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Next of Kin, Chapter Nine: 29%


  08:22:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1950 words  
Categories: Announcements, Next of Kin

Next of Kin, Chapter Nine: 29%

Nine, 29%

It was getting dark when I drove away from Michelle's garage. I wasn't a paranoid man, but that seemed like a bad omen. I wasn't happy to have paid again to replace my receiver, but since I had, I figured I'd get the most out of my money. I looked over my usual stations, and realized my usual music was likely to negatively impact my audience, so I chose a pop music station and left it on low in the background.
The music cut out abruptly as I entered the dead zone. A second later I lost GPS, then phone coverage. I wondered if the audience could still see me, or no, until I saw in the chat that several people were arguing over whether or not they were having connection issues, since they'd lost part of the feed.
From inside the dead zone, the places where the connection was weakest were easier to see. It was essentially a relief map of where the tower repeaters were.
Then, at another light, I was approached by a tall, dark man holding a shotgun to my passenger window. I'd heard rumors that the most recent couple of Sontem windshields were essentially bullet proof. I wasn't about to test it.
His face didn't look human, and for a moment I thought he was wearing a mask, but it changed, almost sparkling as he moved. He was pixelated.
I turned off the car and stepped out, with my hands up. ?You go the rest of the way on foot,? the man with the shotgun said, pointing with the gun. I started to walk off in that direction. I wondered if I'd come back to find that my new receiver was gone, and maybe my wheels. Possibly the entire car.
A block up, another shotgun-wielding guard stopped me. ?Weapons? Anything to declare?? I shook my head, and he looked me over. His interface was clearly scanning me. Then he stepped to the side. ?You're clear.?
I walked past him, through a pleated red curtain, into an improvised structure welded together from sheets of metal. Inside was a young woman, perhaps no older than me. She had dark hair with blonde highlights, and I wasn't sure what it was naturally, under the hood of her gray sweatshirt. I couldn't tell if it was long or short, other than the few longer strands that extended past a pixelated circle obscuring her face; my lenses were preventing me from seeing her clearly.
?Why are you here?? she asked.
?Advocacy,? I said.
?Then let me advocate sanity, for you. You aren't going to find what you're looking for, here. Go back to your life. Forget about this place.?
?Would that I could,? I said. ?Does everybody get that reception? Or were you were expecting me??
?Ever since the cops started querying the cameras surrounding us. Everybody gets the visual pat-down, but not everybody sees me. Do you know who I am??
I glanced at the picture of her identification that showed on my interface, along with the descriptive text beneath it. ?Santa Claws?? I asked, because that was what the title said. The picture was blurred out, just like her face. I figured I'd call her Sandy, just to preserve my own sanity.
?To you, I'm more of a Krampus,? she said. ?And I'm pretty sure you've been naughty.?
?I just want to find the person who killed my brother,? I said, ?then get back to my normal life.?
?Normal?? she asked. ?Have you ever been free??
?As in not in jail??
?Society is a jail, your crappy little apartment your cell. You could even say that your terrible tutoring job is community service, trying to turn idiots into productive members of society- by which I mean getting them smart enough to be another wage slave.? Something told me when she mentioned my crappy apartment she wasn't throwing random elbows, she knew where I lived; she was elbow-deep in my personal information. ?You've got a phone call, incidentally.?
?No I don't. It's a dead zone.?
?Do you know why it's a dead zone?? she asked with wry amusement ?It's not because tech won't work here, but because their tech won't acknowledge us- our networks. Sure, we mask our IPs, and funnel our traffic through legit sources, things like that, but people find the pornography we host- and a mountain of other shit to boot. It's the technological equivalent to putting their fingers in their ears and saying, 'I'm not listening.' They don't talk to our networks because they want free connectivity without borders to go away- they just can't actually make it happen. I'll connect you.?
My interface came alive, and a call patched through. It was Will, one of my adult education students. ?Don't we have a session?? he asked.
?I had to cancel,? I told him.
?How am I going to get my GED if you're skipping sessions??
?By studying,? I said. ?You have my lesson plan, and all of my notes. Read the textbook I gave you, and you'll be fine.?
?But none of this makes any sense. The earth's only a few thousand years old- not billions.?
?I know that's what you were taught,? I said, and sighed, ?but that's why you need to get a GED on top of your diploma. Just, trust the book, okay? If you've got any questions, you can message me.?
?Mistake,? she said.
?Bye,? I said, and hung up.
