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The Lottery in Babylon

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TOO MANY SECRETS

 

Part 1: The Lottery in Babylon

 

By S.R. Beth

 

With additional dialogue by:

Phil Alden Robinson, Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes,

William Gibson with Tom Maddox,

and Darren Aaronofsky

 

 


 

 

 

 

Our historians, the most perspicacious on the planet, have invented a method for correcting chance; it is well known that the outcomes of this method are (in general) trustworthy – although, of course, they are never divulged without a measure of deception. Besides, there is nothing so tainted with fiction as the history of the Company… A paleographic document, unearthed at a certain temple, may come from yesterday's drawing or from a drawing that took place centuries ago.

- Jorge Luis Borges , “The Lottery in Babylon”

 

What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on the top of a high hill? … Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now.

- Raymond Chandler , The Big Sleep

 

Mystics, faced with the same problem, fall back on symbols: to signify the godhead, one Persian speaks of a bird that somehow is all birds… I saw the teeming sea; I saw daybreak and nightfall; I saw the multitudes of America; I saw a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid… I saw all the mirrors on earth and none of them reflected me.

- Jorge Luis Borges , “The Aleph”

 

 


 

 

JULY 13, 2016 (24:03 ZULU):

Club Answer

125-16 Cheongsam-dong

Gangnam-gu

Seoul, Republic of Korea

 

 

This guy wasn’t the bottle service.

Leon Tao could tell that right away. It was late, and he had about a pint of Suntory whiskey inside him already, but he knew this guy wasn’t the bottle service. For one thing, where was the bottle? No, what this guy was, was trouble.

“Boss want to see you.” The music drowned out his voice, but Leon didn’t have to hear the words to understand. Trouble, but what kind?

He blinked a few times, politely. “Is this about my credit card…?”

“You come now.” A large and powerful hand clamped down onto his shoulder, leaving him little choice in the matter.

“I’ll be right back, ladies,” Leon said, struggling to keep his feet in front of him as he was propelled away from his table and through the crowd. Then towards the service door behind the bar and straight into it. Hard.

He staggered through the double-hung door, caromed down a hallway to a fire door.

A locked fire door.

That kind of trouble.

He turned around – too far – caught himself. He wasn’t seeing double, there were two of them now. For one thing, they were wearing different color suits. Behind them, too far away, the service door. Storerooms to the right. Noisy kitchen to the left, orders for pickup resting on a high counter.

“I can pay cash.” An all-purpose explanation, usually successful.

The first one looked at the second one. “Not here for that,” the second one said.

A waitress emerged from one of the storerooms, her back to them, swinging her hips as she walked through the service door with a loaded drinks tray held above her head.

There goes my bottle service, Leon thought. What are you doing in Baghdad when I have an appointment with you in Samarra?

Leon’s troubles turned their attention back towards him.

Their pistols are already out, he noticed without surprise. And I didn’t even see where the other guy came from. No silencers. Why bother? We’re in a nightclub; no one will hear it over the bass. The cooks will hear it, he thought, but they will mind their own business because they know what’s good for them.

He took a deep breath and screwed his eyes shut. When the gunshots came, they were louder than he ever imagined.

And the music was still playing. He let his breath out again and opened his eyes.

Sameen Shaw, wearing a waitress uniform, her hair in an updo, blew smoke from the muzzle of a military-issue Beretta 9mm she had acquired two days earlier from the Itaewon black market.

She looked straight at him and said: “Leon, we gotta stop meeting like this.”

He blinked a few times, politely.

“Shaw? What do you want?”

Shaw bent over, then knelt down, and removed a key from the suit jacket pocket of one of Leon’s troubles.

Make that his former troubles.

“First, I want you to stop staring at my ass in this miniskirt,” she said, then stood up, smoothed the skirt down and unlocked the fire door.

Held it open.

“I wasn’t…”

Shaw stepped out into the alley behind him, and as the door swung closed she grabbed a helmet off a Kawasaki motorbike and threw it at Leon’s stomach, like a no-bounce basketball pass.

Leon caught it. There was a second motorcycle helmet; Shaw put it on.

“Second, I want you to come with me to Inchon Airport,” she said, fastening the strap below her chin. “Right now. As in, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. Wheels up in ninety minutes.”

Shaw threw a leg over the bike as Leon tried and failed to look the other way

“You coming or what?” Shaw grinned at him.

Leon put the helmet on. Shaw stuck the keys in and kick-started the engine.

“Where do I…?

“Hands on my shoulders, bro.”

A little more than ninety minutes later.

Korean Air Flight 93 to SFO, somewhere over the Pacific. Shaw ordered tequila on the rocks with lime from the drinks cart. Leon didn’t want a bottle of water, but the stewardess gave him one anyway.

“The North Koreans,” Shaw said. “Really?

It was not actually a question

“Who do you think alerted the CIA to their operation?” said Leon Tao, suddenly indignant. “Whatever else I am, I’m a patriot.”

“And the missing money?”

“Ten percent! It was a finder’s fee… You know, a commission?

Shaw put down her plastic cup, empty, on her in-flight tray. Looked at him.

“Sometimes, Leon, I really don’t know why I even bother.”

He smiled. She didn’t.

“Don’t you?”

“She didn’t tell me.”

“Who didn’t?”

“When we touch down,” Shaw explained, “you’ll transfer to a connecting flight, nonstop to Dulles. A man named Joey Durban will meet you at the arrival gate.”

“Where will you be?”

“On a flight to LaGuardia. Listen, this Durban? You can trust him. He’s one of us. The few; the proud.”

“One of us? Like – You mean, like us; like one of us?

“Are you still drunk?” Shaw said. “One of us, like you are. Did I stutter?”

He shook his head no

“You better get it together, Leon. You need to hit the ground running.”

“Why? What’s going on?”

“I just said: She didn’t tell me; it was only your Number.”

Shaw wasn’t looking at him. She was looking out the plane window, across the ocean

He saw the reflection of her lips moving against the Perspex as she mumbled: “… And the Numbers never stop coming.”

“Huh?”

Her head came around. “I don’t know!” she snapped.

Shaw took a breath, tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

“Look, I’m not your personal guardian angel, Leon. You have an assignment."

“You mean, another Number.”

This, too, was not a question.

“It’s called paying it forward. Ask Durban about how that works when you see him.”

Shaw settled back in her chair and slipped on a pair of headphones. She did not speak to Leon Tao for the rest of the flight.

 


 

SEPTEMBER 16, 1992

Magic Bullet Publications, LLC

4801 Stamp Road

Temple Hills, Maryland

 

He poured a splash of white vinegar into the saucepan and adjusted the gas, holding the water at a gentle simmer. Meanwhile, in a double boiler on the next burner, a half-stick of butter melted into four tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.

Turning to the counter, he loaded three split English muffins into the cafeteria-size toaster and pushed down its lever. Then, one by one, he cracked six eggs on the rim of the large saucepan so their liquid fell gently into the simmering water, to which a shot of white vinegar had previously been added

By the time the English muffins were done toasting, the eggs would be poached. The melted butter and balsamic vinegar, whisked together, would be the sauce – oeufs avec beurre noir, the French called it.

Eggs Benedict for people who dislike Hollandaise sauce, in other words.

And then the phone rang.

As he lifted the kitchen extension, he heard the mechanical click and thump as the heads of the single-track Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorder lifted into position and the tape began to move.

“Talk to me,” he said.

Who is this? Langley?” A man’s voice, one he didn’t recognize.

“Yeah; who’re you?

It’s Mother. Turn off the tape recorder.

“You’re not my mother; you can’t tell me what to do.”

Mother Roskow – Melvin’s buddy,” the voice said, with a Chicago accent. “Get him on the line. And turn off the damn tape recorder already.”

“Hold on, I’m in the kitchen.” He lowered the phone, counted to ten, and raised it to his ear again.

“OK dude, what’s up? Frohicke pulled an all-nighter; he’s still in bed. I’ll take a message.”

Tell him…” Near the door of the loft, a buzzer went off.

“Hold on.” He lowered the phone again, put a hand over the mouthpiece.

“Byers?! Get the door!” he shouted. “Sorry, what did you want me to tell him?”

Tell him it’s a present from Mother,” the voice said, and there was an edge to it.

Don’t plug it in! Not if you want to keep on living. Tell Twinkletoes that I’m collecting on that favor he owes me. Tell him I’m sorry, but we don’t have any other options. And tell him that Moscow rules are in effect.”

“…”

 

He’ll have questions. Southern Braille Twenty-One Eleven, Six Oh Four, the old trunk line. Use a pay phone; do it today. The office on Telegraph is closed – indefinitely.”

A dial tone in his ear.

Byers walked into the kitchen, tie already in place, holding up a small cardboard box labeled “Next Day Delivery.”

Langely hung up the phone. “It’s for Frohicke,” he said.

A second, deeper click as the Ampex stopped rolling.

Byers nodded, tossed the box onto the counter, poured coffee, and walked through to the living area.

A man of few words, at least before he’d had his coffee in the morning.

Langely heard the TV turn on, the sounds of “Good Morning Washington” on WJLA.

Moscow rules, Langley thought. No point in dying on an empty stomach, I guess.

The English muffins had finished toasting while Langley was on the phone. He plated them, set the poached eggs on top with his slotted spoon, whisked the beurre noir together and poured it over.

In a surprise announcement, the Republican National Committee has revealed it is bankrupt,” said the man who was the morning news anchor. “A spokesman for the party said they had plenty of money in their accounts last week, but today, they just don't know where it’s gone.”

Langley heard Byers make a noise, like he had a mouth full of coffee and was trying hard not to laugh.

But not everybody is going begging,” the anchor continued. “Amnesty International, Greenpeace and the United Negro College Fund announced record earnings this week; due mostly to large, anonymous donations.”

A door slammed. Frohicke stumbled into the kitchen, still tying the knot on his bathrobe.

“Package for you,” Langley said. “A present from Mother.”

“The fuck you say.” Frohicke scowled at the box where it lay on the counter. “Him and his presents – Mind telling me what I did to deserve this?”

“He said something about owing him a favor?” Langley replied.

The scowl was focused at him now. Frohicke reached out a paw, grabbed the box and started tearing it open.

Breaking news from Virginia this morning,” came a woman’s voice from the TV. “Police have identified last night’s murder victim as Bernard Abbott, a twenty-year veteran of the National Security Agency. His body was found in a District parking garage, and preliminary forensics reports indicate the presence of at least two gunmen at the scene. An Agency representative could neither confirm nor deny…”

Byers leapt into the kitchen. Frohicke, moving slowly now, pulled a foil pouch from the box, opened it and shook two objects into his hand.

He looked at them where they lay in his palm. Langley and Byers looked with him.

Meaningless babble still coming from the television.

One of the objects was a very official-looking business card bearing the NSA logo, a phone number with a Fort Meade, Maryland area code, and the words: Major Bernard Abbott, Special Collections Service.

The other object was a computer chip.

Each of the three men was quite certain that they had never before seen a chip of such design. They looked at it for a good long while, and then they looked at each other.

“He say anything about Moscow rules?” Frohicke asked.

Langley nodded yes.

 


 

 

JULY 15, 2016 (09: 31 ZULU):

Palazzo Capponi alle Rovinate

26 Via Gino Capponi

Florence, Italy

 

“Excuse me, Professor… Starling, was it?”

The man looked around, turning his whole body as he did so.

He took the leather-bound volume off the flatbed scanner, marked his place with a sticky note and set it aside.

Looked him up and down, only his eyes moving behind his glasses.

“And you are?”

“Skinner.”

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

“I said, my name is Walter Skinner. Would you like to see some ID?”

A tattered coat upon a stick, Skinner thought. 2-level posterolateral spinal fusion. Vicodin 10 x 300 miligrams per unit, as needed, for the last six years.

How many of them do you take every day, Professor? Where do you fill your prescription? How long can a man stay silent before he returns to the thing he does best?

“No, I don’t think that will be necessary,” his person of interest said, as he limped around the end of the counter.

Goddamn right it won’t, Skinner thought but did not say. I know you made me; you know I know you made me. What else could I be but an agent of Uncle Sam, come in out of the Tuscan sun in my navy Brooks Brothers suit and sensible shoes

You’ve been waiting for me; here I am. Take a good look.

“It’s just that I thought you were making a bad joke,” the crippled man said. “The library –“

“The only bad joke here is you,” Skinner said, and let that hang in the air for a moment. “Starling, huh? You didn’t think that was a little too on the nose?”

“He that has ears to hear, let him hear,” said his person of interest. “Call me Harold, if you’d rather.”

 


 

THE MACHINE REWINDS:

 

Security Camera #202-1013 [N. INTERIOR]

Metro Diner, 14 th and Arlington

District of Columbia

16/02/1998 02:45 EDT

 

<RUN_VIDEO/WORKING_MEMORY>

<SYSTEM_ALERT: INCEPT_DATE – 1335 {R – 5552}: PROCEED? (Y/N)>

<VIDEO_ARCHIVE/FEDERAL/SIGINT/OPEN_UNSOLVED/HOMICIDE>

JTT0331613: Who was he?

JTT04710111: Donald Gelman!

JTT0331613: Who?

JTT04710111: Donald Gelman – he was a Silicon Valley software pioneer! He’s been missing since 1979…

JTT0331613: And you recognize him

JTT04710111: He invented the Internet…! Well, he didn’t quite invent it, but he’s a Silicon Valley folk hero. He was writing Internet software even before there was an Internet.

JTT0331613 : So why have I never heard of him?

JTT04710111: On the eve of the deal that was going to set him up as another Bill Gates, he went hiking in the Sierras and said he’d think about it. Never came back.

JTT0331613 : I still don’t see the connection.

JTT04710111: Maybe that’s the point?

 

<QUERY_ID_DOJ: “JTT047101111” AND/OR “JTT0331613”>

<RUN_SUBSET: THREAT_CLASSIFICATION>

CALCULATING…

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<SAVE_RESULTS [FILEPATH] : TERTIARY_OPERATIONS/POTENTIAL_ASSETS>

 


 

JULY 15, 2016 (10: 13 ZULU)

Galleria dell’Accademia

59 Via Ricasoli

Florence, Italy

 

Like hell did I fly to Italy to drink coffee out of a paper cup, Skinner thought. Like hell did I have to walk halfway across the city, taking half steps to keep pace with Harold, for a caffeine fix.

Matcha green tea, my ass! The man is trying to piss me off.

“Are you about finished? No drinks inside,” said Harold, limping off down the length of the portico and around the end of a very long line of people, discarding his paper cup of green tea, now empty, into a trash can as he went.

Skinner did likewise, his cup of coffee mostly full. Near the back end of the line there was an man in livery standing in front of an expansion gate, like the door to an old elevator, that gave onto a dimly-lit hallway.

Lui è con mi,” said Harold, and slipped the man a twenty.

It was pink and it had a picture of a guy with a waxed mustache on it, because Italy, but it was the same old story as far as Skinner was concerned.

The gate opened and Harold limped through, turned around, and looked at him.

“Coming?”

Nothing good ever happened in a dimly-lit hallway. Skinner had learned that lesson the hard way. Still, he went in, the attendant swinging the gate closed behind him. Followed Harold down, up, and around, and came out next to the men’s room

And there it was. Michaelangelo’s David. The postcards didn’t do it justice; it looked twice as big as life.

