Kevyn strode down the sidewalk bearing that satisfied contentment that always came during his midday ritual. Each day around noon he made sure to get away from the office for a bagel and some fresh air. His carefree reverie was interrupted by the triple-honk of a nearing taxi, the cabby calling out to see if he wanted a ride.
“Dani, I don’t want any transportation,” he sighed.
Confirmed. The digital assistant sounded in his ear as she updated his public profile. Now all of the HUDs on the passing taxis would see a red X over his head.
“I thought I set a reminder for that, Dani,” he stressed. “Whenever I leave for lunch I want to just walk.”
Whenever you leave your workplace between the hours of 11 am and 1 pm?
“Figure it out,” he said. It was a phrase that Dani would understand to mean she should use her own algorithms to assume his intent.
Kevyn reached the alley that led down to his favorite bakery. It had been intentionally positioned apart from the main thoroughfare as the owner valued a personal relationship with all his clientele. No one came here unless they meant to, and everyone who did soon became a regular. It wasn’t business so much as family.
Twenty minutes later Kevyn emerged having enjoyed the combination of good food with even better conversation. He felt invigorated to tackle all of the afternoon’s reports, and maybe even still have time to–
“ALERT! ALERT!” A loud voice suddenly cut through the air, simultaneously emanating from every ad-board in the entire city. Everywhere Kevyn looked he was met with the same warning bulletin.
“The Chicago Central Police Department has just been compromised by a network attack. This attack has crippled all communication with automated units. Regular police forces remain in active duty, but citizens are strongly urged to vacate the streets and lock down their premises. Keep watching for confirmation of system restoration.”
An artificial voice began reading the message out loud but Kevyn didn’t need any further warning. He instinctively spun around to seek shelter in the bakery he had just left, but the metal shutters were already clanging shut. No doubt they were automated to do so in such events, and could not open back again, no matter how he begged for admittance. There was nothing for it but to run and grab any taxi that still dared to be on the streets.
As Kevyn sprinted down the alley he watched the small slice of the street he could see ahead. Though the window was small it still communicated the immediate panic that was sweeping all across it. Cars whizzed by at dangerous speeds, horns honking, tires squealing, bodies crunching against one another. Those on foot dashed down the sidewalk, taking wide swaths to avoid passing too near to any of their fellow pedestrians. They stared into one another’s eyes as they passed, trying to tell if this other might be a closet homicidal maniac about to spring loose.
That was the true horror of these episodes. The Police Department’s monitoring and enforcement network was state-of-the-art, and the dismantling of it had only ever been accomplished whenever a very powerful entity had wanted to enact a very dire evil, such as with the terrorist bombing of ’31. But beyond the grand act of terror there was the more common criminality as well. The human officers were simply too limited to hold back the tide of depravity that burst free whenever the dam came down.
There had been years of pent up felonies waiting to be committed. People had been silently seething: hating their bosses, jealous of ex-lovers, feeling a need to silence certain public voices… They had been burning with want, but been too afraid of the guaranteed repercussions that came in a world of constant monitoring and enforcement to do anything about it. Well, now in this brief window of opportunity every degenerate had just been given free license to do as they saw fit, and they were going to take it.
“Dani, flag down a taxi for me,” Kevyn shouted as he neared the end of the alley. “And alert me to any individuals approaching within a hundred yards of me.”
Confirmed. Removing transportation filter from your status.
Even before Kevyn reached the sidewalk he could tell he was in trouble, and as he came to the road, clutching a stitch in his side, his worst fears were confirmed. This was usually one of the busiest, most packed thoroughfares in all the city, and now it was entirely deserted. A few retreating taillights shone eight blocks down, a few doors were still slamming in the nearby apartment buildings, but there was no one near enough to offer him shelter from the storm.
Still, at least deserted was better than being approached by thugs.
“Dani, I…” Kevyn paused as his eyes lit on a wreck. Three cars had plowed into one another during the mad scramble and now all of them were deserted, their drivers having evidently continued their exodus on foot.
