2076 Robert Van Dyk

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					Van Dyk                                                  2076




                                2076




                Robert Van Dyk

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                                       1
Van Dyk                                       2076




                    Table of Contents

          Maggie                        004
          Susan                         008
          The Renegades                 029
          Jared                         047
          The Meeting                   065
          Low Men                       074
          Kevin                         089
          In the Woods                  094
          Exploration                   110
          Low Men Come Knocking         118
          Delta Tower                   130
          The Boardroom                 137
          The Calm                      154
          The Storm                     165
          The War                       176
          Inner Sanctum                 195
          Erasure                       204
          Of Beginnings and Endings     219




                           2
Van Dyk                                                             2076




Consider a “Replace All” for the words “elevator” and “DVD”.


                                  Reference of Terminology

Alpha Tower    The main setting
ARS            Automated Robotic Systems
B2P2           Blueberry and Banana Plate-sized Pancakes
Bricks         Renegade Group lead by Amanda Soldier
CAPFAL         Computer Aided Pattern Fabrication and Assembly Laboratory
CHL            Comparative Health Level
CSR            Carnal Sensation Replicator
CSRL           Complex Systems Research Laboratory
CTA            The nation of the setting
daltra         Domiciliary Apartment for Long Term Residential Accommodation
High Operator  Top Member of the Government
IDS            Internal Delivery System
Long Ball      A National Sport
Mortars        Renegade group led by Alan Grimes
Pistols        Renegade group led by Maggie Flanagan
Real Id        Small plastic device given to everybody for Identification, Currency, and
               Communication
TMS            Tower Messaging Service
YAEI           Youth Adolescent Emotional Instability
Weekly Capital Monetary value provided equally to all citizens of
Allotment      CTA to allow for the purchase of goods and services




                                              3
Van Dyk                                                        2076




                               Maggie
                                           1

        A tall man hung his head while he traversed the common area of the 270th
Level of Alpha Tower. Maggie Flanagan scribbled a remark into her notebook. She
sat attentively in the grass on the side of the runner's path, her knapsack by her side.
The natural sun overhead warmed her cheeks. Children played their games in a
nearby field. Beyond them, a group of women sipped margaritas while they bathed
themselves in the sun and chatted. Everything about the day was beautiful, except
for the sullen man who walked with his head drooped as if he'd just had his heart
broken.
        Maggie watched as he slowly lowered himself onto a park bench. He sat in
the cross-legged position with his gaze centered at the recesses of his lap. She
discretely looked him over to figure out the source of his troubles. She drew a
pentagram on a new page in her notebook and began to record what she saw.
        Dressed-casually, brown fedora, blue jeans, and a white tee-shirt. Tall and
muscular. Very attractive. Not the type of man who'd get bent out of shape from
being dumped. Maybe last rites for a close family member? No -- not dressed the
part.
        Maggie sketched the man as he sat motionless. She added shading and depth
to the rough outlines of his body. In the sky over his head, she wrote “SAD” and
drew an arrow pointing downward from it.
        Usually she could look at a person and figure them out: where they'd been,
where they're going, and what their aspirations were. But this particular man was an
enigma.
        Then, with a rush of inspiration, it occurred to her what was wrong. They've
taken something of great value and you know that it'll be lost forever, she thought.
She added the word “LOST” to her drawing. She asked, “What did you have to
lose?” as if expressing the thought aloud would give her a new perspective and a jolt
of clairvoyance. After briefly meditating on that question, she grabbed her knapsack
and deposited her supplies into it.


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Van Dyk                                                       2076

       She walked over to the bench and took a seat next to the sullen man. She
spoke slowly and deliberately, “Pardon me for asking, but would you mind telling
me what it is that they could have taken from you?”
       He didn't answer. He didn't even look up. He just continued to breath slowly
and deeply. Damn, she thought. He's seriously spooked. She grabbed the notebook
from her knapsack and ripped a page out. She wrote her information onto it:

              Maggie – a1 94 3f 199 – 102 584 2483

        She tucked the note between a pair of his fingers, hoping he would summon
enough courage to come knock on her door or at the very least use her Real ID digits
to open up the lines of communication.
        “Let me know if you need any help finding what's gone,” she said. “I can be
a friend.” She grabbed her knapsack and walked towards Subtower Three.

                                          2

        While she sat in bed that night, her thoughts returned to the sullen man from
the common area. On the surface she was perplexed by his infinite sadness, but deep
down she felt a kinship with him that she couldn't put into words. Six years ago, she
was in his shoes. At that time, she'd been naive about a great number of things.
Some might describe her affliction as ignorant bliss, but it only took an instant to
utterly shatter her optimistic view of the world.
        That's not to say that she'd ever believed things were perfect, despite the
claims of the High Operators. The difference was that previously, she'd been
optimistic that the imperfections could be gradually ironed out. Then they censored
a manuscript she'd written which questioned the country's leadership and she was
crushed. Overnight, the text from her digital docufile disappeared and was replaced
by a note that the material had been deemed objectionable by the Offices of the High
Operators. The censor represented an atrocity far worse than the disagreements in
the manuscript, and that was the day she lost faith in the High Operators. That was
the incident which sparked her long mission to overthrow them.
        But before she committed to her rebellion, she agonized for weeks
considering the possibility that the High Operators were right to censor her. She
wrote a brief essay to organize her thoughts and help her decompose the world led by
the High Operators. As a student of history and philosophy even she had to admit
that modern society was brilliantly better than during the wars and global crises that
plagued the country's first 250 years.
        She hopped out of bed and pulled a box out from underneath it. She rifled


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Van Dyk                                                       2076

through a secret stack of notebooks that she accumulated since losing faith in the
digital docufile system that was vulnerable to the snooping eyes and the deleterious
fingers of the operators. She grabbed the notebook at the bottom of the pile and
flipped to the first page.
        She read aloud to herself, “People don't have to fulfill the artificial social
imperatives that plagued the old, meritocratic capitalism. Everybody chooses a
lifestyle which isn't based around the need to earn a living. They're able to go about
their day-to-day lives as they please. People enjoy the freedom of time.
        “Occupational jobs are accomplished by the ARS. Nutrition is created in the
outer regions by Agricultural ARS that produce wide varieties of food and beverages.
The ARS produce enough to support half a billion people, and for the benefit of all,
no human interaction is needed to maintain them.
         “The real key to success is the ability afforded to everybody to search out,
discover, and participate in any enjoyable activity. Athletics are a popular diversion
which promote good health. A party lifestyle is prevalent on all Levels, yet serious
thought-provoking alternatives provide an intellectual balance. The institute offers
opportunities for studious individuals to conduct experiments that expand the limits
of human knowledge. Scientific pursuits lead to discoveries which enhance society's
capabilities. Engineering efforts in the CSRL lead to efficiency improvements in the
ARS. Even commercial goods and services exist which challenge volunteer workers
in creative design environments.
        “In the fashion industry, clothing designers work at CAPFAL. They produce
at their own pace. Some create elaborate designs of inter-woven fabric that
shimmers, sparkles, and color-shifts as the wearer progresses through her day.
Others execute quick and easy designs that are minor modifications of previous
work. The motivations of these two groups conflict because they have different
design goals. However, each motivation has the critical distinction of not being
driven by the imperative to sell a product. The designers are freed from the need to
earn a living in order to pay bills. There are no wages to earn or bills to pay.
        “But even though wages aren't paid to the designers of clothes, a market price
must still be set for ownership of the garments. All consumables are purchased with
capital funds provided by the operators. This monetary system is refilled
automatically every seven days, and is therefore known as the weekly capital
allotment.
        “Prices are set so that a sweater and jeans cost the same as a tuxedo, which
costs the same as a sweat suit. This allows people to dress how they want.
Meanwhile, food is priced based on the amount of calories it contains, so that healthy
food is cheap and fatty foods are really expensive. There's no such thing as scarcity
and the weekly capital allotment ensures that everybody leads a balanced life as they


                                          6
Van Dyk                                                           2076

go about their daily activities.
         “And after their daily activities, people return to their daltra that offers them a
personalized feeling of comfort. Nobody pays a cost of ownership for their daltra,
but it nonetheless belongs to them until they need to upgrade or downgrade based on
the quantity of occupants within their household at a given time.
         “Everybody's allocated ample, but not excessive space. Bedrooms provide
privacy and storage for personal belongings. Living rooms are casual meeting areas
where friends and family congregate and relax in each other's company. Dining
areas offer an open environment that promotes free conversational exchanges
between diners or intimate environments for couples who are unwinding after their
busy days. Kitchens, although, are a different story altogether.
         “Cooking can be a manual or automatic process, depending on the whim of
the preparer on any particular day. When individuals will derive pleasure and a
sense of accomplishment from preparing their own food, ingredients are ordered
through the Supply ARS and received through the IDS that are built into every
kitchen. The ingredients are delivered a couple of minutes after they're ordered in
one meter by one meter shipping bins. Those who prefer not to deal with the hassle
of work in the kitchen order fully cooked meals through the Supply ARS and after a
slightly longer wait, the orders arrive in an IDS bin, perfectly prepared.
         “The IDS bins are intended to provide more than just excellent food service.
Anything small enough to fit in them is transported from one location in the Tower to
another with ease. People purchase all sorts of items that are available from the huge
integrated warehouses using the Supply ARS. The Warehouse ARS ships items in
minutes, saving time, which contributes to the social goal of allowing everybody to
do what they want.
         “The environment has adapted to suit the desires of its citizens. Their lives
are unencumbered. During any given day, the typical person wakes up and prepares
for a day filled with genuinely joyful activities.
         “A man who enjoys sports and beer may start his day by joining some
buddies in a heated game of 3-on-3 before he meets a separate bunch of friends at a
bar for an afternoon of beer and good times. After that, he may finish the day with a
third, completely different set of compatriots for the events of drunken Track and
Field.”
         Maggie closed the notebook and sighed to herself. In her mind, the negatives
still clearly outweighed the positives. Her biggest problem was very few people
actually understood the negatives of living in a world run by the operators. Perhaps
the sullen man was disillusioned. As more time went by more people may wake up
and join her and her small group of Renegades.
         It's only a matter of time, she hoped.


                                             7
Van Dyk                                                       2076




                                Susan
                                          1

        Susan Dace sat on the couch at her mother and father's daltra on New Year's
Eve of 2075. The room was lit with warm, inviting red and green lights in
recognition of the holiday season. An artificial evergreen tree sat in the corner, hung
with angels, shiny ornaments, garland, and its own white colored lights. The room
was filled with the aroma of natural evergreen emanating from fragrance that had
been applied to the synthetic tree.
        Susan gazed absently towards a large telescreen embedded in the wall. It
displayed a slideshow of the Dace holiday photographs dating back to the Roaring
40s. A chorus from the surround sound system filled the room with a playful
rendition of Jingle Bells. Susan picked at Christmas cookies sitting on a plate on the
coffee table.
        “Mother,” she called towards the general direction of the kitchen, “Will
supper be ready soon?”
        From the kitchen, the smell of turkey, stuffing, and all the fixings now wafted
throughout the daltra. “Still another two hours, dear,” her mother called a minute
later.
        Susan smiled to herself as the scents triggered a myriad of pleasant memories.
She put her feet up onto the couch, closed her eyes to relax, and dosed off. The next
thing she knew, her mother was calling her to the supper table.
        Susan roused and made her way to her spot at the table, which was beautiful.
It was set with crystal candlesticks and gold silverware. The dishes had an intricate
gold leaf design. The food looked and smelled delicious. All the fixings for the
Dace's traditional New Year's Eve supper were steaming in their respective bowls.
There were homemade mashed potatoes, carrots, pumpernickel stuffing, candied
yams, and cranberry sauce. In the center of it all was a giant turkey, cooked to
perfection.
        Susan's father made a champagne toast, “We're thankful for the year that ends
today and for the one that begins tomorrow. We give thanks that Susan has found a


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Van Dyk                                                        2076

pleasant environment with CAPFAL, and we'd like to wish success to her Supremes
during the tournament of '76. We're thankful for the close bonds that unite our
family and make us strong. We give thanks to the good fortune that has been
afforded us and we pray that the upcoming year brings many new and exhilarating
experiences to our family. Bless us all.”
        During supper they reflected on their past year. Susan had turned 18 and
gotten a taste of independence. She'd moved out on her own, spent a few months
with her first boyfriend, and generally learned to take care of herself. “I feel much
more responsible than I did last year,” she said.
        “But even though we don't live together anymore,” said Ellen Dace, “isn't it
nice being able to come together like this during the holidays?”
        “What do you mean, dear?” asked Fred Dace.
        “I think I understand, father,” said Susan. “It's great that we can sit together
and be a warm and loving family. Even in the brief time that I have been on my
own, I've seen a lot of people who simply don't have the same bonds that our family
has. Every time we get together is special and I don't think I speak just for myself
when I say that I love both of you deeply and I don't know what I would do without
you. This family helps to define who I am.”
        “Oh, that's nice,” Fred said dismissively, as he shoveled the last of his
potatoes into his mouth.
        After two full servings, Susan placed her knife and fork onto the table next to
her empty plate, “Thank you. Maybe next year I'll do all the cooking and you can
nap,” she joked.
        Her smile was warm and comforting and there was a perfect dimple on each
of her cheeks. She had a fair complexion and was admired from afar by many
handsome men. Her parents laughed and then reaffirmed their love for her. When
the song on the surround sound system switched to Silent Night, Holy Night, mother
and father began to sing along, coaxing Susan to join them.
        Later, they reminisced about Susan's youth and told the story about how
mother and father met. Susan always enjoyed hearing how the romance between her
parents had developed, and took some new pieces of information away from each
retelling.
        Her father invariably recalled from Susan's early sewing and knitting period.
For weeks she had worked and worked to hone her craft. She had made a series of
misshapen pillows and a hat that was so small it wouldn't even fit her small 8-year-
old head. While attempting to knit a pair of mittens she had made one that only had
three fingers.
        Fred emphasized how it had been impossible to get Susan to come out of her
room to do anything other then sewing for two months. He said, “There could've


                                           9
Van Dyk                                                        2076

been a parade right outside our door, and she would just keep on sewing. We
couldn't even bribe her; during that stage nothing in the world could have gotten her
away from that needle and thread.”
        Oh well, she thought, at least he remains courteous enough to not rehash
even more embarrassing events of my life.
        Near midnight, they flipped on the telescreen to watch the ceremonial
dropping of the ball to issue in the new year. At precisely 11:59:42pm a brilliantly lit
sphere ten meters in diameter was hurled from the top of Alpha Tower. It gained
altitude, cleared the edge of the building, then fell to the ground hundreds of meters
below. Multiple cameras showed the glowing ball's descent as it counted down time
remaining in the old year. In an explosion of lights the ball struck the ground at
precisely the stroke of midnight to issue in the new year, 2076.
        Not long after that, mother and father went to bed and Susan took her leave.
She navigated through the hallways of the 78th Level of Alpha Tower and onto the
elevator up to her own level. Along the way she saw revelers stumbling through the
hallways on their way home. She greeted them with a smile and wished them a
happy new year. Ten minutes later, she was in the comfort of her daltra.
        She passed out the moment her head touched the pillow. The long day, filling
meal, and glasses of champagne had taken a lot out of her. She enjoyed peaceful
dreams that night.

                                           2

        Susan woke up well-rested on January 1st, which was also her 19th birthday.
This was the one year anniversary of the day she began living on her own at 3f 842
on the 84th Level of Alpha Tower.
        She got out of bed and walked to the kitchen. Susan's entire daltra was
decorated with handmade dolls of all shapes, sizes, and colors that she created over
the last decade. She'd sewn her first one when she was only 8-years-old. Since then,
her skills had developed significantly, but her first was always the favorite.
        In the kitchen, she ordered ingredients for her breakfast through the Supply
ARS. After a short wait, they arrived. She cracked a pair of eggs, fried up some
bacon, and brewed herself a fresh pot of coffee.
        She ate her breakfast in the living room.
        She took a quick shower, then adorned herself with her favorite jogging
outfit. She liked it best because she had made with her own hands. She cherished its
snug feeling, and loved the way it made her look. The top was a bright shade of blue
and fit her curves like a glove. The pants were designed to be a white and black
checkerboard pattern, and were as tight as the top. Both pieces were made of thin,


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Van Dyk                                                         2076

thermal regulated lytex which was especially useful for taking care of the sweat that
built up while exercising. The whole outfit felt incredibly soft against her body. It
was very comfortable.
        Outside her daltra, she walked down a series of hallways to get to the
common area on her Level of Alpha Tower. She felt the chilly air against her cheeks
as soon as the electronic doors slid open. The freshness of the new year was
invigorating; she breathed in deeply. The cold weather made her breath visible when
she exhaled. Her cheeks and nose reddened.
        Susan sat down in the grass beside the path to stretch out. In the field nearest
her, a group of teenagers were playing Red-Black. Beyond that, a gang of women
were engaged in a game of Speedball.
        She watched the Red-Black game. She knew the general object. The person
who was “It” received a black ball that fit in the palm of his or her hand. Everybody
else got a big-red bouncy ball. The object was for the person who was “It” to wrestle
a red ball from the control of one of the other players, and then trade it with the black
ball to make that person be “It”. However, there were subtleties that she didn't
understand, and so she tried to pay close attention.
        She saw the girl who was “It” wind up and hurl the black ball right at another
boy's head. There was a loud scream of pain, and the boy fell to the ground. The
“It” girl retrieved her black ball and then wrestled the red ball away from the
agonizing boy with relative ease.
        Why isn't that a foul? Susan thought as she finished stretching and started her
jog. Before she turned the corner, she saw a boxy, teal Medical ARS tending to the
boy's head. Good, she thought, in a minute or two he'll be right as rain and get to
play his turn as “It”.
        The common area was a vast, simulated-outdoor space that was situated in
the center of Alpha Tower. Given the hustling and bustling activity that took place
there, Susan thought of it as the heart of the Tower. When she looked up, telescreens
simulated a cloudy sky and illuminated the area with a soft light. If she hadn't been
told by her father when she was young that the clouds were really just a video image
on the underside of the 86th Level common area, she wouldn't have known
otherwise. If she really wanted, she could take the elevator up to the 270th Level of
Alpha Tower for a view of the real sky, but there was less of a crowd on the 84th
Level. Also, there was exposure to the outside from 200 meter gaps between each of
the surrounding Subtowers. This let her periodically see a view of the horizon, and
that was good enough for her.
        The jogging path ran the perimeter of the common area and measured ten
kilometers. It was made of a soft rubber material that provided cushioning for
Susan's feet. Another path around the outer-circumference was made of a hard


                                           11
Van Dyk                                                       2076

composite material for cyclists, roller bladers, and propulsion boarders. Grassy
fields and athletic installations were within the circumference of the paths. Around
the outside were commercial areas which included an expansive Fashion Center and
a social hangout called Thor's Hammer.
        Many people were up and about, going about their own daily routines. She
saw a group of guys playing a pickup game of 3-on-3 and there were children
chasing each other around in circles. On one of the park benches, a young couple
embraced each other and kissed passionately. A large group of friends congregated
in front of Thor's Hammer. They appeared to be tipsy and Susan figured that they
had each had several mimosas during their New Year's brunch.
        She picked up her pace. Her long black hair bounced with each stride. Her
arms swung by her side. Her short stature, she only stood one and a half meters tall,
made her try harder for each bit of distance than her longer legged counterparts.
        After 65 minutes, maintaining that pace, she completed her loop of the area
and returned to her daltra. During the rest of the afternoon, she chose not to go into
CAPFAL. The day of pure, lazy relaxation felt amazingly good.

                                          3

        The next day, Susan sat smugly at CAPFAL in her design station. Her project
for the day was a series of tee-shirts with messages she hoped would be funny,
insightful, and indicative of the new year. She loaded a module to use a plain white
tee-shirt as her base. She decided that the message on this shirt was going to be, “I
survived 2075.” She took a second to decide whether she'd vocalize the message or
use the stylus to handwrite it. She ultimately picked the stylus to give her the extra
freedom she needed to format the artistic elements of her design. She aligned the
words, “I survived,” along the top-middle of the shirt and sized it to span the length
of the chest. Underneath she plugged in “2075” and stretched it to have an equal
width to the words above. She played with different coloring schemes until settling
for a simple, universal black on white layout that accurately reflected the wry
sarcasm which she hoped would be expressed through the shirt.
        She spun her design ball to adjust the orientation of the hologram of her shirt
model. She added horizontal lines above and below the text to complete the look.
Satisfied, she saved her work into the CAPFAL network, and sent it off for
production and sale in the world. In a few hours, Fashion Centers throughout the
country would get their shipments of “I survived 2075” shirts.
        For her next couple pieces, she browsed through a catalog with graphics of
common household items. She blinked, frowned, and nodded at the graphical
options for the next hour until she had come up with several more designs. One was


                                          12
Van Dyk                                                         2076

a spaghetti-strap tank top that said “Cute as a” before the picture of a button.
Another used a picture of a hand-bag that was placed below the phrase, “Ho-Ho-
Ho”. She was proud of herself for completing these shirts so quickly.
        That is enough for quantity, she thought to herself. I need to use my artistic
talents to make one that has unmistakable quality.
        Susan loaded a module for a tee-shirt with a green camouflage pattern on it.
She loaded a circular pattern with the shape of a pentacle star in its middle.

                                           7

         She copied the star onto the outer sleeves of each arm, and applied a yellow
fill to establish a better contrast against the green of the camouflage. She left the star
itself uncolored with the camouflage pattern showing through.
         For the front of the tee-shirt, she took hold of the stylus and invoked her
natural drawing abilities. She sketched a depiction of Alpha Tower along the left
side of the shirt. She used a degree of artistic freedom to elongate the tower to be
taller and more slender than its real life counterpart. Susan drew the national flag
flapping in the wind, using the tower as a flagpole on which to hang.
         She drew the 50 stars that represented the American states that had existed in
2026. The she added the 50 vertical red and white stripes that represented each of
the towers that stood today. She concentrated to get the spacing for the first thirteen
stripes, representing the original 13 Towers, correct. The remaining thirty-seven
stripes were easy to add in.
         She looked at the picture, and with a frown changed the lines she had drawn
to yellow. The white stripes and stars became the underlying camouflage pattern.
She nodded at the more aesthetically pleasing drawing.
         Finally, she added her message, framed by the lower edge of the flag and the
right-side of the tower. She used the stylus to preserve the hand-drawn quality that
she had created. She wrote using a professional, bold script, “2076 – 50 Years – 50
Towers – Freedom – CTA”
         She turned the text yellow, and swiveled it to see its different perspectives
before giving the final approval. She saved and checked the clock on her design
station.
         Holy cow, she thought, it's already past six'o'clock!
         The Alpha Supremes game was scheduled to start at 7:00pm and she still
needed to grab a bite to eat. She placed her stylus and various other production tools
neatly in their places and flicked the switch to turn off her Design ARS. She grabbed
her little backpack and slung it over her shoulder.
         The nearest Thor's Hammer was across the common area and she managed to


                                           13
Van Dyk                                                       2076

get there in record time. She ordered a miracle fruit lemon juice cocktail, a salad,
and a basket of steamed veggies from the Cater ARS at the bar. She paid no
attention to the entertainment and excitement around her; she inhaled the salad.
When the veggies arrived, she didn't even use her utensils. She ordered a plastic to-
go cup to pour the remnants of her cocktail into, so she could bring it to the game.
Unsatisfied with the amount which that filled up, she ordered another and used it to
top off the cup.
         She tapped her Real ID to transmit the payment for her food, then walked
briskly out the door. She dashed to the elevators and road them up to the 266th
Level where the stadium was.
         Susan reached her seat precisely at kickoff time. The opponent was the
Omega Dagrons, the professional team from Omega Tower.
         The name of the game was Professional Long Ball. The field and stadium
seating took up the common areas of four Levels of the Tower. The ceiling overhead
was the underside of the 270th Level. The high elevation contributed to the allure of
Professional Long Ball.
         But the real draw was the immense scope of the game. The playing area was
a round field of grass that measured two kilometers in diameter. Anything smaller
wouldn't be large enough for certification as a Professional Long Ball field. Each
Tower fielded a 10,000 player team, and was permitted to let 2,000 players onto the
field at any given time.
         As she watched the war unfold on the field, Susan sipped her cocktail through
a straw. Two minutes into the game, the Supremes scored the first goal by hitting a
Scoring ARS with a spherical scoring token. Susan and the other 500,000 fans
cheered ferociously.
         Three hours later, the game ended one to nil, Supremes over the Dagrons.
Susan was thankful that she had arrived on time. During the elevator ride down to
her daltra that night, she reflected on the things that had gone well for her that day.
She was very pleased with her shirt designs and seeing the Alpha Supremes win was
always enjoyable.
         She slept peacefully that night.

                                          4

       The next day, Susan woke up energized from of the string of remarkably good
things that had happened recently. She took her extra energy and headed to the
common area for the second time in three days for a morning run. She bundled up in
a pink lytex workout suit with black arms and a black stripe down either side of her
body.


                                          14
Van Dyk                                                        2076

        Thirty kilometers today, she thought to herself. Today I'm going to do three
laps around the common area!
        She ventured out in her cozy outfit and began to jog. She aimed to run the
loop in a little over 80 minutes, and then she'd pick up her pace and try to do the last
two laps an hour each.
        She worked her speed up to get her blood flowing. She passed by Thor's
Hammer and the 3-on-3 courts. She saw kids playing Red-Black; healthy throngs of
people filled the expansive space.
        In a field next to the 3-on-3 courts, a group of teenagers played Ultimate
Frisbee. She heard them yelling for a pass to be thrown deep and then a voice from
the other team called for a knockdown to be made. She watched as a tall girl
muscled for position and swatted the disc to the ground to prevent the other team
from scoring a point. The girl then took up the Frisbee and in a hurried motion sent
it arching upward into the imitation sky panels that lined the ceiling of the common
area.
        Coming around the first curve, she looked towards the gap in between Alpha
Three, the residential Subtower where she lived, and its neighbor, Alpha Four. In
this glimpse at the outside world, she saw dark clouds looming.
        Looks like rain, she thought to herself, but it is too cold to rain.
        A little bit farther she saw some men standing at opposite ends of boxes
drawn with tape on the ground. They were using wooden paddles to whack a small,
green ball back and forth, aiming to hit the other person's box on a bounce. Susan
had seen this game before, and wondered what it was called. On occasion she
thought she heard spectators shout, “Paddle Slam!” but they could have just been
cheering for one of the players to slam the ball with his paddle. She wasn't sure, and
she didn't slow to find out.
        After 45 minutes she had run halfway around the common area and could
view the gap between Alpha Six and Alpha One. Oh, amazing, she marveled. A
white wonderland of snow was falling against the background of gray January sky.
        She picked up the pace of her jog until it was more of a run. She remembered
snowstorms when she was a little girl. Her mother and father used to take her to the
top level of Alpha Tower and now she got the urge to experience that feeling once
more. But she knew that she'd have to move quickly if she wanted to venture up
there; it wouldn't be long before the precious real estate on the 270th Level was
crowded with hundreds of thousands of people. She cut swiftly through the cold air,
her breath getting heavier. When she exhaled, it was visible like a puff of smoke.
She pushed herself hard for the final five kilometers. She ultimately finished the
second half of the loop in a fraction of the time of the first half.
        She sent a message to her parents asking them to meet her on the top level to


                                          15
Van Dyk                                                      2076

experience the rare, magnificent snowfall. Minutes after that, she was aboard the
elevator heading to the 270th Level of Alpha Tower.
        Her mother and father arrived at the same time as she did. They hugged, then
she pranced into the snow-frosted field to build a snow angel. The snow was already
ten to fifteen centimeters deep, and a thick stream of large snowflakes were still
falling from the sky, swirling quickly around. The wind at the top of the extreme
height of Alpha Tower was cold and strong.
        Pow!
        A snowball collided with her stomach. She looked over to see the big grin on
her father's face.
        She laughed and jumped to her feet to return the favor.
        Boom! She got him square in the back as he ran for cover.
        “Wow, when was the last time we got to play in snow? Ten years ago?”
asked Susan.
        “In 2067 it snowed, and we came up here. Before that, it was 2062,” said her
mother. “I can remember it like it was yesterday.”
        By now many people, both young and old, gathered up on the top level.
Snowballs flew to and fro. People rolled balls along the ground to make snowmen.
Little kids ran about, laughing and pushing each other into piles of snow. Other
children concentrated on catching the large flakes on their tongues. The white
wonderland quickly became a crowded wonderland. Susan and her family moved
off to the side onto a bench where they could watch the energized crowd around
them.
        “This is such a lovely day,” said Susan.
        “Have a look over there, Sue,” her father pointed towards the horizon. Delta
Tower stood approximately one hundred kilometers to the west.
        Susan rose from the bench and took a couple of steps towards the edge of the
Tower, “It's sunny over there,” she observed. “The sun's pouring over Delta Tower.
Look at that shadow Delta casts and the blue skies above it. Daddy, isn't it pretty?”
        “I've never seen anything like this. Remember this, Sue. You might not see it
again for the rest of your days. You may be telling your grandkids about the day you
stood in twenty-five centimeters of snow while you looked over at Delta Tower in
the sun,” her father reflected on the momentous occasion. He looked down at the his
feet which were buried ankle deep in fluffy white snow. “By then, your story will be
that you were standing in half a meter of snow,” he said with a smile.
        She laughed. “Father, nobody would believe me. I'm a very short woman.
Half a meter would be up past my knees. They would know that I'm exaggerating, or
even worse they might think I am making the whole thing up!”
        “And who's going to tell them?” he asked. “I certainly won't be the one to


                                         16
Van Dyk                                                         2076

question your story.” He winked at her, and she knew that if she did go on to
exaggerate this story to her grandchildren that they would believe her.
        But I am an honest and forthright person, and it isn't right to stretch the truth
like that, she thought. She said, “Besides, why would I need to exaggerate when the
story is already so wonderful?”
        He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and hugged her while they continued
to gaze across the countryside. He said, “That's my girl.”

                                           5

        After an hour of relaxing, Susan's mother said, “What do you say we go back
down and make ourselves some lunch?”
        “All right. I could go for some food,” said Susan. “I've hardly eaten
anything all day. All I had for breakfast was a single blueberry banana-nut muffin
and some coffee. I'm starving.”
        The crowd on the top level of Alpha Tower was overwhelming. Groups of
people spread out universally across the available space, forcing the Daces to zig-zag
their way through to the elevators that would take them down.
        Mother thumbed the button to call open one of the sets of doors bound for the
78th Level. Because of the design of the tower, the elevators were divided to run
locally every 40 Levels, and since Susan wanted to stop by her daltra she had to take
a different one to get to the 84th Level.
        “You go on ahead,” said Susan. “I'm going to stop at my place to get changed
out of these clothes. I'll meet you at your daltra in about fifteen minutes, okay?”
        “Yeah, sure. Go ahead honey,” offered her mother. “I'll have a nice sandwich
waiting for you when you get there.”
        Susan pressed the button for the block of elevators that would bring her to her
level. The doors opened and she rode down.

                                           6

        Fifteen minutes later, in a lime green tank top and jeans, she stepped out from
the elevator onto the 78th Level. She hummed a tune to herself, swinging her arms,
and moving with an extra bit of pep. She tried to envision the lunch that her mother
had waiting for her.
        She hoped for a sandwich called the Mí Waí, which was made with roast
beef, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and Russian dressing on a long roll. She also wouldn't
have minded an STJ, hot smoked turkey and melted Jarlsberg cheese with thousand
island dressing on a warm croissant, or a Reuben, corned beef with cole slaw and


                                           17
Van Dyk                                                       2076

mustard on rye bread.
         She reached the door, and to her surprise found that the knob didn't turn.
Odd that mother and father would lock up if they are expecting me, she thought. She
gave it a couple of knocks. “Dad!” she yelled. Nobody came to answer the door.
         “What could they be doing in there?” she said out loud, but to herself.
Maybe they've prepared a surprise of some sort for me, she thought. She grabbed
her Real Id card, and flashed it by the door sensor. She saw the light turn green, then
heard the lock slide out of place.
         She opened the door, and stepped in. The lights were off. She walked in and
saw no sign of her parents. “Mom? Dad? Where are you guys?” she called. But
there was no response.
         She decided to take a seat and wait it out. Maybe they would be back in a
little while. Maybe they just met one of the neighbors in the hall and decided to have
a visit with them.
         Ten minutes later, there was a knock at the door. She answered it, and a
Medical ARS was there. It was made of titanium metal and stood waist high. It was
painted a drab shade of teal. It moved around with treaded wheels and had
mechanical arms which were adept at handling even intricate things. An electronic
voice was heard from internal speakers.
         “Susan Dace, are you Ms. Susan Dace?” The feminine voice sounded very
mechanical, but its speech was easy to understand.
         “Yes,” she answered.
         “I have located you through a scan by your identification card to unlock the
door of the daltra of Mr. Fred Dace and Mrs. Ellen Dace twelve minutes ago. You
are listed as an individual to contact when misfortunes occur that prevent them from
telling you themselves. I am to inform you about an accident which has occurred to
Mr. Fred Dace and Mrs. Ellen Dace at 1:19pm on January 3, 2076. A cable
supporting the transportation elevators that they were in snapped and the unit
plummeted to the ground. Everybody who was on board the elevator at the time died
on impact. Every effort possible was made to resuscitate Mr. and Mrs. Dace, but the
force of the impact was too great. We are sorry, Susan Dace. Fred and Ellen have
passed on.”
          “Oh my god! How can this be?” Susan exclaimed, feeling a sudden rush of
horror come upon her.
         The ARS's reply was cold and systematic, “It is unknown, Susan Dace, what
precisely caused the cable to break. The investigation thus far has uncovered a
clogged heat vent which allowed the topmost chamber of the elevator shaft to get
cold. It is theoretically possible that due to the extreme temperatures, the cable
became brittle and snapped. Additionally, when we were surveying the wreckage,


                                          18
Van Dyk                                                      2076

we identified over 200 bodies. This exceeded the normal capacity of 160 people for
the elevators. The cable may have broken because it did not have enough tensile
strength to support the extra weight.
        “It is most likely a combination of the two that caused the accident. I offer
you condolences from the Tower operators.”
        Susan took a seat in front of the door; her knees were no longer able to
support her weight. She felt as though she had just received a punch in the gut. A
knockout punch was more accurate. She forced herself to look up at the ARS.
“Thank you. You can please leave me now,” she requested, the last words broke up
into a half-mumbled sob. Before the robot had an opportunity to reply, sudden
nausea forced Susan to vomit onto the floor in front of her.
        “You will be contacted shortly by the Tower Bereavement and Disposition
Group to make final arrangements for Fred and Ellen. Thank you for being so
understanding. Have a nice day.”
        These last words were too much for Susan to handle. She doubled over in
tears. Her sobs resonated down the hallway. Her face lay in her hands, which rested
upon the floor. Her cries subsided after more than an hour, but it took three before
she finally managed to rise to her feet and close the door.
        She walked over to the couch and slumped down into it. A few hours later,
she realized that she hasn't eaten all day, and then recalled the reason she had come
to her parents daltra in the first place. A new rush of tears overwhelmed her. She
continued to weep as she lay herself down on the couch, eventually finding sleep
much later that night.

                                         7

        In the morning she felt about as well-rested as a marathon athlete at the end
of the race. This was despite sleeping though the entire night to wake up almost at
noon.
        Her stomach told her that it had been over 24 hours since she had eaten. It
was growling and it hurt like hell. She ordered three egg sandwiches, a large portion
of tater tots, and eight servings of bacon. She added orange juice and coffee to wash
it down. While waiting, she ventured into the bathroom and got a glimpse of herself
in the mirror. She looked like hell. Bags under her eyes had formed from all her
crying. Her hair went in every direction, but down. Her lime green tank top was
stained from several uses as a handkerchief, and she was reasonably sure that she
didn't smell like roses.
        The breakfast came and she sat down to eat it, not bothering with a fork or
knife. She just shoveled the food into her mouth with her hands. She took just


                                         19
Van Dyk                                                        2076

enough time to chew before shoveling in more.
         Right before the third egg sandwich, she heard the daltra door open, and then
there was the sound of something entering the premises. She got up and moved to
the living room to investigate. She saw a parade of Forklift ARS stream in,
positioning themselves to lift and carry out furniture. Behind them, two Humanoid
ARS entered and made their way to the kitchen. These two finally stopped in front
of the IDS bin, and pushed in the code for the destination where things would be
sent.
         “You have got to be kidding me?” Susan said, mostly to herself. The ARS
ignored her and continued on with their business. Apparently, these machines had
uncompromising efficiency guidelines. They worked around Susan without any
attempt to communicate. She let them. When she finished breakfast, the daltra was
half-empty. She got up to leave the place, but turned around to give her parents
daltra its final inspection. She ejected the media card from the telescreen on the wall
so she could take ownership of all the pictures of her and her parents. She slid it into
her pocket.
         New tears, this time quiet ones, came to her eyes. She blinked them away,
then walked through the hallway to return to her own daltra. She remained there for
the rest of the day, mourning the loss of her parents.

                                           8

        The next day, Susan received a note in her IDS from the Tower Bereavement
and Disposition Group, “On the occasion of January 13th, with the attendance of
beloved friends and family, the final rites of Fred and Ellen Dace shall be given by
High Operator Horatio Gates. The viewing will be at 4pm and the last rites will be
delivered promptly at 7pm. As a named member of Fred and Ellen's remembrance
ceremony team, you are asked to communicate to those who would like to pay their
last respects. Together we will keep the memory of Fred and Ellen Dace strong in
the hearts and minds of those who cared for them. Thank you, and know that you
have our deepest sympathies in this matter.”
        She spent the rest of the day sending messages and, when appropriate,
knocking on doors of people who had been close to her parents. All were saddened
by the news of the sudden tragedy, and promised to attend the ceremony.
Meanwhile, Susan was thankful that the messenger chore kept her mind occupied
enough to make life slightly more bearable.
        When she eventually returned home later that night, she crashed on the
couch. Part of her subconscious willed her to rise up and travel the short distance to
her bedroom, but a larger part favored apathy and she ultimately spent the night on


                                          20
Van Dyk                                                       2076

the couch.

                                          9

       During the following week, Susan slipped into a deep depression. She didn't
leave her daltra and barely ate enough to stay alive. She oscillated between sleeping
away the night in her bedroom and sulking throughout the day on her couch.
       The day before the remembrance ceremony, she willed herself to return to
CAPFAL to get her mind off of her parents. She threw on a brightly colored outfit to
juxtapose her inner malaise. Maybe the colors will help me find some way to take
control of my emotions, she thought.
       She strolled into CAPFAL and moved to her unoccupied design station.
From the adjacent design area she heard, “Well, Sue, long time, no see.” It was
Michael Ichabod Young.
       “I don't want to talk about it, Icky,” she replied. “If you'd just let me be for
the day, I would be very appreciative.”
       For a second, she actually thought that he was going to honor her request,
then she saw him amble around the wall into view. The big, dumb smile on his
grotesquely hairy face was the last thing she wanted to deal with at the moment. His
overgrown mustache and beard did nothing to compliment his otherwise attractive
body. Sometimes she wondered how a man who was completely inept at
maintaining his own appearance could be doing clothing design. After standing with
his arms crossed for a couple of seconds, he said, “Is something wrong? Anything I
can do for you? It doesn't look like you've got yourself entirely together.”
       “It's nothing, I swear,” she snapped at him. “I just need to be alone,” her tone
expressed her irritation towards him for making the observation and the offer. She
turned her back to him and flicked the switch to turn on her Design ARS.
       A moment later, she turned her head to see him still there with his arms
crossed. This time her tone bordered on outright anger, “Seriously Michael, do you
mind?”
       “All right, all right,” he backed off, and left her area. “You let me know
when you want to talk, though.”
       She knew that she would never want to talk about it. Not to him, and not to
anyone. She had her own things to worry about, and wasn't ready to talk about it
with acquaintances. He barely even knew her, and certainly wouldn't have
understood the pain she felt from the death of her parents. The void that ripped open
when the stupid ARS announced that an accident had occurred could not be
compared to anything she had ever imagined. Now all she felt was emptiness.
       Sitting at her design station, she stared blankly at the screen. She brought


                                          21
Van Dyk                                                       2076

herself to concentrate on the task of designing clothes. She loaded a pink shirt
module.
        I was wearing my pink workout suit when my parents boarded that death
elevator, she thought. A tear welled up in her eye, and she used all of her energy to
keep from breaking into an audible sob.
        She regained her composure and changed it to a yellow shirt. She loaded a
module for a striped zig-zag pattern. She colored the zig-zag black, then added
thickness to the line and oriented it horizontally on the shirt. She used her stylus to
trace along the edges to give them more of a hand-drawn feel. She rolled the design
ball, and gave the work her personal nod of approval.
        “Hey Icky, come over here and let me know how this looks,” she called to her
neighbor.
        He came around, and upon seeing the design on her screen, burst into
laughter. “You're doing cartoon characters, now?” he spoke when he finally brought
himself under control.
        “Huh?” she said.
        He pointed at the hologram of her work, and drew zig-zags in the air with his
finger, “That's the exact shirt that was worn by Charlie Brown. He had a little yellow
shirt just like that. Though, I must say, you've done a great recreation,” he
complimented.
        “Oh, shut up,” she said, frustrated. “I don't even know who that is. I didn't
copy it from anywhere. This is my own original design. I don't care what you have
to say about it, anyway.”
        She saved the design into the system, then got up in a fit of anger and stormed
out. When she made it to the common area, her head hung down and her pace
slowed. People busy with their own activities passed her by. Her feet found a small
stone and she began to kick it every couple of paces. Her mind began to relax as she
concentrated on the stone. She made a game of kicking it between her right and left
feet. The games taking place all around her existed purely in the background during
her trek through the middle of the common area. Her immediate destination was
Thor's Hammer for lunch and enough alcohol to get through the day quicker.
Halfway there, an errant kick by her right foot sent the stone away to the left. She
lazily continued straight along her path.


                                          10

     Maggie Flanagan watched the dejected young woman from her bench in the
common area. She stood out like a sore thumb with her head down, kicking a


                                          22
Van Dyk                                                       2076

pebble. Maggie seldom saw somebody looking so sad and defeated by the world. I
need to help this girl, she thought. She slipped her notebook and pencil into her
backpack and made a beeline for the dejected woman.
         “Hey, excuse me, young lady,” Maggie said. She didn't pick-up her head.
Maggie approached closer, “Hey, are you listening to me? Can you hear me?” The
woman still didn't respond, so Maggie stepped into her way along the path. The
woman stopped in her tracks and finally looked up. She looked puzzled.
         “Excuse me, I don't know who you are looking for, but I am afraid you have
mistaken me for somebody else,” she said politely.
         Maggie cheerfully said, “Rubbish. You are precisely who I'm looking for.
Where you headed today?”
         “Thor's. Need to grab a drink. I've had a long week.” She paused, “Why am
I telling you this? Who are you?”
         Maggie extended her hand, “Maggie Flanagan, professional information
broker and rogue leader of anti-operation activities. Pleased to meet you.” She
paused for a couple of seconds while the young woman wore a confused look on her
face, then continued “And, since you are going to the pub, I must insist that I join
you and buy the first round.”
         “I... umm... Yeah, I guess that's all right.”
         “Sorry, I didn't catch your name,” the two women began to walk side-by-side
along the path.
         “It's Susan. Susan Dace.”
         “Pleased to meet you, Susan. Would it be too forward of me to ask where
you're coming from?”
         “I'm a, umm, I do design work at CAPFAL,” she brought her arm up and
pointed haphazardly in the direction behind her, “by Alpha Five on this level.”
         “Well, in that case you are walking in the right direction to get away from
your design work for now, and if things go well over at Thor's then you won't have
anything else to worry about for the rest of the day.”
         “Well,” Susan said, “I was planning on going up to see the Supremes game
tonight.”
         “No way, you enjoy watching Long Ballers go at it?” Maggie was genuinely
excited to hear this. “My brother, John, plays for them! He's a hands specialist and if
the game is tied at the end he's a part of the sudden-death team. He's a very
dedicated player; he scored three points last season.”
         “Wow. Impressive, I've never met somebody who is actually a part of the
team.”
         “Well, I will introduce you some time.”
         Maggie continued to make small talk with Susan while they walked together


                                          23
Van Dyk                                                       2076

to Thor's Hammer. She discovered that they had a lot in common. They both
enjoyed running the loop around the common area, and each had a daltra on Alpha
Three. Maggie expressed to Susan that there was no greater joy for her then putting
pen to paper and expressing her ideas. “There isn't a drug in the world that can
compare to the power of composition and writing.”
        “I completely know what you mean, except for me the enjoyment comes from
working with thread,” Susan said as they arrived at the pub. “It's euphoric to see
somebody wearing a shirt that I designed, but in terms of personal pleasure, nothing
compares with the feeling of creating something with my own two hands. I wouldn't
compare it to using drugs, but creation is something that I definitely take pride in.”
        Maggie led Susan to a seat at the bar.
        Susan said, “It's a lot quieter in here than I'm used to.”
        “That's what you get when you start to drink at one o'clock.”
        She laughed, “I suppose you have a good point there.”
        Susan ordered a dark chocolate martini with crème de cacao and Kahlua.
Maggie choose a frozen margarita with extra salt and extra lime. She tapped her
Real Id to pay for the liquid lunches and sent the Cater ARS to work making the
drinks. The machine spun and whirled as the drinks were shaken and blended.
Chocolate syrup for the martini and a mini-umbrella for the margarita completed the
masterpieces and they were placed in front of the ladies.
        “Cheers,” Maggie extended her glass to Susan. “To a rewarding and
prosperous relationship.”
        “Cheers,” returned Susan.
        “So, I noticed,” Maggie said, “that you seemed distraught as you were
walking through the common back there. Is there something bothering you that I
could maybe help you out with? If I had to guess, I'd say you just had a son or
daughter taken from you by the Tower operators.”
        Susan took a sip of her drink, then studied the back of her hand after placing
the glass down on the bar. She looked down at the table, then took a breath. “A co-
worker asked me the same thing this morning. I shut him down; he's such an
insensitive prick that there's no way he could offer anything that would help me to
cope.” Susan paused. She picked her head up.
        Maggie looked in her eyes and saw the glaze of tears forming. Susan
continued, “I mean, just to give you an idea of how much of a prick this guy is,
during the previous Christmas season he said that it looked like all the holiday
cookies were starting to make me look fat. He said this to my face, completely
serious. Who says something like that? Then, he brought a plate of cookies into
CAPFAL a week later and acted offended when I wasn't interested in any. What an
asshole!”


                                         24
Van Dyk                                                      2076

        Maggie nodded, “I could see why you wouldn't want to share anything
painful with a guy like that.”
        Susan took another deep breathe, “So, you were close. It wasn't a son or
daughter. It was my mother and father.”
        “My god. That's horrible!” Maggie exclaimed. “The operators just swooped
right in and took them from right under your nose?”
        “In a manner of speaking,” she said. She explained that her parents were an
important part of her life. Nothing could replace them. Susan talked about
experiencing the snow with them. She talked about the beauty of the atmosphere,
and her father sharing his wisdom for her to capture the moment in her memory
forever. Then, she explained the elevator accident and the horrible way she had
learned about it from the Medical ARS. Tears started to stream down her face near
the end of the story, but she finished by describing her personal doldrum during the
past week.
        “There, there,” Maggie got off of her barstool and wrapped her arms around
Susan. She held her and rubbed her back gently. Susan wept. “Go ahead and cry,”
Maggie encouraged, “it seems like you've been through a lot in the past week.”
        Maggie was encouraged when Susan embraced the hug instead of pushing it
away. After minutes passed, her tears dissipated. She wiped them with a bar napkin
to clean herself up. She said, “The remembrance ceremony is tomorrow. The last
rites are going to be given by a High Operator. After that, my parents will be but a
memory recorded in the folds of my brain.”
        “Don't think that way,” Maggie said. “From what you've described your
parents were amazing people and it seems like their spirit will resonate within the
walls of Alpha for many decades to come.” She paused, “Now, think about them for
a second. Would they want their little girl to give up on life and succumb to chronic
depression for the rest of her years?”
        “Well, I suppose they wouldn't,” Susan uttered thoughtfully. She polished off
her martini.
        This girl is special, Maggie thought. She'll be a member of the Renegades by
the week's end. “Another drink?”
        Susan studied the empty glass in front of her, “To hell with it. Yeah, I need
another one. Something sweeter this time. Something more savory than a martini.
Perhaps,” she paused to think, but before she was able to come up with a suggestion,
Maggie had already ordered the Cater ARS to produce two frozen piña coladas.
“That will be perfect,” Susan nodded approvingly.
        Maggie thought, I wish I could find a way to make the acquaintance of the
High Operator who'll be at the ceremony tomorrow. She asked, “Are you mad at the
great Tower for allowing its elevator to tragically ruin your parent's lives?”


                                         25
Van Dyk                                                         2076

        “I... I don't know. I'd never considered that.”
        “Because if it was me, I'd be ready to bust some heads. Starting right at the
top with the operators who run this place, and working my way down to the
electronic mechanisms which run the elevators up and down the tower.”
        Susan perked up. “Well, like I said, a High Operator is going to lead the
remembrance ceremony tomorrow.”
        “Do you think it would be possible for me to be your guest?” Maggie asked.
She hoped that Susan wouldn't think of her request as odd or too forward.
        “I don't see why not. I'm in charge of the invitation requests. I don't expect a
large audience, just like thirty or forty of my parents' close friends. Why would you
want to go, though? Isn't that a little weird?”
        “Oh, well, I sort of have a fascination with the operators. And the
opportunity to meet a High Op would be a truly rewarding experience.”
        “Yeah, ya know, now that I think of it, they seem to be taking care of the
situation pretty well. To answer your question from before, no, I'm not mad at
them.”
        Damn, Maggie thought. This won't be as easy as I thought. Maybe she can
be convinced the operators are trying to make up for the accident. Or maybe she'll
believe that the operators' negligence was the cause of the accident.
        Maggie said, “Well, it would be a pleasure to see a High Operator speak. And
of course, also to pay respects to your parents. I feel like it would be the least I could
do after hearing you tell that terrible story.”
        Susan smiled gently, “Thank you, I really appreciate that.” They exchanged a
glance and shared a warm, ethereal moment. “Hey, I've got an idea,” continued
Susan, “Why don't you come to the Alpha Supremes game with me at seven?”
        “All right. I don't have anything important scheduled for the rest of the day.”
She held up her nearly empty piña colada glass to Susan, “Another?”
        “Don't mind if I do.”
        Maggie pressed the buttons to send the ARS into action. By the end of the
afternoon, she had lost track of the number of drinks they'd gotten. They certainly
drank more then seven each before 7:00pm rolled around and they stumbled up to
the 266th Level for the game, but neither of them became too drunk because
automated mechanisms in the Cater ARS limited the alcohol content as patrons
consume more and more. The alcohol was further limited because the women didn't
order food, and they were sober enough to cheer the Supremes to a very exciting 13
to 7 win against the Zeta Zortans.

                                           11



                                           26
Van Dyk                                                        2076

        The next day, Susan slept until 2:00pm. She had planned to arrive promptly
when the doors for the remembrance ceremony opened at 4:00pm.
        Shit. I'm late, she thought. She popped out of bed with utter amazement at
how irresponsible she was.
        She ordered her breakfast before hopping into the shower, a common trick
she used when time was of the essence. In the shower, she hummed a fast-paced
tune to help motivate her to cleanup quickly. She thumbed the button to stop the
flow of water immediately after washing the last bit of the soap out of her hair.
        She put on a somber black dress. Black satin gloves completed the look. As
she was sitting down to breakfast, a message from Maggie buzzed on her Real Id. It
read, “Hey Sue, Leaving now, be at your place soon, hope I'm not holding you up. -
Maggie.” She heard Maggie's knock on the door right as she was finishing her
muffin and coffee. She grabbed everything she thought she might need, including
tissues, a pair of dark lensed glasses, and assorted make-up, and tossed it into her
black handbag. She answered the door, reacquainted herself with her newfound
friend, and then promptly set off down the hallway.
        The remembrance ceremony was on the 37th Level of Alpha One. They took
the monorail from Alpha Three to Alpha One and the elevator down to the correct
level. They followed the hallways to get from the travel hub to the ceremony
location at 37 1a 19. They arrived at their destination, at exactly 4:00pm. Maggie
excused herself to use the ladies room, Susan ventured to the front of the room where
two caskets displayed the bodies of her parents.
        The caskets were large mahogany boxes with golden trim. Each was adorned
with colorful bouquets of flowers. Lilacs, lilies, carnations, daisies, and magnificent
roses made the presentation pleasant-smelling. On each side of the room hung a
CTA flag. Susan's mother lay on the right hand side. Her father was on the left. In
front of each of the boxes lay over-sized photographs.
        Susan approached her father's casket, and tears streamed down her face when
she looked into it. There was evidence of large amounts of facial reconstructive
surgery. His right cheek, his left eye, and his left ear all shared tender-looking sewn-
together qualities that the makeup couldn't hide. Despite this, Susan still saw his
warm smile, and she knew that if his eyes weren't respectfully closed that she would
see a twinkle in them. She wept for her loss.
        Susan dropped to a knee, and said a silent prayer for him. She dipped her
head, folded her hands, and mouthed her words, “Heavenly Father, take my father,
Fred Dace, into your kingdom and welcome him with open arms. He has,
throughout all of his life, had a pure and noble heart. His attitude and outlook on life
brought joy to the hearts of many. Please, see that similar joy is brought to him in
the afterlife. Amen.”


