Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Chapter 31

Bō made a guttural growling noise when Shi Fen stepped on his foot.

Shi Fen cleared his throat. “I’m sorry,” he said. He tried to back away but tripped on Marcos’ foot and almost fell. Marcos steadied him.

Both Bō and Shi Fen wore virtual reality goggles as Caleb and Marcos led them down the street. The goggles weren’t active, of course, but acted as blindfolds.

Caleb had realized that if they were going to have a secret meeting to discuss their plans to take on Yin Jiāng and Obscurity, Dem’s warehouse would be the best place for it. But, of course, with Dem being Dem, she insisted that no new people be allowed in without a blindfold and without being scanned for bugs first. She’d given Caleb a wand that detected signals given off by any hidden devices. The VR goggles had been Marcos’ idea. And being blindfolded a few blocks away from her warehouse wasn’t good enough, so Caleb and Marcos had led these two halfway across the city like this. They’d taken two subway rides, then walked a dozen or so blocks, receiving plenty of odd looks from pedestrians on their way.

“I truly don’t see why this is necessary,” Shi Fen said.

“I actually agree with him,” Bō said. “For me at least, a blindfold is not necessary. We are on the same side, aren’t we?”

“Yes, but Dem is…” Caleb paused to find the right words, “very careful when it comes to security.”

“Sounds paranoid to me,” Shi Fen said. “How well do you know this person? Is she stable?”

Caleb halted Shi Fen with a hand on his chest. “Watch it. She’s a loyal friend who’s very good at what she does, which is taking on corporations like yours. That’s all you need to know.”

“Very well,” Shi Fen said.

They continued on. “We’re almost there,” Caleb said.

“Thank God,” Bō mumbled. “My eyebrow itches very badly.”

They turned into the alleyway beside Dem’s warehouse and came to the big metal security door. Caleb pressed the button on the bottom of the keypad like Dem had told him to. Almost instantly, a deep, distorted voice burst from the speaker. “They’re blindfolded?”

The first time Caleb had come here, before he knew Dem, her distorted voice definitely proved intimidating, but now that he knew her so well, hearing her voice pushed lower and projected so loudly was funny. He imagined her inside, leaning in to her microphone, making her scariest voice, like she was the Wizard of Oz or something.

“Yes,” Caleb said, pulling Bō and Shi Fen closer to the door and the CCTV camera above it. “Can’t you see?”

“How long have they been wearing them?” Scary Dem asked.

“Forever,” Shi Fen said. “Are you going to let us in, or what?”

Caleb shushed him. “Since we left. They haven’t seen anything.”

Scary Dem made a long humming thinking noise that sounded more than a bit disturbing with the voice distortion over it. “Fine,” she finally said. “Come in. But if anyone finds out where this is, I swear by the Power of Grayskull, Vanilla Ice, you’re going to be the one who pays for it.”

“I know,” Caleb said.

Then the door popped ajar. Caleb and Marcos ushered the two others in. After they entered the small entrance room, the door closed on its own behind them and its lock clunked into place.

Bō and Shi Fen reached up to remove their VR headsets, but were stopped by Scary Dem’s booming voice. “No. Keep them on until I say so.”

“You can’t be serious,” Shi Fen said.

“Dead serious. Caleb, take them into the big room.”

Caleb led them in deeper. The wallscreens on all four sides of the large central chamber showed a wireframe plan of the Yin Jiāng tower. Dem waited by the three mismatched couches in the corner with her arms crossed over her chest. She looked tougher than usual, like a fiery biker, but was still as stylish as ever. She wore a yellow leather jacket with spikes on the shoulders and sparkly red fingerless gloves. Of course, the style matched her new hair perfectly.

“You can take them off now,” Dem said as they approached.

Bō snatched off his headset and scratched above his right eye. Shi Fen removed his own and handed it to Caleb. He looked at Dem incredulously.

“What?” Dem asked.

You’re the infamous hacker known as Demon?”

“Yes. Are you the sloppy corporate stooge who got himself demoted, and then was tracked down by a bunch of teenagers?”

Shi Fen said nothing to that.

Bō stepped forward. “I am Bō.”