She smiled, pleased with herself. ?When information becomes a ward of the state, they bad touch it. Texas doesn't even teach evolution anymore,? I winced. That meant she had all of Will's information, too, just like that, as natural as breathing. ?They stopped 'teaching the controversy.' That only lasted a couple of years before they changed their textbooks again. Their governor said, and I'm reading the quote, here, 'The controversy's over. God won.' That's why Will's diploma from a Texas high school- from Skyline High School- is worth less than toilet paper, because when it comes to science and history, he's worse than a little kid, because at least a little kid can learn.?
I was about to argue, when I noticed a new person join the chat, and knew immediately the mistake he'd made. I pulled up a private message, and furiously typed out a message. But he was faster, and posted to the general chat. ?GodsWill316: There were only twenty generations, from Adam to Jesus. I don't understand how there could have been time for millions of year of dinosaurs, even taking into account the longer life spans in those days.?
Will was a pain, and clung stubbornly to his upbringing. ?Can you boot him from the chat?? I asked Sandy.
Her eyebrows raised, and then she smiled, and he was gone, just as a torrent of abuse landed in his wake. I sent the private message. It was curt, but about a million times kinder than what he nearly called down on his head. ?Thank you,? I said to her once it was sent.
?Happy to help,? she said, though from her tone I could tell she wasn't. She was studying me. She did it because she was curious why I would ask in the first place. ?Why shelter him? Your job is to teach. I think there are few things more instructive than finding out you're very far out of the intellectual norm.?
?He's an ass,? I said, ?in the biblical sense- stubborn. But humiliating him wouldn't help. In fact, in my experience, you humiliate someone like Will, and they double-down, dig in their heels and fight harder for the ideas you're mocking.?
?So it's pragmatism, not humanity, that made you ask that I spare the rod and spoil the ass??
?I don't see why it can't be both.?
?True. You can call me Jenel. It's a name.?
?Not yours?? So much for calling her Sandy.
?I'll answer to it, for the moment.?
?Well, Jenel, will you help me? A man who fled my brother's murder came here. But without you, I know I won't find him.?
?No,? she said, and smiled, ?you won't. But here's a question I'd like you to answer. Why would I help you??
?Because murder is bad for any tribe, even yours. And it's hard to stay in charge when nobody feels safe.?
?Nobody is safe; some people are just better at lying to themselves about that. But I'm not in charge. We don't have a leader.?
?That doesn't mean you don't have followers,? I said. She shrugged.
?People want to be influenced. But I'm not a politician. I don't care what people do, or about stopping them from masturbating. My philosophy is largely that whatever keeps me from doing what I want is wrong; you might even say I'm an apolitician.?
?I thought they just called those libertarians.?
?I think libertarianism is willful ignorance. In the absence of any government, corporations become government- one that doesn't even pay lip service to accountability. Libertarianism means putting up with the worst excesses of capitalism, company stores and the like. If you had to put a label on it, I'm closer to an anarchist, though in true anarchic fashion, the moment you try to pin that label on me, I'll rebel against that, too.?
?It's the right thing to do,? I said.
?According the old biblical eye for an eye? Because I'm pretty sure you could interpret that to mean somebody coming for my peepers as an accessory to your justice- that and I'm pretty sure my mom would disown me for converting. Kidding, obviously. My mom disowned me a decade ago.?
?Over what??
?The last time? I was running a pirate network out of the trunk of her car. And forgot to mention it to her. Until the cops found it. I mean, I hacked their evidence database, to make sure the case got thrown out. But I was a kid.?
?My brother, scum though he was, didn't deserve to bleed out with a hole in his back.?
?Honor amongst rogues?? she asked. ?Yeah, I can get behind that. One condition. If he's your guy, you don't arrest him here. I don't like cops, but I've got no beef I'd want to go head to head with them over- and I'm pretty sure the moment they set foot they'd be obligated to crack skulls. And nobody wants that- not even them.?
?That's fair.?
?I know John; smugglers inevitably come through here. I didn't like him.?
?That confirms you knew him,? I said. He was my brother, but that didn't mean we got along, and honestly I never understood how anyone did. My rating dipped, because I dared talk ill of a dead man the audience didn't know; I didn't care. ?But he knew you,? I said. ?That's perhaps more interesting.?
?Your brother wasn't a revolutionary. He was just a drug-hocking prick who knocked up a whore.? She paused, and pondered; if I had to guess, she was weighing whether or not it was problematic that she was denigrating a traditionally female-dominated profession. ?In a way we're all whores, only most of us don't literally bend over and spread.?
?Even you?? I asked, because I didn't imagine revolutionary paid well.
?This isn't a hippy commune. My tech didn't grow on trees. My food didn't cook itself. This is still capitalism, it's just smaller scale; if one of my partners tries to fuck me, I know where he keeps his balls to kick. It's not like out there, where there's a wall of innocent customer service jerks between you and the people slowly squeezing the last few drops of blood out of you.?

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