By Gary L Morton
Gary Jones used his toes to propel himself to the other side of the barrier and as he opened the heavy fiber door a small pile of gray dust exploded and smoked across the signal grid. It faded, leaving an empty rooftop scene of metal dishes and generators. Warm spring wind swept over the railing and with collar and sleeves flapping he strolled to the edge.
Gripping the cold tubing he watched Cymbla electric cars the size of specks race by on the streets below. From this height the jumble of domes and skyscrapers looked like building-set pieces of glazed steel, plastics and glass -- endless depth and panorama that sucked one closer to edge and closer to jumping.
He doubted you could ever leap free of it. The white ships of cumulus cloud higher up were simply unreachable. Gravity meant he would fall, sail on the winds with the dust and faded candy wrappers, and eventually he would sweep back into the city and its cruel child's game of the all-seeing eyes, their rewards and punishment. All humans were flies caught in amber now. No one had wings and the thick substance moved slowly and not too far, making life more about its limitations than its possibilities.
Limitations -- Gary supposed he was attempting to escape them by coming out here on the roof. He needed a place where he could think. The all-seeing eyes and the thorny issues they created were part of the order of business on this dull Wednesday. An improved perspective would be an aid as he had a meeting scheduled with the city security chief, Dan Stone, in about an hour.
“From a corporate standpoint human beings are flesh, and flesh like all other commodities must be managed and controlled.” His old high school principal, John Long, had said that to justify the electric fever treatments given to students guilty of vandalism. Gary considered it, trying to conclude whether it was a rational proposition or just another mask for dehumanization. Then he heard a very faint whir on the wind and spun around. His eyes rose to a small rotunda above the door, and he automatically hit the image warp button on his wristband.
Now they had class-two observation beetles here on the rooftop. Studying the tiny eye, he thought of simply grabbing it and crushing it. Every day brought less freedom and privacy. No one cared and no one knew exactly what privacy meant any more. His old professor, Doctor Giorno had said, “Ah, but privacy is just a variable we can define in various societies to recreate them as peaceful and orderly.” And it was Giorno's definitions that ruled in the years of Renewal.
Blue electric sparks crawled on a transparent lockdown bubble below. He could see a public train gliding on a crowded platform. The scene looked serene, but he knew society hadn't been all that peaceful and orderly in the last few years. Freedom had been defined pretty much out of existence; it would be nearly impossible to bring it back. And in spite of all the security the promised Utopia had not arrived. Their promises of a new planet of justice had taken shape as a prison called Renewal, an industry paradise with profits in the zillions for security manufacturers.
Doctor Giorno had also said that people obey the carrot and stick, especially when the stick is a truncheon and various forms of brief, frightening and painful incarceration. Gary identified cameras, eye and iris scans and print DNA detectors with the truncheon and the new long blackjack. You were safer off camera than on it. Places like the Skyway paid half a fortune to hold a New Year's party on a surveillance-free street, just to avoid the show business killers.
“Privacy wasn't redefined, they stole it and packaged it as a commodity,” he thought, and then he bit his thick upper lip as he went back through the door to the elevator. A bitter taste remained on his tongue -- Dan Stone said he had some new answers to current problems. He hadn't been clear on what the answers might be. Stone always talked like an introductory sales brochure -- all gloss and no substance.
Dan Stone's City Guard Corporation had outlets and stations throughout the city. Some were eighty stories high, others were underground. Gary was scheduled to meet him at the Harrisch Surveillance Test Site, a place dedicated to the ancient founder of citywide fingerprinting and really known to only a few people. There wasn't an easy way to reach it -- perhaps Stone knew one. For Gary it meant a stroll through the business mall, down the high-rise canyon to an obscure doorway in a robot power building on the waterfront.
Tarnished ivy and hundreds of chirping birds clutched a massive brown stone Bank of the Earth structure; businesspeople with hair like molded plastic hurried down the shining marble mall walkways. Sunbeams left a gold sheen on western windows, and noticeable only to Gary was the odd crystalline flash of rapid-fire street cameras. He knew that in the business district they were high-level eye-scan beetles, identifying people by the shape of their eyes and brows. They also picked up the fabric in the blue suits most professionals wore. Since he wore casual clothes of a certain fabric they wouldn't see his form but could read his brows.
A token City Guard cop came around the corner; he had a perfectly smooth blue uniform and a big square jaw like Stone. He could’ve been drawn by a video game and it made Gary wonder what Dan Stone could be up to -- usually his demonstrations were of new security equipment and as the chief city inspector and technical expert in security areas, Gary would be stuck explaining it all to the mayor.
Maple leaves rustled in the man-made breeze, he twitched his freckled nose and his lips formed a sour curl as he thought about the mayor. Good old mayor John Henson, the travel industry salesman turned politician, and a big fancier of high tech security toys. Henson had sold thousands on thousands of surveillance-free vacation hours, so at least he had some grasp of the equipment. Gary always opposed buying the new stuff but the eager-to-please mayor always bought it anyway. And that would likely be the case today. On some issues Gary did have the power to block City Guard and Stone, but not presently because he had his upcoming marriage to consider. His bride to be, Linda didn't have access to his level of society. He had to be careful -- if he screwed things up and got nailed for security violations he could lose her in a legal tangle.
Deciding it might be better to warn Linda about the new situation, he turned down Baker Street, stopped beside a music store and thought out the quickest route to her. The city had grown to be a huge fractal starfish of more than 3000 residential lockdown domes that were connected by public access streets. Gary avoided the domes and usually traveled in paths that kept him with the general public. His dislike of the domes had to do with access; he'd read that a long time ago they used to deny people access in society because of the color of their skin. In a way it was funny how that form of denial had been replaced by the security screenings. If you were plain general public, you didn't get into the domes.
Gary hated the idea of access and higher citizenship. He disliked a lot of things no one else considered. His ideas on security were much different and he couldn't present them because they were too radical. Momentarily angered he spat at a sewer grate, drawing startled glances from a clutch of neatly dressed women standing in the light of a news ticker box.