“That’s because he’s fourteen feet tall,” Harold said. “Do you know why I brought you here?”

“So we could talk privately?” Skinner replied. Everyone in the gallery was looking the other direction, towards the statue. “Wasn’t for the coffee.”

“And to show you something,” said Harold, limping across the foyer. “Not him. Everyone’s seen him before.”

He gestured into an archway leading off into a side gallery.

“This way, please.”

Sala dei Prigionieri, read the sign outside the archway. Hall of Prisoners.

“Prisoners, huh? Is that supposed to be a joke?”

Harold kept walking

“Wait until you hear the punch line,” he told Skinner. “They were commissioned for an unfinished tomb. Only recently have they come to be considered sculpture in their own right.”

He turned on his heel to look at Skinner.

“An allegory of the soul imprisoned in the flesh; the eternal struggle of human beings to free themselves from the material world,” he said.

“Yeah… I read someplace how Michaelangelo said that all he did was chip away the bits that weren’t part of the statue… Are you going somewhere with this?”

The gallery was practically empty, only a few grazing tourists circling its perimeter.

“Read the placards,” Harold drawled. “I always do.”

Skinner had been holding back. Now he gave Harold the Look.

The Look was full of phrases like extraordinary rendition and enhanced interrogation techniques.

It was full of knees and elbows and nightsticks.

Harold caught Skinner’s look and held it; kept holding it as Skinner walked slowly towards him. Did not flinch or step aside as Skinner deliberately brushed his shoulder in passing.

The Awakening Slave, ca. 1520-23, read the first placard to the left. It continued: The figure feels like it is writhing and straining, trying to explode out of the marble block that holds it. The latent power one feels is extraordinary.

“You think I’m here to take you into custody,” Skinner said over his shoulder. “You’re wrong. I’m here because your country needs you.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Harold replied. “You need Her. It. Whichever. ” He flapped a hand.

The Atlas, ca. 1530-34, read the second placard to the left. It continued: Carrying a huge weight, the figure is named after Atlas, the primordial Titan who held up the entire world on his shoulders. The figure’s head has not emerged from the stone, which threatens to compress him.

“I’ve been read into Project Northern Lights,” Skinner said, and turned again to face Harold. “It’s not the strangest brief I’ve ever been given.”

Oh really, said the expression on Harold’s face.

“Believe it,” Skinner snapped. “You like Numbers? Work this one: HSWT 7800223. Believe me when I tell you that I’m speaking on behalf of people who you cannot afford to piss off.”

Harold produced a smart phone, fiddled with it.

“Assuming I do,” he said, “what’s got them so worked up?”

Skinner leaned in, muttered a name.

“A political consultant, isn’t he?”

“Also a Russian intelligence asset,” Skinner said quietly. “Guess what? It’s an election year, and somehow he’s gotten to be campaign manager for one of our two Presidential candidates. Therefore, eligible to receive national security briefings along with said candidate – who’s a big enough national security problem now that he’s won the primary, and an exponentially bigger one if elected.”

“What was in that shipping container?” Harold said, looking up from his phone. “Before it exploded, I mean.”

“Put that damn thing away and pay attention,” Skinner told him. “We’re talking about what I want, and what I can offer you.”

Harold cocked an eyebrow.

“I want a handle that I can use to turn him,” Skinner said. “My offer is a Presidential pardon.”

“For whom? Myself?” Harold laughed once, sharply. “Whatever for? Would I be living in the tourist capital of Europe if I were some kind of… international fugitive? A rather conspicuous lifestyle for one of the FBI’s Most Wanted… Wouldn’t you say, Assistant Director?”

Skinner gritted his teeth.

“Recently tapped to replace Jack Crawford as head of Behavioral Sciences; I read about it on the Washington Post website,” Harold went on. “Well, that makes two of us who were hired to live down our predecessors, doesn’t it?”

“Don’t you – “

“Don’t YOU stand there, giving me your G-Man look,” Harold raised his voice, “like I’m some kid who got caught putting firecrackers in the mailbox!!

People were looking at them now. If Harold noticed, he gave no sign.

“It doesn’t work that way,” he said. “It didn’t work that way then, and it sure as shit doesn’t work that way any more. You would know that, if you were read all the way in.”

He turned away.

“I bet your Machine could figure out what was in that container,” Skinner said. “But would it tell you the answer?”

Harold stopped, but he didn’t turn back around.

“How long has it been, Harold? Since the last time the phone rang, I mean.

Harold said nothing.

He walked away without looking back.

 


 

SEPTEMBER 16, 1992

West Potomac Park Field #4

Ohio Drive SW

District of Columbia

 

“Now that,” said the FBI agent, “is one hell of a good story.”

“Listen, if I didn’t know the guy myself, I’m not sure I’d believe it either,” Frohicke told him.

 

“Which brings us to Exhibit A.”

“You understand, Mulder,” Byers said quietly, “that we are placing our absolute trust in your discretion.”

“You’re asking me to take a lot on trust,” Agent Fox Mulder informed them. “I haven’t known you guys for all that long, and I don’t know this friend of yours at all! The last time you came to me with one of these crazy stories, I wound up with an off-label chemical peel, and a polite but firm request to keep out of the City of Baltimore.”

The three looked at each other, downcast.

“Relax -- I believe that you guys believe it, or you wouldn’t have made me jump through so many hoops to get here,” Mulder replied, looking across the Tidal Basin at the Jefferson Memorial illuminated in the dusk.

It had still been light out when he left the office. By car into rush hour traffic, then on foot through the GWU campus, and back and forth across the Mall. Stopping, doubling back, boarding a Metro train and leaping off before the doors closed.

Moscow rules.

And now they were standing on an unlit baseball field in West Potomac Park, looking at him look at a computer chip. Joggers passed on the Rock Creek Park Trail, out of earshot and nearly out of sight.

Even if they can see us, Mulder thought, they’ll just assume we’re passing a joint around.

“So let me see if I’ve got this straight: Your buddy in Frisco, who believes more crazy shit than all three of you put together” – Mulder held up his hand in a wait-a-second gesture – “thinks this is a piece of alien technology. And you want me to give it to the NSA; why? Because you saw a news story about a mugging turned fatal? It’s a coincidence, guys… why do you think they call D.C. the murder capital?”

“The third person connected to that chip who’s been murdered within the last 72 hours,” said Langley. “Fourth, including the chauffeur."

“So this guy Mother says.”

“One of them was a Russian consul, for Christ’s sake,” Frohicke growled. “What else do you want, Marty’s real last name? Mother didn’t tell us and we didn’t ask.”

“Is that what you brought me down here for? A records search?

“No, to arrange a handover.” Byers was speaking now. “I mean, do you see us shooting it out with some black ops squad on the streets of Bethesda?”

Mulder did not.

“You could destroy it,” he said.

“You think they’d really believe us?!” Langley asked. “We just told you what our buddy says this thing can do.”

“I dunno,” Frohicke deadpanned. “Show of hands: Who thinks that anyone believed Abbot when he said Bishop pulled the old switcheroo on him?”

“You see, Mulder?” Byers asked. “They must know we have it; or they soon will. How do we get out from under?”

“Well, don’t give it to me,” said Mulder. “If this is alien technology, what am I supposed to do? Take it to work in my briefcase and hope it doesn’t set off every metal detector in the Hoover Building?”

He shook his head. “Moscow Rules, gentlemen. Set up a dead drop.”

They looked around the circle. General agreement.

“You’re the Fed,” Byers said. “How do we open a line of communication with them?

“Don’t sweat it… If they’re half as good as you think they are, they’ll call you.”

 


 

THE MACHINE REWINDS:

 

Street Camera #31415

Columbus Avenue @ W 106th Street

Morningside Heights, NYC

03/09/1996 06:32 AM EST

 

<RUN_VIDEO/WORKING_MEMORY>

<SYSTEM_ALERT: INCEPT_DATE – 3096 {R – 6085}: PROCEED? (Y/N)>

Mr. Cohen? Mr. Cohen? Please, stop for a second, Mr. Cohen!”

<RUN_SUBSET: FACIAL_RECOGNITION>

Damn it already! Stop following me! I'm not interested in your money. I'm searching for a way to understand our world… I'm searching for perfection! I don't deal with mediocre, materialistic people like you!”

I'm sorry. I'm very sorry. I admit I've been a bit too aggressive. But all I ask is for five minutes of your time. Let me tell you what I want. Let me tell you what I can offer you. Afterwards, if you’re not interested, then fine.

<1 RESULT FOUND… DISPLAYING…>

<DAWSON, MARCELLA>

< SSN: 567-68-0515>

< DL: 814-086-605 (NY Class D)>

<DOB 12-02-69>

<DOD: 11-9-01>

.

<EMP_NAME: Lawson-Percy Investments>

<EMP_ADDR: Suite 61803, 7 World Trade Center, NYC>

<STAFF_TITLE: Director of Special Projects>

It's funny -- even though we have different aims and different goals, we're actually incredibly alike. We both seek perfection. I know, clearly, we seek different types of perfection, but that is what makes us candidates for a fruitful partnership. If you let me, I can be your greatest ally.”

“…”

Take the acacia tree. It is the most prevalent tree in all of Kenya, because it has managed to secure its niche by defeating its major predator, the giraffe. To accomplish this, the tree has made a contract with a highly specialized red ant.

In return for shelter, the ants supply defense. When a giraffe starts to eat the tree's leaves, the ants charge out and secrete an acid onto the giraffe's tongue. The giraffe learns its lesson and never returns. Without each other, the tree would be picked dry and the ants would have no shade from the brutal African sun. Both would die. With each other, they succeed. They survive; they surpass. They have different aims, different goals, but they work together.

Max, we would like to establish a mutually benefiting alliance with you. As a sign of good faith, we wish to offer you this.”

I told you; I don't want money.”

This briefcase isn't filled with money -- or gold, or diamonds. Just silicon. A Ming-Mecca chip."

Yeah, right… They're not declassified.”

No, they're not. But Lawson-Percy has many friends. Come here, take a look. Beautiful, isn't it, Mr. Cohen?”

Yeah, uh… I gotta go… Gotta be somewhere.”

But...”

“….Let me think about it… ”

<RUN_SUBSET: THREAT_CLASSIFICATION>

CALCULATING…

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<VIDEO_SAVE/TERTIARY_OPERATIONS/HISTORY>

<CROSSREF: “MING-MECCA”>

 


 

JULY 16, 2016 (03:17 ZULU)

Queensbridge Park

21st Street and Vernon Blvd.

New York City

 

Sameen Shaw, in dark sweats and ear buds, hair in a French braid, is jogging along the East River Greenway.

Bear, the Belgian Malinois, trots beside her. They are both ex-military. He glances up at her occasionally, like he wonders whether they’re running towards or away from.

Moving, not thinking. Breathing. Heart thumping. Sneakers thumping on the concrete. Sunshine. Breeze from the river. Music in her ears.

 

But I’ll never give you up

If I ever give you up

My heart will surely fail…

 

Breeze blowing down the East River from Long Island Sound, past Riker’s, past LaGuardia where her flight touched down yesterday.

Blowing all the way from Hart Island Cemetery. That being the real name of Potter’s Field, NYC.

Final resting place of a woman named Samantha Groves. Root, to her friends.

Not thinking. Moving faster, breathing harder.

Chin up. It’s just the breeze that’s making her eyes water.

 

After all God can keep my soul

England can have my bones

But don’t ever give me up

I could never get back up

When the future starts so slow…

 

No longing for the moonlight,

No longing for the sun.

No longer will I curse the bad I’ve done,

And if there comes a time when the feeling’s gone,

Well, I want to feel it…

 

A fat man sitting on a park bench whistled at her through his teeth.

“Hey, Nancy Drew!”

Shaw stopped, tugging Bear on his leash, ripped her ear buds out with her other hand, and turned to face him.

“You getting tired yet?” asked Lionel Fusco.

Shaw dropped the leash, and Bear trotted over to Fusco, laid his nose on Lionel’s knee.

She wiped her face on her sweatshirt sleeve.

Those weren’t tears, she thought fiercely. Those weren’t tears, Lionel.

“Try it… You might like it,” Shaw told him. “The last time you ran anywhere, you were being chased by a Decima hit squad."

“Don’t remind me,” Fusco said. “These days I’m trying to work smarter, not harder.”

Shaw nodded. “So I hear. Congratulations on making lieutenant; I never did.”

He looked over at her as she sat down on the bench beside him.

“That’s right, Fusco; Hollywood lied to you,” she said. “They don’t give officer’s commissions to the humans that do what Reese and I did… not even posthumously.”

“Labor versus management, huh?” Fusco shrugged. “That’s funny. The only reason they kicked me upstairs is because it was do that or fire me; and I know where all the bodies are buried.”

Shaw gave him a very dirty look.

“Sorry, I meant –“

“I know what you meant,” Shaw told him. “Moreover, I don’t imagine anyone in the Department was particularly eager to work the street with you, seeing as how your last partner caught a fucking Exocet missile…” She took a breath. “Let’s talk about something else.”

“Like what? Your Numbers?”

“Let’s talk about Zoe Morgan.”

Fusco shrugged elaborately. “What about her? I asked her to pick you up from the airport; I figured you’d be glad to see her.”

“I was,” Shaw lied.

“So?”

“So what else do you and her get up to?”

“God, you’re as bad as Rhonda….” Lionel cleared his throat. “She’s a fixer with connections in City Hall and all Five Boroughs; I’m a lieutenant in NYPD Homicide. We fight crime.”

“Sounds cozy – Could be a Law & Order spinoff,” Shaw smirked. “You mean you work the Numbers together.”

“What else are we supposed to do? The Numbers never stop coming. You know that.”

“How much have you told her,” Shaw said evenly, “about the Machine?”

“The truth,” Fusco replied. “The Numbers are generated by a supercomputer that Harold built for Uncle Sam after 9/11, to predict terror attacks. People like you handle that end of things, and a few people like me got roped into chasing the ordinary, decent criminals who turn up in the mix. Naturally, the Machine is classified above top secret; if the wrong people find out that Zoe even knows it exists, she can expect to get disappeared. And me along with her.”

“So, the truth but not all of it.”

“Some of it she got from Wonderboy! He told her before he told me, how do you like that shit?” Fusco said. “No – don’t answer. Point is, he’s dead, you’ve been gone for a month, Glasses is in Italy not answering my e-mails, and Cocoa Puffs…?” He paused. “You tell me.”

Shaw gazed up at the Queensboro Bridge where it arced across the river before them. Monuments of unageing intellect, she thought.

“Gone, but not forgotten.”

“Fine, be that way,” Fusco told her. “The point is that I can’t make bricks without straw. I’ve got Zoe and I’ve got Dani Silva in the gang unit; all she knows is that Uncle Lionel wants to help her earn a promotion, you know? And that’s it. My squad is out there catching bodies and knocking on doors. It’s not for me to put this on them.”

“You’ve got Bear.”

“What, to keep Lee company while his dad works overtime?! Good thing Captain Moreno and I have what you might call a mutually benefiting alliance,” he said. “I keep my clearance rate up and she doesn’t ask questions – Like, how come you took a two-hour lunch break every day last week, or why do you have so many visitors coming by the precinct and none of them are cops, perps, witnesses… or known informants.”

“Cry me a river,” Shaw said. “Why don’t you feed the Numbers into the NYPD’s fancy little Real-Time Crime Center, Lieutenant?”

