| The Network Revenant
Just as the stories had promised, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. It wasn't much of one - a gray New England daylight promising rain, but it was light nonetheless. I approached it slowly, picking my way along concrete and rusted steel. Trash and rot made for treacherous footing, and losing an ankle to the broken ground wasn't high on my list of things to do for the day. Although it had been relatively clear in the tunnel itself, the nearer I got to the surface the more the litter of human intrusion as well as the weathering of the elements made for hazard.
Some two klicks back, in a side alcove, the Lotus sat, quiescent. I'd shut it down entirely and pulled it into what looked like a storage siding. The alarm, reprogrammed to my portable, blinked its only sign of life. I didn't know if I'd managed to entirely shut down its retrieval transponder, but it was under what looked like some few hundred feet of earth and ferroconcrete, which was the best I could do.
I stopped at the tunnel entrance and blinked eyes watering in the slight breeze. The sour stink of industrial pollutants reached up my nasal passages. I looked generally south down over the flat swamps, past Charlestown and Somerville to either side, to the Boston skyline. Flitter traffic was visible in the downtown corridors. Off to the right, southwest, the old 93 corridor loomed, its rail system visible across rusted swaths of ruin. It all looked so damn impassable from ground level; I'd never seen it from down here before. I thought of the Toyota, hoping against hope that the fuckers hadn't hurt it. Even if they hadn't, it was still to hell and gone up in New Hampshire, out of range of its recall caster - and I didn't dare assume it wasn't being watched.
Nothing for it. I swung wearily down off the raised trackbed and started to walk southwest towards the nearest sign of civilization, a rail link on the 93 line.
* * *
"Another?" the waitress had her coffeepot poised over Chit's cup. He shook his head and covered it. She nodded and moved on. He slumped back in the booth and looked out the window. Traffic was moving along the pitted street outside the small diner at a good clip by now, the morning rush hour officially underway. The tiny eatery was on its third full seating, regulars cycling through for sausage sandwiches and pancakes, some taking their places at the ancient cracked granite counter and others accepting styrene containers of breakfast to take on the road. Chit had been here for three or four hours and estimated his lurking time was just about used up. He peeled a bill off his dwindling roll and dropped it on the table, exchanged nods with the waitress and ducked out the sliding door, replacing his Stetson on his head.
The diner had basic comm signal, but not enough bandwidth for a full Street connection. He looked up and down the street, but nothing obvious was in view. The neighborhood was outside the Lockzone; run-down but still active. Chit had avoided the Lockzone checkpoints with the reflexive habits of a Western libertarian, but was beginning to realize that most of the really good infrastructure was likely hiding behind them. Absently, he fingered his ID; it would get him through the checkpoints, seeing as he was a citizen of a Federal zone; however, since he hadn't passed through a Federal checkpoint to leave the U.S., he was reluctant to show up on any form of official radar by presenting that ID to a Federal system during re-entry.
There had to be public infrastructure around here somewhere. He just had to find it. Shouldering his pack, he set off down the street, warwalking antennas in his hat juiced and sniffing.
* * *
A couple of hours of urban orienteering brought me to a Rail link station with only three or four moderate cuts and bruises. My jacket had one really nasty rip on the right side, and the left knee of my jeans was sliced up a bit, but I didn't look too disreputable. I climbed the last fence from wasteland over the back of the station onto the sidewalk, ignoring the curious looks of a few commuters, and straightened my clothes. Walking up to the stiles, I went straight to the system map and hunted up the YOU ARE HERE.
Not that bad. On the 93 link. The question was now where?
I sank down onto a bench as the thought I'd been resolutely holding off finally penetrated. I couldn't go home. Whoever the heavies were who'd shown up at the SCCA rally looking for me, they'd known who I was; not only that, they'd undoubtedly called in the reinforcements in the lawcraft that had chased me south from the New Hampshire border in the Lotus. Even if the original crew hadn't known more than my name, there was no way ESCHER didn't know absolutely everything. They'd been there too fast to have been a response to the theft of the Lotus; they had to have been either waiting or dispatched.
I closed my eyes and leaned back against the wall.
There had been times in my past when I'd joked about what I would do if. Where I'd go, how I'd act, who I'd hunt up When They Came For Me. It wasn't funny anymore. I opened one eye and looked around. I couldn't see any cameras in my immediate field of view, but that just meant I wasn't looking hard enough. I'd have to hope that whoever they were, they hadn't suborned or outright convinced the New Coast authorities that I was a target; if they had, I was already toast. The only chance I had was if whoever was after me was so far limited to Federal resources, and for the traditional Coastal/Federal enmity to work in my favor.
Odds of that were good, so far. The lawcraft had been ESCHER; there'd been no local law enforcement involved anywhere in the chase that I'd seen, despite the entire thing taking place over Coastal territory. While ESCHER was sometimes given permission to operate in Coastal jurisdiction, Coastal always insisted on taking point if there was any intent to apprehend. Either ESCHER had exceeded their declared intent, or NCI hadn't been informed of the previous day's little farrago at all. I wasn't about to take bets either way. No matter which, though, it meant that it was possible the NCI wasn't after me.