                                          27
Van Dyk                                                       2076

        Moving over to her mother, Susan observed the solemn woman who raised
her. She saw a peaceful, innocent face. Her mother had worked hard throughout her
days in the Tower to make sure that Susan had always been happy with herself.
Ironically, without her mother, Susan was more miserable than ever.
        She knelt and prayed, “Heavenly Father, please welcome Ellen Dace at the
pearly gates with the same warm smile that she had when she welcomed guests into
our home. Please help during the transition into the afterlife. My mom comes to you
after an untimely accident, and I ask you to tell her that her daughter is doing okay.
Make sure she doesn't worry about me, because I know she will. Amen.”
        From behind her Maggie said, “She was incredibly beautiful. You look just
like her.”
        Susan turned and found that Maggie had quietly entered during her last
prayer, “Thank you. Everybody used to say that, but it really means a lot now. Did
you see my dad? You can tell that even in death he has a twinkle in his eye.”
        Maggie crossed to the other side of the room and peaked into the casket. She
saw a face that had been extensively damaged and then fixed up. But despite that,
she noticed something else, “He still has dimples on the side on his mouth.”
        In the center of the room, in between the caskets, sat a pulpit where the High
Operator would present the last rites. A telescreen was positioned in front of the
pulpit with a continuous video being played with memories from Fred and Ellen's
past. In front of that, there were seats for the guests separated by a pathway down
the middle of the room.
        Maggie and Susan sat in the front row and began to watch the silent movie of
Fred and Ellen Dace's memories. For the first half hour, they were the only members
in attendance. After 4:30pm other mourners began to arrive. These were people who
lived around Susan all her life. Many were friends of the family long before Susan
had been born. They made small talk and offered condolences, but for the most part
Susan sat in silence throughout the afternoon.
        At six, guests who Susan did not recognize began to arrive. The crowd
generally rotated throughout the afternoon. Many people stayed for no longer than
half an hour. The Rivera family personally made it a point to inform Susan that they
would return for the last rites, as did the Walker and the Robinson families.
        Others simply came and went without the intention to come back.
Regardless, by 6:45pm the room filled up, and it was standing-room-only for some
of the people in attendance. The High Operator made his entrance at 6:50pm. He
circled the room and shook hands with many of the guests.
        Nobody noticed the arrival of the man in the black suit with a red feather at
6:55pm, even though many of them had passed him in the hallway within the last
hour. Nobody, except Maggie Flanagan.


                                         28
Van Dyk                                                       2076




                The Renegades
                                          1

        Maggie found Charles Cohen in his daltra the night before the remembrance
ceremony. He answered the door wearing only a bathrobe tied haphazardly around
his waist. His black hair was wet from a recent shower. His blue eyes and dark
complexion were as handsome as ever. He stood over two meters tall and she arched
her head up to make eye-contact.
        She began, “We have an opportunity.”
        “Good.” His raspy voice acknowledged her, and he waved her in, past the
dirty workout sweats laying in the corner. His daltra was empty except for the basic
furnishings of a love seat, a coffee table, and a brilliant stained-glass lamp.
        “We will need to act quickly. I have a read on an appearance by a High
Operator at a remembrance ceremony tomorrow evening. I want to send a message
to the operators to tell them that this society won't accept their carelessness.”
        “All right. So you want me to kill this guy?”
        His tone is as nonchalant as if he were asking me if I want a cup of tea,
Maggie thought to herself, causing a smile. She answered, “Just want to rough him
up. Can you handle that?”
        Charles grinned, “Oh, definitely.” He moved off to the kitchen, the knot on
his robe came undone in the process. Maggie averted her eyes just early enough to
avoid seeing what he had underneath. He called to her, “Would you like me to get
you anything while I'm in here? A cup of tea, perhaps?”
        Maggie noted his tone and chuckled quietly to herself, “No, I am fine, thank
you.” She sat down on his couch.
        A couple of minutes later, he returned with a large bowl of vanilla ice cream,
hot chocolate fudge, whipped cream, sprinkles, and a cherry on top. She was
relieved to see his robe was freshly knotted. He sat next to her and put his feet up on
the coffee table.
        He said, “What brings about this sudden plan, Mags?”

                                          29
Van Dyk                                                       2076

        She explained about the chance encounter with Susan Dace and the situation
with her parents. She discussed the anticipated course of events at the remembrance
ceremony the next day, “From what I understand, I will meet Susan shortly before
4:00pm and we'll travel to the remembrance ceremony together. She's going as early
as possible to spend time honoring the memory of her parents. She's very broken up
from the sudden and unexpected loss, and it seems like what she needs most in her
life right now is a friend's shoulder to lean on. In the meantime, I've got a feeling
that she would be a fit addition to the Renegades if we can recruit her.
        “In any case, a High Op is expected to give the last rites at 7:00pm. You
come in when he finishes his delivery and the crowd clears out.” She paused in the
middle of her explanation. “Are you with me?”
        He clarified, “So when we're alone with him, we attack.”
        “Not we, just you. Susan shouldn't see it.”
        “Oh, you want it to be really gruesome and you're afraid that the girl has a
weak stomach.”
        “Not exactly. It wouldn't help our cause for her to witness any violence.
We've no idea how she'll react to it and we can't take the risk of it jeopardizing our
ability to recruit her.” She added, “I don't expect your confrontation to be
particularly gruesome, either.”
        “Why the hell wouldn't it be?” There was a sense of anger in his tone.
        “How would you feel about weaponless combat?”
        “I feel fine about it. But wouldn't it be easier to slash him with a knife or
club him over the head and knock him out with a bat? Even broken bottles work
good when nothing else is available. If they hadn't taken my old man's prized
Winchester rifle last summer, I would have no qualms about putting two between his
eyes.”
        “C'mon, we'll get that gun back someday, but not tomorrow. You were
foolish to leave a forbidden relic on display, anyway.” She gestured towards an
empty glass case in the hallway. “But this mission isn't to murder him. We don't
even want to badly injure him. This is a fear mission. If he walks away under his
own power instead of with the assistance of a Medical ARS, it would be fine with
me. What's important is the story he tells when he gets back to his High Operator
cronies. That message is more valuable than killing him would ever be. Got it?”
        He nodded, “No weapons, just fists and boots. I understand. Where's the
remembrance ceremony taking place?”
        “I don't know yet,” she answered.
        She described the parts of the plan which she knew needed refinement over
the course of the next day. They agreed that she would communicate details through
the TMS on their Real Ids. “Make sure you're prepared to receive and answer your


                                         30
Van Dyk                                                         2076

messages after 3:00pm tomorrow and I think we'll be fine. How does that sound?”
        “Sounds good, boss.”
        Maggie got up from the couch, “I'll see you tomorrow. Go with glory,
Charles. Do us proud.”
        “Thanks, Mags,” he rose to see her out, the knot of his robe once again
clinging for dear life. “I'll be waiting for your instructions. You take care of yourself
tonight.” He opened the door for her.
        “You too,” and she was gone.

                                           2

        Throughout the night, Charles tossed and turned with anticipation of the
Renegades first official strike against the operators. He was excited to get it over
with after months of talking about it. In his head, he pictured the fight against the
highest ranking member of the Tower's government. He pictured a one-sided affair
against a defenseless old man. His mind flipped through different scenarios. His
imagination raced even quicker than it had when he was a boy. The last time he
tossed and turned in bed with this level of excitement was before a trip with his
father to their cabin in the woods when he was 16. That was more than a decade ago.
Ultimately, Charles dosed off to sleep during the wee hours of the night.
        Despite a lack of rest, he got up early the next morning pumping with
adrenaline in anticipation of the events to come.
        He skipped breakfast. Instead, he decided to drop in on the Renegade's
second-in-command, Patricia Stark. He needed a way to pass the day or he would go
stir-crazy before it was even time to take action. He currently felt like a little boy
who was expecting some kind of huge surprise from his parents on his birthday, and
the expectation was overwhelming. Also, he imagined that Maggie would have
wanted Patricia to be in the loop, but didn't think she'd have found time to inform her
about the plan.
        En route, he sent her a message to ensure that she'd be around, “Lover, I'm
coming over.”
        After a short delay, she responded, “Oh, baby!” and not five minutes after
that they were naked in the middle of her living room, smothered in each other's
kisses.
        Before he knew it, the time was 2pm and he decided it was time to get down
to business. “Let's get lunch,” he said. “I've got news from Mags.”
        They dressed; her in a beige, cotton sweater and black pants and him in a tee-
shirt and jeans. She ordered them each a Mí Waí sandwich and water. While they
waited, Charles made himself comfortable in the living room, while she wandered


                                           31
Van Dyk                                                        2076

off to the bedroom.
         She returned with his underwear in her hand. “Did you forget these?” she
tossed them at him and scored a direct hit on his head from across the room.
         “These don't do me any good. Hardly nobody ever sees them. When you pee
you gotta find a way around them. When you screw they end up being an extra
obstacle. You can keep them.” He threw them back at her, harmlessly hitting the
wall a meter to her right.
         “Gee, thanks. What's the big news from Maggie?” She grabbed their
sandwiches from the IDS bin and plated them.
         He lowered his eyes and forced his face to look even more serious than
normal, “The first strike against the operators is going to occur tonight at
approximately 8:00pm.”
         She paused, dead in her tracks, “What do you mean the first strike? Since
when?”
         He nodded to her, slowly and systematically, as if to add an additional
measure of proof that he wasn't fooling around. “Maggie dropped by my daltra last
night at around eleven. She met a new recruit yesterday. One who has just lost her
parents to the carelessness of the Tower. According to Maggie, this girl has potential
to be a great source of animosity towards the operators if her energies are channeled
correctly. The operators apparently acknowledged their responsibility in the death of
this girl's parents and decided to send a High Operator to deliver the last rites. Ain't
that crazy?”
         “Wait,” she paused, and placed the plates onto the coffee table and took a seat
next to Charles on the couch. “Did you say they are sending a High Operator to
deliver the last rites?”
         “Is there an echo?”
         “What the heck happened?”
         “Something about an elevator,” he shrugged. “Maggie has finally planned
our first strike against them. Isn't that exciting?”
         “Maggie is going to take a shot against the High Op, then?”
         “No, I am,” he said as he took a bite out of his sandwich. He chewed for a
minute, then continued, “I will beat on him after everybody clears out from the
remembrance ceremony. Maggie said, 'We're letting the High Operators know that
society takes deaths caused by the Tower's automated systems seriously.'”
         “Huh? What's that going to prove?” she asked.
         He shook his head and made a sour face, “It proves that we are a force to be
reckoned with.”
         “Has Maggie lost her mind?”
         “That woman is lots of things, but both you and I know she's not crazy.


                                          32
Van Dyk                                                       2076

What's the worst that could happen?”
        She mused, “I don't like the idea of turning to violence, but you're right.
Maggie wouldn't lead us astray.” She paused, “What are you doing here, then?
Shouldn't you be off getting ready for tonight?”
        “I wanted to fuck to pass time and help channel my energy. With that out of
my system, I'm as ready as I need to be.”
        “I'm not sure whether I should be glad that I could be of assistance or
horrified to be objectified like that. I suppose it doesn't matter. What I need from
you now is to just wait there.” She put the last bite of her sandwich into her mouth,
then disappeared to her room. Five minutes later she came out with a black dress
and a darkened veil in her hand.
        “C'mon,” she said, “you can't go dressed like that. We need to go back to
your place and fix you up.” She bent over to snatch his underwear from the floor,
“and for crying out loud, take these with you.”
        He took the underwear. During their trip back to his daltra, he received the
only message from Maggie he would needed, “Strike fear in him. 5:30pm at 37 1a
19. Go with glory.”

                                          3

        Patricia took a step back to admire her handiwork. Charles was now dressed
in a rather dashing black suit and a black fedora hat that had a red feather in it. She
gave him a nod of approval.
        She put on her black dress and covered her face with a black veil.
        They had time to kill before leaving. Charles' determination showed in his
tight jaw muscles as he paced back in forth in the living room. Patricia knew he was
getting his blood and his adrenaline flowing.
        She, on the other hand, sat forward contemplatively. She considered the
repercussions of their actions. She thought about the different dynamics that
comprised the Renegades. Violence wasn't their style. She imagined them as more
of a cunning group of reformers. If the operators were to react to this with a
declaration of war, they would be in a world of trouble. Supposedly, the system
contained enough information that anybody who was caught committing any crime
would face mountains of indisputable evidence. Convictions were rumored to occur
in greater than 99% of cases and friends of the accused would frequently be brought
in with accomplice charges. Allegedly trials were over within 24 hours of the crime,
so at least they would know quickly if the operators were going to react that way.
Could the Renegades survive this? Had Maggie considered this before ordering the
attack?


                                          33
Van Dyk                                                       2076

         Patricia considered, What if the High Operators uses some kind of advanced
weapon against Charles? There were tales that they carried devices that enabled
them to wield great power. If this were true, he wouldn't get to throw a single punch.
She had heard about a weapon which would emit a ray of heat powerful enough to
burn and incapacitate its victims. Another was a net that would shoot out and expand
to the size of a person so it could ensnare them like a cocoon. The worse weapon of
all, that she had heard of, was the self-implanting bug. It was rumored that the High
Operators could use this weapon to fire a low-velocity needle which embedded itself
into the victim. The nasty bug, while inside, wormed its way to critical body parts
such as the heart or brain. Or it could just wait passively while broadcasting a signal
to help the High Operators to track the victim.
         Finally, she said to him, “You think this is going to go well today? I mean,
you don't have any second thoughts, do you?”
         Charles replied without hesitation, “Nope. No second thoughts.”
         “Interesting.”
         “Ya know, you don't have to come. I won't need your help.”
         “Yeah, I just... you know... worry.”
         A half hour later, it was time to go. They journeyed together and took the
elevators down to the 37th Level.

                                          4

       As the mourners came and went through daltra 19, Charles waited across the
hall. They didn't pay him any notice. If questioned later, a few of the guests may
have been able to recall a statue in the hall with a flash of red emblazoned upon its
head.

                                          5

        Patricia waited down the hall. She wanted to be close, but resolved to keep a
safe distance from the crowd for fear of their plan backfiring. The occasional
mourner looked her way and didn't give a second glance. She watched them with
great interest, though.
        From her perspective, they were all phonies. Nobody gathered to pay
respects to the deceased appeared to be particularly broken up about it. Some even
walked out of the room with joyous smiles upon there faces, laughing as if a real
good joke had just been told. She guessed that these individuals would be having
themselves a jolly time at Thor's in less than an hour. She noticed they all dressed
the part, though. Each wore an outfit which respected the solemn occasion. Too bad


                                          34
Van Dyk                                                       2076

they don't have the same level of dignity in their hearts, he thought.
        She sat on the ground with her arms folded around her knees and her head
down when a voice from out of nowhere said, “Terrible, isn't it?” Patricia looked up
and saw a friendly old lady with a warm smile and a look of good intentions.
“Would you like a tissue?”
        Patricia sniffled her nose and wiped her eye to provide the impression that
she was actually distraught about the remembrance ceremony. “No, thank you,” she
said, finally. “I'm fine.”
        “Oh, where are my manners, dear? I'm Ms. Atilla Robinson and I am pleased
to meet you,” she extended her arm and Patricia shook it.
        “I'm Patricia Stark. Likewise, delighted to meet you. Yes, the loss of the
Dace's is a terrible one. I agree wholeheartedly.”
        “Friend of the family, are you? I don't recognize you from any of the usual
groups that Fred and Ellen hung around with. It was a shook for me not to recognize
somebody who looked as glum as you did.”
        Patricia was taken off guard, but she answered truthfully, “Friend of a friend
of the family, actually. My good buddy Maggie is in there right now. She's a friend
of Susan, especially since the accident. As you know, Sue has...” she paused, in
search of the right words, “Sue has needed the extra support lately.”
        “I see. Well, bless your heart, child. An awfully good friend are you. Our
blessings go out to the family of the deceased. I shall be seeing you around. Don't
let the loss get you too far down, though. Go out tonight and have some fun. And
take that girl Susan out somewhere that'll help her put this behind her. Worse think
to do during misfortune is dwell on it.”
        Patricia thought of the joy that the success of Charles' mission would bring
and said, “Oh, we'll find positives enough from this. That I can assure you.”
        “That's a girl. You take care, now.”
        “You, too. Thanks.”
        Shortly thereafter, the High Operator strolled through the hall and into daltra
19. He wore a long purple robe adorned with sparkling rubies and sapphires. He
held a polished golden staff which possessed the largest diamond Patricia had ever
seen. Atop his head rested a tall hat bearing the symbolic “A” that represented Alpha
Tower on official artifacts of the government. His breast held a patch with his name,
Horatio Gates, beneath an emblem of the CTA flag.
        Patricia was glad to see the High Operator wasn't accompanied by any group
of lesser operators. Thank goodness for that, she thought.
        She paused for a couple moments, then followed him in. Charles came in
behind her. They made their way to the corner of the room where they hoped to
disappear like wallflowers.


                                          35
Van Dyk                                                       2076


                                          6

        High Operator Horatio Gates moved to the front of the room and began to
deliver the last rites, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we gather here today to bare witness to
the passing of Fred and Ellen Dace. These noble individuals have been cornerstones
of this great Tower and it is no doubt that they will be missed. Through the years,
the Daces have brought warmth and tenderness to the walls of the Tower and they
have surely touched the hearts of everybody in this room today.
        “I want you to take a moment to think of a time in your life when Fred and
Ellen went out of their way to do something nice for you,” High Operator Horatio
Gates paused while the audience reflected.
        “As you know, the particular circumstances of their passing are a tremendous
accident. We have learned that an internal malfunction of elevator equipment was at
fault for this terrible occurrence. The cables supporting the elevator reached
temperatures that were measured below the recommended tolerance threshold.
When this occurred, the cable became overly brittle and the weight of a large group
was too much for the weakened structure to handle. The cable snapped and the
elevator plummeted down over 200 Levels, traveling a distance of over a kilometer
to the concrete base at ground level.
        “And how did the cable become cold enough to snap? We discovered a failed
climate control vent located near the top of the elevator shaft. On the particular day
of the accident a half a meter of snow piled up and lowered the mean temperature by
six degrees Celsius. Cold temperature deltas crept into the pulley system used to
support the elevator, and eventually chilled the elevator cables themselves.
        “Now, you may wonder, is there an emergency system to prevent this type of
thing from happening? The answer is emphatically, 'Yes, there is.' However, the
elevator was transporting a significantly higher number of people than the maximum
limit allows. When we uncovered the wreckage at the site of the accident, we found
200 other bodies piled one on top of the other. This is 25% higher than the
recommended weight for the elevators. When the emergency brake system blinked
on, the force was so great that the rubber brake pads crumbled under the friction
force with the shaft they attempted to cling to, thus causing the brakes to fail.
        “Mourners of Fred and Ellen Dace, I ask you to look into your hearts and
hold a special place for the unfortunate couple. Through a misfortune, their
wonderful lives are now cut unexpectedly short. And let this be a lesson to you. Do
not let their deaths be in vain. They have helped to demonstrate an important lesson
which all Tower dwellers must adhere to. Because, while I have used the word
accident throughout this discourse, there was no accident.


                                         36
Van Dyk                                                       2076

        “The tragedy was the result of a series of sequential, logical problems that
culminated in disaster. The operators acknowledge a failure in the climate control
vent at the top of that elevator shaft, but the emergency system failed because people
disregarded the posted warnings about maximum capacity. As citizens of the great
Age of Excellence, every effort is made to enhance your lives to their fullest, but in
exchange you must follow regulatory procedures where applicable. Even though
you can't directly tell why the regulatory procedures are in place, there is always
good reason for them.
        “And so, ladies and gentlemen gathered to pay respects to Fred and Ellen
Dace, leave today with the message that the Tower operators aim to take care of you
through regulations which have been established for your safety. Next time you see
a regulatory procedure posted, think of Fred and Ellen Dace and the lesson they
exemplified to give their lives through disregard of such procedures.
        “I am High Operator Horatio Gates, and I aim to make each and every one of
your lives full and rich in every possible way. Thank you for your attendance and
please go on having great days.”

                                          7

        Patricia listened to the last rites with fury. As Gates had progressed further
and further into his speech, she could feel her cheeks becoming brighter and brighter
shades of red. Her anger mounted at the unfeeling discussion of the deaths of the
two human beings. By the end, the color of her face was as vivid as the feather
sitting atop Charles' hat. The thought that failure to follow procedure was the root
cause of the tragedy seemed ridiculous to her. The operators, she felt, were trying to
mask the fact that their perfect world had been proven to be very imperfect on that
occasion. If she had been hesitant about the idea of a first strike before, those
qualms had dissipated by the end of the last rites speech.
        Internally she felt a shift in her traditionally anti-violent emotions. Those
fuckers need to pay for what they've done, she thought.
        She frowned at Charles, and saw a look of disgust on his face.
        The anger, she thought, is good though, because it gives him an extra bit of
adrenaline that will make beating the High Operator slightly more rewarding.
        As soon as the end of the speech came, people began filing out. From the
corner of the room, Patricia and Charles kept their eyes locked on the target, waiting
for the time when the room was empty enough to strike. At the same time, Patricia
scanned the room for Maggie Flanagan and, even though she has no idea what she
looked like, Susan Dace.
        Gates stepped out from behind his place in the front of the room and walked


                                         37
Van Dyk                                                       2076

down the aisle in the middle towards the exit. She realized that Gates was going to
exit with the throng of people, and then she saw Maggie and a young woman
approach the casket for a final glimpse at the body inside it.
         Charles stepped into the throng and headed for the exit.
         “I'll catch him in the hallway,” he whispered. Patricia followed close behind.
         The five meter walk to the door of the small gathering room seemed to take
hours. Even though there weren't more than fifty people at the ceremony, the
doorway they all funneled out was narrow and they progressed very slowly. As luck
would have it, the path from the front of the room where the High Operator had been
and the path from the corner of the room where Charles and Patricia had been took
the same amount of time. When they came together, Charles found himself letting
the High Operator step in front of him on the way out.
         In the hallway, the pace picked up to normal walking speed, though
everybody was still heading to the same place, the transportation center with its
elevators and the monorail. If Gates managed to reach the elevators, their plans
would surely be as good as worthless.
         “Excuse me, Mr. Gates,” Patricia found herself saying as she stepped beside
the ornately dressed High Operator, “I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your
parlance on the importance of following regulatory procedure. I think you did
excellent work to remind us all of the value of obeying the rules.”
         “Well, thank you very much. I do my best,” he said.
         “Actually, if you don't mind I have a couple of questions that I would like to
ask to you, if you have the time, that is.”
         “By all means. I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't take the time to hear
you out, now would I?” he extended his right arm outward with open palm. “What's
on your mind?”
         Patricia smiled. She was happy that he played into the trap she was trying to
setup, “Well, two things actually. The climate vent that you talked about up there.
How did that break? Shouldn't those things just work?”
         “The climate control vent that was needed to regulate the temperatures in the
elevator shaft? Well, that's a good question.” They continued walking down the
hallway, side-by-side. She sensed that Charles trailed them by about five meters.
“You see, there is a phenomenon known as MTTF.”
         She cut him off, “I'm sorry, my place is this way.” She thumbed her hand to
the left, while the rest of the crowd continued straight.
         “Very well,” they turned down the small, empty hallway. “Now, what was I
saying?”
         “MTTF.”
         “Yes. Median time to failure, you see, is the expected time it takes for


                                          38
Van Dyk                                                       2076

mechanical systems to stop functioning. Many times, when an ARS breaks it's
possible to do a minimal amount of maintenance work and get it back up and running
again. We like to joke that MTTF means 'median time to fixing' in those situations,”
he said with a chuckle. When he saw that she didn't laugh, he added, “It's not a very
funny joke.”
        “The climate vent needed to be fixed?” she asked, to clarify the situation for
herself.
        “Actually, no. The repair work would have been queued up by another ARS
and the repairs would have been completed faster than the time necessary for the
temperature of the cables to drop far enough to become a problem,” he answered.
Patricia turned a corner as they put even more distance between themselves and
people behind them.
        He continued, “In this situation, the climate control vent had completely
failed, and it takes a couple of hours for the systems to respond with a replacement
for the broken part because they have to manufacture it from raw materials.”
        “Wait,” she stopped and turned to him, and he did likewise to her. “You
mean to say that the systems were aware that the climate vent was broken and the
elevator cables were vulnerable to temperature tolerances while the replacement
operation took place? And the systems didn't take action to disable the elevators?”
        Before he could answer, a kick from the speedy Charles Cohen knocked him
off-balance. In an instant, Charles was next to High Operator Gates, punching his
chest and stomach.
        Patricia retreated down the hallway. She aimed to go back to the
remembrance ceremony room to find Maggie. She didn't want to witness the
escalating violence between Charles Cohen and the High Operator, as she didn't have
a high tolerance for such things.

                                          8

       A right hook to Gates' face opened a cut on his lower lip and blood began to
drip down his chin. The blood warmed Charles' fist, and splattered onto his face as
he continued his onslaught.
       The old man was like a living punching bag. He lacked the ability to avoid
the body blows. As Charles aimed for his head again and again, the High Operator
could only move far enough to partially avoid every third or fourth punch.
       A hit to the middle of the old man's stomach sent him reeling and, with his
back facing Charles, he bent over with his hands on his knees to catch his breath.
       “You know who I am, bitch?” Charles asked. “I'm your worst nightmare. I'm
a mother fucking Renegade. I'm the destroyer of souls and I'm here today to fuck


                                         39
Van Dyk                                                         2076

your shit up.” He extended a kick into the operator's rear end, and after two
unbalanced steps the man fell forward onto his stomach.
        “Do you like that? Do you want more?” Charles walked toward the body
sprawled out on the ground. He made to kick Gates in the side of his chest. As his
leg swung forward, a sound pierced his ears, dramatically reducing the force of his
kick when it landed. The ringing doubled Charles over. He covered his palms over
his ears, but it didn't help to dissipate the sharp pain. He stuck his index fingers deep
into his ears and wiggled them around, and that helped a little.
        Gates rolled onto his back and Charles saw a controller device in his right
hand. Gates thumbed a button and the ringing dissipated. Charles removed his
fingers from his ears, but continued to hear faint echoes of the piercing noise. There
were drops of blood on each of his index fingers.
        Gates thumbed a different button and a sudden wave of heat overcame
Charles. Like a deer in headlights, he was frozen in position. His extremities failed
to respond to his impulses to move away from the intense heat that rushed around
him. It burned as if he has placed his hand six inches above a stove top, except it
was over his entire body. He was unable to escape. He could feel a bad burn
developing on the areas of his body that were directly exposed. The skin on his face
seemed to tighten in its place, and he observed his arms turn beet red.
        Gates thumbed the button again and the heat stopped. Charles tried to step
forward and weakly fell onto the ground two meters from the High Operator.
        Charles felt physically drained, and for several minutes both men laid quietly
on their backs as they mentally regrouped. Finally, Charles saw Gates attempt to get
to his feet. With only enough strength to get to his own hands and knees, Charles
began a feeble crawl towards Gates. As Gates got onto his feet, Charles' reached him
and bear-hugged his ankles to bring him down.
        An attempt to take the controller for himself was foiled by the reemergence of
the ear-piercing, high-pitched ringing. Charles clawed at his ears and writhed in
agony on the ground.
        High Operator Gates got to his feet and escaped down the hall, readjusting his
bloody garb. He walked casually down the hall with his back to the daltra 19. As he
moved down the hallway, the ringing slowly died away.

                                           9

       A few minutes later, Patricia, Maggie, and Susan emerged from around the
corner to find Charles on the ground. Patricia approached him and noticed blood
around his ears and splattered on his flushed face. She put her hand on his forehead.
       “Holy Jesus, you're burning up. We need to get you into a cold bath. Come


                                           40
Van Dyk                                                       2076

on, let me help you up,” she grabbed his arm and pulled him. Maggie grabbed the
other arm, and their combined effort was enough to get him to his feet. He wrapped
his arm around Patricia for support while standing.
        Susan said, “What happened to him? What could have done this to him?”
        “We'll figure that out later. Right now, I think Patty's right. We need to get
him to a cold bath to cool him off.”
        Down the hall, up the elevator, and across the Tower on the monorail brought
them to Patricia Stark's daltra. She drew a cool bath and spent most of the evening
sponging water onto Charles' face. When his temperature dropped to normal levels,
the only lasting effect was a burn that covered most of his body. Charles hurt badly,
but he's too proud to admit his pain to anybody.
        The gang of four ordered themselves dinner and congregated in the living
room to discuss the situation. Susan met Patricia and Charles, and she retold her
story of the previous couple of weeks. Maggie filled in details that she thought were
important, as they came up. Patricia added a couple of details which the High
Operator had provided to her after the ceremony.
        “Wait, you talked to him afterwards? Why'd you do that?” asked Susan with
a confused look on her face.
        Patricia answered, “I saw him in the hall and made conversation to be
friendly.”
        After that, Maggie suggested that Susan take some time to lay down and rest
after the long and exhausting day. Patricia showed the young woman to her own
bedroom. She gave her fresh sheets, blankets, and pillowcases so that she'd be able
to rest more comfortably.
        With Susan out of the room, Charles told the story about the battle. He
described the ear weapon and the heat gun which were controlled by a little
contraption that the High Op was able to obtain after he had been knocked down.
Charles remembered foolishly taunting Gates right before the non-physical weapons
came into play.
        Maggie evaluated the situation after the story was done and grunted, “Well,
that sucks.”
        An awkward silence followed. The three looked back and forth at each other
with expressionless faces. Finally, Patricia said, “So, what are we going to do now?”
After a short delay, she refined her query by adding the qualifier, “about the girl?”
        “Go get her,” Maggie said, “It's time to give her some details about the
Renegades.”
        Patricia stood up and made her way down the hallway leading to her
bedroom, but came back seconds later and reported that the girl had fallen fast
asleep.


                                         41
Van Dyk                                                      2076

        “I'll sleep on the couch in here tonight. You guys are welcome to stay as
well, but you'll be infinitely more comfortable in your own beds. You can come back
in the morning and we can finish this.”
        Charles said, “I think I will stay put. The floor is going to be good enough
for me.”
        Maggie agreed.
        Sleep didn't come easily for them that night, despite their tiredness. Maggie
and Patricia tossed and turned, attempting to become comfortable. The cushions on
the couch didn't do anything for Patricia, and she soon found herself on the ground
with the other two.
        Meanwhile, Charles experienced the effects of the bad burns that he had
sustained. He found sleeping on his side, which is his usual position, to be
impossible. On his back, he couldn't get comfortable. Eventually, he sprawled out
on his stomach and took up about half of the floor with his arms outstretched.
Finally, he heard Patricia whisper, “Maggie? Are you awake?”
        Maggie didn't respond, and shortly thereafter he felt Patricia upon him,
undoing his shirt. He rolled onto his stomach and she gave him the most fulfilling
back rub of his lifetime. She was simultaneously firm so that his tension was
relieved and soft enough not to bother his burns. Afterwards, he drifted to sleep.
She fell asleep not too long after that.

                                         10

        Patricia was surprisingly awake and refreshed the next day. She sprung up
and ordered a shipment of ingredients for her famous B2P2s. Blueberry and Banana
Plate-sized Pancakes were a tradition in the Stark family that dated back to the
1970s. They were cooked in a 300 millimeter omelet pan. Flipping them required
specialized equipment.
        She prepared coffee, mini-corn muffins, and the B2P2's. Half an hour later
the pleasant smell of baked goods wafted through the daltra, and the others began
waking up. As they all gathered around, it became obvious that nobody else had
slept as well as Patricia. Maggie walked over to the table with her hand on her back.
Charles was rubbing his neck.
        “Damn burn,” he said. “Now my neck hurts from sleeping on it wrong. Ain't
that a bitch?”
        “Quit your complaining, you big baby,” Maggie said to him. “I've got my
own pain and you don't hear me yapping about it.” Then, “Mmmm, Pat, did you
make all this? It looks good.”
        “Dig in. Sue and Maggie, I guess you haven't had these before. They're


                                         42
Van Dyk                                                       2076

called B2P2's. Bet you can't eat more than one.”
        “Delicious,” said Susan after her first bite.
        Maggie took her plate with wide eyes. “I agree, wholeheartedly. Now, not to
change the subject or anything, but Sue, there is something important we need to
share with you about Charles' injuries from yesterday.”
        “Oh? What is it?”
        “Well, to put it bluntly, his bloody ears and his burnt face were caused by
High Operator Horatio Gates.”
        “What? No. That's impossible.”
        Maggie continued, “It is true. Charles didn't have a chance. The High
Operator was much to powerful.”
        “He was just an old, old man. How could he hurt anybody?”
        Charles answered, “He had a little weapon that he used to mess me up. One
simple button press was all it took.”
        “But why would the operator do something like that?” Susan said in
disbelief. “The operators are good people. They couldn't just randomly attack
somebody in the hallways.”
        Patricia said, “He was defending himself from...”
        Maggie interrupted her, “The High Operators make a career out of appearing
to be good people, but you have to understand that they also have agendas that are
frequently in discordance with what is best for a free society.
        Maggie continued, “Charles, Patricia, and I are part of a group called The
Renegades. We are taking a stand against the atrocities of the operators. We
consider the elevator accident involving your parents to be something that the
operators should have taken action to prevent. You heard what Patricia said. They
knew that repairs in the climate control vent would take time, right? They could've
shut down that elevator, and your parents would still be alive today. Yet, they
perverted the situation to blame the victims. That's an abomination. The operators
shouldn't get away with that kind of propaganda.”
        Susan said, “I understand.”
        Maggie continued, “Believe it or not, there are far worse atrocities than just
plain carelessness that the general public needs to be protected from. Patricia, would
you care to tell your story?”
        Patricia put her fork down and took a deep breath.
        “Four years ago, I saw this girl sitting on a bench with a notepad,” Patricia
began, motioning towards Maggie. “At the time I thought to myself how very odd
for a girl to be sitting all by herself in this day and age, but at the same time I was
immediately drawn to her. I approached her and asked what she was writing about.
She was reserved at first, so I opened up to her about myself.


                                          43
Van Dyk                                                       2076

        “At the time I'd been a psychological researcher at the University. I recently
graduated and was studying violent behaviors among infants. This research was
initiated by the operators to cure the disease that they called, Youth Adolescent
Emotional Instability. I helped lead the team to understand and devise a plan to
implement corrective actions to eliminate uncontrollable temper tantrums among
young children and relentless crying from infants. Identifying the mechanisms that
controlled these negative behaviors seemed like a great idea."
        Maggie interjected, "After much prodding, I eventually revealed that I was
taking notes on the people of the Tower. Also, I confessed that I'd been caught off
my guard because she was the first person who ever approached me while I was
doing my observations, which had been going on for one year and six months at that
time."
        "So, by and by, Maggie and I began to talk and learn about one another. I
explained recent frustrations about the goals of my research and the direction that I'd
received from the operators. Their most recent guidance was to conduct experiments
meant for mice using toddlers as our test subjects. It made me feel terrible to
perpetrate what amounted to Pavlovian torture on babies. The day I met Maggie, I
was on the verge of a mental breakdown against the operators because of the control
they took of our laboratory. It made me feel powerless when they told me how to do
my job, and knowing that if I resisted it would kill my future at the University.
        “We agreed that we could help each other. I offered to tell my story which
vilified the operators, and Maggie simply documented the inhumane treatment of the
babies. It was truly a match made in heaven. The relationship budded from there,
and shortly thereafter she had completed her report of the inhumane practices of the
operators against the young children. Of course, we didn't tell a soul about the
collaborative work we did. To this day, not even all the Renegades have read the
final report. Anyway, shortly after she finished the report, an even greater atrocity
befell my research. The administering operator ordered that I apply a sustained
pressure to a babies neck to see if it would stop a crying outburst. He said to me,
'Hold your hand like this.'” She clutched her hand over her own throat to
demonstrate. “This only made the infant more aggravated and his cries grew louder.
He said, 'Keep holding it. We need this research.' I had to look away when the
baby's head became a beat red, but the operator looked on intently. He repeated,
'Keep holding it. We need this research.' The baby's wails became choked, and then
the cries stopped. The operator looked at me and said, 'You've cured him.' I stormed
out of the room. That drove me to leave my position at the University. I didn't want
a life where murder was considered a cure.”
        “That's horrible,” said Susan.
        She stared in disbelief at Patricia. A tear welled in Patricia's eye.


                                          44
Van Dyk                                                       2076

         “I later found out that the corrective actions taken by the University to cure
the world of temperamental children was to was to simply erase them from society.
The ruling was based on a claim that temperamental babies were less likely than
normal babies to grow up to embrace equality in our society. The operators said
temperamental youths embraced the whims and fancies of their own emotions. I
hate them for that decision, and my only regret since leaving has been that I wasn't
there to try and stop it."
         Patricia paused for a second to compose herself. Thinking about the
disregard by the operators caused her face to turn red with anger.
         “You poor thing,” consoled Susan.
         "With the University behind me, I worked closer and closer with Maggie. A
month after I met her, she concluded her study on the people of the Tower. With my
help we began to pour through pages and pages of notes, scribbles, and data
collected representing different facets of society. From this data, we started to
categorize different types of people as part of a massive psychological profile of the
Tower."
         "What came next," Maggie continued, "was the systematic application of the
study in order to identify individuals who didn't fit the mold. As time progressed, we
attracted a good number of people to our cause and informally adopted the name
Renegades. The people who've been drawn to our group have almost universally had
something of great importance to them taken away from them by the operators. For
Patricia, it was her research, her livelihood, and the children that were taken away.
For Charles, they took away a prized possess and his father. For me, they took my
hope for a peaceful reformation of the world.”
         Patricia said, “They effectively took away all the enjoyment of studying
psychology that I had previously gotten much satisfaction from.”
         Charles said, “They stole a Winchester rifle right from out of my daltra, and
during the same day they my dad went missing. I have no doubt that the operators
erased him just like they did to Patricia's children.”
         Maggie said, “And I lost confidence in the operators abilities to lead when
they crassly censored an essay that I had written in 2071.”
         “I see,” said Susan.
         Maggie continued, "The point we're trying to make is that there are some
critical ideologies that need to be addressed in terms of how the operators run things.
Our group can bring about these changes. You've suffered a personal loss due to the
carelessness of the operators. We think you would be a valuable asset to the group,
and we would like you to join us in the fight against the wrongdoing and oppression
of the operators.”
         Susan's eyebrows raised.


                                          45
Van Dyk                                                        2076

         Maggie said, “Of course you should realize that you don't need to make any
decisions today. With the loss of the two most important people in the world to you,
we recognize that you might need some time to get your head straightened out.”
         Susan nodded. She looked down towards the floor to collect her thoughts.
She said, “One thing that was particularly unnerving about the remembrance
ceremony was the way the last rites were presented as a set of scientific findings
concerning the accident. Before the other mourners were arriving I prayed that God
would look over the Tower so that similar accidents wouldn't occur, but a strict
adherence to regulatory processes wasn't exactly what I had in mind. And reflecting
on the overall tone of the last rites, the callousness of the High Operator isn't
forgivable. I guess I must've been so caught up in the notion that the High Operators
are wise and honorable leaders, but now that I think about it, the last rites speech
failed to recognize the greatness of my parent's lives. After all, remembrance
ceremonies are supposed to honor a person's life and not the unfortunate occurrence
of their death.”
         “That's an excellent point,” said Patricia “It's good to see you understand the
fallibility and injustice of the operators.”
         “What would it mean to accept an invitation and join the Renegades?”
         “It'd mean that you'll be part of something big,” answered Maggie. “Over the
last few of years our priorities have been planning and preparation. We meet on a
weekly basis to discuss our mission and accomplishments, so you'd be expected to
attend those. There are currently three Renegade Operating Groups. You'd become
the sixth member of the team I lead called the Pistols. You'll get to know the rest of
our OG pretty closely and when the opportunities arise you'll be expected to support
us. Our goal is to make the operators pay for the intolerable acts that forced our
group to form. If you joined us, that's what it would mean.”
         , “I'm in,” Susan answered. “Whatever you're doing to stop this, I want to
help as much as I can. If I can stop one other person from losing their parents in a
tragic accident, it'll be worth it.”
         Maggie hugged her and they both smiled, “Welcome aboard. I think you'll
like it here.”




                                          46
Van Dyk                                                         2076




                                   Jared
                                            1

        Jared Flanagan sat on the balcony of the Flanagan family daltra, 199 3d 937,
on an afternoon in March. He and his mother considered themselves lucky to have
been able to continue to occupy a rare three bedroom balcony daltra after Maggie's
departure five years ago, but her monthly visits kept the Tower's management
systems at bay. Not that anybody besides Jared used the extra space. Mother's busy
social schedule meant she wasn't around much. As a result, Jared thought of himself
as the “king of the daltra”. He had the freedom to do whatever he wanted throughout
the day.
        From his balcony, he gazed out across the landscape and his mind wandered.
On the clearest days, he saw all the way to the ocean. During any other weather,
with the exception of thunderstorms and thick fog, Delta Tower loomed on the
horizon. Presently, he eyed a tree that had taken root near Delta Tower's base. He
estimated it to be 25 meters tall, but it only came up to the fourth or fifth Level of the
Tower. It seemed huge even from the great distance. He wondered about the effort
involved in erecting such a massive structure.
        Thinking about the numbers was staggering. There were 50 Towers. Each
was divided into six residential Subtowers that were rendered hexagons in plan, like
a honeycomb. At 270 Levels, each Tower measured 1.34 km tall. The core of the six
residential Subtowers contained a seventh which held 130 Levels of common area
that serviced a multitude of different functions. Each Subtower occupied
approximately 1.3 square kilometers of area, meaning that there was a distance of
approximately 4 km from the outer wall of Subtower One to the outer wall of
Subtower 4 on the opposite end of the structure.
        Jared mentally visualized a blueprint of Level 199, Subtower 3 that he had
accessed on one curious day several years ago. The plan was broken into six slices
that were denoted with the letters 'a' to 'f'. He had counted one time to find that there
were 1000 bedrooms spread across slice 'd'. Presently, he repeated the mental


                                           47
Van Dyk                                                         2076

arithmetic in his head for 1000 people times 6 slices in 6 Subtowers of 270 Levels
and factoring that an average of 2.8% of bedrooms would be shared he came up with
exactly 10 million residents.
        “Wow,” he whispered to himself.
        Jared pondered the systematic assemblage of the grand social order during the
Age of Excellence. He knew that socio-political forces led to the Tower's
development. They were originally built as a defense mechanism when wars ruined
the cities of the old Republic. The architects and designers redeveloped the urban
landscape using revolutionary “resource management” techniques that provided a
robust level of security. Whereas enemies could easily penetrate, detonate, and
infect key infrastructure and personnel in the streets of yesteryear's cities, the Towers
established a barrier against all chemical and biological weapons. A wide range of
threat sensors and anti-weapon systems formed a protective boundary which
extended for 100 kilometers around each Tower. Centralized living and resource
management made it possible to ensure that even enemies living within the Towers
were harmless.
        With over 100 million people protected in the original thirteen Towers, the
leaders of industry declared victory in 2026. Everlasting peace had been achieved,
and the population was told not to worry about the possibility of any future attacks.
        But Jared pondered the possibilities. He was the proprietor of a collection of
unauthorized original cut films which he lovingly referred to as The Classics. These
had taught him that even the most impregnable structure had to have a weak point.
In his collection of The Classics he'd seen not one, but two Death Stars destroyed
because of weak points. He saw Frodo and Samwise penetrate into the heart of
Mordor, and Roland and his ka-tet march steadfastly into End-World. Jared didn't
believe for a second that America could unequivocally be declared protected. He
imagined that it was a matter of time before the weak-spot would be revealed.
        This made him recall a discussion he had last time Maggie visited. She had
posed a question for his inquisitive mind and now he repeated it to himself, “Can
files in the digital docufile system and communications over the TMS be protected
from the operators?”
        The solution came to him like a rush. He said to himself, “You'd be protected
if you didn't communicate with a language that the operators understood!” He
smiled to himself. This one was easier than most of the other thought problems she'd
given him. “Or maybe I'm just getting smarter,” he said smugly to himself.

                                           2

       Maggie Flanagan walked into the daltra early the next morning while he was


                                           48
Van Dyk                                                      2076

watching one of The Classics. Jared rolled his eyes as he heard the door behind him
swing shut.
        No, I don't want to go have lunch with you today, he thought.
        She asked, “What are you up to?”
        “The rebels are about the to blow up the Death Star in A New Hope,” he said
without moving his eyes from the screen. On the telescreen, Luke Skywalker
removed his computerized navigational display system, and let the Force guide him.
        “I want you to come out with me tonight.” She waited for a response. After
the explosion of the Dark Star she added, “I haven't got anything special planned.
Just an evening together at Thor's and a couple games.”
        “We went there in December? Why do you want to go back so soon?”
        “Listen, you ought to get out of the daltra more often. Once every three
months doesn't really cut it. There's a whole world out there that's passing you by.”
        “But I like it here.”
        “And in the past when we've gone out, you've enjoyed yourself out there, too.
It's only one night. At worst, you'll have to postpone watching the showdown at
Calla Bryn Sturgis until tomorrow.”
        “Do you even pay attention to me? It goes Star, then Lord, then Dark.
There's no way I could get all the way to Bryn Sturgis if we just saw Luke blow up
the Death Star!”
        “I'm sorry. It would mean a lot to me if you came out tonight.”
        “Fine, I'll go with you.”
        She smiled, “Great, I'll be back around 7pm and we'll head over. You'll have
fun, I promise.”
        Not too long after that, she said, “Good-bye”. He rolled his eyes once more
as he heard the door close behind her.

                                         3

       They arrived at around 7:30pm. It'd been about three months since the last
time Jared had been to the Hammer, so he looked around to jar his memory of the
way things were setup. The drink room featured inner and outer bars. The outer bar
wrapped around the room and dispensed mixed drinks and smoothies. The inner bar
was a “U” shape in the center of the room that served different types of beer
including brown ale, pale ale, stout, and lager. Music played at a low enough volume
to make conversation easy. Colored lights flashed around the bar. In a few hours bar
patrons would come along and climb onto the bar in hopes of hooking up. People
who sought to attract women would typically hop onto the outer “Ladies” bar and
those who wanted men would jump up to the inner “Guys” bar. Once the bar


                                         49
Van Dyk                                                       2076

dancing started the music would be turned way up, but now it was just the lights.
        Maggie ordered a margarita from the outer; Jared got a lager from the inner.
They stepped into the game room. Dart boards lined the wall on one side of the
room. On the other side, couches and telescreens illuminated the wall with
broadcasts of Long Ball, Speed Ball, and Stick-ball. In the middle of the game room
were billiards, foosball, gravatron, and air hockey.
        Maggie suggested the game Around the World on one of the dart boards; the
goal being to hit all the numbers from one to twenty in order. Jared agreed and
offered to let her go first.
        While she took her shots, she announced, “There's somebody I want to
introduce to you.” She hit her mark on the one, then hit a seventeen and nineteen.
        “Oh yeah?” He hit a one, then a three, then a two, and earned credit for one
and two. “I hope you aren't trying to set me up again. You remember what happened
last time you tried to introduce me to a girl?”
        “Yes,” she said with a grin, “I remember.” She connected on the two during
her next turn. “But no, I want you to meet a guy who shares your passion for old
movies.”
        “Classic,” he said while hitting his mark for the three, four, and five on the
dartboard, “films.”
        “Whatever you say, Kevin knows more about movies than anyone who I've
even met, and that includes you. I've seen him work quotes from the movies you're
always watching into everyday conversation.” She hit the three and the four.
        “Interesting.” He got his six.
        She came up empty on her next turn. “His DVD collection has over 500
unauthorized titles in it.”
        “That'd be a sight for sore eyes. I wouldn't mind checking that out one day.”
He made the seven and eight.
        “And, he's a writer. He wants to make his own movies one day.”
        “Good luck finding a crew. Doesn't he know people don't do that sort of
thing anymore. The only video production these days is live action and propaganda.
No scripts. No writers. No imagination. Between that and the occasional visit to a
CSR most people are completely and totally entertained. If your friend is one of
those live action producers then I don't care how many DVDs he has.”
        “He certainly isn't.”
        “Good, cause that unscripted bullshit depresses me.”
        “You've thought about this?”she asked.
        “Oh well, you know.”
        “Since when have you been interested in movie production?”
        “It's always interested me.”


                                         50
Van Dyk                                                        2076

         On her current turn she brought her score up to nine. “I'll be right back. I
need another drink. Do you need anything?”
         “No, thanks.”
         While she was away he got the fourteen and fifteen. When she came back
she said, “I told Kevin about your Classics collection and he was impressed by the
quality of what you choose to watch.”
         “Only the best. I don't tolerance anything but the highest in quality. If only
other people shared my interests, the world would be a better place and the standard
of living would rise, dramatically. Unfortunately, the lack of variety does not seem
to be evolving anytime soon. And millions of people in our Tower waste away their
insignificant lives. It makes me sick.”
         “This is a new side of you that I'm seeing. I'm amazed, honestly. But if you'll
allow me to play devil's advocate for a minute, how can you claim about a lack a
variety when you watch the same three things over and over again.”
         “High-quality variety,” he got the seventeen.
         She hit the eleven, “What about this question? What separates you from the
people you allege lead insignificant lives?”
         “What do you mean insignificant?”
         “You said insignificant a second ago.”
         He clarified, “Are you implying that my life is insignificant?”
         “Movies and the balcony?”
         “Well, the balcony is where I go to think. Thinking is significant and most
people prefer activities that don't require any thought.”
         “That's very astute,” said Maggie as her darts hit the twelve and thirteen.
“So, listen. Tomorrow I'm getting together with a few of my friends, including
Kevin, and I'd like you to join us.”
         He got the nineteen on his turn and said, “C'mon Maggie, you know I don't
like meeting people. It's overwhelming and most people aren't worth meeting in the
first place.”
         “These people are different. Plus, I already know you'll hit it off with Kevin,
so what do you have to lose?”
         “Fine, just let me know when you'll come to get me and I'll join you and your
friends if it'll shut you up.”
         “9:00pm tomorrow. Wear something dark.”
         “That sounds good.” With those words he hit the twenty and ended the game.
“Good game, sis.”
         “Good game, indeed. I only got to thirteen.”
         “Practice makes perfect. You can't win them all.”
         “You certainly don't practice. How can you say that when you know that I


                                          51
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play darts regularly? What makes you think you're so good?”
       “The force is with me,” he said solemnly.

                                         4

        Maggie returned to her daltra after that. She had thinking to do. The evening
with her little brother had gone better than planned. She was happy he joined her at
Thor's Hammer for the evening. She became ecstatic when he accepted the
invitation to the meeting the following day. She hadn't dreamed of inviting him to a
Renegades weekly meeting until he mentioned something about a lack of quality on
the Towers.
        Is it possible that he'd make a good Renegade? she thought.
        In anticipation of his attendance, she needed to change her plans. Of course,
she'd ask Patricia to lead the meeting so she could stick close to Jared, and they
wouldn't be able to get to their normal agenda because the bulk of the meeting would
be spent explaining why they formed the Renegades and their mission to reform the
policies of the High Operators.
        She reflected on their conversation during the game of darts. She was
particularly struck by his commentary on the status quo. He never previously
expressed those types of thoughts to her. She flipped open her notepad to reread a
phrase he used that she jotted down after they parted. She read aloud, “If only other
people shared my interests, than the world would be a better place and the standard
of living would rise, dramatically.” This indicated a pronounced discontent with the
way society was managed under the operators.
        Maybe, she thought, he won't need much convincing to join the Renegades.
But then her mind shifted, where would he fit in? She meditated on this for a number
of minutes and smiled to herself when she realized the type of role he would be
good at. She said, “He's like R2-D2, quiet but capable to making significant
contributions at the most opportune moments.”

                                         5

        At 8:00pm the next day, Jared left his daltra dressed in a dark hooded robe.
He didn't want to accompany Maggie to meet her friends that night, so he'd done
some snooping to gain access to her recent TMS log and discovered that the meeting
was on the uppermost Level of Alpha. He rode an elevator to the top and then hid
under the darkness of night. The robe made him virtually invisible, and he waited
patiently for his sister's arrival.
        Around 9:15pm, he saw her get off an elevator carrying her notebook under


                                         52
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her right arm, and her knapsack flung over her back. She was in a hurry and she
looked frustrated. He followed from a distance. He took care not to make any noise
that would arouse her suspicions. The hood was secured tightly around his face so
that even if she spotted him, it would be impossible for her to recognize who he was.
        She stopped in the middle of a stick-ball field, where several others were
already gathered in a circle. He settled into a spot in the dugout of the field they
were on. Unfortunately, he couldn't hear their discussion, but he didn't dare to get
closer because the openness of the field would give him away, and the view from the
dugout sufficed.
        After a brief period of standing around, Maggie's friends sat in the center
field grass. Maggie remained standing.
        What are they doing? Jared wondered. They faced her and looked up
attentively. She spoke for several minutes. Jared assumed she was talking about
him, though he couldn't know for sure.
        There were five others. A blond woman sat closest to Maggie. A big man
with a fedora sat furthest from her. He was, by far, the largest person there. A girl of
small stature with black hair sat between two ordinary sized men. One of these men,
Jared sensed, was Kevin. One seemed to listen intently and sat with his arms folded
in his lap. The other stretched his arms backward and leaned on them. His feet were
spread out in front of him, and at one point he laid on his back. If Jared had to guess,
he figured the man with the folded arms must be Kevin.
        During the half hour that followed, the group engaged in a discussion where
people raised their hands to speak.
        This isn't a normal behavior for friends, is it? he asked himself. Who are
these people and why are they letting my sister moderate their discussion. What is
she up to?
        Eventually, the group got to their feet. The man with the fedora departed with
the blond woman. Maggie accompanied the black-haired girl back to Subtower
Three. The other two men went their separate ways. Jared followed the one he had
assumed to be Kevin. They headed in the direction of Subtower Six. For five
minutes he followed silently from a distance, safe from being noticed. As Kevin
drew closer to the elevators, Jared decreased his following distance. When the
distance between them was only three meters, Kevin turned and spotted Jared
wrapped in his dark robe.
        “Jared Flanagan? I suppose this means your sister has actually followed
through on her promise to introduce us tonight,” Kevin's voice had an air of
superiority.
        “You must be Kevin,” Jared forced his voice lower than normal.
        “Come, take off that hood. Let me get a better look at you.”


