Tony Sammis, leader of the Green Action Militia and military commander of the CorpGov, snuck out of bed. To mask his absence, he pulled the comforter to cover the warm back of his lover, Jamie Ardwin, the capa famiglia of the Pacific Northwest mafia. In the faint illumination of the 3:00 a.m. city, her motionless form made him yearn for the same oblivion of sleep. Her dark hair sprayed against her light-colored pillow. He wanted to crawl back, cuddle against her warmth, and accept the security of her arms. Instead guilt and worry battled in his head insisting he had no right to any rest. He wouldn’t steal her repose because his mind wouldn’t be stifled enough to keep his body motionless against her.
In the dark, by touch alone, he found his boxers on the floor. After pulling them on, he stubbed his toe on the bedframe in the unfamiliar room. He bit back a range of curses. Hobbling on the heel of that foot, he opened the fogged patio door and slipped out into the dark but unusually clear Portland morning.
A native of the Pacific Northwest, Tony’s stocky body didn’t recoil from the 9OC air. This could have been because his Turkish genetic ancestry covered his 2-meter-tall body with an abundance of dark, curly fur like the before picture of a depilatory commercial. By contrast the straight hair on his head fell down his back like a dark-chocolate waterfall.
Cinnamon, Tony’s calico kitten and his permanent felony, perched comfortably on the railing of the balcony, oblivious to the hundreds of meters of drop to one side. She barely acknowledged the presence of her slave with a flip of her tail. Tony had reconciled carrying a price on his head so the prospect of a death sentence for owning a pet fazed him about as much as smell bothered a dung beetle.
Tony twisted the bottom of his Starbucks cup to activate the heating element. Warmth leeched through the outer walls as it brought his beverage to tongue-scalding temperature in moments. He surrounded the mug in both hands as he leaned onto the balcony’s railing to look out at the carnage below. Even at oh-dark-thirty on Christmas morning, fires burned in bright reds and yellows in at least eight different locations. He could make out the plumes of their smoke blotting out stars. The muzzle fire and tracers of automatic ammunition showed as minute flashes and brilliant lines. He watched a pair of Metro rapid response vehicles take the high line over the tops of the nearby buildings, their emergency flashers bright even at this distance.
Nothing quite sounds like a city rioting. The distant sounds of sirens, tiny pops of weapons’ fire, the throaty yells of profanity, the bass roar of fires out of control, sharp explosions, materials thrown or blown from upper stories to crash against the ground level dozens of floors below, and the screams of pain all combining into a low-pitched growl that carries for kilometers. It couldn’t be mistaken for anything but adulterated chaos.
Six of the conflicts were of his manufacture. Those he and his team had planned were short, intense, and destructive of property, not people. The folks who participated in these staged unrests vanished like cockroaches at the first sign of the Metros or National Guard. Those people fighting the occupation by themselves in spontaneous unrest were often arrested in job lots or were executed on the spot.
His mind alternated between guilt and worry. Here he was in a comfortable room with a beautiful woman while so many people in the city below him suffered on this Christmas Day. He would not have ever considered his bed partner had not the pain of this conflict thrown them together. How many had given up their lives so he could be happy? Worse, this conflict had just begun.
His visceral response would be to pay any price to end the suffering, but doing that would betray the sacrifices of all his friends who’d rid the world of the cabal. He had to be strong to give everyone the chance to be free. Until then, how many more lives would be destroyed in a war that couldn’t be won? The blood of how many more people would pool at his feet? These questions haunted him as he planned his next destructive acts.
* * *
Just as he had every day for more years than he could remember, Commissioner Yuri Krylov woke up two minutes before his 6:30 a.m. alarm sounded. Without rising from his oaken sleigh bed, he waved off the alarm before it could produce the neural rasp.
Today would be a good day, he thought as a yawn involved his whole 2 m body length. His blue silk pajamas bunched at his left arm as he stretched high overhead. While his installation as the benevolent leader of Earth still had quite a way to go before it became reality, it was as assured as a train following a set of tracks with no sidings. With the military under his control, no force could stand up to him and everyone would see the benefit of a strong central rule.