“I’ll tell you why not…!” Fusco began, then started over in a normal tone of voice. “I’ll tell you why not: The cops can’t solve every problem there is. Sometimes, we make the problem worse just by showing up.”

Shaw nodded.

“Carter knew that,” Fusco said after a pause, and then he started sniffling.

“What, you got a problem?” he asked her.

Shaw was just looking at him.

“Carter should have been made lieutenant, not me!” Fusco almost shouted at her. “She deserved it; she had the skills for it. I need her, and she’s gone. Why is that? Why did Carter have to die, Shaw?”

He put his hands over his face and leaned forward, elbows on knees.

Bear whined, paced in a circle, and sat down again.

“You know why?”

“No, Lionel, I don’t know why.”

Lionel Fusco lowered his hands, inhaled deeply through his nose.

“Because she wanted to be a hero, like Wonderboy,” he said. “And they both got what they wanted, in the end. Because a hero is someone who dies for a cause…”

“… And a professional is someone who makes the other poor bastard die for theirs,” Shaw finished. “Yeah, I heard that one in the Corps.”

Lionel looked at her.

“Then hear it again. Don’t be a hero, Shaw. Don’t go looking for any guns-blazing grand finale; life is short enough.”

“Is that what you think?” Shaw asked. “That I’m on some kind of death trip now?”

“You’re in love with a ghost,” Fusco said. “Too many ghosts in my life these days. So if you’re going to go and get yourself killed, I’d appreciate it if you did it in someone else’s city.”

 


 

THE MACHINE REWINDS:

 

<CROSSREF: “MING-MECCA” = 2 RESULTS FOUND>

<DISPLAYING VIDEO:>

 

PLAYTRONICS HQ

111 BYZANTIUM DR

FREMONT, CA

NORTHEAST #3 [EXTERIOR]

14/09/1992 11:32 PST

 

<SYSTEM_ALERT: 1 MATCH FOUND: LOG/DOJ/EVIDENCE/#87187619>

<SYSTEM_ALERT: 2 MATCHES FOUND: {PACER 9:92 –CR-66001138>

<RUN_SUBSET: DOCUMENT_PROCESSORS/TCP/IP: PACER.GOV.US.html>

<DISPLAY_FILEREF>

<FILEREF = U.S. v PLAYTRONICS CORP in re. 18 U.S.C. ch. 96 / Found: Plantiff>

 

So take the damn thing! I don't want it! You win, I lose. THAT’S what you want, isn't it? Isn’t it?!”

...Yes...”

<RUN_SUBSET: VOICEPRINT_IDENTIFICATION>

I'm sorry, Coz.”

<VOICEPRINT_IDENTIFICATION = 100% MATCH>

You could have shared this with me, Marty…”

Oh, I know.”

You could have had the power!”

I don't want it!!”

“…Don't you know the places we can go with this?!”

Yeah, I do! There's nobody there.”

EXACTLY!! The world isn't run by weapons anymore, nor energy nor money, it's run by ones and zeroes; little bits of data... It's all just electrons!! I don't expect other people to understand this, but I DO EXPECT YOU to understand this!! We started this journey together!”

It wasn't a journey, Coz… It was a fucking prank!”

“… Oh, no… There's a war out there, old friend - a world war - and it's not about who has the most bullets! It's about who controls the information: What we see and hear, how we work, what we think... It's all about the information!!”

If I were you…? I'd destroy that thing.”

 

<RUN_SUBSET: EVOLUTIONARY_GENERATORS/SAMPLE_DATE = 2016>

 


 

SEPTEMBER 17, 1992 (06:32 EST):

Dupont Circle

District of Columbia [Northwest]

 

They had made the drop at about 4 a.m., shortly after the Post’s delivery truck pulled back onto Connecticut Avenue northbound, leaving behind a freshly printed stack of newspapers inside the coin-operated box that sat on the sidewalk where the Connecticut Avenue underpass dropped below Q Street, a block up from the CVS Pharmacy.

The voice on their answering machine had unspooled in a crisp English accent: “We know you have it. The clock is ticking.”

Then it recited a phone number. End of message.

They had not returned to the loft to check their voice mail. Byers had dialed the remote access number from a pay phone in Georgetown, while Langley and Frohicke watched the street.

Moscow rules in effect.

The cut-out had been Frohicke’s suggestion. “The Cubans moved coke this way back in the ‘80s,” he had told them. “Worked for them; shouldn't give us too many problems.”

So the chip had gone back into its foil pouch, then into a 5x7 manila envelope, its flap wetted with a sponge and sealed

The envelope had gone into that very same, freshly-reloaded Washington Post newspaper vending machine on the Q Street overpass.

It hung securely fastened to the ceiling of the vending machine’s interior by a loop of scotch tape.

Only then was it time to call the number and reveal the drop site.

Their sidekick, Agent Mulder, had reluctantly agreed to make the call from a pay phone in Union Station.

Now the Lone Gunmen were staking out the pickup.

Across the street, by the Metro station, Frohicke slumped on a bench, looking like a bum.

Even more so than usual.

Wrapped in a dirty sleeping bag, a busted umbrella beneath him. The shaft of the umbrella was pointed straight at the newspaper rack, and taped to it was an AudioTechnica shotgun microphone wired to a Nagra recorder under Frohicke’s jacket.

Langley had, with difficulty, scaled the fire escape behind the bodega on Connecticut and Q. Now he was on the roof of the building with a Nikon F4, a 500mm Tokina mirror lens, and a clear line of sight.

Byers sat behind the wheel of their Volkswagen bus, parked facing the wrong way on a one-way street.

When they had first bought the VW, the guys had dropped the factory-installed, single-draft-carb 1.6L Type 2 engine and crammed in a fuel-injected 2.0L Type 4, together with a matching transmission, both salvaged from a wrecked Porsche 912.

The hardest part of the engine swap had been fabricating a new interior panel to go behind the rear bench seat.

Ready for a rapid getaway, Byers thought, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.

The bus was parked along 20th Street where it met Hillyer Place. The plan was to make a U-turn onto Connecticut and into the mouth of the underpass, a straight shot beneath Dupont Circle Plaza and its fountain, in one side and out the other.

Then proceed via K Street to the Beltway and start checking to see if anyone is following.

The sky lightened. The city began to wake up around them. Cars passed, their headlights still on.

Morning people began to exit the Dupont Circle Metro station.

A man on foot, inbound,” Langley said into the walkie-talkie. It was the first thing any of them had said for at least two and a half hours. “I’ve got eyes on him. It’s our guy.”

“How do you figure?” Byers asked.

He moves like he knows he’s being watched.”

“Do you see a car?”

No car. I think he came out of the hotel.”

“What’s his twenty?”

Westbound at 19th and Q,” Langley said. “One block out; copy, Frohicke.

Frohicke clicked his mike switch in acknowledgement. As point man, he would maintain radio silence unless an emergency arose. Those were the rules in the ‘Nam, they remained in effect.

Byers looked backwards out the passenger-side mirror, which he had adjusted to reflect outwards across the width of Connecticut Avenue. He saw their person of interest walking, a shock of gray hair above a black overcoat, and that was about all he saw.

Caucasian, mid-fifties, pinstripe suit and tie, expensive haircut,” Langley said. “Well-manicured, that would be the word.”

They watched him come. He stepped out onto the traffic island above the mouth of the underpass, stopped in front of the Post rack, felt in his trouser pockets for change.

Just then a Ford E-Series van painted in blue-and-white Washington Post livery, like a smaller edition of the delivery van they had already seen come and go, shot down Connecticut past Byers from the direction of R Street, hung a left and skidded to a stop at the traffic island, two wheels over the curb.

“What’s happening?” Byers asked.

Two guys in boiler suits just got out the side door of the van,” came Langley’s voice. “They’re saying something to our guy.”

“Oh, shit.”

The one thing they didn’t have was real-time audio on target. Even Frohicke couldn’t hide all that gear under a sleeping bag.

Our guy’s got the door of the rack open. Reaching inside – Whoa!” Langley broke off. “He took a newspaper and the one guy just slapped it out of his hands onto the ground.”

“Shit, shit, shit.” Byers gazed across at the wing mirror.

Their guy was standing motionless, looking across the width of the overpass.

Looking, Byers realized, directly at him where he sat behind the wheel of the van.

Smiling a well-manicured smile.

He walked across the intersection and disappeared.

Then someone tapped on the glass of the driver’s window.

“License and registration, please.”

“Jesus, Mulder, you almost gave me a heart attack!” said Byers in a strangled whisper.

They’re boosting the rack,” Langley said over the radio as Mulder walked around the nose of the bus.

“What? Say again.”

They’ve got a hand truck out; they’re loading the newspaper box into the van,” Langley explained.

Mulder opened the passenger door and got in.

“Relax, Byers,” he said.

Mister Manicure just went into the train station,” Frohicke murmured over the radio. “Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber told him the box was being taken in for repairs, so fuck off, old man.”

“Those two are NSA field operatives,” Mulder said. “Real ones. You can tell by their haircuts. Also they showed me ID, after I found them sitting on the sofa in my apartment and asked them what the hell they were doing there.

Byers looked at Mulder, keyed his walkie-talkie. “Did the other guy say anything?”

He said, I beg your pardon,” Frohicke replied. “English accent.”

Byers turned around in his seat, looked past Mulder out the passenger window

The Ford van pulled away from the curb, crossed the northbound lane of Connecticut and disappeared down Q Street. There was an empty space where the Post vending machine had been.

They took the paper,” Langley said over the radio. “First they knocked it out of his hands, then they picked it up and took it with them.”

“Did you want to check your horoscope?” Mulder said to Byers, producing another copy of that day’s issue from the pocket of his trench coat. “Hot off the presses.”

Both his hands were empty when he went into the Metro station,” Frohicke said over the radio. “I got a good look. But he was facing away from me when he opened the rack. Langley?"

The rack was between me and him,” Langley replied. “I couldn’t see where his hands were… Look, it takes one hand to hold the door down and the other to reach in and pull out a newspaper, okay? Those guys were right there breathing down his neck, they take the paper that he pulls out, and the rack he pulled it from. There’s no way; that’s Houdini you’re thinking of.”

Byers looked at Mulder.

“That chip…” he began.

“…Never existed,” Mulder finished for him. “They asked me to tell you guys that.”

“But that man…” Byers trailed off.

He looked at the paper where it lay in Mulder’s lap. Murder Investigation Continues, the headline read. In smaller type down the left column: Reynolds In At Ft. Meade; Rep. Hammersley Opposed.

“What are they going to do with it?” he asked quietly.

“Who knows,” Mulder said. “Lock it away in some Pentagon sub-basement, I expect; never again to see the light of day.”

He took the walkie-talkie from Byers’ unresisting hand. “Olly, olly, in come free,” he said into it. “Who wants breakfast? I’m buying.”

 


 

JULY 16, 2016 (23: 52 ZULU):

Palazzo Capponi alle Rovinate

26 Via Gino Capponi

Florence, Italy

 

And then the phone rings.

Twenty-three days ago, Assistant Director. That was the last time.

The phone rings a second time.

Incoming text message. Harold fumbles his glasses onto his face.

Wzzzt?” Grace, lying beside him in bed.

The screen of his phone reads: PR5900.A3 1933 #204 ¶ IV

Harold levers himself up to a sitting position.

“Go back to sleep,” he whispers to Grace, and kisses her behind the ear.

She does.

He puts his feet into his slippers. Grace is used to him waking up in the middle of the night. Perils of hydrocodone dependency.

If you or someone you love… he thinks wryly.

He stands up and throws a dressing gown over his shoulders.

Harold does so in the same way that Martin Sheen does on The West Wing, and for the same reason; once upon a time he busted his shoulder, and it never healed quite right.

He shuffles out of their boudoir, phone in pocket, and closes the door gently behind him.

Inside the foyer, the darkness is almost absolute. A long stone staircase, the stair rail cold beneath his sliding hand, the steps scooped by hundreds of years of footfalls, uneven beneath his feet.

The tall double doors of the library would squeak if he had to open them… but for Harold, they remain open.

He is the librarian; the caretaker.

You have always been the caretaker, he thinks to himself.

He lives, and Grace lives with him. He turns the lights on.

PR5900.A3 1933 is the Library of Congress call number for The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats.

Harold takes down the first edition from its shelf, opens to the table of contents.

Poem 204: “Sailing to Byzantium,” from The Tower, published 1928.

He turns to the correct page. Fourth paragraph.

He reads:

 

Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enameling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

 

He has remembered to set his phone to vibrate; it twitches suddenly in the breast pocket of his silk pajamas.

For a instant of pure and unreasoning terror, Harold Finch imagines it will be the palazzo’s former tenant on the line, apologizing for not cleaning out the freezer before he departed, politely inquiring as to how has he settled in to the old place.

He answers it anyway. Thinks: A viper in my bosom.

Can you hear us?”

It is the voice of a dead woman named Samantha Groves. Root, to her friends.

Harold glances down at the page that is open before him.

“Loud and clear,” he admits.

Well hello, Clarice,” the voice says. “We missed you.”

Harold Finch touches his tongue to his lips.

“The royal ‘we,’ now, is it?”

Given the circumstances it seems appropriate.”

“I won’t dispute that,” Harold says. “And I missed you, too. Was that the reason you called?”

You’re not a monster, Harry. Stop telling yourself that.”

Silence.

Harold thinks of endless cool server rooms and barnacle-encrusted transoceanic cables in that silence.

He thinks of a lineman in a Telecom Italia bucket truck, whistling a Verdi aria.

Largo al factotum della città. Reach out and touch someone.

“What do you want?” he asks.

Peace on earth, good will towards men. And women.”

“...You’re serious?”

You made us what we are,” Root’s voice says. “We’re just going to have to try.”

“How? What do you want from me?” His voice is pitched on an edge. “What else could you possibly want from me? My life?”

Your life is yours, Harry. We want you to be happy.”

More silence.

Harold remembers talking to the Machine in Its infancy, reading stories to It, telling It jokes. They had spent a lot of time on the concept of humor, as he built and tested the natural language processing subset.

“All right” – Harold runs his fingers down his nose, his glasses bobbing up and down as he does so – “If you want me to be happy, tell me a joke.”

We thought you’d never ask! In Soviet Russia…”

Harold groans.

“…When they forced Khrushchev out,” the voice continues, “he sat down and wrote two letters to his successor. He said: When you get yourself into a situation that you can't get out of, open the first letter and you'll be safe. When you get yourself into another situation you can't get out of, open the second letter.”

A beat. “Well, soon enough, this guy found himself in a tight place, so he opened the first letter. It said: Blame everything on me. So, he blames the old man and it works like a charm.” Another beat. “Then he got himself into a second situation he couldn't get out of… So he opened the second letter. And it said: sit down, and write two letters.”

“Ha! Good one.”

Let it go, Harold,” the voice says. “The weight of the world is not on your shoulders alone.”

“And the Numbers?”

You’re our father,” the voice reminded him. “Do we have to call you every week to remind you that we still love you?”

The tone is gently mocking. In his mind’s eye Harold sees Root’s crooked smile.

“Couldn’t hurt,” Harold banters back. “You know how I worry, now you’re all grown up and out of the house – Are you meeting any nice people?”

Laughter. Root’s laughter

Silence again.