                                          53
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        Jared pulled the hood from over his face and stepped forward. The two men
shook hands. Kevin smiled at Jared's wardrobe, “Nice to you meet you, sir Jedi.”
        “Yeah, and if you don't watch out I'll slice you with my light saber.”
        “C'mon, ease up a little. I meant no disrespect.” Kevin continued walking
towards the elevators. Jared followed two paces behind. Kevin called over his
shoulder, “You know, I don't think I have any need to fear any light saber attacks.
You're no Jedi Master. I'd expect a true Jedi to follow side-by-side with a new
acquaintance. You seem to be more of a padawan, in that respect. Now, come
padawan, step up and walk with me like a man.”
        Jared caught up. The elevator took them down to the 53rd Level. Kevin led
them from there down a hall and into daltra 53 6a 5.
        Immediately, Jared recognized that he was in one of the most poorly
decorated daltras ever. There were white walls with no pictures hanging anywhere.
A drab gray carpet covered the floor. The telescreen sat on an unadorned cabinet
against one of the walls. The only furniture in the room was the recliner and a love
seat, both colored with a faded green fabric. It was exactly how he imagined he'd
keep his own apartment when he moved away from his mother, and Kevin looked
right at home as he plopped into the recliner. His outfit matched the style of the
room. He wore a pair of jeans and a faded blue and red striped polo shirt.
        “Nice place,” Jared said as he sat down upon the love seat.
        “Don't lie. I realize I haven't done anything to decorate it during the 5 years
I've lived here. I'm fine with that.”
        “I meant it as a compliment. There are clearly many things that are more
important to you than having pretty decorations on the wall. That's a good thing in
my book.”
        Then, he noticed the DVD player sitting in the cabinet that supported the
telescreen. Not counting his own, this is the second DVD player he had seen in his
life. The first had been in a museum called Life One Century Ago.
        “Nice DVD player.”
        “Well, thank you very much. I put a lot of effort into taking care of it,” Kevin
paused. “Maggie tells me that you've got one of your own?”
        “Yeah, I got it when he was very young. I don't even remember who gave it
to me,” he said. “Do you remember how you got yours?”
        “Right before my grandfather passed away he gave me his player and all his
DVDs,” said Kevin.
        “Yeah, where are all your films?”
        “I keep those in the bedroom. The operators have been known to break-in
and confiscate things that are unauthorized,” said Kevin as he got up. “You want to
see them?”


                                          54
Van Dyk                                                         2076

         “Heck yes,” Jared followed Kevin through the hall, past the bathroom, and
into the bedroom. As he entered the room, he saw a bed and a lot of empty space.
“Where is everything?”
         Without a hitch, Kevin kneeled down and removed a short dowel from a slot
at the foot of his bed. Large horizontal book cases emerged from underneath each
side of the bed. Each was over a meter tall and spanned the length of the bed. They
were filled with DVD cases.
         Kevin said, “I designed this all by myself.”
         “My God, man,” Jared's jaw literally dropped.
         He approached the cases. When he was close enough to read titles, he
observed that none of the movies were lined up in any sort of decipherable order. He
found a case labeled Godfather next to a movie called Annie Hall which was also
next to a movie called Green Arrow; the movies were definitely not in alphabetical
order.
         He smiled when his scan fell on a case that contained the Lord of the Rings
trilogy. On the left of Fellowship of the Ring sat Family Guy: Season Eighteen and
on the right of Return of the King was Moon Dancer. He assumed that neither
Family Guy: Season Eighteen nor Moon Dancer were epic adventures, so the movies
weren't organized by category.
         “You don't have these in any sort of order,” Jared said.
         “Don't be silly,” said Kevin. “Of course there's an order. It would be
impossible to find anything if there wasn't a logical rhyme or reason to the
organization system. The order is exactly the same as when my grandfather passed
them down to me ten years ago, and he based his ordering scheme on the
chronological order that he received the movies in. The order has served me well. In
fact, believe it or not I could tell you the location of any movie in those shelves given
just a title. Quiz me, if you care to challenge the ordering of my films.”
         “No thanks,” Jared said. “I have no desire to make you prove your claim.
There certainly are a lot of movies, though. Some I have heard of, most I haven't. It
would take months to watch all these.”
         Kevin added, “Three months, to be precise.”
         “And they're all unauthorized?”
         “You bet.” After a beat he added, “All DVDs are unauthorized. They don't
make them anymore. The operators prefer digital distribution because it's more
conducive to censorship. When the movies are stored on physical artifacts it's harder
to control who can view them.”
         “Aren't you afraid that the operators will come and take them one day? I
mean, there are so many violations here!”
         “Don't you worry about the operators taking your own films? If you did,


                                           55
Van Dyk                                                       2076

you'd hide them and never speak of them.”
        “But that defeats the purpose. If protecting them meant not being able to
enjoy them, then what would the point of even having them be?”
        “You're indeed a wise young man, as your sister said,” said Kevin. “But
consider these artifacts from the past have a shelf life and in a number of decades
they will be rendered unplayable. I can sleep at night because as long as there's a
long term path to obsolescence, the operators will leave me alone. Plus, I built this
hidden bookshelf myself. It'd take a fairly thorough search in order to discover the
secret that unlocks the movies from under my bed.”
        While Jared reflected on this, he took a case entitled Sex, Drugs, and
Roll'n'Roll from the shelf. Kevin raised his voice, “Put that back now! You can't
touch. Show some respect.”
        Jared put the movie back, but he was spooked. How could he take that tone
with me? he thought. I didn't do anything to him. If he's going to be territorial, I've
got to get out of here.
        “Come on,” Kevin said, “Maggie said you're good at darts. Maybe we can
head over to Thor's to throw a few rounds.”
        Jared shook his head. He backed away from the movies towards the bedroom
doorway. “I'm going home,” Jared said as he crossed the threshold into the hallway.
He backed down the hall so he could keep an eye on Kevin.
        “I didn't mean anything by yelling. Don't be offended.” He followed Jared
into the living room. “Suit yourself. I hope there's no hard feelings.”
        Jared opened and shut the door softly behind him. He covered his face with
the robe's hood once again, and made his way home.

                                          6

         Jared sat on his balcony late that night. Maggie's motivational hoopla
irritated him. He contemplated, why does she think I need new activities and new
friends? He believed her intentions were good, and he didn't really object to being
introduced to Kevin. But her approach bothered him. She made him feel forced into
things he didn't want to be involved in. He wasn't convinced that she factored his
best interests into her plans.
         And what exactly were her plans?
         From her discussions during the past few years, he surmised that she was
involved in some kind of conspiracy theory against the operators. He knew she
thought the operators had too much power over society, but it wasn't clear what she
wanted to do about it. All he knew was she'd recently been fascinated with finding a
chink in their armor.


                                          56
Van Dyk                                                       2076

        Were the operators really so strong that they couldn't be dispatched with
sheer force and a coordinated effort?
        He realized at that moment that he had never actually seen an operator. He
answered his own question out loud, “An adversary that you cannot face is an
adversary that cannot be killed.” He considered Roland and the Crimson King and
decided that sometimes an enemy could be easily vanquished. Then again, the trials
and tribulations along the Path of the Beam caused more hardship than anything
imaginable, and contemplating Roland's ka-tet brought about another question.
         Did the group of her friends share her feelings towards the operators and
was their goal to shift the balance of power to their favor?
        The speculation that their meeting served a mission made sense. A team
would be much more powerful against the operators than an individual. The rebels,
the fellowship, and the ka-tet all agreed with that. But if they fought against the
operators together, then they shared Maggie's feelings that the operators controlled
too much power. But if there was a real struggle for power between the operators
and the commoners, then why wouldn't more people involved in Maggie's group.
Shouldn't she have an easy job recruiting?
        Was Maggie the bad guy?
        He shook his head to dismiss the question of Maggie's intentions. He didn't
have any reason to question her motives, except for the small size of her alliance. He
switched gears to his encounter with Kevin. He decided that the movie collector was
arrogant. If he hadn't possessed several hundred DVDs he would've been briskly
dismissed. However, Jared needed to take advantage of the opportunity to see films
like The Godfather. He'd heard stories from his mother that films once influenced
culture, and The Godfather was supposedly one of the best of all time. He resolved
to bury the hatchet with Kevin.

                                          7

        Jared woke up at 1:00pm the following day and found Maggie sitting in the
Flanagan family living room. Unlike most of the Tower's residents who structured
their lives with an informal schedule, Jared slept when he wanted and made it
impossible to predict when he'd actually be awake. Maggie had been waiting for
nearly two hours that morning.
        “Rise and shine, sleepy-head,” she greeted him as he entered the room in
white rag of a tee-shirt and blue boxer shorts. His chubby belly stretched the shirt in
the front. He took a seat next to her on the couch. “Whoa, buddy. You need a
shower worse than you know,” she said.
        He shrugged.


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        “Well, you do,” she didn't pursuit the issue any further. “So, I heard you met
up with Kevin after the meeting. What's up with that?”
        He thought for a second, then said, “I saw his DVD collection.”
        “He said that you didn't really say much, and left abruptly without an
explanation or saying good-bye. I was able to explain that you like to do your own
thing and Kevin believes that you probably didn't feel very comfortable with him.”
        “Well, he got upset with me when I touched one of his movies. After that I
wanted to leave.”
        “You don't need to be scared of Kevin getting mad at you,” Maggie said
compassionately. “Whatever it was, I'm sure that he didn't mean it. Do you think
you'd be able to go back there with me to straighten everything out?”
        Jared considered this, “Do you think you could get him to bring over a movie
for me, I mean us, to watch tonight? It'd show he's not upset with me for touching
his stuff.”
        Maggie nodded, “I think I can do that. But first I...”
        “Have him bring The Godfather,” Jared cut her off.
        “I'll try. We'll come by later tonight, around 7:00pm. Can you handle
showering and getting changed into clean clothes? You don't have to impress Kevin,
but you can't go around in a tee-shirt like that.”
        He got up and headed for the bathroom. “I was planning on showering at
some point today, anyway.” He closed the door behind him.
        He came out fifteen minutes later, and she was gone. He put the ragged tee-
shirt back on, and resolved to head over to the Fashion Center after his breakfast to
get a new set of clothes.

                                          8

        An hour later he walked into the Fashion Center on the 186th Level. He
immediately felt the pressure of the vast number of choices sink upon his shoulders.
He headed towards the men's side. He walked past the rows of holographic shopping
stations. He grumbled to himself, “Why can't they make those things tell you how
comfortable something will feel? When they produce an effect that lets me touch
and feel the materials before I buy them, I'll consider those kiosks. Until then, I've
got no desire to waste my time in a seemingly endless hologram, payment, return
loop.”
        He headed for the clothing warehouse aisles and employed his well-devised
system to clothing selection. There were 100 aisles to explore in the male section.
Each was 100 meters long and 4 meters wide, so seeing every option was out of the
question. Instead, he searched for one of the simple tee-shirt aisles.


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        A sign of aisle 1 announced overcoats. Aisle 2 had sport coats, and spring
coats were in aisle 3. Apparently, March was coat month. During his last visit to the
Fashion Center in November, the first twenty-something aisles each contained
different varieties of sweaters. It took until aisle 13, which advertised boots, before
the coats and jackets were behind him.
        Jared walked passed running shoes, sport shoes, dress shoes, dance shoes,
comfort shoes, slip-on shoes, and walking shoes. He passed sandals, slippers,
sneakers, and two aisles for socks. Finally, a quarter of the way through the men's
side of the Fashion Center he finally found the area for shirts. It took another ten
aisles to reach short sleeved shirts and five more before he found an aisle with
graphic tee-shirts. The sign for aisle 40 read, Limited Graphic Tee-Shirts, while the
next sign down read, Unlimited Graphic Tee-Shirts. In the past, he remembered
seeing similar nonsensical categories for the more popular items. Nevertheless, he
figured unlimited tee-shirts were preferable to limited ones, even though there was
no immediate clue to what the limiting factor might be.
        Options were presented on racks on both sides of the aisle. Each item was
displayed in its area. Above each rack, a mannequin wore the featured piece of
clothing paired with accompanying items that formed a complete outfit. After
walking down half the aisle, it occurred to Jared that unlimited tee-shirts all seemed
to be brightly colored. The blues were grouped together and likewise for greens and
yellows. At the end of the aisle Jared saw a sea of reds.
        He stopped at the halfway point of the aisle, which was marked by a line on
the line that ran the length of the Fashion Center and by racks that were labeled 50A
on the left and 50B on the right. During past visits, he'd discovered that he hated the
vast array of different choices. Thus, he limited himself to choosing between only
the two items that were located in the middle. A yellow shirt with a blue starfish
hung on rack A, and Rack B displayed a black shirt with a yellow circle-star design,
7. Jared selected the B-side shirt.
        He pushed a button on the rack to buy the entire outfit worn by the
mannequin. The Fashion Center used its optical sensor to determine his size and
transported it to the payment area. He nodded to himself, satisfied with another job
well done.
        When he returned to the front of the store, he held his Real ID for the
payment kiosk which deducted the cost of an outfit from his Weekly Capital
Allotment. Overhead conveyor belts spin and presented Jared with two neatly
packed bags that contained his purchase.
        He thought, I'm glad that's over, as he left the Fashion Center. It's always
such a hassle to buy clothes.



                                          59
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                                          9

         Jared waited around the daltra for the next couple of hours. He neither turned
on a movie from his Classics collection, nor pondered the Tower's platitude from his
balcony. He just sat and anticipated.
         Finally, at 6:00pm he figured there were a few things he could do before
Maggie and Kevin arrived. He shaved his face. He arranged the cushions on the
couches. He lit a scented candle to permeate the living room with a pleasant smell.
He wiped the screen of the television with cleaning agent and a towel. He made a
few selections from the Menu ARS so that food would be waiting in the IDS bin.
After all that, it was still only 6:30pm. He settled into the couch for more waiting.
         When the knock at the door came ten minutes later, he almost hurt himself
jumping to his feet. He opened the door, Maggie and Kevin walked through.
Maggie had a notebook; Kevin held his copy of The Godfather. Jared smiled.
         “My, aren't you looking dapper this evening,” said Maggie.
         Jared ignored the compliment, “Kevin, nice to see you, again.” Kevin
politely extended his arm for a handshake, which Jared shook graciously. He
showed them to the living room. When they sat down, Jared said, “I don't know
what you like, Kevin, but I have either fruit or popcorn waiting in the other room.
Freshly popped, the corn is.”
         “Then, have some, I will,” mimicked Kevin.
         While Jared left the room momentarily, Maggie leaned in close to Kevin and
whispered, “I've never seen that boy act this stately. He's either up to something, or
on something.”
         Kevin chuckled, “I'm sure it isn't anything we need to worry about.”
         Maggie narrowed her eye-brows at him. A few seconds later, Jared
reemerged carrying a bowl of popcorn and an apple that he tossed to Maggie.
“Jared, I have to know,” she caught the fruit, “when did you pick up that swanky,
new outfit? I don't think I've ever seen you in it.” Her question was motivated by
more than just a passing curiosity. She recognized the yellow circle-star pattern that
was on the front.
         “It's new. I got it today.”
         “I like it,” she said. “I like it a lot.” This was a pattern which Susan had
recently begun using regularly in many of her CAPFAL designs. It's likely that she
designed this particular shirt.
         Kevin, unaware of the significance of the shirt, redirected the conversation.
He addressed Jared, “As requested, I brought the Godfather.” He flashed the cover
art of the case in Jared's direction.
         Jared nodded approvingly. He said, “Shall we put it in?”


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        Kevin said, “We can—”
        “If you don't mind,” Maggie cut him off, “I'd like to talk about what
happened last night before we put it in.”
        Jared looked momentarily shocked, then he said, “In fact, I do mind.”
        She continued ignoring his objection, “You disappointed me when you
weren't here when I came to get you last night. Why'd you decide to bail on me?”
        Jared looked at the floor, without responding. After a beat, he looked up and
his eyes met hers. He picked up a handful of popcorn, and absently began to eat
without breaking his gaze.
        This isn't getting anywhere, she thought. She said, “I'm not mad that you
skipped the meeting. I'm just disappointed, and I hoped you could explain why you
did what you did.”
        Jared continued to eat kernel after kernel of popcorn. His thoughts were
jumbled. He felt justified, but was unable to put his reasons into words. He
continued to gaze at her, waiting for the next interruption.
        Maggie held out for about two minutes before moving on. “Can you
apologize to Kevin for leaving his daltra without saying good-bye?”
        Jared looked from her to him. “I'm sorry. That was rude of me.”
        “I forgive you,” said Kevin. “It's nothing at all. Now, if you don't mind, I'll
put this in the player so we can get the show on the road.” He started to get up,
holding the disc which he had removed from the case.
        “I have one last question,” Maggie said. “Kevin, why did you get upset at
Jared when he touched one of your movies?”
        Kevin looked surprised, “I got upset at him? You misunderstand. I asked
him, politely, to put my DVD for Sex, Drugs, and Rock'n'Roll back where he found
it. That one has more value to me than any of the others. If something happened that
threatened all of my possessions in the daltra, and I could only save one thing, that
movie would be it. That's the first movie which my grandfather produced when he
was young in the business. That's why I am a little bit protective about it, but I was
never mad at Jared for touching it.”
        Maggie looked satisfied by the answer. She motioned for Kevin to load the
movie. A minute later, the opening credits were rolling. Three hours after that, Jared
was waving goodbye to his guests. He went to bed with mixed feelings towards The
Godfather, but was satisfied with the chance to view it. His feelings towards Kevin
were less mixed. He was a good, level-headed guy.

                                          10

       A couple days later, Jared sat on his balcony when he heard the ring of his


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Real ID. He pulled it from its place tucked comfortably under his shirt and saw that
it was from Maggie. It read, Need you to meet me at the movie house on level 219.
         He returned her message, See you in 25 minutes. He figured that it would be
appropriate to wash up before going out. After doing that, he threw on a clean, blue
shirt and khakis.
         He arrived promptly in the amount of time promised. He found both Kevin
and Maggie waiting there.
         Movie houses were located every sixty Levels of the Tower. They served as
gathering places where people could view films on a huge screen. Both old and new
productions that were approved by the Tower operators were shown. There was a
different film offered every week, and enough screens so a new viewing began every
at least every 15 minutes. The seating area had 3,000 seats for each film, but it was
rare for over half of those to be full except during the afternoon showings.
         “What's so important that you need me here, without giving the least bit of
explanation?” Jared asked.
         “Look what's playing.”
         Jared looked up and saw the sign board. It read The Godfather.
         “Why, don't that beat all,” Jared said. “This is an unapproved movie. I've
looked for it before. Mom used to talk about it. We just saw it a couple nights ago.
What's up with that?”
         Kevin said, “It was just approved last week. Maggie and I suspect that the
approved version will be quite a bit different than the version which we saw at your
place. Since it's so fresh in our minds, we can't pass up the opportunity to see what
they've done to it, can we?”
         “How can they change it?” Jared said.
         “They can do anything they want,” said Maggie. “How many people do you
think have seen the original version that we saw? It hasn't circulated for over 50
years, and what we saw would've never been approved by the High Operators. It's
too violent. Plus, we know that it's been censored because the runtime is listed as
125 minutes, but the fact is that nobody besides us will notice the censorship.
Whatever they're showing in there,” she pointed to the sign board, “will be assumed
to be the version of The Godfather that was produced a hundred years ago. And
they'll get away with it because nobody knows the difference.”
         “It's kinda like when they added scenes to the original Star Wars movies,”
said Kevin.
         “They did what?!?”
         “When it was originally produced, they didn't have technology good enough
for some of the supporting scenes. After 20 years new technology became available
and the films were redone and released in such a way that the new versions


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Van Dyk                                                       2076

completely replaced the old. When I used to watch with my grandfather, he would
still point at the screen when an added scene came up and grumble that it didn't
belong.”
        “Wow, that's incredible that they can revamp different versions of the same
thing. Except what they've done to The Godfather is worse. Cutting sections out
takes away the movie's essence.”
        Jared thought for a minute and realized that his mother, who had seen the
original version of The Godfather many years ago probably wouldn't notice the
censorship. At close to sixty years old, she would've been ten years old when the
operators came to power.
        “Come on, let's go in.”
        Jared shook his head, “What is the point? We know it'll be different. We
don't need proof. We just know. It shouldn't be a matter of which version is the
correct version. The root of the problem is that the operators are allowed to release
modified versions of films that have had their history washed away by the passage of
time. Without a precedence, this new version is the version that people will
recognize, regardless of whatever they took out or added in. The damage has already
been done. If we want to fix things, we would have to go to the root of the
problem.”
        “You're right that we need to attack the root of the problem,” said Maggie.
“But our argument would be stronger if we knew details about what we're
complaining about. We need proof. We need to go in and watch the 125 minute
version of The Godfather.”
        “I agree. Let's go,” said Kevin. He led the way into the entrance of the
movie house. Jared relented, and followed them in.
        Three hours later, they're sitting in Maggie's living room discussing the
differences between the two versions. Near the end of their discussion, she pulled
out a notebook and pen. She labeled the top of a new page “The Big Three” and
underlined it.
        “What're the three biggest changes between the two versions?”
        In unison, Kevin and Jared called out, “They canned the scene with the horse
head!”
        Maggie scribbled, “No horse head scene.”
        “Another big change,” continued Kevin, “is that they deleted the scenes in the
hospital after the Godfather got shot. I realize that they want people to think that
hospitalization is no longer necessary, but denying that people used to cope with
grief of praying for their loved ones is foolish.”
        “That's a good one,” said Maggie.
        “I know number three,” said Jared. “They changed the dialogue so instead of


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being about money and power, the plot was focused on how they would deal with the
differences stemming from the joining of the two families during the wedding in the
beginning. This eliminated most of the competition between the different crime
families which made the original version so good. The new release is mediocre, at
best.”
        “Having gone through the differences, I think it would've been easier to list
the things that were the same between the two version,” joked Kevin
        “Like the wedding scene in the beginning?” quipped Maggie.
        “That wasn't the only major scene they kept,” said Jared. “There were a few
scenes later on where the family was drinking and enjoying themselves.”
        Maggie smiled towards her brother, “Good point.” She folded her notebook
closed. “I think we can put this issue to rest for the time being, but before we go out
for dinner, I'd like to ask a question to Jared.”
        “Yes? What is it?”
        “I'd like you to join Kevin, me, and four others at a meeting that's going to
take place a few days from now. Would you be interested?”
        “Yes, I think I'd like that.”
        “Great. Now, let's go eat!”




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                      The Meeting
                                           1

        Jared and Maggie arrived at the March 23rd meeting ten minutes early. It
was held in an empty stick-ball field on the 270th Level of Alpha Tower. He wore
the same dark robe he'd worn the week before, but this time the hood was pushed
back so it didn't cover his face. Maggie sat by his side. Patricia stood in front of the
group. She waited for the others to arrive before starting on the agenda for the
evening.
        He spent many hours during the past few days on his balcony in discussion
with Maggie. He finally remembered to tell her his idea about communicating over
the TMS using language that the operators wouldn't be able to understand. She liked
this suggestion and told him that it would help them to overcome the operators when
the time came for a strategic attack. But mostly, he listened to her explain about the
Renegades.
        She told that there were eighteen members and that she hoped Jared would
choose to become the nineteenth. He learned that the Renegades were comprised of
three Operating Groups which functioned independently to prevent the operators
from noticing their activities. The other OGs carried the names Brick and Mortar.
Maggie ran the group called the Pistols. Typically, she ran the weekly meetings, but
Jared's introduction to the group meant that they would have a special agenda and
Maggie's second in command, Patricia Stark, had the honor of taking over for the
night.
        When everyone arrived, she began, “We're hear to welcome a potential new
member into our midst today. By the grace of Maggie, I would like everybody to say
hello to Jared Flanagan.”
        A chorus echoed, “Hello, Jared.”
        “As you know, we'll be suspending our usual orders of business so we can
provide Jared with our individual stories to make him familiar with our organization
and with the important mission of the Renegades. But first, I would like to turn the


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floor over to Maggie so she can tell a little bit about Mr. Flanagan and why he's come
to join us tonight. Maggie?”
        Maggie stood and gestured towards Jared. She said, “For those of you who
don't already know, Jared's my younger brother. In some ways, he serves to inspire
me. He's a fountain of ideas and his knowledge of strategy to overcome an adversary
is second to none. During the past few years, he's been in the unique position to
unknowingly provided advise that has filtered into some policies of the Renegades.
At the heart of his character, he's primarily a thinker and secondarily he's accumu-
lated more hours than any other person in the Tower watching the unadulterated
stories of war.”
        She paused, then continued, “He's angry at the censorship of the operators.
He's driven to help us find their weak spot so we can exploit it, and his membership
brings us one step closer to realizing our goals of reforming the operators and
rewriting the rules so that every man, woman, and child is able to pursue true
happiness in this great country.”
        “Thank you for that,” said Patricia. “Now, for the next half hour we'll go
around in order of seniority and explain the individual reasons why we all joined the
Renegades. It goes without saying that there are a lot of reasons to oppose the
operators. When we've completed, Jared should have a broad understanding of some
of the things that we'll change once we've captured the power to rewrite the rules and
since he hasn't made any commitments prior to this meeting, he'll be asked to join
our membership. Is this clear to you, Jared?”
        “Yes, it is.”
        “Very good. I'll start.” She proceeded to tell the story about her days at the
University where she'd been a researcher studying Youth Adolescent Emotional
Instability. When she finished, the usual tears welled in her eyes.
        She recomposed herself, “The next story will come from Mr. Juan Alvarez.
Like me, Juan has had the passion for doing what he loves grasped from him by the
operators. Unlike me, Juan never even got a chance to temporarily enjoy a
livelihood doing what he loves. Juan, could you tell your story?”

                                          2

       “When I was eight-years-old my parents took me to see the circus,” said Juan.
“The performers came in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They each had their own
individual talents. I became enamored with their acts. Their movements were
graceful and they kept pace to the music with great skill. When I got home, I told
my parents, 'I want to do the circus!' My dad, well, he kind of shrugged at my
exclamation. He was a numbers man; everyday he would go down to the


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Statistician's Laboratory and compile whatever sort of trends and graphs emerged
from the raw data that was collected from the Tower's amateur Long Ball league.
His goal was to identify players who were good enough to be promoted to the
professional level. He had no respect for the coordination of movements required to
perform at the circus. He never saw the beauty in the choreographed dances that I
loved.
        “Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately depending on your perspective, my
mom took an interest in my pursuit. She watched me as I danced and sang and
pirouetted in the living room of our daltra. She encouraged me to improve. She
pushed me to be the best I could be. When I perfected a particular move, she'd help
me learn a new one. Over the span of four or five years, I had great fun working
with my mom to develop my own individual style, and it energized me to see how
happy it made her to watch my performances.” Juan paused, “Are you with me so
far? Can you imagine a miniature version of my dancing in, on, and around all of the
furniture in the living room?”
        “Yes,”nodded Jared.
        “So, eventually the time came when I thought I knew everything there was to
know about dancing and performing. I was about 14 when this happened. I marched
back to the circus and got an appointment with the operator who ran the show. I was
so proud of myself as I sat across from her and told her that I had the greatest act
ever. She gave me a chance to show her what I could do, but before I was even
halfway through she just shook her head and said that her team was light years better
than me. I got her to let me do my intense ten minute long grand finale, but even that
left her unimpressed. She told me that all of my moves, as graceful as they were,
could be duplicated by her team. I argued that no single member of her team could
do everything that I could do. She said, 'The audience wants grandiose and they
don't care if one performer is capable of a wider range of movements than the rest.
All they see is the grand movements. Anything less blends into the background.' I
told her that I had emotion and passion. She said, 'Your emotion doesn't matter, it's
only dancing. It's been over 25 years since a human has performed in this show.
Since then, the Performance ARS have been getting better and better with each
passing year. Their engineering has pushed them well beyond the physical
limitations of humans. They're never late for performances and they never make
mistakes.'
        “I left that meeting dejectedly. I cried in my mom's arms that night while my
dad sat in the other room drinking a beer and watching amateur Long Ball on the
telescreen. I sulked in the daltra for the following two weeks, until my mom came
back with more encouragement. She suggested that if dancing wasn't enough for the
circus operator that perhaps I could incorporate some acting into my routine. At


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first, this seemed like a dumb idea because deep down I knew that nothing I did
would ever be enough for the operator who ran the circus. But as I read about how
actors used to entertain thousands of spectators before the reorganization, I became
more and more interested. I managed to come across a group that enjoyed reading
from the plays that were distributed by the operators. This helped me learn a lot
about acting, but it never fully satisfied me because my group always discouraged
me from reading my part the way I wanted. They always said that it was about the
story so I should just read it normally. But before I left them, I managed to get my
hands on a manuscript for a play called Waiting for Godot. Since joining the
Renegades, I've come to learn that this particular work was particularly valuable
because it was unauthorized, which means the operators never gave it approval to
circulate around the Tower.”
         Jared interjected, “I know what unauthorized means.”
         “Oh, very good. In any case, I eventually memorized the entire script of
Godot and worked out a dance to do while I performed it. I was about 18-years-old
by this point, in case you were wondering. My mom had completed her
remembrance ceremony and I had left my dad because he was a selfish dick. So,
knowing the scene for the play called for a solitary tree, I marched into the common
area and found the biggest one I could and I began my dramatic presentation.
During my show, I performed every role that was in the play, which was particularly
challenging because of all the jumping around that was required.” Juan paused and
let the momentary silence take effect on his audience.
         “What happened next?” Jared asked.
         “Ahh, well what happened next was fate. Scores of onlookers began to
amass. They laughed and cheered throughout the presentation. It was a nonstop riot.
By the time I was done, I bowed and felt like I was on top of the world. It was
magnificent. The crowd congratulated me and I told them to spread the word that I'd
be back the next day for another show. I was so excited to get back out there.
         Anyway, after the performance I met Maggie. She told me that I had done
great job and offered to treat me to a round of drinks at the Hammer. 'Alright,' I said.
'Let's go.'
         “At the end of a bottle of wine, she offered some foreboding words. She said,
'When things look bleak, give my Real ID a ring and I'll be there for you.'
         “I found out what she meant when three men in black suits knocked on my
door that night. The next thing I knew, I was locked in a silvery room buried
somewhere in the depths of Alpha. I was confused and disoriented when a stern-
faced woman came into the room. She said to me, 'Juan Alvarez, you've been
brought here by order of the High Operators of Alpha Tower. Your performance
today created quite a stir and we must caution you never to attempt something


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similar in the future. In your daltra you're free to do whatever you'd like. In the
common area, we must insist that you refrain from creating disturbances the way you
did today. Is that understood?'
         “I agreed with her, then she left me alone in the room once more. After that, I
don't know what happened but somehow I found myself in my bed and it was
3:00am the following morning. I immediately sent a message to Maggie, and she
met me in my daltra 15 minutes later. She explained that a friend of hers, Pip
Stevens, had gone through a similar experience as me, and I was well on my way to
becoming a Renegade.”
         He paused, “In any case, that's my story. Next, you'll hear from Kevin who,
if the rumor-mill is correct, you already know quite a bit about.”

                                           3

        Kevin stood to tell his story. With a couple of short paces, he approached
Jared. He said, “During the night that we met last week, I chastised you for your
curiosity. In recognition of that night, I'd like to offer this to you while I tell my
story.” From behind his back, he drew a DVD case that contained a film called Sex,
Drugs, and Rock'n'Roll and held it out to Jared, who accepted it with a smile.
        “My story is deeply interwoven with that film. You see, that film was written
and directed by my grandfather before he passed away. He ignited my interest in
telling stories with moving pictures when I was a teenage. I can still remember the
day when he first showed it to me. It was a Sunday morning in 2060 and I had just
woken up. 'Let's order up some breakfast and then watch this movie,' he said. When
it ended and I saw his name in the closing credits I said, 'Look grandpa, the director
of this movie has the same name as you!' He chuckled, 'I wonder how that could be.'
        “Then, it dawned on me that my grandfather really had been the director of
the movie and we discussed how film production had worked when he was a
teenager. He said, 'Anybody with a creative idea and a camera could make their own
film. You used to be able to search through literally millions of movies created by
either movie professionals or hobbyists.' He called it the golden age.
        “Anyway, he explained that he got connected with producers on the west
coast and they wanted to help him make the film. All he had to do was send them
the script and two months later he on a plane to meet with them about it. Six months
after that they had hired a cast and were filming on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. I
mean, how great is that?
        “Okay, okay. I know you're wondering by now how any of this relates to me.
Well, you should know that protecting the hundreds of DVDs that my grandfather
passed down to me is not my primary concern. What trumps them in level of


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importance, with the exception of the movie you're holding, are the collective works
that I've created in the last 10 years or so. I've done three novels and eight complete
screenplays. I could go into the details of them, but if you've got much interest I'd
rather invite you to read them for yourself. In fact, I'd joyously give you access to
my digital docufile but the operators have imposed a ban on what I've written from
being distributed to anybody. Following advise from Maggie, I even painstaking
penned a paper version of each of my stories in case they decided to flat out delete
my work.
        “I mean, they stopped me from distributing hard work that I've done. And
don't get me started on the topic of obtaining a camera to use to produce one of my
eight screenplays. That's flat out impossible.
        “Anyway, that's not even the worst of it. Have you ever heard the story about
the man from Delta Tower who falls into forbidden love with the woman from Alpha
Tower?”
        “Yes,” answered Jared. “The operators in that story change the rules so that
the couple can be together and he ends up moving to Alpha Tower to be with her.”
        “Wrong!” exclaimed Kevin. “I mean, that's the story but that's no how it's
supposed to end.”
        “Wait,” said Jared. “You mean you wrote that story?”
        “The original version was mine. The abomination that came out after the
operators were finished reviewing it is what almost every man, woman, and child in
CTA has heard. It makes me sick when I'm out in the common area and hear
anybody talking about going to Delta Tower to meet the girl of their dreams.”
        “I'm confused about something,” said Jared. “If you wrote that, then why
have you never gotten credit for being the author?”
        “Not giving me a writing credit was the one and only thing they did right!”
exclaimed Kevin. “But even if they hadn't butchered my work they would never had
released it under a real name. They prefer either making up a name or just listing the
author as anonymous. In fact, when you make your submission to them you get to
either choose an alias for yourself or just let them use anonymous.”
        “Why?”
        “The theory we have within the Renegades is that they want to stifle
opportunities for individuals to become famous, because fame leads to influence and
power which they want for themselves. This explains why they put an end to Juan's
common area performances, too. If you ask me, all they accomplish through their
control is to discourage the population from following their dreams.
        “In the meantime, I continue to write. Maybe someday I'll get to share my
work with the world. I've currently got one novel on the back burner and two
screenplays that I'm in the middle of. Only time will tell how long it takes my ideas


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to get out there, though.”
         Kevin took his seat in the grass again. He said, “Charles Cohen is next up to
tell his story.”

                                            4

        Charles took his feet. His voice was deep and raspy. “I hate the operators,”
he began. “They depress and anger me. Patricia tells me that the reason I have my
feelings is because I've been exposed to the real world outside the Towers where
their artificial rules don't exist. I know what it feels like to take life. I've killed on
numerous times, animals that is, for survival. Animals that would have killed me if I
hesitated to kill them.” He took a deep breath, “I think that's our what relationship
with the operators is like. It's a race against time to see who'll kill who first.”
        He sounds like The Godfather, Jared marveled.
        Charles continued, “When I was a child, my dad took me on trips off-Tower
to connect with nature. He had a cabin in the woods of Northeastern America and
we spent weeks at a time there, breathing fresh air and enjoying life. You know,
there's no pleasure greater than the exhilaration of the unknown where anything can
happen and the environment around you isn't meticulously controlled. That's the life
for me.
        “My dad taught me how to shoot. He taught me the instincts needed for
survival. Anyway, last summer he disappeared. The operators erased him. Do you
know what it's like to just have somebody you care about disappear? It sucks. It's
confused. Anyway, I haven't been back to the cabin since. I don't know what if
would feel like without him. When mom died, during an accident that occurred
while we were visiting the cabin when I was six, it took dad a couple of years to
recover from the loss. That's how I feel now. Lost. And to add insult to injury, on
the day the operators erased him, they stole a prized possession that dad had given
me when I was a teenager. They took his rifle from me; his prized Winchester. They
just took it. I came home one day, and the case that I kept it in was empty. And then
I went to tell him about it and he wasn't even fucking there.
        “That's when Maggie found me. She said, 'What have they taken from you?'
I didn't have nerves to answer her at the time. It was too personal. I was too taken
up. But I thought to myself, 'They've taken my dad from me. They've taken him and
now they're gonna pay.'”
        Jared interrupted, “Don't the operators have rules against weapons?”
        Charles answered, “Their rules are unscrupulous and unbending. I didn't
even have bullets for the Winchester and I don't have the facilities to make them.
I've got more dangerous things in my kitchen than an unloaded gun. Broken bottles


                                           71
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or even a rolling pin would be twice as lethal. But they insist on being insensible
and taking something that's truly meaningful to me.
        “Anyway, my dad taught me not to show fear when you're threatened because
they're energized by your fear. And the other thing he taught me was patience.
Never take a shot if you don't know what it'll do when it hits. When you rush, you
lose the element of surprise and give up any chance of bagging the kill. Hell, even
sure things have a tendency to fall apart when there are external variables that you
hadn't factored into the equation.
        “But that's the joy of it all. Not knowing how it's going to turn out is a
splendid thing. It adds color to a black and white world. Compared to the outside,
living in the Tower all the time is mundane. It's too damned predictable. I don't have
the ability to use my survival instincts. Everything comes so easily. There's no thrill
of the hunt. Only routine and boredom.
        “But that'll change when I enact my revenge against the operators for taking
my dad and his Winchester. As soon as I've got them lined up on my scope,” Charles
paused. “BOOM! They'll never know what hit them.”
        Jared said, “I see.”
        Charles concluded, “Susan has the last story.” He sat back down in the
middle of the field.

                                          5

        Susan Dace began her story, but Jared had stopped listening. His mind
already had enough fuel to send it wandering for the next couple months. He felt
sympathy for all of his sister's friends, yet at the same time he couldn't believe how
selfish they were all being.
        One can't handle being told how to conduct her scientific studies, he thought.
Another can't handle rejection from his performance audience, and even Kevin's
caught up with not being able to publish his work. He looked around him to see the
faces of each person. Have you any idea how childish you're being? If science or
dancing or writing isn't fulfilling your lives, try something else! Don't keep plugging
away at the same fruitless thing.
        Jared looked towards Charles. He's different, he thought. I can't put my
finger on it, but there's truth that lies deeper than his story. He's here to fight the
operators because he has the heart to fight them. This fight is his fruited tree and
he's patiently waiting for the harvest.
        He put his head down, angled towards his lap. He was vaguely aware of
Susan's voice in the background. A stream of thoughts flew through his mind that
portrayed the operators as Sauron, Darth Sidious, and the Crimson King all rolled


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into one big ugly ball. To the group in front of him, the operators represented an
oppressive force. The rules of the operators were intolerable to these individuals.
        The thought of intolerable rules caused him to reflect more personally. His
internal dialog continued, One of these days, I'm going to lose my balcony. The rule
that prevents two people from living in a three bedroom apartment is going to catch
up to me and I'm going to be forced to move. One day, my films are going to stop
playing and I won't be able to watch them anymore because they're unauthorized.
Will I wait for these days to come or actively attempt to prevent them?
        In the background, Susan cried while she continued to tell her story. In his
minds eye, Jared saw himself in a conversation with Maggie explaining to her that
every dictatorial force had to have a weak spot. She was asking how they could
overthrow the operators. His vision of himself explained patiently, “Persistence like
Roland of Gilead, strategy like the rebel alliance, and above all a little bit of luck like
Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee.”
        “My parents died because of the carelessness of the operators,” Susan's
emotion drew him back into the field on the 270th Level of Alpha Tower. “If they
new that the elevator was broken they should have never let my mother and father
get aboard. And can you believe that they even tried to blame my parents for their
own demise during the last rites?”
        Jared shook his head, indicating his agreement with her.
        She said, “That's the end of my story.” Her eyes were visibly wet.
        A moment of quiet reflection settled over the group. Jared looked around and
observed that everybody else had their heads down, as if in prayer. He felt obligated
to copy them. After a short wait, he head Maggie's clothes rustle next to him. He
looked up.
        “The operators hate people who are different,” she said. “They hate us
because they fear us. They desire to control us. They take whatever they want from
us.”
        She addressed Jared directly, “We'd like you to join the Renegades to help us
stop them from imposing their will on us. Jared, would you join our ranks and
become a Renegade?”
        “Yeah,” he said. “I'll be a Renegade.”
        Maggie said, “Congratulations. I think you've made a smart decision.
Patricia, could you finish off the meeting?”
        Patricia stood back up in front of the group, “Are there any other orders of
business that anybody would like to bring up?” After a beat, she finished, “Meeting
adjourned.”




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                           Low Men
                                         1

        Susan stepped out from Thor's Hammer a week later. She had a buzz from
three martinis and she was worked up from watching the Supremes win an off Tower
game against the Nashira Senators and she was still on Nashira Tower. She stumbled
past three men in suits who were congregated outside the Hammer.
        She veered passed them. She almost tripped and twisted her ankle before
catching her balance. Several more clumsy steps later it dawned on her that the men
were watching her with more than passing interest.
        She thought, Does it really look like I'm that drunk?
        She stopped dead in her tracks and straightened her slumped posture. She
stared towards the group of men. During she initial glance, she had mistaken them
for a three-man Speed Ball team. They were strong, and it showed that they spent
hours building muscle mass in the fitness facilities. But on closer inspection, she
could make out the embroidered “A” stitched into their breast pockets, identifying
them as operators. They neither looked away, nor made any friendly gestures when
she looked at them. No good can come from this, she thought.
        She consciously made an effort to appear sober. She gathered herself and
attempted to continue on her way. With another stumble, she fell forward onto her
hands and knees. She looked at the ground. She could feel their eyes on her.
        She thought, this is no good. Then the situation got worse.
        Susan watched as the three operators began to walk towards her. Her head
was spinning with a ferocious force. She attempted to get on her feet, but her knees
buckled. She lost her balance and fell backwards onto her butt.
        By now the operators were spread out around her. She spun onto her hands
and knees and momentarily considered crawling away.
        Finally, she took a breath and looked around at her surroundings. The
operators had spread out around her, keeping about two meters distance. Scores of
people walked around her. She concentrated and slowly got to her feet. She spun


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two-thirds of the way around to her right so that she was facing the entrance to the
Hammer. At that moment, she let out the most ear-piercing scream of her life.
        A second later she felt the arms of the operator from behind her wrap around
her mouth and stifle her. He held her torso and pinned her against his body. She
twisted and flailed as much as she could manage. She ended her muffled scream and
attempted to bite the operators hand to free herself.
        While she struggled, one of the other operators reached calmly into his pocket
and drew out a controller device with several button. He he constrained her flailing
arm. He held the controller against the base of her neck and gently depressed one of
the buttons. Susan felt a tightness in her neck, and then it subsided.
        A couple who had turned briefly when she had screamed now continued
along into Thor's Hammer. A gang of women that had been interrupted from their
gossiping resumed their idle chatter. The only pair of eyes she could see that
remained fixed on her throughout the entire confrontation belonged to a young boy
of about 8-years old who was now being pulled in the opposite direction by his
father.
        Now, though, she felt the grip of the operators relax around her body as they
sat her upon the ground. They backed away to a distance of more than 10 meters.
The intoxication that she felt two minutes ago now seemed to be magnified by an
order of magnitude. Her vision was blurry and the noises around her sounded faint,
surreal, and distant.
        Can anybody help me? she called out, but the sounds didn't reverberate out of
her lungs. Hello? Why can't I talk? What's going on? She had never felt more
powerless. She swatted at the ground with her hand in frustration, and when it
exploded into a throbbed more painful than anything she had ever felt before. Ouch!
Shit-fucker. That hurts, she thought. She brought palm up to her face and sucked on
where the pain was the greatest. This helped tremendously and as she sucked she
realized that the world which was blurry and dull just two minutes ago had become
sharper, clearer, brighter than it had ever been before. She could count the individual
stripes on the operator's suits. Slowly, she stood up. She touched her neck and the
left side was bizarrely tender. She concentrated and tried to force all other thoughts
out of her head.
        I've got to get out of here, she thought. She walked back in front of Thor's
Hammer. She stopped and looked up to study the sign.
        After a brief period of this, a group of men came streaming through the door,
and she was hit with a smile of jubilation. She followed them briskly towards their
destination.
        When she made it to the motorized walkway, she glanced behind her and
noted the operators hadn't followed her. She relaxed. Now she just needed to make


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her way to the Air-Taxi Port and back to Alpha Tower where she belonged. Half an
hour later she arrived safely at her daltra, without further incident.

                                         2

        The Pistols gathered informally mid-afternoon the next day, in a common
area on a lower level of the Tower. Their meeting place was nothing more than a
park bench located on the side of a walking path. Maggie had selected it because of
its ability to keep their association hidden in plain view. All were in attendance,
except Juan.
        “We're meeting today because Susan had an encounter with the operators last
night,” said Maggie. For the first time that I know about, their methods of
observation have escalated. I am surprised that—”
        “What's that mean,” Jared said, “their methods of observation?”
        “The operators watch us,” said Maggie. “They stake us out and we notice
them randomly hanging around from time to time. When we see them, we know that
we are their goal because their gazes remain creepily fixated on us until we escape
their sight. Some of us have avoided it, but for a long time those of us who are
watched have been aware of it.
        “Juan, Kevin, and Patricia have never seen them. Charles and I have been
seeing them for the last six of seven months, and Susan saw them for the first time
yesterday. Would you share your story with the group, Susan?”
        She explained the details she could recall. She concluded, “I wasn't able to
speak again until this morning.”
        “Don't they have better things to do then spend their time following you?”
asked Jared. “I thought they operate things and make decisions. It seems like it
would be a huge waste of their time to become concerned with your business.”
        “The operators who make the decisions are called the High Operators, and
you certainly know about them,” said Patricia. “But there are other operators who
act on behalf of the High Operators. We have no idea how many, but these are the
ones that we've caught stalking us through the hallways and common areas of Alpha
Tower.”
        Jared concluded, “So, there are High Men and Low Men.”
        “What do you mean by Low Men?” Susan asked.
        Simultaneously, Maggie and Kevin said with some degree of cohesion, “It's
from the Dark Tower movies.”
        “So, the High Operators make decisions while the Low Men are their spies.
Do I have it right?” Jared asked.
        “We just call them stalkers,” said Charles.


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        “But Low Men seems to be pretty accurate,” said Patricia. “And it sets up a
hierarchical juxtaposition between the levels of high and low.”
        “So, now we'll call them Low Men?” asked Kevin.
        Maggie nodded, “That suits me just fine.”
        “But they're stalkers!” Charles interjected. “That was the appropriate name
when they first started stalking me. Can't we just keep using that?”
        Patricia eyed him down. The rest of the Pistols watched silently.
        Tense seconds ticked by before he relented, “Fine, it's a good name. I just
wish I'd thought of it first.”
        “Well, that settles that,” Maggie continued. “This week, we're going to try a
new tactic to deal with the—” she paused, “the Low Men. My goal is to discover the
limits of their power. Obviously we know they control the speechless weapon,
which worked successfully against Susan. We need to ascertain what other tricks
they might have up their ironed sleeves. If we can steal one of their weapons, they
would be great, but in order to do that we're going attack them the next time we see
them.”
        She paused. She expected objections from Patricia or Juan. She expected a
rise of enthusiasm from Charles, but nobody chirped. They were all listening
attentively. She continued, “It would be foolish to fight individually against a trio of
operators. We'll make an effort to travel in groups. I think it'd be prudent for the
people who've been observed by the Low Men to buddy up. This includes Susan,
Charles, and myself. With a buddy system, we'll gain strength when the
confrontation occurs.”
        “I don't mean to rag on your plan, Maggie, but you saw what the High
Operator did to Charles after the remembrance ceremony for Susan's parents.”
        “And I promise you that the Low Men don't have the same weapon wielded
by the High Operators. Leaders who control that much power don't share it with
their subordinates.”
        “Maggie,” Kevin asked, “If we fight, don't we need weapons?”
        “Yes,” she affirmed. “But it doesn't really matter either way. Whether or not
we defeat them, the goal is going to be understanding how powerful they are. For us,
information is power.”
        “But also, crushing their skulls is power,” said Charles.
        Patricia glared at him. “No skull crushing! We aren't savages.”
        Susan raised an additional question, “What if they hurt us? What if they
mean to kill us?”
        “In a public space with witnesses? That's forbidden by their own rules.
Capture and trial would be more salient worries and I don't think it would be too
much effort to claim self-defense if we can get them to make the first move.”


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        The gang looked back and forth at each other for another minute. They all
seemed contemplative over the new direction of the Pistols. Jared finally broke the
silence, “Maggie, seriously? The buddy system? We're up against a group of people
who injected god-knows-what into Susan's neck and your answer is the freaking
buddy system? Are you out of your mind?”
        “And when you can name a victory from the Classics where a person who
was working alone defeated a group of enemies, I'll agree with you that I'm out of
my mind.”
        Without a beat, “When Samwise rescued Frodo allow the path to Mordor in
the beginning of Return of the King, duh.”
        “Okay, fine. The buddy system might be a childish concept but teamwork
isn't. And when anyone of us is captured by the operators, I implore you to infiltrate
their defenses and execute your solo rescue mission. Meanwhile, we'll work together
as cohesive team. Got it?”
        He nodded.
        “Does anybody else have questions about the new plan?” After a brief pause
she said, “Meeting adjourned.”

                                          3

        “Charles,” Maggie cornered him as the group dispersed. “Let's walk home
together. I would like you to escort me to my daltra.”
        “Oh, right. The buddy system,” he said.
        They began towards Subtower Three. “I remember you used to tell stories
about how your dad took you off Tower and taught you how to use firearms. If I
recall, he had a nice arsenal stored at the cabin that he used to bring you to. Am I
right?”
        “You are,” he said.
        “If we could retrieve those guns and arm ourselves, how would you feel
about using them against the operators?”
        “I'd feel quite good about that,” he responded enthusiastically.
        “Can you teach Susan and I next week?”
        “Mags, I'd do anything for you, but even if I could get a couple of guns by
next week, it'd be impossible to demonstrate how to use them on the Tower. Do you
remember how they confiscated by father's prized rifle? Imagine that, but ten times
worse because I didn't even have bullets for the rifle.”
        Maggie insisted, “Certainly there's a way?”
        “I was trained by my father near our cabin off Tower, you know that. We
could take a trip and stay at the cabin for a week while I gave lessons. For that we'd


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need permits and travel forms.”
        “Can you arrange those?”
        “For a week-long trip off Tower, I'd need some time. When I was a kid, my
dad and I used to go off Tower every couple of months. I haven't gone since my
father passed away, and I've never actually filled out the travel forms but I do know it
takes several weeks to get approved.”
        “Very well. Plan a trip to depart at the end of April for the three of us.
Charles,” she paused so that he looked towards her, “thank you. I'm really glad to
have your aid on our team.”
        “Can do, boss.”
        They arrived at the pedestrian walkway. They didn't exchange another word
until arriving at Maggie's daltra.
        She said, “When you want to go out tomorrow, please send me a message. If
I am unable to return it, send one to Susan. If I am not with her, you can go out with
her. If neither of us can return your message, don't go out, do you understand?”
        “Yes, ma'am,” they hugged. “Have a good night. Be safe.”
        “You too, Charles. And make sure that you don't go looking for any trouble
on the way home either.”
        “I'll go straight home and look into the travel authorization.”
        She smiled, “Thank you, and good night.”
        She closed the door and went to her room to ponder what her options would
be for the next couple months.

                                           4

       Maggie woke up early the next day, rolled out of bed, prepped herself, and
headed out the door. Her destination was Susan's daltra, and her goal was to engage
the buddy system that day. By 8:00am she was walking down Susan's hallway.
       Susan's hair was messy when she answered the door. She was less than
enthusiastic about being forced out of bed that morning.
       “Come in,” she waved. “Make yourself at home. I'm going to shower.”
       Maggie took residence on the couch and picked up the Reading Tablet from
the coffee table. She browsed through some of Susan's selections, and decided to
open up 2075: Alpha Supremes Year in Review to look for any information on her
older brother. She tried searching for a handful of different combinations of his
name without returning a single match. Finally, she located information on him with
the search for 'John Flan'. She was dismayed to learn that the team had misspelled
Flanagan as Flanagon.
       How could they be so thoughtless?


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        A few minutes later Susan returned to the room and properly greeted her
guest with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She wore a cute little outfit and had set her
hair in a neat bun.
        “Would you like to order something to eat? I'll make something for us if
you'd like.” said Susan.
        “I'll have whatever you're having,” said Maggie.
        Susan ordered the ingredients for an Tower Omelet breakfast. “What brings
you here so early?”
        “The buddy system begins today,” Maggie exclaimed triumphantly.
        The ingredients came and Susan cooked while Maggie explained the firearm
plan. “How will firearms give us a strategic advantage against the operators?” asked
Susan.
        “We can't beat them without an advantage.”
        “But firearms aren't—” Susan paused. She changed the subject, “You and
Charles will join me tonight at the Alpha Supremes game?”
        “I don't know about him, but I'd love to. It'll give us some time to catch up,
and maybe even get a chance to see John.”
        “Maybe you could point him out to me! I think I've seen him from time to
time, but with all those players it's impossible to know for sure. It must me awesome
of have a brother on the team.”
        “Well, he wears number 25048” said Maggie. “But to be completely honest,
in my brief history of going to games the only time I ever see him is when we meet
up afterwards.”
        “You know, if we're going to do this buddy system thing, we ought to go over
to Charles' place to see if he'd like to join us this afternoon.”
        “We'll go after breakfast, then.”
        During the remainder of the day, the trio shopped at the Fashion Center,
played 3-on-3 (against teams who were all better than them), drank a few beers at
Thor's Hammer (except for Charles, and who ordered water). They processed their
request for the trip into to Charles' cabin off Tower. Then, they made their way to
Alpha Supreme field.
        “What's this game, again? They run around kicking a ball, right?”
        “You've never heard of Long Ball?”
        “Have you been living under a rock all your life?”
        Charles grunted.
        “Well, what do you know?” she asked.
        “Nothing.”
        “We should start with the basics if you want to understand how the game
works.” Susan paused, “Do want to understand how the game works?”