“Dani, see if we can buy any of these cars,” he ordered, sprinting over to them and trying to assess if they could still function. The Lexus that had been T-Boned looked pretty bent out of shape, and the Goat was so boxed in he wouldn’t be able to get it out. But maybe the Buick in the back?
The owner of the Lexus is willing to entertain an offer, Dani replied after completing her queries.
“What? No. What about–” Kevyn started at the sound of a loud bang just a few alleys away. “How much are they asking?”
91,670, standard price for a new Lexus Aria.
Kevyn cursed, but made his way around to the driver’s door. “Buy it!” he hissed, tugging at the door’s handle repeatedly.
A pause. And then Purchase completed.
The handle now opened for him and Kevyn dove into the car’s interior. Just as he pulled the door shut another bang sounded behind him and he spun around in the seat just in time to see a band of looters spill out of that nearby alley onto the street. One of them was behind the wheel of massive, black truck which pulled to the side of the road as the rest hopped out from the back and began moving down the street. They all held 3D-printed firearms and blasted away at any lockbox in sight, pillaging the contents inside.
Kevyn swore again and slammed the seat into its most reclined position, laying flat and hoping they hadn’t seen him. They would see the wreck and assume the owners had left it, wouldn’t they?
Sir, I am notifying you that individuals have entered the 100 yard radius you specified, and they are moving in your direction.
“I know,” Kevyn whispered. “Just keep me updated on their distance.”
Of course… 80 yards… 60 yards… 40…
Suddenly Kevyn had a horrifying epiphany. They wouldn’t leave the cars, they would loot them. How had he been so stupid? Panicky he flung the seat back to its upright position and punched the button for the ignition.
The car roared to life, mingled with shouts of surprise from the looters. Kevyn slammed the pedal to the floor and felt a rush of relief as the car lurched away from the rest of the twisted metal it had been enmeshed with. He was curving sharply to the right, though, and as he spun the wheel to correct it he found that the steering didn’t respond. The passenger side was too dented in for the vehicle to drive straight.
A building loomed up ahead and Kevyn was too slow reaching for the brakes. His vision turned white as the body-cushion sprung up around his form, suspending him in space and giving the accident that followed a strangely muffled crunching sound.
“Get off! Get off!” Kevyn shouted, punching the deflating cushion away as he scrambled for the car door. A thought occurred to him and he pulled open the glove box before exiting the car. A gun! A beautiful, glossy black handgun. He grabbed it and leapt out of the seat, pressing his back against the side of the car. The vehicle was a barrier between him and the looters, something he was grateful for as there came the sharp pinging of bullets hitting the car’s other side.
“Stay back!” he roared, shaking the gun where they could clearly see. He squeezed the trigger to fire back a warning shot but nothing happened.
Sir, you do not own this firearm…
And even if you did, you would require a weapon permit before its use would be authorized. All permits have been suspended while the Police Department’s security network is down.
Kevyn’s bluff didn’t seem to have impressed the looters very much either, and they were piling into the back of their truck as it rolled down the street, making its way towards him.
Kevyn ducked low and scrambled away towards the nearest alley, his heart thumping painfully in his chest. He reached the gap and gave a silent thanks that it was too narrow for their truck to follow him. It was just a slight gap between two apartment buildings on either side, a place filled mostly with refuse and broken appliances.
“Dani, are any of these apartments vacant?” he asked as he sprinted down the length of the alley towards the adjacent street.
There are numerous apartments available in each of these buildings, ranging in price from…
“Never mind.” He realized that these buildings would also be locked down with metal shutters, and he wouldn’t be able to enter them even if he was a patron.
A loud clap rang out as the stucco wall next to him burst from the impact of a bullet. Kevyn wheezed in shock and flung himself away towards the other side of the alley. The fact that the shot had been so close to his head was evidence of how terrible the looters’ aim was. They needed him alive, after all, if they wanted him to transfer his money into their accounts.