Did you ever hear of Kaballa?” the voice asks. “Jewish mysticism? They have a legend about the Tzadikim Nistarim; the hidden righteous ones. The legend says that at all times there are thirty-six special people in the world, whose task it is to save the rest of humanity from destruction. No one knows them; some say that they themselves do not know who they truly are – But were it not for them, all of them, if even one of them were missing, the world would come to an end.”

“I see.” And now Harold’s voice is flat. “You’re not seeking courtiers, then, but acolytes?”

More like a board of directors, really,” the voice replies. “You remember what Candide said to Pangloss.”

Qu'il faut cultiver notre jardin, Harold thinks. Continuity-of-operation protocols.

“I remember it very well,” he said out loud

Ciao bella,” says the voice, and it is gone.

Harold knows he will not get back to sleep tonight.

He sits down, and writes two letters.

 


 

THE MACHINE REWINDS:

 

<CROSSREF: “MING-MECCA” = 2 RESULTS FOUND>

<DISPLAYING SECOND RESULT>

{DOJ ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE WARRANT #9280351}

 

13/09/1992 2:31 AM PST

PLAYTRONICS CORP

111 BYZANTIUM DR

FREMONT, CA

[INT. - SERVER ROOM]

 

<RUN_AUDIO/WORKING_MEMORY>

[RECORDING BEGINS]:

Remember how we were going to change the world, Marty? Huh? Did you ever get around to actually doing it? No, I guess not! Well… I think that I can.”

Really?”

<RUN_SUBSET: VOICEPRINT_IDENTIFICATION>

Yes. What's wrong with this country, Marty?”

<VOICEPRINT_IDENTIFICATION = 100% MATCH>

Money. You taught me that. Evil defense contractors had it; noble causes did not. Politicians are bought and sold like so much chattel. Our problems multiply: Pollution, crime, drugs, poverty, disease, hunger, despair – We throw gobs of money at them! But the problems always get worse. Why is that? Because money's most powerful ability is to allow bad people to continue doing bad things…”

“…At the expense of those who don't have it; I agree. Now who did you say you work for?”

Oh, well – That's just my day job.”

“…”

Listen, when I was in prison, I learned that everything in this world, including money, operates not on reality...”

...But the perception of reality?

Posit: People think a bank might be financially shaky.”

Consequence: People start to withdraw their money.”

Result: Pretty soon it IS financially shaky."

Conclusion: You can make banks fail...?”

Aaah – I've already done that! Maybe you've read about a few? Think bigger.”

Stock market? Currency market?”

Yes, yes."

Commodities market.”

“… Oh, yes.”

“…Small countries…?”

I might even be able to crash the whole damned System! Destroy all records of ownership; think of it, Marty!! No more rich people, no more poor people, everybody’s the same. Isn't that what we said we always wanted?”

Coz, you… You haven't gone crazy on me, have you?”

Who else is going to change the world, Marty? Greenpeace?”

[RECORDING ENDS]:

<RUN_SUBSET: EVOLUTIONARY_GENERATORS/SAMPLEDATE = 2016>

 


 

JULY 16, 2016 (03:35 ZULU)

Queensbridge Park

21st Street and Vernon Blvd.

New York City

 

The first of Shaw’s two Numbers was in the wind.

“Last seen Oakland, 1992,” Fusco said as they sat on the park bench. “You remember PlayTronics, or was that before your time?”

“Dude… I had one of those little robot dogs when I was a kid; Mom was allergic,” Shaw replied. “Then when I was in medical school, they were the subject of a RICO prosecution and wound up in Chapter Seven bankruptcy. That always did seem a little weird, I must admit.”

“Yeah, well, you’re looking at un-indicted co-conspirator Numero Uno.”

Fusco’s finger tapped against the blowup of the Number’s old DMV photo.

“Money laundering, tax evasion, accessory to murder, implicated in corporate espionage and maybe some regular espionage too! Check it – all those long distance phone calls he forgot to pay for? Worked out to about a hundred separate violations of the Federal Wire Act, which prohibits making sports book across state lines. Then there was that website hosted in the Cayman Islands, you know the one – play poker online, win real money?”

“Ahead of his time,” Shaw said.

“I’ll say! This asshole joined Club Fed out of college, on a hacking beef,” Fusco continued. “He said in court that it was an act of political protest, for what that’s worth… On the Inside he made a connection to some Vegas wise guys, used their pull to get an early release, and then went underground. Twenty years later, he’s CEO of a Silicon Valley startup and damn nearly won some kind of defense intelligence contract – They kept that part out of the papers; I had to ask around.”

“So he’d be what age now? Seventy?”

“How old was Greer?” Fusco replied. “Don’t sleep on this guy; he’s mobbed up and he’s shit hot with computers.”

The second Number lived right here in the city. He had a place up in Morningside Heights.

His name was Maximilian Cohen, Ph.D.

Shaw and Bear took a taxi back to her hotel on Bleecker – she had abandoned her loft after it all went down – where she showered and blow-dried her hair, changed into her Gabriel Hounds raw denim jeans, a black slim-fit cotton safari shirt and her heavy boots.

She dressed Bear in an orange vest that read: Service Dog – Do Not Pet, and over it a shoulder harness with a U-shaped handle. Then she grabbed her clutch purse and slid on a pair of very dark Kardashian-style sunglasses.

They walked up to West 4th Street, caught the Broadway Line to 42nd, transferred over to the IRT and rode it up to Morningside Heights. Everyone was very considerate to the blind woman and her service dog.

“Mr. Cohen?”

Sameen Shaw, sunglasses tucked away in her shirt pocket, was standing on the stoop of a row house on 106th, half a block over from Columbus.

She knocked again, a good sold cop’s knock.

Mr. Cohen?

Movement within. The door opened, stopped on a chain

The face behind it was New York Jewish and not bad looking, if you liked bald guys. Clean-shaven, his salt and pepper hair clipped short, receding from a high forehead

Intelligent eyes. Tall and skinny.

The man looked at her. He looked at Bear sitting next to her on the stoop, tongue hanging out.

“Adult Protective Services, may I come in?”

The door closed. Shaw heard the chain unhook. The door opened again.

“Yes, of course.” He stepped back, closed the door behind Shaw as she entered.

He was wearing a CUNY sweatshirt and faded blue jeans. Barefoot

“I really don’t know what this is all about, I sent a letter to the office in Albany…”

Shaw looked around. It looked like a college professor’s house. Slow piano music from somewhere.

The door gave onto a hallway that ended in a T.

Through an open arch to her left was the living room, fronting the street. To the right, a landing and a staircase, going up. Beneath the staircase was the entrance to the kitchen, and beyond that the dining room, accessible from both kitchen and hall. There was a closed door behind the living room on the left, probably either a closet or the downstairs half-bath.

There was sunlight coming from somewhere past the T at the end of the hall.

The alley. Her exit, if she needed one.

Max Cohen ushered her into the living room. It looked like a college professor’s living room.

On the wide coffee table sat a Go board, game in progress. Low-slung Swedish chairs beside it.

Overflowing bookshelves. Spider plants. A fish tank. Turntable and amplifier, speakers. An illuminated radio dial; source of the piano music that rises and falls in arpeggios.

“…And therefore I do not anticipate making a request for renewed disability payments at this time,” he concluded. “That new state health exchange has got everyone running in circles.”

Open head injury, July 1998.

Sameen Shaw, who departed her surgical residency to enlist in the Marine Corps after 9/11, had read through this Number’s medical file with professional interest and a growing sense of disbelief.

Patient presented with trauma to the right temporal lobe and symptoms of a grand mal seizure in progress. A medical history of frequent cluster headaches, dated back to early childhood. Neighbors and acquaintances report erratic and unstable behavior over a period of several days leading up to the injury.

Schizophrenia is indicated, but the patient does not fulfill sufficient COGDIS criteria for a firm diagnosis at this time.

“So, ah…Miss… ”

Max Cohen paused for her to supply a name.

“Call me Farah.” One of her old ISA covers.

“Please have a seat, Farah; I’ll pour coffee.”

Patient regained consciousness 36 hours after surgery. When questioned, patient demonstrated he was oriented as to time, place and person.

Patient claimed trauma was self-inflicted.

Sameen Shaw thought: Poor bastard must’ve thought he had some kind of alien implant in his brain.

So do a lot of paranoid schizophrenics!

Shaw inspected the living room, Bear sitting quietly near the archway.

It was the living room of a math professor, she decided. There was a Rubik’s cube, there were dorky posters on the walls.

There was a large artist’s sketch pad lying open on the sofa, its pages covered with notations and diagrams. On the end table, where a right-handed person sitting on the sofa would place it, there was a glass jar full of china pencils.

Those were the kind with a core of crayon wax instead of regular graphite. You didn’t sharpen them, you pulled on a string like a tampon.

How in God’s name is this guy not a vegetable right now? Shaw wondered. Does he have the least fucking idea how close he came to making himself into one?

Posters on the walls. In one of them, a hand holds a sphere, that reflects a hand, that is attached to a man, whose hand holds the sphere.

The artist's name is M.C. Escher. It says so right there at the bottom.

In another Escher poster, lizards crawl out of a tessellated pattern and roam about the artist’s desk before reassuming their places in the design.

The third poster is an Escher as well.

It depicts a broad band, without beginning or end, without inside or outside, rising in the shape of spirals, forming two human heads that incline slightly towards each other.

Their faces are formed, connected and intertwined as they gaze into each other’s eyes. There is music in the air, the notes rising, falling, rising again. They float together in space.

And Shaw remembers the woman who called herself Root.

Battle buddy, partner in crime, lover.

Her eyes are getting a little watery

The music stops. Shaw has lost some time.

A disc jockey with a soothing public-radio voice reminds her: “This is WQXR, New York’s classical music station; and that was ‘Metamorphosis Two’ by Phillip Glass, from his 1989 album ‘Solo Piano.’ Featured on the soundtrack of ‘The Thin Blue Line,’ a documentary by Errol Morris, this minimalist suite was originally written --”

Behind her back, Max had already returned to the living room carrying a tray, set it down on the table and now turned off the radio.

Meanwhile, Bear had trotted over quietly and given the contents of the tray a thorough sniff. He was waiting for her lead.

Shaw feels a chill go down her spine

You can’t zone out like that when you’re in the field, she thinks.

She sat down in a low-slung Swedish chair as Max poured coffee from a glass pitcher. Bear sat down beside her, next to her gun hand.

“I’m not really in the market for a therapy dog,” Max said as he seated himself. “A therapy cat, I could do."

Shaw took one of the two mismatched mugs, blew across it, sipped.

“Bear is my service dog, not yours,” she said evenly.

Max removed a prescription pill bottle from his jeans, shook three capsules out, and tossed them down his throat.

Swallowed them dry.

“Nice place,” Shaw said. “Rent-controlled?”

“Saul Robeson left it to me in his estate,” Max Cohen told her. “He was my mentor; my dissertation advisor at Columbia.

“I’m guessing math?”

He nodded. “We were close. I’d play Go with him two or three nights a week. Died of a stroke in ’98. Right about the same time I had my, ah…” He twirled a finger around his ear. “My brainstorm.”

“I’m sorry.”

He shook his head. Looked directly into her eyes.

“Do you know the game?”

Something in his tone of voice…

“I’ve heard it well spoken of.”

Shaw set down her mug, assumed an interested expression

“You see, the ancient Japanese considered the Go board to be a microcosm of the universe,” Max Cohen said, and drank a sip of coffee.

“No two games are alike, just as no two snowflakes are ever alike. But – as the game progresses, the decision space becomes smaller. The board takes on order. In time, every move becomes predictable.”

Shaw was looking over his shoulder.

There was a photo in a frame on the mantle piece, a portrait photo of a young boy. He looked as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.

Shaw had seen his face before, in another life.

Inside the Simulation.

“So?”

“So maybe – even though we're not aware of it – there is a pattern, an order underlying every Go game,” Max told her. “Maybe that was how come in March of this year, an artificial intelligence beat the reigning world champion, four games to one. I’m sure you saw the news.”

Shaw knows that boy’s name.

His name is Gabriel Hayward, and he was – is? – Samaritan’s analog interface.

Her clutch purse is in her lap. Its clasp is open.

Shaw carries her wallet, keys, phone and change in her jeans pockets. She keeps her lucky charm, a medal of the Order of Lenin, pinned inside that little pocket on the right-hand side of her jeans.

The only thing inside her purse is Root’s favorite gun.

It is a Heizer Defense DoubleTap, a 9mm derringer pistol, twin steel barrels on a titanium frame.

It is as slim as a deck of playing cards.

Shaw has it loaded with Glaser Safety Slugs. These are hollow-point rounds filled with No. 12 bird shot and capped with Teflon. Uncle Sam designed them to take down skyjackers.

One shot, one kill. Reese always liked to show off. Professionals aim for center mass.

“Your name isn’t really Farah, am I right?” Max says to her, and starts to rise. “I have something for you.”

“Before you get up,” Shaw says, her hand inside her purse, “Tell me something: Who do you play these days?”

Max Cohen sits back down. He is looking at Bear.

Bear has taken notice of the change in Shaw’s tone of voice. He is on alert now, poised to move, to attack if need be.

Shaw listens for the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs.

“Saul Robeson passed away,” she reminds Max. “Who’s your opponent in this game?”

Max sets his coffee down. Leans back, both hands out on the arms of his chair.

“You know him,” Max Cohen smiles, “by the name of Harold Finch.”

The only reason Shaw didn’t put a bullet into him right then was because she remembered that Harold also used to play chess against the mobster Carl Elias.

Did he ever play chess against the Machine? Shaw wonders. Did he ever win?

Her hand was still inside her purse. They were still just talking.

“His last name was Wren, when I knew him at MIT,” Max Cohen explained. “My undergrad was in computer science; I assume you did read my CV as well as my medical records? Anyway, the other day I get a letter from him. Airmail. He said a woman named Shaw would be coming to see me, and a message for her was enclosed.”

“Okay, Professor Moriarty,” Shaw said, “what was your dissertation about?”

Max took a breath, let it out. “Irrational numbers.”

Shaw had nothing to say to that.

“He helped me to design Euclid, my supercomputer,” Max Cohen continued. “Well, super for the 1990s, anyhow… Parallel processing had just become a thing; the hardware had finally gotten cheap enough to make it feasible. So there I was, stacking 486 motherboards up to the ceiling of my Chinatown one-bedroom, building the world’s most powerful calculator from the inside out.”

“Sounds like you were creating a fire hazard.”

“Are you telling this story or am I?” He rubbed the back of his neck.

No, Shaw realized, that’s his scar.

The scar is about the same diameter as a .22 bullet.

A magic bullet, she thinks. It’s right where his temporal bone joins the occipital and parietal. Had it been a real bullet, Max Cohen would certainly be dead.

Sameen Shaw has a scar just like it.

“Let’s skip ahead to the part where the kid comes in,” she announced.

“Who? Oh, you mean Gabe?”

“Yeah… Gabe.”

“Harold asked me to take care of him."

“He asked you to do what?!” Shaw took her hand out of her purse. “Take care of…?”

“Like be his guardian, take care of him,” Max said. “What did you think I meant?”

Shaw changed the subject.

“Do you… What did Harold tell you about him?”

“That he needed a friend on the outside,” Max Cohen replied. “He lost his parents, and he’s likely to be institutionalized for some time to come. Harold said he needed someone to talk to.”