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        “Actually, when you said we were going to see the Alpha Supremes I was
expecting a singing group.”
        She rolled her eyes at his sarcasm. “See the area painted blue in front of us?
That's the Supreme's scoring zone. All the players in black and red are the Pi Pirate
defenders. When the game gets underway a mass of Supreme's with their blue and
gold uniforms will muscle for position near the scoring zones.”
        “And how do they score?” he asked.
        “There are actually three different ways to score. Take a look at the three
telescreens in front of us. At any given time, they'll each highlight one of the scoring
tokens.”
        “I see a round ball, a not-quite-round ball, and a dinner plate.”    She rolled
her eyes again, “That's not a dinner plate. It's a flying disc and it's the easiest token
to score with. Players catch it and throw it to advance up the field. They're not
allowed to run with it. All incomplete passes are awarded to a player from the
opposite team. To score a point with it, a player needs to catch it in their scoring
zone. Simple, right?”
        “Sounds like–” he thought for a second, “ultimate frisbee.”
        “Hallelujah, you aren't completely useless.”
        “Wait a second,” said Maggie. “You know ultimate frisbee but you still
called the flying disc a dinner plate?”
        Susan continued the explanation, ignoring Maggie. “The next scoring token
is the round ball. This is the one you were talking about when you asked, 'They run
around kicking a ball, right?' When they touch it with their hands, a free kick for the
opposite team is awarded before play continues. To score with the round ball, the
players have to hit one of the flying, red Scoring ARS that hovered five to ten meters
above the ground in the scoring zone. Do you see them?”
        “Oh yeah, there they are. There are about a dozen of them.”
        “Actually, there are exactly a dozen of them, equal to the number of round
scoring tokens that are in play when the game starts. Whenever a point is scored in
Long Ball, the scoring token is removed from play. The Scoring ARS are covered
with a glue that the balls stick to, then the ARS and the ball are removed from play.
        “The last scoring token is the ellipsoid ball,” Susan continued. “This is the
hardest token to score with so it's worth double. Players run with it to advance it up
the field. They can pass it backwards to their teammates, but forward passes are
illegal and result in the ball being awarded to the opposing team. Because it's worth
double, the ellipsoid balls frequently ends up at the bottom of a pile of bodies.”
        “So there are actually twelve round balls?” Charles clarified.
        “Correct,” said Maggie. “And twelve flying discs and twelve ellipsoid balls
for the players at the start of the game.”


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        “In 3-on-3 today, we got a few timeouts. Does Long Ball have that?”
        “Continuous play makes the world go round,” said Maggie.
        “To be more precise,” said Susan, “Long Ball is fun to watch because there's
always something going on. If you can't see any action on the field in front of you,
the overhead telescreens always highlight something exciting from the other side of
the field. Then, when two or three scoring tokens end up in the same area it gets real
interesting to see the chaos that ensues.
        “And does this chaos ever lead to fighting?”
        “When players commit fouls, the Referee ARS eject them from the game.
Like the red Scoring ARS, you can see the Referee ARS with their black and white
stripes hovering about five meters above the ground. When you see them shining a
spotlight on a player, it's the sign that he or she is being ejected.”
        Maggie cut in, “This happens to several hundred players each game, and on
rare occasions, irate players react by hurling scoring tokens at the Referee ARS and
they are banned from Professional Long Ball for life.”
        “Sound too complicated,” said Charles.
        Susan sighed, “You'll catch on quick.”
        In the first hour, they saw three receptions in the blue scoring zone as the
Supremes jumped out to an early 3 to 1 lead. During the next hour, the Pirates
controlled the game. The overhead viewing screens showed the Pirates hit two
Scoring ARS with the round tokens to even the score at three.
        In the final hour, the momentum swung back to the Supremes, but the Pirate
defense stepped up and successfully guarded the scoring zone. An Alpha player took
a hard hit while trying to catch an ellipsoid ball within 20 meters of the scoring zone.
As play continued away from this player, a team of Medical ARS carried her to
safety. Ten minutes later the whistle sounded to mark the end of regulation.
        “Sudden death time!” said Susan.
        The sudden death teams were sent out onto the field. In sudden death, the
field narrowed and each team took turns with one of each scoring token deep in their
respective zones.
        Maggie explained, “They have five minutes to either score or lose control of
the tokens. The only other special rule is that the teams are limited to using fifty
players at a time.”
        “The game ends,” Susan said, “when one team scores and the other team can't
match it during their next possession. Typically, two or three sudden death rounds
are needed to determine a winner, but I've seen one game where the teams battled for
six extra frames.”
        The Pi Pirates were given the ball during the first half of sudden death, and
failed to score. The trio joined tens of thousands of fans who jumped to their feet


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when the Alpha Supremes sudden death squad took control of the tokens.
         They watched the ellipsoid ball 100 meters from the scoring goal. A minute
later, they caught a glimpse at the flying disc floating above the player's heads from
one side of the field to the other. Then, a third player emerged with the round token
and got a clear shot at the Scoring ARS but sent it sailing wide left.
         Three minutes into the period, Maggie recognized her older brother and
began to follow his movements. She pointed him out to Susan and Charles who
were eager to keep their eyes on the remaining ball and the flying disc. With one
minute, Maggie saw John become wide open in the scoring zone within throwing
distance of the disc. She jumped to her feet and began yelling like a mad woman for
the pass to be made to him. And then, the disc was sent flying.
         A defender moved back and got position. John lunged towards the disc,
pushing the defender to the ground. He made the catch in midair as a second Pirate
reached his position and sent his body flailing. He landed on top of his head, with
the disc still in his grasp. Maggie gasped with surprise, “He did it! That's my
brother!”
         He got to his feet and held it high in the air to show the crowd that he
maintained possession. They jumped to their feet and cheered with raucous glee at
the conclusion of the game. The final point was put on the scoreboard and the
Supremes took the game 4 to 3 after one sudden death period. Susan and Maggie led
the cheers, while Charles half-heartedly made his contribution.
         The trio went home that night with hoarse throats and spent much of the
following day recovering from laryngitis.
         Go Alpha Supremes and go John Flanagan, thought Maggie as she drifted off
to sleep that night. And go the buddy system.

                                          5

        Later that week, Juan was bored from an unproductive afternoon of sitting on
the couch. He ordered up a cocktail from the Menu ARS. He punched in an order of
the governmental industrial grade marijuana plus and a little magical blue pill. When
his order arrived, he promptly rolled himself a joint, and turned on an eclectic blend
of electronica music to set the mood in his daltra.
        The rhythmic tone of the music echoed in his head as he lit up. He inhaled
and the high-grade marijuana filled his lungs. Before long, the world danced in his
head and his muscles became completely relaxed.
        He sat back in the couch and enjoyed pleasant relaxation. He zoned out. An
hour later, he opened his eyes and attempted to make his way to the kitchen where he
had left the blue pill, but his leg muscles were asleep and refused to wake up.


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        “Fuck you, I want to get laid,” he said. “You need too learn to cooperate.
But have it your way. The sex machine will be available to blow me in an hour. You
aren't preventing anything, you goddamned lazy legs!” He flopped back onto the
couch and passed out again.
        Half an hour later, he gained an unsteady balance and stumbled to the kitchen
and popped the blue pill. Then, he advanced slowly and drunkenly down the
hallway. When he reached the moving sidewalk, he leaned against the railing to
allowed it to carry him. His present mental state of mind caught a couple of glances
from people in the area, but nobody paid him a second thought.
        He got off at an exit whose attractions included the Carnal Sensation
Replicator. Juan stumbled to the entrance of the CSR facility and paid for an hour of
usage.
        He stepped into his private booth and took a seat in the comfortable plush
recliner that was provided. He sunk into the microfiber blend of the recliner that
conformed to the shape of his body. He felt a low intensity back massage from
within the recliner.
        On the wall in front of him, an image of a beautiful girl appeared. The room
itself was a half-circle, and his back faced the straight side of it. The girl paced
around the curved wall. She spoke to him, “Welcome to the CSR, Juan Alvarez. My
name is Tara, and I will be servicing you today. Perhaps you'd like to enhance the
experience with our three-dimensional technology? Of course you would. You
should remove the glasses that are in the compartment by your right hand and put
them on.”
        She paused while he did this. The projection of Tara on a curved wall
transformed into a realistic vision of a girl pacing back and forth a couple of meters
from him. The background in the projection became a wide open courtyard,
complete with a fountain and surrounded by lush planted gardens. He heard the
soothing flow of water in the fountain and smelt the pleasant aroma of the lilacs,
roses, and buttercups in the garden around him. His high, no doubt, enhanced the
sensation created by the CSR, but Tara would have still been very enjoyable without
any chemical enhancement. When the vision of Tara leaned forward to remove his
pants, his mind perceived that she was actually doing this. In reality, Juan knew that
the pants were removed by two robotic arms that protruded from out of the ground
directly in front of his recliner.
        With Juan's pants off, Tara really kicked into high gear. Throughout the
experience, Juan's high slowly faded as the drugs were processed through his system.
Feeling and control return to his body. This intensified the sexual encounter which
was far too realistic for its own good. After an hour of teasing, the simulator finally
finished Juan off. The explosion at the end was the perfect ending after the


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continuous build-up. Following his climax, Tara carefully cleaned the area, while
being extra cautious not to cause any stains on his clothes.
         He dressed and made for the exit, quite content himself.
         But as soon as he stepped outside the CSR, he was overwhelmed by the
feeling that something wasn't right. He took a couple more steps, then noticed the
three operators watching him.
         Drat, he thought.
         Cautiously, he continued down the hall until he was out of view from the
group. He relaxed a bit, but peaked around the corner to make sure they weren't
following. The Low Men stood as they had been. They seemed to be having some
sort of discussion, but he was too far away to discern the words that they are
exchanging.
         For another ten minutes, Juan watched and waited. He observed the Low
Men continue with their conversation. Are they even waiting for me? Juan wondered
to himself. Were they there when I had gone into the CSR, and I hadn't noticed it?
         Juan eased up a bit and headed back to the moving sidewalk. He rode for two
or three minutes, glancing over his shoulder every few seconds to keep a careful
lookout of the entrance behind him. When he got to the end of that section of the
moving sidewalk he stepped onto the one heading back to the CSR. Once again, he
peaked around the corner. The Low Men had disappeared.
         Juan messaged Maggie immediately for guidance. Ten minutes later he was
meeting her and Charles back at his daltra. When he got there, they were waiting
outside of his locked door.
         “Hey guys, thanks for coming right over,” said Juan. He waved his Real ID
card at the cardreader to unlock his door and stepped in. What he saw next was
beyond belief.
         The daltra was literally turned upside down. Pictures were knocked off the
walls. The couch cushions were strewn in a pile in a corner and the couch itself was
tipped forward. The room's tables were all either knocked over or laid with their legs
pointing straight up. Juan's music system cackled with the dissonant sound of
electric interference. In the kitchen, silverware and plates were scattered everywhere
and shards of broken glass were piled into the sink. The control panel for his IDS
bin had been pulled out of its place on the counter and loose wires were all knotted
together. The interface panel repeatedly flashed the word “Error” in large red
letters.
         After walking through the daltra, Maggie finally said, “Oh my God. What
happened here?”
         Juan felt as if she was accusing him of doing it himself, “Don't look at me. I
can't say that it was immaculate before, but when I left everything was basically in


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order.”
        “How long ago?” asked Charles.
        “Huh?”
        “How long ago did you leave?”
        “It couldn't have been more than two hours ago,” said Juan. “I was just
lounging around all day. During the afternoon I ordered up some marijuana, which I
smoked. At that point my delivery bin was still working, otherwise I wouldn't have
been able to place the order. Then after an hour or so of listening to some music I
headed out. I bought an hour at the CSR, which is where I saw the stalkers.”
        “See Ess Are?” repeated Maggie.
        Charles said dismissively, “Don't worry about that. It isn't relevant.” To
Juan, he said, “We like calling them Low Men, instead of stalkers. It's more fitting,
and is well juxtaposed with High Ops.”
        “So, you left this place, discovered that you were being watched by Low
Men, and came back to find your daltra in shambles? You did the right thing to
contact me. But holy cow, I've never heard of operators showing any interest in
anybodies daltra. I have heard of them forcefully removing the morally repugnant
from their daltras during any hour of the night. I have heard about extremely
isolated examples of material confiscation when possessions are discovered that go
against their beliefs. I've never heard about breaking and entering, with the intention
to make a mess. Is there anything here that they could have been searching for?”
        Juan shook his head, then shrugged his shoulders. “I can clean this stuff, I
guess. The plates are replaceable for a trivial percentage of my weekly allotment. I
don't know what I'll do about the IDS bin controls. Maybe it'd be best to move out.
If I could get a new place then I wouldn't have to worry about fixing it, I guess.”
        Maggie and Charles reflected on this with a momentary glance at one another.
Charles agreed, “That's a good idea.”
        Maggie said, “You can begin to plan to move out immediately.”
        “But I'd need to change the number of people who I reside with to justify
moving. I will need a roommate.”
        “Exactly,” said Maggie, “and I'm sure that either Kevin or Patricia will be
pleased to have you. I don't think it would be safe for you not to take a roommate
after you daltra has been ransacked like this.”
        “Why not you?” asks Juan.
        “Charles, Susan, and I are going away for a week in the near future. It
wouldn't be very buddy, buddy of me to leave you for that time. Would it?”
        Juan shook his head, “No, it wouldn't. I'll meet up with Patricia and Kevin
tonight, and plan our cohabitation.”
        Maggie said, “Then it's settled. We'll be extra vigilant. Thank you, again, for


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notifying me as soon as possible. You've done a good job, Juan. For now though,
Charles and I will walk you over to meet with Kevin.”
        “Thank you, but I'll be okay.”
        “She wasn't offering, buddy,” said Charles. “Come, you'll be safer if you
aren't by yourself.” They headed out the door. Juan pulled it closed. It suddenly
occurred to him that he hadn't closed the door when he left that afternoon. He kept
this realization to himself. What relevance did it have, he thought, if they had broken
in or merely strolled through open doors?

                                          6

        Kevin and Juan met Patricia at Thor's later that night. They ordered tall
glasses of wheat beer and let Juan tell his story.
        Kevin was quiet after the end of the story. One thing that troubled him more
than anything else in the world was the prospect of losing his entire DVD collection
from an operator seizure. He was aware that it was a possibility for them to discover
the treasure trove of unauthorized material that he stored in his bedroom. He knew
there was nothing he could do if they showed up one day and claimed it for
themselves. Until now, though, he considered it to be a negligible risk. While Juan
and Patricia continued to discuss the extent of damages to Juan's daltra, Kevin
reflected on what his options were. Finally, he said, “You can't live with me. I
wouldn't know what to do with myself if the extra attention from the operators
brought about the search and seizure of my DVDs.”
        Patricia said, “That's fine. Juan, it'd be my pleasure to spend tomorrow
afternoon moving my stuff into a communal daltra with yours. We can abandon
some of the stuff we don't need by combining things that we both have. Do I
understand it correctly that your IDS bin won't send out items because the control
panel has been demolished?”
        “Yes,” said Juan. “Not being able to fix that is what made me consider
moving out in the first place. When the robots go to move the next guy in, they'll
find the broken IDS and automatically queue up a trouble ticket with whomever is
responsible for fixing those things.”
        Kevin agreed, “I wouldn't worry too much about it.”
        Patricia said, “Well, a broken delivery bin is going to make moving a bigger
hassle than it's supposed to be.”
        “True,” said Juan. “That's a bummer.”
        Through the rest of the night Patricia and Juan made their plans to move the
following day. They discussed the logistics and Patricia placed an order through her
Real ID for an upgraded daltra for two. She scheduled a time for the robotic movers


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to come to get their large furniture. She told the ordering system that they would
want two separate bedrooms. Kevin watched her become visibly frustrated with the
Real ID daltra upgrade service.
        “It must be highly irregular,” she said, “for people to move in with each other
and not share a room. You have to tell the damn thing three times that you want
separate living quarters.”
        By 1:00am they had each consumed a fair amount of alcohol, and decided it
was best to get home to be well rested for the eventful day that awaited them. Kevin
and Patricia walked Juan to his daltra, for safety. When they dropped him off they
briefly took the time to have Juan confirm that everything was in the same state of
disorder that it had been in when he left with Charles and Maggie. When he
confirmed this, they said goodbye.
        Kevin said, “Have a good night.”
        “See you tomorrow, roommate” said Patricia.
        “Thanks a lot, Pat. I owe you one,” he smiled at her. “Sleep well.” He
closed the door behind him.

                                           7

        For the next hour, he picked up his things and did his best to get everything in
a neat enough order so that he could make sure that he didn't forget anything
important during the move. He already had a feeling that there would be things that
he would leave purposefully because of the lack of a working delivery bin. He
hoped that all of these things would be easy to replace. Some of the pictures that had
been hanging on the wall, and various nick-knacks in his cabinets predated the CTA.
If any of these things were lost, it would be a good bet that they would be lost for
good, so be took care to arrange them neatly in the middle of the living room.
        At 3:30am, he tiredly crept into bed. He was out like a light, despite the
excitement that had come in the last twelve hours and the anticipation of a major life
event that would occur in the next twelve. He was too tired to be able to think about
that stuff.




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                                  Kevin
                                           1

         Kevin tossed and turned in bed. His mind was awash with an eerie feeling
that'd settled to the pit of his stomach during dinner. There's a knot of apprehension
at his core which he couldn't explain.
         He realized that his mouth was dried, and got out of bed to fill a glass of
water. No lights, he thought, too bright at this hour. In the hallway, he stopped dead
in his tracks. The piercing glow of a red light shown from the living room. He held
his breath, does it see me?
         His hand moved slowly, noiselessly towards the light switch. The red light
neither blinked nor moved as far as Kevin could tell.
         Flick.
         Lights came up. Kevin squinted as his pupils dilated. An instant later he was
ready to kick himself. He breathed a sigh of relief, “It's only the shutdown indicator
for the telescreen,” he said out loud. For good measure, he opened the hall closet
just to be sure that he was alone in the daltra. It was empty. He said, “I've got to
kick this paranoia before it gets the best of me.”
         He returned back to his room with water. He knelt down next to the bed and
opened the latch that held his DVD collection in its place. Please be in there, he
thought. He rolled it out slowly, uncovering one shelf at a time, and to his relief each
held its appropriate contents.
         He pushed the first drawer back in place and moved to the other side of his
bed to repeat the check. It had been over a week since he'd used this drawer to return
the copy of Sex, Drugs, and Rock'n'Roll after Jared's meeting.
         The drawer slid out slowly. He scanned each and every title on every shelf.
Thoroughness was critical. One misplaced film would ruin his entire collection.
When the drawer was completely exposed, he breathed his third sigh of relief of the
night, but then a notebook on the last shelf caught his eye.
         He picked it up. “Ahh, yes,” he said. “The Renegades. It's been a while,


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hasn't it?”
         He brushed off a thin film of dust that'd settled on the manuscript since the
last time he'd looked at it. This was the first of three notebooks that he'd filled with a
novel that he'd begun in 2075. Since December, it'd been confined to the hidden
shelf on account of a writer's block that had stifled his creative output. No, he
thought, not a writer's block— the writer's block.
         Not knowing what came next in his writing was a concept that hadn't existed
prior to The Renegades. Things had previously flowed from his mind through his
fingers and into the manuscript with ease.
         He opened the cover and felt the knot in his stomach loosen. It's as if it's
calling to me, he thought, as he began reading near where he'd left off at the end of
the third notebook.

                                            2

        The heat from the warm summer beat down on the Pistols as they stood on
the 270th Level of Alpha Tower. Maggie, Patricia, Kevin, Juan, Susan, Jared, and
Charles surveyed Delta Tower on the horizon.
        “Let's get this show on the road,” Maggie said while taking a step forward
towards a row of seven air-taxis.
        The group eased into the taxis and each driver took control of the wheel.
They powered up and gently hovered 10 meters above the ground. Maggie engaged
her vehicle and idled forward, waiting for the others to fall into formation behind
her. A flick of her wrist sent a jolt of power to the engine.
        They pulled up to Delta Tower within minutes and saw groups of forty or fifty
Low Men amassed by each of the twelve elevators on the roof of the Tower. They'd
been alerted by operators in Alpha Tower that an attack was forthcoming. The
Renegades were over-matched.
        “Kevin, Charles, and Jared,” Maggie called over her intercom, “I'm going to
try something risky. Watch me, if my plan works, pick a fresh group of operators and
follow suit. If it doesn't, get yourselves to my protection as fast as you possibly can.
Got it?”
        “Got it,” echoed Jared.
        “Roger,” Charles radioed back.
        “Absolutely,” said Kevin.
        Maggie took her taxi high into the air. She dove right towards one of the
groups on Subtower Six. She brought the vehicle within a meter from the rooftop at
full acceleration. She aimed herself and then tore a path right through the defensive
formation of the unsuspecting Low Men. They're thrown over, under, and around her


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vehicle. She saw looks of shock on the faces of several men and women who flew up
and over her windshield. After a second, she was safely turning back to regroup
with her team.
         She flipped on her intercom, “Kevin, Charles, Jared – go!”
         Charles followed Maggie's path and aimed for the second group on Subtower
Six. Jared aimed for Subtower Five and Kevin took off towards Subtower One. They
arced high in the air and then dived towards their targets. Charles easily guided his
air-taxi through the Low Men. Jared and Kevin did the same.
         Maggie radioed, “Jared, direct yourself towards the remaining group on
Subtower Five. Kevin, do the same for Subtower One. Everybody else, prepare for
a landing on Subtower Six!”
         Charlie landed near the group he had just run over. Maggie, Patricia, and
Susan quickly joined him. The Pistols jumped out of their cars with guns in hand.
Charles pulled the pin on a grenade and tossed it into the pile of men.
         BAM!
         Low Men who'd escaped from the dive-bombings were now regrouping. A
quick count by Maggie tallied approximately twenty-five Low Men still standing.
         Charles noticed three men who were in the vicinity of the grenade when it
went off reaching for their weapons.
         BANG! BANG! BANG! They ceased reaching.
         Maggie and Susan turned their attention towards the remaining group of Low
Men. Maggie lobbed a grenade at them.
         BAM! Six of the twenty-two operators exploded in a gush of blood and went
down. Five turned to flee and the rest grabbed their weapons.
         Susan unloaded a clip into the men. Maggie took aim with her shotgun. She
fired at a tall, broad-shouldered Low Man and his body momentarily remained in a
standing position, then slowly slumped over and fell into a pool of red.
         Then, the Pistols were paralyzed by high-pitched ringing. With five Low Men
left on their feet, chaos existed all around. The Renegades ducked behind an air-taxi
and strained to cover their ears. Maggie peaked out in front so she could see the
Low Men. They were advancing towards her, marching in a single shoulder-to-
shoulder line. She refused to let the high-pitched ringing beat her.
         She unplugged her ears and endured the terrible ringing to reload her
shotgun. Then, she shot and knocked the man in the middle backwards. The ringing
stopped.
         Susan, Patricia, and Charles took advantage of the quietness to reload their
clips. In unplanned unison, Charles and Patricia rose up and unleashed six quick
shots each. Three Low Men went down.
         When Susan rose up to shoot, the high noise returned. She dropped her gun


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and covered her ears. The final Low Man sprinted towards her. Susan stared at him
in disbelief. He sucker-punched her in the stomach. She doubled-over, and fell to
the ground. She curled into a fetal position to defend herself from further harm.
       At the same time, Charles swept his leg at the Low Man. He dropped to the
ground. Another kick sent the Low Man's weapon flying, and caused the high
pitched ring to stop. The last remaining guard was rendered weaponless and
defenseless. Charles rose to his feet and stood over the Low Man. He leveled his
firearm to point at the Low Man's face.
       Maggie grabbed his wrist and pointed the gun away. “Don't shoot him,” she
said. “He's just following orders.” She turned to the Low Man who was laying on
the ground. “Weren't you?”
       He nodded. Maggie offered him a hand to help him up.
       She said, “You get out of here and keep your life. Tell your friends that they
won't be killed if they don't stand against us. Now, run away before I change my
mind.”
       He ran off in the position Maggie pointed.
       The Pistols walked to the nearby elevator. Kevin and Jared, who'd
dispatched the groups on the other Subtowers, joined them. Juan, who'd been
avoiding the battle, also joined them. Charles thumbed the down arrow on the
elevator. They all stepped in when the door opened.

                                          3

        In his daltra, Kevin smiled to himself. He felt the full weight of his writer's
block lifted from his shoulders. One more notebook, he thought, and I'll be done
with this thing. Should take until longer than June.
        Meanwhile he was contemplative of the story. Prior to his writer's block,
Charles, Susan, and Jared hadn't become Renegades. He hadn't even known them.
He felt the need to discuss this coincidence with Maggie. He sent her a message
with his Real ID.
        Maggie, meet me at your place to discuss “Renegades”. -Kevin.

                                          4

       “I just don't think that anything you could have written a year ago would have
any relevance to events that are going to take place in the future,” Maggie said.
       They're sitting in Maggie's daltra. Maggie was preoccupied by thoughts of
her upcoming trip with Charles and Susan. Kevin couldn't have picked a worse time
to have this discussion.


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        “But there's a possibility that my writing is predicting the future,” said Kevin.
“How else would I have known about Charles, Susan, and Jared. I wrote all this last
year. We can't ignore that.”
        “Don't be silly. Names alone don't mean anything.”
        “When I wrote that, I had no clue that the Renegades would be learning how
to operate firearms. Don't tell me that's a coincidence, too. If there's of a reasonable
explanation, I'd like to hear it. Otherwise, the similarities are too much for me to
ignore. Surely you must agree.”
        “You're getting too worked up over this. Calm down and we'll take this all in
stride. We can't afford to mix fiction and reality. It may lead us places that we don't
want to go. Ya know?”
        “Yeah, I'll keep my story to myself. No problem.”
        “But listen, I need to go meet Charles and Susan. The three of us need to do
some shopping at the Fashion Center for our trip.”
        “Yeah, I understand. You're too busy right now.”
        “Unless your story says what we need to buy,” she smirked.
        “No, it doesn't,” Kevin said. “If I don't see you before you leave, have a good
trip.”
        He let the door close softly on his way out. He's disappointed. He expected a
more favorable response from Maggie. In his mind, he's writing the greatest story of
all time. Not only didn't she see that, but she couldn't even see how they could use
his writing to gain an advantage over their enemy. “The Renegades” will give us the
precognitive edge we need against the operators, he thought.
        I'll become master of “The Renegades”. I'll continue to write and uncover
prophetic information about how they can be defeated. I'll leverage my gift of
writing to help achieve the ultimate goal of reforming CTA! And then all the people
will know my name and I'll be the greatest author on the Towers. I can't wait.
        For now, though, he contented himself with getting lunch. It was already late
in the afternoon and he was starving.




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                     In the Woods
                                          1

        Maggie and Susan strolled up and down the aisles at the Fashion Center in
search of clothing that matched a list of criteria that Charles had given them. This
was the first time that either of them would leave the safe world comprised of the
Towers. Neither of them knew what to expect. The list Charles had provided was
broken up into two parts. The first part was clothing and the second part was a list of
other supplies that they'd need. He'd gotten a good laugh when he handed it to them
and Susan asked, “Why does it say we need to bring our own food and water?”
        “Pollution and radiation in the water from the Great War wouldn't please our
stomachs, and we need food in case we can't hunt or gather enough of our own
during the hike on the first two days.”
        They picked up items that were lightweight and warm to account for the
distance they'd need to travel and the chilly weather of late April. That was easy
because the Fashion Center had an entire aisles devoted to warm, light clothing for
the residents who enjoyed the brisk outdoor air on the 270th Level.
        The first item on the second part of the list was treaded, heavy, comfortable
boots. “Shoes are clothing, why aren't they on the first part of the list,” Susan had
asked.
        “Without proper clothing, you can suck it up and endure the daytime weather,
but with the wrong boots you'll end up hurt. If you want to think of it as clothing
because it comes from the Fashion Center, that's fine by me, but you'll need to realize
that the right pair of boots will be more important than anything else on this trip.”
        Since the pathways on the Tower were cushioned and heated, locating a pair
of shoes designed for hiking in the woods was a mighty challenge for the women.
After searching seventeen different shoe aisles in the Fashion Center, including both
on the men's and women's sides, they finally found a boot that would receive
Charles' approval.
        The last item that they needed from the Fashion Center was a large backpack
so they could carry their gear while hiking. Interestingly, back-supported bags that


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were intended for carrying a Professional Long Ball gear during away games worked
well for this.
        During checkout, the Register ARS scolded them, “You've exceeded your
weekly capital allotment. Don't let this happen again.”
        In Susan's daltra, they ordered cooking supplies through the Menu ARS so
they wouldn't have to eat their meat raw. They packed silverware to avoid eating
with their hands.
        There were a number of highlighted items on Charles' list to indicate things
that he'd provide because they were unavailable from the normal Tower supply
systems. Susan asked Maggie, “Why do you suppose they won't let us order
flashlights?”
        “Have you ever used one before?”
        “No, I haven't”
        “There ya go. They're not generally available because they're unnecessary
within the walls of the Tower.”
        “I guess the same thing goes for first-aid kits and utility knives.”
        “Well, I think you can't get utility knives because they could be used as
weapons.”
        “Yeah, but what about steak knives?” asked Susan. “Those could be weapons
and I've got a drawer full of those in the kitchen.”
        Maggie laughed at this, “Surely you're joking? You think you could use those
knives as a weapon?”
        “Why not?”
        “I want you to take one of your knives and take it to the hallway and then
come back here.”
        Susan looked questioningly at Maggie, “Okay.” She pulled open the
silverware drawer and did as she was told. When she returned from the hallway, she
held it up towards Maggie. “Now, what did that accomplish?”
        “Run your finger along the blade.”
        “It's dull,” said Susan. “So, what?”
        “Was it dull a minute ago?” asked Maggie.
        “I dunno, maybe.”
        “Listen, you need to pay closer attention if you want to understand the things
the operators do in the name of protecting us from ourselves. Now, go get another
knife from the drawer. Make sure this one's sharp.”
        Susan did, and held the new knife up for Maggie to see.
        “If you ran your finger along the blade of this one, would it cut you?”
        She inspected the blade and answered, “Yes, it would.”
        “Grip the blade with a fist, and fake like you're going to stab me.” Susan


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made a fake stabbing motion with the knife grabbed firmly in her fist. Maggie
asked, “Is the blade still sharp?”
        The younger woman examined the blade, “It's dull.”
        “Don't kid yourself, it's as round as a marble.”
        “Yeah, you're right. I suppose this is a safety mechanism.”
        “A safety mechanism? Sure, you could call it that, but I'd rather think of it as
a denial of our right to bare arms. That tool senses when it leaves its safe area and
reacts when you hold it in a stabbing grip. Heck, if you tried to use it on yourself it
would dull after leaving the shallowest of cuts because the blade will sense your
body's core temperature and realize what you're doing. And that's why I had to laugh
when you suggested that kitchen knives might be used as weapons.”
        “And if I did cut myself, a Medical ARS would be here to attend to me in
about as much time as it would take to unwrap a first-aid kit, which renders that as
an unnecessary item on the Tower.”
        “Now you're getting it,” Maggie patted her on the back. “What else does
Charles' list say?”
        “Nothing, that's it. We're done.”
        “Great. I'll see you tomorrow so Charles can teach us to pack all this stuff
into these backpacks that we got.”
        “Have a good night, Maggie.”

                                           2

       Charles walked down the hallway towards Susan's daltra. Their schedule was
to be off-Tower for one week. He'd teach them how to shoot guns, though instincts
were what they really needed to learn. Aiming a gun at a lifeless target was easy.
Having the instincts to neutralize a hostile human with a bullet during an intense
moment wasn't.
       When Susan let him in, he sat her and Maggie on the couch so he could
deliver his pep-talk, “The upcoming week won't be easy. Learning marksmanship
and shooting techniques in a week is quite unheard of. I personally took years to
develop my skills. Starting at a young age I trained with stationary targets near the
cabin that we'll be traveling to. When I was sixteen my father gave me a test to see
how I rated in wilderness survival. He aggravated a large male deer so it would
charge at me. With no warning, 200 kilograms of muscle were running towards me
with their antlers pointed down. Reflexes allowed me to find my gun and take aim.
I shot once and took a leg out from under the animal. The buck tumbled to the
ground and I was rewarded with my father's prized Winchester rifle that night.”
       He paused. Maggie had not previously known that part of the story of the


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Winchester, but she wondered if Charles was mentioning it symbolically because of
what it evidentially represented. He continued, “During the next week, I'm
determined to do my best to ensure you have enough skills to fend for yourself in a
combat situation where you're outmatched. Your willingness to learn will be the
greatest asset you can provide. If you give me willingness, I'll give you results.
Now, let's help you get your bags packed so we can all get a good nights rest tonight
because we'll need it.”

                                          3

         Maggie and Susan arrived at Charles' daltra with their packs ready at the
crack of dawn the next day. After scolding them for being late, he checked over the
craftsmanship of their packs and discarded several large handfuls of clothing that he
deemed to be superfluous. They enjoyed a hearty breakfast of steak and potatoes,
then began the trek towards the air-taxi hub.
         In order to gain access to take air-taxis off-Tower, Charles had filed several
forms to account for their trip. He listed relaxation as their reason for leaving Alpha
Tower. For their destination, he gave latitude and longitude coordinates for a
location that was about 100 kilometers north of the cabin. It would be a grueling two
day trek, each way, between the landing zone and the cabin, but keeping the
operators from tracking them to his little hideaway was as important to him as it had
been to him father. He also reckoned that the hike would be good for their physical
and mental health.
         They arrived at the air-taxi port and their files were processed expediently.
Maggie didn't have any experience outside Alpha Tower so the air-taxi port was a
new experience. Susan at least had followed the Supremes to away games, and was
experienced with the automated air-taxis used to travel off-Tower. They were
directed to load their luggage into their own designated air-taxi. The vehicles were
sized to accommodate one person, plus his or her luggage. Communication
equipment was programmed so they'd be able to chatter amongst themselves while in
transit.
         Charles climbed into his chrome air-taxi first, and Susan quickly followed
suit into her pink and black one. Maggie watched each of her friends mount the
machines which she had always secretly been scared of. She looked into her yellow
air-taxi and copied their movements, but slipped and nearly fell on her butt. She
caught her balance and gracelessly lowered herself into the bucket seat. The
cushioning, she found, was surprisingly comfortable and she smiled at having
enough room to stretch her legs out in luxury.
         The air-taxis started up automatically and hovered out from the boarding


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area. Once they were 10 meters from the platform, the main engines fired up and
they're whisked away on their voyage at 1,000 kilometers per hour. The trip itself
only lasted about 40 minutes. Along the way, they passed CTA Towers which are
identified by mapping instruments mounted on their dashboards as Crete, Primer,
and Eta. The majestic appearance of each Tower filled them with awe. Also, the
sameness that the Towers had to each other was shocking. They're all completely
identical and indistinguishable without the dashboard display.
        They touched down in a forest landscape lush with evergreens that provided
shade against the sun. The temperatures on this particular day dropped to below
10C, and the group was forced to bundle up tightly. Maggie and Susan pulled out
and put on fashionable but thin sweaters for warmth. After a kilometer of hiking,
Charles laughed with amusement at their complaints of the dreadful cold. An extra
two layers did the trick, and they went for another forty-five kilometers before
stopping to setup camp for the night.

                                          4

        The girls watched as the fire grew from leaves and branches to a warm,
glowing center of their camp. Charles had started it with a lighter which had been
stowed away in his backpack. In the last minutes of sunlight, he assembled the
Kevlar tent which had been passed down to him by his father. He threaded the thin
poles through their respective slots, and the material twisted and contorted until a
structure developed. The women looked on with amazement.
        Then, they cooked a simple stew made from ingredients provided by the
Menu ARS in Alpha Tower. Charles hoped that this would be the last day where
they relied on Tower food, but they had a supply for two more days if they needed it.
        At night, he told stories from his youth as they gathered inside the tent. They
kept warm by wrapping themselves in sleeping bags. As night fell, they heard noises
from their surroundings. The woods around them were filled with different types of
chirps and howls. Charles' stories distracted Maggie and Susan from noticing these
noises until the time for sleep was upon them.
        Maggie asked the million dollar question, “What are those noises?”
        “Just a couple of insects,” he said. “They can be loud, but they can't hurt us.
You may hear birds and small woodland animals, but in the tent you can be assured
that you'll be safe from harm.” Shortly thereafter, Charles was snoring loudly.
        Maggie and Susan laid awake for several hours, mindful of the noises. They
pondered their situation and were anxious about the upcoming day. As exhaustion
overwhelmed them, they finally drifted off to sleep.



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                                           5

        The next morning, the women woke up to the noise of Charles packing their
belongings in preparation for a long day of hiking. As they rose from the hard
ground of the forest floor, they felt the aches and pains of a poor nights rest. Charles
dismissed their complaints and handed them a couple pain pills which he'd brought
from the Tower.
        With dirty appearances, the women began to use part of their supply of water
to freshen up, but their vanity was quickly put on the back-burner, “If you want to
make it to the end of the week,” scolded Charles, “you'd better conserve the water we
have.”
        Maggie and Susan packed up their blankets. They enjoyed a brief, cold
breakfast and then set out for their second day of hiking.
        They followed a trail which Charles astoundingly remembered from his
youth. Significant landmarks helped to reassure him that they were in the right
place, and a compass kept them going south-south-east to ensure that they wouldn't
get turned around accidentally.
        Along the way, they came to a stream which they used to splash their faces
and wet their hands. It smelled bitterly and Charles told the women to take a slight
taste to learn for themselves that it isn't like the clean, cool, refreshing water that
flowed in their daltra.
        “That's right, this water is no good for drinking,” Charles said. “A long time
ago, the Great War released pollution and radiation which poisoned the waters all
across the world. It's potent in this particular stream, but I would guess the same
could be said about all bodies of water including the oceans. If you drank more than
just a sip of it, your stomach will get upset and you'll vomit for the next couple of
days. This is why we must carry our own water.”
        Along their way, they saw many small woodland animals which fascinated
the women. Squirrels, chipmunks, and the occasional rabbit crossed their path.
Charles carried a small handgun which he'd kept concealed under his mattress for the
better part of a decade, and used it to shoot the rabbits when he had a good view of
them. He collected four that he packed into a sack that he kept at his side.
        After several hours of hiking, Charles asked, “Would you ladies like to stop
for lunch?”
        “Why? What's for lunch?” asked Susan.
        Charles motioned towards his bag.
        “Ugh, we're going to eat those things?” Susan groaned.
        “It's no different then some of the meat you eat in the Tower. It won't hurt
you, if that's what you're worried about. I used to eat these little guys all the time


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with my father.”
         “Well, Sue,” Maggie said, “if we don't let him make these for us now, then
he'll probably make them for us later. I think it's probably best if we suck it up and
start getting used to some of the more unpleasant parts of life. Even if it's something
that seems odd to us.”
         Thus, they enjoyed healthy rabbit steaks with natural herb seasonings
gathered from the surrounding area.
         After four hours of walking in the morning, Charles predicted eight hours in
the afternoon to reach their destination. He forced a quick pace, knowing that the
day would fade quickly and that the cabin would be very difficult to find in the dark
of night.
         To pass the time, he lectured the women about guns. He aimed to educate
them of the different types, and how to use each one. He noticed an immense
amount of interest from Maggie. She asked questions and sought to attain as much
knowledge as she could. Susan, on the other hand, seemed distracted. At times,
Charles even noticed that she was staring off into space, or paying more attention to
the things she was discovering about the forest. He hoped that deep down inside she
just needed to get one of the tools in her hands to make her focus on the mission at
hand. With skilled fingers, he believed that she would make an excellent marksman.
         As the sky darkened, Charles' keen eyes picked out a deer watching them
from the trees. He stopped the girls without telling them why. He drew their
attention in the opposite direction from the deer, and gripped his pistol. Before
Maggie or Susan realized what was going on, Charles whirled, aimed, and fired a
shot into the watching animal's head. In unison, the girls turned just in time to see it
fall to the ground.
         With the felled deer on the ground, Charles tied a bright red shirt from his
bag onto the branch of a nearby tree to mark their location. He insisted on moving as
quickly as possible and that included not stopping to pack up the venison meat, or
burdening themselves with carrying it the final (by his estimation) five kilometers.
He did, however, quickly gut it and the women stood far away to escape the smell of
this activity. In the morning, he'd return with a wheelbarrow to help him haul the
weight. This meant that they'd eat heartily instead of surviving off scraps from
smaller game. Charles was pleased.
         After a half hour of hiking, they walked into a clearing which marked their
final destination. They saw the cabin standing tall in the middle of a plot of land
which had apparently been cleared of the large trees that make up the surrounding
area. Tall grasses surrounded it. Charles breathed a sigh of relief and said, “We're
home.”



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                                           6

        There are beds in the cabin, but even the plastic covers which had been laid
on top of them were no match for the build-up of dust and cobwebs from the past
decade. At the late hour, the trio ultimately settled for some quick cleaning in the
open living room and slept on the haphazardly cleaned floor in their tent.
        They awoke in the morning with a sense of accomplishment. They had made
it 100 kilometers in two days. The journey gave them hope that their much longer
adventure could also be overcome.
        Maggie sat up, and Susan appeared to be asleep, “You awake?”
        Groggily, Susan said, “Yeah, I'm here.”
        “Do you smell that? I think Charles is cooking for us.”
        They both got up, still in their dirty clothes from the day before, and followed
their noses to the kitchen. Charles stood in front of an electric powered stove,
cooking a part of the deer which he'd killed the previous evening. Sweat glistened
on his forehead from the hard work he'd been doing.
        “That smells delicious,” said Susan.
        “It'll be ready in about 15 minutes. Deer with fresh fruit. I found a plethora
of berries growing in the vicinity.”
        “Sounds lovely!” said Susan.
        “Why don't you girls go clean up. You'll find a bathroom through that
hallway on your left. The shower should be big enough to share, and since time is of
the essence this weekend, I'm going to recommend that you do.”
        When the ladies found the bathroom their jaws drop. “This room is as big as
my daltra in Alpha Tower,” said Susan.
        In addition to the over-sized shower, there's a jacuzzi, two sink fixtures, and a
set of full length mirrors.
        “So this is what primitive feels like,” said Maggie.
        They undressed with some hesitation. They'd never been naked with each
other, and neither was accustomed to sharing that level of intimacy with other
women. Luckily, the shower had dual heads on opposite walls so they didn't need to
face each other, but they talked throughout about their expectations of the training
exercises. Mostly, Maggie was trying to get Susan fired up about it.
        Twenty minutes later they were dressed in clean, warm, comfortable clothes
and walked back in the kitchen. The table was set for three and already had plates
filled with food.
        “Take a seat,” Charles said. “We'll eat, then the teaching begins.”
        “Thank you,” said Susan.
        “The agenda for today is to introduce you to small arms. We're going to go


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out and I'll setup some stationary targets. We'll each take a small pistol and you'll
learn what it feels like to shoot, while learning what it takes to hit your mark.”
        “Sounds easy,” said Susan.
        “It's a start. There's no promise that it'll be easy. One of the focuses will be
quickness. With a small gun, control will be easier because their will be less
kickback. However, power is sacrificed because of the smaller caliber and reduced
amount of gunpowder. I want to start with the smaller guns because I think we can
expect to be up against situations where we'll be severely outnumbered so quickness
will be a good ally.”
        “You want to teach us to aim and shoot very quickly?”
        “Exactly. The only addition that we'll try to teach as the afternoon gets later
will be to move while you shoot, and evade attacks from your enemy. If you stand in
the entranceway of a room where you're hoping to ambush an enemy, you'll be a
sitting duck after they realize what's going on. Ideally, we'll want to take them by
surprise and disable as many as possible before they realize what's hit them. Then
we'll keep moving so they can't counterattack successfully. At least, that's what I
think we'll need to to.”
        “That doesn't sound as easy,” concluded Susan.
        “This is just the tip of the iceberg. I don't expect both of you to become
veteran ambush assassins, but one of my aims is to assess your abilities so we'll
figure out how comfortable you'll be if guns are needed in the plans of the future.”
        Maggie pushed her chair away from the table and asked, “Well then, what are
we doing here? Let's get busy and shoot some stuff.”
        He loved her enthusiasm towards the goals at hand and their ultimate mission
of overthrowing the operators.

                                            7

        Charles demonstrated how to load the gun, unlock the safety, take aim, and
fire. Six targets were arranged from ten to thirty meters from the shooting location.
        “The goal is,” he said, “to hit each of the targets in as short a time as possible.
This teaches the compromise between accuracy and speed. For now, if you miss a
target you should just move onto a different one. Now, watch so you can see how it's
done.” He hit each target in its center with a steady count of second in between each
shot.
        Maggie volunteered to go next. He handed her a gun and a round of
ammunition, whose unexpected weight dipped her arm as she initially took hold of it.
        “Wow,” she said. “That's heavy.”
        “Indeed it is,” said Charles. “Now, take aim at the first target. After your


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first shot count, 'One-one-thousand,' and shoot the second target. After that, 'Two-
one-thousand,' while you aim for the third target. Keep a steady pace, and you'll do
just fine.”
        The targets looked as if it they were over a kilometer away. She took a deep
breath, and cleared her thoughts to bring them into focus.
        Alright go, she thought as she pulled the trigger.
        BANG! The bullet struck the edge of the closest target. The kickback threw
the weapon upwards. One-one-thousand, aim and fire.
        BANG! It flew past the next target; a deep breath, two-one-thousand.
        BANG! Target three was struck near the center. Three-one-thousand.
        BANG! The fourth target couldn't have been struck more perfectly, and at a
distance of twenty-five meters away she smiled to herself. Last two, she thought,
four-one-thousand.
        BANG! Shot five clipped the edge of the target. Five-one-thousand.
        BANG! The last bullet missed its mark. Maggie sunk her head in disap-
pointment. “Dammit, I should have done better.”
        “Don't get down on yourself. That wasn't bad for a first timer. In fact, on all
accords I'd say that you did better than anybody who has never held a gun before,”
Charles complimented.
        He took the gun from her and placed it into the reluctant hands of Susan.
“Sue, I need you to close your eyes and imagine something that makes you angry.
Can you tell me what makes you angry?”
        “I can't... I can't think of anything. What kind of thing?”
        “If each target were a Low Man, would you want to kill it?” asked Charles.
“Could you bring yourself to raise up and shoot the bullet at the operator who was in
charge of programming the elevator repair process on the day that your parents
died?”
        “I suppose,” she said.
        Maggie joined in for encouragement, “C'mon, Suze. You're standing face-to-
face with a Low Man who's responsible for the elevator wreck that killed your
parents. He saw that you're armed, and he's charging right for you. He wants to
wrestle the gun from your hands so he can use it against you.” Maggie increased her
tone to drive the final point home, “Do you want to end up dead, or take control of
the situation and save yourself?”
        Softly, “I want to save myself.”
        “I can't here you,” Maggie challenges.
        “I want to save myself!”
        “Good, now shoot those damned targets so you can learn how.”
        BANG! The bullet struck the middle of the first target. Susan took a second


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to aim for the second target, just as Maggie had done.
        BANG! She hit the middle of the second target with precision.
        BANG! The third bullet flew into its intended place.
        BANG! She scored another bulls-eye.
        BANG! The fifth target was aced.
        BANG! Susan earned a perfect score for her round of shooting.
        “You think you can do that again, sweetheart?” Charles asked, his jaw hung
open. “That was a remarkable display of marksmanship.”
        “Good shooting Sue. You're a natural!”
        For round two, Charles trained Maggie to be more accurate and instructed
Susan to take less time in between shots. “However,” he cautioned, “you mustn't
ever rush a shot. When you rush, your accuracy suffers and you end up needing to
reload more. And when you reload more, you give your opponent more of an
opportunity to overtake you.”
        They practiced until lunchtime. For lunch, they make venison sandwiches
with bread from the Tower, and they each drank a large glass of water from the
cabin's filtration system.
        After lunch, they set about cleaning the cabin. A myriad of insects, spiders,
and other miscellaneous creatures had happily moved in and out of the place over the
years. Despite being accustomed to having their daltras cleaned weekly by
Housekeeping ARS, the size of the mess made it easy to find motivation to work on
it. And Charles fun some amusement in Maggie and Susan's eagerness to drive the
vacuum cleaner after he'd shown them how to operate it.
        The late afternoon brought the opportunity to jump, dive, evade, and dodge
invisible enemies while they continued to learn how to shoot. Susan continued to
excel, while Maggie still showed high vigor towards the lessons.
        At the conclusion of the day, Charles said to them, “You've each made
significant progress today, far above my expectations. Tomorrow we'll move up to
the more powerful weapons and see if you can handle them just as well. In the
meantime, the remainder of the night is for relaxation, contemplation, and reflection.
Just know that I'll expect you to be ready at sunrise tomorrow so you'd best shower
this evening and make sure to get a good night's rest.”

                                          8

       After breakfast the next day, the trio gathered at the target range. Charles
produced three long shotguns, so they each got one.
       “The most important thing about using this gun is being able to reload it
quickly. It packs a hell of a punch, but you can't,” he extended his index finger and


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cocked his thumb, “Bang, bang, bang, like with the smaller guns.”
        He showed them the proper procedure to load the shotgun. They imitated
him, and stumbled through the process. “Now, with a loaded shotgun you will get a
good opportunity to shoot at a group of enemies.” He pointed his gun at a nearby
bush, and he demonstrated his point. “Also, this gun will kickback a lot harder then
the guns we were playing with yesterday. You need a strong grasp when you pull the
trigger. Got it?”
        “Got it,” said Susan.
        “Crystal clear.”
        They shot the bush, and learned about the power of the shotgun. Throughout
the morning, they repeated the load-and-shoot process many times. Maggie became
a seasoned veteran with the big gun, while Susan lacked the loading speed and firing
strength to effectively wield the shotgun.
        Very well, Charles thought to himself, she'll get along just fine with her
mastery of the handgun.
        In the afternoon they returned to training with handguns and moved the
targets back about 50 meters each. Charles constructed a number of moving targets
by hanging them from ropes that were tied to tree branches. The women improved
with each passing hour.
        They retired as the sun descended in the distance. Deer and berries sufficed
for their supper.
        “This is really good,” Maggie said as they ate.
        “Well, thank you. It's my mother's recipe.”
        “I didn't mean the venison, not to imply that it isn't good. I meant this trip.
Being freed from reliance on the operators.”
        “That too. My father used to say that he loved having this refuge to get away
from the Towers every couple months, but that basic things like finding food become
intolerable during the winter months.”
        “Oh yeah,” said Susan. “I guess not having a Menu ARS would be a pretty
major adjustment, wouldn't it?”
        “I think what I enjoy most,” continued Maggie, “is the quietness of the
woods. I can't really put my finger on it, but it seems to make the simple act of
thinking easier.”
        “It's cause there are less distractions out here.”
        “Aye. I like it.”
        “Yup.”
        “So more relaxation tonight before another busy day tomorrow?”
        “Yup. Best enjoy it. After tomorrow we're be packing up and heading north
for the trek back towards the air-taxi landing zone.”


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       Maggie ate the last bite of venison from her plate, “And Charles, this is the
best meal that you've made for us so far. You're mother had a fantastic recipe.”
       “Oh, thank you.”
       The rest of the night passed uneventfully.

                                           9

        On their third day of training, Charles handed Maggie and Susan a pair of
rocks that were about the same size as his fist. “Let me see how far you can throw
these,” he said.
        Maggie went first and hurled her rock to just beyond the target that was 25
meters away. He nodded at her and smiled at the result.
        Susan cocked her arm back, and then lowered it back to her side. “I've never
done this before,” she said.
        “Do your best.”
        “I don't know how to throw.”
        “Just watch what I do and try to copy my motion,” he said. Working in slow
motion, he imitated throwing a rock. “Now, you go.”
        She copied him and released an arching rainbow of a throw that landed no
more than ten meters from them.
        “That was really good for your first try,” said Maggie.
        “I don't know how to say this, but I think it'd be wise if Susan took a rest
during the next lesson.” He opened the lid of a box he'd brought with him. Inside
there were a dozen egg-shaped objects that were packed in soft foam. “Maggie, take
one and notice how it feels like the rock you were just holding.” She did as she was
told. “These are called grenades and they're a special type of weapon that can be
very effective if used properly. You hold it in your throwing hand, like so. You pull
the pin out and then you've got about seven seconds before it'll explode so you want
to make sure to throw it a far distance away.” He heaved his demonstration grenade
into some bushes on the edge of the clearing.
        BOOM!
        “Wow!”
        “Now, you go ahead and try it.”
        She proceeded to target the bush that was next to the one that he'd destroyed
and landed her grenade in it with pinpoint accuracy.
        BOOM!
        “That's a good arm you've got there,” he smiled. “Now, I'd love to toss these
all day but we've only got a very limited quantity so I think that one toss will have to
suffice.”


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                                           10

        That afternoon, they adventured into the woods in search of live game. They
had each picked their weapon of choice before leaving for the hunt. For Maggie it
was a shotgun, and Susan chose a pair of pistols. If worse came to worse, Charles
had a dart gun that will put any animal to sleep in seconds, though he would only use
that if they were in serious danger. Meanwhile, he taught lessons in stealth and
tracking and before long they picked up the trail of a large mammal by noticing a
mixture of tracks and disturbed bushes. After ten minutes of following the trail, they
come upon a pile of fresh animal droppings.
        Just as I suspected, Charles thought to himself, a large bear has recently
been through this way.
        Susan had a puzzled look, “That look on your face, you've discovered
something,” she said, “What is it?”
        “It's a bear, and a big one at that. If he sees you he'll outrun you over a short
distance. They mostly hunt fish but if it decides it wants you then you'll have a hard
time convincing it otherwise.” He raised both arms above his head, opened his
mouth, and growled like a bear at her. “When they see you, they'll climb up on both
legs and challenge you like that. Very scary beasts. If they get to that point, you
better hope you have a way to stop them before they get to you. And not bullets.
Bullets mostly piss them off more, and get them to attack sooner.”
        “And we're going to try to attack this thing? Or just sneak up on it, tap it on
the should and say, 'Boo!' and hope we frighten it to death?” asked Maggie.
        “Your shotgun will slow it down,” he said. He hoped they'd discover the
power of ending a life for themselves. “A few well placed pistol shots will also do
the trick.”
        They eventually arrived at a clearing. “There it is,”said Susan.
        Charles nodded, “And right now he's all the way over there and he probably
hasn't ever noticed us. Maggie, I want you to shoot into the air to get his attention. ”
        “But, I thought you said we wanted to try to get the element of surprise?
Shouldn't we sneak around to where it's laying, and then shoot it close range?”
Maggie asked.
        “There's no time for that. Or worse yet, the bear could see us and turn our
surprise into his. If we got too close and that were happened we'd be up the creek
without a paddle.” said Charles.
        “I hope you know what you're talking about.” She fired a shot into the air
fifteen meters above the bear. It instantly rose to its feet and stared at them.
        “I also wanted to give you a challenge. What fun would it be if you killed a
defenseless animal?” finished Charles. “Now Susan, shoot that bear.”