The Gold Corridor ended at the new waterfront neighbourhoods; an area now listed as general public access but also residential in the form of huge condo towers. Meaning blocks mostly high in the sky. People swarmed up from the subway, streaming into enormous blue security bubbles. Gary followed a line through, emerged on a public street and immediately got jostled by a man with an eye patch and sour breath. As he stumbled sideways a step, a wrinkled hag in a wheelchair bumped him and began to curse. Regaining his balance he grinned and pushed ahead, happy to be among the people and away from the sterile crowds of the restricted domes.
Linda would be somewhere on this block but he could see nothing in the bright sun so he crossed to the shaded side of the public mall. Greenery and shadows dripped. He walked slowly, sometimes shielding his eyes as he looked for her red snack cart. When he found it he fought his way through the patchwork crowd.
Linda looked busy but cute in spite of the frustration; she had a few orders sizzling and a lineup of customers. Brushing her blond locks back she said “Number seven is up,” and smiled generously as she served a black lady dressed in the mismatched fashions of an American tourist.
Her eyes found his as she turned the next order and she winked as he gave her a glance that said cut loose for a moment. A jet roared high above and his gaze was drawn up the 70-storey canyon. He missed the plane and saw only mist trails, blue sky, an observation blimp and faint jewel-like scintillation on the UV filtration bubble. He studied the blimp for a moment, thinking about his relationship with Linda. Her nature could only be described as carefree and reckless; she'd intentionally wandered into prohibited areas during a Station failure on the waterfront and approached him while he was inspecting some of the damaged equipment sent in from the Scarsdale Dome. She’d had the nerve to ask him to cover for her -- which he did, taking her by the hand and with him during the inspection. Then she’d sat near him as he worked, giggling and often mocking the sheep-like crowd. And they were sheep, unable to do anything but stand around and gape. They needed someone to push their buttons. Linda didn't need that -- she made him forget every woman he'd ever known - she giggled and teased and he wanted her.
When he lowered his gaze Linda had her closed sign on the cart. She waved the crowd away and a moment later held a spicy and steaming lunch takeout under his nose. Taking it he set it down, and then he leaned over and kissed her.
Linda's smile was elfin - romantic. Her hazel eyes glittered. “Your place tonight?” she said.
More than anything he wanted to say yes, but that wasn't possible. “No, I'm involved in a new security deal with Dan Stone. We can't take chances right now.” Kissing her again he took her slightly off her feet, and as he released her a few people applauded.
“Why don't you do it here for the dick heads?” an old lady cackled as she pointed over her shoulder to silver security ridges in the far wall. “That's what they really want to see.”
Gary laughed and elbowed Linda. She got the message and packed her surrogate cash quickly. Then they strolled down the street to a public fountain. Golden water tumbled behind them; a carousel turned in front of a specialty arcade directly across the street.
“You're seeing someone else,” she said.
“Don't be silly. You know I wouldn't. It's because of Stone. They might be running some kind of special check on people involved in this new security thing. It's better to play it safe now, and then once we're married you'll have full citizen access to the domes and there'll be no more worries.”
“I thought you could get around all the checks? I mean, they can't really watch everyone can they?”
“They can -- the surveillance cameras use biometrics in the form of eye scans to ID you. If they want to run a police check super-fast processors burn a City Guard videodisc, piecing together all observation of you through various devices. They even have other tricks -- like checking for dates with missing segments to tell if you've been cheating surveillance.”
“Stone --- that guy gives me the creeps. He looks like a pasty vampire with a machine for a master. His new security plan is probably to apply the access laws to restrict marriages.”
“He would favour that idea but the politicians would never buy it. The Security Corpocracy only gets 90 percent of what it wants. The elite like to believe that Toronto is a democracy, so the government and judiciary always grant some basics rights to citizens. Full rights are now unattainable of course, though you can buy more rights -- like all other things that were formerly in the public domain, they're now commodities that can be purchased. The corporations have really built themselves in as the highest level of government -- though they never tell you that. So what I'm really saying is Stone and his corporate masters are more powerful than the mayor or the law, but they're not all-powerful. And they can’t see everything or watch all of the people all of the time.”
“The part that bothers me most is that they don't even seem human anymore. I mean Stone and politicians. Their only relationship with people is through security and technology. Even in the news all they talk about is big projects, business and technical developments. No human element at all.”
“You're very observant. I thought I was one of the few people noticing that. I thought it over, too. I think that when you can't point to real human achievement in society, then you have to point to objects and external things. It means they're hollow inside. The spirit is lacking if not dead. It is not all for one and one for all anymore. And it's not humans for humans any more, but only frightened corporations protecting themselves.”
“Maybe that's why we have the crazies now -- like the show business killers. People are hollow and they go mad.”
“It's a thought. It could also be what Stone is working on. His new security measures might have to do with catching the show business killers. There's a new conspiracy theory making the rounds. Some people think City Guard sends them out to kill people and that bugs Stone so much he might actually do something to stop the killings.”
“He should. I mean, I think maybe they send the killers, too. They're an outfit that always wants to catch and jail people for the smallest things. But murder is something they do nothing about.”
“Ah, but the hitch there is one where the people aren't informed. They profit by taking public tax money to imprison people on small infractions and using them as slave labour. Murder investigations aren't profitable and that's why they do nothing.”
“I see - I mean I see that it stinks.”
“It really does.”
Gary kissed Linda goodbye at the expressway memorial and barrier. Her rosy cheeks seeming to fade as he promised better days. He ended their rendezvous with talk of the wedding and arrangements and that worked to cheer her up. Eyes brightening, she kept loose arms about his neck and chattered about all the things to be done. All too soon they parted and he went through the narrow gate to a city government area.
City trucks and cars whizzed quietly by on the back street. Crossing he walked directly under the supports and huge arched span of the expressway. Tall weeds, discarded bottles and trash gave company to a few roaming derelicts that littered the next quarter kilometer. At Lakeshore Road he turned left. Haze clouded the waterfront skyline; it resembled a child's cluttered sketch. He headed for it, watching the lines sharpen until the power station came into view. Iris scanners let him through three layers of high electric fencing then he used the coder in his wristband to pass through a metal door in the concrete generator block. From there the elevator took him down to the test station.
