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Next of Kin, Chapter Twenty-Five: 38%


  05:39:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2231 words  
Categories: Next of Kin

Next of Kin, Chapter Twenty-Five: 38%

Twenty-Five, 38%

Jenel made soup with the rest of the vegetables. We ate in relative silence, until she said, ?They aren't goons.?
?I'm not sure they qualify as friends, either. But they're associates, like-minded folk who protect me, when it's necessary. Because we're a community.?
?But they protect you,? I said, spooning a parsnip into my mouth.
?I'm an evangelist, and a thinker, sometimes an ambassador. You could maybe even go so far as to call them acolytes. But they do it because they're stupid enough to think I'm worth it. And that's not- I'm not fishing. But fundamentally, at a base level, I don't think I'm worth more than they are.?
?Other than not being stupid enough to think that you are,? I said with a smile.
?True. But ideological blindness, at least where it leads to a slight excess of loyalty- there are a lot worse faults to have. But I don't have goons, was my point. I can't loan them out to you, not even to keep you safe. Because they aren't mine. They protect me out of what feels like misguided loyalty. But that doesn't extend further, or I would lend them to you.?
?No,? I said, ?that's okay. I was just being flip, earlier. I mean, I still kind of think the advocate program is crap- in particular because wealthy people can just hire a surrogate advocate, an army of them, if they want- to see justice done. It kind of takes the democracy out of it. But even acknowledging all of that, it's still my fight. I feel lousy how much you've gotten caught up in this. I wouldn't drag your friends in, too.?
?I appreciate that,? she said. We finished our food.
She gave me back the gun- the one I was shot with. ?I'm not sure if I'm safer with or without it.?
?Gun to my head...? she said, and I winced. ?Too soon??
?Maybe, just a little.?
?Take care of yourself,? she said, ?because I cooked for you, and I'm expecting you to return the gesture. And you can't do that if you're dead.?
I was lying, and I knew it the moment the cold air stabbed through my clothes, and I felt it like a blade in my bulletwound. I didn't care who it inconvenienced, or how awkward things might have gotten; I'd have taken some help from her goons, if it was on offer.
But for that moment's weakness, I was glad it wasn't. John and I had never really gotten along, going back to our childhood. It had been a long time since I'd done anything for him. John was the kind of man who couldn't just accept a favor- the moment you'd done one, you suddenly became contracted for another, and another, and another. He saw life as a casino, and when one of the slots was paying out, he camped on it until it quit.
Now felt like a chance to be a big brother again, the way I almost never got to.
I closed my eyes and focused. The new apps in my interface were going to take some adjusting to, but the one I needed now was supposed to be simple enough. I pulled up a map of the city, and my interface showed several different-colored dots.
Jim was using a GPS hopping utility that randomized his location within an area. My interface zoomed in on one dot after another, and each changed to blue in turn, zooming out between so I could glimpse the overall city map going blue, until only one other dot remained. It glowed red and pulsed.
My interface zoomed, and I saw data usage statistics, telling me he was streaming video while talking on the phone. This was all listed under the name Daniel Murphy. So he was ghosting an ID, too. He was in a bar called the Event Horizon, situated very specifically so the bar was bisected by a dead zone. You sat on one side, you could get pirate wifi, you sat on the other, and you were part of the grid. Jim was sitting on the edge, and accessing both.
My car was where I left it. I wondered if IA had found it. If they wanted to, they could. I'd heard rumors there were police override programs that let them track the GPS of a vehicle, even on that was parked and powered down.
I accessed footage from three cameras aimed at or near my car, and played them in reverse to when I left it. Nothing. Nobody got near it.
As I approached my car, several warning messages popped up on my screen. My car had been left in zone for too long, and had been wracking up fines for the last twenty hours. I checked my account, and sure enough, the funds had been autodeducted. I swore, because I wasn't happy about it, but I felt like I had more important things to focus on.
I started up my car, and tensed. But it didn't explode. I sighed, and pulled away from the curb.
The Event Horizon was across town, at another dead zone. It was a biker joint. My DCA software spat out a list of underworld figures known to frequent the bar, including a gang known as the Spawn of Cthulhu. The bar was a dive built from the wreckage of older dives; on the inside it was wall to floor to ceiling repurposed wooden slats. Normally, that kind of wood construction was expensive, but these boards were all warped, misshapen, and gnarled. A warning message, programmed to show to anybody entering, popped up that said, ?Floor uneven. Walk at your own risk.?
I walked up to the bartender and ordered a bottle of Jack, a cola to water it with, and two glasses with ice. He deducted the funds from my account. ?I'll meet you at your table,? he said.
I spotted Jim, and sauntered over. ?Nice to see you walking around,? he said, as the bartender set the two glasses down.
?I'm going to need root access,? I told him as I sat. ?And for you to execute something for me.?
?And if I refuse?? He leaned back, and I noticed a half-dozen men in leather listening intently. My interface identified them from insignia as members of the Spawn of Cthulhu.
?Then I hit the big button on my interface that says, 'Obstruction of Justice,' the cops bust in and arrest you, and we talk with you handcuffed to a desk.?
?And this doesn't count as intimidating a witness??
?That's for court. You're a scumbag; no rules against intimidating a scumbag out in the world.?