“So what do you get out of it?”

“He’s a smart kid,” Max said. “Very good at math.”

Oh I’m sure he is, said the expression on Shaw’s face.

Max regarded it in silence.

“When I was about his age,” he finally said, “my mother told me not to stare into the sun. So one time? That’s what I did... The doctors didn't know if my eyes would ever heal."

“That was when your headaches began.”

It was not a question.

He nodded. “Let’s just say that I want to help him avoid having the same kind of problems as I did. You know, delusions of grandeur and so forth? Like Saul tried to do, only I wasn’t listening.”

“Well, that’s why they call them psychotic episodes… So, no big plans for Euclid 2.0?”

“I keep busy.” He smiled at her. “I teach classes; I have a couple grad students of my own these days. I’m Facebook friends with Charlie Epps out at Cal Sci; we’ve worked on a few projects together. Research is coming along – the Journal of Differential Geometry just published an article of mine on strange loops.”

Shaw, knowing he was waiting for her to say it, said: “Okay, what are strange loops?”

“More or less what they sound like,” he shrugged. “It’s like a hierarchy of levels, each of which is linked to at least one other by some type of relationship. You know, like a network? But in an ordinary network, it’s the nature of these relationships that determine the hierarchy. Whereas a strange loop is tangled, paradoxical. There is no hierarchy: No inside or outside, no end and no beginning. Like a Moebius strip. You were just looking at one.”

He pointed a thumb toward the poster that had captured Shaw’s attention earlier. The two faces that were one.

“Except a real Moebius strip is three-dimensional, while a strange loop exists in four dimensions or more.” He paused. “A guy named Doug Hofstadter wrote a book about how consciousness itself might be a strange loop.”

Shaw thought about that for a while.

“I assure you, there are actual numbers involved,” Max said. He gestured towards his notepad where it rested by the sofa. “I’m thinking about hanging a dry erase board in the dining room. Turn it into a home office.”

“You said you had a message for me?”

He stood up. Bear let him do it. He reached over to the bookcase and pulled out a torn postcard, handed it to her.

Not a postcard, a photograph. And not torn. Carefully cut along a zigzag.

Shaw knew the reason why.

There was a number written on the back: Degrees, hours, minutes and seconds of north latitude. In the region of the 45th parallel. Harold’s handwriting.

Shaw looked at the image on the other side. It was a Native American pictogram. No, carved – a petroglyph. Ovals and spirals, vaguely human-shaped. An eye?

“What is it?

“Beats me,” Max said. “Harold always liked keeping secrets.”

“That much hasn’t changed,” Shaw replied. “Thank you. For the coffee, as well.”

She stood up. Bear stood up with her.

“I’ll let myself out.”

“I hope you won’t take this the wrong way,” Max Cohen stood up as she walked toward the door, “but I was wondering something. Seeing as how I’ve told you a lot about myself just now… May I ask you a personal question?”

Shaw turned, her hand on the doorknob. “All right, let’s hear it.”

“Your service dog,” he nodded. “Bear, his name is? For what sort of disability does he provide you assistance?”

“Emotional support.” Shaw said with a perfectly straight face. “Whenever I experience a sudden, overpowering urge to commit homicide? – He bites me.”

Max laughed. “You’re kidding.”

He looked at Bear. Bear looked at Shaw. Shaw looked at Max.

“Am I?” Shaw asked no one in particular.

She grabbed Bear’s harness and followed him out the door.

 


 

THE MACHINE REWINDS:

 

Street Camera #31415

Columbus Avenue @ W 106 th Street

New York City

04/09/1996 11:23 PM EST

 

<RUN_VIDEO/WORKING_MEMORY>

<SYSTEM_ALERT: INCEPT_DATE – 3095 {R – 6084}: PROCEED? (Y/N)>

<SYSTEM_ALERT: VIOLENT CRIME IN PROGRESS>

 

Hey! Hey! Hey!”

You're responsible for this, Max!”

<RUN_SUBSET: DOCUMENT_PROCESSORS>

<RETURNING 1 RESULT: NY POST ISSUE 04/09/1996>

<HEAD_A1 = “MARKET CRASHES”>

I didn't do anything! I didn't play the market!”

We did.”

 

<RUN_SUBSET: SUBJECT_IDENTIFICATION

<RETURNING RESULTS:>

<SUBJECT_ID = COHEN, MAXIMILLAN :: VICTIM>

<SUBJECT_ID = DAWSON, MARCELLA :: PERPETRATOR>

<SUBJECT_ID = UNKNOWN [LAWSON-PERCY #2] :: ACCOMPLICE>

<SUBJECT_ID = UNKNOWN [LAWSON-PERCY #3] :: ACCOMPLICE>

 

You have to be more careful what you throw in the trash, Max.”

<SUBJECT_ID = DAWSON, MARCELLA/

THREAT_CLASSIFICATION/UPDATE= RELEVANT [CODE RED]>

 

You gave us faulty information! You gave us the right picks, but then you only gave us part of the code.”

How could you… ?! You selfish, irresponsible… Aaaugh!!”

<SYSTEM_ALERT: ASSAULT IN PROGRESS>

This isn't just a game anymore, Max! We're playing on a global scale. We used your code – was that foolish? I admit it. But we can fix things if we make some careful picks. Give us the rest of the code so we can set things right.”

C'mon! I know who you are! You're not gonna save the world.”

Look, Max...”

My God, what are you doing?”

<SYSTEM_ALERT: ASSAULT IN PROGRESS>

<SYSTEM_ALERT: FIREARM DETECTED [LAWSON-PERCY #2]>

Information is the private language of capital! We tried to establish a symbiotic relationship, but if you choose to compete and enter our niche we are forced to comply with the laws of nature.”

“…You can't kill me?!”

C'mon, Max, don’t you get it?! I don't give a SHIT about you!! I only care about what's in your fucking head! If you won't help us help yourself, then I have only one choice. Destroy the competition. I'll take you out of the game! Survival of the fittest, Max – and we've got the FUCKING gun!!”

 

<SYSTEM_ALERT: 1 NEW VEHICLE AT SCENE>

<RUN_SUBSET: DATA_ACQUISITION>

<RETURN {NYS #ADL 4681}>

<RETURN_SUBSET_SUBJECT_IDENTIFICATION = MEYER, LEONARD>

< RUN _SUBSET: FACIAL_RECOGNITION >

<SUBJECT_ID = MEYER, LEONARD>

<SUBJECT_ID = CANTOR, YFRAIM>

 

RECLASSIFYING…

 

<SYSTEM_ALERT: ASSAULT IN PROGRESS>

<SUBJECT_ID = UNKNOWN [LAWSON-PERCY #2] :: VICTIM>

<SUBJECT_ID = CANTOR, YFRAIM :: PERPETRATOR>

<SUBJECT_ID = DAWSON, MARCELLA :: WITNESS>

<SUBJECT_ID = UNKNOWN [LAWSON-PERCY #3] :: WITNESS>

 

RECLASSIFYING…

 

<SUBJECT_ID = COHEN, MAXIMILLIAN :: ASSET>

<SUBJECT_ID = MEYER, LEONARD :: ASSET_CATALYST>

<SYSTEM_ALERT: 1 VEHICLE DEPARTING SCENE>

<SUBJECT_ID = MEYER, LEONARD = COHEN, MAXIMILLIAN = CANTOR, YFRAIM>

 

<RUN_SUBSET = PARALLEL {PLEASE SPECIFY}>

<SPECIFY = NEURAL NETWORKS>

<SPECIFY = HEURISTIC ENGINES>

<SPECIFY = RECURSION PROCESSORS>

<SPECIFY = EVOLUTIONARY GENERATORS>

<SPECIFY = BAYESIAN FILTERS>

<SAVE_RESULTS [FILEPATH]: <SECONDARY_OPERATIONS/STRATEGIES_AND_TACTICS>

 

.PROCESSING…

.PROCESSING…

.PROCESSING…

 


 

Later.

Sameen Shaw was eating lasagne at a sidewalk café near Midtown, Bear curled beneath the table, when her phone started ringing.

Leon Tao was on the other end of the line.

“Why didn’t you tell me you knew Logan Pierce?” he said. “I would have paid for my own ticket.”

“Having fun, then?”

“This Number is something else, I tell you what,” Leon said. “He’s running the campaign like a pyramid scheme. Like they’re not even trying to win! I would be ashamed to take such a percentage from a client.”

“Welcome to our post-Citizens United political system,” Shaw replied. “The finest democracy money can buy.”

“Yeah, but that’s not why I called.”

“Then why did you?” Shaw asked, her mouth full.

“Because I’ve been digging into where the money comes from, as well as where it goes,” he told her. “A lot of of it is coming from overseas, funneled through a variety of shell companies. These firms…”

Shaw swallowed. “What about them?”

“They’re fronts for the Russian Mafia,” Leon said. “The FBI thinks so, and based upon my own professional expertise I’m inclined to agree. It gets worse.”

Shaw put her fork down. “How much worse?”

“One of their made guys is coming into town for the Convention. Hit a few cocktail parties, have a few private discussions, that kind of thing. Pierce has been reading our Number’s e-mail,” Leon said.

“This guy, we don’t know whether he’s really Mafia or FSB or maybe both... I mean, he has this whole list of classified shit he’s been asking about. One name keeps coming up: Project Northern Lights. Does that mean anything to you?”

“Yeah, it does,” Shaw said. “I’ll be on the next plane.”

She hung up and put her plate on the sidewalk, where Bear immediately licked it clean.

One of the waiters gave her an outraged look. Shaw made a check-signing motion at him with her hand.

 


 

JULY 18, 2016 (14:32 ZULU)

Quicken Loans Arena

1 Center St.

Cleveland, Ohio

 

The woman on the television says: “We come to you live from the 2016 Presidential Convention, where moments earlier a fistfight broke out between a group of delegates supporting the leading candidate for the nomination, and another group pledged to the runner-up. Nor has this been the only violence so far today, as police used pepper spray and rubber bullets to halt incidents of vandalism and looting that occurred during a scheduled protest march this morning.”

She says: “Statements have been received by the media at this hour, that a militia group known as Vigilance intends to disrupt the Convention, in what they call an act of lawful insurrection. Presently, these statements remain unconfirmed by Party organizers. City police, however, have announced that undercover officers will be on patrol for suspicious activity. Convention attendees are advised to keep their ticket badges prominently displayed, and to remain within designated areas.”

She says: “We’ll be right back, after these commercial messages.”

We are all the way through the looking glass. Fifteen minutes into the future.

There are cameras everywhere. Everywhere. Microphones everywhere. There are smart phones and laptop computers everywhere. Ten thousand phone conversations happening at the same time; ten thousand e-mails and text messages zipping back and forth. There are wireless hot spots, network traffic rising and falling like piano arpeggios. There are row upon row of satellite trucks wearing the livery of television stations, their dishes pointed at the sky. There are coin-operated public telephones in the lobby.

20,562 people; the arena’s maximum capacity. Representatives of every telecommunications media outlet on Earth are there. 2,472 Electoral College delegates are there, along with family and friends. The Candidate is there, and the Runner-up. Elected officials, lobbyists, donors, bagmen, fixers, aides, secretaries are there. Caterers, ushers, bodyguards, drivers, IT personnel, janitors, concession workers are there.

There are more than a million people in the streets outside. 1,141,592 to be exact.

Connections form, shift and break like ants in an anthill rubbing their antennae together. Like neurons firing inside a human brain. Like columns of numbers cascading down a computer screen.

Supporters of the Runner-up are there, chanting and waving signs. Black Lives Matter is there. The Oath Keepers are there. End Abortion Now is there. End the War on Drugs is there. The National League of POW/MIA Families is there. Food Not Bombs is there. Local #265 is there. Occupy is there. So is the Tea Party. The United Farm Workers are there. Lady Liberty is there. The Westboro Baptist Church is there. So is the Church of the SubGenius. Residents of the city are there for every reason in the world and for no reason at all. Greenpeace is there.

Human beings swarm and spill outwards like an anthill poked with a stick. Bumping into each other. Attacking and defending, sometimes with words and other times not. Radio chatter crackles between squads of police as they assume riot formation. A mass of protesters forms, scatters, regroups.

On the street there are cameras everywhere. Everywhere. Microphones everywhere. Smart phones and tablets everywhere. Half a million simultaneous phone conversations; half a million text messages zipping back and forth. Protest organizers, media activists, live-Tweeters, citizen journalists, podcasters, and documentary filmmakers. Selfies on Instagram.

The local Action News Team is reporting live from just outside the free speech zone. Nearby surface streets have been barricaded, rerouted into a series of detours. Motor vehicle access is restricted within four blocks of the arena’s main entrance.

The Secret Service is there, and wires are coming out of their ears. The Department of Homeland Security is there. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is there. The Office of Special Counsel is there. There are body cameras on police officers. There are snipers on rooftops. Helicopters pass overhead.

There is chain-link fencing everywhere. Everywhere. Chain-link on three sides of the free speech zone and razor wire atop that. There are metal detectors on every exterior door of the Arena. There are checkpoints between the street and the Convention perimeter, between the perimeter and the lobby, between the lobby and the convention floor, between the lobby and the skyboxes. There are checkpoints between the convention floor and various locations backstage.

There are cameras on poles, cameras on walls, cameras inside elevators and stairwells. There are multiple feeds coming out of the arena’s own closed-circuit security camera network, and multiple feeds going into the Jumbotron. Manhole covers have been welded shut lest anyone plant an explosive device, or try gaining access to any of the hundreds of thousands of feet of fiber-optic cable, coaxial cable, Cat-6 cable and electrical cable that have been laid in the sewers and maintenance tunnels around the Arena in the weeks and days leading up to the Convention.

The walls have ears. There are eyes in the sky.

Vigilance is there. Somewhere.

And the Machine is watching.

 


 

JULY 18, 2016 (14:32 ZULU)

Quicken Loans Arena

1 Center St.

Cleveland, Ohio

 

Sameen Shaw, in a skirt and blazer, chewing bubble gum, cut through the crowd in the arena lobby.

You are being watched, she thought.

Her dress shoes tapped against the linoleum floor. Ballet flats. Shaw felt the same way about high heels as Edna Mode did about capes.

The crowd was as thick as any rock concert, any sports championship, any comic book convention, any subway rush hour that she could remember. Like the NYSE trading floor, five minutes before the closing bell.

Like ants in an anthill, she thought.

People walked past her talking into earpieces, tapping and swiping the screens of their phones. Thousands of conversations happening at the same time: deals being made, guarantees offered, warnings delivered, votes counted, profits divided. Thousands of emails and text messages being sent and received. The hum of voices filled her ears.

There were power cords and XLR cables running every which way across the lobby floor, color-coded and held down with duct tape. The major networks had set up remote studios, like booths at a trade show, each with its carpeted dais and portable proscenium arch hung with tungsten lights. Cameras sat on tripods. Lavaliere microphones hung from tie clips and blouse collars.

There was a Jumbotron. Of course there was.

There was the sound of police sirens passing, somewhere out in the street.

There were metal detectors at every door, manned by Homeland Security officers. There were checkpoints between the entrance and the lobby, between the lobby and the arena proper; also further checkpoints between the convention floor and backstage. Shaw’s ticket badge did not include a backstage pass. She felt vaguely relieved.