“Hi. I’ve heard a lot about you and the other Parkour Pals.”

Bō gave Caleb a sidelong glance. Caleb could only shrug.

Dem turned her attention to Caleb. “So what’s the plan?”

“Well, that’s what we’re here to figure out.”

“Obviously, but I assume you’ve thought about it at least a little.”

“I have. We need to get inside the building, find Obscurity’s server, delete him, then get Lucidity, and escape.”

Dem scoffed. “Wow, we’ve got a real Hannibal over here.”

Marcos laughed.

Caleb didn’t know who Hannibal was, but could tell when he was being made fun of—which was pretty much any time Dem was speaking to him. “Hey, if I knew exactly what to do, I wouldn’t need to be here. This is a team effort.”

Bō stepped in front of them all. “I would like to say something.”

“Um, all right,” Caleb said. “Go ahead.” He, Marcos, and Dem took seats on the center couch while Shi Fen sat alone on the one on the other side of the mini fridge.

“This city is a living thing,” Bō said. “The individuals inside of it are its blood. But in the center of it all, our society is its heart.”

Dem snickered. Caleb elbowed her. She elbowed him back, twice as hard, but stayed quiet.

Bō continued. “But the city is sick. The blight of greed and corruption may have started small, but over the years it has grown, and now threatens to kill this city. If this city dies, so do we. Most people won’t realize it, they’ll just continue with their lives, but they’ll be cold blood flowing through a corpse.

“I’m not satisfied with sitting back and watching this happen. It is up to us as citizens to stop this blight from spreading. If we can stop it now, we can reverse it. We can have our city back, the way it was supposed to be after the Transition. That’s what I’m fighting for, but there are few people who even realize the city is dying. Now I see that all of you realize it, too. And are willing to fight for it. Thank you. I am grateful to be part of your team.”

Caleb, Dem, and Marcos looked back and forth at each other, then at Bō.

“That is all,” Bō said.

Dem gave him slow applause.




“Wow,” Dem said. “Cool story, Bō.”

Caleb stood. “Thanks, man, seriously. I’m glad you’re here.”

Bō gave Caleb a curt nod.

“Whew, how about some refreshments?” Dem asked. She hopped up and went to the mini fridge. She took out four cans of Future Cola, handed one to Marcos, one to Caleb. When she offered one to Bō, he shook his head.

“I do not drink soda,” he told her.

Dem looked at Bō like he’d turned into some oozing alien creature with two heads. She backed away from him slowly then walked past Shi Fen to return the extra can to the mini fridge. She popped open the last one in her hands and took a loud slurp from it before sitting on the couch. Shi Fen simply lifted one eyebrow at being snubbed.

“You said you would bring the blueprints,” Caleb said to Shi Fen.

“I have them.” Shi Fen took a memory stick from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and held it out to Caleb.

Dem took it out of his hand instead. “Thanks,” she said, then inserted it into a small black box hidden under the couch. She reclined on the couch, held up one hand with her fingertips all touching together, then spread them apart in the universal “open file” movement. The schematic of Yin Jiāng tower on the wallscreens was replaced by a much more detailed 3D blueprint of the building. Dem pinched two fingers together, then separated them, to zoom in. Her sparkly red fingerless gloves were apparently control gloves. They were like the haptic gloves used for VR, except they didn’t feature actual haptic feedback. “Not bad,” she said, as she explored the interior of the building.

“Hold on,” Marcos said. “Go up.”

Dem used hand movements to scroll their viewpoint upward. “The hell?” she asked as the interior details disappeared.

“I could not attain details on the top fifteen floors with my security clearance. That’s the Research and Development section.”

“But you worked there,” Caleb said.

“Yes, on only one floor. Every section is segmented, so no one except for the upper management has knowledge of everything. I can explain to you what I know of my floor, but things have probably changed since I was transferred. Obscurity has taken it upon himself to rearrange many things since he was given administrative authority.”

“You’re information is the best we’re going to get,” Caleb said. “Tell us everything you know.”

“Very well,” Shi Fen said. Then he proceeded to tell them how to delete one super-intelligent AI, and how to save another.

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