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         Susan took aim. The distance was about one hundred and fifty meters. Shots
from her first gun sailed right past the animal, who approached slowly. She
unloaded with her second gun, and on one of the shots the bear stopped, let out a
loud, aggressive snarl and entered into a charge at the women.
         “What're you girls waiting for? Reload! Otherwise he will chew you up and
spit you out. Hurry!” a calm sense of urgency came across through Charles'
command.
         By the time the bear is just about halfway to them, Susan has her first gun
reloaded. She brings it up, to aim at the bear. Charles interrupts her concentration
and stops her from firing, “Do the other one. The bear is too far away, right now.
You will want both of those guns in half a minute.”
         The pressure built as the bear got closer. At one point, Maggie slips and
drops the shotgun bullets on the ground while sliding them into place. Susan got her
second pistol set by the time the bear was fifty meters away. Another ten or fifteen
seconds and it'll be all over.
         “Aim for his legs. His weapons are his mouth and legs, but without his legs
he can't get close enough for any of that to matter,” advised Charles.
         BANG! Susan fired towards the animal. Her first shot was a miss. She took
a deep breath to settle herself. BANG! BANG! Two more misses.
         BANG! BANG! She decided that she was rushing much too fast and needed
to concentrate. She later remembered thinking to herself, slow down. One-one-
thousand. She saw the bear only thirty meters away, and closing the distance
quickly. Two-one thousand.
         BANG! BANG! Two hits! She smiled to herself. The bear stumbled,
tripped, and fell. Though, it immediately picked itself back up. It rose to its hind
legs and let out the loudest growl that any of them had ever heard.
         “You've pissed him off,” laughed Charles. “Maggie,” observing that she was
finally ready, “shoot it in the gut, while it is on two legs.”
         BANG!!!! A gush of blood appeared in the animal's stomach. It looked
down, then forward where the trio sat. It resumed its charge towards them. “Shoot
its legs, darn it Susan. Shoot it and slow it down, for the love of God!” Charles' tone
was urgent. His hand unconsciously grasps for the dart gun that was tucked away in
his pocket. “Maggie, reload your gun as quickly as you can.”
         Maggie moved with more haste than during her first reload. Her movements
are cold and calculated, like she had done during practice the previous day. Susan
put more iron into the animal.
         BANG! BANG! The bear didn't seem to even notice.
         BANG! BANG! No misses, but it was twenty meters away.
         BANG! BANG! The bear began to limp, but still charged right at them. If


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anything, it was only slowed to a jogging pace.
         BANG! BANG! The animal left a trail of blood, but persisted.
         BANG! Click. She thought to herself, uh-oh. Her right hand gun had shot
its final round. Click! So had her left hand gun. Damn. The bear continued, eyes
straight on Susan. Ten meters away. Charles drew his dart gun and took aim with it.
         The bear used what was left of its strength for a burst of speed at Susan. The
girl reeled, and ran away from the edge of the clearing. When he saw this panic in
her, he pulled the trigger. Oh crap! he thought to himself, it's jammed. The bear was
two meters from Susan. It jumped, and swatted her with its magnificent paws. One
quick swipe was all it took to send her flying through the air onto the ground three
meters away.
         Charles yelled, “Its head Maggie! Shoot its God-damned head, or the three
of us are going to be goners!!!” panic and excitement were clearly evident through
his tone.
         The bear turns towards Maggie and Charles. Charles turned and ran in the
opposite direction, leaving Maggie between the bear and him. Maggie finished her
second reload as the bear grunted.
         She aimed. The bear was less then four meters away from her.
         BANG!!!! The dual bullets distorted the bears face, which quickly turned a
burning color of red. His eyes became sockets in his face. His momentum continued
forward, and Maggie sidestepped to her left as the body crashed to the ground where
she'd been standing. Whew! That was close, she thought.
         Charles stopped his retreat, and looked at the scene with a gaping jaw. The
large body of the bear lay, bloodied next to Maggie. She beat it. She'd dealt with the
pressure while he ran.
         “Thank you,” he said. “Both of you girls did amazing. “
         A big welt was forming on Susan's ribcage where the bear had struck her, but
she reported only a dull pain.
         Charles carved up a good cut of the bear, and bagged it so they'd could enjoy
three hearty steaks later that night. He took just as much as he wanted, left the rest
for scavengers. Then, they headed back to the cabin on a trip that was spent in quiet
reflection for all of them.

                                          11

        Maggie, Susan, and Charles returned from their trip on the first Sunday in
May. Maggie and Susan headed straight to their daltras for a night of well earned,
comfortable bed rest. Charles headed to Patricia's daltra. After a series of messages,
and a trip around the Tower, he was in her bedroom. The week had been a success.


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                        Exploration
                                          1

        While Charles, Maggie, and Susan were away training in the woods, Patricia
and Juan spent their days people-watching in the common areas. Five days of this
had led to a number of interesting observances, but on the morning of the sixth day
that they spotted something truly out of the ordinary. Their eyes followed an elderly
man who moved with an air of urgency.
        “Perhaps he's late for a rendezvous with a lady or a game of 3-on-3 with his
friends,” said Juan.
        The fact that he was hurrying raised suspicions. “Let's follow him, to see
what he's up to. Maybe he'd be a good recruit for the Renegades.”
        They walked to intercept his path. Once they caught up to him, they tailed
the elderly man by ten to fifteen meters, attempting not to look suspicious. After
walking for ten minutes at his rushed pace, the man ducked into a small amusement
area which housed a small roller-coaster, an arcade, and a stage for robotic clowns.
The roller-coaster was constructed of high-density steel, and although it didn't climb
higher than the ten meter ceiling, Patricia and Juan watched it shoot around its
harrowing curves at speeds in excess of two-hundred kilometers per hour.
        “That must be fun,” commented Juan.
        “Are you out of your mind? It looks dangerous.”
        In the arcade, pinball machines and video games beeped and flashed their
lights with excitement. The video game screens were playing games like PacMan,
Missile Commander, Tetris, Peasant's Quest, and Centipede. The pinball machines
flashed with bright lights and the promise of infinite bonuses.
        The elderly man took an interest in the robotic clowns. A single clown stood
center stage. He was juggling five bottles in a complex and intricate pattern. Behind
him, a group of five robots waited patiently next to a pyramid-stack of bottles that
was nine wide and nine tall.
        As they watched, a second robot came forward and joined the first. They


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began cooperatively juggling the original bottles. After a rhythm for this was
established, two of the robots in the background each grabbed a bottle from the top
of the pyramid. In unison, the two robots from the background tossed their bottles to
the center of the stage where they're seamlessly integrated with the previous bunch.
The tossed another two sets of bottles, and the two center stage robots were juggling
eleven bottles total. The elderly man clapped at this. He seemed to be enjoying it
greatly.
        As the show continued, a third robot joined the group at center stage. They
easily managed the eleven bottles. Some were flung high into the air, while others
followed horizontal paths from one robot to the next. No bottles hit the ground.
Three background robots were available to toss three sets of three additional bottles
into the juggling game. The pyramid is now less than half its original size, and the
elderly man started to whistle loudly by placing his fingers in his mouth and
blowing.
        Now a fourth robot joined the center stage to be included in the juggling
game. The skill required to pull off the trick was beyond the capabilities of any team
of humans. The artistry of the design was undeniably magnificent. The two robots
waiting in the background needed both hands each to toss three sets of four bottles.
By the time they finished, thirty-two bottles were being shared by four robots. At
any given moment at least two bottles were in the air from each robot to all the
others. During each cycle every robot caught and released nine bottles.
        At last, the two backstage robots joined the center-stage crew. Each carried
half of the remaining bottles to opposite sides of the juggling circle and piled them
by their feet in a pyramid-stack three rows high. First, the two new robots were
included in the juggling, then the bottles in the piles by their feet were added into the
mix. The two newcomers tossed two bottles at a time with their robotic feet. When
all the bottles were included, the six robots were juggling fifty bottles at once. The
elderly man hooted and pumped his fist in celebration of the feat.
        “Cheap robotic entertainers,” muttered Juan. His temperament and opinion
of the act was clearly not approving. “These simple robots follow preprogrammed
paths. Fuck them. They'll continue to follow the same paths without error until they
run out of juice or wear out. It's just a computer program running in an infinite loop.
Big fucking deal. What's so special about repetitive robots? Nothing! That's what.
Now, if a person could get up there and perform something which is much less
complex, it would impress me more. Wouldn't you agree?”
        “These robots are nice. I mean, you couldn't do that. Could you?”
        “Nobody can do it,” said Juan. “That's not my point. My point is that
unemotional, unintelligent machines that perform a certain set of variations based on
preprogrammed inputs are inferior to real human performers. A human entertainer


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has the ability to measure-up his audience in order to tailor the act to maximize the
enjoyment of the viewers based on the reactions he sees in their faces.”
         Patricia countered, “Robots are easier. They're programmed with what most
people want to see in order to be entertaining. The bulk of the residents in the
Towers enjoy this. You're one of the few who can't deal with the fact that this kind of
display is impressive – repetitive software algorithm or not.”
         “If that old guy likes this sort of artificial display of entertainment, I don't
think he's cut out to be a Renegade,” said Juan.
         Despite internal objects, Patricia bit her tongue and agreed. “Well, if we
aren't going to approach this guy to talk about the Renegades, then what do you think
we should do during the rest of the afternoon?”
         “Let's to back to the common area. I'll show you a performance that is truly
fit for the men and women of Alpha.”

                                           2

        An hour later, they sat in the common area of the 200th Level of the Tower.
They'd seen many people traveling along their merry ways from one destination to
the next since their run-in with the elderly man at the amusement park. Men and
women of all ages, shapes, and sizes had passed them without taking notice in
anything they were doing, but finally Juan got the right vibe and jumped into his act.
        He chose a mime routine. He climbed up an invisible rope, got trapped in an
invisible box, and got knocked down by an invisible prize-fighter. Nobody in the
common area except Patricia gave him a second glance.
        From a distance, he watched a man dressed in a polo shirt and a pair of khakis
approach. Juan snatched a bag the man was carrying, and ripped open its zipper. He
pranced randomly in different directions, taunting the man to come after it. Patricia
doubled over with laugher, as the man's head followed her partner's movements.
After it became clear that the man has no intension of chasing Juan, he pranced in
circles around his victim, maintaining a constant distance of about five meters.
        With each circle, the man turned his head to the right to follow Juan's
movement. As Juan moves behind him, the man swings his neck around and waited
to pick Juan up from the left side. After a dozen circles like this, Juan noticed the
complete laziness on display, and came to a halt directly behind the guy. Surely he'll
turn around if he knows I'm back here, Juan thought to himself.
        After two minutes of waiting, the man finally turned around and
melodramatically asked, “Can I have my bag back?”
        Without cracking a smile, Juan said, “No, I think this is mine.¨ He rifled
through the contents of the bag, “I think I can see my...” pulling out a sweaty shirt,


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“... no this is yours.” Juan threw the shirt onto the ground beside him.
         Juan pulled out a sneaker and says, “Yours, also.” He grabbed a wrinkled
shirt, “Yeah, this is yours, too, and you're going to want this other sneaker. Ain't
much use with just the one!” He threw each item onto the ground around him.
         In response, the man continued to stare with a stunned expression on his face.
Patricia fell off the bench; she was doubled over with laugher. The man stared
blankly at Juan and didn't seem to notice the amount of joy he was providing to her.
         Other passers-by took note of the events orchestrated by Juan with the bag
and clothes strewn all about him. Nonchalantly, he walked up to his victim, and
placed the empty bag at his feet. Softly he said, “You're right, it is your bag. I'm
sorry.” Then he walked away, and joined Patricia at the bench.
         The man unceremoniously bent over to gather his scattered clothes.
         “That was awesome,” Patricia exclaimed.
         “And that,” he said, “is a human performance.”
         “You mean, what you were doing to the guy you were picking on?”
         “Not at all. His reaction. The lack of understanding. The confusion on his
face as he was trying to process what could've possibly been going on in my head.
He played the role of a mark and did a magnificent job. I couldn't have done it better
myself.”
         “Huh?”
         “You've got to admit, what I did wouldn't have been entertaining if he reacted
differently. He probably didn't even realize how good he was.”
         “Oh, I see,” she said. “by reacting with honest human emotions he was
fulfilling your scene. Whereas no robot could have done that because they're
programmed so confusion is not part of their repertoire.”
         “Precisely.”
         “And thus your fine performance served a duel purpose of teaching me that
the juggling robots that we saw earlier are a true joke, because they don't have
emotions.”
         “Exactly.”
         “Because humans have the ability to act on instincts, that robots lack. Isn't
that right?”
         “By jove, I believe you understand.”
         “And because of that, we're going to the 1st Level. My instincts tell me that
there's something there that we need to see.”

                                          3

       “What are we looking for?” asked Juan as they rode the elevator to the 1st


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Level of Alpha Tower.
        “I don't know exactly,” said Patricia. “When we find it, we'll know. Can't
you just be willing to go out on a limb sometimes?”
        As they walked from hallway to hallway, it seemed like the only thing they'd
ever find was more hallways. With the exception of a path that led into the common
area, the 1st Level seems to be a series of hallways with daltras, just like every other
Level of Alpha Tower.
        After wandering around aimlessly for two hours, Juan was struck with a
thought and offered a suggestion. “Let's look for the gate that leads to the outside!”
        “Huh?”
        “This is the ground floor, right? So there must be a doorway that will lead us
out of this place somewhere.”
        “In that case, we better make our way to the perimeter hallways of this
labyrinth,” said Patricia.
        They boarded the moving sidewalks and began the long circle around the
Tower. They played hand games to past the time and to overcome the monotony of
passing the same things over and over again. He put out his palms facing up, and she
rested hers on top. He tried to slap her before she reacted. If she evaded him, they'd
switch.
        This continued for a half hour while they circled the perimeter of Subtower
One. They moved into Subtower Two, and Patricia said, “Let's keep going. I bet
they put the gate in one of the other Subtowers.”
        Over the next half an hour, they saw the same things – and nothing was a gate
to the outside. Being on the moving sidewalk, they saw blank walls on either side of
them. On the other side of each wall were daltras, and on the other side of those
daltras were the hallways which granted access to the daltras.
        “Which direction leads to the outer ring of daltras?” asked Juan.
        Taking a second before pointing out what he should have already known,
Patricia finally answered, “Well, we've been continuously turning to the left. The
Subtowers are hexagonal, so that means that the outermost daltras are those on our
right hand side.”
        “Let's go to that hallway and walk it, and see what we uncover.”
        An adventure is an adventure is an adventure, she thought.
        They stepped off the automatic sidewalk in favor of the more laborious non-
moving hallway. They passed doors on their left and doors on their right for what
seemed like hours.
        “Can I ask you a question?” Juan asked.
        “Shoot.”
        “This whole business with firearm training that Maggie's doing, you don't


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think she actually has plans to mount an attack against the operators, do you? I
mean, is the goal really to cause violence?”
         “Well, I think violence is certainly one of the options that Maggie wants to
keep open as she pursues her goals. It isn't the goal, though.”
         “So there are definitely other non-violent ways that we'll be able to get the
changes we want out of the High Operators?”
         “That depends on the options they give us, I think. Why do you ask?”
         “I just don't want to be violent, is all. I don't think it solves anything. I'd
prefer to go about our agenda without lashing out at the operators. Don't you think
there are more effective ways of getting what you want?”
         “In general, yes. I think the last resort should be violence. I'd much rather
see Maggie establish a line of communication with the operators instead of attacking
them, but it isn't a bad thing to also have to capability to be able to attack them. The
more options we have, the more likely they are to negotiate with us. You know?”
         “That's shit logic,” he cursed. They continued to pass doorway after doorway
as they walked. “Besides, the operators don't even use violence. They use their
specialized forms of non-violence, which is a particularly gruesome form of violence
in it's own right, but poses no danger to life nor limb. Remember when Charles got
the shit kicked out of him by the High Operator? That's what we're up against when
we turn to violence.”
         “Yeah, I know it's not good. But imagine how much more respect we'd get if
we fought our way through a platoon of Low Men on our way to negotiate with the
High Operators. Trust me, I've been in the wonderful world of the Alpha University.
What you've done in the past matters just as much as what you're trying to do in the
present.”
         They reached the first of twelve intersections within Subtower Three where
they could transfer back to the moving sidewalks.
         “You think violence is right?”
         “No, but sometimes I think it's necessary. Weighed against what we're trying
to accomplish I'd say that we definitely need to have it as a feasible option.”
         “And what's that?”
         “What do you mean?”
         “What are we trying to accomplish?”
         “Not to answer a question with a question, but do you remember why you
signed up with the Renegades in the first place?”
         “Sure, because they won't let me perform.”
         “That's what we're trying to accomplish. We want to create a culture where
it's not only acceptable for you to perform, but an atmosphere where you'd be
encouraged by your peers to break into a dance whenever you want.”


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        Juan sighed, “That would be nice.”
        “And we're trying to cultivate a place that doesn't reject about 5% of it's
infants because they don't fit into acceptable behavior patterns. And we're trying to
make it acceptable for a person to publish what they've written without fear of it
getting messed up by the editors. And we're trying to bring rise to a world that
doesn't have censorship. And most of all we're working towards a world where
fallible dependencies on machinery are a thing of the past.”
        “Yes, I suppose those are our goals. But still, I don't see how violence is
going to be our answer.”
        “Like I said, I doesn't support it, but I think it's necessary.”

                                          4

        Continuing their circle for the next hour, they didn't see anything noteworthy.
Then they finally met somebody near the end of their second hour of walking.
        “Good day to you, miss,” greeted Juan.
        “Why, hello! How do you do today. Pleased to meet you, I am Mildred
Englishman. To whom do I owe the pleasure?” introduced Mildred Englishman to
the hallway adventurers.
        They made pleasantries, and Juan explained their desire to find the door to
the outside.
        “Well, I most certainly have never seen a door that'll take you outside of the
Tower. From my daltra you can see through the window to the outside, but its
nothing to get excited about.”
        Juan and Patricia, however, became sufficiently excited by the prospect of
seeing the woman's daltra. She allowed them entrance into it to check out the view.
They found the window itself was made of unbreakable glass. Mildred assured them
that they wouldn't succeed if they attempted to break through it. They believed her
after banging a chair into it a couple times.
        “You know, the lowest place which has a balcony that I know of is on the
seventh level. From there, I don't think you would want to try to jump off Tower,
though. That is what you are aiming for, right? You want to get out of here?” She
paused, “Don't answer that. It isn't my business. Anyway, every other lower level
that I've got friends on has the same unbreakable windows,” confided Mildred.
“Although, I think I've got a story you will like. A few years ago, a friend of mine
who lived three doors down saw a man fall. Well, she did not see him fall, but she
heard when he went splat on the ground not too far from her bedroom window.
When she looked outside she saw the mangled body. She said bones were sticking
out where they shouldn't have been. A pool of blood lay around him. It was a mess.


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You wouldn't want to jump or lose your balance from that height.”
       “Eww,” said Patricia, “gross.” She wasn't a fan of blood or gore.
       “The strangest thing,” continued Mildred Englishman, “was that the next day
the entire thing was completely cleaned up. You wouldn't have been able to tell
anything had happened if you hadn't seen it with your own two eyes. The body was
completely gone. I know, she called me over that morning.”
       “How do you know a body was even there?” asked Patricia, inquisitively.
       “Elizabeth would not make something like that up. I trust my friends,
wholeheartedly. Now, I believe you have seen what you come to see, so I would
appreciate it if you took your leave. Thank you, very much.”

                                          5

       More walking, more repetition. After the fourth hour of walking around the
perimeter of Alpha Tower, they finally saw something different. They found a door
which wasn't like all the other doors: a door which was utterly and completely red.
       “Oh my God,” noticed Juan.
       “Yes, I see. Should we... knock?”
       “Umm... yeah, go for it.”
       When nobody answered, neither of them are surprised.
       “Let's head back to the elevators, make a note which section of the Tower this
is so we can find it again, and call it a day,” suggested Patricia after a brief wait.
       They rode the elevator to their level of the Tower, and celebrated their
discovery with drinks at Thor's Hammer, and the night was good.




                                         117
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Low Men Come Knocking
                                         1

        Several weeks after spending time off Tower, Maggie scheduled a meeting
with Amanda Soldier and Alan Grimes; the affiliated leaders of two other Renegade
Operating Groups. Only major events warranted cross-group coordination; the
previous meeting of the three leaders had been held during August of 2075 when the
Pistols OG formed with Maggie, Patricia, Kevin, Juan, and Charles. They preferred
to limit interactions that took place between the different OGs to minimize chances
of being detected by the operators.
        Maggie's thrust of this meeting was to push a three-pronged strategy that
would prepare them for a potential fight against the High Operators. This included a
call to implement the buddy system for the entire organization. Secondly, they'd
establish a schedule to get firearm training for as many members as possible during
the subsequent months. And finally, Maggie wanted to assign each of the three
groups the task of gathering information that would help them formulate a plan for a
major attack against the operators.

                                         2

        Presently, Maggie sat in the plush daltra of Amanda Soldier. Candles were lit
on the coffee table and the decorations around the room provided a warm and
inviting feeling. The centerpiece of the room was an intricately woven carpet that
had an extremely artistic floral pattern upon it. The two women made pleasantries
while they waited for Alan to arrive. Amanda discussed recent Brick news, which
concerned members of the Renegades whom Maggie had once been quite close to.
        Finally, at twenty past the hour, there was a frantic knock at the door
announcing Alan's arrival. He called out loudly with a yell of desperation.
“Operators.... behind me.... hurry the heck up.”
        “Oh, no!” gasped Amanda. “What're we going to do?”
        Maggie was already on her feet. She met Alan at the door, and then stepped


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outside. From a distance over 100 meters, three operators were walking patiently
towards them.
        “Lose the Low Men, meet them, or attack them?” asked Maggie.
        “Low Men?”
        “In the Pistols OG we've begun calling them Low Men instead of operators as
an additional nomenclature to distinguish them from the High Ops.”
        “Ahh. That makes sense.”
        “I don't see how we could attack them,” said Alan. “I think we should get the
heck out of here, before they can do anything to us.” He was wet with sweat from
evading the Low Men during an apparent chase that caused him to be late.
        “Nonsense,” Maggie had the answer to her question. “Amanda, go get a
couple small blunt objects that we can use to knock them out. Alan, help her find
some way to conceal whatever she finds. We'll meet them and attempt to avoid
conflict. If things go ill, we'll attempt to disarm them.”
        “I don't think that's a good idea. There's no telling what the Low Men might
do to us if we try to fight them.”
        “Which is why we're going to hope that the confrontation doesn't turn
violent,” said Maggie. “Besides, I've got a secret weapon if it comes down to it,” she
pulled aside her shirt and revealed a handgun concealed in her belt.
        “You know, I'm not even going to ask how you got that.”
        “Find your own weapon,” said Maggie. “We just might need it.”
        A few seconds later, Amanda returned with a pair of cooking pans.
        The guards had gotten much closer to Amanda's daltra door. “Fall back and
take seats. We'll welcome them when they get here. No funny business. Only
violence if they attack first.”
        Maggie and Amanda returned to their original positions on the couch. Alan
plopped down into an arm-chair. They waited silently for the knock on the door to
announce the operators.
        THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.
        A fist banged loudly on the solid aluminum composite door. Alan got up,
approached the door, and pulled it wide open, exposing the large body's of three Low
Man.
        “What can I do for you?” he asked.
        “We have a couple of questions for you, Mr. Grimes,” said the apparent
leader of the Low Men. “If you'd please come with us, we can find a.... private place
to conduct our business.”
        “Well, I think that would be, you see, I'm just not...”
        “What Alan means to say,” Maggie interrupted, “is that you gentlemen are
more then welcome to come in and make yourselves comfortable. We're all friends


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here, right? Don't be shy.”
         The leader of the Low Men responded with a loud bombing voice, “We have
come for Mr. Grimes. Ms. Flanagan, you and Ms. Soldier are of no interest to us.
Thank you for the offer, though.”
         “Please, you're as welcome in my daltra as Alan and Maggie. We've got food
and there are drinks chilling. Do come in, won't you?”
         “Don't make me repeat myself. I don't like repeating myself. We are here for
Mr. Grimes, and Mr. Grimes alone. Now, Mr. Grimes if you would...”
         BANG!
         A sudden gush of blood flowed from the lead Low Man's face. He raised a
yell that would have definitely been heard from across the hall if anybody was over
there.
         BANG!
         Maggie cut off the yell with a quick shot to neck. The body remained upright
for a moment, then slumped backwards into the arms of the other two Low Men. A
look of shock was present on their faces.
         One wore a patch over his eye while the other one had hair and a full beard
that was as dark as the night.
         “Now, you,” Maggie motioned towards the one with the eye-patch, “get in
here and take a seat next to me if you don't want the same fate as your friend.” Her
command was powerful.
         The surviving Low Men looked at each other and made faces that seemed to
say, What are we supposed to do?
         “Ms. Flanagan here, you know she's crazy right?” added Amanda. “She'll kill
each of you, without so much as a blink. She's done it before, you know. She good
at it, too. And don't even think about taking off down the hall. That'll just make her
mad, and you really wouldn't want that, now would you?”
         A defeated look passed over their faces.
         “You know, we can try doing this the easy way,” Maggie used a soothing
voice. “I'd like you to come sit down and answer a couple of questions. If you don't
give us a hard time, you'll exponentially increase your chances of making it out
alive.”
         “We didn't come here looking for trouble,” said the Low Man with the eye
bandage.
         Maggie and Amanda got up from the couch and the Low Men begrudgingly
sat down upon it. “Now, you're going to have to answer a few simple questions. Got
it?”
         “Yeah, we got it.”
         “I think it's odd that you know our names. Would you mind telling us what


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yours are?” asked Alan.
       “Mario. Mario Romano, if it's anything to ya,” said the one with the eye-
bandage.
       “And mine's George Gund. And this one over here,” he motioned to the
bloody, messy body laying on the floor, “is my brother Steven. If I were you, I'd be
very afraid after what you've done to him.”
       “Thanks for the consideration,” said Maggie, “What were you doing
following Alan around the Tower?”
       “Aye, that's none of your damned business,” answered Mario. “We've got a
duty to do, and the reasons we do it are of no concern to troublemakers such as
yourselves.”
       “Don't you have weapons?” asked Amanda.
       “Aye, we don't have weapons like you have 'em,” said Mario. “But, our
weapons are meant to disable you and stop any violence you've got planned. If that's
the end of your questions, we'd wish to be on our way, if you don't mind.”
       Mario and George stood up. Maggie, Amanda, and Alan exchanged glances
of confusion. An instant later, Maggie and Alan were shoved to the ground and
pinned so that they couldn't move.
       “Oh my god!” shrieked Amanda, before fleeing the room in panic.
       “Let her go. We'll get her in a few minutes,” said George.
       Alan and Maggie made a significant effort to break free of the holds they
were in, but it was in vane.
       “Aye, this'll teach you for trying to ask us questions.”
       At that moment, Amanda reemerged with a cooking pan and swung it into
George's head, producing a horrifying yell from him. This gave Maggie the
opportunity she needed to twist free. Her gun rested on the floor two meters away.
       Out of the corner of her eye she saw Mario lunging towards her, and before
she could react, she felt the agony of his boot striking her back. She fell face-first
onto the ground, visibly stunned.
       Mario turned and addressed Amanda. He grabbed her shoulders and shoved
her across the room, over the coffee table. Everything on its surface, including a
couple of candles that had been lit for the meeting, was scattered across the floor.
       Maggie rolled onto her back, and with a jolt of pain throughout her spine she
aimed her gun at the back of Mario's head.
       BANG! BANG!
       His movement stopped as he fell backwards onto the couch.
       Meanwhile, George had regained enough sense to recapture Alan. Maggie
jumped to her feet. George positioned Alan in front of him like a human shield. She
saw no clear shot at his upper body.


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       BANG!
       She shot out his right knee. George momentarily tightened his grip around
Alan, who then threw an elbow back into George's gut and surged to get free.
       BANG! Click.
       One shot to the head dropped George to the ground.
       A second later, the daltra's integrated security defense system detected the fire
that Amanda's candles had started. Fire foam flowed from overhead sprinklers that
accurately targeted the ignited area. A second later the flames were extinguished.

                                           3

        The cold shower combined with a bit of shaking from Maggie brought Alan
to awareness. Amanda, still a bit dazed from being thrown by Mario, laid where
she'd fallen on the ground.
        After taking a minute to catching their breath, Alan jumped to his feet. “Holy
cow”, he said. “We've got get these bodies out of the living room, now!”
        “What? Why?” questioned Amanda.
        “Medical ARS will be sent to check out the operators we've killed. I can't
imagine what will happen if they find them. I'd say we've got no more than five
minutes to figure something out.”
        “Think we could hide them in the bathroom and take their places when the
Medical ARS get here?” asked Amanda.
        “That'll work unless they're smarter than they look,” said Maggie. “Oh!
We'll take the operator's Real IDs and I bet the Medical ARS wouldn't know the
difference.”
        They hauled each of the bodies into the bathroom. It took a minute to move
each body; the Low Men weighed at least one hundred and twenty kilograms apiece.
Blood dripped everywhere, though it was unlikely that the Medical ARS would
investigate a path of blood to the bathroom.
        Three Medical ARS arrived a couple minutes later and found Maggie,
Amanda, and Alan laying where each of the operators had fallen after Maggie shot
him.
        “Do you need medical assistance?” one of them asked.
        Amanda answered, “We're just fine. Just minor bumps and bruises. Medical
assistance won't be needed. This job can be handled by a couple of amateurs, such
as we are. Thanks for offering, though.” She found it quite odd that she was
thanking the ARS, but after they exchanged a couple of beeps and boops with each
other they turned around and retreated out the door.
        They gathered themselves on the couches in order to begin their meeting.


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Meanwhile, the daltra was wrecked.
        “I motion to postpone this until next week,” suggested Amanda.
        “I second that,” answered Alan.
        “Very well, we'll meet at my daltra. The day after we'll all schedule time to
meet with our respective teams. Do we agreed?” said Maggie.
        “Agreed.” said Alan.
        “But what are we going to do about the three dead operators in my bathroom?
We've got to think of some way to get them out of here. I mean, eventually the rest
of the operators are going to notice that they're missing.”

                                          4

        The operators gathered for their monthly meeting that afternoon. Three seats
remain unoccupied at the rear of the room. The discussion continued as normal, and
after two hours it adjourned and people dispersed.
        Brian Walton noticed the empty seats, and had immediately suspected foul
play. He communicated his theory to Jennifer Allen and Andy Gates and they agreed
an investigation was appropriate.
        “If we solve this mystery,” said Andy, “Uncle Horatio will see our initiative
and congratulate us for our proactive approach and our self-motivated methods.”
        “Yeah, it's a really big opportunity. We can't pass it up.”
        That evening, from the command control room of Alpha Tower they isolated
the Real ID signals belonging to Mario Romano, George Gund, and Steven Gund.
        “Alright,” said Brian, “they're on Level 57, Subtower 5, Section D, in the 300
block of daltras. Jennifer, grab the portable real-time tracker and let's solve the
mystery why these guys missed today's meeting.”

                                          5

        Maggie sent Charles, Patricia, and Jared messages instructing them to meet
her at Amanda's daltra ASAP. Meanwhile, Amanda sent a similar message to her
second-hand man, Pip Stevens.
        After a ten minute wait, Charles, Jared, and Pip had arrived.
        “We need to clean all the blood that's splattered on the walls and the security
foam from the fire extinguisher. That should be easy. The hard part is going to be
getting rid of three bodies that are in the bathroom. Any ideas?”
        “We could put them down the garbage disposal system,” said Charles.
        “Yeah!” said Pip. “As far as I know that's the only logical choice if we want
our actions to be untraceable. They'll end up in the waste disposal zone isolated


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hundreds of kilometers away from the Tower. Nobody will ever be able to identify
them once they're there.”
        “So, you're suggesting putting three full sized men down a hole a little bigger
than a grapefruit?”
        “A couple of well placed cuts would solve that problem. We'd be able to get
an electric knife through the Supply ARS.”
        “Nobody said it'd be an easy job,” said Charles.
        “Yeah, but disgusting and gory aren't terribly appealing options,” said Alan.
“And if there's not a better way, I'm getting out of here because I don't want them
tracing this shit to me.”
        “Not to mention it'll take hours to cut up the bodies,” added Maggie.
        Charles shrugged. He knew Maggie was right. The group sat in silence for a
minute considering different possibilities. Finally, Jared looked towards Pip and
said, “You're wrong.”
        “What me? What do you mean.”
        “You said the disposal is the only untraceable way to get the bodies out of
here, but you're missing around obvious solution.”
        “What? Down the toilet? That has the same problem as the garbage disposal.
Out the front door? Somebody is sure to see up in the hallway.”
        Jared shook his head, “No, more obvious than that.”
        “Well, what is it then?”
        “The IDS.”
        “The IDS?”
        “The bodies would easily fit in an IDS bin.”
        “But where would we send them?”
        Jared looked thoughtfully around the room, waiting for somebody to answer
the question for him. C'mon guys, he thought, you've got to be more resourceful if
you want to overthrow the High Operators. This problem isn't nearly as challenging
as others, such as the daunting task of finding a weak point where the High
Operators were vulnerable.
        Suddenly, Maggie exclaimed, “We'll simply throw them Off-Tower, over the
railing of a balcony.”
        “Huh?”
        “If we load these guys into IDS bins and then send them to a daltra that
belongs to somebody who has a balcony, we can just toss them over the side of the
building to get rid of them. Is that were you were planning, Jared?”
        “Yup, that'll do the trick work.”
        “But who do we know that has a balcony?” asked Amanda.
        “I do,” Jared said.


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                                          6

       Brian Walton, Jennifer Allen, and Andy Gates stepped off the elevator onto
the 57th Level of Alpha Tower. Brian composed a message on his Real ID to send to
Stephen Gund. He wrote, “Help is on the way.”
       Jennifer held the portable real-time tracker in front of her. In a couple
minutes they'd be close enough to be able to use it together with the Tower's built-in
communication infrastructure to triangulate their destination.

                                          7

        “We have a problem,” said Amanda, holding the operator's Real ID.
        “Listen, Charles, take those Real IDs and get them out of here right now. I
don't care what you do with them, but you need to figure out a way so that they don't
get traced back to any of us.”
        “Got it,” Charles grabbed the cards and was out the door a moment later. He
used his own Real ID to send a message to Patricia. “Where are you, I need your
help.”
        A minute later he got her reply, “I'm at home. Just got up from a nap. Saw
another message from Maggie. What do you need?”
        “Meet me by the 5d elevator on your Level in 5 minutes.”

                                          8

       “The signal,” said Jennifer, “is getting weaker.”
       “Nonsense, we've been closing in on them,” replied Brian.
       “Maybe your, 'Help is on the way,' message alerted our targets to our
presence,” said Andy. “I told you not to send that message.”
       “Well, where has the goddamned signal gone, then?”
       “It's going up. Must be riding on an elevator.”

                                          9

       Charles met Patricia and Juan on their Level.
       “We want to ditch these cards somewhere that won't lead anybody back to
us,” he said. “We think there are operators tracking these things, so you can't stand
around thinking about what to do for very long. You need to think something up
quickly.”


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        “Can't we toss them into a garbage disposal and let that take care of
everything?” said Juan.
        “No, that was my idea. Maggie said it was messy and it'd take too long.”
        Juan and Patricia exchanged a confused look, then in unison they said, “The
red door of the first floor!”
        “That sounds good. I'm going to go back to join back. I think she might
benefit from having an extra set of muscles to do what she needs to do.”
        They didn't waste any more time chatting. Juan and Patricia pressed the
button for the elevator that would take them to the 1st Level, and Charles turned
around and hit the one that would take him back to the 57th Level.
        “Good luck,” he called as the doors for his elevator opened.
        “Thanks, you too,” said Patricia.

                                          10

        “There ya go,” said Patricia as she set the three Real ID cards on the ground
in front of the red door. “That wasn't so hard.”
        “Slide them under. It'll make me feel safer,” suggested Juan.
        She complied. “Now let's get the hell out of this place. This hallway gives
me the creeps.” She was already heading back the way they had come. Before
leaving the 1st Level, they passed a group of three, two men and a woman, in a hurry
in the opposite direction. The girl was a tall brunette. She held a flashing electronic
device. Between the men, one was short, pudgy, and bald in front of his head. The
other was tall with broad shoulders, similar to the Low Men who they were
accustomed to seeing around the Tower's from time to time, but not nearly as
muscular.
        “I think they were Low Men,” whispered Juan after they'd put a bit of
distance between them. “But they didn't look like Low Men.”
        “I think you're right, and I'm almost positive that the thing the woman was
carrying was a tracking device pointed at the Real ID cards we just slid under the red
door.”
        “You think they'll be able to identify us later on when they figure out what
happened?”
        “It's hard to say. They were all paying most of their attention to the tracking
device. I don't think they noticed us.”
        “Good. Now, let's go home.”
        “Yeah, I'm looking forward to hearing from Maggie. I think we'll get a better
understanding about what just happened after she gets a chance to explain what
exactly is going on today.”


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                                         11

         “Are you sure that thing is working, Jen?” asked Brian, sharply, while
standing in front of the red door of the Alpha Tower command control center.
         “Yeah, I mean, it was properly configured when we left here this morning. I
don't suppose some glitch in the configuration management system has occurred.
That would be virtually impossible, but I suppose it could happen,” said Jen, clearly
agitated.
         Brian opened the door. In the entranceway to the room, they saw the three
Real ID cards laying on the ground. He bent down, picked them up, and confirmed
to himself that the portable real-time tracker had led them to the proper location.
         “What the crap?” he said.
         “Don't look at me,” Jennifer protested.
         “This means back to the drawing board?” said Andy with a puzzled look on
his face. None of them comprehended what could have possibly happened. For the
rest of the evening, they sat in silence in the command control center.
         At dinner that night, they agreed to file a report stating the voluntary
resignation of Steven, George, and Mario. If would be difficult for anybody to dig
up information contrary to that story, and nearly impossible for anybody to gather
information of any wrongdoing on the part of Brian, Jen, and Andy. It was a likely
enough story, and the rest of the operators wouldn't think twice about a team who
had traded their operator badges for civilian Real IDs. The occasional inquiry into
their whereabouts would always be answered with the simple explanation, “They
turned in their IDs and simply gave up their livelihoods as operators.”

                                         12

       Maggie, Amanda, and Alan gathered in Maggie Flanagan's daltra, as
scheduled, a week later. Amanda arrived early and Alan got there right on time, with
no Low Men behind him.
       “Well, my first comment last week would've addressed an observation that
Low Men haven't been seen by any Pistol members lately,” said Maggie. “I don't
think I can still present those sentiments, however I feel the need to ask if your
members have ever reported seeing a group of Low Men other than when they've
been alone?”
       Amanda thought for a second before answering, “No, I don't believe so. I
could be mistaken, but from all the reports that I recall the Bricks have never seen
operators when we've been in groups.”


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         “Come to think of it, I don't think any of the Mortar groups have ever
reported any sightings, either. You could be on to something.” said Alan.
         Maggie nodded, “That serves to strengthen the proposal which I was about to
make to mandate a buddy system for all members of our groups.”
         “The buddy system?”
         “As in, nobody can hang out in the common areas by themselves. If I don't
miss my guess, this will keep the Low Men off our backs.”
         “That sounds good, the Mortars would approve of that.”
         “Brick, too. So long as your theory remains true, we're on board.”
         “Now, the other thing that it seems clear to me is that we need a better way of
defending ourselves against the Low Men. Had it not been for the recent firearm
training which I received from Charles, we would've been in a lot of trouble last
week. If it wasn't for the gun they would've captured and killed the three of us.”
         Alan jumped up on response to this, “If it wasn't for that gun, they wouldn't
have had a reason to want to kill us. Killing their leader was what set them on us in
the first place, remember.”
         “Are you kidding me?” questioned Amanda. “Had Maggie not done
anything, they would've taken you away and marked Maggie and I for later. God
knows why they wanted to bring you in for questioning, but I seriously doubt they
were gonna ask you things like, 'How are you doing today, Mr. Grimes?' or 'Can we
offer you a complimentary back-rub, Mr. Grimes?'”
         Alan crossed his arms, “Fine, it's a good thing you had a gun.”
         “Therefore, I'd like to propose training more members of each group in the
use of weapons.”
         “Well, here I have to object, Maggie. I won't let you train my team that
violence solves problems,” said Alan.
         “Hear me out before you object, Alan. I know you prefer non-violence but I
think having the ability to rely on the different strengths of different people is far
more valuable.”
         “Fine, tell us your plan, then I'll object to it.”
         “I think we can do three trips by the end of June. Charles will lead two of
them and somebody else, possibly you, Amanda, will lead the other one. With that
schedule, we can get half of the Renegades trained by the summer. At a minimum, I
want Kevin and Jared trained from the Pistols and Amanda and Pip should receive
training from the Bricks.”
         “What does this training involve?”
         “Ahh, that's a good question. Basically, you'd take a trip off-Tower to a cabin
that Charles owns in the woods. During several days of instructions, you'll gain
experience using various types of guns and develop a number of other valuable


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survival skills. After a week, you'd return to the Tower with a weapon that suits your
abilities and you then go and hide it under your bed until you need it.”
         “Well, in addition to Pip and I, we have a new member named Alexis who I'd
nominate for training.”
         “Very well. Assuming that we want to nominate either two or three people to
learn during each trip, there's potentially room for three others. I'd think at least two
Mortars should be sent.”
         “I think none should go.”
         “Listen, Alan,” said Amanda, “she said the people who go learn survival
skills, too. It isn't just a training for merciless killing.”
         “I know what I saw last week, it was merciless killing.”
         “But you're choosing to ignore the flip side of that equation that the operators
were going to take you away for questioning. I can't imagine what that might be a
euphemism for.”
         “Alan, if you're so afraid of your team learning new skills, maybe we should
find somebody else to lead the Mortar Operating Group.”
         He crossed his arms, “Fine, I will go and I'll bring Armando. The two of us
will learn survival skills and whatnot. Are you happy?”
         “It does. I think it's a good plan,” said Maggie. She continued, “Juan and
Patricia disposed of the operator's Real ID cards under a red door on the 1st Level of
the Tower last week. They then observed a group of three people who appeared to be
in a rush towards that door. We think it's all related.”
         “So, the three people they saw were Low Men?”
         “Ahh, that's the tricky part. Based on their behavior, they were most
definitely Low Men, but based on appearance they were just normal people.”
         “What differentiates an operator from a normal person?” asked Alan.
         “Maybe having access to the red doors?” said Amanda.
         They all considered this for a moment.
         “Are there more red doors out there?” she asked.
         “There are 270 Levels which span kilometers upon kilometers of hallways to
search through. We could search level after level, systematically, but that would take
an extremely long time,” said Maggie.
         “Those Low Men probably know where all the red doors are, we should ask
them,” Alan thought aloud. He shook his head, “No, that would never do. They'd be
too dumb to fall for that.”
         However, Maggie didn't dismiss the possibility of questioning a Low Man.
The information that she might be able to get from a captured operator could
potentially be more valuable then years and years of scouting out the common areas
in search of clues. Capturing an operator could very well be worth the risk.


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                      Delta Tower
                                         1

         Jared sat upon his balcony during a day in late May. The sun shone
delightfully through thin clouds that danced steadily across the sky. From his seat
overlooking the world, he smiled. Everything was perfect in nature. He was content
to lay back and relax, oscillating between a nap and his thoughts.
         In the sky to his left, he imagined a cloud shaped like a Long Baller
extending a pair of arms to catch a cloud puff that could've represented an ellipsoid
ball. A distance away, a cloud resembling a rectangular book floated past. Each
cloud embodied key characteristics of his older siblings, one of playfulness and
physical competition and the other of seriousness and societal reformation.
         They each had defined roles, Long Baller and Renegade Leader. The
common thread they shared was a strong drive to overcome their adversaries. It
seemed, at least to him, that a large motivation behind each of their efforts was for
fame. John earned his recognition on the field in front of huge crowds with a
supporting cast of thousands. Maggie stuck to a life outside of the limelight with a
supporting cast of about a dozen. He wondered if either of his siblings would ever
achieve any sort of notoriety outside of the small circle of friends that they
maintained. He almost laughed. Of course they wouldn't.
         Once upon a time, Jared remembered, John had encouraged him to begin a
training regiment in hopes of the possibility of gracing the glorious fields of the
Alpha Supremes. What's the point? he asked himself at the time, I don't want to be a
sportsman.
         Now he found himself getting caught up in the affairs of his sister. He went
to her meetings and helped her out when she called on his assistance, but thus far he
felt like it was superficial. He didn't need to make any sort of effort. Maybe that's
the reason why he'd consented to become a Renegade; it was incredibly easy. The
sense of non-commitment that he harbored was as present as ever. He still asked the
same question, What's the point?


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       According to the most recent Pistol meeting he was paired up with Kevin on
the buddy system and the two of them would spend a lot of time together. He didn't
want this. For one thing, he didn't leave his daltra enough to necessitate needing a
personal escort. Secondly, he was in no mood to be Kevin's personal escort
whenever he wanted to go out.
       Also, Maggie informed him that he was scheduled for a wilderness adventure
with Charles in early June. The idea of weapons training seamed exciting, but
spending a full week off-Tower with Kevin bothered him. He wished to avoid the
awkward moments when conversations waned and uncomfortable silence dominated.
During the meetings he coped easily because the dialog was semi-structured and
contributions weren't expected from him. A smaller atmosphere, such as camping
where a lack of talkativeness led to tense silence, didn't appeal to him.
       He bit his lip, I don't want to be a Renegade. Was it too late for that?
       Oh well, he said to himself. In the sky, the book cloud caught up with the
Long Ball cloud and they collided to form a large cloud that looked like a star – 7.
He became lost in his thoughts and dozed, again, under the sun.

                                           2

         The next day Kevin invited him to the movie house for a showing of a movie
called Clerks. “I don't want to see a movie with you today,” he said. “I haven't
enjoyed a trip to the movie house since we saw The Godfather. Why do you think it
will be better this time around?”
         “Even if it's bad, I still want to see it,” said Kevin.
         Jared relented. He couldn't argue with that logic. If somebody's bar for
quality was so low that potentially horrible experiences were taken with a grain of
salt, then so be it. It just made him appreciate The Classics even more. The genius
required to produce films that were epics impressed him. The art of framing each
epic as a series of shorter stories inspired him. It represented that notion that nothing
worth doing could be accomplished easily with minimal effort. Thus, he preferred
films the large scopes, dire consequences, and, most of all, plot lines that spanned
significant amounts of time.
         The epic of Lord of the Rings, though it didn't show it in the movie unless you
payed very close attention, took place over the course of a year. The adventurers
traveled to the depths Mordor to stop the evil forces of Sauron from overrunning
Gondor and killing of the human race. He didn't think consequences could get any
more dire than that.
         The epic of Star Wars actually took place over a lifespan of about forty years.
Anakin Skywalker transformed the Republic into an Empire during the first half of


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the narrative, and his son, Luke, reestablished the freedom of the Republic in the
second half. Talk about epic; the story took Anakin's entire life to unravel.
        Finally, The Dark Tower had a universe all its own. Time enforced the
circular theme present throughout the story though it was hard to pinpoint exactly
how long the adventure lasted because time shifted frequently. Nevertheless, the
richness of Roland's tale was beyond comparison to anything else he'd even seen,
and he loved it most because there was so much at stake with discovering what was
on the other side of the door on the top floor of the Dark Tower.
        Jared's daydreaming was interrupted by a fight scene in the screen at the
movie house. The protagonist was pining over a woman while his sidekick was
trying to knock sense into him the old fashioned way. The film itself was in black
and white. It's much older than one hundred years, thought Jared. It chronicled the
long forgotten time when humans worked behind counters collecting paper money
from customers in exchange for goods and services. Though, for as much time as the
protagonist spent complaining about life, he seemed to enjoy the freedom of time
just like everybody on Alpha Tower did. Perhaps this film was ahead of its time,
Jared pondered. On top of that, to his amusement, the film referenced a number of
events from Star Wars.
        More than anything else, Jared identified with a character named Silent Bob
who epitomized a set of values that were important to him. He found enjoyment in
sitting around doing nothing all day. Jared wished more of the movie focused on
them, but alas, it didn't.
        “Did you enjoy it?” Kevin asked as they exited the movie house and walked
in the direction of Jared's daltra.
        “Yeah, it was pretty good. I was surprised.”
        “Good. Maybe we can do this more often.”
        Jared discretely rolled his eyes. He didn't know how to tell Kevin that he'd
rather sit at home in front of a movie or on his balcony than come out frequently for
the movie house films. “Yeah, maybe next week,” he said.

                                         3

        During the next couple of days he reflected on Clerks quite a bit. He identi-
fied a number of negative parallels between the protagonist from the film and
himself. While sitting upon his balcony, he finally figured out how to express
exactly what was frustrating him. We're both talented, capable, but unmotivated, he
thought. We let women close to us give us direction, but only when it's convenient
for us. We avoid confrontation, and most of all we're both very knowledgeable about
Star Wars. He stood up suddenly and said, “I can't do this forever!”


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        Inspired, he messaged Kevin, “Play darts? Drink beers?”
        Fifteen minutes later they were in Thor's Hammer drinking beers. and
throwing darts, though Jared consistently beat Kevin without much effort at darts.
They exchanged stories about Maggie. Jared confirmed a suspicion that Kevin had a
crush on her.
        Tipsy, they left Thor's and headed for the 270th Level.
        “We must go to the side overlooking Delta Tower,” insisted Jared.
        “Absolutely.”
        They hopped onto a monorail and rode halfway around Alpha, to get the
proper view of Delta Tower.
        “What a magnificent sight,” commented Kevin.
        “Yup.”
        They stared out across the space in between the buildings for a short while.
“Let's go to the nearest air-taxi port and fly there,” Jared suggested.
        Kevin considered this briefly, then approved with enthusiasm, “Heck yeah.
Let's go.” Five minutes later they were standing in the air-taxi port.

                                          4

        The trip was quick. They hopped out of their air-taxis and an electronic voice
welcomed them to Delta Tower. They wandered until they saw the sign for Thor's
Hammer.
        “Shall we continue the night where we began it?” asked Kevin.
        They went in and ordered more beers. Following a game of darts dominated
by Jared, Kevin suggested they move to the foosball tables. With fresh drinks in
hand, Kevin commenced a five game winning streak of his own. He taunted, “You
can't get it by my goalie-man.” His crisp passes led to open shots and easy goals.
        “I've had enough of this.” announced Jared, after a game ended 10 - 1.
        “No, I like this one. Plus, with some practice you'll develop skills and
improve so you can eventually beat me. Everything isn't supposed to be easy.”
        “I suppose not,” Jared shrugged. They ordered another round of beers and
stayed on at the foosball table for another two hours. After losing about three dozen
games in a row, Jared began scoring 6 or 7 each game consistently.
        “See,” slurred Kevin. “You're being better.”
        “I think it beer,” said Jared. “Hey look! Couches with Long Ball!” he
pointed at the far side of the room. Then, stepping in that direction, he lost his
balance and clumsily caught himself on the handles from the foosball table.
        With much effort, they stumbled over towards the couches that were in front
of telescreens showing the night's professional Long Ball game, the Delta Diamonds


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against the Omega Dagrons. The Diamonds won four to three in regulation, though
Jared and Kevin were asleep on the couches long before the game ended.