?Something tells me that your executable falls outside of obstruction.?
?Maybe. Or maybe I tell the cops I'm 90% sure it was you who fucked me up and shot me, and we talk in the station. They'll shut down your interface, then- so no possibility of cheating. Actually, that doesn't sound half bad.?
?Slow down, there, cowboy,? he said, and opened the bottle to pour himself a drink. ?Ah,? he said after a sip. ?Not the good stuff, but it's not the cheap shit, either.? I poured some rum over the ice, and filled it the rest of the way with the cola.
He accepted the program, and shared root access. ?Have you lied to me??
?Of course. You're an advocate. You know what I do for a living. But if I were to say out loud to you what it is exactly that I do, I'd be arrested. Puts us in an awkward situation. I have to lie to you.?
?And previously, were you using clandestine programs to circumvent the lie detection software I was using??
?Clandestine? Yeah, clandestine I can cop to- so to speak.?
?Why don't you tell me what you lied about before.?
?Nope,? he said. ?Not the game we're playing. You ask questions, and if I can answer them in good conscience, without incriminating myself, then I will. If not, I plead the fifth, and exercise my right not to incriminate myself.?
?Have you been talking to a lawyer??
?Any time I think I need to,? he said.
?Did you leave when you said you did??
?Yes,? he said. No deception registered.
?And he was alive when you left??
?Absolutely. But you should know that. Tara visited while I was gone.?
?How'd you know that??
?I've been watching along. Riveting television,? he said, and smiled. ?But it kind of strengthens my alibis, doesn't it??
?Not really,? I said. ?Your alibis is still that you were drunkenly wandering the streets, while ninjaing between cameras. Your alibis is tissue- and nothing short of a corroborating witness would change that.?
?Fair enough,? he said, and shrugged, and poured himself another drink.
?If you've been watching along, you likely know I was shot.?
?Yeah. Unfortunate,? he said. ?But you've been playing hide and seek in the dead zones. It's a dangerous game.?
?Where were you when it happened??
?I'm not sure if you expect me to play dumb, here. But like I said, I've been watching, so I know when it happened. I was in my apartment.?
?And a timestamped GPS can confirm that??
?You know I don't have my GPS functional,? he said.
?Sounds like a personal problem.?
?Come again??
?You screw with your GPS so the cops and presumably your rivals can't track you. But it's your tough luck that it also deprives you of an alibis- not mine. I don't have to prove that you weren't where you say you were- just that you can't prove that you were.?
?I have a question,? he said, and leaned forward. ?Why do you think I shot you? Because if I understand the circumstances right, that hacker pointed you at someone. They reacted badly to you stalking them through a dead zone, and in the confrontation you got shot. Whoever they were they were blurred, and hiding their GPS. So why would you believe that was me??
?Are you claiming it was somebody else??
?I'm asking why you'd believe it was me. Because I'll admit that I'm a liar, and that some of the things I do don't fall into the normal societal grooves. But you're not doing much to question your source, either.? I frowned. ?The hacktivist.?
Jenel? The idea of it made me want to laugh. ?Given the choice between the two of you, I'd trust her. You've admitted lying to me. So far as I know she never has.?
?And unless you press her, you never will.?
?Why do you think she'd be lying to me??
?Maybe she knew John better than she let on. You know he had a way with the ladies. Maybe something happened with this one.?
?Enough speculative bullshit. Was it you??
He hunkered down, and looked me in the eyes. ?It wasn't me.? I looked to his biometrics. They were inconclusive.
?Have you got an alibis?? I asked.
?I was alone, so no.?
?Doing what??
?Same thing I do every night around that time, playing with my balls.?
?If you're innocent- if you didn't shoot me- why come here? Why hide at the Event Horizon??
?Because I knew you'd come, eventually. And being innocent, and not going to jail are two very different things.?
?My brother. Did you kill him??
?I left him alive.?
?Of course you did,? I said, ?because Tara visited after you. But when you came back.?
?I didn't kill him. He was alive when I left.? The repetition of phrasing. He was being very specific in his word-choices- very deceptive. His biometrics were inconclusive. Which meant either he wasn't exactly lying, or our software was canceling each other out.
?DukeGagger: MAKE him talk. Break his fingers, one at a time. Slowly.? I rolled my eyes, and caught a man a full half of Jim bigger than Jim glaring hatefully at me. He wasn't the only one. The balance of the bar behind Jim seemed to be thinking the same thing he was. I was a den of rattle snakes.
It unnerved me enough I didn't notice the tender walk up beside me.
?You ought to leave,? he said through a graying moustache. ?Having an advocate on the premises is riling up my customers. I ain't telling you for their benefit, understand? Last advocate who showed up here, they found hung from his own intestines, just the other side of the dead zone. You ain't walking out with this man; wouldn't matter if he sodomized the baby Jesus during the nativity, with his mother as a witness.?
?I think we were hitting a wall, anyhow.?
I went to take my bottle of Jack, but the bartender was quicker. ?Believe me, this is a better use for it. Our departing friend bought the next round,? he said loudly, and held up the bottle. ?Until the bottle runs out.?
In the hustle for free drinks, I slipped out. I was sauced enough I wasn't driving anyplace, but I got to the relative safety of my car, and then called a designated driver service. They pulled my location off my GPS. ?It'll be fifteen minutes, please stay where you are.?
I was about to tell them thank you, and that I would, when I noticed a squad car pull up beside me with its lights on.

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