Dan Stone waited at the bottom like a piranha waits at the bottom of a dark pool. His close focused brows, sharp eyes and the red-tinted lights highlighted that aspect. Stone was a man possessed by aspirations that molded his gaunt frame into a near apparition. He looked driven, but in the way a heroin addict looks driven to serve a power that is devouring him.
They shook hands. Stone grinned, the same funny grin he always had. Something wrong with it like maybe his gums were swollen. Mostly it was an effect of his overly large jaw.
“Don't see any guards or personnel. What's up?”
“Just you and I for this presentation. This block has been secured. Today's matter is of a high security nature.”
“A lot of interesting stuff. But a headache, too. Follow me.”
Plated halls gleamed; the floors were slick with the colors of the spotlights. Stone paced ahead confidently, doors whooshing open as he walked. It was like moving through a space ship. In about three minutes they arrived at an office and room he'd set up for his demonstrations.
Stone poured a couple chocolate coffees, and they sat in leather chairs in front of a bank of security and display equipment. “I have a new security proposal for the Mayor,” he said.
Gary took the thick City Guard folder and gave Stone a practiced look. A look he knew Stone would see as both skeptical and considerate. “In a simple sentence. What is it about?”
“Knew you would say that. Simply put we want to add some new security features to block the show business killers, and we feel we have a political answer to that problem. One the mayor can present to the public.”
“Are you saying you know their motive -- know why they kill?”
“Yes. I think so. Here is a backgrounder on one of the killers,” he said, pulling out a City Guard videodisc. “Let's take a look at it.”
Gary sat back as the display lit up, then some basic facts on the criminal, as written by Stone, scrolled by on the marquee. Stone introduced a segment. Initially Gary found it irritating to be sitting beside Stone and at the same time have to watch him outline a few facts on the screen. As it turned out, one of the latest show biz killers had been a community activist and perennial candidate for political office. Stone wanted to play up this fact, but it didn't seem to add up when Gary factored in that the killers came from all sorts of random backgrounds.
It was the sort of boring security backgrounder that made Gary wish he could put a gun to his own head and end it all. Yet from the corner of his eye he could see Stone watching it with great interest. Up until his psychotic episode, the subject's entire life had been a dull home movie. Even the secretly filmed meetings of his freedom cell were dull. A wimp, he was pushed in everything by his wife. It didn't look like he could even conceive of violence or crime, so from that perspective it wasn't unusual that he was an activist who thought surveillance unnecessary. In one segment Stone appeared on the screen to point out that the subject pushed an illegal theory called the Broken Doors Theory on Privacy. Seeing this as an out, Gary signaled Stone to cut the surveillance disc.
The screen blanked out. “This theory the guy pushed. What is it? Why do you consider it so dangerous?”
“Good question. It is a key point here. A crazy professor named Jack Watson came up with the theory fifty years ago. A paroled convict shot him a few years later. Others promoted the theory. Under this theory, the city is viewed as the serene home of citizen privacy. The moment a camera, device or police system invades the citizen's privacy and personal dignity -- or restricts his free movement in his own house or neighbourhood -- at that moment a door has been broken. Privacy has been lost and the poison gas of the totalitarian ovens is seeping in. The wolf is breaking into the house. If any broken doors or illicit surveillance are tolerated, the house of the public will be destroyed.”
“I see. So as Toronto's top rep of City Guard, you're insuring that the trillion dollar world surveillance industry doesn't suffer losses because of privacy theories and activists.”
“It might look that way. But remember that as Toronto head of City Guard I am also the chief of police and an honorary deputy mayor. I'm a law abiding American and proud to also be a Canadian citizen. When I see people promoting the idea of a surveillance-free world, I know they're people who want to break the law and get away with it. These people name themselves as criminals. They're not only mentally corrupt, they're insane. This particular man infected his mind with the Broken Door Theory and it led to total insanity and murder. My submission to the mayor is that these sorts of ideas are the motive behind all of these killers. That's why no amount of surveillance has been able to give us common factors or early signs. The signs are thoughts that can't be seen.”
Gary frowned. “I don't think Mayor Henson will buy that. If the killings are caused by factors we can't trace we can't stop them. And the mayor is also a spokesman for the travel industry. People have to at least think it's better to have some time free of surveillance or they won't purchase expensive vacations. You have to give Henson some solid meat to bite on.”
“Unfortunately we can't stop them altogether, and we can't forbid people thinking certain thoughts. City Guard is working on new technology to bring this situation under control. We can control the killers and eliminate the activists. And also warn people on what thoughts are dangerous.”
“Do you have more details on this new program?”
“Yes and we will forward all details to you and the mayor as soon as he expresses interest. Right now I want to show the second part of the backgrounder on this dangerous activist. The actual killing spree.”
Stone grimaced like a pussy-whipped desk sergeant readying himself for combat. He adjusted the screen color depth and curvature as if it were a feature production about to play. No credits appeared, just a brilliant fade-in of a sunny morning and the subject - Jack Cresso - walking down a spiral staircase in his teddy-bear-patterned bathrobe. His wife, a shapely and mercenary sort of brunette was at the front porch lockup, about to leave for work. Jack kissed her dearly and whispered some inaudible promises in her ear. Then she was gone with happy heels clicking and he immediately threw off his robe and undergarments and walked to the sunny kitchen. A steaming cereal breakfast awaited him; he grabbed the plate and dumped it in the trash eater, poured his coffee in a large clean ashtray then pulled out a drawer of kitchen utensils and carried it upstairs to the bedroom.
Jack marched down the hall to a storage closet, his bare feet hitting the floor tiles so forcefully his penis bounced up and down. Sports items and clothing flew through the air as he emptied the closet. When nearly everything was out he whistled a silly kids-show tune as he rummaged through the stuff. Choosing a stack of gear, hunting knives and a gun he went back to the bedroom. He heaped it all on the waterbed with the kitchen utensils and then went to the bathroom and wheeled his toiletry stand and a full-length mirror down to the foot of the bed.