                                          5

         Kevin woke in a cold room which didn't resemble the warm inviting
atmosphere of Thor's Hammer. His head ached. He saw Jared laying, still asleep, on
a table on the other side of the room. It took ten minutes before he realized that they
weren't in a place they belonged.
         “Where are we?” he asked, mostly to himself.
         A female voice from an overhead speaker answered him, “You're in the
patient storage and detoxification center for chemical rehabilitation.”
         While he pondered this answer, Jared rolled over. “Would it be at all possible
to get a soft pillow? Maybe ever a warm blanket?” he asked. After a beat, he said,
“This room is too damned cold for my liking.”
         “As patients of the detoxification center, you'll be transported to a more
comfortable facility shortly for rehabilitation. Please be forgiving during your wait.
It'll be as brief as possible.”
         “What the hell is rehabilitation?” asked Kevin.
         “During rehabilitation,” answered the feminine voice, “you'll experience the
detoxification process which helps your chemical levels return to normal. After that,
an Outpatient ARS will arrive to process your release.”
         The pounding wouldn't stop in either of their heads, but the thought of being
in the treatment center any longer was much worse.
         Two minutes later a door swung open and a Medical ARS entered. It said,
“Follow me to the rehabilitation area.”
         The ARS pivoted on its axis, waited for the men to follow behind it, then took
off through the door and down the hall. The hallway was a long corridor which
extended as far as their eyes could see in both directions. Kevin gave Jared a look.
Jared returned it with a nod and they formed an agreement to make a run for it as
soon as an opportunity presented itself.
         When the ARS reached the end of the long hallway, it turned to the right.
Kevin and Jared went left. They saw a red door at the end of this hall, approximately
400 meters away. They ran towards it.
         A visual alert flashed in the hallway. They were bathed in a strong red glow.
The path in front of them was orange, and beyond the lights formed a gradient from
yellow to green to blue at the end of the hall. Kevin interpreted the blue as a sign
that they'd get to relax when they'd gotten that far. In addition, an alarm interrupted
the quietness in the hallway, calling out, “All Operator Guards in the vicinity to


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hallway 17 to assist with patients.”
         Jared and Kevin got halfway down the hallway before encountering
resistance. By that time, the loud alarm thankfully shut off. The door at the end of
the hall was now bathed in the yellow spectrum of light, while they continued to be
tracked by the red spectrum of lights.
         A group of Operator Guards entered the hall from doors that Kevin and Jared
ran passed thirty seconds ago and now chased after them. A voice from the group of
guards screamed for them to cease and desist.
         After another dozen steps, a door swung open in the orange zone ahead of
them and a man and a woman entered the hall. They braced themselves to stop Jared
and Kevin. The runners hesitated, then resumed their pace and lowered their
shoulders. The collision was chaotic. Kevin barreled over the man with enough
force to knock him on the ground with ease. Jared wasn't as successful. The woman
sidestepped at the last possible second, and she caught his ankle sending him face
first into the ground.
         As Jared laid helplessly, she fumbled for something in her pocket. Kevin
turned in time to see her pull out something that resembled a makeup compact. He
changed direction and charged at her. She aimed the compact towards him. He
lunged during the same instant she pressed a button on her compact. For an instant it
flashed red, then Kevin hit her with full force and caused the compact to jump from
her hand. If it was suppose to be a weapon, no immediate damage has been done.
Meanwhile, Jared had gotten back on his feet and picked up the compact.
         All this commotion had given the other operator guards a chance to catch up.
Jared faced them and pointed the compact. Kevin stood by his side.
         “What is this thing?” Jared whispered to Kevin.
         “I haven't got the foggiest idea.”
         Nonetheless, the chasing guards stopped ten meters from Jared when they
saw him holding the compact. A woman from the group of guards called out, “We
mean you no harm. Lower your arms and we'll resolve this civilly.”
         Kevin whispered to Jared, “Press the button. That's how you use it.”
         Jared pressed it. The guards, there were about a dozen, immediately covered
their faces and dropped to fetal positions on the ground. They yelled at Jared to stop.
         “Nifty,” said Kevin. “What do you think it's doing to them?”
         Jared shrugged. After about fifteen seconds, he let go of the button and
whatever was causing them pain stopped. The woman operator spoke again, “You
want to leave, right?”
         “Yes, we do,” said Kevin.
         “Very well. Go, the exit is right through the red door. But leave the disabler
behind or you'll be sought and captured by the High Operators.”


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        “And how can we trust you?” asked Jared.
        “We'll leave you alone. You can go. If you take that with you, you'll attract
attention that you'd normally want to avoid. I'll disable the alert system as a show of
good faith.” She withdrew her Real ID card, pressed some buttons, and the rainbow
colored lights changed back to regular white ones.
        “Very well, said Kevin, “but we'll hold onto your disabler toy until we get to
the red door. After that, we'll leave it on the ground and you can fetch it. Until that
point, if you pursue us we'll use it again.”
        “Suit yourself.”
        Jared and Kevin nodded to each other, then turned and started walking
towards the red door. They expected to be double crossed, so they proceeded with
caution. This never happened, though.
        When they reached the red door, Kevin grasped the doorknob and gave it a
quick twist. It opened. As promised, they dropped the disabler onto the ground,
where the guards could retrieve it. They stepped out into a Delta Tower hallway and
went directly to the nearest air-taxi port.

                                          6

       Half an hour later, they were back in their daltras on Alpha Tower. Jared was
relieved that their adventure was over and that they'd survived. Not that it hadn't
been fun, but their run-in with the operators had been a close call.
       That night, on his balcony, he sat under the stars and thought, Maybe I do
want to be a Renegade, after all. He smiled. Throughout the experience he had
gotten a charge, and he'd liked it.




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                The Boardroom
                                          1

         It was a cool evening in June. The Pistols met in a Stickball field on the
270th Level of Alpha. Everybody was present for the first time since the end of
April. Maggie stood in front of the group. As she concluded her brief opening
remarks, she moved onto the agenda, “Since we're all here, I think it's a good time to
recap what everybody's been doing for the past month. Susan, since we've worked
closely together following the trip off-Tower, could you share what we've been
doing?”
        She cleared her throat and everybody's head swung around towards her,
“Sure.” Maggie took a seat in the grass. “Umm, well. I guess Maggie and I have
been attempting to come up with a strategy to use against the High Operators. We've
brainstormed what the toughest obstacles we'll need to overcome might be, and
determined the root problem is that we don't know where the operators are located.
Except during my parent's remembrance ceremony, nobody's ever seen a High Oper-
ator. We obviously can't plan an attack against them if we can't even target them.”
        Surrounding her, the rest of the Renegades nodded in agreement. Patricia
leaned forward from where she sat next to Maggie. “That's not actually true,” she
said. “Juan and I have been walking the hallways of Alpha in search of what we've
been calling the red door phenomena. We've explored many kilometers within the
Tower's lowest 50 Levels and have identified three red doors. These are on the 1st,
17th and 37th Levels, in ordinary, but out of the way locations. We strongly believe
they're the key to finding the operators. Though, if we extrapolate and guess there's a
dozen red doors in the Tower we'll need more information to figure out which ones
are the most important. It'd be costly if we attempt to overthrow the High Operators
and get tricked by a decoy door.”
        “Umm, Patricia,” Kevin said when she paused for a second.
        “Yeah?”
        “While Jared and I were held up in the operator's detox and rehab place, the
escape path was through a red door. And if you'd all like to know about some other


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red doors within Alpha, I've almost completed my novel, The Renegades. It's got all
the details you'd ever want.” He paused, “This meeting is even included.”
         She turned towards Maggie, “What's he talking about?”
         “Kevin,” Maggie asked, “when you're writing your novel, does it include
remarks where you, as a character in the story, explain that certain things are
supposed to happen a certain way?”
         “No. But I've written about your trip off-Tower and the incident with the
death and disposal of several Low Men from Amanda's daltra.”
         “Yeah, but the point is that your stories aren't exact replicas of what happens,
and that minor errors could have cataclysmic consequences if we used them as a
guide in real life. Besides, how do you know that operators don't sneak into your
daltra to copy your stories so they can turn around and use subconscious techniques
to embed certain thoughts into our heads to facilitate the major events?”
         “I think that sounds like science fiction bullshit,” he said.
         “What's bullshit,” said Patricia, raising her voice and pointing a finger
towards him, “is you thinking that you can predict the future in your writing.”
         “Shhh,” said Maggie. “Please, be quiet. The last thing we need is for a
yelling match to make them aware of our meeting.”
         Kevin said quietly, “I can't rationalize the similarities between my novel and
real life, but I feel that the two are related. I'm happy to keep it to myself, though, if
you don't want any unsubstantiated clues about the red doors.”
         “Thank you.”
         “But I reserve the right to point out when things diverge from the action in
my novel, and I'll say that if all goes according to my plan, you can expect the next
several days will go quite well for us.”
         “Moving on with the discussion,” moderated Maggie, “What have you been
doing lately, Jared?”
         “After the Delta Tower incident, I've been visiting Thor's Hammer more
frequently and beating whoever I'm with at darts, billiards, foosball, air hockey,
gravatron, or any other game that's available. It's lots of fun.”
         “So you haven't thought much about the Renegades?” asked Maggie.
         “No, not so much.”
         “Not even during an occasional lull between games?”
         “Well, aside from watching the clouds floating by and considering what they
might look like, I haven't made much time for thinking.”
         “I see,” she wore a disapproving expression on her face. “I'd like a word with
you after the meeting ends.” She moved on, “Charles?”
         “I led off-Tower gun lessons in late May and early June. I trained Jared,
Kevin, Amanda, and two women from the Bricks. I've also given training to


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Amanda so she can lead her own group of Mortars later this month.” He paused for
a second, but nobody interrupted him. “That's it.”
        For another minute, the Renegades sat in the grass quietly. Several, including
Maggie and Patricia, were deep-in-thought about what they needed to do next.
Others were simply sitting quietly, waiting for the silence to be broken by either a
new proposal or a meeting dismissal. More than one hoped for the latter of these two
options.
        Finally, Juan said, “Nobody has seen any Low Men for several weeks. I think
they're afraid of us.”
        “Of course they're scared,” said Charles. He pumped his fist in the air.
“They've seen what happens when they mess with us.”
        “Actually,” said Patricia condescendingly, “we went out of our way to ensure
that they didn't find out what happens when they mess with us. Don't you remember
being as discreet as possible following that confrontation?”
        “In movies, people use death to create fear that scares their enemy,” said
Kevin. “Though, I think it's good we've been discrete. I don't think we'd make the
Low Men fear us. They'd be more likely to shut us down.”
        “At the very least,” said Juan, “we've been safer since we killed those Low
Men. To tell you the truth, I'm happy things have been calm for the past month.”
        “If you really think that,” said Jared, “you should consider how easily Vader
stole the momentum from the rebels when he ambushed them in Cloud City during
Empire Strike Back.”
        “C'mon kid,” Charles scolded. “You don't know what you're talking about.
This is real life, not some dumb movie.”
        “You know, Jared has a point,” said Kevin. “The rebels got complacent and
allowed the Empire to spring a trap on them. All it took was a little bit of blackmail
and the Empire very nearly stopped the rebellion cold.”
        “I don't think it's safe to assume they're scared just because we haven't seen
them in a few weeks,” said Patricia.
        “And letting our guard down wouldn't be smart,” added Susan.
        Maggie nodded.
        “Maybe it's time to go on the offensive,” said Kevin.
        “But they only appear when they want to,” said Susan. “How can we attack
them if we don't even know where they are most of the time?”
        Quiet settled over the group as they grappled with this question. A howl from
the wind was heard in the distance. Jared sighed. “They stopped showing up when
we instituted the buddy system.”
        “So, they only attack when we're alone?” Juan asked.
        “But they've never attacked us,” said Patricia.


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         “They attacked Jared and me,” said Kevin.
         “You were drunk and detained. It doesn't count.”
         “What about the time they overturned my daltra?” said Juan.
         “While they left you alone?”
         “Regardless, we only see them while we're by ourselves.”
         “Maybe we could set a trap for them,” suggested Susan.
         “What kind of trap?”
         “One of us could spend an afternoon hanging around the common areas by
him or herself,” said Susan. “It'd be a matter of time before a group of Low Men
shows up.”
         “And what would that gain us?” asked Patricia.
         “If we could capture a couple Low Men we could interrogate them for
information to use against the High Operators,” said Maggie. She smiled and looked
towards Charles, “Would you hang out by yourself one day until a group of Low
Men are enticed to show up.”
         “And then we attack them? Yeah, I'd do that.”
         “I don't think we want to attack. If the goal is get them to give us
information, it'd make more sense to extend an olive branch.”
         “I don't think we should try to trick them,” said Juan.
         “You know what? Nobody asked you.”
         “Charles, watch your mouth,” snapped Maggie. “Why not, Juan?”
         “It doesn't sit right with me that they'd ever help us. Something tells me they
would neither talk whether if we got them drunk to loosen their tongues, nor if we
imprisoned and tortured them. And what kind of people would we be if we did
something like that?”
         A minute of quiet contemplation passed. Nobody knew what to make of the
prospect that their plan could force them to do some disagreeable things. Jared
shook his head and broke the silence again, “If things go sour, call a retreat. If the
situation looks hopeless, back off. If the Low Men don't provide any useful
information, shrug your shoulders and we'll return to the drawing board. As long as
we keep a moral high ground they won't have any opportunity to portray us as the
bad guys.”
         “I think that's good reasoning,” said Maggie.
         “Hold on a second,” Patricia said to Maggie. “You can't just approve this.
It's a really bad idea. You won't accomplish anything if you go through with it. Even
if they talk they won't give us valuable information.”
         “Have you got any better ideas?” asked Jared.
         “I think we need to lay low and recruit just like we have in the past.”
         “But we've been doing that for about five years. The entire Renegade


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movement has accumulated a grand total of less than 20 members divided between
its three OGs,” said Maggie.
        “It's a safe strategy.”
        “It's a fool's strategy,” said Kevin. “The longer the operators control
everything, the harder it'll be to take their power from them.”
        “Fine, if I'm the only one who thinks this is a waste of time, who am I to try
to stop you. Right?”
        “That settles it, then,” said Maggie. “I propose that in two days Charles will
go into a common area and act as bait for a group of Low Men. Susan and I will
keep a watchful eye from a distance. Once he lures the Low Men from their hiding
place, the three of us will confront them. Our primary mission will be reconnais-
sance. If we succeed, we'll get information on how to stop the High Operators. If
we fail, we'll deflect their ire with kindness and other things that are honorable. Is
this clear?”
        The group nodded in agreement.
        “Very well. Now, we'll adjourn unless anybody has something else to bring
up.” She paused for a few moments. “Thanks for coming. Let's plan to meet in
three days at my apartment to debrief the results of our mission. Until then, go with
glory.”

                                          2

         Maggie, Susan, and Charles set off the following Monday. They were each
armed. “For defensive purposes,” Maggie had said the previous night, “make sure to
conceal a gun or an off-Tower knife under your clothes in case things turned ugly.”
         Charles wandered aimlessly around the 105th Level. Maggie and Susan
stayed about a hundred meters away at all times, though they made sure to keep him
in their line of sight. At noon, Charles grabbed a turkey and swiss cheese sandwich
from Thor's. He brought it to a picnic bench located near a 3-on-3 court and ate in
peace.
         Maggie and Susan watched him get up and walk laps around the empty court.
After another two hours passed, he grabbed a 3-on-3 ball and played by himself.
Maggie and Susan watched from a distance while they feigned a conversation.
         After about fifteen minutes, a group of three large, broad shouldered men
dressed in black suits appeared near the edge of the court. Their conversation was as
fake as Maggie and Susan's at the other end of the court.
         The women saw the Low Men almost immediately and joined Charles. As a
trio, they marched straight towards the group of Low Men, who quickly retreated for
the closest set of elevators.


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        The Pistols jogged to close the separation distance of about twenty meters.
Their weapons bounced uncomfortably in their pockets. The Low Men sped up, and
before long both groups were in an all-out sprint with about 300 meters between
them and the elevators. Charles gained on the Low Men, though Maggie and Susan
couldn't keep up with the sprinters pace.
        The Low Men reached the elevators, a bustling area full of pedestrian traffic,
and went into the first open pair of doors. Charles knocked several people to the
ground while pushing his way through the crowd. They screamed profanities at him,
but he slipped into the elevator right as the doors closed.
        Seconds later, Maggie crashed into the closed door. She punched it.
“Goddammit,” she said under her breath. She turned around and scanned the crowd,
“Susan!” she called. A second later Susan came into view, politely navigating her
way through the crowd. Maggie shook her head. She leaned against the elevator
doors and slowly slid to the ground, “I can't believe he did that.”
        Susan joined her on the ground, “What happened? Where's Charles? What
did I miss?”
        “He followed the Low Men onto the elevator by himself. I doubt we'll be
seeing anymore of him today. Lord knows what they'll do to him. He'll get himself
into deep trouble if he tries to pursue the mission.”
        Susan sighed, “We failed, then?”
        “It sure looks that way.” Her head hung down, she wiped a tear from her eye.
“I really hope he doesn't get himself captured.”

                                          3

        Charles saw the Low Men huddled in the back corner of the elevator,
surrounded by about two dozen people. He surreptitiously crept to the opposite back
corner. The elevator descended a few Levels, more people got on. It descended to
the 94th Level and a large group departed. The only people remaining aboard were
Charles, the Low Men, and a family of three that included a young girl.
        The Low Men nodded at each other. One moved to the front of the elevator
and depressed a button so that the doors would remain open. He said, “Mr. and Mrs.
Stewart, I'd recommend that you take your daughter and find a different elevator to
the 80th Level.”
        “Why? What's the meaning of this?” said Mr. Stewart.
        Charles looked around uneasily. I can't let them get me alone in here, he
thought. He shifted next to the family and grabbed Mrs. Stewart by the hair. She
shrieked. He withdrew his knife and pressed it against her neck. She froze like a
statue. “They aren't going anywhere,” he said.


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        A look of horror hung on Mr. Stewart's face.
        “What's that man doing to mommy?” asked their daughter.
        The Low Man moved his finger to the button that kept the doors closed. He
said, “Release her, or you'll regret it later.”
        “Bring us back to the 105th Level,” said Charles.
        “Release her, and take my friend here instead.” He pointed at his partner who
was the most youthful Low Man that Charles had ever seen. “He'll be easier to deal
with.”
        “I will?”
        “This isn't the time to argue.”
        “But I don't want that knife against my neck.”
        “If he gives himself up,” said Charles, “I'll let her go.”
        “You've gotta do this for Mrs. Stewart's sake,” said the lead Low Man to his
younger associate.
        He relented. He folded his hands behind his head and walked across the
elevator to Charles. She was released and the knife flew to the Low Man's neck in a
smooth motion.
        “Now, you listen here,” said the lead Low Man. “I'm opening the doors so
the Stewart's can exit. Is that understood?”
        Charles nodded, “If you do anything else, I'll slit his throat.”
        The doors opened. Mrs. Stewart scooped up her daughter and brought her to
safety. Mr. Stewart backed away slowly, never taking his eyes off Charles. As soon
as they were through the threshold, the Low Man hit the button to hold the doors
closed again.
        “So, what do you want now, Mr. Cohen?” he asked.
        “Back the the 105th Level.”
        The tension in the air was claustrophobic. The free Low Men stared at
Charles' unflinching eyes. “Very well, Mr. Cohen.” He pressed the button marked
105, and the elevator moved upward.

                                         4

       The doors opened behind Maggie and Susan. Their leaning bodies shifted as
the doors spread apart. The women jerked their heads up to get a view of the riders
who'd be exiting. The surprise of recognizing Charles and the Low Men was only
surpassed by the shock of being dragged into the elevator by one of the Low Men.
       When the doors shut, Susan and Maggie were on the elevator's floor. The
lead Low Man replaced his finger on the button to hold the doors shut.
       “Very good,” said Charles. “Now, take us up to Level 118 and we'll continue


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this meeting in my daltra.”
         Maggie looked around, confused. Does Charles actually have the situation
under control? she wondered.
         “I don't think that's such a good idea, Mr. Cohen.”
         No, of course not, Maggie concluded. She hopped up onto her feet. “Before
we go any further. Charles, can you tell me why you have that Low Man by his
neck?”
         “He's our leverage.”
         “Why do we need leverage?” asked Susan.
         “Because otherwise they wouldn't have let me come get you guys.”
         “Now, listen here,” said the lead Low Man. He made a move towards the two
women. Charles pushed his knife into his hostage's neck. He made a gurgled yell,
then became silent as he fell forward onto his face. His blood pooled on the floor. In
the confusion, Susan dashed to Charles' side of the elevator.
         “I warned you that I'd do that,” said Charles.
         Maggie took a step back from the lead Low Man, drew her gun, and pointed
it at him. “Get down!” she shouted.
         “What do you think you're doing?” laughed Robert. “Put away the gun. I
assure you, it won't do you any good.”
         With a calm voice, Maggie answered, “We don't want trouble.”
         “What do you want, then?” said the Low Man. “Because last time I checked
slitting a man's throat is synonymous with looking for trouble.”
         She took a step back uneasily and then holstered her gun. Softly, she said,
“We're looking for information.”
         Susan stepped forward boldly, “We could start with your names.”
         “Robert Ducal,” said the leader who was holding the elevator button.
         “And Michael,” said the other. “Michael Dell Jr.”
         “And who's he?” Susan asked, pointing towards the body on the floor.
         “He's of no significance, anymore,” said Robert.
         “What do you mean he's of no significance?”
         “Mr. Cohen slashed his throat. We don't need to worry about him. He was an
immature youth, anyway. It's just as well. It's a blessing that we don't need to be
bothered with him.”
         “So, you aren't worried that he's dying?” asked Charles.
         “Dying?” Robert laughed. “He's got about five minutes before we'd need to
start worrying about that. Listen, if we wanted to do him a favor all I'd need to do is
take my finger off that elevator button. You won't be alarmed to see Medical ARS,
right?”
         “Nor would I be alarmed to see your reinforcements,” said Charles.


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         “Oh, really?” Michael laughed. “Do you believe that? He thinks we have
reinforcements. Listen, Mr. Cohen, in the off-chance that there's an Operator Guard
actively viewing the camera for this elevator, there's no way they'd send another crew
unless you somehow managed to kill all three of us.”
         “And why would we believe that?” asked Maggie.
         “Because it's the truth,” said Michael. “Because the Operator Guards are
spread very thin across the Tower and we can't be troubled to investigate every single
event the electronic monitoring systems register.”
         “You'll allow me to open the doors?” asked Robert.
         Charles thought about it for a second. He glanced towards Maggie and
shrugged. She shook her head. “I'm going to take my gun back out,” she said. “If
anything besides Medical ARS are waiting then your gonna to get a bullet in your
head.” She aimed her gun.
         “Suit yourself,” Robert shrugged. He took his finger off the button. The
doors opened and revealed a team of Medical ARS. They lifted the Low Man from
the floor, supporting his head and midsection. They placed him onto a metal gurney,
which they pushed out of the elevator to a pair of waiting Surgeon ARS. Robert
pushed the button again and the doors closed.
         “Now, if you're still not looking for trouble, put the gun away. And I think
it'd be better to move the conversation to a more comfortable space.”
         “Like my daltra on the 118th Level,” said Charles.
         “No,” said Michael. “We're gonna go to our place on the 84th Level.”
         “Like hell we are,” said Maggie. She cocked her gun.
         “And what good will shooting me do?” He paused to wait for an answer that
never came. “Frankly, if you'd just have a little faith in Michael and I you'll learn
that we can be quite reasonable.” She lowered her gun. “Good. So, we'll go down
to the 84th Level.”
         “Psst,” said Susan. “It could be a trap.” She narrowed her eyes towards
Robert, then turned towards Michael.
         “I know,” said Maggie.
         “And we're going to go anyway?”
         “Nobody ever said you could orchestrate a revolution without taking a few
risks. Besides, it could serve us well to trust them.”
         “Glad to see you finally agree to that fact,” said Robert. He pressed the
appropriate button and the elevator descended.
         “Let's go,” Michael said when the door opened. The group followed in a line
down a series of hallways. Their path zig-zagged through the hallways for ten
minutes before ending at a normal Tower door. Michael flashed his Real ID at its
reader and it opened.


                                         145
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                                          5

        Maggie entered first. She found herself in a small, poorly decorated daltra.
Its beige color was complimented by two red couches, a glass center table, and a
painting of a medieval castle. The painting showed two knights sitting horseback
outside a castle moat. In the middle of the image was a drawbridge, halfway
descended, to allow them entry. Bright flags with an elaborately drawn crest flew
above the turrets of the castle.
        Robert followed Maggie, and they instinctively took seats on opposite
couches. Charles and Susan joined Maggie, and Michael sat with Robert.
        “We'd like to ask you a few questions,” said Maggie.
        “I don't think you'll be asking any questions today,” said Robert.
        “Then why did you bother taking us here?” asked Susan.
        “Because there aren't any cameras here.”
        “Huh?”
        “We have a proposition for you.”
        “You do?”
        “Yes, we want to help you.”
        “Why would you help us? Wouldn't that be looked on by the High Operators
as a bad thing?”
        “We don't really care what the High Operators would think.”
        “How can that be?”
        “If I can say something,” said Michael, “there's mythology of seven vices
which served as the origin of all negative conflict in the world. Of these, lust,
gluttony, greed, sloth, and wrath have been almost complete eliminated by the High
Operators. These are the observable vices, so identifying them and punishing them
is fairly trivial. The remaining two, envy and pride, are more ephemeral and it's
impossible to end them.”
        “What's your point?” asked Susan.
        “Only that the boredom that accompanies the life of an Alpha Guard makes it
hard not to think that we're valued less than everybody else.”
        “Low man on the totem pole syndrome,” said Robert.
        “Envy,” said Maggie.
        “Exactly,” said Michael.
        “You'd rather ruin your life than fulfill your obligations to the High
Operators? I find that hard to believe,” said Maggie.
        “Put it this way,” said Robert, “We're basically forced to put up with our rank
as Alpha Guards. They schedule us for Guard Duty twice a week, this is our


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responsibility. Now look at yourself. You've got no responsibilities. You and your
team are free to do whatever you want. Myself and the several hundred Alpha
Guards don't have that luxury. Things aren't getting better for us and we aren't
getting any younger.”
         “We wouldn't mind mixing things up a bit. At best, we'll get the recognition
that we deserve, but even if things go badly we'd still put ourselves in position to
leave the service of the Alpha Guards.”
         “You mean like getting fired?”
         “Something like that.”
         “Why not just quit?”
         “Well, quitting is dishonorable.” There was a long pause, then Robert
continued, “Are you ready to hear the proposal we have for you?”
         “Yes,” said Maggie. “What is it?”
         “We're meeting with High Operator Cynthia Campbell in an hour and we'd
like you to break it up by starting a fight with all the attendees there.”
         “Why would we do that?”
         “You want information, right? You've got questions that you want to ask us?
Well, before we go down that rabbit hole we've gotta make sure you and your team
can handle yourselves in a fight.”
         “And what good would that do?” asked Charles. “I'm usually all for a fight,
but it seems getting involved in one for the hell of it would be dumb.”
         “Because we won't help you if you can't win a small fight against an
unprepared troupe of operators,” said Michael. “Also, as pointless as it seems, it's
been about five years since Robert and I have gotten a chance to do anything as
exciting as this. Our jobs are mind-numbingly boring. This soirée will be great fun
for us with no downside. If we beat you, we get an evening of excitement and then
part ways. If you win, we'll become allies.”
         “I see.”
         Robert nodded, “So, we'll do this during the meeting tonight. All you need to
do is remember not to attack first and not to use weapons against Michael or I and
everything should be fine.”
         “Why just the two of you?”
         “Because despite the amazing healing powers of the Medical ARS there's still
a chance that you could kill us with your weapons. In fact, it'd be smart to only use
them as a last resort.”
         “Right.”
         “And you'll fight back?”
         “Of course we will,” Michael answered. “Wouldn't think we'd make it easy
on you, did ya? Winner takes all style.”


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        “And what if you win and we get badly hurt during this thing?”
        “Well, the Medical ARS will take good care of you, and then you can look
forward to a visit from the Enforcement Operators overnight.”
        Susan, Maggie, and Charles exchanged looks. They sat in silence for several
minutes, contemplating the situation.
        Are these guys serious? thought Maggie.
        “What information will you give us if we win?” she asked.
        “Whatever you want to know.”
        “Fuck you. We don't have time to mess around with a couple of guys who
don't know anything.”
        “We know plenty, Ms. Flanagan, and it's not like you have a ton of other
options at this point.”
        “How do we know you're telling the truth?”
        “We're men of honor, Ms. Dace,” said Michael. “Plus, it's not in our interests
to bullshit you. If the High Operators found out about this deal we'd be in much
greater trouble than you can even imagine. Do you understand that? We'll surely
lose our lives if you bring this story to the High Operators.”
        “Now that you've heard our proposal,” said Robert. “Either you're in and we
can wait here until it's time for the meeting or you can decline and we can part ways
now.”
        Susan, Maggie, and Charles exchanged another set of looks. Finally, Maggie
answered, “I accept your proposal.” Susan and Charles nodded besides her.
        “Okay, great. We'll lead you there shortly. Give us about ten minutes for the
meeting to get started and then do whatever you need to do to gain control of the
room. We'll leave the door unlocked so you can get started.”

                                          6

        A dozen men gathered around an oval mahogany conference table. At one
end of the table, Michael Dell Jr. and Robert Ducal sat next to each other. They're
surrounded by a group of three broad shouldered Low Men. In the middle of the
table, four men and two women, with slimmer physiques than the Low Men, were
talking quietly amongst themselves. This group included Brian Walton, Jennifer
Allen, and Andy Gates. They quieted when a woman dressed in an elaborate robe
entered through a door at the back of the room and took her seat at the far end of the
table. This was High Operator Cynthia Campbell.
        After she was seated, Robert announced the news that their partner Raymond
had been injured and that he wouldn't be able to make the weekly meeting. His
explanation was cut short when the boardroom's red door swung open. Charles,


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Maggie, and Susan calmly walked in.
        “Look what we have here,” Charles said looking around the room
disdainfully. He stepped around the table to where Jennifer Allen was sitting.
        Susan stepped behind High Operator Cynthia Campbell. Maggie got in
position near where Michael and Robert sat. The Renegades surrounded the room.
Maggie looked across the room at the High Operator, smiled, and said, “This
meeting is adjourned.”
        The operators looked around the room trying to figure out what to do. High
Operator Campbell was as surprised as the rest of them. Finally, one of the Low
Men got up and approached Maggie. She cocked an eyebrow at him and bared her
teeth. He clenched a fist.
        Good, she thought. “Try to take a swing at me and you'll be on the ground
faster than you can say uncle,” she said.
        He threw a punch. She bobbed and avoided the blow, but lost her balance in
the process. Charles stepped aside and grabbed the extended arm of the punching
Low Man. He pulled with as much force as he could muster and sent the man to the
ground between Maggie and himself. “You really shouldn't have attacked first,” he
said. “Now, apologize or things are gonna get messy. Unless, of course, that's what
you're counting on.”
        Everyone at the oval table jumped to their feet. The five Low Men moved
towards the action, High Operator Campbell tried to separate herself from it, and the
six other operators glanced unknowingly among themselves, unsure of whether to
fight or flee.
        The High Operator quickly slipped past Susan and made a beeline for the
door at the back of the room. The man who'd been sitting at her left was right behind
her. They made it to safely.
        Settling into the center of action, Charles hopped onto the table and quickly
kicked a boot into a female operator's face. She fell backwards into her seat,
knocked unconscious. The other female operator exchanged glances with Andy
Gates before they both turned and ran out the rear door, slamming it shut behind
them.
        Michael charged Susan. He wrapped his arms around her and tackled her to
the ground. She drew her gun and used its butt to hit him in the back of his head. He
was knocked out, but when he fell to the ground she became trapped under his body.
        From behind, Maggie was hit with the full force of a swinging arm. It hurt,
but she held her ground. She turned to see who had hit her, and was greeted by three
faces. Brian stood between a pair of Low Men. The one on the left was wearing a
blue hat. The other wore a pinstriped shirt.
        I need to hold my ground, she thought.


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        She pointed her gun in an effort to even the odds.
        Charles, meanwhile, confronted Robert and an operator with a red polo shirt.
From his stance on the conference table, he kicked towards Mr. Polo, but missed.
Robert swept Charles' non-kicking foot out from under him. He fell onto the ground
in the middle of the group Maggie was fighting.
        “Shall we?” he asked her. She nodded as if she understood exactly what he
meant. They moved into action.
        Maggie aimed the gun down and put a bullet in Mr. Pinstripe's foot. He cried
out in pain and crawled under the oval table. Charles stepped up and punched Mr.
Blue Hat's chin. Maggie stepped up to Brian, and they traded poorly aimed punches.
        By now, Susan had pushed Michael off of her, but Robert was moving in her
direction. She jumped to her feet and drew her knife to confront him. He hesitated,
then shook a finger at her.
        Maggie received a punch in her face from Brian. He followed this with a
combo to her stomach. Charles landed a couple blows on Mr. Blue Hat, including
one that knocked the hat harmlessly to that ground. A well-placed kick sent the man
sprawling onto the ground. Mr. Polo now approached him, and Charles saw an
opportunity. He knelt and swept his legs out from under him. Mr. Polo dropped to
the floor. Charles pumped his fist in a small celebration.
        Robert eyed Susan. “If you insist on using that thing, bring it on, but don't
just stand there like a deer in headlights.” Susan swiped her knife at him. He
avoided it, and easily grabbed her arm. With his other arm he grabbed her neck and
lifted her from the ground. He squeezed her wrist, causing her to drop the knife to
the ground, then threw her like a doll onto the table. Her forehead knocked against
the edge of the High Operator's executive chair and blood began to flow out from a
cut above her eye-brow.
        Charles realized his teammates were taking a beating. He engaged Brian,
freeing Maggie to help Susan. She took a step back, then climbed up over a chair to
get on top of the oval table. She hopped down on the other side, and attended to
Susan, who was dazed. Charles, meanwhile, broke away from Brian, and climbed
onto the table to join the girls.
        “Guns,” he said curtly to Maggie.
        Charles and Maggie raised their firearms and pointed them at Robert and
Brian, respectively. Two other Low Men had made their escape out of the room via
the front door. Brian raised his arms in the air. Maggie motioned her gun towards
the door with her eyes fixated on his. Brian took the meaning and scampered out the
door.
        Robert was holding Susan's knife. Agonizing seconds passed and the
standoff intensifies. Without warning, Robert jerked his arm and sent the knife


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flying at Charles. It struck his right shoulder, blade side first. “Fuck,” he screamed.
The cut was deep and Charles' right arm exploded in pain.
        Maggie had to repress the urge to pull her gun's trigger. She jumped onto the
table, and lunged at Robert. He was knocked off balance and fell to the ground.
Simultaneously, Maggie lost control of herself and crashed on top of him. In doing
so, her knee got scraped up against the edge of a chair. It opened a large gash that
soaked blood into her pants. The pain was tremendous. She cried out and grabbed
her knee.
        Robert rolled her easily to the side, but just as he stood up Charles emerged
above him, and pushed him to the ground. With a quick motion, Charles was able to
sit on top of and pin Robert down. A brief struggle, Robert relented, “I surrender.”
        Charles let him go, then pulled a chair out from under the oval table and
yelled at Mr. Pinstripes, “Bullet in the foot or not, you've got to be a fool to hide
yourself under a table. Now get the hell out of here and get yourself some treatment
for that wound. Hurry up, or I'll shoot your other foot.”
        He exited. Charles surveyed his surroundings. A female operator was out
cold in one of the executive chairs. Maggie was holding her knee. Susan was
holding her head on the other side of the room. Michael was knocked out on the
floor. Robert still laid on the ground where he had surrendered.
        “Good fight,” said Charles.
        Susan looked up, “What do we do now?”
        “We've got to get out of here.”
        Maggie stood up, favoring her right leg. “He's right, we can't stay. Let's get
these two back to their daltra. Charles and I will carry Michael and you can lead
Robert.”
        “Sounds good,” said Charles.
        It was a painful haul for Maggie's hurt leg and Charles' shoulder, but 15
minutes later they'd arrived safely at their destination.

                                          7

       When she entered, she saw a new perspective on the medieval knight
painting. It now looked like the drawbridge was closing and that two knights were
being unceremoniously banished from the castle.
       Charles laid Michael down onto one of the red couches. It'd been about thirty
minutes since he'd received the blow to his head. He was half-awake, but still dazed
and lacking a clear perspective of what was going on.
       “Okay, so before we get too far into this, I need to ask you something
important,” said Maggie.


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        “Whatever you want,” said Robert. “After that little engagement, and once
Michael regains his senses, we're ready and willing to help you.”
        Maggie took a deep breath. “Okay, that answers my first question. The next
one, though, is whether or not you think we've got a chance to make the changes that
we seek to make.”
        “Well, I can't answer that.”
        “Then what good are you to us?” snapped Charles.
        “My word, Mr. Cohen, where are your manners? Ms. Flanagan needs to
explain the changes she wants to make before I can realistically comment on them.
Wouldn't you agree.”
        Charles shrugged. Robert continued, “What I do know is that you can't take
power away from the High Operators. If that were possible, it would've been done
already. Heck, Michael and I would've done it years ago, but they've managed to
attain total control over how things operate. They run the systems that make your
lives so fulfilling. Without the High Operators, society grinds to a halt. So the
problem isn't even a matter of figuring out a way to attack them, which is itself a
tough challenge, but rather the hardest part is actually filling their shoes after you've
beaten them. Consider this, for every High Operator you can kill, important
knowledge about how to control the automated subsystems which run society
disappears.”
        Maggie had to take a minute to think about this. “Without the High
Operators, society grinds to a halt?” she repeated softly to herself. “But their
ideologies are constrictive and their rules are inane. They ruin this society for people
like Charles and Susan and myself. The way I see it, their sole purpose is to prevent
people from pursuing the things that make them happy.”
        “But,” said Robert, “everybody is happy.”
        “I'm not happy,” said Maggie. “The Renegades aren't truly happy, and the
blame lies on the rules and regulations imposed by the High Operators.”
        “Oh, I see,” nodded Robert.
        “There's no reason to assume that just because the operators have established
certain rules that they can't be changed,” said Maggie. “This is America, the only
thing that's guaranteed is constant change and constant innovation.”
        Michael stirred. The group turned towards him to see if he was alright.
“You've got the energy and spunk to beat the High Operators,” he said thoughtfully.
“Now, the question is whether of not you actually have a plan to achieve the change
you'd like to see in the world.”
        “No,” said Robert dismissively. “The question is whether they've identified
the changes they want to make to the world.”
        “Of course we have. We want to reform the rules on human artistic


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performances, publishing censorship, operator directed scientific research, and fix
the Tower's safety critical systems. Also, like you said, a world that relies on a small
percentage of the population to make the decisions which effect everybody should be
eliminated.”
        “Well, that's an ambitious list,” said Robert. He applied his fingers to his chin
contemplatively. “You'll forgive me if I need to take a night of two to think things
through a little bit?”
        “Alright,” said Maggie. “When you're ready to continue this conversation,
stop by my daltra. We'll discuss our options.”
        “Are we done for tonight?” asked Susan.
        Maggie nodded. “I think we'd better try to dress our wounds. I'm tempted to
suggest trying to requesting the services of the Medical ARS to get back in shape.”
        “No, don't do that,” cautioned Robert. “They'll expect you to seek attention
from their medical systems. That's part of the control they've got over you. To be
honest, by simply avoiding the Medical ARS you significantly decrease the chance
that they'll connect you to that little fight back there.”
        “Really?” asked Charles.
        “What a lot of people don't realize is that the operators don't have time to
waste trying to figure out the answers when events like this occur. After the Intelli-
gence Operator cross-references evidence from the boardroom surveillance systems
with the reports from the medical facilities for the night, he's likely to abandon the
case. Quite frankly, they've got more serious issues to handle than tracking down a
group of three people who started a small fight.”
        “In that case, we're ready to head home tonight. Thanks for everything
you've done for us.”
        “No problem,” said Robert. “We'll be seeing you again soon.”




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                          The Calm
                                          1

        Charles woke up with a new definition of the word pain. The wound in his
right shoulder had swelled significantly during the night. From the minute he got out
of bed, he knew that he wouldn't be capable of any physical exertion that day.
Everything hurt. Even breathing felt like a fire in his chest.
        He grimaced to get out of bed. He went slowly to his Supply ARS and
ordered pills to numb the pain. It felt clumsy pushing the buttons with his left hand.
He ordered himself 100mL, the biggest size available, of whiskey. As an
afterthought, he ordered a thermo pack to make the swelling go down.
        He waited impatiently in front of his IDS bin. After three minutes his order
arrived and he carefully removed everything from the bin. He strapped the thermo
pack to his shoulder. He pushed a button on the pack and set the temperature to
cycle from hot to cold every fifteen minutes. In his head, he heard the loving voice
of Patricia commending him for this. He set two pills in his mouth and took a swig
of whiskey to wash them down.
        He reminded himself that he had a liter of whiskey stowed on top of his
cabinet. I'll need to ask a guest to get that for me later, he thought.
        The pills knocked him out within the hour and he slept until evening.

                                          2

        “Let me get this straight,” said Patricia. “You slashed a Low Man's neck, got
into a fight with a bunch of operators, Charles is badly hurt, and now you're sitting
around waiting for a pair of Low Men to get in contact with you? And you don't
expect to be double-crossed at all?”
        “They wanted the fight,” protested Susan.
        “I think it's a fine idea,” said Jared. “I wish I'd thought of it.”
        “After the fight it seemed like they've got no intention to turn on us.”
        “But you aren't afraid of a double-cross?”


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        “I'm slightly worried,” said Maggie, “but there's a plan to deal with it, and it'd
be a bigger mistake not to have a little faith that they're honest.”
        “They said they were honorable,” said Susan.
        Patricia sighed. “That's exactly the sort of thing you'd expect to hear from
somebody who's dishonorable. Didn't it occur to you they could've been lying to
gain your trust?”
        “They had opportunities to spring traps against us and they didn't. There's no
reason not to pursue a continued relationship.”
        “And if you're wrong?”
        “I'm willing to take that risk.”
        Juan cleared his throat. “What if they plan to erase you?”
        “Patricia can take over the leadership of the group and give everybody a new
reason to challenge the operator's power,” said Maggie.
        “I hope you know what you're doing,” said Patricia. “I admit, if this doesn't
blow up in our faces, it'll a very big day for us.”
        “Thanks. I'm glad to have your support.” Maggie smiled.
        “And on that note, I'm headed over to Charles' place to check on him.”

                                            3

       Susan woke up the next morning with a sense of responsibility. She finished
her morning rituals faster than normal, and trekked to CAPFAL by 9:00am. She
flipped on her Design ARS and loaded the file of a camouflaged shirt she created to
commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Communist Towers of America. It read:

                                          2076
                                        50 Years
                                       50 Towers
                                        Freedom
                                          CTA

        She drew smoke emanating from several Levels of the flagpole Tower. When
she was satisfied, she drew cracks where the foundation of the Tower sat. The Tower
was being destroyed from the inside. She made it look like it was about to collapse.
        As she finished the graphical alterations, she heard Michael Ichabod Young
from over her shoulder, “That building looks like it's gonna fall over,” he said. “Was
that on purpose?”
        “Dammit Icky, I didn't even hear you come in,” she was startled. “How could
you sneak up on me like that?”


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        He shrugged, “Are you making this shirt for the upcoming celebration on July
4th? I heard the operators are planning something big. People are saying that the
entire week is going to be a continuous party. They're calling it Patriot's Week.”
        “Yes, that's what this is for,” she lied. “If you don't mind, I could use a little
privacy while I finish it up.”
        He moved to his own work area, “Just make sure you show me before you
send it off to the system for production.”
        “Sure thing,” she lied, again. She had no intention of showing him the work
after applying her new message to it. But first, the flag needed to be modified. She
grabbed her stylus and erased the CTA flag completely. In its place, she drew a
square border, waving in the wind. She added char marks around the edge. She
drew her circle-star symbol – 7 – in the middle of the flag. She'd used this symbol
several times in the past year, but didn't think anything of it until she saw Jared
wearing it a month ago. That's the mark of the Renegades, she'd thought to herself at
the time. She smiled at the new logo. Finally, she updated the message printed
below the flag.

                                        2076
                                      Renegades
                                Brick, Mortar, & Pistol
                                      Revolution
                                        Glory

        She saved the file and sent it to be produced.
        Before 1:00pm she made four different, much simpler designs. One featured
an illustration of a pistol on the back, while two others were printed with a brick and
a mortar. The last was simply a plain white tee-shirt with the black and white
symbol of the circle-star on the front.
        As she was getting up to leave, Michael asked where she was going. She
lied, “I need to grab a bite to eat. I'll be back later to show you what I've been
working on.”
        Instead, she was headed to the Fashion Center to buy 21 of the brand new
shirts. By tomorrow, every Renegade would have their own with 2 left over for
Robert and Michael if they really meant what they'd said about helping out. She left
CAPFAL with a smile.

                                            4

       Robert Ducal and Michael Dell Jr. sat with Maggie in her daltra. She was


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working on a plot against the High Operators. Secretly, she wished Jared was with
her. He had a better intuition for strategy than she did.
        She unlocked the box under her bed, and took a couple notebooks back to the
living room where the Low Men waited. “Do you know what these are?” she asked.
        “Yeah,” Michael says, “They're your notebooks.”
        “Almost every single Alpha Guard has observed you writing in them at one
time or another,” said Robert.
        “Really? Am I that obvious?”
        “You're unique,” said Robert. “There's nobody else on Alpha who acts the
way you do in the common areas. We've got running jokes about what we think you
might be writing about.”
        “I just write down my observations,” she shrugged.
        “At one point years ago we thought you might be stalking particular
individuals, so we had you under tight security, but over time we grew to realize that
you weren't doing anything malicious so we left you alone.”
        “But I was being malicious,” she protested. “How can plotting against the
High Operators not be considered malicious?”
        “You kept to yourself, and didn't bother anybody. That's not the type of
behavior that the operators think of as threatening. And sure, we wondered why you
were writing with pen and paper instead of using your digital docufile, but there's no
rules you were breaking so we had no reason to pry.”
        “Believe it or not, the operators honor your private life when you take the
smallest precautions to prevent your information from being made public. Plus,
there's too many vocal trouble-makers that we spend the majority of our time
targeting. We don't typically have time to be concerned about private citizens, as
well.”
        “Very well,” she said. “Wait here,” she went to her room. When she came
back, she held her gun.
        “Can this beat a High Operator?”
        “Maybe. Hypothetically, yes.”
        “Listen,” she said. “I know the High Operators carry around powerful
weapons. I was actually surprised the other day when the High Operator abandoned
the fight. That would've been a good testing ground to see how we match up against
them. In the past we've encountered an auditory attack and a heat blast attack. I
need to know if guns can beat those. I need to know if the High Operators have
anything better that we haven't seen.”
        “Uh-huh,” said Michael. “Well, for starters the weapons that the High
Operators have are designed to immobilize enemies, not kill them. It'd take
excessive exposure to their weapons for it to be fatal. Considering that a gun has


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infinitively more impulse force, in my estimation, a team with guns could beat the
High Operators, but you'd be hard pressed to attack before the High Ops get a chance
to immobilize you.”
        “Unless you caught them off guard, like you did with High Operator
Campbell. If she had her weapon, I think she would've used it.”
        Maggie smiled, “So, there's a chance.”
        “Is there a plan?”
        Maggie frowned. “The thing is, we've got a very limited amount of
information and resources at our disposal. We don't know enough about the High
Operators to formulate a plan. I was hoping you'd help with that. You guys are
insiders. You know more than me. For instance, where do we go to ambush them?”
        “That's easy,” said Michael. “You know the red doors, right?” She nodded.
“Pick the right one, and you'll be up to your eyeballs in unsuspecting operators. That
is, unless surveillance systems detect you first. You'll want to avoid those if you
want to have a chance.”
        “Like how we ambushed the operators in the boardroom? It was quite
successful for a more-or-less unplanned attack.”
        Robert looked down and shook his head disapprovingly. “That was a
conference room, my dear. High Operator Cynthia Campbell was holding a small
meeting. You may have caught her off guard, but you need to think bigger. You'd
want to attack when the High Operators are coming together to meet with each
other.”
        Maggie looked thoughtfully between Michael and Robert. Michael returned
her gaze with a shrug. He said, “No, we don't know when they meet.” She frowned.
He continued, “We do know that they hold quarterly meetings, though. The last one
was in March.”
        “So, the next one's in June? All the High Ops gather for those?”
        “I can't say for sure,” said Michael. “They talk about their inner functions on
a need to know basis. Everything I know comes from either rumor or the result of
logical reasoning based on what High Op Campbell has told me, which isn't been
much.”
        “What do you mean you haven't been told much?”
        “That's how the High Operators work, very secretly.”
        “But you said you'd able to answer my questions,” she protested.
        “And a perfectly valid answer to some of them is that we don't know,” said
Robert. “If you can't accept that then we won't be able to work together. Now,
maybe we can take a step backwards and discuss something fundamental that you
don't know about.”
        Maggie thought about this. “How many High Operators are there?”


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        Michael's response was immediate, “Fifty, duh.”
        “Ah,” nodded Maggie. “One for each tower.”
        “No,” said Robert. “Every High Operator is responsible for two different
Towers. High Operator Welch and High Operator Campbell are responsible for
Alpha Tower. Campbell's also assigned to Delta Tower, while Welch additionally
serves Mu Tower.”
        “Wait, if Campbell was the woman I saw in the boardroom, then how come a
High Operator named Gates was here in January to give the last rites for Susan's
parents?”
        “You mean after The Elevator Disaster of 2076? Almost every single High
Operator convened on Alpha to clean up that mess. They worked hard convincing
anyone who found out about it that nothing was fundamentally wrong with Alpha
Tower.”
        “Anyway, fifty? That's not too bad,” she said. “Do you know where the
meetings are? Can you get me access?”
        “Pick the right red door at the right time, and you'll find yourself at the
quarterly meeting.”
        Robert raised his finger in the air, “But they'll have enough Guards and
security devices during the time of the quarterly meeting that you'd be up the creek
without a paddle. Disabling that would be a challenge in itself.”
        “Security devices?” asked Maggie.
        “There are cameras that comprise the Monitor ARS. They notify guards
when they observe suspicious behavior. The operators also have the ability to track
your movements based on the location of your Real ID.”
        “Don't forget the automatic defense systems that were installed when the
Towers were built,” added Michael.
        “Those aren't active anymore,” said Robert. “There were too many false
positives that triggered them. Also, the operators have since deterred the majority of
real attacks. Do you recall the push in the sixties for the research university to
develop socially acceptable drugs? Those were targeted at the people who were
rebelling. The number of real attacks dropped by 80% from '66 to '69.”
        “Can't the systems be turned back on, though?” asked Michael.
        “There's always that possibility,” Robert shrugged.
        Maggie redirected their discussion, “How do we disable the security devices
that notify the High Operators of an attack?”
        “That's easy,” Michael answered immediately. “The controls are in the
Command Center on the 1st Level. One of the groups that runs that facility were
actually at the meeting, yesterday.”
        “Is the Command Center identified by a red door?” Maggie asked.


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        “Of course, it is.”
        “Are there any other red doors on the 1st Level?”
        “No,” said Michael. “There's about twenty in the each Tower. You think
you're going to find two of the same level? You've gotta be crazy. They're situated
so a single person won't encounter more than one during his lifetime. In fact, I've
heard that people who are known to host friends in their daltras are blacklisted from
ever being moved into a hallway that's near a red door just to mitigate that risk.”
        “Two members of our group, Patricia and Juan, found that red door on the 1st
Level,” Maggie said. “They've also found doors on the 17th Level and the 37th
Level.”
        “Those rooms are less important, but 37 might help you,” Michael said. “It
connects to a network of internal hallways which provide access to the operator's
Inner Sanctum. From there you could get access to large, ornate boardrooms, the
Tower's Medical Facility, Communications Systems, and the Monitoring ARS.
Remember we told you about security cameras? There are eight Inner Sanctum
network red doors which all have their own Monitoring ARS that keeps tabs on a
particular section of the Tower.”
        “Wow,” Maggie nodded. “What about the room on the 17th Level? Why isn't
it as important?”
        “That's where the Air Taxi Control and Routing ARS are located,” said
Michael. “Unless you're planning a trip to see an Alpha Supremes away game or
something, you won't find any use for that.”
        “Thank you, gentlemen,” said Maggie. “Now, can I offer you lunch?”
        It was mid-afternoon and nobody had eaten since morning. The Low Men
graciously accepted and Maggie placed an order for sandwiches.

                                          5

        “I've got a theory,” said Juan as he strolled through the hallways of the 53rd
Level besides Patricia, “that we could figure out some way to override the automatic
operation of air-taxis and then escape the Towers altogether.”
        “And how would that work?”
        “Well, surely you've been in an air-taxi at some point in your life and asked
yourself why they each have a steering wheel and a thrust shaft. It can't be too hard
to disable the automatic mode so we can pilot them.”
        “If you could take control of an air-taxi, what would you do with it?”
        “Oh man, I'd fly that thing up to the roof of Alpha and spend the day doing
stunts for the amusement for the onlookers. I'd build my own show around it. Of
course, after one day the operators would probably order me to knock it off, and then


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I'd just swipe the air-taxi and fly far, far away beyond the reach of the operators and
their uncreative ways.”
         “Are you going anywhere with this?”
         “Let's go see if we can turn up anything strange at the air-taxi ports.”
         She shrugged, “Lead the way.”
         During the rest of the day, they traveled from air-taxi port to air-taxi port,
looking for a method to gain control over the transportation devices. Patricia
searched the walls in and around each station for useful information. In the back of
her head she hoped to find a simple red button somewhere. Unfortunately, the only
controls that she identified were the kiosks that facilitated travelers during their
departures.
         Juan's role was watching the departure area as travelers prepared to board
their trips. He scanned the faces in the crowd, in hopes of finding a passenger who
didn't fit the typical traveler mold. He searched for somebody in too much of a rush
to bother programming their itinerary into the ticketing system. Somebody must
have authority to override the autopilot, he thought.
         After four hours of futile searching, he observed an older woman rushing
through the crowds towards the departure area. He looked closer and saw a man
cross her path walking in the opposite direction of the crowd. The man had a plain
white-tee shirt on and kept his gaze centered on the ground, but for a brief instant
Juan caught a glimpse of his face.
         “Patricia, Patricia, Patricia!” he called.
         “What, what, what?” she replied in a hushed voice. “And could you at least
pretend to be quite so you don't attract attention to us?”
         He calmed his tone, “There's a man over there, can you see him?” He
dragged her behind him, walking while he talked. “You're looking for the guy with
the white tee-shirt. Isn't that the same person we saw watching the jugglers at the
amusement park a few weeks ago?”
         “I think that is,” she nodded. “So, what?”
         “I don't know. Maybe it's not a coincidence,” he said.
         “Keep you eyes peeled for somebody more interesting than a guy we may
have seen once before.” She turned her back to him and returned her attention to the
walls.
         After another two hours they quit their search for the day so they could get
some dinner. Nothing they deemed to be significant had turned up.
         “Oh well,” shrugged Juan. “It was a hunch. You can't win them all.”

                                          6



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        Jared sat on his balcony drinking a beer. He relaxed and calmly enjoyed the
view. He was thinking about the events from yesterday with Michael and Robert.
        “They'll be useful. Chances are we'll be able to exploit their access and
knowledge about the secret places in the Tower.”
        He took a swig from his glass, then swirled the remainder around. Something
isn't right, he thought, there's no reason to trust them. No matter what they say,
they're bound to tell a mixture of truth, lies, and ignorant statements. It'll be
impossible to differentiate between the three.
        He gulped down the remainder of his beer. He gazed across the landscape,
taking in the warm afternoon. He let his mind wander. He smiled, and napped
through the remainder of the afternoon.