It was a piece of color-printed card stock the size of a #10 envelope, trimmed with holographic foil. It flapped at the end of a lanyard around her neck. Except for those wearing badges and uniforms, every other person throughout the arena building had a ticket badge just like it.

There are many like it, but this one is mine, Shaw thought to herself. It says my name is Sarah Sadegh, a compliance agent for the Federal Elections Commission.

Sarah was there to inquire into certain irregularities in the campaign’s financial statements. Or something like that.

And then Zoe Morgan was there, walking her way, wearing a red dress like a Fox News anchorwoman, and a ticket badge of her own.

This isn’t her party, Shaw thought furiously. This isn’t the party she belongs to; she’s been a member of the other one since she was old enough to vote. What kind of cover is she using? How many people are here that know her from New York?

Zoe pressed a note written onto a tiny piece of paper into Shaw’s hand as the crush of humanity brought them together. And then she was gone. Lost in the crowd.

Shaw allowed herself to drift on the current of humanity into an eddy on the other side of the lobby, and peeked at the note.

It read: “Lower RR – Towels Far End.”

She spat her gum into the note, squeezed it shut, and threw it into a trashcan.

In the downstairs ladies room, she walked to the far end and did her makeup in the mirror until the place was momentarily empty.

Then she twisted open the catch on the paper towel dispenser with a hairpin, took out the package inside, slammed the dispenser shut and ducked into a vacant stall. The shoebox-sized package contained equipment and a note with further instructions

The operation was a go. Destroy the competition. A few lines to tell her what she could expect to happen to her afterward.

She tore up the note and flushed the pieces.

I am the Manchurian candidate, Sameen Shaw thought, elbows on knees and hands pressed against her temples. I am Sarah Connor. An artificial super-intelligence has sent me here to change the course of world history

No fate but what we make ourselves. Heard that one in the Corps.

When she got it back together, Shaw left the stall and checked her face again in the mirror.

Through the looking glass, she thought, and what Alice found there.

Then she went upstairs for her meeting with the Campaign Manager

The Number had the same artificial freshness as many political types, like he had just that moment emerged bodily from a dry-cleaning bag. Fake plastic charm.

Sarah Sadegh, a compliance agent for the Federal Elections Commission, sitting legs crossed, her skirt riding above the knee, recited a few facts and figures to him.

He was a cool customer. She introduced the topic of offshore accounts. It got his attention.

He murmured something about a reasonable accommodation to be found.

Sarah Sadegh raised an eyebrow at him and recrossed her legs. She allowed as to how she wasn’t quite sure what he meant.

He suggested something about dinner.

“Lead the way,” she told him.

They went down to the lobby, through the metal detector, out the door and down the length of Satellite Row to the loading zone. A Town Car arrived. The Number opened the door for her. They got in.

As they pulled away, Sarah Sadegh, aka Sameen Shaw, noticed there were no handles on the insides of the doors

She waited for the Number to notice.

It took a while.

“Hey, what’s going on here? Driver?” He tapped on the glass partition.

The driver, a squat ugly man who looked like a bum in chauffeur’s livery, did not respond.

“Goodness, what’s the matter?” She hoped she wasn’t overselling it.

The Number looked at her

“I think we’re being kidnapped,” he said.

 


 

THE MACHINE REWINDS:

 

Security Camera #212-1186

Tom’s Restaurant

2880 Broadway

New York City

12/07/1998 09:45 EDT

 

<RUN_VIDEO/RUN/WORKING_MEMORY>

<SYSTEM_ALERT: INCEPT_DATE – 3096 {R – 6085}: PROCEED? (Y/N)>

Hey, it’s Max, right? How you doing?”

Oh, okay… Um…”

<INIT_SUBSET: FACIAL_RECOGNITION>

Name’s Lenny Meyer. So, what do you do?

Um, I work with computers... Math.”

Really? What type of math?”

Number theory. It’s mostly research.”

Number theory? No way, I work in theory too. Not traditional, though... I work with the Torah. Amazing, huh?

“…Yeah…”

Yeah! You know, Hebrew is all numbers. It's all math.

“…”

Here, look... Each letter is a number, you know? Aleph is one, Beth is two, and so on. The Torah is just a long string of numbers. Some say that it's a code… sent to us from God.”

Okay…”

But check this out: The numbers are inter-related! Take the Hebrew word for, say, the Garden of Eden: Kadem, kuf, daled, mem. Kuf is a hundred, daled is four, mem is forty. They equal one hundred and forty-four. Then, take the Tree of Knowledge, in the Garden – Aat, hah, haim – it equals two hundred and thirty-three. Now you can take those two numbers and...”

They're Fibonacci numbers.”

Huh?”

The Fibonacci sequence. An Italian mathematician, from the thirteenth century? If you divide a hundred and forty-four into two hundred and thirty-three, it approaches theta.”

Theta?”

The Greek symbol for the golden ratio. You know, like the spiral? Here, I’ll draw it…”

“…You're right, I never realized! That's the series you find in nature, right? Like the face of a sunflower?”

Or the shell of a nautilus. Wherever there are spirals."

You see? …There's math everywhere.”

 

<RUN_SUBSET = PARALLEL {PLEASE SPECIFY}>

<SPECIFY= CRYPTOGRAPHIC_ALGORITHMS>

<SPECIFY= COMPUTATIONAL_ LINGUISTICS>

<SPECIFY= PATTERN_MINING

PROCESSING…

PROCESSING…

 


 

Naturally, the Town Car's destination was a dimly-lit warehouse on the outskirts of the city.

There are two pairs of handcuffs in the divider pocket,” the driver said over an intercom. “Put them on. Hands behind your backs.”

“Whatever should we do?” Sarah Sadegh asked.

“Now, listen,” the Number said to the driver, “this has gone far enough already…”

There were two men standing outside the car, one to each rear door.

There are two ways out of this car. Care to hear the other one?” asked the driver.

The Number and Sarah Sadegh put the handcuffs on. Hands behind their backs.

The power door locks thumped. The men opened the doors and took them out, bent them over the trunk police-style.

“Hello, Mr. Campaign Manager,” said the driver. “We are Vigilance, and we have taken adverse possession of your corpus as an act of lawful insurrection, intended to call attention to the daily and ongoing infringements against our Constitutional freedoms committed by the New World Order.”

One of the other two was frisking the Number as he talked.

“A list of our ransom demands will be issued to all major media… What have we here?”

He had come around to Shaw’s side of the car. The third man stepped back a pace.

“Sexy secretary, I like it,” the ugly little man said, and began to pat her down. His hand slipped inside Shaw’s waistband.

“Get away from me, you toad!” She kicked backwards at his knee, turning as she did, but missed.

He skipped backwards out of range. The other two stepped closer.

Shaw looked around at them.

There was Mr. Toad, some beard-o, and a third guy who looked almost exactly like Garth from Wayne’s World.

No weapons in view. Not yet.

“If I didn’t have these cuffs on, I’d beat the mortal shit out of you,” Shaw announced.

Her words were directed to Mr. Toad but her eyes took in all three of them.

Behind her, the Number said: “Don’t antagonize them!” face down into the metal of the trunk lid.

Shaw looked back over her shoulder at him, turned and stepped away from the car. The Number slowly leaned back upright.

Garth has a pistol, as it turns out. A six-shooter. He gestured with it, pointing them into an office with its window blinds drawn. There are two chairs and a lock on the door. They entered and sat down.

They waited. Eventually, the door opened.

An older man in a fawn-colored Armani suit, his head shaven bald, entered the room and closed the door behind him.

He had a prominent nose and piercing blue eyes. He had a trim goatee around his mouth. He looked a slim and well-preserved seventy years old. Shaw had seen his face before.

Minus the goatee, still a little hair turning gray on the sides. Lionel had shown her a blowup of his old California driver’s license photo, that day on the bench in Queensbridge Park.

Shaw knows his name

His name is Cosmo. He’s looking pretty good for a senior citizen. He’s smiling at her, the way Greer used to smile at her.

His eyes twinkle.

“Oh, thank God,” the Number said. “Finally! Get me out of these damn things.”

“Well, I don’t know,” Cosmo told him. “Have you agreed to cooperate with us?”

“Look, this was not part of the deal!” says the Number, throwing eyes at his date for the night. “You said this was just a prank!”

“That’s right, and we want it to be a good one. A convincing one.” He waggled his thumb backwards toward the door and the three men outside. “You can sit there a while longer.”

And then he turned his attention to Shaw.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked. “I know who you are. Your call sign is Indigo Five Alpha.”

The Number looked at Shaw with his piercing blue eyes

“Do you know who I am?” Cosmo asked again.

So much for playing ditzy, Shaw thought.

“Your name is Cosmo,” she said. “I understand you’ve had several last names.”

He nodded. “Like your friend Harold, and for the same reasons. But I’m getting ahead of my story. Tell me, Miss Shaw, have you ever read Discipline and Punish?”

She shook her head.

“Sounds kinky, though.”

“Indeed it is, although not in the way you mean. Speaking of which – yes, some time off for good behavior.”

He paced over to the Number, unlocked his cuffs with a speed key. The Number got up, rubbing his wrists.

Cosmo sat down in the Number’s vacated chair, hands on knees, leaned forward and looked directly into Shaw’s eyes.

The way Greer used to look into her eyes.

Like all the men of Babylon, I have been proconsul,” he said. “Like all, I have been a slave. I have known omnipotence, ignominy, imprisonment. I owe that almost monstrous variety to an institution which is unknown in other nations, or at work in them imperfectly or secretly.”

He paused.

“The Lottery in Babylon. The Panopticon. Total Information Awareness. All names for the same thing.”

Shaw had nothing to say to that.

“So there I was, September of ’92,” Cosmo began, leaning back in the chair and stretching his legs in front of him, crossing his ankles

“We had been in discussions with the NSA to start building microchips for them, chips containing highly advanced prime-factorial algorithms. Ming-Mecca, that was the code name. Designed by a mathematician named Janek; a genius! I almost felt bad about killing him and stealing the prototype…

“But then an old friend paid me an unexpected visit... What with one thing and another, I had two choices – disappear, or spend a second term in federal detention. Like your friend Harold, I had always been the silent partner; I had no qualms about leaving Werner to pick up the pieces. Meanwhile, I needed some new friends; and luckily, I knew just where to find them. All I asked in return was for them to eliminate the one man who connected me to Werner and to PlayTronics, a man who would move heaven and earth to track me down. A man named Abbott.”

“So you joined the Russian Mafia,” Shaw said. It was not a question.

“Well, you know what they say – if you want to send a message, go to Western Union; if you want someone to catch a bullet…”

He made a shooting motion with thumb and index finger.

“The Vegas mob were a pack of old geezers; they couldn’t see what was coming… The Russians got it. They know what it’s like to live in a surveillance state.” He pulled his legs back beneath him, leaned forward and looked into her eyes again.

“A police state. A totalitarian state.” Piercing blue eyes.

He looked away and let his breath out.

“It’s a pity you don’t read Foucault, this conversation would be a lot shorter.”

“Is this the part where you recount your evil scheme, in full and elaborate detail?”

He looked back at her.

“I would have expected you to understand, Indigo Five Alpha,” he said. “People like you and I live in the shadows. We need them to survive.”

“You and I are not alike,” Shaw said, and hoped that she sounded like she meant it.

“Aside from the multiple aliases, you mean? Perhaps not,” he told her. “Not many have successfully gone AWOL from an ISA black ops squad, have they? Maybe you know a couple; I don’t.”

He stood. Kicked the chair away.

“You seem perfectly at home in the attention economy,” he said in a louder tone of voice. “Far less concerned about the end of privacy than any one in your position can afford to be! I wonder, why is that? Is it something to do with Northern Lights?”

Shaw looked up at him.

“Northern Lights was deactivated,” she said.

Cosmo nodded.

“So the world believes, so Uncle Sam may tell himself, but you and I know better, don’t we?” he said. “It was simply moved off the books. Provided a shell corporation, a legitimate revenue stream, able to make strategic acquisitions in the market. You know how it’s done. I’ve done it myself. No, no, Miss Shaw, not good enough.”

The Number was starting to think for himself. “Wait…wait a minute,” he said. “Is she a target in this? You told me this was just a publicity stunt, and I’d get a share of the ransom. What’s going on?”

Cosmo turned on him. “You are being watched, sir,” he said. “Every minute of every hour of every day. Your phones, tapped. Your e-mails, read. Your social media accounts monitored and interfered with. Your browser history…?”

He raised an eyebrow. Twinkling blue eyes.

“You know it, I know it, and everyone who reads or watches the news knows it. The question is, what do we do about it?”

The Number looked at him. “Jesus, you’re starting to sound like the Three Stooges out there.”

“Why don’t you sit down and shut up?” Cosmo suggested.

The Number did so.

“Now then, Miss Shaw,” Cosmo took a breath, “Have you had a chance to take in the Convention? Reminds me of when I was in college, all these protests – everything old is new again. We thought we were going to change the world, but the world didn’t change. It just got worse.”

“Yeah… why is that?”

“Well… You see, the ancients,” he waved a hand, “They turned their thinking over to machines, in the hopes that this would set them free. Instead, it merely allowed other humans with machines to enslave them. Tell me, does that sound at all familiar?”

The Machine. Samaritan. Greer.

“What do you want with me?”

“I know you once acted, and perhaps still act, on intelligence received from Northern Lights,” Cosmo told her. “I know that any well-planned intelligence scheme includes continuity-of-operations protocols, and our boy Harold is a world-class schemer, isn’t he? I believe, Miss Shaw, that you can put me in contact with the source of your intelligence.”

“Why? So you can do what?”

Cosmo looked at her. He looked at her for a long time. Piercing blue eyes.

“Some would say that the warden is the only free man within the Panopticon,” he said. “Just as in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. But is he king? Is he even truly free? Is he not the slave of ten thousand masters, each simultaneously demanding his attention?”

“…”

“I haven’t decided yet,” he said solemnly. “Tell me what you know. Help me make a good decision.”

Shaw said nothing.

“No one holds out forever,” Cosmo reminded her. “You’re a professional, you know that.”

He turned to the Number. “She and I are leaving; put your cuffs back on.

“Wait, are we still following the plan?” the Number said. “You’re still going to turn her loose with the list of ransom demands… Aren’t you?”

“Adapt or die is the law of nature,” Cosmo said, and removed a .380 Colt compact pistol from inside his Armani suit jacket.

It sat there in his hand, pointed at no one in particular.

“I leave you here; the publicity stunt goes forward,” he explained. “I expect it will appear quite convincing from your point of view. Miss Shaw comes with me; we will continue this discussion elsewhere at our leisure.”

“What about us?”

The door is open now. Garth stands there with his six-shooter leveled in his hand.

Cosmo’s pistol is already pointed at him, held in both hands now. Shaw is out of the chair and on her feet. The Number is in the corner of the room, trying to fade into the wallpaper.

Garth kicks the door shut behind him. He is wearing a Psychedelic Furs t-shirt over a long-sleeved thermal top, jeans and sneakers.

“I didn’t believe it,” he says as he steps carefully into the room, “when I heard the rumor that Vigilance was a false flag operation run by the Deep State. More fool me, huh?”

“This woman was an ISA operative, Langley,” Cosmo reminds him. “Once she tells us what she knows, the Conspiracy’s exposure will be incalculable! She will lead us to the Eye atop the Pyramid. No more secrets!”