And there would be no negotiating with them if they did manage to catch up with him. In a world where every transfer was registered in a digital ledger it was also possible for each transaction to be reverted. The only guarantee a robber had that you wouldn’t later retrieve the money you gave them was if they left you dead. Their promise was always that the death would be much worse if you refused to transfer the money.
Kevyn continued his run, now bobbing and weaving as much as he could in the narrow alley, trying to throw off the looters’ aim. The occasional shot clattered around his legs and feet, but thankfully none of them had found purchase yet. He was nearly to the adjacent street now, but no closer to safety.
“Where are we Dani?”
The corner of 13th Street and Mull.
“Where’s the nearest police precinct?”
1.1 miles. Normally that wouldn’t sound very far. Now it might as well be in another galaxy.
Kevyn’s eyes flashed as he spotted a mobile trash container at the end of his alley. It was the large, industrial kind, about chest height and wider than the entire alley. It was designed for mobility, with automated wheels on its bottom, so that it could be dropped off to private events and retrieved afterwards if needed.
“Dani, rent that trash box, then tell it to rotate around!”
The cost for immediate use comes with a significant fee…
There was a moment’s delay and then the container began to spin, forming a wall between the two apartment buildings just as Kevyn dove through the shrinking gap. There came a grinding sound as the edge of the container scraped along the building walls. It was too large to rotate fully, so instead it just wedged itself in as tightly as it would go.
Kevyn spun around and looked over the top of the trash container at his pursuants. They were still sprinting towards him, streaking to the barrier he had made, crouching low, and then leaping to clear it.
“Dani, open the trash’s lid,” he ordered coolly. The top sprang suddenly upwards and backwards, blocking his vision of the alley just as the looter’s eyes widened in surprise. Kevyn allowed himself a smile at the sound of the bodies slamming into the raised lid, followed by the cacophony of them tumbling back down into the container’s interior.
“Close the lid.” It slammed shut and he heard the muffled shouts of the angry looter’s banging their fists against their metal prison. “You can transfer control of the box back now. At whatever loss is fine. And tell the new owners they ought to–”
Before Kevyn could finish his snarky one-liner he jumped at a sudden squealing noise. Three blocks south of him the looter’s large truck spun around an empty intersection, then turned, and came barrelling towards him once more.
Kevyn grimaced and then began sprinting the opposite direction as quickly as he could. He wasn’t in the clear yet.
“Dani, are there any nearby buildings open right now?!”
Checking…The Barrows Banking and Loan seems to have left its doors open.
Really? Maybe the rumors about that place were true then. He’d had his own reasons to suspect so after all. Still he’d never make it there with that truck coming after him.
“Dani, can you establish which network that truck is connected to?” Kevyn wheezed out as he felt a stitch growing in his side.
It’s a public service. Voracia Systems.
“Dani, buy a hack from the black market. Get me control of that truck!”
Sir, even performing that query is a misdemeanor and actually implementing it is–
“Do it!” he screamed as he felt the rumble of the truck’s nearing mass. It wasn’t slowing down to let one of the passengers out to grab him, it was going to run him over! Not even daring to look, Kevyn tried to judge its distance from him until the last possible moment.
“Not yet… not yet…” he muttered to himself through clenched teeth. “Now!” He threw himself to the side just as the truck tore through the space he had just been standing in. It wasn’t able to swerve to follow his lunge in time, and so he fell to the pavement untouched. There came another squeal as the truck spun back around to face him.
Sir, I have access to the truck’s internal functions.
“Alright, on my word I want you to accelerate it down the street, lock the doors, and…”
Kevyn stopped speaking as the truck’s wheels whined from the strain of being turned too quickly. In his anxiousness to run Kevyn over the driver had overestimated his vehicle’s capabilities, and now the entire thing lifted onto its two side wheels, teetered there for a moment, and then thudded down on its side.
Kevyn snapped himself out of his disbelief, turned away from the truck, and began sprinting the other direction.
“Never mind, Dani,” he panted. “I guess it’s just a misdemeanor…for now.”
He could hear the looters clambering out of their sideways vehicle, and a quick glance over his shoulder showed that they were still intent on running him down. At this point their persistence seemed to be fueled more by rage than anything else.