                                           7

        Kevin finished The Renegades that night. The words flowed from him with a
natural rhythm. His pen glided across the pages as effortlessly as breathing.

        The Renegades gathered in a circle. They sat upon rocks surrounded by tall
evergreen trees that provided shelter from the near-constant gusts of the wind. The
pink sun on the western horizon was slowly giving way to night. The air was chilly
and they kept themselves warm with heat from a small fire and with jackets from a
Fashion Center marked with the circle-star symbol, 7.
        All around them, as far as their eyes could see, they were surrounded by
wilderness. There were no Towers to provide them with convenient daltras, warm
beds, or meal delivery services whenever their hearts desired. There wasn't even a
meager cabin, such as the one where most of them had learned to shoot.
        Everybody sat calmly in a circle around the fire. Their attention was fixed on
Maggie. To her right was Susan, and on her right sat Alan and the remaining
members of the Mortar OG. On Maggie's left Pip sat with the rest of the members of
the Brick OG. Amanda wasn't present. Kevin and Juan completed the circle,
opposite from Maggie.
        Everybody was tired. Nearby a series of small tents had been erected for the
night, but for now Maggie gathered them for a speech she wanted to deliver. As their
leader, she accepted this as one of her responsibilities.
        She began with somber words, “I look at the faces in this circle and it pains
me to see that some aren't here. For as long as I have been in pursuit of motivating
drastic change, Patricia Stark has been my right hand gal. She stood beside me
when times were rough and helped me lead when decisions were tough. Many who
sit around this fire tonight have Patricia to thank for inviting you to be a part of our


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revolution. More than anything else, it's the friendship and intellectual high ground
that I'll miss from Pat. Over the years, she'd grown to be a beloved friend, and there
isn't anybody who could replace her in the world.
         “Then there's Amanda Soldier. Never in my life had I met somebody who
could manage a team of bodies as well as she could. To her, I owe the possibility
that the Renegades were able to form different operating groups that could be
independently managed. She was a born leader, and one of the proudest Renegades.
If it wasn't for her courage under pressure, we wouldn't be where we are today.
         “Charles Cohen is also notably absent. Charles taught many of us how to
use firearms. He's a heck of a guy, and a good ally to have going into any conflict.
Instincts like his make victory against any adversity possible. Without his strength
and heart, we would've been just another rag-tag group of misguided revolutionaries
destined for nothing. We can only hope to honor his memory as faithfully as the
service he gave us.”
         She continued her speech for a second member of the Brick OG, and for two
members of the Mortar OG . Then, Maggie paused. She choked back a tear before
she could continue, “Last, but certainly not least, my little brother, Jared Flanagan
isn't with us. I guess he meant more to me than anybody else. He meant quite a bit
to Kevin. He was unique. His character was strong. He lived by his own set of
rules, and because of that I have much admiration for him. Nobody could get him to
do anything that he didn't want to do, and thus he embodied the definition of
freedom. I almost hate to admit it, but in a lot of ways I envy the simplicity that he
looks upon the world with. You don't meet that type of person everyday, and I will
truly miss him.”
         She rose to her feet, and walked around the camp-fire before speaking again.
“Now isn't the time to be sullen, though. After all, we won. We beat the High
Operators, and now can control our own destinies. We need not face persecution
from them. We need not face a world that doesn't appreciate the brilliance we bring
to it. We need not face a world that embraces mediocrity.
         “We're free to pursuit greatness. We're able to be whatever we've always
wanted to be and do everything that we've ever wanted to do. Kevin, you can make
those great movies that you always talk about. Alexandra, you can raise a family of
children with Brett that the High Operators can't take away. Juan, you can dance
and entertain. We can all live without fear of censorship or a visit from the Low Men
in the middle of the night.
         “For that, I'm very happy. I feel like a new era of enlightenment has opened
up and that we're about to be shown the way. Do you wonder, like I do, what's over
the horizon? Can you imagine the possibilities? Whatever the case, this is the
future, and for the first time in our lifetimes it belongs to us.”


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       She pumped a fist in the air, “To the Future!”
       “TO THE FUTURE!!!” the Renegades echoed.

        It was 2:00am when Kevin finally penned “The End” in his notebook. He
reread the last chapter. He was bothered that some of his characters were missing.
In what he'd written previously, they all survived the final battle against the High
Operators. He tossed and turned in bed trying to conjure a viable explanation for
their absence during the final scene. He was worried for his friends, though Maggie
had once said, “We can't afford to mix fiction and reality.” He resolved to stay mum
until there were more facts to substantiate his theories.




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                         The Storm
                                          1

        THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.
        Maggie awoke from a loud knock on her daltra door. She turned over in bed,
and hugged the warm blankets around her.
        THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.
        She sat up and threw the covers towards the foot of her bed. It's the
operators, she thought. She sprang out of bed, and put on the dirty shirt from the
ground. She moved to grab her gun. She heard a troop of footsteps in the main
room. Shit! They've let themselves in, she thought. She recalled that Michael and
Robert were currently sleeping on her couches.
        Something was wrong. She didn't hear the confrontation she expected
between Michael and Robert and the intruding Low Men. The footfalls continued
until they distinctly stopped in front of her bedroom door.
        She froze. The gun was in a locked case under her bed and she'd never have
enough time to get at it. Her knife was in the same case. She needed to improvise
quickly. A peak under the bed gave her a view of a long, solid brass candlestick
holder. As she closed her fist around it, the door to her room swung open.
        She hid behind her bed and cursed at all the things stored under it which
obstructed her view of their feet, though she intuitively knew there were three of
them. She listened for their footsteps. The Low Men moved slowly and deliberately.
She could guess that one waited by the door, another was in front of her closet, and
the third was poised to find her hiding place.
        There he is! She jumped and somersaulted across the bed, landing on her feet
with her back to the door. She saw two of them exactly as predicted. She swung the
candlestick holder blindly behind her, and connected with the third Low Man's
midsection. Simultaneously, she felt a thud on the back of her head.
        She lost her grip and the candlestick holder dropped with a thud to the floor.
She fell face-first onto her bed. When their leader saw her collapse, he jumped
towards the bed and tried to grab her by her arms. She rolled away from him, and all


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he got was a fistful of bed sheets. She got to her feet, and was struck with a dizzying
sense that the world was spinning. She stood above the Low Man she'd hit. He held
his side with one hand and her candlestick holder with the other.
        She felt a strong arm grab her. She twisted and broke free, but her body
tumbled to the ground in the process. She landed next to the Low Man with the
candlestick holder.
        He swung it at her, and connected with her lower back. She screamed from
the impact of the blow, but she forced herself to suppress the pain. This is now or
never, she thought. She scrambled to her feet.
        She was halfway up and halfway to the door before she was hit with a
sweeping kick aimed at her feet. Amazingly, she kept her balance, and hop-stepped
to the bedroom doorway. Gotta get the hell outta hear, she thought. She gritted her
teeth and broke into the fastest run of her life, through her living room, and into the
hallway.
        Knowing they'd be right on her tail, Maggie zigged through the hallways in
hopes of losing them. When a chance to glance over her shoulder arose, she saw two
Low Men right behind her. The operator weren't going to be easily foiled.
        She tried a straight sprint. She dashed down a long, straight hallway. The
adrenaline rush alleviated her pain and allowed her to run with excellent speed, but a
glance over her shoulder revealed that one Low Man was now only twenty meters
back. Shit, she thought, he's gaining.
        She realized that pure speed wouldn't be enough. At the end of the hallway,
she arrived at a moving sidewalk and jumped on in the direction heading toward the
common area.
        She pushed past numerous people who were in her way. They cursed her,
then cursed Low Man for doing the same thing, though in her wake he couldn't make
it through as quickly as she did.
        She redoubled her effort. Sweat poured from her body. She wiped her
forehead with her shirt, then went to wipe her hands on her pants. She cursed under
her breath. There hadn't been time for pants. Still, her naked legs pumped with
strong force as she entered the common area with a pair of red, lace panties and a
sweaty tee-shirt.
        Lose yourself in the crowd, she thought
        She glanced to her right and saw a large group of people gathered for a day
long tournament of some sort. The group was three or four thousand large, and
countless others were standing in the vicinity, waiting for the spectacle to begin.
        She aimed for the group of tournament participants. Her progress was slowed
by the tightly packed group. A strong wave of curses were directed at her rudeness,
but she moved too quickly for any potential confrontation.


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        To her relief, the Low Man didn't follow her, and she slowed to a walking
pace. She digested her surroundings. People were standing in groups of three all
around her. Probably 3-on-3, she thought. Then she saw a gigantic poster
advertising the annual 3-on-3 tournament. It read, “For Fun and Bragging Rights.”
        She called the names of Charles and Susan, pretending to have been separated
from her group. People gave her a path. She asked politely if they'd seen a pair of
players who were missing their partner. The closeness of the group prevented too
many from seeing that she didn't have pants, but she was beyond caring even if they
did.
        She went deeper into the crowd, contemplating how to get out without being
seen by the Low Men. She reasoned that reinforcements would've been called in,
and then she saw the last person in the world that she was expecting to see. There, a
face in the crowd, stood John Flanagan.
        He was with his friends Isaac and Diana, both of whom Maggie had met on a
few occasions. “John! It's Maggie,” she yelled at him. She walked to him and then
gave him a tight hug. “I'm glad I found you.'
        “What're you doing here?” he asked.
        “Why aren't you wearing pants?” asked Diana.
        “Long story. I don't have time for it now, you just have to trust me on this. I
need to take your place in the tournament.”
        A look of shock appeared on John's face, “You what? Maggie, come on! We
want a chance at winning. You know that, right?”
        “That's not what I meant. When this group breaks apart to start the tourney, I
need to blend in and not stand out in the crowd. If I do, I don't know what they'll do
to me, but I don't want to wait to find out.”
        Diana looked confused, “Who's they? Did you drink too much last night and
sleep with a couple of guys who think you took advantage of them?”
        “I wish. No. It's more serious then that,” Maggie sounded urgent. “I need
your help. Can you do that for me? Please?”
        “What do you need us to do,” Isaac offered.
        “If I had pants it would help a lot.”
        “Well,” pondered John, “I'd give you mine but they'd be three sizes too big
for you.” He looked towards Diana.
        “What? I'm not giving crazy girl my pants,” she said.
        “I wouldn't ask you to do this if I thought she was being crazy,” said John.
“I'll owe you a big favor if you do this.”
        “A roster spot on the Supremes?”
        “I'll invite you to our practice tomorrow and introduce you to a couple of the
coaches.”


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        “Deal, but I need them back in twenty minutes for our first game.” She
pulled them over her shoes. A nearby man in the crowd whistled at her.
        “If we switched shirts I think it'd also do a great deal of good. They won't
know what they're looking for, even if I walk right by them.”
        “Jesus Christ, Maggie,” said Diana. “Your shirt is wetter than ours will be
after we win the tournament.”
        “Alright,” John said, “You've got a new outfit, now what?”
        “When the crowd disperses to the Round 1 games,” she paused thoughtfully,
“Isaac, you live on this Level, right?”
        “That's correct.”
        “When people disperse, could Isaac lead me to him daltra to hide out for a
while? Meanwhile, John, could I borrow your Real ID to send a few messages to my
friends. I left in such a rush this morning that I forgot mine.”
        “Alright, that sounds good,” said John.
        “What about me?” Diana asked.
        “Isaac will bring you back your clothes. I don't think he'd mind letting me
borrow one of Mary Lou's outfits, but if he does mind, I'll be able to contact
somebody who can bring me something.”
        “You owe me for this one, little sister,” said John.
        “I know. Big time. You're a life saver,” and she kissed his cheek.
        Right then, an announcement over the loudspeaker wished good luck to
everybody throughout the tournament.
        Maggie and Isaac easily escaped the common area without incident. Two
minutes later they uneventfully walked safely through the door of Isaac's daltra.
Maggie changed into a tight, pink running suit.
        They wished each other luck, then he left to return to the tournament. She
used John's Real ID to send a message for the rest of the Pistols, “This is Maggie. Is
everybody safe? I almost wasn't this morning. Please confirm your status and then
we'll arrange to meet up”. Her finger hovered over the send button, then backed
away.
        Will they track this to me? She considered for a minute, then shook her head
and sent the message. The first response came from Kevin. He reported that he was
at breakfast with Jared celebrating the completion of his novel.
        Next, Susan replied. She agreed to try to get in contact with Charles. No
responses came from the others. Maggie punched the numbers for her current
location along with a request to meet as soon as was humanly possible.

                                          2



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        Fifteen minutes later, Susan, Jared, Kevin, and Maggie sat in Isaac's daltra.
Maggie worried for the safety of the other Renegades.
        She explained her experience with the Low Men to the group, and how she
barely escaped their capture. She said, “I have a bad feeling about the absence of
Patricia, Juan, and Charles.”
        “Where are Robert and Michael?” asked Jared.
        “I don't know. They were in my daltra when I went to bed last night. They
slept on my couches.”
        “When you woke up, they were just gone?” he said. “Do you think they
could've double-crossed us?”
        “They weren't there during my escape, but they couldn't have disappeared so
quickly when the Low Men came into my daltra. I don't think they could've turned
on us, though. I would've observed subtle changes in their mannerisms if they were
making sinister plans. Unless, of course, they're better at hiding their ulterior-
motives than others.”
        “It doesn't matter that those two are missing,” said Susan. “There's nothing
we can do if they've jumped ship. What I want to know is where are Patricia, Juan,
and Charles?”
        Maggie looked from face to face. She saw a smile on Kevin's face. “You've
been quiet so far. Maybe you've got an idea about what to do?”
        “Well, unless I'm mistaken, which I never am, there's no imminent danger for
us or the others.”
        “And we're supposed to be relieved that you've got a warm and fuzzy feeling
about all this?”
        “Listen, I could tell you what we'll going to do next, but it's more fun
watching it play out in real time.”
        “You're not helping,” she said. He shrugged. After a beat, she shook her
head towards him and said, “I think we ought to meet up with Brick and Mortar.
Unified, we'll be more powerful.”
        “I knew you were going to say that.”
        “Yeah, well, I think that's a good idea,” said Susan.
        Maggie used the TMS to try to contact Amanda Soldier and Alan Grimes, but
neither answered. “Let's pay Amanda's daltra a visit and see what's up there,”
Maggie suggested.
        “I knew you were going to say that, too.”
        “Kevin, if you know so much,” said Jared, “why aren't we following your
orders instead of Maggie?”
        “Oh, well Maggie just keeps making the right decisions.”
        “And if you really know so much, is the trip to Amanda's daltra going to be


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beneficial? It seems to me like we're going to find a locked door.”
       “Well, we're going to find her with several of the other Bricks who're
confused about the sudden disappearance of a number of their teammates.”

                                          3

        The trip to Amanda's daltra was short and when they arrived it was exactly as
Kevin had said. She was gathered in her living room with half of her Brick OG
teammates. They made introductions.
        “Pip and Wendy are missing,” said Amanda.
        “Patricia, Juan, and Charles are too. They tried to get me, as well.” Maggie
retold her story from the morning. She included every detail, including the
unconfirmed speculations about Michael and Robert's betrayal. The Bricks listened
closely. When she finished, she asked Amanda, “Did you get the message that I tried
to send you earlier?”
        “No, I haven't gotten any messages.” She had an inquisitive look on her face
as she reached into her back pocket for her Real ID. When she didn't find it, she
checked her other pockets. Finally, she said, “That answers that. I don't have it with
me. I must've left it in my room after I called my team together earlier.”
        “Your room's only on the other side of that door,” said Jared. “Do you think
you could go find it? We should make sure that you actually got the message and
that some kind of foul play isn't going on.”
        She left and returned with her card in hand and said, “I found it, and I got
your message. It's right here.”
        “Good,” said Maggie. “Now, it occurs to me that the Renegades who aren't
here with us received visits from the Low Men similar to the one I got this morning.
Currently, I think we should try to figure out the status of the Mortar OG.
Presumably, some of their members have received visits, too.”
        Eight Renegades headed to Alan's daltra, where they found no sign of him.
Maggie sent messages to the five other members of Mortar. She got three replies,
and arranged a meeting of the free Renegades on the 270th Level.

                                          4

        When everybody arrived it was 2:00pm. Eleven were present. Eight were
absent. “I'd say we have a problem,” said Amanda. “They've cut our group down by
a third overnight. They've taken some of our best, strongest, most talented fighters.”
        “That's not the problem,” said Maggie. “Not precisely. Isn't that right,
Kevin? We'll be reunited with the rest of our teams by tomorrow morning?”


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        “Umm, yeah. That's correct.”
        “Unless something really bizarre happened, I think the disappearances are
just simple operator warnings about our activities. Why they didn't try to capture all
of us is a bit of a mystery. Maybe they're short of resources.”
        “What's an operator warning?” asked Jared.
        “It's when they arrest you and tell you to stop doing something that they
disapprove of,” said Kevin. “Remember when we got drunk and passed-out on Delta
Tower a few weeks ago? That was an operator warning, although an unconventional
one because we escaped their custody before the warning was actually issued.”
        “I thought we escaped detoxification,” said Jared. Kevin shrugged.
        “Anyway,” continued Maggie, “What's important now is that we act
intelligently during the next 48 hours so the operators can't get an advantage over
us.”
        “How are we expected to do that?” asked a Mortar.
        “Well, I have a plan,” said Maggie. “I think that we're in an extremely
fortunate position. I bet they were expecting their surprise attack to easily capture
each of their targets. However, I escaped. If I don't miss my guesses, they've placed
some value on capturing me. I'd wager that there are three Low Men waiting for me
at my daltra.”
        “So we should to strike them at your place!” exclaimed Jared.
        “Exactly.”
        She elaborated and her plan became clearer. Among there group, five
presently concealed guns from their training in the woods. With that strength, they'd
make quick work of any Low Men waiting by Maggie's daltra.

                                           5

        They marched down Maggie's hall in the 3f section of the 94th Level of
Alpha. Maggie was in the lead, followed by the rest marching in five rows of two
behind her.
        From down the hall, they didn't see any guards waiting outside her daltra.
When they reached the door marked 199, the tension was thick enough to cut with a
knife. The five gunmen joined Maggie in front of the door. She grasped the knob,
moisture on her palm gave her a weaker grip than she would have desired. She
wiped her hand on the borrowed pink sweat suit. Sweat balled upon her forehead.
        The knob twisted slowly under the force of her wrist. The group held their
collective breath in anticipation of the entrance. She wasn't surprised to find the door
completely unlocked, since she hadn't locked up properly when she left that morning.
        With a sudden burst and a jump forward she threw the door open and moved


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into the room. Two men sat on her couch watching the telescreen. They looked over
towards her. Kevin and Pip followed closely behind through the threshold of the
daltra, and Amanda and Jared were behind them. Robert lunged over the back of
the couch for cover.
        Kevin hesitated. This isn't how it's supposed to go, he thought.
        Pip aimed at Michael. His finger rested firmly against the trigger.
        Maggie turned around, “Don't shoot. For God's sake, don't shoot.”
        Kevin reached out an arm and pushed Pip's shoulder at the same instant that
the trigger was pulled. The gun went off, the bullet flew through the air and Michael
felt as if he could see the bullet closing in on him. He heard a dull thud as it
connected with its target. He felt a knot of pressure at the base of his skull. He
reached with his hand to feel for the entry hole under his ear. When he touched the
area, though, he only felt skin and hair. He turned his head and saw where the bullet
ripped a hole in the couch. It was only six centimeters from his neck. Michael
feinted. His body slumped over the arm-rest on the side opposite the bullet hole.
        Kevin wrestle the gun from Pip's hands. Robert peaked from behind the
couch. He greeted them with a hint of sarcasm, “Hello, and how are you doing on
this fine day? We've been waiting for you all day.” More seriously he added, “We
were beginning to think that they'd actually gotten you. Come, have a seat. Tell us
your story.”

                                         6

        They congregated in the living room. Even with the chairs from the dining
area, several Renegades were forced to sit on the ground. Maggie, for the fourth
time that day, told her escape story. When she concluded, she asked, “Where were
you and Michael when they were barraging into my room?”
        “We hid in the bathroom. When we heard you crash through the living
room,” said Robert, “we came out to investigate a bit and found our old mate lying
face down on your floor. It seems you did a number on Donald Page, but we made
scarce before he got a chance to see us. After we heard the Medical ARS leave with
him in their care we came out and have had free reign ever since.”
        “So you knew the guys who attacked me?”
        Robert chuckled, “Oh sure. Don and I finished our basic operator training
together way back in '59. From there he became an Alpha Enforcer while I pursued
Guard duties. Do you really care that I knew him?”
        “No, I guess not, but I'd like to know what I escaped by outrunning and
outsmarting your friends.”
        “I guess you get an extra day before they bring you in for your ultimatum.


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And in all likelihood you've succeeded in pissing off the High Operator who wanted
to bring you in, so you've probably earned a slightly stricter set of failure terms than
what's customary.”
         “And for the eight Renegades who received this ultimatum? What will
become of them?”
         “They'll been given time to change their ways, while people like me keep tabs
on them to make sure they do. If they fail the terms of their ultimatum, then they'll
be erased, and Census Operators will purge information about them in the digital
docufile while more Enforcement Operators will capture them from their sleep, and
they wouldn't even get a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones. But, if they
don't fail the terms of the ultimatum, life returns to normal.”
         “So if they fail, we'll never see them again?” asked Maggie.
         Robert chuckled, again, “No, they won't fail anything today. At least, I've
never seen a case where somebody was erased on the same day as their ultimatum.
Even if you spit in the High Operator's face while he's explaining your situation, you
wouldn't get that sort of treatment. They'll be back tomorrow. After that, it'd be
advisable to have them follow whatever directions that they're given today.”
         They continued discussing the situation for the next couple of hours.
Conversation soon centered around different strategies for an offensive against the
High Operators. They debated penetration tactics to get them inside the proper
facilities and strategy for when they got in. They talked about the operator's internal
communications mechanisms and how much time they'd get in any particular area.
Most of all, they discussed the High Operator's weapon and tried to come up with
strategies to defeat it.
         At night time, they voted for the strength of numbers. The Pistols with
Michael and Robert slept at Kevin's daltra, and the Brick's and Mortar's at Amanda's.
In the event of a kidnapping attempt, their assailants would be shot and killed.

                                           7

        Charles woke in his own bed the next morning. He didn't remember how he
got there, but he vividly remembered the events of the previous day. He recalled
answering an early morning knock at the door, and getting overcome during a fierce
battle with a group of Low Men. Before he'd known what hit him, they'd zapped him
with a paralysis gun that numbed all the muscles in his body and made it impossible
to resist.
        He was brought into a cold, metallic room with a telescreen on the wall.
They'd left him waiting there, alone in the emotionless uninviting, room, for much of
the day.


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        On several occasions, an operator wordlessly entered the room to observe
him. Each entrance was marked by the distinct sound of pressurized gas being
pushed from its chamber where it held the columns for the door bolts in place. Then,
the solid door rose into the ceiling followed by the characteristic click-clack click-
clack of footsteps on the metal floor until an operator appeared in the threshold.
They never acknowledged his presence with a greeting. They'd unlock a panel that
opened up access to something that looked like a Menu ARS, then they'd lock it back
up and leave. After five visits of this nature, Charles was utterly puzzled about the
reason for his detainment.
        By what he estimated to be 1:00pm, he received a visitor who communicated
with him.
        No, that's not right, he thought. They communicated at me.
        This woman said, “Charles Cohen, I'm your Accuser. You've been marked by
your actions upon Alpha Tower for taking part in societally unhealthy behavior. This
behavior creates a problem for your countrymen and you need to cease it
immediately. You're encouraged to alternatively seek out socially healthy activities.
The Guilter will be with you shortly to explain your guilt.” Before leaving, she
wrote socially unhealthy behavior on a piece of paper and handed it to him. Before
she had even left, he'd crumpled it and thrown it on the floor in the corner of the
room.
        A few hours later, a gentleman, the Guilter, came in to provide Charles with
the explanation of his guilt. Charles' didn't even bother paying attention to this one.
He watched the man's mouth move, but didn't listen to the words that were coming
out. A video flicked onto the telescreen and he recognized himself in it before he
could look the other direction. He was standing on top of the boardroom table right
before he kicked Jennifer Allen in her head. He looked away. He had no interest in
watching it.
        Finally, the Guilter said, “The Resolver will be along shortly.”
        After a long wait, it was at least 6:00pm by this point, another woman
entered. Instead of the unemotional, bitter sentencing that Charles expected, she
presented a cheery outlook and a warm smile. “Charles,” she said, “You've been told
what we don't like and you've been shown videos of yourself doing it. You didn't
watch these videos, presumably because they were too painful for you. You have a
strong personality and a sense of determination that are very admirable. I wish that
you'd channel these energies into a positive flow. Meet a woman. Ride a roller
coaster. You can even sign up for sky-diving off-Tower if you'd be interested in that.
But you can't keep doing what we saw you doing the other day. This socially
unhealthy behavior needs to stop. If you're caught doing it again, you'll be brought
back here to meet the Eraser.” She paused, letting that last resonate against the


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metallic surfaces that the room possessed. “Do you understand?”
        He nodded.
        “Answer yes or no, please.”
        “Yes,” he said.
        “Very good. In that case, our job today is done. As soon as you sleep, a
group will set about bringing you back home to your daltra. Have a good night,
Charles Cohen. Thank you for your progress today.” With that, she left.
        He reflected on the encounter. He's glad that they weren't killing him that
night, but it didn't comfort him that he'd meet the Eraser the next time they brought
him there.
        He wasn't even sure what they considered socially unhealthy behavior. He
sat in bed and said to himself, “You better watch yourself, Charles.” Then he noticed
something. He didn't feel any pain in his should. “Did they patch up my knife
wound? Thank goodness for small favors.”

                                           8

        Maggie banged on Charles Cohen's door. It opened a crack and then she saw
the barrel of a gun poke out towards her.
        “Knock it off,” she said. “It's me and the rest of the Pistols.”
        The gun lowered and the door swung open.
        She saw perspiration on his brow, and he looked scared. She'd never seen
that look on him before. “You've been through a lot, ain't'cha. Let's go sit and talk
about it.”
        She told her escape story.
        “I'm impressed,” said Charles, “they zapped me with this paralysis gun and I
couldn't fight back.” He continued to explain what happened in the cold, metal
room. Patricia and nodded sympathetically. Her experience had been very similar;
the Accuser, the Guilter, the Resolver, and if she got caught again, the Eraser. Then
he looked around the room, “Where's Juan?”
        “Well,” said Maggie. “He never returned to his daltra last night.”
        “Are you fucking serious? Oh, Christ. They took Juan.”
        “Yeah, we're still trying to figure out what to do about that.”
        “Figure out what to do? We gotta bust this shit into high gear. I've let the
operators get away with this once. We need to act fast before they get away with it
again.”
        “We've got a plan,” said Patricia, “the attack is scheduled to take place in two
days while the High Operators are having their annual meeting on Delta Tower. And
we'll get Juan back. Rest assured of that.”


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                            The War
                                          1

        Jared sat upon his balcony overlooking Delta Tower. The June sun warmed
his cheeks. Behind him, he heard Maggie letting herself into the daltra and then the
soft tap of her knuckles against the glass balcony door. She didn't know it, but he'd
been expecting her. Earlier the previous morning he figured out the signal that the
operators used to track their Real IDs and all it had taken was a quick search to key
in on her specific beacon. Since then he'd been watching her traverse the Tower
from Patricia's daltra, to Kevin's, then Susan's, and now his. She was distributing the
marching orders.
        “The battle is coming,” she said.
        He nodded.
        “Are you ready for it?”
        He turned and looked up at her, “Are you?”
        “You know you're leaving your Real ID here tomorrow, so they can't track us,
right? I'm borrowing John's for whenever we need to communicate with Amanda or
Alan's group.”
        “Yup.”
        “Okay, Jared. I love you. Sleep well tonight. Meet at Michael and Robert's
room on the 84th Level tomorrow morning.”
        “I'll be there. I love you, too.”

                                          2

        The Renegades gathered in Michael and Robert's ugly room on the morning
on June 27, exactly one week before the start of the big tricentennial celebration that
the operators were planning. Maggie stood at the front of the room, with Amanda
and Alan by her side. The other eighteen sat around them with their eyes fixed
intently at their leaders. The battle lines were drawn. Their future was planned.
And now, the assignments were being distributed and the goals were being laid out.


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        Charles looked poised for the battle. He wore a white tank-top and jeans that
were loose enough to conceal his weapons. They all have their weapons. For the
ones with training, guns are the weapon of choice. For those without, knives were
sheathed and blunt objects were held in some hidden location on their bodies. They
were the best armed group of dissidents that had ever congregated in the Tower at
any one time.
        Jared and Kevin exchanged a solemn nod. Even Patricia's countenance had
an air that exuded confidence, and Juan looked like he was ready to swing the club
he held down on the head of any Low Man or High Operator.
        The other Renegade Operating Groups seemed less sure of themselves. Alan
Grimes thought to himself, Could this really be the end?
        A Brick man mouthed the phrase, Hang in there, to another and then reached
to take his hand. They stood, hand-in-hand like a couple who had a sense that their
upcoming task wouldn't be determined by skill, but by luck, and as history had
proved time and time again, if you rely on luck you're setting yourself up for
disappointment.
        Maggie spoke at the front of the room. She was setting the stage for the
assault. They'd learned from Michael and Robert that all the High Operators were
gathered that afternoon in Delta Tower for an important quarterly meeting. They
were finalizing the events and activities that they provide to engage the citizenry
during the monumental Independence Week.
        “The Pistols will be leading the assault,” said Maggie. “Brick and Mortar
will provide support by disabling key infrastructure and acquiring key resources so
that we'll be able to get started. There are four individual goals for the day. First, the
Pistols will implement a decoy attack within Alpha Tower to divert as much of the
Operator's attention as possible away from the areas where Brick and Mortar will
work. Amanda, would you like to tell the Bricks what their primary objective will
be?”
        “Certainly,” she said. “We need to capture and hold the operator's
communications hub on the lowest Level of the Tower. This room contains all the
equipment that the operator's need to track our locations based on a signal from our
Real Ids. Additionally, this room gives them the lines to communicate with each
other and powers the entire...”
        BANG!
        The sharp noise resounded through the room. Everybody jumped from
shock, then equipped themselves with weapons when they realize they'd heard a gun
shot. Their gazes finally fell at the edge of the room on a Mortar man. He'd pulled
the trigger of his gun while it was in his pocket and shot a hole through his pants into
the floor next to him.


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        “Nerves,” he commented, attempting to excuse himself from the
embarrassing situation.
        “It's okay,” Maggie said. “Nobody's done anything wrong. The important
part is that you're alright. These mistakes happen and they're forgiven. In the
confines of this room, shooting holes in the floor isn't something which I would
encourage, but it's something that can be shrugged off. Ultimately, this will make us
stronger, and will help ensure our victory today.”
        Charles approached and placed a hand upon the embarrassed man's shoulder.
“Always,” he said, “always engage the safety of the weapon while it's stored on your
body. If I missed that lesson during any of the training sessions then I mean to
emphasize it now. Bad things can happen when you get careless with guns.
Everybody please take a second right now and double-check that your safety is
engaged.”
        The incident passed, but the hair on everybody's necks raised an extra quarter
of an inch. Amanda continued her speech, “We'll secure the operator's Command
Control Center on the ground level of the Tower. When we disable the control and
communication equipment that's housed there, the Real Id system for communication
will go down and the operator's will lose the ability to track us. Are there any
questions?”
        Nobody had any questions.
        She concluded, “With Maggie's work diverting the operator's elsewhere, the
job would be an easy one. With no messaging, the operators will learn the meaning
of chaos.”
        “The loss of communication will be a cue for the next two stages of our plan
to begin. Alan, would you explain the Mortar role?”
        “We attack the aerial transportation networks located at the Air Taxi Control
and Routing System on Level 17. Then, we commandeer a group of air-taxis and
program them for manual operation using the procedures that Michael gave us.
Finally, we'll deliver these taxis to the uppermost Level of the Tower where the
Pistols will await them. The probability of violence is low.”
        “The Pistols will storm Delta Tower and navigate into the main area where
the High Operators are meeting to discuss their plans for Independence Week,” said
Maggie. “We'll catch them by surprise and kill enough of them so that they rest will
surrender to our onslaught. Then, we'll draw their attention to the lack of important
freedoms that stifles our lives on the Towers. We'll offer the surviving High
Operators an opportunity to join us and help us lead the nation into an era where
these freedoms are no longer restricted. But before we get that far, there is a word of
caution that I must give of the High Operators. They have extremely powerful
weapons that we cannot allow them to use. A gunshot to their heads will be


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sufficient to disable them and their weapons, but in the event that they are armed
when we ambush them the battle will a trifle bit more challenging. Now, I know that
you don't want to hear that there's a chance and a likelihood that we won't all live
through the battle. They aren't a weak enemy and they'll fight strongly. We'll resist
and those who fall will be remembered. Those who fall will be our martyrs. Those
who fall will be the ones who the stories told to your children will be about. They'll
be the ones who the celebrations will be held in honor of. So, do not fear death. Do
not fear your enemy. Fear will hurt our attack.
        “Now, let's go with glory and we'll teach them what it feels like to be afraid.
Let's show them that there are more things to life then processes and procedures.
Let's take back the freedoms that we deserve to have. Do us proud, team.
Renegades, go with glory!”
        The team put their fists into the middle of their group. They collectively
counted to three and then threw their arms up and shouted in loud and proud voices,
“Glory!”
        The great attack against the operators had begun.

                                          3

        Charles lead the Pistols down the hallway to a place which Michael and
Robert identified as the Area One Internal Guard Station. It was presently 8:45am.
The plan was to ambush the night guards right before the end of their shift at 9:00am
to gain access to the Inner Sanctum of Alpha Tower.
        Standing in front of the bright red door, they all took a series of deep
breathes. Charles and Maggie positioned themselves on either side of the door.
Michael, Kevin, Patricia, and Juan stood behind Maggie, and Robert, Jared, and
Susan backed up Charles.
        Then without warning the door swung open and took the Pistols by complete
surprise. Maggie was anticipating an extra moment for her team to calm their nerves
prior to the battle. Charles had counted on some time to recheck his weapons. Low
Men streamed from the door open. The Pistols froze. Every one of them looked
back and forth between the operators and each other, as if waiting for somebody to
tell them what to do.
        The Low Men were equally unprepared. A few recognized the faces of
Robert and Michael and one even said, “Hello, Operator Dell.” But then their eyes
fell onto the weapons that the Pistols were carrying, and they slowed their pace. This
resulted in a chain-effect where trailing operators who were just now making their
way through the doorway tripped into the operators who were in front of them.
        In the end, Maggie Flanagan initiated the battle by raising her gun and calmly


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putting a bullet into the head of one of the Operator Guards. Splatter that was as red
as the door sprayed onto the far wall. The man himself remained standing for two
seconds before collapsing to the ground with a thump. Meanwhile, utter chaos broke
loose around him as Operators Guards either pushed and shoved in an attempt to
escape the madness, or braced themselves for the fight of their lives.
         Charles, Maggie, Robert, Michael, Jared, and Kevin raised their guns and
shot the guards who are unfortunate enough to have stepped outside the red door.
The echoes in the hallway were deafening. Men and women fell. Screams
resounded. After her initial kill, Maggie shifted and directs bullets into two other
operators.
         Charles reached out to a female Operator Guard, and grabbed her by the front
of her shirt-collar. He pulled her towards him so that her scared face was nose-to-
nose with his menacing one. He placed his gun underneath her chin and fired
upward. The old soldiers warning, do not fire until you see the whites of their eyes,
flashed into his head, momentarily. He held the girl as a body shield. He aimed his
gun over her shoulder and shot a man who'd tried to retreat back to the red door.
This operator used all of his strength to lunge towards the doorway, but was met with
more pain from the force of it being slammed shut from the inside by his compatriots
who were trying to contain the spread of violence.
         Kevin leveled his gun, and pointed it at a Low Man who was sprinting down
the hallway. BANG! A bullet in the his back sent him sprawling to the hard ground.
         On the other side of the red doorway, Jared jumped into the middle of the
hall, and met an operator who was attempting an escape nose-to-nose. Jared calmly
pushed his gun under the woman's left breast and, then pulled the trigger.
         Robert and Michael, who'd agreed beforehand not to do anything that might
risk the lives of the operators, set about to shooting the other them in their feet.
Robert had shot two each in their right foot, then kicked both of them to make them
fall to the ground. Michael shot one operator, his old friend Emily Immelt, in both of
her feet. He felt terrible for doing it, but the knowledge that she'd survive comforted
him.
         The Pistols were able to quickly take out ten Low Men, but after that the
battle became less one sided. A flailing counterattack knocked the gun out of Jared's
hand and Michael was doubled-over by a kick in the gut.
         Kevin retaliated against the woman who'd kicked Michael by shooting her in
the head. During the carnage this followed this body collapsed besides Michael and
distracted him long enough to give another operator an opportunity to surge towards
him. This operator tackled Michael with enough force to send him flying into
Maggie. From the bottom of the pile, Maggie found the head of the attacking
operator and put a close range bullet into it. Blood gushed everywhere, and the man


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stopped moving immediately. Unnoticed, however, Michael also stopped moving.
The force of being tackled was enough to crack several of his ribs.
        At Jared's side of the hallway, Patricia lunged towards the gun laying, but her
progress was stopped by a punch to her head from an operator. Patricia landed
dizzily on top of the gun. A well-aimed shot by Robert into that guards ankle brings
him down, but Jared was defenselessly left standing face to face with the female
operator who'd knocked his gun away. In a moment of urgency and panic, Juan put
his baseball bat into Jared's hand and then sprinted in the opposite direction down the
hallway, where he'd be safe.
        Jared immediately swung the bat at the female operator. His motion was
slow and the girl escaped it with a minor bruise on her upper arm. As he wound up
for a second swing she grabbed his arm and muscled herself into a close enough
proximity to him that no swing would've had any effect. She made a grab for the
baseball bat and then all four of their hands were wrestling for it. She kicked Jared's
shin, and then tried to knee him in the groin but he evaded that blow. She stumbled
and with a quick push Jared was able to slam her into a wall. As they continued to
grapple, a swift kick to his other shin rewarded the operator's efforts with control of
the bat. She stepped back to put herself into position to hit Jared.
        BANG! She slumped to the ground under a large splatter of her blood.
Patricia, petrified by her accomplishment, pushed the gun across the floor back to
Jared who picked it and looked down the hallway for his next target.
        Meanwhile, Kevin had his arms full with a pair of operators who'd gone close
range on him, which makes shooting them a challenge for him or anyone else. He
wrestled them to the floor, then executed a perfect somersault backwards to break
free from their grasp. By the time the operators, one male and one female, had time
to reattempt to grab him, Kevin was three long paces down the hall, where he joined
Susan. For a moment, the four of them face off in a showdown. The advantage,
though, went to the renegades as Kevin took aim and fires into the chest of his male
counterpart, while Susan flung her knife at the woman. And the knife, despite
missing its target completely, distracted the guard long enough for Kevin to jump
upon her and pin her on the ground. With the grace of a sledgehammer, he slammed
her head back into the ground a couple times until she stopped responding.
        The Pistols dominance in the hallway led to the surrender of the remaining
Operator Guards. The ones who weren't badly wounded threw up their arms and
screamed for mercy. When she saw this, Maggie's voice rose above the ruckus and
ordered the Pistols to cease and desist their shooting. All noise from the hallway
immediately stopped.
        Charles threw down his body shield and together with Maggie they corralled
the unscathed operators into one place against the wall. Robert was assigned to


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guard these operators and ensure that they stayed put until the Medical ARS arrived
to clean up the bodies. Juan was called back to the group, and Maggie scolded him
for his cowardice.
        From his spot laying on the floor, Michael said, “Go on without me. The pain
in my stomach is too much to bare. If you want the red door to open, take this.” He
handed her his Real ID.

                                          4

        She swiped Michael's card, and flung open the red door. The remaining
Pistols followed her through it.
        They were greeted by an large empty conference room. Near the front there
was a podium, and in the room there were about ten rows of seats. Like the
boardroom Maggie, Charles, and Susan had seen on Level 84, this one has an
ordinary colored door at its rear that could be used to access the Inner Sanctum.
        “Slow down, now,” cautioned Charles when he noticed Maggie immediately
break for the door. “They've had two or three minutes head start on us. Look around
this room. There are at least one hundred seats. There were only about twenty
operators in the hallway back there. If you aren't careful you'll run us into a trap.”
        She cautiously opened the doorway and didn't find an immediate trap. What
she found, through, surprised all of them. Behind the door lay an old, brick lined,
dimly lit hallway that extended deep into the heart of the Tower as far as the eye
could see.
        “What do we do now, boss?” Kevin questioned, as they stared down the long
pathway. “They've got to be down there.”
        “We have no other options. We gotta go after them. Follow my lead, and
while we're in the darkness of this passageway stay absolutely quiet,” Maggie
ordered.
        They discovered that the dim lighting was provided by small exposed light
bulbs which hung from chains on the ceiling. Every fifth or sixth light they passed
seemed to be burnt out or broken. They took care to avoid scattering piles of debris
that they found periodically on the floor.
        On the walls, they found a moss covering the surface near the ceiling. This
must be getting its nutrients from the air, thought Patricia, which would indicate that
this hallway gets a good amount of use.
        After traveling down the hall for what seems like about two hundred meters,
they came to a T intersection and were forced to decide between going left or right.
Maggie whispered, “Which way, now?”
        Susan answered, “I say we go left. The light looks better in that direction.”


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        Whatever level of light she saw to their left baffled him, but Jared whispered
quietly before any had a chance to act on Susan's intuition, “To the right would be
the better choice. Right now we've got to be close to the perimeter of the Tower
residences and going right will take us in that direction. If nothing is down there, at
least we'll have an easier time backtracking.”
        Everybody seemed to nod agreement and they continued slowly to their right.
Just as predicted, it wasn't long before they came upon a door at the end of this hall.
This one, they observed, was a deep color of blue. Its golden handle looked as if it
had been cleaned recently because it sparked with reflected light. The Pistols took a
defensive position in front of the door.
        Maggie then clutches it with her left hand. In her right, she gripped her gun.
Slowly, she drew the door open, and nothing spectacular was waiting to spring out at
her from the other side. To be sure, Maggie peaked inside. With a nod, she let her
guard down and strolled into the room, motioning for her team to follow her.
        They found themselves a primitive command center. There were machines
that they recognized as from old movies as desktop computers sitting on desks on the
right hand side of the room. On the left hand side, a wall of telescreens showed
mostly static. It reminded Kevin of several old war movies that he had seen from the
World War II era. There were several screens that are entirely black, but most
notably there were still two screens transmitting images.
        Upon closer inspection, one television had an image of the hallway where
medical robots are now helping out the operators who had fallen during the battle
they had just fought. They observed four operators standing around conversing
among the wounded. Robert Ducal was nowhere to be seen.
        The other television, they were shocked to see, held an image of them, from
within the small command center room. Charles used the feed to locate the camera
which was capturing them and found it to be from a spot on the wall above the
computers. He pushed one of the desks over so that he could get a better look and
after a short search they watched the image on the screen turn black from Charles'
thumb. To Charles, the texture of the spot what the camera is hidden was slightly
smoother then the rest of the wall, but that was the only noticeable difference. Had it
not been for the video feed, they'd have never known the thing existed. He removed
his thumb, bringing back the image of the group, and then shot a bullet into the spot
where the camera was hidden and the picture turned to static.
        As for the ancient desktop computers, they're found to be off and unplugged.
Logos with the name Dell were visible on them, but nobody made a connection
between their friend Michael Dell Jr. and these lost artifacts of forgotten times.
        They left the room in search of the other path down the T intersection, with
less confidence from the knowledge that video cameras had been filming them. If


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they could see images of themselves, then somebody else could have been picking
up those same video feeds and learned exactly where they were located. Maggie
pushed that thought from her mind, and checked her Real Id.
       “The Bricks still need more time.”

                                          5

        Maggie led them back down the hallway in the direction they'd come.
Charles brings up the rear. She moved with great speed, and as she passed the place
where the T intersection met their path she failed to catch a glimpse of the ornately
dressed High Operator crouching in their wait. The high pitch shriek began an
instant later. Simultaneously all seven Pistols covered their seven pairs of ears.
They halted and looked everywhere for the source of the noise.
        Jared and Susan, in the middle of the pack, located the High Operator first.
By and by, the rest of the Pistols found the fixed gaze of their teammates and are able
to follow it to where the man crouched. When they all brought their attention to him,
he stood and non-nonchalantly held out his hand with the remote control that
controlled the noise. They saw it and continued to plug their ears. The pain was too
much to bare.
        But after a minute, Charles got brave. With his fingers dug into his ears, he
charged the High Operator, intending to land a kick. The High Op placed the remote
control into one of the folds of his robe, and met Charles' heroism with a smile. The
kick was quick and hard, but the High Operator easily sidestepped out of the way of
danger. To add insult to injury, the momentum of the kick caused Charles to loose
his balance and fall harmlessly to the ground. He assumed a fetal position after
landing, and redoubled his effort to block out the blaring noise. The rest of the
Pistols looked down on him with a sense of despair.
        Then their helpless situation got even worse. Maggie noticed a small group
of Operator Guards approaching from the other direction. They walked slowly and
stayed in an orderly formation. She presumed that their objective was to detain
them. She momentarily brought one hand away from her ear, to grab for her gun but
was completely unable to maintain any sort of concentration with the loud noise.
She was forced to drop her gun to the ground and return her finger to her ear.
        The High Operator reached into his ornate robe and withdrew the remote
control once more. He thumbed one of the settings and the high-pitched shriek died
to a low rumbling bass sound. It was less painful, but its deeper tone had an
increased capacity to penetrate into their heads, causing them to feel a little wobbly
and light-headed. Their hands seemed to be doing nothing to stop it, though when
Patricia and Jared experimented with uncovering their ears they quickly learned


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otherwise. The drone without cover was intolerable.
        Meanwhile, the guards continued towards them. They're unaffected by the
noise. In fact, for the first time Maggie conscientiously noted that the High Operator
was also immune.
        He must've had a device implanted in his ears to negate the effect of his
weapon, she thought.
        She looked closer, and underneath his hood she could make out the edges of a
couple of black, fist sized cups covering his ears. Taking a glance down the hall, it's
clear to her that the oncoming operators wore something similar. She poked Kevin
and Patricia and tried to get them to notice the operator's ear protection, but to no
avail. She braced herself and pointed to their heads, then to her ears, and back at
their heads. At this, Patricia and Kevin finally took the meaning.
        At that moment, the operators were mere meters away from them. They held
small guns with pronged, metal tips that Charles would've recognized as paralysis-
guns. Maggie jumped towards them and tried grabbing the ear protector from the
first operator she reached. She was fast, but her adversary was faster. He bobbed his
head, then firmly planted the paralysis-gun into the base of her stomach and she went
limp instantly. She fell to the ground. All sensation was immediately lost and the
pain in her ears no longer resonated. The relief from the noise was good, though it
didn't make up for the uncontrollable feeling of not being able to move.

                                          6

       The operators stopped their march and stood in formation meters from the
Renegades, as if waiting patiently for somebody else to try to lash out.
       This situation is hopeless, thought Patricia. We're cornered and there's no
where left to run to escape.
       But then she got a glimmer of hope. From down the hall behind the High
Operator she Robert Ducal sneaking up. He wore protection over his ears. With two
quick motions, he yanked the High Operator's hood from over his face and pulled the
noise cancellation device his hand. A second later, he turned off the noise weapon.
       The ringing echoed in the back of her head, but this was the chance they
needed. Being closest to the assembled operators, Kevin maneuvered to kick a
paralysis-gun from the grip of one of the operators. The device tumbled through the
air.
       Juan, with incredible reflexes and acrobatic talent, saw an opportunity.
Before the paralysis-gun settled on the ground he cartwheeled towards it. During his
second rotation, as the gun landed on the ground, his hand grabbed a hold of it.
Another Operator Guard moved towards Juan with his gun pointed menacingly, but


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Juan effortlessly back-flipped out of the way of danger. He spun one more cartwheel
and retreated back to rejoin the Pistols, then quickly passed the paralysis-gun to
Patricia.
        Wow, she thought, and then she screamed at her team, “Kevin, Jared, and
Susan, point your guns at these operators and shoot them all if any of them move!”
        Then she stepped forward to face the High Operator. He cowered under the
power that Robert Ducal held with control of his weapon. “You'll pay for your
betrayal, Ducal! You'll pay even worse if you use that against the operators.”
        “We wouldn't want that,” smiled Patricia as she applied the paralysis-gun to
the High Operator's face and thumbed the trigger. She held it in place until she
smelled the distinct odor of burning flesh. His face where the gun had made contact
had turned brown, and the hallway wreaked with the an unholy stench. For the rest
of the battle, he lay motionless on the ground.
        She helped Charles up from the ground. They rejoined the rest of the Pistols
in the narrow hallway against three rows of two operators, and Maggie motionless on
the ground between them.
        “If you turn you backs and walk away quietly, you won't be harmed,” Patricia
directed. She paused a ten count while the two groups eyed each other down. By
that point, when nobody had moved an inch, she yelled, “Fire!”
        In an instant, Kevin had triggered his gun twice and placed two bullets into
the shoulders of two operators. Both men dropped their weapons, but they stood
strong in their places, simply clutching where they'd been hit. When Kevin pulled
his trigger a third time nothing happened.
        “Damn it. Reload your gun in between battles,” Charles shouted.
        Jared stepped forward as Kevin retreated to the back of the gang. A female
and a male Operator Guard stepped out from behind their two injured brethren and
effectively took the injured as human shields. They were only two or three meters
from Jared, and rushed towards him with their bullet protection. Before Jared could
take aim, the female guard applied her paralysis-gun to his leg. He fell instantly.
When the commotion died down, Charles stood firmly at the front of the group in the
tight hallway.
        With four quick shots, Charles Cohen did irreparable damage to the foreheads
of the aggressors and their shields.
        “Who's next?” he asked.
        He saw that the last two guards were female. He was in the middle of aiming
at one of them when he noticed a paralysis-gun flying through the air at his head. Its
tip was lit up with an arc of electric sparks and a later analysis identified that it was
set to active mode. With lightning reflexes, Charles aimed and fired at the woman
who threw the gun. Simultaneously, his bullet hit her brain and her gun hit his


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shoulder. They both fell to the ground. He lost the use of his muscles and his senses.
        He thought, don't let them get away.
        Kevin stepped up with his reloaded gun. Four seconds, and six bullets later
the remaining female Operator Guard had been hit in her left calf, her thigh, and her
right arm. She slumped forward onto the ground.
        The brief battle ended badly for each side. For the Renegades, Maggie, Jared,
and Charles lay motionless on the ground. However, weapons, most notably the
High Operator's remote control, were stolen, and under the leadership of Patricia
Stark the Renegades could continue their mission.

                                            7

         Patricia coordinated, “Robert, you carry Jared. Juan and Susan, hoist Charles
over your shoulders. I'll get Maggie. Kevin, take the rear, reload your gun, and
prepare to defend us if they send more guards to attack.”
         The trek down the hallway took twenty five minutes while carrying their
wounded, but by then the effects of paralysis were wearing off. Each victim had
control of their muscles and had regained their senses. Strength was still lacking
though; Maggie stood carefully with her arm wrapped around Susan's shoulder.
         “What's next?” asked Patricia, relinquishing her brief stint as the leadership
authority.
         Maggie picked her Real Id from her pocket. It showed a live signal. “Brick
hasn't completed their mission yet. We can either move on, or go back,” she said.
“Clearly we need to go back because we need to distract the Operators while Brick
and Mortar run their missions. On the other hand, it's been over an hour and the
other groups should be getting close to completing their tasks.” She paused, “But on
the other hand, we can't go anywhere because half of us are incapacitated. Then
again, if Brick and Mortar didn't do their jobs, this whole thing is just a charade that
was meant to fail to begin with. If that's the case, then we'd be better off calling quits
on the whole mission and going home to wait for the operators arrest us in the
middle of the night.” A frown washed across her face and she wiped her eye. “Oh,
this is nothing but a big mess. We're beaten and there's nothing we can do about it.”
She wept.
         Susan hugged her. “There, there. It's not the end of the world, and it
certainly isn't your fault.”
         “Umm, Maggie?” Kevin gestured towards her, “You were standing under
your own power, just for a second there. Right as Susan was about to hug you.”
         “Yeah, so?”
         “You're regaining your strength!”


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        She extended her arms straight in front of her. She bent them, then raised
them over her head. Susan let her stand by herself. She was wobbly, but found she
could balance and support herself with little effort.
        “So, I am. That's the least of our good luck.”
        Patricia chimed in, “We can't give up now. I think this is a sign. Things are
going to start going right for us.”
        Charles noted, “Persistence and determination. There's no quitting in a game
like this. We're either in it until the end or we aren't in it at all.”
        “Maggie, can you message Amanda to see how much longer it'll take them to
bring down the communications system?”
        Maggie took out her Real ID and thumbed a message to Amanda. She
pressed 'Send' and was immediately greeted with a message, “Delivery failure:
Network unavailable.”
        “Alright guys,” she smiled. “We're headed to the roof.”