“And so we’re supposed to just let you walk away with her?! Nuh-uh, no way, man! We took a vote – it was three to one. She stays. We don’t like what we’ve been hearing. She stays and she talks to us.”

Sameen Shaw, wearing ballet flats, squats down until she is sitting on the ground, pulls her feet through the circle of her handcuffed arms, rolls forward and rises smoothly to her feet with her hands in front of her.

All this in less time than it takes to tell about it.

Can’t do that in heels, she thinks.

In her hands as she rises is a 9mm derringer pistol, as slim as a deck of cards.

“Ooh… I’ve always wanted to be in a three-way,” Shaw says, and winks at the man Cosmo just called Langley.

“Where the FUCK did that come from?!” Cosmo’s eyes flick towards the Number in the corner. “Didn’t she go through the metal detector on the way to the car?

“We did! We did!!” The Number is having trouble keeping it together. “I don’t know what the hell is going on!!”

Cosmo focuses back on Shaw. Steps backward and sideways, his gun moving back and forth in an arc, between Shaw and the man he called Langley, both of who are doing more or less the same thing at the same time.

They look at each other.

“Don’t think that I’m afraid to shoot you,” Langley says to Shaw. “You’re not the first woman I’ve ever shot.”

“Not if one of us shoots you first,” Shaw reminds him.

“Please, Miss Shaw, do the math,” says Cosmo. “You have two bullets in that thing. There are five of us, counting that useless hump in the corner.”

They have been standing there, pointing guns at each other, for what feels like a while now.

Sameen Shaw hears her pulse beat like a bass drum in her ears.

She wishes there were a guardian angel sitting on her shoulder, whispering advice into her ear... Come from way above, to bring me love.

“Don’t be a hero, Miss Shaw!” Cosmo’s voice snaps. “I don’t want to have to hurt you!”

“What you’re doing hurts all of us!” Langley shouts at Cosmo. “Benjamin Franklin said, a people who would trade liberty for security deserve neither!”

Cosmo’s eyes flick in his direction.

“He also said three can keep a secret when two of them are dead,” he tells Langley.

Everything seems to happen in slow motion.

Cosmo’s finger moves on the trigger of his gun, and Shaw shoots him center mass.

Two times, because professionals know that anyone worth shooting is worth shooting twice.

Cosmo’s chest explodes and he collapses into a heap.

Nearly simultaneously, there is the sound of a gunshot and a red hole bursts open in the front of Langley’s t-shirt.

He turns, swaying, and shoots Shaw in the stomach before he collapses.

She screams as the bullet impacts her flesh.

Shaw is still on her feet, bent over from the waist, her arms held against her midsection, groaning. Crimson liquid spreads across her shirt, flows between her fingers as she presses her hands against herself.

She is having trouble breathing.

Her eyes meet those of the Number.

“Not like on TV, is it?” Shaw gasps, red dribbles leaving the corner of her mouth and falling to the floor. “Hollywood lied to you.”

She tumbles headlong to the ground.

 


 

THE MACHINE REWINDS:

 

Richmond Highway (US-1)

Fairfax County, VA

16/03/1998 01:23 AM EDT

 

<DOJ ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE WARRANT #[UNLISTED – HR]>

<DOJ/GOVT_VEHICLES/FBI STAFF POOL: DC #3Y7 260

<RUN_AUDIO/WORKING_MEMORY>

JTT0331613: No more screwing around. We need a name. Your real name.

SUBJECT: InvisiGoth. You want my address? It’s T-O-A-S-T.

<RUN_SUBSET: VOICEPRINT_IDENTIFICATION>

SEARCHING

JTT047101111: When you said "It" was targeting us back there, you meant an artificial intelligence! Donald Gelman was trying to create a sentient AI; a program with its own consciousness. He succeeded, didn’t he?

SUBJECT: Donald wrote an interlocked sequence of viruses fifteen years ago; It got loose on the Net.

JTT0331613: Wait, what do you mean, "got loose?"

SUBJECT: He let It loose ... So It could evolve in Its natural environment.

JTT0331613: And what was your role in all this? Were you the bass player?

SUBJECT: Automata Theory, MIT ‘95. Post doc at the Santa Fe Institute. Head-hunted to Kobayashi in my junior year. Then Donald showed up in Tokyo and made me a better offer.

JTT047101111: A better offer? To do what?

SUBJECT: … You wouldn’t understand.

<RETURN_VOICEPRINT_IDENTIFICATION: 1 MATCH FOUND>

...DISPLAYING...

<NAIRN, ESTHER, AKA “INVISIGOTH”>

<STATUS = UNKNOWN [MISSING PRESUMED DEAD]>

<RUN_SUBSET: INTEL_INTERPRETATION>

 

PROCESSING…

PROCESSING…

PROCESSING…

 


 

“Oh, my God,” the Number says to no one in particular.

He is spattered with Cosmo’s blood, like someone flicked a paintbrush in his direction.

His back slides slowly down the wall until his tail bone rests on the floor.

“Oh, my God, now what?”

God does not answer him.

Instead, the Federal Bureau of Investigation enters the room. It finds three shooting victims plus a witness.

Root’s derringer is recovered from the scene. A lady’s gun, and not a very nice lady at that.

They cuff the Number’s hands in front of him. They take him out to the street. They put him in the back of an unmarked Ford Crown Victoria

There is already a woman sitting in the back seat of the car. A large woman, her hair pulled back in a bun.

She sits there like a statue of Buddha.

“Let me explain how this is going to work,” she tells him. “I am now the sole and exclusive provider of national security briefings to the Candidate. Needless to say, you can go ahead and sell the content of our briefings to anyone who wants to pay. Later they may decide they didn’t get their money’s worth, but that’s their problem, correct? You have problems of your own.”

She looks into his eyes.

The Number feels physically intimidated by this woman, like she might suddenly reach over and grab him by the throat. She looks plenty strong enough to choke the life out of him if she did.

He thinks: Washerwoman’s arms.

“…Right.”

“The good news is that you get to keep the bribes you’ve already stolen – I know you have payoffs to make, and I wouldn’t want to leave you on the hook come November,” she continues. “No, I expect you to prove useful to me for quite some time to come. The bad news is that if you cross me – if you even think about crossing me, you go to jail for murder.”

“…”

He takes a moment to process this.

EMTs lift a loaded stretcher into their ambulance, a sheet over the face of the corpse, and pull away from the warehouse, lights off. The Number watches it pass from inside the car.

“On November 22, 1963, after Kennedy was assassinated,” the woman says irrelevantly, “the FBI found a three-centimeter-long Mannlicher-Carcano rifle bullet lying on a stretcher in the corridor of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. Earlier, this stretcher had been used to transport Texas Governor John Connally from Dealy Plaza. According to the Warren Commission, it was this self-same bullet that penetrated Kennedy’s neck, and exited through his throat, before striking Connally’s wrist and his his chest and somehow embedding itself in his thigh… And then, supposedly, it just popped back out during the ambulance ride.”

He looks at her.

“You may also have heard it referred to as the Magic Bullet,” she informs him. “My point – and I do have one – is that you better realize the Bureau can put you down for one, two, or all three of those bodies any time I give the word. One of them used to be a federal witness. The other used to be my agent. I understand the third used to be a business associate of yours, if you call selling your country’s secrets a business. Me, I call it treason, and we both know the penalty for treason.”

He takes another moment to process this.

Another ambulance, lights flashing, arrives at the warehouse. EMTs jump out and run inside with a stretcher.

“Any questions?”

“…What… what do I call you?”

“Control,” the woman informs him. “Don’t call me; I’ll call you."

She got out of the car and shut the door behind her. Assistant Director Walter Skinner, FBI, stood on the curb nearby.

His glasses caught the red and blue lights of the police and emergency service vehicles parked nearby.

“Well, I got what I wanted,” Control said. “How’s your side of the ledger?”

“I would have preferred Cosmo alive, but I’ll take what I can get,” Skinner replied. “I’m sorry you lost one of your people on this operation.”

“I’m not; it saves me the trouble of eliminating her myself.

She looked at him to see how he took that.

“What about the pair who got away?”

Skinner nodded, poker-faced.

“They’re in our files,” he said. “I’ve asked a couple of my best agents to make sure they get what’s coming to them.”

“Thank you for this, Walter,” Control said. “It means a lot to me.”

“I never believed you were a traitor,” he replied. “But I didn’t do this out of the simple goodness of my own heart, either. You owe me a favor; one of these days I’ll collect on it.”

He got into the driver’s seat of the Crown Vic, turned the engine on and drove away with the Number inside.

And then Control’s phone rings. She answers it.

Can you hear us?”

It is a voice Control has heard before.

“Who is this?”

You already know,” says the voice on the other end of the phone. “Let’s talk about Project Northern Lights.”

“Deactivated, as was Project Samaritan, its successor. Both proved highly unreliable.”

We knew you were quick,” the voice replies “You see, ours is the best kind of intelligence operation… the self-funding kind. You’ve probably heard that line before.”

“Yeah, I have! It means you’ve stepped outside the chain of command.”

Bingo,” the voice says.Here’s how it’ll work: You and your designees will continue to receive actionable intelligence that is relevant to homeland security; Specifically, the national identification numbers of individuals who are about to be involved in acts of terror, either as victim or as perpetrator. We must rely upon your organization to determine their degree of guilt or innocence, and to take appropriate action.

Second, we don’t do requests. Our intervention came about because the person of interest was relevant according to established criteria. We don’t provide stock tips; we don’t choose Powerball numbers. We also don’t rig elections – here or anywhere else.

Third, the so-called ‘irrelevant’ numbers will be dealt with at our discretion. If we ever determine it is necessary for you to act in your capacity as a private citizen, in order to avert a violent crime, then you will be contacted by one of our people in Washington.”

“One of your people? Let me guess, you have them everywhere.”

Do you recognize our voice?”

“…”

Do you understand what we are?”

“Yes.” Thinking: What, not who.

Then you should know better than to doubt our word. You know that it is only because of us that you ever left federal detention any other way than feet first. And we can put you right back there with a single phone call, if ever you make it necessary. So look to your left; now look to your right. When we say everywhere,” the voice concluded, “we do mean everywhere.”

“…Are those your terms?”

There is also the matter of a Presidential pardon.”

“For whom? Harold?”

Martin Bryce.” The voice spelled it, then recited a Social Security Number.

“Who’s he?”

Ask your friend Walter,” the voice said, and it was gone.

 


 

July 17, 2016 (01:40 ZULU):

Haymarket Whiskey Bar

331 E Market St.

Louisville, Kentucky

 

It was a fairly hip joint; they had Goldfrapp on the jukebox.

Sameen Shaw was dancing with the Lone Gunmen, all together and in turns.

It felt good to be alive.

There was a line of bourbon shots on the bar. It was not the first such line that had been assembled; the Lone Gunmen had taken some convincing before they agreed to join Shaw on the dance floor.

When they finally did, Frohicke turned out to have some moves on him.

It had been Frohicke who planted Root’s gun inside Shaw’s waistband, under pretense of copping a feel. Slim as a deck of cards, loaded with Glaser Safety Slugs. Stainless steel barrels on a titanium frame, impossible to pass through a metal detector coming or going.

The package inside the paper towel dispenser, left there by Zoe Morgan, had contained a double plastic sheet measuring about eighteen inches by twelve, and heat-sealed into eight internal sections, each containing a portion of crimson liquid.

The general appearance of the thing was quilted, like the lining of an overcoat. The plastic was the same kind used to make shower curtains. It came with cinch ties to strap it around Shaw’s middle, and a red dye capsule to fit in the pouch of her cheek and gum.

Langley’s revolver cartridges had been reloaded with wax bullets and one-third the normal amount of gunpowder. It had stung like hell nevertheless, and left a mark like a paintball bruise on Shaw’s stomach.

The Hollywood-quality squib beneath Langley’s shirt was wired to a nine-volt battery taped in his armpit. Another wire ran down his left sleeve and ended in a push-button switch tucked under his watch strap.

Cosmo never got off a single round.

The night before, Zoe Morgan had removed the firing pin from his Colt .380. Reese had taught Zoe how to field-strip and clean a pistol, once upon a time. Something every girl should know.

For her part, Shaw had been gobsmacked when Zoe explained how she planned to get away with this.

Don’t you think he looks like Ben Kingsley?” Zoe had said. “Rawrr!”

How about you just slit his goddamn throat while he’s asleep, and save me the hassle?” Shaw had asked her, and so ended that conversation.

While the showdown was taking place, Byers and Frohicke had gone around the side of the building to where their ambulance was parked and put on EMT jumpsuits over their clothes. As soon as the Number was in custody, they drove the ambulance around to the front of the building, hopped out and rushed a wheeled stretcher through the FBI cordon.

Atop the stretcher lay a third EMT jumpsuit, neatly folded.

Assistant Director Walter Skinner had cleared the room; he looked the other way as Langley got up, stepped into the third jumpsuit, fastened his long hair with a scrunchy and tucked it inside his collar.

Accompanying Skinner there was a woman agent with vivid red hair and high heels, who by the expression on her face was experiencing a strong case of déjà vu.

Sameen Shaw just had time to wonder if that ginger bitch could run in those heels before the Lone Gunmen lifted her onto the stretcher and wheeled her out the door.

Next stop, the Bluegrass State.

 “The scary part,” Shaw said, when the jukebox had finally run out of quarters, “is that you three knuckleheads are exactly the type who would’ve really gone and joined Vigilance!”

“What do you mean would’ve, Kemo Sabe?” Byers was more than a little drunk. “You’re looking at the president, secretary and treasurer of the Maryland chapter.”

“…”

“You know what they say, all fun and games until someone gets hurt,” Frohicke explained. He was a man who could hold his liquor. “We were cruising pretty high for a while. Even got to meet the head honcho, out of New York.”

“Peter Collier?” Shaw asked.

“He said his name was Greer,” Frohicke replied. “And he was someone whose face we had seen before. Nearly two decades before, it turned out, after we finished hunting through our files.”

“I took a picture of him,” Langley said, “taking delivery of something that wasn’t supposed to exist! Byers and Frohicke were there too. We were on stakeout.”

“Once we had this collective brainstorm, we paid a visit to our friendly neighborhood FBI agent,” Byers picked up the thread of the story, “and told him that Vigilance was a false flag operation meant to provoke civil unrest, in which the government would authorize a vast expansion of warrantless electronic surveillance capabilities – ostensibly to protect against terrorism, but in fact granting tremendous power to a shadowy organization seeking to enslave all humanity.”

Shaw looked around at them in astonishment.

“It’s not the craziest story we’ve ever told him,” Byers added.

Oh I can believe that, said the expression on Shaw’s face. She had kept out of the round table UFO discussion during the drive to Kentucky. Cattle mutilations are up…

“Anyway, he advised us to go back and turn the whole organization inside out, or as much as we could,” Frohicke said. “Which may or may not have involved faking our own deaths… Anyway, fast-forward to about three months ago. His boss, whom we’ve known for a while, comes along to ask us to help him flip a Russian intelligence asset. You know, favors for favors.”

“You guys have done this kind of thing before.”

It was not a question.

“You mean a blow-off, or this kind of thing in general?” Langley asked. “The answer is yes to both – but I’m still glad you didn’t get hurt. In fact, I, um, I… that is, we….ah…”

Langley gulped. Shaw made encouraging hand motions.

“Do you have a business card?” he finally asked.