“Dani, direct me to the Barrows Banking and Loan.”
Certainly. Just take your next right and it’s two blocks down on the left.
“Alright, and keep track of those guys chasing us. I want to know if–”
Kevyn was interrupted as all of the ad-boards crackled back to life. He didn’t slow in his pace, but listened intently, hoping to hear that the security network had been restored already. From the very first words was disappointed.
“This is CLNN, the Chicago Local News Network” blared down the deserted streets. “Hello Chicago, my name is Cindy Trulick. As the city continues to be blackened by a security network failure, we are now receiving additional word that Governor Haley has just been assassinated in his office. We started seeing reports on social media three minutes ago, and the details are consistent enough to conclude that heavily armed assailants broke into the City Office Building, subdued local security, and then shot and killed the Governor. We cannot yet verify that this attack was the intention behind the citywide security network failure, nor which organization might be behind this atrocity. It has been posited on many social media forums though that the mob has had reason to–”
Kevyn stopped listening. To all the rest of the city this news might be significant. To him, in this moment, he couldn’t care less. His legs were beginning to get wobbly, entirely unaccustomed to such vigorous exercise, and with every glance over his shoulder he could see that his pursuants were growing ever nearer. He made those glances after every twenty paces, and then looked forward to the looming figure of the Barrows Banking and Loan, trying to gauge whether he was going to make it there or not.
Kevyn glanced backwards once more, just in time to see that one of the looters had fallen behind his fellows and moved into a shooting stance with the gun raised to his cheek. The man was aiming with what appeared to be a practiced confidence. Kevyn tried to lunge sideways, but too late. The high staccato of the gun being fired echoed down the street and Kevyn felt a sudden, searing pain in his arm. He instinctively clapped his other hand over the spot, about halfway up from his elbow, and found his fingers moistened by blood.
He felt shock at the realization of having been shot, yet Kevyn managed to stumble back into his run and the aiming looter followed suit. The man would wait until he was a little closer before trying again.
“Just keep going,” Kevyn muttered to himself. He was now nearing the doors to the Barrows Banking and Loan. He would make it inside, he would find help, he would survive this…no matter the cost.
The building had a distinct and old-fashioned style to it. The architecture was Roman in design, complete with supporting external pillars, white marble, and an unnecessarily long flight of stairs to its entrance. Kevyn instinctively tried to swing his arms as he dashed up the steps, but his wounded arm gave protesting spikes of pain at the slightest of movements, compelling him to hold it stiffly at his side.
He mounted the last of the steps and moved into the shadow cast by its overhanging roof. For a moment he was blinded by the sudden transition from light to dark, but he continued groping forward until the heavy oak doors swam into his view.
Kevyn crossed the threshold into the massive lobby within, his quick steps echoing loudly off the marble floor as the upper-class people lounging around on the plush seats gave him dirty looks. Even in his haste Kevyn couldn’t help but realize how bizarre it was that these people were gathered so calmly behind un-shuttered doors while the rest of the city was gripped in complete terror. It seemed to add further credence to the all of those rumors. Rumors that this business was nothing more than a front.
The receptionist at the desk frowned deeply at Kevyn as he came wheezing up to her station. He was sure he looked a mess, covered in sweat, panting heavily, and bleeding down the arm. Before the woman could call for security he took a deep breath and blurted out his request.
“I want to apply for a position with the Inner City Mob.”
Her eyebrows raised clear into her hairline and her nostrils flared. “What did you just say?!” she exclaimed with a bitter hostility.
Undeterred Kevyn continued. “I have considerable services to offer as a top-of-the-line accountant. If you pull up my profile you’ll see that I have extensive experience with a number of distinguished firms, currently at Johnson & Webber.”
She still looked enraged at his insinuations and was about to spit out a retort when the front doors slammed open again. Kevyn took a hasty glance over his shoulder and saw the looters awkwardly file into the place. They quickly spotted him up at the counter and then divided into two group, each slowly strolling up a different side of the room towards him.