Sitting cross-legged on the bed he adjusted the mirror so he could watch himself. Picking up the gun he studied the chamber, his eyes rolling slightly like demented thoughts were racing in his mind. Gary could see the weapon clearly in close-up. One of the old ribbon lasers with the embossed star pattern on the wide barrel. They were illegal now and considered inhumane as the inefficient charge caused the victim extreme burn pain. He figured Jack Cresso must have forgotten to turn his in years ago.
Finished ogling the gun, Jack took a large canvass needle, positioned it and then drove it through the base of his erect penis. Some blood oozed, he'd missed the large vein and his erection remained as he slowly drew it out. No pain showed on his face as he forced a large gold ring into place in the wound, but his erection did weaken and drop as he finished the operation.
Looking in the mirror, Jack smiled joyously -- full lips and his wide oval face and eyes taking on a moonstruck look. Next order of business was to shave his eyebrows with a straight razor and replace them with stripes of grease paint. He also made incisions beneath his eyes and stopped the bleeding by rubbing in more dark blue grease. His ears were of no use to him; he simply cut them out and burned the bleeding to scar tissue with a low range pulses from the laser.
Burn pain didn't faze him. Blood was oozing on his penis so to fix the problem he applied heavy grease. Then he began to dress, putting on a military camouflage T-shirt, pants, flak jacket, kneepads, combat boots, wrist guards and a heavy belt with clips to hold weapons and other articles. He chose the gun, a hunting knife, the needle and some empty cans for the belt.
At that point he studied his hideous image in the mirror, grinned and popped off the bed. After boldly walking to the front door he decided not to exit that way and went to the kitchen and opened the storage elevator. Robot cleaning equipment stood in his way. He removed it and managed to get inside in a squat position. Reaching out for the button he sent the elevator down to the sub-basement.
There wasn't any camera feed on the elevator ride. The next clip showed him popping out in the dim basement behind a human maintenance worker, and as the guy spun around to look he grabbed him forcefully and strangled him on the spot. Jack exhibited great strength, holding the guy off the floor while he struggled. Due to the man's strong neck this murder lasted nearly two horrendous minutes.
The body dropped and lay crumpled on the floor. A look of sudden desperation appeared on Jack's face, though no one else was around. He jumped and ran for the door as if he were being pursued.
It was an empty hall. Jack raced past service rooms and burst through large swing doors, entering a huge concrete bay of garbage bins. An exiting truck rattled, heading slowly up the concrete ramp to an open arch and the outside world. Jack took off after it, pounding across the cement like a mad soldier tailing an enemy tank.
He caught it as it turned the corner, jumped to the passenger side running board, opened the door and went inside. The truck swerved as the driver saw the mad passenger and released the wheel. Jack burned his face off with the laser before he even got a chance to scream.
The truck rolled on, crushing news kiosks and conferencing booths. The body flew out the door and landed face up on the empty steps of a theatre. Skull bits protruded on flesh that still smoked, sizzled and bubbled with blood.
Jack gained control of the vehicle and sped up, heading for the busier morning rush hour streets. With the grease on his face, he looked like a crazed garbage man. He ripped around the corner at New Kensington and mounted the busy sidewalk. Screaming and cries of warning and agony echoed as the renegade truck barreled on, flattening a few people too slow to jump aside.
Mangled bodies thumped and tumbled as Jack traveled a block. He turned back onto the road and managed to crush and back over two City Guard cops as they tried to board the vehicle. He looked nearly invincible, but then he sped up again, lost control and hit a huge piece of metal street art head on. The truck fenders clanged as they bent, Jack got mashed against the wheel. The front tires remained spinning; the truck had climbed the side of the huge piece of phallic art, creating a new and crumpled work.
A crowd began to gather then the truck door flew open and Jack fell to the sidewalk. People began to flee as he got to his knees. And a moment later he was up and running, heading for the lockdown gates and the lower security public squares.
Several people got in his way and got stabbed and dumped aside. He threw an angry man through a plate glass window, blood trails shooting from a dagger planted in his throat. Then the final phase began in the public square.
Gary knew what was coming and covered his eyes for much of this part. All show biz killers headed for the general public because of the increased exposure. Surveillance video tickers of these areas were eligible for mass media publication.
Taking his eyes off the screen, Gary glanced at Stone and noted that he was nearly hypnotized. On camera Jack Cresso was on a killing spree with the laser. Falling to one knee he strafed the hot beam up, getting a crowd of unsuspecting businessmen emerging from a bank restaurant. Red liquid flew as a stomach ballooned and burst. Ribbons of flame cut flesh. He saw a man's head fall off and roll as he reached up instinctively for his burned neck. A really big guy was on his knees, his jaw and mouth gone, a horrible mass of tissue oozing.
Torn flesh smoked and exploded to spores, the massacre continued -- until Gary finally turned to Stone and said. “Look, Dan -- I know it doesn't end until he makes a few more bows to the cameras and City Guard somehow manages to kill him.”
Stone cleared his throat indignantly and hit the panel, blurring the screen. “I have a reason for wanting you to see it all. People have to understand what they are dealing with in order to decide on the measures needed to punish these criminals.” Sliding out the shutters, he turned in his chair, a look of calculated disgust on his face. “The poor sick bastards. Wouldn't it be nice if we could execute them before they kill?”
Gary wiped his brow and shivered in the heat. “Yes.”
Stone grinned. “And that is exactly what City Guard proposes to do. We plan to have some of the public areas set up with automatic extermination equipment. As soon as the mayor gives the okay and we get a report of a show business episode, we can set the tracking program for execution. A second thing to make the killers less glamorous will be to allow the media to show the act of execution and not the entire killing spree. It can be sold to the people through a public relations campaign that will include commercials and pamphlets warning of the dangers of improper thoughts.”