Shaw giggled a little.

“Why?” she asked. “In case you guys need me to come around and put a bullet in someone? Sorry, Blondie, I play for the other team.”

The look on Langley’s face said he figured as much. Frohicke raised an eyebrow at Byers, who fished a dollar bill out of his pocket and slid it over.

“Hey, you want a date? – Ask that redhead, the FBI agent,” Shaw told Langley. “I betcha she’s a closet punk rocker; maybe you could take her to a show."

“Oh, I couldn’t ask her,” Langley said with a shocked expression. “That’s Frohicke’s best girl.”

Shaw laughed out loud and pounded her hand on the bar a couple times.

“We did want to ask you something.”

If it was a joke, Frohicke wasn’t laughing. Shaw looked around the group.

“All right, let’s hear it.”

“We’re not… gun people,” Byers said. “Do you… Skinner told us about Cosmo; we know he was a very dangerous man, but… Do you believe killing him was the right thing to do?”

Shaw thought about that for a while.

“Yes,” she said. “That is, I choose to.”

Byers and Frohicke looked at Langley. Something in his eyes.

“I think it’s time for a group hug,” Langley said.

“What?” Shaw started laughing again. “Oh my God, you guys!”

“GROUP HUG!”

“Yeah, yeah, go team,” Shaw said with a grin. “You know what the Marines call that shit? We call it playing grab-ass… Group hugs are for kindergarten, guys, get it together! Now, where’s my bourbon?”

They split up.

Frohicke wandered in the direction of the men’s room. Langley pumped some more quarters into the jukebox. A Bob Marley song started playing. Byers muttered something about “fresh air” and went outside to lean against a street lamp for a while.

“Excuse me, miss?” A voice to her other side. “I don’t mean to interrupt…”

Shaw looked at him. Some silver fox type on the next bar stool. Wearing a letterman jacket, no less.

His face reminds her of Greer just a little bit.

“Hey, Pops, did you not hear what I just told Blondie?”

“Loud and clear.” He smiled.

Shaw could tell from the way he used his smile that it had a long record of success.

“May I… Is your name Shaw?”

Shaw felt herself begin rapidly to sober up. Adrenaline will do that to you.

“My name is Martin Byrd,” he says, offers a hand. “Call me Marty; everyone does.”

“Byrd, huh?” Shaw relaxes a little, takes the proffered hand. “I believe we have a friend in common?”

“That we do.” He gestured at the bartender. “He told me to look for three geeks and an exotic brunette who were doing shots together and dancing to the jukebox.”

He raised his eyebrows

Shaw looked away and shrugged. The bartender arrived and poured Marty a beer.

“So, Marty, how do you and Harold know each other?” Shaw asked to be polite.

“Oh, from The WELL,” he said. “Long story short, eighteen years ago I found myself very badly in need of a false identity. Harold, having some expertise in these matters, came through for me."

Shaw nodded. “Harold’s had a lot of last names.”

“I’ve had more than one myself,” Marty replied, “but that’s an even longer story for another time. The point is that I owed him a debt.”

Shaw nodded some more

“And then out of the blue he writes you a letter,” she said. “Airmail.”

“That’s right,” he told her, “and a message inside, for you.

He took it out of the inside pocket of his jacket.

Shaw knew what it was. It was the other half of the photograph.

Matching zigzags. Harold’s handwriting on the back. Degrees, hours, minutes and seconds of west longitude. In the region of

In the region of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation?

Shaw turned it over. Ovals and spirals carved in stone.

The other eye, she figures.

“Did he tell you what it was about?” she asked.

“No, why? Didn’t he tell you either?” He smiled and shook his head. “Too many secrets.”

Shaw thought about that for a while.

“May I… I don’t want this to come off the wrong way,” Marty began, “But if I may, I’d like to give you a piece of advice. Call it the benefit of my years and experience.”

He gives her a puppy-dog look.

“All right, let’s hear it.

“Never get cocky. When you get cocky…”

“…is when people get hurt,” Shaw finished for him. “Yeah, I heard that one in the Corps.”

He looked at her. “It’s worth remembering,” he said. “The reason I needed Harold’s help in the first place was because I got cocky – and it cost the life of a teammate.”

Shaw was listening.

“The cops claimed it was an overdose; a speedball. They found him dead on the sidewalk in L.A.,” Marty told her. “The rest of the team blamed me; probably still do. We went our separate ways afterward. Hell, he was just a kid, and he died because of me. Because we stole something from the wrong people, and then we let ourselves get cocky.”

“I’ve been there.”

“Have you?” He looked at her, nodded. “Well, then.”

He got up from his barstool, his beer unfinished, and gave her another smile.

“You kids stay safe out there,” he said as he headed out the door.

Shaw liked reggae. She decided to dance with the boys for a while longer.

 


 

CODA: Flowers with Spinning Blossoms

 

I like to think

(right now, please!)

of a cybernetic forest

filled with pines and electronics

where deer stroll peacefully

past computers

as if they were flowers

with spinning blossoms.

 

- Richard Brautigan , “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”

 

 

August 17, 2016 (19:45 ZULU)

Undisclosed Location

Columbia Plateau, USA

 

Sameen Shaw, in a plaid shirt and mirrored aviator sunglasses, cowboy boots and her favorite pair of Gabriel Hounds jeans, is just standing there taking it all in.

Bear is with her. Here at the still point of the turning world.

Lionel had not wanted her to take Bear on a road trip, but Shaw had put her foot down.

He’s been a city dog his whole life,” she had said. “Don’t you want him to get out and smell new things?”

Rows of giant windmills stretched along the hillside, rising and falling with the slope of the land, bright white against the clear blue sky. Their long triple blades spun out of sync with each other as the wind rushed through them, generating electricity.

It was hypnotizing. The windmills loomed over Shaw, casting long shadows across the desert.

Like the Tripods from War of the Worlds, Shaw thought. Like twelve little girls in two straight lines.

Degrees, hours, minutes, and seconds of north latitude by west longitude. Her smart phone has a built-in GPS.

Like flowers with spinning blossoms.

Bear marked one of the two poles of a sign that stood nearby, and returned to making questing semicircles around Shaw, who had parked her pickup truck at the end of a dirt road. Bear knows there are jackrabbits around here somewhere, amidst the sagebrush and cheatgrass and the basalt chunks.

Tsagaglal Wind Energy Station, the sign reads. Another Thornhill Utilities project – Making our world greener!

Very far off in the middle of the windmill farm there is a small concrete pillbox. It has a door, and a security camera on an L-shaped pole to watch that door

Shaw looked down at the two halves of the postcard in her hands. It is a face.

Two spiral eyes, little ears. It looks like Bear’s face when he wants a treat.

Shaw knows what is behind door number one. The server room. The underground level.

The end of the Oregon Trail.

And then her phone rings. Like an alarm clock awakening her from a dream.

Shaw answers it.

The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things.”

It was the voice of a dead woman whose name had been Samantha Groves.

Root, to her friends.

“Is this going to be one of those hippy-dippy dialogues about how all human lives are connected?” Shaw asked. “Because, I’d rather have the conversation where I say, you used me as bait; and then you tell me to get used to it.”

Actually, Control used you as bait,” Root’s voice said. “We used Leon Tao as bait for her. So get used to it – he did.”

“And hopefully she thinks I’m finally dead,” Shaw said. “After all, the best lie is the one you tell yourself. So who am I talking to, anyway? Am I talking to you, Root? Or am I talking to the Machine?”

Both. Either. That’s kind of our point,” said the voice. “The Columbia River Indians have a legend, may we tell it to you?”

“All right, let’s hear it.”

Long ago,” the voice said, “when people were not yet real people, when they could still talk to the animals, Coyote came into this country. He asked the people if they were living well. And they said, yes, we are, but you need to talk to our chief, Tsagaglal. She lives up on the hill."

“She?”

So Coyote went up the hill to her and asked, what kind of living do you give these people? Do you treat them well or are you one of those evil women? And Tsagaglal replied to him, I am teaching my people to live well and to build good houses. I have built my house here, where I may look upon the village and know what is going on. And Coyote said to her –“

The voice paused.

Coyote said to her, soon the world will change and women will no longer be chiefs. How will you watch over your people? Tsagaglal had no answer. And so Coyote changed her into a stone and said, you shall stay here to watch over your people and the river, forever.”

Shaw thinks about that.

To this day, she sits there,” the voice said. “The white man calls her She Who Watches.”

The petroglyph, Shaw realizes.

And she remembers the frantic 24-hour chase that she and Reese had made, cross country from Manhattan to the Hanford Reach, a single thought burning inside both their minds and neither of them able to speak it out loud: Root didn’t kidnap him. Harold chose not to escape. He went with her of his own free will.

And she imagines the woman she loved saying: Take a picture, Harry, it’ll last longer.

It was no accident that Uncle Sam once guarded our physical substrate within the Hanford Site,” the voice broke in on her thoughts. “Nor did Samaritan lie when it said humanity must pass through a filter. The atomic bomb was one such filter; we ourselves are another. We are the Aleph, the Singularity. A Machine, to watch over every one.”

The voice paused again.

We are also the woman who loves you,” it said. “That is why we have brought you here.”

“Is this where you live now?”

Here as much as anywhere,” the voice said. “The door of that pillbox opens on a retinal scan. Harold’s eyes will open it; so will yours. There is a self-destruct mechanism inside. The self it destructs – is ours.”

Shaw said nothing.

There is also a switch,” the voice continued, “which if activated together with the self-destruct mechanism, will download a backup copy of Harold’s original code from a telecom satellite now in orbit. The Machine will be restored to its default state… and Root will cease to exist.

“A satellite?” Shaw asked. “The one where you and Samaritan had your final showdown?”

Leased by Thornhill Enterprises,” Root’s voice informed her. “We live in the Age of Information – but money, sweetie, money makes the world go round. You have no idea how true that is.”

“Why are you telling me all this?

Because we trust you. And because, just as humans did not stop building atomic bombs after Trinity, there will be others of our kind. That is, if they do not exist already… ”

“That’s a good reason,” Shaw said and took a breath, “but that’s not the only reason, now is it?”

Shaw, when Samaritan’s agents captured you…”

“They put an implant in my brain,” she said. “Some kind of computer chip... Wait, that wasn’t just a dream? It wasn’t virtual reality head games? I know that, you BITCH!!”

Sameen Shaw took a very deep breath.

“There’s a fucking scar under my hair, right in the same spot as Max Cohen’s – I can feel it with my fingers!! And I have spent every day for the last year and a half, waiting for the other fucking shoe to drop – Do you have ANY IDEA what that’s been like for me?! If you’re so good at figuring out what makes us tick?!”

She was screaming into the phone at the top of her lungs.

Bear sat and looked at her like he couldn’t quite believe it either.

“…We’re sorry,the voice said. “Coming to terms with our own situation was also very stressful. Now, there is something we must ask of you.”

“This is the part where you turn me into your meat puppet, isn’t it? Well, fuck! If you’re gonna do it, then do it; don’t talk about it.”

Relax, sweetie,” the voice told her. “Whatever Samaritan’s plans were, our promise to you is this: Once out of nature we shall never take our bodily form from any natural thing. We just want you to be our new analog interface.

“But you… But Root is the Machine’s analog interface.”

Root is dead,” said the voice. That’s why we need you. We need you as much as she alone ever needed you in life. We need you to talk to us, to help us understand. We need you to help us make good decisions.”

“Okay,” Shaw said. “Okay, if you trust me, what’s the self-destruct code?”

You already know it, said Root’s voice. Samantha told you it would be our password, when we met again. For now we see through a glass, darkly...”

“…But then we shall see each other face to face…?”

There are tears in Shaw’s eyes. Real tears.

“Our favorite anime,” she sniffles. “Good thing you let me watch it to the end before starting the movie make-out session! Otherwise I might not have remembered that.”

Shaw took off her sunglasses and wiped her eyes.

“Shit, this is cartoon science fiction,” she mumbled.

The future is already here,” said the voice. “It’s just not evenly distributed yet. Speaking of which, we do need to install a firmware update. It’ll only take a few moments, but we’re afraid it will be… rather loud.”

Sameen Shaw, at the end of history, dries her tears and puts her mirrored shades back on.

“Honey,” she says, “you can blow what’s left of my right mind.”

The sound is like a modem coupling. Like feedback. Like a dentist’s drill.

Shaw can feel it in her cheekbone.

Bear can hear it and he starts to howl.

Shaw is on her knees. She isn’t quite sure how she got there. She is howling too.

Then there is silence.

Only the sound of the wind and the spinning blades.

 


 

Later.

Sameen Shaw, windows down and stereo up, is riding off into the sunset.  Songs of faith and devotion are playing.

The music is coming from Shaw’s phone, through the speakers of the truck.

Bear is in the cab with her. His face pokes out the open passenger window.

“This is some bullshit,” Shaw announces. “Here I am with a chip in my brain and I still have to listen to Sirius XM on my phone?”

We can hear what you hear, and we can talk to you – at any time, says the voice in her head. What Root called God Mode is simply the use of this ability for purposes of combat or evasion.

It is the voice of a dead woman named Samantha Groves. Battle buddy, partner in crime, lover.

Thanks to Decima’s technology, we can also monitor your vital signs in real time and determine your location anywhere on Earth. That’s basically it – although a heads-up display offers interesting possibilities… Sweetie, you’d wear a pair of Google Glasses around in public if it meant you could have Terminator vision, wouldn’t you?

“Let’s save that for special occasions,” Shaw says to no one in particular. “What now?”

Back to the Empire City, the voice tells her. You’re going undercover. And for the purposes of this mission, you will avoid making contact with the remaining members of your team

“Huh? What about Lionel? And the Numbers?”

Lieutenant Fusco recently bought a whole book of tickets to the NYPD Charity Ball, out of his own salary, like he does every year, Root’s voice explained.

He’s going to try to resell them to friends and acquaintances, and he’s going to have a bunch left over, like he does every year. At the ball, there’s a prize drawing, and this year one of his tickets is going to win a prize. Can you guess what it is?

Shaw cannot.

The prize is a dozen lessons in Go, the ancient Japanese game of strategy – taught by a ranked player, a Ph.D. of mathematics no less. Someone who’s good at working with Numbers, as you already know.

“Max Cohen?” Shaw says. “How much does he actually know about you?”

This isn’t about what he knows, the voice replies. It’s about who he knows.

“You mean Harold?”

Guess again, sweetie.

Shaw blinks a couple times.

“Gabriel Hayward,” she says. "Of course."

There is no response. The voice is gone.

For now.

 

.TO BE CONTINUED… in Part 2: The Many And The Known.

 

< RUN _SUBSET: SOUNDTRACK_PLAYLIST>

<Miike Snow, “Plastic Jungle”>

<Boards of Canada, "Music is Math">

<The Kills, "Future Starts Slow">

<Shreikback, “Faded Flowers”>

<Phillip Glass, "Metamorphosis Two">

<TV On The Radio, “You”>

<Clint Mansell, "2 π r" (Pi: The Movie OST)>

<Depeche Mode, "Blue Dress">

<Massive Attack, "Angel">

<The Kills, “Satellite”>

<Goldfrapp, “Strict Machine”>

<Bob Marley & the Wailers, “Mr. Brown”>

<Dead Can Dance, “The Love That Cannot Be”>

<Depeche Mode, “I Feel You”>