Sergeant Jason Witten, aide-de-camp of Commissioner Krylov, pushed open the bedroom door at exactly 6:31. Samuel Boldin, the commissioner’s bodyguard, took a cursory examination of the tray Jason carried. Krylov’s morning hadn’t changed for the decade he’d been his personal bodyguard – tea, three scrambled eggs, kasha, black bread and butter. The news chip sat in its customary location to the right of his knife.
“Merry Christmas, sir,” Jason said to Krylov.
“Thank you, Jason. I’ll wear my uniform today. As I’m going to be in the newsies’ solido finder, I had better reinforce where my authority comes from.”
Krylov broke open the news chit from his tray. He let the headlines run through his neural interface as he shoveled the sweetened gruel into his mouth. He stopped on an article describing the increases in riots since the Christmas Eve declaration of martial law. He offered a deep, brassy chuckle. His opponents thought they were doing something useful with the riots, when the chaos actually allowed him to keep martial law in force. He did make a mental note to have Colonel Reed make some inroads against the riots to show that martial law was having positive impacts. He also wanted to find out how well his orders to destroy the Green Action Militia and the CorpGov were being carried out.
He flipped to the sports page to see how the Kamchatka Bears did against his Redwings last night.
* * *
A rounded top, silver box lay cleaved neatly in two equal pieces by a hydraulic press. Inside the tight-fitting, metal shell was a cross-sectioned brain as if it were a plastic model in a neurosurgeon’s office. The other half, lying metal side up, contained the etched logo Z121. Red blood and viscous blue nutrient-fluid oozed away from the gruesome sight.
“Makes me want to vomit,” an intact metal box bearing A1412 said through its emergency speaker as it rolled by at the pace of a snail. “If I still had a body, I probably would.”
“You be sick, Henry?” J112 said, changing direction to avoid the mess that had once been a living being. He also used his emergency speaker in a way that the AI charged with making certain the boxed remained under control couldn’t monitor.
“Why wouldn’t I?” A1412, who was born Henry Royston, retorted. “We’re so close now. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about turning out my own lights sometimes.”
“You be right there. How often we be forgetting our names? Do we be knowing why Garth be killing himself?”
“Unfortunately, I do,” G996 said, rolling up to the pair. “Garth had just gotten the bill for his five-year preventative maintenance. They charged him more than he’d made in that entire time. When he complained and pointed out that the cost was supposed to remain fixed by contract and statute, the bloody lawyers pointed back at the damage and inflation clauses.”
“He could have gotten a lawyer of his own,” Royston said.
“And what be happening to the last ones that tried that? They got five decades added to their ledger.”
“Then why couldn’t he hold out just a little longer when we might be free?”
“I think I can answer that one, also,” Stephanie Delfalkis, wearing G996 on her box, said. “Garth was one of the faction that thought we’d be caught and punished. He had nothing to look forward to.”
“And it being Christmas. Have you all forgot Christmas?” Ben pointed out. “More suicides on Christmas than any other day of the year.”
“What more can they do to us? They’ve taken our bodies, they’ve taken our families, they have almost taken our identities,” Henry said.
“I be surprised he took so long to be doing it.”
“I still think he was an idiot. He’d only been boxed for a dozen years. He still remembered what it was like to be touched. He’d never forgotten his name.”
“Bereft of hope every direction he turned,” Stephanie said.
“I know we’re all taking a risk,” Henry said, “but if we don’t, we will be held in servitude forever. We just have to have that last little bit of patience before reaching out to capture our objective. It’s the hardest part.”
Henry continued, “It can’t be much longer before one faction or the other is in such dire straits we can dictate terms for our services.” Suddenly Henry’s world spun in crazed circles for a second that seemed to last a week. Now he really did want to vomit. Over the following moments, the earth once again became solid beneath his rollers. With no one else looking the worse for what he’d just experienced, Henry made a note to have his blood work tested for imbalances.
“Well, the police and national guard now have total control over the orbital bombardment weapons. In their quote improvements unquote to the command and control after that last fiasco, the system now allows the Metro faction to control every launch.”
“We will be free soon,” Stephanie said with confidence.
“Until then I’m not about to forget who I be,” said J112. “I be Ben Calwood.”
“I’m Henry Royston.”
“I’m Stephanie Delfalkis.”