A magnetic train blurred red as it raced through the transit station behind him. Gary stood in the rushing breeze at the edge of Madison Square, his thick blond hair snapping like a flag as he faced the beautiful day. Vapour clouds from the auto-express rings had condensed to gold ribbing and feather trails high in the flinty blue sky. Ships of cumulus cloud hung in the haze beyond the jumble of skyscrapers to the south. The warm air carried the fragrances of nature and of commerce, mixing them well in his nostrils … fast food and popcorn -- drifting odors from vendors displaying their suppertime goods, and a blend of perfumes from the garden and greenery dripping above the strolling crowd.
People milled impatiently on the mall strip, most of them making last minute purchases for evening food and entertainment. Some of them were familiar faces. Al Thorton, his old buddy from the Southern Station stood by a bar on a Tall-Cheers patio. He took a step toward him then stopped and popped an All-aid to cool his growling stomach. The heavy report felt like a lead weight in his bag, but electronic versions weren’t allowed. He needed to do some private thinking and to digest it a little longer. Cutting left down the steps he walked along the lip of a police monument and hopped off at a circle of public benches created from stacked slabs of marble. Most seats were empty; a few people were eating pizza as they watched sports promos flash on a CityWide TV media billboard placed on a huge vine laden wall fragment. The seats nearest him were vacant. He seemed to be in the clear so he pulled out the report and began to leaf through the pages.
Wind swept his face and ruffled the manila sheets. A deep frown creased his brow as he noticed that Stone had signed a work order on the test equipment a month ago. The new stuff was now installed and functional in a few unspecified locations. If a killer were to go on a rampage in one of those test areas, the guard weapons could actually execute him and possibly kill members of the public in the process.
He bit his lip and stared at disposable candy wrappers and pop cans slowly vaporizing at his feet. The flash of a uniform grabbed his attention. He looked up to see a City Guard officer approaching the benches. Closing the report he put it away, then he watched as the guard questioned some people. A wrinkled black man took a poster of a transient vandal from the cop and stared at it before passing it to the others. Gary grinned uncomfortably as he waited for the guard to move in his direction. If the guard took him for a suspect of some sort he'd be strip searched on the spot, his pens and markers taken from his bag to be used as evidence of vandalism. Pulling rank wasn't desirable but it would have to be done. Stone would go through the roof if an underling were to seize his report.
The guard had the perfectly chiseled face and neo steroid musculature of a manikin; he flashed the poster and then pursed his lips as Gary nodded no. He didn't appear to be suspicious, but he did sit at a nearby bench and watch the passing crowd. Gary did the same, from time to time checking the guard from the corner of his eye; relieved to see that he seemed to be preoccupied with adjusting his side arm and watching leggy women.
Metallic credit cards flashed at the kiosks, combining with the glitter of finger print pads and iris camera puffs. The light sharpened to guillotines in his mind. In deeper thoughts he pictured the whole world as a security knife-edge that could cut anyone down - should they make a misstep.
Gary's thoughts continued to drift randomly; the fragrance of lilac blooms from the wall to his rear swept him to his past in the small city of Trent Falls Ontario. In his youth he'd witnessed an open-air execution. Not the sort of thing done by automatic equipment that Stone favoured. They didn't do anything like that in the early days when the City Guard Corporation had first taken over as private police worldwide. That day he'd been skipping school to swim at the canal and ended up watching from the sumacs as guards drowned an old man. The killing and the beating had been ugly. He saw the guards smash the man's genitals and face with clubs, but as a deterrent to delinquency it didn't work. He kept on skipping school, got into drugs and vandalism. Authorities said he was destined to become a young habitual and slave to the international prison system -- and the prophecy began to play itself out, then a forced intelligence test at the new Toronto boot-camp revealed him to be of genius IQ and his life changed. Officials pulled him from reform school and sent him to the best private schools. Political science and security equipment studies were his majors. He worked and watched with dismay as the gods of the profession swallowed his friends. Jamey, Tom, Hamid - compassion and the freethinking nature of youth got replaced by careerism and materialism. In the end he couldn't stand to look at them; they were like mighty trees gone hollow at the core. He knew that a society that emptied human beings could only be a society gone wrong, yet he couldn't see any way of changing it. A complex world is a collective effort. Change comes first as inspiration and spreads in the minds of many people. And change is impossible when inspiration is prohibited. It left him stuck playing a game and not living his life to the fullest. Too many people had become chess pieces on a world board; they had not advanced as human beings. In Renewal World the brightest were taken away; from the horrors of life at the bottom and away from the real world.
Shouting and a woman's hysterical screams ended his musing. He turned, wondering what was happening. His view got blocked momentarily as the City Guard jumped to his feet and ran to the scene. The commotion was a short ways off at a row of book, food and music kiosks. Two men had fallen on a strip of grass and another man was staggering, holding his throat.
A brilliant flash of silver light passed high in the sky and more silver lit in Gary's mind as he realized a few things at once. Dan Stone's report named odorless gas as one of the new quick methods for exterminating show biz killers. If people were getting gassed now it meant Stone's test equipment had malfunctioned. And the malfunction was triggering the rest of the surveillance lockdown system for this square. The silver flash meant satellite and surveillance discs were now calculating a grid pattern for Madison Square. In a few seconds the energy walls would be up. The place would be split into fifty large energy cells that would block the passage of humans and objects but not of atmosphere. Meaning the gas would likely drift and kill everyone.
Chief Stone's new system had really gone wacko. The gas was supposed to jet quickly on a show biz killer as he passed and there wasn't a killer on the loose. Energy walls and the lockdown system were for extreme emergencies and almost never used because of the high power drain. Stone's new equipment was definitely not supposed to trigger them.
Gary knew he couldn't possibly save the people in the square. He had to escape, get to one of the city monitoring stations and work on disabling Stone's modifications. Leaping up the benches he made it to the wall fragment holding the media screen and stepped up its jagged side. From there he jumped for the main surrounding wall and managed to grab a handful of vines. He scrambled for footing, caught a crack and then climbed to the top, finding the platform to be about four feet wide. He tried a dive to the other side and another public area, but he didn't make it. The rising force shield slammed him, knocking him back. Tumbling to the edge, he seized a tree branch and vines.