“Friends of yours?” the woman said, now with a slight tinge of amusement in her voice.
“No, and I would need…protection from them.”
“Sir, I’m not sure who told you that this place was being run by the mob,” she said curtly, “but they were making a fool of you.”
“No one told me,” he said shortly. “People talk, yes, but I figured it out myself. Last year a man named Barney James transferred 110 million dollars from one of our agencies to this one. I handled the case.”
Out of the corners of his eyes he could see the looters nearly halfway to him. He continued speaking in a hushed but rapid tone.
“And when I did so the FBI came to me and instructed me to install a trace on those funds. It’s an entirely new currency tracking technology, one that not only contaminates the funds it is installed on, but the entire ledger that they sit with. Now I’ve been hearing all this year on the news about how they’re finding all of your side businesses and shutting them down…I’m confident it’s because you’re funding them with that contaminated money. But I know how to help you find which of your funds are tainted and clean them. Just ask your ‘managers,’ they must know something is up–”
A heavy hand fell on Kevyn’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry about our friend here,” the looter said gruffly while digging his fingers into Kevyn’s shoulder. It was the arm that had been shot and Kevyn winced at the fresh waves of pain that came over him. “We’ll just be taking him and going.”
Kevyn looked his silent plea to the receptionist, but he only saw cold indifference in her face. She merely nodded and two more sets of hands grabbed Kevyn, pulling him away from the desk.
“But wait–I–” Kevyn wriggled around but couldn’t free himself from their grasps. They were dragging him back across the lobby, towards the exit, into the streets. All of the patrons seated on the plush seats still seemed strangely disinterested in his plight. Most of them refused to even make eye contact with him, their faces buried in their various digital devices.
Kevyn spun his head back around to look at the receptionist over his shoulder. “Please, just give me a chance to–” his eyes grew wide. He had just been dragged past a group of four patrons, all of which were now silently rising to their feet behind the looters, reaching into their coats, pulling out black-metal guns.
Kevyn cried out and flung himself to the floor so suddenly that he managed to break the grips on him. One of the looters cursed, and it was the last sound he ever made. The high-pitched whistle of silenced weapons rushed over Kevyn’s head, followed by the thuds of the looters’ bodies on the clean marble.
Kevyn’s hands were up around his head, trembling, waiting for one of those bullets to find him. Waiting, waiting, but the shot never came. Slowly he looked up and saw the receptionist marching down the floor towards him, waving the assassins to the side and motioning them towards the entrance doors. They moved away and began locking the place down. She reached him and stooped down to look him in the eyes.
“My…managers wish to speak with you. Please follow me.”
He awkwardly clambered to his feet, his face still washed in dumb disbelief. He started to instinctively turn, to look at the fallen forms of the men at his feet. He caught a glimpse of one of their boots before he stopped and turned back. He didn’t need to see. Just knowing was harrowing enough.
“You understand what this means, don’t you?” the receptionist squinted at him.
He nodded. Just like that, he had sold his soul. His home, his job, his loved ones… his entire life up until this morning. They were all gone. But–he was alive. That was all that mattered wasn’t it?
The receptionist turned and walked back the other way and Kevyn followed after her. She led him to an elevator. It’s glass doors slid apart and they stepped inside. They stood there in almost complete silence, the only noise was the occasional drip of blood from his arm echoing off the floor.
“We’ll need a clean-up crew, and he’ll need a doctor to look after his arm” she said into an unseen microphone. “…yes, of course I shut down the entry.”
There was a screen in one of the upper corners of the elevator and it suddenly came to life with another public alert. Kevyn knew what the text was going to say before it even showed up.
“The Chicago Central Police Department has just regained control of its security networks. All monitoring and robotic police units are fully functioning again. Even so, citizens are still encouraged to remain indoors until the streets have been cleared of debris.”
It didn’t matter, Kevyn thought. It was too late. Fifteen minutes and his entire life had been lost, replaced by something else. That new life was looking pretty bleak perhaps…but at least he had something.