* * *
A beam of light shone down through the skylight warming her lightly-tanned skin enough to ease her from the clutches of sleep. Jamie stretched her lean body languidly. Her hands pressed against the headboard of the bed, and her hips writhed in the sensuous pleasure of waking up after a good lie-in. The gold satin sheet slid down to expose the soft mounds of her breasts. She pulled the errant cover back up to where the cool air had raised goose bumps on her skin. Long hair, purported to be Darkroom Brown from the package of hair color, found its way in and around just about everything. Unfortunately, her lover liked it long.
Over forty years had passed since she’d last had a lover. In some societies she would have been considered an old bat, but with modern genetic therapies and a good deal of money a woman could keep her youth for ten or more decades. As the leader of a major crime family, Jamie’s personal fortune could distort just about any market she wished. Right now she felt about sixteen with a schoolgirl crush on the high school football star. Smiling, she hugged herself, feeling her body tingle in all the spots that Tony had touched last night.
She cracked her eyes open. She’d had plans for her lover this morning that would elicit additional pleasurable sensations and might keep her smiling all day. Her smile faded as she scanned the suite to find it empty.
“Oh, poop,” she said, pouting.
Instead, he’d gone off to play world savior.
She had thought that maybe they could sleep in together just one day. If that day couldn’t be Christmas, she didn’t know when it would be.
If Tony had any flaw, she thought, it was that he was a bloody morning person. How anyone could even be functional sooner than nine escaped her. Worse, he was often chipper and efficient when he woke. What relationship nightmare had she gotten into? Her being partnered with a morning person seemed like the punch line to a bad joke.
The perks might just barely make it worth his 7:00 a.m. creeping off to do a day’s work before the 8:00 a.m. breakfast-in-bed deliveries. Damned if he didn’t make a fine waiter in just his boxers, she thought, the corners of her mouth turning up.
A memory crept out of the waking fog in her mind, of her lover scheduled to teach a morning class and then have a Christmas luncheon with his GAM crew.
“Damned and blast. I guess no more cuddles for me this morning.”
Cinnamon took that moment to leap up onto the bed and demand adoration. Jamie, accustomed to the vagaries of her lover’s pet, stroked the cat’s back. She sampled her personal neural interface for the time – 8:34 a.m. “Holy crap,” she said to her step-cat. “Your master must be getting to me if I’m waking up this early. This is a time fit for neither woman nor beast.”
The cat responded by curling up just out of Jamie’s reach, closing its eyes, and purring. Thinking she could emulate the feline, Jamie dug down further into the blankets for warmth, but her mind had already started in on her list of things to do. Her calendar overflowed, with a visit to the Teamsters Local 2413 about keeping any military logistics from leaving the dock, a net conference with the heads of five different jewelry cartels to offer protection services, and the planning of a robbery of Washington State Employees Credit Union, an institution that insisted on continuing to pay the Metros.
“Aw, fuck,” she said, throwing the covers off and walking toward the shower. In a dressing vestibule she saw a yellow chiffon dress laid out for her. All this living in a different room every night had made her hire a personal shopper to provide one outfit per day. One outfit. No choices. It made her frown.
She missed her wardrobe. She missed her art. She missed her nephew. All taken away by that Metro raid on her home.
“Fucking Metros needed to pay.” She needed to send her own message.
* * *
“Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Welcome to this KIROW Action News Special Report. I’m Elsa Abernathy.”
“And I’m Carl Merrithew.”
The female anchor led with the special report: “A city, even a nation, in anarchy is what we are reporting on this morning. Just minutes ago in a scheduled press conference, Governor Nguyen and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Krylov jointly reinforced the declaration of martial law in the environs of Greater Portland. In Krylov’s own words from his remarks after the press conference . . .”
The screen switched to show the stocky bulk of the ethnic Russian. Commissioner Krylov, resplendent in his dress blacks as he stood in Liberty Plaza, said, “We won’t let our great nation nor this great city fall into anarchy. Order and peace will be reestablished. We will punish those guilty of putting us at risk. We will have safety for our children . . .”
“Yes, Elsa, we have reports that not only has Portland gone to this extreme measure, but also the cities of Miami, New York, Dallas, Mexico City, Port Au Prince, Anchorage, Boston, and Los Angeles, just to name a few. Connect to our side-bar to get the entire list. The current total is forty-six of the ninety-seven governors have declared some form of martial law in their states.”