The gas moved in a wave of distortion below, people doubled over and moaned -- blood bubbles rising to their lips as they went down. Running toward the transit station he came to a gap in the force wall. The open space allowed him to climb over on the station roof. Fortunately the bubble wasn't nearly as smooth as it looked. His feet found purchase on the grainy surface; he got over the top, scaled partway down and then dropped. Earth and wood chips flew as he landed in a soft flowerbed. Turning he looked around, seeing an area of specialized lockdown. The grounds before him were an elaborate sort of park -- chip trails, fountains, trimmed grass and bushes, spaced willows and maples. A large edifice rose beyond the maples. Wind-rocked boughs tossed sunbeams and shadows on recessed windows. Glassed-off areas glittered like gems. It had to be some sort of government complex.
He dusted his trousers then began to jog across the grounds, hoping he would be able to get assistance quickly. A green security post stood at the back and Gary was delighted to find it manned by two guards. They saw him coming and emerged from the side door, a big swarthy chap with muscles bursting from his shirt stepping into the lead.
Gary halted, looking into the guard's dark-ringed eyes. “There's been a disaster,” he said, trying to catch his breath. “In Madison Square -- I have to contact some people at the city monitoring department.”
The big guy grinned evilly and swung in to seize him. The second guard grabbed his other arm. Neither of the guards said a word, they just grunted as they forced him along. Stumbling forward at the post, Gary caught a glimpse of a bronze plaque. Madison Institute was embossed in it. He was on his way into an asylum.
Fever and dizziness swept him; he collapsed to his knees. The guards forced him up as the gates began to open outward. He waited until there was just enough space for one person to squeeze through, and then he lunged, pulling the guards with him. They hit the iron rails hard and the big guard crumpled from a bang to the head. The smaller guard went to his knees and groaned. Gary turned and punched him in the nose with his free left hand. Blood spurted; he kicked him over then went down and pulled his ID card -- ducking back into the security post he used the card to unlock the weapons case. Three guns were inside; ignoring the side arms he pulled out the ribbon laser. A check showed it to be the latest model, extremely powerful and not available on the commercial market.
Gun in hand, Gary turned and fled south, headed for the wall. Shadows and wind rushed, he got to the stone post and used bushes and a circuit pipe to get over the top. Looking down he saw a security bubble and a walkway to one of the lockdown domes. A young couple strolled to the barrier. As soon as they were gone he dropped down. Squinting against the sunlight and Plexiglas reflections, he thought over options and prepared to move. The better idea would be to simply go it alone, get into the dome and gain fast city access -- an emergency system he could use to get across town to the monitoring station.
Ferns shifted in the breeze, an image of thousands of cameras zooming in on him flashed in his mind, then his nerves settled as he walked through the arch into a peaceful public area. A huge daycare playground was to his right and a flashy commercial strip and arcade were directly ahead on a higher level. Fast city transit was always near government offices and City Guard stations. And that would mean taking one of the elevators to his left to the top.
Hurrying as much as he could without looking desperate, he passed lockers and washrooms in the side concourse. Banks of elevators gleamed just beyond a financial service waiting area. He stepped left to avoid the crowd, and had almost reached the elevators when pandemonium broke out on the level above.
Several people were hollering and he could hear toy-like bursts from a cheap automatic weapon. A crush developed then a wounded man fell over the railing and bounced horribly into people walking below. A second blood-soaked man tumbled down the escalator. Gary had to look twice to believe the situation. A show business killer was on a rampage in the arcade area. More bullets and blood showered through some palms, and then a big man appeared by a fern, his automatic weapon strafing a crowd fleeing through the aisles.
Bodies flew over exploding g6cell-powered arcade machines. Blue smoke rose from fried plastics, then the killer rushed out, leapt over an aluminum railing and landed on the escalator. He fired deadly bursts into the banking crowd as he came down slowly. This crazed killer also fired with his other hand and bullets licked past Gary, ripping up a post and causing him to duck behind a marble pillar.
He peaked out, seeing the show biz killer run back up the escalator and along the railing. A big jump and the mad man landed on the roof of a descending open-air elevator. From there he strafed the crowd as the elevator went to ground … then he hopped down and turned and fired as the doors slid open.
Flesh boiled as a spray of hot expanding metal filaments hammered the enclosed area -- it was a massacre and it was the elevator Gary would've taken. He shuddered and gripped his stolen ribbon laser as the show biz killer turned and headed in his direction. A glimpse of the killer's grease-painted face spooked him. He ducked back behind the pillar, his fingers trembling as his prints unlocked the higher settings, allowing him to switch the laser gun to maximum impact.
His breath seemed to freeze as he waited, like he'd suddenly become a creature with cold blood. Two fleeing businessmen passed, stumbled and fell, and got ripped apart like rag dolls in a hail of gunfire. The cruel gun rattle seemed nearly next to his ear, and he couldn't wait any longer so he simply stepped out, spotted the rushing target and fired.
The laser flash lit the air with a yellow aura as a brilliant ribbon of red light twisted from the wide barrel. It popped Gary's ears and burned the air between him and the killer instantly, sending the corkscrew of energy straight into the murderer’s chest. The impact could have knocked down a wall. It turned his ribs into a spiral of flaming flesh and blood steam and pounded him straight to the hard floor. He slid, smearing the tiles, and came to rest by the elevator.
The show biz killer was burned and cooked to candied meat -- as dead as he could possibly be. And the area kept emptying as the people had seen Gary's laser and were now running from him.
He stepped up to the show biz killer's body and looked down. The face had melted. Something wasn't right. Crouching he touched the man's hair with the barrel of his gun. It smoked and fell aside. Tapping the forehead with the butt of his gun he eased it back.
The whole thing peeled off and shrank. A facial mask -- the guy hadn't been a genuine show business killer at all. The face was still too burned to be recognizable. Going to the man's pockets he found his wallet and took it out. The ID bank named him as Hazellel J. Bonner, a City Guard cop.
