then I'm outside again… I wake up in front of my bathroom mirror. Something's written with soap — BQ 7662.6 N36 1990, at the University de Piases de Vasquos Library. Merely think of the day and time and I'll be there. Love Kate.

I move to the office at the University of Holistic Healing just in case Woolcomm feels like making another attempt to knock me off. I can't sleep. If things go right the Kid will have navigated a path into the Extravaganza by six this evening, so I think today at 9am, and go and see about Kate.

As soon as I'm out the door I'm out of my skull, blessing babies in carriages and mothers kissing their crucifixes and muttering Hail Marys. Turning the corner I snap off two punches, throw a forearm block and pull an uppercut left. I can feel the mania taking hold. I dip a nod at two young nuns that twitter in their fists, and think, yes, maybe the one on the right. She's slim under her gown and looks at me with those eyes: crazy cut-throat eyes burning with lust, and since I'm afraid of what she's capable of, I look away for something less intense. I'd seen the type. Sure, she'd let out a burst of passion, but the power of the exchange would collapse her world of prefabricated prayer.

I'm breathing hard by the time I get to the bookracks at the University de Piases de Vasquos library and sure enough Kate is there. She's reading a book. She's not reading a book. Her hair hangs in her face, her left hand pulling up her skirt. She's not wearing underwear. I'm breathing harder now. Now I'm behind her. Now I'm inside her. She says my name over and over, and moans OH God, and for an instant I can see Her face.

"Who are you talking to?" asks the Kid, and then even I hear it.

"Get out of my head woman!" It's coming from me. "Sorry, how long have I been inside?"

"About two seconds."

"Where am I?"

"What do you mean? You're here."

"No, dumb ass, my body. Where's my body?" I ask.

"How should I know, you're not carrying a Ni implant."

"Give me a thermal scan of my bathroom in the apartment on Paseo Duque de Mandas. Is anyone sitting on the can?"

"No," says the Kid.

"OK, at least I'm not there. How long do we have?"

"If your boys gave us the right transcript, we'll be good to go in fifteen minutes. Then it's ShowTime." And the Kid continues probing ether.