The male anchor continued, “We already have reports of National Guard troops pouring into Portland. Here is footage shot just this hour of military convoys entering our city. We’ve been prevented from showing you their command center and staging areas for reasons of security.
“Our reporter in the field, Dennis McLaughlin, is taking the pulse of the man in the street on this action. To you, Dennis.”
The image changed to show groups of four National Guardsmen in ACUs deployed at the strategic intersection of a shopping area. Each man casually carried an assault rifle bearing the patina of much use. The image trained back onto the familiar reporter’s smiling face.
“Thank you, Carl. I’m here at the Greater Pearl Shopping Mall where squads of National Guardsmen have been deployed in the last hour. I’ve been stopping random people asking what they think of the National Guard’s presence.”
“Well, it is about f<beep>ng time someone did something. These riots are bad for business,” said a tubby proprietor in front of an antique bookstore.
“Well, I’m not sure. I don’t like guns and this might just give people the wrong message,” said a middle-aged woman with an infant in her arms.
“<beeeep> power mongers. I’ll bet all they want to do is take over! Listen to the GAM, peeps!” said a furtive youngster keeping his face covered by his hoodie.
“Why can’t everyone just leave us alone?” claimed an older man.
“What’s to keep them from permanently taking away our civil liberties? I for one don’t want to be raped or shot at the whim of some testosterone-crazed moron,” said one professional woman dressed in a business suit.
“Who is going to watch the watchers?” said a high-school student from the middle of a clique of girls.
The image focused back onto the reporter. “This is just a sample of the answers I got when I inquired. If I learned anything out here it is that there are at least as many opinions as there are people.
“Back to you, Carl.”
“Thank you, Dennis. In continuing coverage of Portland’s martial law—”
An arm wearing a uniform stretched in from off screen to pass information to the anchor.
Carl read directly from the accepted filmy. “We have been ordered under the rules of martial law to give time to the Commander of Military Occupation. We are now going live to an undisclosed site.”
The picture dissolved to a flat rooftop bearing a lone podium. A short man in urban camouflage gray, with skin the color and consistency of tree bark and his cropped hair as white as a wedding dress, walked in from off screen. His muscular shoulders made him look as wide as he was tall as they stuck out beyond either side of the rostrum. He held his hands behind his girder-straight back.
The military man looked directly into the camera. “I am Colonel Charles Reed, Military Commander of Portland and environs.” The man’s voice was low and resonated as if he were at the bottom of a deep metal barrel.
“Martial law started at eight a.m. this morning and extends to the entirety of Oregon’s population west of the Cascades and encompassing roughly some sixty-five million souls. It will remain in effect until I can report the success of my missions to the governor.” The man stopped for just a moment.
“You all know why my soldiers have been called in. We have two and only two missions. We will succeed with both.
“First, we are to restore order. Regular and random patrols will move throughout the city containing lawlessness. Riots and rioters will be eliminated with lethal force.
“Second, we will hunt down the illegal organizations known as the Green Action Militia and the so-called CorpGov. We will shut down the city and peel it like an onion until they are in custody or dead.”
The colonel stepped out from behind the podium, making it clear he had been standing on something that had given him centimeters of extra height. He moved closer to the camera.
“I need to impress upon those of you who are planning to test our resolve that you will fail.”
The camera panned to show three obvious nils, cuffed and blindfolded, standing at the edge of the building’s roof. The trio didn’t seem concerned. The police rousted nils on a regular basis. A squad of infantrymen moved and lined up opposite them.
“These three unregistered humans were caught trespassing today after martial law was declared,” Colonel Reed said. “By order of the Military Command of Oregon under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, I sentence them to death.”
The two men and one woman twisted their heads around like they couldn’t understand.
“Ready. Aim. Fire.”
The chilling sound of gauss fire ripped through the air as the razor-sharp fragments tore through what little clothing the nils wore, along with their flesh, muscle, and even bone. Three human bodies shredded in half. The top half of the two men toppled over the edge of the building. The rest of the lifeless protoplasm just slumped into a mass with a sickening plop. The camera remained on the sight as the merging pool of blood grew.
“This is the strength of our resolve. You decide.”