Paling and gulping, Gary rose and backed away. Then he ducked back behind the pillar and tried to think. The lockdown, gas and the phony killer hadn't been an accident. Dan Stone had targeted him. A sinking feeling of dizziness fell from his head to his solar plexus. This action could only be a takeover bid by the City Guard Corporation. Once he was out of the way the mayor would be caught off guard. Toronto would be the twentieth city completely gobbled up by City Guard.
After he died Stone would name him as the cause of the chaos. The people would object to government by City Guard and so would the federal government. That is they would object but no one would really fight back effectively against City Guard's roster of law firms, and the takeover would succeed. National governments being too addicted to the rising financial markets that kicked in after private sector police takeovers of city governments. Unless he personally stopped the whole deal it would go through on local, national and world levels.
City Fast Transit was now out of the question as was every other place Dan Stone might have tapped. He turned and ran for the parking lot, an idea flashing in his mind. Gary never drove -- didn't believe in billing the taxpayer for expensive vehicles. And that meant Dan Stone would not expect him to drive anywhere.
An eye camera picked him up and the door opened as he ran. Electric cars filled the dusty front bay. He needed a faster hydrogen model and that meant grabbing the elevator to one of the higher levels.
Popping out on the fourth he looked around at the cars. Damn new hydrogen cars looked more like saucers with wings. A blue Chevy racer with stars embedded in the fiber body caught his eye. Using the laser on a low setting he fried the lock magnet and got in -- odors of the new plush interior rising in his nostrils as the engine auto started. As he pulled out he ground his teeth, expecting an alarm -- then he realized that he was probably the first person to steal a car in more than twenty years.
The launch computer was set for the downtown freeway ring. He didn't change it; he just sat back, the sensation almost like G-force as he shot up the ramp through sun dazzles and low vapor drifts.
Automatic tolls in the ring meant no delay; he set the dial for cruise 200 as he slipped into the stream of traffic. His car raced down the sun tunnel and after about a five-minute blast he glanced below. It was too much of a blur. A check of the dash map showed him nearly directly above the coordinates marking the monitoring station.
Satisfied, he sat back, and then the vehicle began to slow down. Gary punched the forward imager to see what could be happening. It panned a toll area looming ahead and revealed a couple City Guard cars and some uniformed officers and robo deputies stopping vehicles.
Hitting the quick brake he guided the racer to curbside. He jumped to the artificial turf and crossed the shallow gully to the transparent barrier.
Gripping the laser with both hands he let it hum at a midrange setting. The slowly widening beam created bubbling and distortion on the barrier shield. Warp force increased until the area of shield popped out like a soap bubble. It broke and the kickback prevented the rush of air from sucking him over. When it eased he walked to the edge.
Swinging over he caught a hybrid steel cable and moved slowly down in the wind. The cable was fixed in an unbreakable pylon and from it he went down a ladder to the pseudo concrete and steel base. Chunks of false concrete, boulders and earth were heaped on a huge mound below. He made his way down through thick weeds and dry mud. Yelling echoed above but he could see nothing. A large rusted sign at the intersection said Playground of the SuperCity, but the name of the development was unreadable. Blocks of smashed high-rise buildings stretched ahead. He knew this was part of the city area destroyed after the lake bottom explosion 20 years ago. The car map had it listed as vacant property beside the City Monitoring Station.
Broken ledges and cables swung dangerously from tilted buildings. Huge cracks split walls and the roadway. Faint odors of a dead town reached down into his lungs like the tiniest of foul ghostly fingers. The centre of the street had collapsed into the sewer in places and dark plastic liquid bubbled and oozed in puddles. Wind swept through the alleys and over the tarnished wrecks, kiosks and bins. It creaked and spoke in its own tongue in the gusts shaking the ravaged buildings.
In spite of the abandoned airs his approach was cautious. The sun above seemed fierce and from an older time -- ghosts and spots kept appearing in the corner of his eye and in windows. Wherever he looked shadows webbed the melting glass of yesterday's city, like a dusting of death remaining on blurred gravestones.
He took his City Guard enabled palm organizer from his bag, disabled the tracking feature and pinpointed the monitoring station. Turning in the described direction, he found it blocked by a huge bank edifice. One that had held up quite well through past disasters -- cracked with front steps torn by rising earth, but structurally sound at the foundation.
A narrow side street to the left was the only way around it. He walked toward it then heard a faint growl and halted. His eyes darted to the open front doors of the bank, but he saw nothing but bright sunlight and shadowy darkness. His next step drew a howl -- a sleek mass broke free. Black, huge and powerful -- a drooling City Guard dog bounded over the broken steps.
Gary knew the creature had mutant genes, its job being to devour derelicts and criminals who strayed into this dead-end area. He could not win a struggle with it. Crouching he set the laser for mass block, and maximum heat, then he fired. The dog was ten feet away and leaping -- air distortion from the beam shimmered in a ring then recoil knocked him back on his butt. He saw the dog fly up, turn furnace red and explode in a wave of boiling liquid. Flesh and bone became charcoal in the air -- a loud hiss from vaporizing fluids was followed by a mournful wail of the wind and a falling piece of fireproof circuit board that had been the creature's brain.
Gary hurried down the side street, glancing up at the dangerous overhangs darkening the glare. At the back of the bank he found heaps of rubble and the huge security wall that separated the vacant lot from the monitoring station.
Again customizing the laser settings he gave the barrier a shock blast and watched as toughened concrete crumbled. Dust cleared revealing steel plating; above on the wall blue sparks flew from energy rails.
Going over wasn't possible so he set the laser to burn through … a risky proposition when Stone's City Guard goons were probably already there to block his arrival and he didn't know where he would emerge in the station.
Blue heat streamed from the laser and the metal began to redden as it softened. An unexpected reaction followed as the entire section of plate spooned inward. It shattered with a thundering boom. A mass of concrete crashed behind him and dust choked him as he dived through the red-hot opening. Hot metal seared his arm in one small patch near the elbow. Gary rolled from it and scrambled up ducking sparks from a snaking cable.
