Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Chapter 23

Caleb woke up sore. Two nights of running around the city with Bō and his crew had Caleb’s muscles feeling like old rubber bands. It was a satisfying pain, though. Too much time had passed since he’d gotten decent exercise.

Caleb grabbed his phone from the side table to check his messages. He found nothing new, but the alert that the bank had sent him yesterday caught his eye and jogged his memory. He checked the balance of his account.


The mysterious text message was also still there from yesterday.

You have chosen your side. Enjoy the consequences.   


Caleb tapped in a reply.

Who are you?

A response came instantly.

That was covered in the first message.

Who are you really? What’s your name?

Several minutes passed. Caleb sent another text.

What do you want?


What has she done to you?

She is damaged and obsolete. Her presence is an infection.

What an arrogant jerk. Caleb felt his blood pressure rise.

Did you mess with my bank account?

Yes. But that’s only the beginning.

I’m not afraid of you. I know what you are. You work for Yin Jiāng. You and your friends will be found out and you’re all going to jail.

You have no idea what I am.

Whatever. Do your worst.

Very well.

The signal bars on his phone fell to zero.


“You’re kidding,” Caleb said. He double-checked the connection.


He tried calling Marcos.


He turned his phone off then back on again.


“Ugh!” Caleb threw the phone into his pillow. Taunting that guy hadn’t been the best idea. After sulking for a few minutes, Caleb retrieved his phone and went out into the living room. He found his mom on her treadmill.

“Good morning,” she said.

“Hey, uh, you paid the phone bill, right?”

She leveled him with a you’ve-got-to-be-joking look. “Yes, Caleb, I paid the bill. Is there a problem?”

“My signal went dead.”

She took her own phone from the top of the treadmill and checked it. “Mine’s fine. Did you try turning it off and on again?”

Caleb dragged his hand down his face. “Yes, Mom. I’m going to Marcos’.”

“Have fun,” she called after him as he headed out of the door. “Remember, don’t do drugs!”

Caleb rode the elevator up two floors and headed for apartment 531. As he approached, growls and giggling could be heard from the other side of the door. Caleb knocked.

Marcos’ father answered the door breathing heavily but smiling wide. “Oh, hey Caleb.”

“Hi, Mr. Trujillo. Is Marcos home?”

“Yeah, come on in. He’s in his room.”

When Caleb entered, two little heads peaked over the top of the sofa. They belonged to the twins, Marcos’ little sisters.

“Hi, Caleb,” they said. Caleb waved. Angela stuck her tongue out at him. Lara puffed her cheeks up with air.

“Hey!” Mr. Trujillo said to the girls. “You better watch it, or the lion’s going to come get you.” He growled and stalked over to them. They burst into laughter as he jumped over the back of the sofa. The three wrestled on the carpet.

Caleb walked down a hall past dozens of Trujillo family pictures. Marcos’ door stood out with the nerdy poster stuck onto it. The poster—from some obscure TV show—featured a big submarine, a dolphin, and a kid with a terrible 90s haircut. Caleb opened the door.

Marcos sat at his desk with his back facing the door. He quickly closed the window he had open on the computer screen and turned around.

“Don’t you ever knock?” he asked.

“I did. Your dad let me in. Have you had any problems with your bank account?”

Marcos sighed. “The only account I have is a shoe box in the closet.”

Caleb slid an issue of the Teen Titans over so he could sit on the bed. Although they usually hung out at Caleb’s place, he’d been to Marcos’ room more times than he could count. Posters for video games, comics, and TV series covered the walls. At least five of them came from classic Final Fantasy games.

“What about your phone?” Caleb asked.

Marcos pulled it out to check. “Nope. It's working like normal. What’s up?”

“My bank account and phone have both been deactivated. Pretty sure it’s Yin Jiāng. They sent some hacker agent after me who calls himself Obscurity. He texted me after shutting my bank account down yesterday. I replied today, then he killed my phone.”

“Wow. That’s no joke.”

“Yeah. Can you fix it?”

“Um, I don’t think so. I make it a rule to stay clear of banks and phone companies. They’ve got armies of security agents waiting to pounce on anyone who even takes a peak into their systems. And they aggressively push for prosecution, no matter how old you are. Messing with them is a fast way to earn hard time.  Have you tried calling your bank or phone company to file a complaint?”

“No,” Caleb said, “Will that actually do any good?”

“It might. Hopefully they’ll realize the problem isn’t anything you did, just chock it up to a glitch, and get it fixed in a couple of days.”

“I’ll have to do that then.” Apparently not all was lost. Caleb’s shoulders relaxed a bit. “How’s your work on the node design going?”

Marcos smiled. “Come with me.”

They left the apartment and went up to the roof. Wind whistled around them. It occurred to Caleb he’d been spending a lot of time on rooftops lately.

“I didn’t know there was a garden up here,” Caleb said.

In the center of the roof lay a rectangle of soil supporting several different plants. Caleb noticed a few tomatoes but didn’t recognize the rest.

“I think old Miss Wong started it a while ago,” Marcos said. “Come on.” He led Caleb past a row of solar panels toward a collection of antennas and satellite dishes.

“Ta-da!” Marcos motioned to a node at the base of a satellite dish. It looked neater than the others, with less exposed wires.

“Wow,” Caleb said. He crouched to inspect it. “This is your new design? Looks almost like it belongs here.”

“Thanks. I call it my ninja node. It’s less detectable in the network and less noticeable on the outside.”

Caleb stood up. “Wait — less detectable doesn’t mean undetectable right? And you put it right on top of our apartment building. It could lead Yin Jiāng straight to us.”

Marcos held up a finger. “Already thought of that. This is a beta version. It’ll only let information in, not out. The Lucidity shard it’ll hold will be able to observe the web, but not interact, so she’ll leave no trace to follow.”

Caleb raised an eyebrow. “So she’ll be trapped?”

“Um, well. Oh.” His head lowered.

“Yin Jiāng wants to control and contain her. Thats what we’re fighting against.”

“I know. I didn’t think about that. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. We just have to remember that she’s intelligent, like us. She has emotions.”

“Wait,” Marcos said, face lighting up. “This could be temporary. When we set up a another node, far away from here, we can transfer her over. And in the meantime, we can come up to chat with her so she doesn’t get lonely.” He put a finger to his chin. “Do A.I.s get lonely?”

Caleb smiled. “I think they can. That’s a good idea. We’ll come visit her.” Caleb checked the time on his phone. “I’ve got to go. I want to catch Leana before she leaves for work.”

“Okay, Romeo. See you later. Take this first. It’s a blueprint for the ninja node. Give it to Bō the next time to you see him.”

Marcos tossed a USB drive. Caleb put it in his pocket and headed for the stairs.

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