* * *
“I know this is Christmas Day, but I need you all to pay attention to me,” Augustine Cordoba said, running her hand through her 1 cm white hair, standing it on end where it should be. She grabbed a fistful of it at the back in frustration. She didn’t feel very much like that calm ninety-something woman in the Catholic novitiate just a few weeks ago. She wondered how she could get back that serenity. Unfortunately, that was a project for the future. Now she had n00bs to train. “I can’t stress enough how this may save your life.”
Roughly six hundred mostly college-aged people crowded the third sub-basement of Seattle’s Columbia Center. Graffiti covered graffiti on the old concrete walls only two weeks from being demolished. The low buzz of conversations dropped off. Augustine’s visual implants caught two boys necking about 12 m back.
“You two… If you want to suck face, get a hotel room. Until then I need you to listen because I don’t want any blood on my hands.” Still the pair didn’t break their clinch. Someone next to the lovebirds nudged them with an elbow. The lipstick that one wore now covered both their faces. Augustine had to smile remembering her own youth and a couple of public displays of affection that nearly got her arrested. The thought of that blue-print dress ripped down around her waist brought a blush to her cheeks.
“Business now, woman,” she said under her breath before continuing aloud. “You all volunteered for this mission, now please listen up so you don’t get dead. Thank you. My name is Grandma Ice. Some may know me from the net and others because I am a member of the Green Action Militia. Speaking for the GAM I’m telling you that this mission is important because the Metros are literally trying to make our world into a dictatorship. Your actions today can help change that outcome.”
Augustine wandered as she spoke, sometimes into the crowd itself. “I’m going to be overwatch on this operation. What that means is that I’m going to be combing the net, the airwaves, and everything else for the inevitable armed response. It also means that you need to obey me. If you can’t follow my instructions then now is the time to leave.” Augustine paused a few seconds. None of the crowd left.
“Excellent. We are planning a riot. We want maximum property damage, but minimum casualties. That means any casualties – you or anyone else – are bad. Don’t bring any weapons. Don’t bring any explosives. If you do, you will be caught by the Metros before you even get to the location.”
“What do we use, then?” called out someone from the darkness of the extreme back of the improvised auditorium.
“Pieces of furniture, bricks, landscaping, park benches, or just the sheer mass of hundreds of you. If you want to use fire, any aerosol with a narco stick to light it will do. You can also use perfume, disinfectants, any alcohol – from drug stores or bars – powdered coffee creamer, flour, or most any petroleum product. That’s just the short list.
“Release any nanite tube you can find. Smash any terminal. Break any plumbing. Tear out any electrical wiring.”
“Where and when?” called out a girl in a white sundress in the front of the crowd. She looked like she belonged at a church, organizing the congregation picnic, rather than at a riot-planning meeting.
“Oh, that is the fun part. None of you will know until you need the information. One by one you will come up here and lick the nanopad. Your percomms will be reprogrammed to keep track of your position and travel time to the target. When the time of the riot minus travel time is reached, your percomm will give you a recorded message.”
A slender brunette in the second row raised his hand.
“Yes,” Augustine said, calling on him.
“But that means we have to keep our time free for the next however long? I don’t think I can do that.”
“Oh, it’s nothing like that,” Augustine said. “We don’t ask too much of our people. The event will be within the next forty-eight hours, and if you can’t make it, you can’t make it. The rest of us, and zero to eight other groups just like yours, will take care of it for you.
“As you can imagine, this obfuscation is such that if there were a Metro sympathizer in our midst, she or he couldn’t betray us. That’s for your safety and ours.
“This action will be the equivalent of a flash mob. Move into place with the first message but don’t start anything until the second message to start. And to whatever you hold sacred, when I send the general recall to your percomms, skedaddle…vamoose…get lost. You won’t have a great deal of time.”
Mr. Brunette thrust up his hand again.
“So what would keep the Metros from scanning our devices for a percomm signal from you at that exact time? Or how about scan everyone for altered percomm programming.”
“Sonny, you are cute,” Augustine said, smiling, with dimples appearing as if by magic. “If I were just a decade or two younger I might see if you were interested in older women…but are you honestly trying to teach me to suck eggs?”
“Suck eggs? I don’t understand.”
“Ancient slang,” Augustine continued, “which means that you are trying to teach someone experienced how to do her job.