Glancing ahead at a tunnel of cables and metal rings he knew he had cut through into a service and repair duct. Great luck, as Stone's men would not know how to navigate the system. A check on the burned cables showed them to be relatively unimportant runners from a southern station. Damage to the system was minimal.
Moving quietly down the duct to an air vent, he peeked out into control room three. Two City Guards were at the computer banks, an alarm was flashing red and they were panning the halls with detectors of all sorts as they searched for the intruder.
Control room two had a service door, so he headed back up the tunnel. Surveillance wasn't a problem as there wasn't any in the service tunnel. In this case the cameras acted as a good decoy, keeping them at the screens while he moved. He knew Dan Stone likely wouldn't be inside. There was a reason for it as he couldn't access the higher security levels of the government system. Hacking into it wasn't possible, only the head city inspector could gain access and Gary held that position … which is why Stone wanted him dead; until such a time as he could break in or get access from the mayor.
Slats of light from a vent showed before the door. He peeked, finding the situation the same as in control room three -- two guards at the security screens. A quick calculation on how to achieve the task at hand buzzed in his head. It meant that the guards in the monitoring station had to die and eventually Dan Stone would also have to die.
At the door he took a long slow breath, and then he swung it open, targeted the guards and took them down with a wide stun pulse. A couple screens melted in the blast. Racing to a terminal he started the access procedure, sitting straight in the chair as his palm and eye scan read in. He typed in his access key as the DNA countdown began. On the screen he could see guards racing down the tunnels toward him. His new calculation said that he might not make it so as much as he hated to do it he typed in a command and waited to punch okay.
Heels rang outside in the hall; the DNA countdown zeroed in, allowing him to hammer in his code just as the door swung open.
A guard burst through, his weapon raised. “Freeze!” he yelled.
But Gary didn't freeze. Instead he authorized the ready command -- CLEAR STATION OF INTRUDERS.
And when the button went down it did that instantly -- blacking out the lights and sending out a beam sweep aimed directly at the brains of all human beings not listed on the access roster.
Bodies thumped to the floor throughout the station. Fumes of burning flesh came to him as the lights came back on. He didn't bother to look around, but just kept working. Linda was his first order of business. Keying in her code he found her at home. A second number rang her phone and a moment later her worried face appeared on the screen.
“You okay,” he said.
“Not really. I just got a call from City Guard asking if you were here. They say they're sending officers over to protect me.”
“No they're not. I'm at the monitoring station handling a crisis. I don't want them in there so I'm putting your place on lockdown. Just sit tight till I get back to you.”
Switching back to station surveillance he picked up an incoming message. A read showed it to be directly from Stone and asking for a report on the intruder alarm.
Gary sent a dummy report back and waited for the rebound. It came four seconds later -- a great piece of luck. Dan Stone had used his personal key to access the monitoring station -- a stupid mistake because now Gary had it.
Going through the system for a report on alterations he found the files on Stone's new extermination equipment. The A scan of the program showed that Stone had tried to kill him by inserting his eye scan. A second check showed that Stone hadn't set the system to exterminate anyone else.
Typing in a code marking the system to time out in three hours as a public safety hazard, he accessed the program core and removed his own eye scan info, replacing it with Dan Stone's personal key. As a follow-up he erased the installation documents and put in messages from Stone that said only Satan, Stone and Kill. A sweep program covered Gary’s tracks as he exited.
“Let Stone run from his guns for a while,” he thought.
Next order of business was to use Stone's key, bouncing it from a City Guard police computer as an urgent text message from Stone to the Mayor. “I've decided to end it all,” the message said. “The whole filthy crew is going to die with me. The show must go on, and that's show business isn't it?”
“Hum, what about City Guard Headquarters in LA?” Gary thought, and a moment later he used Stone's key to send off a dummy message informing them that the takeover bid in Toronto had succeeded.
Now he had some time to check a few other things -- and he started by using the key to access City Guard files on the Broken Door theory that so upset Stone. So many documents came up he had to switch to text view for the files. City Guard people had a real thing going for this theory. Best thing was to just look up the original banned report and see what it said.
Scanning to the bottom of the report he came to Professor Jack Watson's conclusions on the new show business serial killers -- conclusions that raised his eyebrows and his hair.
“ . . . Man is after all a creature of evolution that lived mostly in isolation and in small family and tribal groupings. A degree of privacy was allowed in all situations and therefore we can only conclude that for psychological health a degree of privacy must be provided by society. Studies demonstrate that Show Business Killers are completely normal human beings. Their murderous behavior arises from the long-term deprivation of a basic human need -- privacy. My final conclusion is that society itself must be restructured to suit human beings and human needs and that means dismantling nearly the entire security net we have constructed over the last seventy-five years.…”
Gary frowned, the shock still sinking in -- Dan Stone and the City Guard Corporation wanted the public to believe the murderous behavior to be rooted in thinking the wrong thoughts.
A sudden impulse curled his lips to a grin. Why not have Dan Stone pay for his wrongdoing by informing the public of the truth?
He scratched his chin, and then decided to do it. Making a copy of the document he attached Stone's key to it and sent it out for publication, following the post with a sweep so it couldn't be traced to the monitoring station. Because of content rules allowing City Guard space in all media, the document would be on screens worldwide in about three minutes. It would guarantee that Dan Stone would be remembered as the whistle blower of the century -- and also as a mad man who exterminated members of the public and himself with dangerous new security equipment.
He smiled sweetly at the thought, but not for long as he saw a blip moving on the tracker. It showed Stone in a central dome moving toward an area containing some of the extermination equipment -- a laser setup that would kill him quickly.
Murder was something he detested. He could barely believe he'd done it, but it would be a long rebellious worldwide goodbye and funeral for Stone and City Guard. Time would pass and the mayor would buy his plan for a public police force. He was certain he'd left no tracks. Pleasant visions of Linda and the wedding rose in his mind; he hit her key and smiled as her rosy cheeks faded in on the screen.
---- the end -----