If they were, there wasn't much I could do about it, so no point in pretending otherwise.
The loft was out. ESCHER would know all about it. Work too. I was running out of places to go. Without the Toyota, the list of places I could get to was even shorter. I had some ID on me that was unsafe to use, a pocket Ops tool kit, a portable which had my current flickerjack and Mikare's code in it but didn't have the balls to run both at once, and some cash - maybe enough to eat for a day or two.
I couldn't Run without a flickerjack. But I could rez up. I'd still be safe from backtracking, because Mikare was one of three who - other than the Founders, I supposed - didn't have to step onto the Street from a traceable private server or from the Entryhedron.
The trains had decent connectivity, but the stations had better. I waited until I reached South Station before flicking on the portable. It was nervewracking, being this close to the Federal Zone, but the Station itself was Coastal territory. I told myself sternly that proximity to ESCHER and Federales wasn't what mattered - the thousands of people and dozens of trains per hour moving through the station did. The portable powered, my lightweight goggles opaqueing with the quickfade of liquid crystal and laser diodes. I leaned my head back against the wall where I sat in a back corner, coffee clutched artistically in my hand, commuter catching a few minutes sleep while waiting for his train. Under the small table, my other hand flexed once, control mesh seating itself.
-static in the earphones, flickering wavelets in the goggles-
...and Mikarecursore opened his eyes to the subdued lighting, tinkle of glassware and hum of conversation to grin once to himself, safe, safe and untouchable, and stood smoothly from his fetal crouch to rise into a standing position in the back corner of the bar and look around him. Nobody was looking at him, which meant that the 'Drome was doing its part of the magic trick, and he tipped a mental salute to it as his portable swapped keys with the server and he glided towards the bar, grinning to himself as people around him jumped back in surprise as his avatar faded into visibility in a dancing slide between them.
"...can't do that in here, can you?"
All music. Tourette looked up from the drinks he was mixing as Mikare approached and split his mug in his fearsome approximation of a grin. "Mikare. Fucking excellent seeing you split a goat in the hizzy bastard."
"Hi Tourette. How's tricks?"
"Aw, you know, it's always that shit getting in the house but nothing we do finds the place inside a submarine hummer."
"Yeah, I know."
"Get you something?"
"Nah, not right now, thanks. Any messages?"
Tourette looked slowly at the ceiling, then back down. Mikare raised his eyebrows, then leaned forward and placed both his hands on the bar. Tourette leaned in to face him and the rest of the bar defocused slightly as the cone of silence descended. "Several from Farnham."
Tourette's face froze, then reanimated, his voice changed into a close approximation of Farnham. "Mik, where the fuck are you? I'm looking for you. In meatspace. Paul called me. I'm in your neck of the woods and trying to find you. Get in touch. Here's my number." Tourette blinked and extended a hand to Mikare with a note. Mikare was looking at him in vast, deep surprise. His voice changed back. "Get it?"
"What? Yeah. Yeah, thanks, T."
"Awesome. Corn it. Want the others?"
"No. Save 'em."
"Okay." Tourette straightened up and the bar jumped back into sharp focus.
Mikare took the note and crumpled it, saving the data into his portable. It vanished. "Gotta run, T."
"Sure, Mik." The enormous shape picked up a drink and turned away, heading for a gaggle of customers at the other end who were trying to look like they weren't staring at Mikare. Mikare straightened, spun on his heel once, twice, three times; stopped facing the door and moved towards it, collision avoidance routines making the simple motion into a liquid dance. Pushing through the doorplane, he derezzed at the moment of transition, never quite reaching the Street outside.
I shoved the goggles up onto my forehead and looked around reflexively. Several dozen commuters wandered past, moving from platforms to exits or vice versa. Several dozen more sat waiting for their trains. Nobody was looking at me that I could identify, but my confidence that I would be able to do so wasn't very strong.
Under the table, I tapped out the gestures for my phone. It clicked once in my ears, then rang - hollow electronic summoning, ranged out across the nets. I didn't have the Loft systems to wash the call through, but my portable was set to automatically purchase prepaid airtime certs whenever it came within range of a vendor and to switch its outbound number randomly whenever I used it. That would have to do; the cashcard account in the portable's chipwallet belonged to a nice old couple from several towns over. They tended to balance their books every month or so, and so far they had never noticed the slight additional transactions on their cashcard, or the laundered credits that offset them.
The buzzing continued. I was getting slightly nervous, and decided I'd give it eight rings (purely at random) and then hang up. Six. I forced myself to examine the dusty steel beams overhead and the few lost pigeons that were fluttering around them. Seven rings.
There was a pause. "Mik?"
"Yeah." I controlled a gusty sigh. "T said you were looking for me."
"You could say that." The voice was sardonic, but relief was clearly audible. "We need to meet."
"I think that would be a really good idea."
Another pause. Farnham had never been stupid.
"Okay. My favorite drink. Spectrally. Damn Yankee." He hung up.
What I Would Do If was getting awful damn uncomfortable.
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