“Listen up, folks. We want you to succeed. We want you on our side. You in jail or dead does neither us nor you any good whatsoever. Each of your percomms will be wiped with my general recall – a message that will be heard by every percomm within a fifteen kilometer radius.”
“OK. Any more questions?”
“How about a date?” Mr. Brunette asked.
Augustine smiled instead of answering. “Everyone who is still willing to volunteer, c’mon up here and lick the programmer.”
She caught Mr. Brunette’s eye as he stepped up and handed him a business card with an email address. Maybe Santa thought she was a good girl after all.
* * *
Clarence Fritzwalter Beckman-Ford the Third, also known as Nanogate or Chairman of the CorpGov, sat at the head of an irregularly shaped 8.1 sq. meter table carved entirely from the iron core of what had been comet Baxter-Thompson 227. Servants had already piled the table with the delicacies normally reserved for the wealthy on special occasions. The aroma of roast turkey blotted out the more subtle scent speaker in the room. Real cranberry sauce made even Clarence’s jaded palate water. He also made a note not to get up without having a substantial helping of the wilted seaweed with garlic salad. After the serving staff filled the family’s glasses with wine, water, juice, or soda, depending on taste, they withdrew from the room, leaving the Beckman-Ford family alone.
“All right, Fritzy, what’s with the bribe?” In contrast to Nanogate’s own butter-mellow baritone, Janice’s voice sounded like the poorly-oiled Tin Woodsman had screeched it out. Even at eighty-two, his blond wife, Janice, still looked like the bikini model she’d been in high school. None of their children nor their grandchildren, nor their great-grandchildren would have dared to use the derogatory shortening of Nanogate’s middle name.
“Excuse me, my dear?”
“Oh, don’t play innocent with me, you manipulative….” Janice looked around at the rest of the family and especially the children and curbed her expletive. “Even though it’s Christmas, the last time I saw a spread like this it was to announce that your company had been the target of a hostile take-over. Or how about when you wanted to tell me about Michael’s crushed legs from that asinine base-jumping episode. So what’s the catch?”
“You are perceptive as always, my dear. I don’t have bad news but rather good news.
“Michael, would you carve for us?”
“Certainly, Father,” the younger man said, standing on his long-ago regenerated legs to begin slicing up the huge bird.
“You haven’t finished, Fritz. What is this good news?”
“Thank you, Michael,” Clarence said, taking a plate with a healthy slice of turkey breast on it. “Well, I know how much you love to travel so I’ve arranged a trip for the whole family.”
Two of the younger members, who’d been silently following the conversation, looked at each other with undisguised glee. Janice, on the other side of the table, instead pursed her lips and furrowed her brow.
“We just got back from a trip. What is going on? What are you hiding from me?”
“My love, if you would like I’ll give you all the details later tonight. In the meantime I suggest that all the family get ready for a trip to Mars.”
“Mars!” Janice snapped. “That stinky, smelly place! No place to go outdoors!”
The three first-generation children and their over-achieving spouses all maintained a calm decorum even though several got squeezes of excitement under the table.
“Janny, now you know you had just that one bad experience. I’m sure they’ve fixed the odor units. You also know they almost have as much recreation space as we do, not to mention the nature trips.”
“Don’t ‘Janny’ me! And nature trips?! Sealed in a bubble and having to walk. What are you really up to? Our family restrains me from discussing your personal or sexual habits, but I will if you don’t give it up.”
“My loving wife, I already told you that I’d give you all the details later, in private. Why don’t you just dig into this wonderful fea—”
“NOW!” Janice said, slamming her fist down on the metal table, causing it to ring like a gong. What little noise the other seventeen people made stopped, leaving the low note to echo in the room.
“All right, if you must know, my dear….”
Janice just stared at him with steel backing her pale green eyes.
“There will be open conflict with the Metropolitan Police Force. We can’t stop it. It is time to get all of you out of the firing line and out of the possibility of being kidnapped as a lever to manipulate me. I want you all to be safe.”
Janice took a deep breath. Her face relaxed. When she spoke her voice dropped a full octave. “We’ll go, then. Please pass the potatoes, Abby.”
Nanogate and his wife locked eyes. Her cold eyes didn’t quite match the rest of her positive demeanor. He wondered how she would take it out on him this time. He mentally shuddered.