                                          8

        Ten minutes later, the Pistols greeted Alan and the Mortars on the roof of
Alpha. Maggie, Charles, and Jared were all walking under their own power. They
wouldn't win any strength challenges, but they could manage the basic skills that are
needed to do what needed to be done.
        “If all goes well, five or six hours and we will be back here,” said Maggie to
Alan. “In the meantime, do your best to make sure Amanda and the Bricks make
their way here. When we all meet up, we'll take it from there, but mark my words
that in three or four days we will have control of the Towers and the High Operators
will either be working for us or be dead.”
        With that, the Pistols boarded the air-taxis. Since there had been nine Pistols
at the beginning of the day and only six Mortars, they'd hot-wired three single
occupancy air-taxis and three double occupancy air-taxis. With Michael Dell out,
Charles shared an air-taxi with Rob, and Maggie shared with Susan. Juan rode alone
in a double. Engines were already purring, so all they needed to do was engage the
thrust.
        They flew single-file towards Delta Tower with Maggie and Susan in the
lead. When they reached their destination two minutes later, they observed two large
groups of Low Men amassed on the Tower's nearest residential Subtower.
        Patricia and Juan broke from the formation and circled their air-taxis upward
to survey the entire Tower. “Equal-sized groups spread out across the Tower,” she
reported.
        He added, “They're concentrated around the elevators.”


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        “Should we try finding an air-taxi port to dock at?”
        “No. They'll be just as well guarded,” said Maggie.
        They flew around about 50 meters above the roof of Delta Tower, close
enough to see each individual group of operators.
        “The groups each have 8 rows of five in them,” observed Jared.
        “More important, I don't see any High Operators,” said Charles.
        “We only need to clear a path to one of the elevators.” She took a deep
breath, “Kevin, you know what we need to do; you go to the left and I'll take a group
on the right. Jared, watch what I do and follow as close as you can behind me.
Charles, watch us and then follow through with an assault on the group that's right of
the one Jared and I hit. All clear?”
        A chorus of affirmatives flowed over the intercom system.
        “Good,” she said. “Three, two, one, GO!”
        The air-taxis broke formation and set their targets on the nearest groups of
operators.
        Maggie and Kevin dove their air-taxis down to within a meter of the roof and
aimed carefully. The groups of Low Men began to scatter, but it is too late for many
of them as ten to fifteen men in each group were mercilessly plowed down. Men and
women crash to the ground with broken backs and cracked skulls. Sharp edges
underneath the air-taxis lacerated their helpless victims. Blood squirted everywhere.
A few arms were separated from their bodies. One woman suffered by having her
head caught on the front of a speeding air-taxis while her body was left to stump onto
the roof where it'd been standing prior to the collision. The two air-taxis flew
through unscathed. “Good work,” Patricia said from her spot high above them. She
saw Jared repeat the path that Maggie and Susan had led with success. “Keep it up,
guys.”
        “Kevin and Jared, bring your crafts to a landing near me. Charles, do the
work to thin the group on our right. Get them before they have a chance to
organize,” Maggie barked into the intercom.
        As Charles approached for his attack, the operators in the group he was
targeting amassed into a tightly-packed group.
        He smiled. All forty'll get taken out by a single pass, he thought. It's like
taking candy from a baby.
        Then, as he came within range, he saw men down on their knees allowing
others to climb on their backs and get a leverage from the ground.
        Shit! They're going to ground me.
        He tried to pull up, but it was too late. The operators braced for the impact.
The leveraged operators jumped at the last instant and slammed onto the top-side of
the air-taxi. All forty operators were thrown, smashed, and jolted in a thousand


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different directions. The counterattack served its purpose, though. They air-taxi lost
velocity, and the end result was that the front dug into the ground a couple of meters
past the operator's group, and then barrel-rolled, flipped, and spun out of control
before coming to a rest, top-down, a good distance from the wounded contingency of
Low Men. The force of the crash knocked Charles and Robert instantly unconscious.
The protective steel cage that was meant to protect the occupants of the air-taxi
crunched and pinned them inside.
         Patricia spoke into the ears of the rest of the Pistols, “Charles' is down on
Delta Two. He crashed. His air-taxi is in bad shape.” She broadcast and audible sob
and a sniffle. Then a terrified gasp, “I see two High Operators on Delta One and two
on Delta Six. Be alert, guys.”
         As sooner as she announced the presence of the High Ops, Jared felt his air-
taxi come to a dead stop. The High Operator, not more than a hundred meters in
front of him, pointed his remote control right at him. He felt himself slowly descend
and then gently touch down near a group of operators.
         “Jared's down,” Patricia announced.
         Over the intercom, Jared said, “They've got me trapped better than I could
ever possibly escape from.”
         Maggie ordered, “Juan, go get a closer look over by Charles. If it's possible,
get him and Rob out of there. Everybody else, fly to Delta One and let's save my
little brother before they get to him.” To Susan next to her, she said, “When I get
out, follow my lead with your guns blazing.”
         She landed a short distance from Jared on the opposite from him as the High
Operator. She jumped out quickly and begins shooting Low Men who are trying to
pry open the doors of Jared's air-taxi. Quickly, six were injured and she reloading.
Susan followed with slower, more deliberate shots. She scored head shots on six
men and women who were climbing on Jared's air-taxi.
         The operators ducked for cover on the High Operator's side of the air-taxi.
The way they are situated, the rear of the air-taxi was facing Maggie and Susan.
Jared stared at the group through his front windshield and saw the High Operator
approach at a walking pace from the distance.
         By then, Patricia and Kevin had landed and joined Maggie and Susan. “This
wasn't supposed to happen,” said Kevin.
         Maggie dismissed him and looked towards Patricia.
         “You think we could just charge straight at them?”
         Maggie took a breath, “No, we're better off splitting up. Kevin, circle around
from the left. Stay far enough away so that they won't be able to get you if they rush
you. I will circle around from the right. Pat, go up the middle and use the stunner on
anybody who we shoot that doesn't go down. Susan, stay back and cover us from a


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distance.”
        “But the High Op's back there,” cautioned Kevin.
        “Don't you worry about him. I have just the thing for him,” she says,
confidently. “Alright, one, two, three, GO!”
        Kevin and Maggie ran to their flanking positions. They were so fast that they
kicked up puffs of dust from the ground. They followed imaginary circular routes.
At about a quarter of the way around, they started to see opportunities where they
could get clear shots on the Low Men.
        BANG! BANG! BANG!
        Bullets whizzed through the open air and struck their targets with warm, red
splashes. This caused the guards to back away from the air-taxi and made it safe
enough for Jared to get out. Only six made it completely clear of the area and
retreated towards the High Operator.
        A few seconds later, Patricia reached Jared by the air-taxi and preventively
applied the paralysis-gun to all of the injured operators around them. A few seconds
later, Susan, Maggie, and Kevin joined them and to face the High Operator and six
Low Men who stood about twenty-five meters away.
        The High Operator walked, patiently, closer-and-closer. His stepped slowly
and deliberately. His robe flowed with each of his paces and caught tiny breezes of
wind that caused it to wave hypnotically. Jared, Susan, Patrica, and Kevin stared at
it. Maggie dropped her head down to avoid eye-contact and then started sprinting
towards the High Operator.
        With her her team ten meters behind her and the operators ten meters in front,
she stopped and pulled the stolen remote control from her pocket. She aimed at the
High Operator and thumbed a button. It didn't have any effect. There were a total of
eight buttons. None were labeled. She'd been hoping to blast him with the high
intensity heat weapon, though any similar disabling attack would have been
sufficient.
        As she was about to try a second button, she felt a twitch in the controller.
She looks up and saw the operator clutching his own remote control and pointing it
directly at her. He raised his hand at a thirty degree angle and she was elevated
seven meters off the ground. He panned right and left and Maggie moved back-and-
forth in unison with his movements. The High Operator was in control. She was
only subconsciously aware that her body hung from the remote control.
        In midair, she thumbed a new button and instantly felt the radiation of the
heat weapon. She strained to point her remote at the High Operator, and his arm
instantly lowered a bit. Maggie dropped about three meters, causing her heat beam
loses its focus. The High Operator stabilized his grasp of her. She aimed the heat
again, but this time she found too much difficulty rotating her wrist to point it


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anywhere near him.
        When suddenly she felt her body twist one-hundred and eighty degrees so she
was facing her team. Her remote continued to radiate its intense heat beam. Maggie
moved her thumb off the heat button, but the button remains pressed.
        He's controlling it, she thought. She watched, in horror, as the beam targeted
Patricia and Jared near the front of the air taxi. They scattered for cover but the
focus of the beam was able to track Jared. She saw the color in his skin change from
its whitish hue to a much more pronounced, bright pink. She was powerless to stop
it. She wished she was back at her home in bed and that this was just a bad
nightmare.
        Then, from out of nowhere she heard the familiar tone of a single gunshot.
        BANG!
        A moment later, she fell to the ground. A somersault broke her fall.
Crouching on the ground, she looked around to gage what happed. She saw Kevin
running towards her, gun in hand. She noticed the High Operator laying on the
ground. Jared was sprawled out on the ground near his air taxi.
        A sharp pain shoots through her leg as she tried to stand up. Looking down,
she noticed an inward dip and a swelling welt where her kneecap should have been.
She touched the affected area, and was washed over by the odd feeling of touching a
body part that had gone to sleep. Unfortunately, her knee wasn't simply asleep.
        Kevin knelt down besides her.
        “Holy crap, Maggie. That's not good.”

                                          9

       Over on Delta Two, weary operators kept their distance from Juan's air-taxi.
He stepped out of his cockpit and glanced their way.
       For the most part, Charles' crash had decimated their numbers. A few still
had the ability to stand under their own power, though they were being cautious.
       “And you'd better stay away,” Juan yelled at them. He walked over to the
wrecked air-taxi. It lay upside down. Pieces had broken from it and are laying
everywhere. Large scraps on the ground had been visible during his approach.
       Hesitantly, he called, “Charles, you in there, buddy?” There's no response.
“Robert? Robert Ducal? You guys in there? Say something?” Still, nothing. Juan
climbed down onto his knees in hopes of being able to peak inside the cockpit of the
vehicle, but there was only darkness inside. He tried his hand at the door, but it was
stuck. Upon closer inspection, the outer frame crumpled and intertwined between
the door and the outer shell of the air-taxi. Juan kicked it, ineffectually.
       He dug around on the ground until he found a long, sturdy piece of metal. He


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jammed it near where the door was stuck and attempted to pry the it free. With great
effort, he successfully budged it halfway open. He saw Charles in the cockpit with a
bleeding cut on his forehead. He was clearly unconscious. Juan undid the seat belt,
and Charles fell from his upside-down seat onto the ground. With all his strength,
Juan pulled Charles' body through the halfway open door.
        Freed from the wreckage, Charles showed no signs of life. Juan carried him
from one air-taxi to the other, but now became aware of a small gang of three Low
Men who'd gained enough confidence to approach. Juan placed Charles gently on
the ground and made a dash back to his air-taxi to retrieve his baseball bat that was
stashed in it.

                                           10

         Maggie's left knee was busted up badly from the fall. She felt a dull
numbness throughout her lower body. After a minute, she regained enough strength
to support herself on her right leg. Thankfully, the High Operator hadn't moved since
being shot. For good measure, Jared, with a rosy glow in his cheeks, had taken away
his remote control.
         Patricia and Susan joined Kevin in a circle around Maggie.
         “Well, what do we do next?”
         With Susan's help, Maggie stood up. “That way,” she said. “Towards the
elevators.”
         “At least the operators are all dead.”
         “All the ones here are; who knows how many we'll encounter throughout the
rest of the Tower, especially when we get to the Inner Sanctum.”
         “Where are Robert and Charles? Has Juan rescued them?”
         Maggie directed an order to Patricia, “Could you message Juan so we can
plan to meet them at the elevators on this Subtower?”
         Patricia thumbed the message into her Real Id and sent it.
         They passed the High Operator's body on their way to the elevator. Patricia
approached it and knelt down for a closer inspection. She noted that his robe, which
looked ornate and helped establish his symbol of power, was nothing more then a
cheap, fabric when she ran her hand along it.
         “Sue, take a look at this. You'll appreciate his guy's clothes more then the rest
of us,” she called.
         Susan knew the prefabricated design patterns that'd been use to construct the
robe from the design computers at CAPFAL. The root was a common bathrobe
customized with a thin, cotton to make it more airy and billowy. It's colored royal
purple and lined with a furry, leopard print which looks to be nothing more then a


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common shawl. The jewels which bedazzled the whole outfit, she discovered, were
nothing more than children's costume jewelery. It was a hideous design. On a hunch
she pulled the robe off of the High Operator and inspected the place where the robe
would rest of the wearer's neck. Surely enough, the insignia signature of Michael
Ichabod Young, in block lettering, was sewn there.
        “Holy crap!” she exclaimed. “I know the guy who designed this. He's an
pretty big creep, as far as guys go.”
        “Really?” Jared said. “That's interesting.”
        Patricia got a reply from Juan on her Real Id. She reads it aloud so
everybody can know what it says, “Rob dead. Charles captured. Meet you in a
minute.”
        “Dammit,” cried Kevin. “This isn't how it's supposed to happen.”




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                  Inner Sanctum
                                         1

        Five minutes later, Jared thumbed the button for the 19th Level of Delta
Tower. Patricia and Susan had taken over the duty of helping Maggie so Kevin and
Jared could be free to use their guns if the need arose. Both men were now carrying
two apiece. The elevator accelerated to speed and descended. Each member of the
Pistols had a huge knot in their stomach. They looked nervously at each other.
        We've struggled against confronting one High Operator at once, and we think
we'd got a chance against a conference full of them? thought Juan.
        “We can't go forward with this, can we?” he said. “Can't we just wait another
couple of days? If we return to the air-taxis now we can make it back to Alpha
before it gets dark.”
        “We're past the point of no return,” said Patricia. “There are a dozen people
waiting for us back on Alpha Tower. They're relying on us to finish the job. If we go
back and tell them that we've called the whole thing off it won't sit well with them.
Plus, how comfortable do you feel knowing that the operators have dictated an
ultimatum to you and I? They'll find us in our sleep tonight and end our lives, and I
think we'd all rather go down fighting than be taken from our beds. On the other
hand, we've done a significant amount of damage to their operations. We've taken
out about a hundred Low Men and two High Operators. That alone, I think, is
something to be proud of. These acts prove that we're capable of finishing what we
set out to accomplish. Don't you agree?”
        He didn't answer. He just looked at the floor on the elevator.
        “We've broken through to their last lines of defense,” said Maggie. “They're
vulnerable. If we wait, they'll have an opportunity to regroup and call up their
reserves. We've got to strike while the iron is hot. We've got to take this small
amount of momentum into their Inner Sanctum and hope for the best. But if we gave
up now and returned to Alpha Tower, I wouldn't expect to even wake up tomorrow.”
        The elevator slowed to a stop and Juan nodded as the doors opened. They
stepped out and set off for the red door in Subtower One of that Level. After five


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minutes of traversing the hallways, it finally came within view.
        When Maggie saw it, she saw the emptiness that was left after the High Oper-
ators had censored her. There had been no warning beforehand and no apologies
made afterwards. What hurt most of all was knowing it wasn't malice or contempt
on the side of the operators that drove them to do what they'd done, but fear. They
were afraid of her words reaching a large audience. For six years she was forced
underground into the small circle of the Renegades. She looked into the door and
saw a sea of faces whom she'd been prevented from reaching. Upon each face she
saw a blank look of contentment. The ability to communicate with vast quantities of
the population had long since been taking away. The red door was an opportunity to
reclaim that ability.
        Susan saw her family. The faces of her mother and father were warm and
comforting, but after a couple of seconds they mutated. Their cheeks, chin, and eyes
decayed. They looked like zombies. The operators, of course, had done that to
them. They took her parent's lives without remorse, and left her with a heavy burden
to carry. The enemy was the operators and on the other side of red door she'd deliver
the justice they deserved.
        For Kevin the red door was illuminated with the propaganda spread by the
operators and their efforts to stifle his creativity. He didn't approve. The
unscrupulous approval process they used was a crime. Quality didn't matter.
Emotion, originality, and drama had once been important. These days respect for
authority came foremost in movies shown at the movie houses. In contrast, the
DVDs in his bedroom presented a much broader set themes. As he considered this,
the vision on the door shifted. An audience was watching a projection of a film that
he instantly recognized as a production of his novel, The Renegades. They cheered.
Kevin clenched his fist; this was what he'd joined the Renegades for.
        The red door showed Patricia the faces of thousands of the infants and
toddlers who'd been singled out by the operators because of her research all those
years ago. They all looked disappointed, and they blamed her for their fate. She
reflected that if the members of the Renegades were evaluated when they were two
or three years old that they would've been singled out and made to suffer the same
fate. Patricia saw the faces of the babies, and shook her head. She wasn't to blame
for their fate. The operators were, and it was time for them to pay for their decisions
regarding the lives of the children.
        Juan looked into the red door and saw Entertainment ARS juggling bottles,
shooting out from cannons, and dancing up a storm. He also saw a crowd who
wasn't allowed to witness his performances. How had acting, dancing, and singing
for the enjoyment of others become a taboo? What purpose did denying him this
right serve? All at once the Entertainment ARS stopped what they were doing. The


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audience turned in his direction, and in unison burst out in a chorus of laughter.
They're laughing at me, he thought. It has to end today. Juan choked back a tear.
        Jared perceived an opportunity for the underdogs to march up to the bad guys
and overcome them. He envisioned the scene where everything finally went
according to plan. That's the way it always turned out when a small group had to
battle against an insurmountable force. A magic switch gets flipped and all the
mistakes melt into the air, while the enemy just becomes more discouraged and
disheartened until the end when they're finally defeated. The oppression from the
operators ends today, he thought. The time for a Renegade victory was at hand, and
the red door showed them the way.

                                           2

        Just then, breaking all of their mental concentration, from the other side of the
door came a series of pounding knocks.
        THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.
        Jared stepped forward and took hold of the black knob on the blood red door.
It turned easily, and to his surprise opened in the direction of the hallway. Waiting in
the entryway was a High Operator. Jared pointed one of his guns at the man's chest.
        “Hello, Jared Flanagan. I'm High Operator Albert McKinnell.” His tone was
strangely jovial. It took them by surprise. “I'd like to welcome you and your friends
to the Inner Sanctum. We've been expecting you. Please, come in. I've seen that
you've had a tough day.”
        He had a very friendly demeanor. He wore the same type of garb as every
other High Operator, but he had his hood down so it didn't obstruct his face. He
smiled pleasantly at them.
        Jared cocked his gun. “Please, gents,” Albert addressed them, “Your
weapons won't do you any good here.” As he spoke, he gripped and angled the
remote control he hand to point towards Jared's gun. “If you'd all take them out
where I can see them, it'd be a big help.” Jared pulled the trigger of his gun.
        BANG! It flashed; everybody blinked.
        For a couple seconds, nobody moved. Then, the High Operator took a step
forward and pinched the bullet suspended in mid-air floating between him and the
barrel of the gun. Their movements were slow and cautious, but they did as they
were told.
        “You missed,” he said calmly. “And in case you weren't listening, I said your
weapons won't do you any good here.”
         Albert aimed his remote control at Jared's gun and thumbed a button. Jared
felt a gentle force become exerted on his hand. “Now, let go of your gun if you don't


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want to get hurt.”
         Cautiously, he let it go, though it didn't fall to the ground. “And now the
other one, and whatever everybody else is carrying. I haven't got all day. Besides,
it'll be much more productive to talk through our differences like civilized people.
Other guns were released and levitated towards where Albert pointed his remote
control. He aimed it leftward and they watched as the guns followed his aim.
Nonchalantly, he let them drop into a bin on the side of the room.
         “You won't be needing these,” he said. He motioned and the lid of the bin
closed. “Now, I must insist,” he said pleasantly, “Come in from the hallway. We
have business to conduct in here.”
         Kevin, Jared, and Juan led the way through the door, followed by Maggie
supported by Patricia and Susan. Albert directed them to a room with a large,
circular table surrounded by cushioned seats. They sat at the table.
         “So,” Maggie started, “If this is the Inner Sanctum, where's everybody
hiding? I thought there's supposed to be a big gathering of High Operators.”
         “That's right. At present, many of them are in the meeting. I've stepped away
from that to deal with you.” He continued, “Earlier today, I heard, you had run-ins
with High Operator Richard Camilleri and High Operator Katheryn Nardelli.
They're each recovering nicely, might I add. None of the damage you did will be
permanent.” He paused, “You don't think the country runs itself, do you? Did you
know that in the last 24 hours we've had to respond to thirty-seven issues? You and
your groups were only responsible for a mere six of those, though I will give you
credit for trying. Rebellious little groups who think they can change things are a
constant source of work for us. Most lack the resources and gumption which we've
seen while observing your group. I truly give you credit. If it wasn't for our throngs
of medical robots, those guns of yours may have even done some real damage.”
         “Let me get this straight,” Maggie cut in, “all we are to you is a constant
source of work? And we're supposed to be congratulated for our gumption? I think
you've got the wrong group, Al. This group has a purpose.”
         “Yes, yes, yes,” he said dismissively. “Your group had a cause to rally behind
and a shared distaste for the way we run things. You've each had a series of
unfortunate events in the recent past or a cataclysmic change in your daily routine
which you attributed to the Tower and the Tower operators. You seek retribution and
you have the skills, plans, and knowledge to set everything right. You're going to
rule the Tower with an iron fist so the outrages which you're made to suffer from
won't happen to others. You're going to step up to the plate, and the citizens around
the country are going to recognize you and praise you for your good deeds. You
imagine that you'll be held with high regard and praised for generations to come as
the great liberators of The Communist Towers of America. Isn't that right?”


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        “You're damn right we'll fix things,” Jared answered. “You'll see.” He got up
from his chair, pushing it backward from the table and making a loud noise as its
weight rubbed across the floor. He pointed his finger at the High Operator, “Now, if
you could step out of the way and show us where we can find the controls we'll let
you survive to enjoy our better world.”
        The High Operator laughed, although pleasantly in a non-insulting manner.
“Please, sit down, young man. All the rebellious groups think they can do better. It's
happened before and it'll happen again. In a country with five-hundred million
people there are always going to be some people who, pardon my French, get
shafted. The American dream which we created to allow everybody to do what they
please, when they please, does not hold universally. Do you understand that? There
are bound to be cases where people are not content with their freedom to choose.
Some rebellious groups demand more freedom, which from what I've gathered by
studying your group is the case here. Other groups of rebels band together because
they want less freedom. Being able to choose doesn't suit them. It causes them too
much pressure and stress. So, they inevitably end up here, demanding that actions be
taken. Do you know what we do about people who come in and demand a change in
the government?”
        “You silence them, so their opinions are never heard by the populous, said
Kevin. “You remove them from society in the middle of the night with your
Operator Guards and you deprive them of their rights. With a merciless hand you
kill them, and you don't give any medical robots the opportunity to save them. Then,
to add insult to injury, you discard the bodies and systematically delete any
information which suggests that they ever existed. Isn't that right?”
        “Uh, no. You are partially correct by saying we disappear them. You might
say that your own group is ripe for a good disappearance.” He pauses, then resumed
by posing the the question, “Kill anybody? What kind of government do you take us
for?”
        “You don't kill people?” Susan rose to her feet and shouted out at the High
Operator. “You killed my parents, you bastards. Because of you, I lost the two most
important people in my life. What do you mean you don't kill anybody?” She
emotionally broke down. She fell back into her seat and put her hands into her face
as tears came to her eyes. Through choked sobs, she finished her admonishment of
the High Operator, “Don't say you didn't kill anybody. You know that it's a lie. And
what about our friends? What about Charles, Robert, and Michael? I suppose you're
going to disappear them, too? I just know that...” and she was unable to get
anymore words out.
        Maggie put an arm on her shoulder. The other Renegades offered kind
words, “Don't worry about it, honey,” and “Everything's going to be alright,” or “It's


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alright, Sue, let it out.”
        Albert added his support, “Yes, don't cry Susan. I'm very familiar with the
incident about your parents. The High Operators have offered their condolences and
in an unorthodox decision we sent High Operators to provide the eulogy for all the
victims of that accident. If I recall correctly, High Operator Horatio Gates gave the
eulogy for your own parents and was then attacked afterwards. From the hundred-
something eulogies which needed to be delivered, there were actually four attacks on
the High Operators. An attack on High Operator John Walton at a remembrance
ceremony resulted in the disappearance of the parents of one of the victims of that
tragedy. We didn't take kindly to that particular act of violence due to the closeness
of the violence perpetrators to the victim. But the others, including the action by
Charles Cohen, were dismissed.
        “Speaking of which,” Albert pushed back from the table and got up, “why
don't you all follow me. There's something I need to show you.”
        After a set of exchanged glances, Patricia finally got to her feet. The rest of
the Renegades followed her lead, except for Maggie, who needed help getting up
because of her knee. The High Operator led them through a room which was
decorated with amazingly ordinary looking appliances. They saw a group of
delivery bins, presumably for the groups of operators who would occupy the Inner
Sanctum at any given time. There was a set of couches which didn't look any higher
quality than the ones in any of their daltras. In fact, Susan noticed a rip on one of the
cushions and she could see a bit of tile was being used to prop up a leg that wasn't
even with the others. There are paintings on the wall, but nothing was as crazy as
what Robert and Michael hung in their lounge room.

                                           3

        The High Operator led them through a set of double doors into a wide
hallway that Jared and Kevin recognized from their experience in the Delta Tower
the previous month. As they walked, they passed signs labeled Surface Re-
construction, Organ Replacement, Limb Replacement, and Internal Medicine. When
they passed a door labeled Detoxification Center Jared and Kevin are sure that this,
or a cloned facility like it, is where they'd been months ago.
        Albert opened a set of doors at the end of the hall marked Intensive Care.
From there, he directed them to go into the first door on their right. In this slightly
smaller hallway, he took them up to the fourth door on the left.
        “We're going to go in here, but nobody can touch anything and everybody has
to stay out of the path of the machines as they work.” He swung open the door and
they entered.


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         The room smelled strongly of antiseptic and disinfectant. If was lit with a
clean, almost heavenly white light. A team of Medical ARS attended to a man on an
operating table. Their instruments were inserted into the top of his skull.
         “Oh my God, Charles!” gasped Patricia.
         “They're reviving his brain functions,” said the High Operator.
         Equipment setup around the room displayed critical health data. One
prominent instrument had a meter measuring the Comparative Health Level. It read
42%.
         “That's low, but encouraging. Essentially, this measures the likelihood that
he'll be revived. When patients have a CHL of less then 25% the ARS succeed only
5% of the time, but if that metric makes it up to 50% then there's a 95% probability
of revival.”
         The team of Medical ARS opened the skin of Charles' cranium and were
conducting a brain surgery through a set of three holes that had been drilled in his
skull. Lights blinked and tones beeped while the procedure was taking place.
         “You're saving him?” asked Susan.
         “We try to save everybody who can be saved, whether they are commoners,
operators, or people like yourselves who wish to overthrow us.” Albert said
solemnly. “That's always been our policy and it always will be. On the other hand
though, it's the Medical ARS who really decide who to save and they're programmed
not to discriminate. But having said that, the only time people aren't treated in as
soon as they're admitted to the facility is when there are insufficient numbers
Medical ARS to handle the patient volume. In those instances, the systems calculate
the probabilities of who to treat to maximize the patient survival rate, then they act
accordingly. The exception to the non-discrimination rule that I know of is for High
Operators, such as myself, to get the priority of the Medical ARS when we need to
utilize their services.” Just then, the CHL indicator suddenly dropped 10 points from
42% to 32%. “Come on gents, we'll check back on Charles when the robots have
had a chance to stabilize him. We're not doing any good by standing here and
watching.”
         “Are we also not doing anything wrong by standing here and watching?”
objected Maggie. “The life of our friend is more valuable than anything else right
now.”
         “Very well,” agreed Albert. “I'll leave you here to maintain a vigil over your
friend. Personally, I have matters to attend to elsewhere. I'll meet you back here in
an hour or two. Remember, though, 25% and 50% on the CHL are the quantitative
indications that traditionally signify survival in cases like these. My prayers are with
you if the critical number drops below 25%. Good luck,” he exited into the hallway.



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                                           4

        An eerie silence settled over the room. The Renegades spread around,
making enough space for the ARS to conduct their surgery. They saw Charles'
cheeks puff in and out as the artificial respirator breathed for him during the
procedure. A red light attached to one of the Medical ARS flashed on. A green light
upon its teammate blinked and it inserted a series of its probes into the holes in
Charles' skull. On both of his hands, Charles clenched his fists. His legs lifted six
inches off the table. The green light stopped blinking and red light turned orange.
Charles's hands relaxed and his legs gently lowered to the operating table. From
inside his skull, the Renegades could hear a drilling noise, which lasted for a couple
of seconds. Yellow turned red, again, and the Pistols saw the CHL drop to 29%.
One of Charles' arm raised up to point straight towards the ceiling. It rotated one
way, and then the other. His elbow bent and his wrists flexed. The yellow light
returned as his arm settled back to his side on the table. More drilling noises
followed and then the display for the CHL indicator turned off.
        Susan gasped. Patricia threw her hand over her face.
        With a red light, the Medical ARS continued. As one worked, Charles turned
his head to the right. The head movement was meticulously executed. One slip and
they'd do unrepairable damage to the cerebral cortex. The red light blinked on and
off. Charles' head lifted off the table and his eyes opened up, and he looks directly at
Juan Alvarez, who felt a pang of guilt for leaving Charles behind on the roof of
Delta Tower. Juan lost control of himself and a splotch of wetness spread from his
crotch. Nobody noticed, though. Their eyes were riveted to the procedure. The red
light on the Medical ARS continued to blink. Charles lowers his head to the
operating table. The light turned orange. Both robots removed their probes from
Charles' head. The Renegades exchanged worried looks.
        “Is that it?” asked Kevin, shyly.
        Charles lay motionless on the operating table as the two Medical ARS backed
away from the table. Jared and Kevin moved aside so the ARS had a path to the
door. The exited unceremoniously.
        Patricia burst into tears.
        As the seconds ticked away, the intensity in the air grew. No words were
uttered. All thoughts revolved around the same fears, expecting the worst while
praying for the best. After what felt like an eternity the door swung open and two
new Medical ARS entered. These were leaner then their predecessors, and they
moved much quicker. Jared had to jump to avoid being run over by one as it made
its way to the far side of the operating table.
        It immediately began making adjustments to some dials on the automatic


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respiratory device that breathed for Charles' while he was unconscious. The other
new ARS attended to the Charles' head. It extended an arm to the surface of his skull
where the holes have been drilled earlier. Systematically and quite quickly, it applied
red fluid to each of the holes. Then, it extended an arm to replace the flap of skin
which had been cut to allow access to Charles' head.
        “What's going on?”
        “They are sealing him up,” said Maggie. “It must be over.”
        Unsatisfied, Jared asked, “Is he dead?” Nobody answered.
        The ARS who was working on the respirator backed away from it. It faced
the CHL indicator. Juan stepped out of the way so it could gain the access it needed.
It reached its arm to the side of the measurement device. With a delicate touch, it
flipped a switch causing lights on the machine to blink to life. All eyes turned
towards Juan. Before anybody has a chance to say anything, though, the CHL
number registered 92%.
        They all breath a sigh of relief.
        “I'm sorry,” Juan said nervously. “I must have leaned on the switch.”
        The ARS working on Charles' head finished restitching the patch of skin back
to Charles' head. The other one flipped a switch and used its grasping arm to remove
the tube that'd been piped down Charles' throat. Like clockwork, Charles
immediately took control of his breathing and then began a short fit of coughing as
he sat up on the operating table to more easily take air into his lungs.
        He looked around, and his eyes adjusted to the lights. He tensed up while
grabbing the edges of the table. Then remembrance registered on his face. “Am I
dead? What's going on? Is this some kind of dream?” he asked.
        “You just got rescued,” Maggie answered, comforting him. “Lay down,
Medical ARS were probing your brain less than ten minutes ago. You should
probably take it easy for a while.”
        “I feel fine, actually,” Charles responded proudly. Except, hold on a second.
Did we all get captured by the operators? Is the war over already?”
        “The war with the High Operators is over. When we got to the Inner
Sanctum they greeted us with hospitality. Honestly, none of us know what to expect,
but they took our weapons so we don't have any recourse. They rescued you,
though, so we all owe them a debt of gratitude.”




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                             Erasure
                                          1

        An hour later High Operator McKinnell returned with a second High Oper-
ator. “I see Charles has made a full recovery,” he said. “I'd like to introduce you to
High Operator Sara Walton. She'll show you to your quarters for the night. You'll
get an opportunity to shower and to put put on fresh clothes. After that, we'd like to
invite you to join a group of High Operators for dinner this evening.” At the mention
of food, several Renegades felt hunger pangs.
        Sara led them wordlessly through the hallways of the medical facility back to
the Inner Sanctum meeting area. They followed her through a door that opened up
into a tastefully decorated daltra.
        “This is an Alpha guest daltra. There's a dozen bedrooms which each have its
own bathroom. In the bedroom closet, you'll find a fresh change of clothes to wear
to dinner tonight. In half an hour I'll return and we'll make our way over to dinner.
Any questions?” She paused to give them a chance to answer, but nobody did.
“Good. I'll see you later.” The door closed softly behind her.
        Charles cleared his throat, “What the hell's going on Mags?”
        “I think they want us to go shower.”
        “That doesn't mean we're gonna do it. What's our next move? We can still
beat these guys.”
        “No,” Maggie shook her head. “We can't. It's like Robert said, we needed to
take the High Operators by surprise if we wanted to beat them. We didn't do that.
From here on out, I think it benefits us to let them call the shots.”
        “So what? We just go get cleaned up?”
        She nodded, “Unless you have a strategy where we could win without our
weapons. Otherwise we'll go meet them and negotiate for our lives. At the very
least they're offering to feed us.”
        “What if we ran?” asked Juan. “If we got up the the 270th Level, we could
take those hijacked air-taxis far away from the Towers.”
        “Wouldn't work,” said Jared. “There's no way the Operator Guards that were
on the roof earlier haven't returned to their posts.”


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        “This sucks,” said Charles. He kicked the floor.
        The Renegades hung their heads. “If we're gonna surrender,” sighed Maggie,
“I suppose cleaning up beforehand wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.” She
started down the hallway and went into the first room on her left.
        Charles led Patricia into the first room on their right. The rest went into their
own individual bedrooms. When they congregated afterwards, they all wore white
collared shirts and black pants. The outfits were bland, but smelled fresh and were
accepted without complaints.
        Sara returned and ushered them into a large dining room with a table that
comfortably sat twenty. They smelled a cornucopia of freshly prepared food that was
spread along the length of the table. The meal was traditional fare from the Menu
ARS, but there were tons of options available to choose from. Chicken, salad,
potatoes, vegetables, soup, and a host of beverages awaited them. The High
Operators were spread around the table.
        The Renegades recognized many of their faces. Albert McKinnell sat at the
head of the table. Two spots down from him, Maggie, Susan, and Charles
recognized Cynthia Campbell and next to her was Horatio Gates from the Dace last
rites ceremony.
        Pointing towards Albert and Cynthia, Kevin poked Jared and whispered, “I
think those are the two operators we barreled over during our escape from the detox
center.” Jared nodded.
        “Psst,” Juan said to Patricia to get her attention. “That's the guy we followed
to the juggling show a month ago, isn't it?”
        “And we saw him at the air-taxi port not too long ago,” she said.
        On the other side of the table, Charles, Patricia, and Juan recognized their
Accuser, Guilter, and Resolver.
        The only operator nobody recognized sat with his eyes fixed on Maggie. She
looked down to maintain her composure.
        “Is that the Eraser?” asked Juan. Patricia wasn't able to answer.
        When Maggie looked up, he still stared, and she was forced to swallow, as if
in anticipation of some catastrophic event.
        Albert McKinnell broke the silence, “Maggie, why don't you come sit across
from me.” This would place her next to the operator who was staring her down.
“Everybody else, find a seat and make yourselves at home.” His tone was cheerful
and celebratory, despite the obvious discomfort the Pistols were experiencing as they
shuffled their way slowly to the table.
        Maggie approached her place. His eyes followed her across the room. She
thought, I would've met this guy if I hadn't run from the Low Men.
        McKinnell continued to make pleasantries to the Renegades, “It's nice for you


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to join us tonight. You've cleaned up nicely, and you all look marvelous.” Maggie
forced a smile. He offered his hand for Maggie to shake. When she did, he
continued, “Now, allow me to introduce you to somebody who's always been closer
to your work than anybody besides yourself.” He motioned to the man sitting next to
Maggie, “This is High Operator John David.”
        High Operator David stood up. He shook Maggie's hand, and gave her a
small hug while saying quietly into her ear, “It's a pleasure to meet you.”
        Maggie pushed away the hug. “What the fuck is this,” she asked. “Is this
some kind of setup? What's he mean that you're close to my work?”
        “But, of course,” he said, “Who else do you think was responsible for the
decision to censor your manuscript that called for massive social revolution against
the High Operators?”
        Her jaw dropped. She didn't know whether to feel shocked, defeated, or
angry. The entire table focused its attention on their exchange. Finally, she said,
“You did that all by yourself? I thought the censorship review board denied me?
That was a long, long time ago.”
        “Eight years,” said David. “And you're right, I wasn't the one who initially
discovered your work. The electronic systems flagged it and Intelligence Operators
were the first to investigate it. Incidents of teen angst are frequently identified and
dismissed in this manner, but in your case, the arguments against our ways of life
were vibrant and impossible to ignore. The Intelligence Operators brought your
manuscript to my attention, and I was forced to order that the manuscript gets purged
from your digital docufile.”
        “And that's when I learned that the real problem was your rules and
regulations,” she said. “The real problem is that the High Operators have complete
control over the laws of the Towers.”
        “Do you remember what you wrote? I suppose you've communicated the
general message of your original text to your team, but did you ever rewrite it? Has
your team ever heard the exact words?”
        She shook her head. “I didn't know anyone on the team, except Jared, back
then. After my work got purged, I recorded my thoughts on paper but they never
came out as eloquently as the first time, and I never shared that particular notebook
with anybody.”
        Everybody at the table was fixated on the exchange between Maggie and
High Operator David. The food was getting cold. High Operator McKinnell
interrupted, “Perhaps we should delay the discourse of Maggie's manuscript until
after everybody has a chance to eat.”
        “Yes, everybody should eat,” High Operator David said. “But, while you
each enjoy your meals, I'd like to propose to read her manuscript. That is as long as


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she doesn't mind, of course.”
        She thought about it, “I don't mind.”
        Heads around the room nodded. Renegades and High Operators alike were
interested in hearing this forbidden literature.
        “Well then,” said High Operator David, “get your food and I'll begin.” In his
pocket he reached for his Real ID. The High Operator thumbed some buttons until
the file with Uncommon Sense was loaded. He unfolded the Real ID card first
horizontally, then vertically to make reading the document easier on his eyes. People
passed bowls of food around the table. They loaded their plates. Everybody at the
table, except Maggie and High Operator David, began to eat quietly.

                                           2

        “Uncommon Sense,” he began, “by Margaret Flanagan.
        “Part one, An Introduction.
        “Let it initially be stated that it's human nature to interpret a situation where
no harm in done as both fair and ethical. Let it further be said that violent abuses of
power can easily be veiled from the eyes of the public when governing occurs out of
the view of daily life. It's a matter of public record that CTA is controlled by such an
opaque group, so the burden of this essay is to prove a violent abuse of power. I will
argue that the operators work hard to ensure that their veil remains artfully in place
while balances go unchecked within our disturbed political climate.
        “All outward appearances would have the public believe that the operators
have taken it upon themselves to provide freedom and happiness to all citizens. In
return, they ask only that the good people of this country follow a minimal set social
guidelines that can be summarized under the titles of sportsmanship, respect, and
discipline. Taken at face value, this seems like a splendid relationship for all parties
involved, but don't be fooled by the spectacle. These things, freedom and happiness,
are the veil which allows them to rule unfettered. With this veil, a clear view of the
inner workings of our government is oppressed and the right to petition the
pretentiousness of the operators remains an afterthought. HOW CAME THE
OPERATORS BY A POWER WHICH THE PEOPLE COMPLACENTLY TRUST,
AND ARE ALWAYS IGNORANT TO CHECK? They pulled the veil over our eyes,
but in America we are obliged to ensure that the power of government does not go
unchecked. Only then can the harm that is being done behind the veil be exposed so
it can be dealt with appropriately.
        By the end of this essay, a strong case against the operators for causing harm
to society will be made based on facts and not my own personal bias. It's the task of
you, the reader, to be compelled to take the actions necessary to prevent the ultimate


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failure which the nation is rapidly headed towards.

                                            3

        “Part Two, Concerning Governments
        “Some citizens have confused the operators with government to the point
where there's little or no distinction between them. They aren't only different, but
have different origins. The operators were produced by our wants, and government
by our wickedness. The former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our
affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The first is a provider while,
the last is a punisher.
        “Having the operators in every Tower is a blessing. Granting them all the
power to govern absolutely is a mistake, and we'll see why later, but for now we'll
simply regard government as a necessary evil. After all, the origin of government is
as a system rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world.
Here too is the design and end of government, freedom and security.
        “Behold, it seems that all citizens are perfectly free and secure under the
operators! It seems like government is doing its job. The operators provide us with
everything we could ever want, and we live happily in a wonderful world.
        “Nay, I say!
        “It's human nature to confuse the present situation where no harm is done as
successful and prosperous, but that ignores a view of the future where the
convictions of the operators will fail. We live under the mistaken belief of security!
It's only because we have this veiled, simplified view of the present state of our
government that we can believe true freedom and security to exist. It is only because
no failures of security have occurred yet, that we don't take notice. We are NOT able
to see the complexity of our government. If knowledge of this complexity was freely
available, we'd realize our peril, and if we don't start to simplify the government, we
won't be able to repair society when the current, complex model fails.
        “This is a principle in nature which no art can overturn. The more simple any
thing is, the less liable it is to be disordered, and the easier it will be to repair when
disordered. With this maxim in view, I offer a few remarks on the operation of CTA.
Without true understanding of the complexity of government, we can have no way of
protecting ourselves when, in the future, our security fails. The nation may anguish
for years together without being able to discover in which part the failure lies,
assuming it survives that long. Yet if we will suffer ourselves to examine the
component parts of the government, we shall find the base remains of an ancient
democracy, an advanced capitalism, and hereditary operators.
        “First. — There are the remains of a Democratic ideal that places an emphasis


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in personal freedoms. Americans have always had the basic human rights of speech
and assembly, this much cannot be denied. In the modern system the slavish
behavior of earning a living was further eliminated by the operators, and freedom of
time was granted. This paradigm fulfills our wants, but exposes us to some very
distressing vices. With freedom of time, we're served the opportunity to do whatever
we want to satisfy ourselves and our communities. While engaged in these activities,
however, the gap between how to fulfill our basic physiological needs is ever
widened, and it's this reliance on automated systems as the provider of our needs
which is our cataclysmic vice.
        “Secondly. — There are the remains of a Capitalist economy which had
power concentrated in the hands of those who were enterprising enough to claim it.
This is where the structure and infrastructure that composes our so-called Great
Towers was born. Without the Capitalists of old society, this modern world of
convenience wouldn't be possible. They're the ones who built the massive automated
systems that run America. The capitalists designed infinitely complex systems and
leveraged them to work with other infinitely complex systems to carry out the day-
to-day services and provide the products which we currently take for granted. Do
you know where your food comes from? It's farmed or slaughtered in the outer
regions, by machines. Do you know what would happen it these machines stopped
working? We'd be forced to compete with each other to obtain sustenance, and many
Americans would starve to death. The food system may not be the first to fail,
though. It's impossible to say which system would be the first. When all the wheels
of a machine are put in motion as one, it only remains to know which system in the
society has the most weakness, for that will fail: and tho' the others, or a part of
them, may cog, or, as the phrase is, check the rapidity of its motion, yet so long as
they cannot stop the failure, their endeavors will be ineffectual. The weakest moving
system will have its way, and will cause the whole system to fail. This is the type of
failure which is imminent in the future if we aren't able to understand the
architectural designs of the underlying, complex automated systems.
        “Thirdly. — The new ruling class is comprised of Operators who have inher-
ited power through heredity without learning and demonstrating the enterprise that
their fathers and grandfathers once did. There's no recruitment for the operator role
like there's applications for the University or try-outs for the Alpha Supremes. The
only way to become an operator is to be born of an operator. I fear that as time
passes the innovating capabilities commanded by our founding fathers will decrease.
The attributes of enterprise and altruism will be lessened with each generation.
Politically, this could lead to corruption, discontentment, or apathy among the opera-
tors. This is a problem with all hereditary systems of rule, but not the central
problem of the government. In the current state of things, the operators serve


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primarily a single duty. They operate! They control the automated systems and
make sure its faults don't become our failures. When a citizen makes use of a system
in excess, the operators command the power to compel him to discontinue the
unhealthy behavior. The operators address problems by replacing spare parts on
worn-out mechanisms. They bandage the automated systems when trouble occurs.
However, with each generation the overall knowledge of the system decreases,
because it's impossible for a member of the older generation to pass his entire body
of knowledge to the younger generation. Critical specifications are lost over the
years. The design changes as each new bandage is applied. Overall, the human-
controlled body of knowledge converges towards zero.
       “To say that this is a successful union of three powers is farcical. In all ways,
this combination is unsustainable. The freedom we have of time clashes violently
with the imminent failure of complex systems and the ultimate inability to repair
them.
       “But, at the same time we say that we are successful and prosperous and that
the operators are fair and ethical. A mere absurdity!
       “There's something exceedingly ridiculous in the composition of our
government; it first provides a man equality to all other men, yet empowers the
operator to have absolute control over the freedom and security which is provided.
In our case, security certainly doesn't seem to be a tantamount consideration, and
because of that we are entitled to demand changes.

                                           4

        “Part Three, Of Operators and Hereditary Succession
        “Mankind originally was equal in the order of creation, and the equality could
only be destroyed by some subsequent circumstance: the distinctions of the powerful
and the powerless. In its previous form, the powerful used knowledge and leadership
to reorganize America in their own image. At the time, CTA grew and society
thrived.
        “To the government we have added hereditary succession; and it's a
degradation and lessening of ourselves, and an insult and imposition on posterity.
For all men being originally equal, no one by birth could have a right to set up his
own family in perpetual preference to all others forever, and although he might
deserve some decent degree of honors from his contemporaries, his descendants
might be far too unworthy to inherit them.
        “Secondly, as no man at first could possess any other public honors than
those bestowed upon him, the givers of those honors could have no power to give
away the right of posterity, and though they might say, 'We choose you for our head,'


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they could not without creating injustice to their children say, 'that your children and
your children's children shall reign over ours forever.' Because such an unwise,
unjust, unnatural agreement might (perhaps) in the next succession put them under
the government of a rogue or a fool. Most wise men in their private sentiments have
ever treated hereditary right with contempt; yet it is one of those evils which when
once established is not easily removed: many submit from fear and others from
superstition.
        “But the absurdity of hereditary succession now concerns mankind. As it
opens a door to the FOOLISH, the WICKED, and the IMPROPER, it has in it the
nature of oppression. Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to
obey, soon grow insolent. Selected from the rest of mankind, their minds are early
poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the
world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests.
        “This disconnection leads to decisions that do not serve the public good.
During the social purges of the original operators, indulgence was made unlawful
and punished. This was a form of control that punished an individual for unhealthy
behavior which could be controlled with personal effort. It remains to this day a
debatable decision, but history has shown that indulgence has been removed from
America and society has been made better because of it.
        “Now, the current operators, only one and a half generations removed from
the former, have declared a purge against the worship of God within community
space. Such an absurd law does not improve the society; it only serves to protect the
seats which the operators hold. To have this absurd law created less than fifty years
since the inception of CTA is a clear sign that corruption is already taking hold. The
operators, with their law, mean to eradicate religion and take away a power still held
by the masses to organize and revolt. Clearly, religion is a threat to the controlling
interests on America. What's more, there's not even proof that a correlation even
exists between the government and religion.
        “Still, it's not for their corrupted oppression techniques that I caution against
the hereditary operators. I caution that they're unable to acquire the knowledge
necessary to prevent failures of the automated systems that run the Towers of
America. To ensure that such knowledge continues to exist it must be entrusted to
enterprising minds. Academics are capable of learning the intricate-workings on the
systems, not necessarily the children of the inventors. As time passes, when a repair
is needed to the systems it'll become increasingly likely that the foundations of
knowledge won't be available to fix the technology. Nobody will understand how
things work a hundred or two hundred years from now if the operators continue to
attempt to pass this knowledge only to their children.
        “The question to ask if this remains the case isn't if a failure is eminent, but


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when the failure will occur.

                                          5

        “Part Four, Thoughts on the Present State of Affairs
        “In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts and plain
arguments. I have no other preliminaries to settle with the reader, except that he
approach these pages without prejudice, and suffer his reason and his feelings so that
he may generously enlarge his views beyond the present day.
        “The Sun has never shined on a cause of greater worth. It is not the affair of
a Family, a Community, a Tower, or a Country; but of a large part of the Human
Race — of at least one-half of those remaining on the habitable Globe. It's the seed-
time for all of Humanity. Failure to act now will be like a name engraved with the
point of a pin on the tender rind of a young oak; the name would enlarge with the
tree, and years from now would become a readable, full-grown deformed scar in the
trunk of the otherwise majestic oak.
        “As nothing has been said of the advantages of eliminating our reliance on
the automated systems, volumes have been spoken about the glories of freedom of
time, which, like a surreal dream, has poisoned away our ability to sustain basic
physiological needs. While we enjoy the luxuries provided by the systems, we must
consider the contrary side of the argument and inquire into some of the many injuries
which are caused by being dependent on the automated systems. Thus, I will
examine that dependence to see what we have to trust to, if dependent, and what we
are to expect, if separated.
        “I have heard it asserted by some, that as America has flourished under her
dependence on the Tower's systems, the same connection is necessary towards her
future happiness, and will always have the same effect. Nothing can be more
fallacious than this kind of argument. We may as well assert that because a child has
thrived upon milk, that it is never to have meat, or that the first twenty years of our
lives is to become a precedent for the next twenty. But even this is admitting more
than is true; for I answer roundly that America would have flourished as much, and
probably much more after the Age of Terrorism if automation had not sustained her.
        “But the technology has protected us, say some. That it had played a large
part in ending the Age of Terrorism is true, and that it defended the Country
successfully when other technology failed, is admitted. But this technology will fail
one day, and when it does there is no sign of a more advanced replacement on the
horizon.
        “The risks which we sustain by that connection are without number; and our
duty to mankind at large, as well as to ourselves, instructs us to renounce the


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dependence. It is the true interest of America to mitigate the risks of a systematic
failure of the Towers. The Towers are too thickly planted with these systems and
whenever one breaks, the risk to America escalates, BECAUSE OF HER
DEPENENCE ON THE SYSTEMS. Easily enough, breakages to date have been
fixable. Bandages seem to maintain the level of prosperity that we've become
accustomed to, but the next failure may not turn out like the last. When this occurs,
common sense supporting the continuation of freedom of time will fail. The country
will be wishing for a means to provide basic human needs to itself. Everything that
is right or reasonable pleads for separation. Uncommon sense will prevail. Earlier, I
proposed that simplifying the systems would be sufficient to guard against our
future, but this is a mere impossibility. I ask, can you return to a prostitute her
former innocence? Neither can you make simple the systems which run America. A
refactoring of this magnitude would involve a complete redesign of each interrelated
system. The work required to accomplish that would fill decades. During that time
the risk to the Towers would continue, and afterwards there is no guarantee that we'll
be in any better of a predicament.
         “Because of this uncertainty, I propose a simple solution, though one that
might be hard to accept at the present. IT IS TIME TO PART FROM
DEPENDENCE. The authority of the automated systems over this country is a form
of government, which sooner or later must have an end. That end can only come
about via either failure or abandonment. A serious mind can draw no true pleasure
by looking forward and seeing a future where the means to the end is through failure.
As parents, we can have no joy, knowing that this government cannot sufficiently
provide sustainable security to ensure posterity for the Human Race. By a plain
method of argument, we are running the next generation into severe risk, but we are
capable of doing the work of mitigating it. This is our duty to ourselves and our
children and our children's children and so on and so forth.
         “Though I would carefully avoid giving unnecessary offense, yet I am
inclined to believe, that all those who espouse the doctrine of mitigation, may be
included within the following descriptions. Content men, who are not to be trusted,
weak men who cannot see, prejudiced men who will not see, and a certain set of
moderate men who think better of the automated American systems than the systems
deserve. This last class, by ill-judged deliberation, will be the cause of more
calamities to this Human Race than all the other three. Without belief of the frailty
of the automated systems, this class will move blindly forward until the cataclysmic
event which is bound to occur is already in the past.
         “But assuming that this class still consists of the majority at the critical time,
what would be the result of such an event? I answer, the ruin of the Human Race.
         “Thus, the most powerful argument is a call for a declaration of


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independence. Migration away from the operators and the automated systems which
comprise the Towers would grant freedom to our country, and reduce the reliance we
have on the possibility that any event or series of events could ruin us all.
        “I have heard some men say, many of whom I believe spoke without thinking,
that they dreaded life without the luxuries which they have become accustomed to.
They fear that it would produce a life of meaningless work and hardship, but it is
seldom that our first thoughts are truly correct and that is the case here. There are ten
times as many things to worry about from a life of mechanical dependence than from
a lack of luxuries.
        “If there is any true cause of fear respecting the proposition of independence,
it is because no plan is yet laid down. Men do not see their way out. In the
concluding section, I would offer the following guide.

                                           6

        “Part Five, Of Our Present Abilities: with Miscellaneous Reflections
        “It is now the interest of America to provide for herself. She has a large and
young family, who are capable of providing themselves with security. It is her duty
to take care of herself, instead of FOOLISHLY granting away this power to a set of
systems who offer no guarantees into the future. As the guardians of the public
security we must wish to free our native country from technological malice and wish
for a separation.
        “No country in history has ever been so happily situated. Not since Plymouth
Rock or Jamestown has any civilization had such an opportunity to start fresh with
the construction of a new country. We should think of this as a blessing. Let us
build!
        “There is so much land that is yet unoccupied. We should take every oppor-
tunity to spread out and cultivate it and put it to use for us. The infant state of the
Towers is an argument in favor of independence. We're sufficiently numerous, and
we may be united.
        “He who hunts the woods for prey is less savage than those who are
dependents on America. The dependents are slaves to fear, and submit to courtly
power with the trembling duplicity of a spaniel. None can be prouder than he who
ventures into the world in the name of his family. With ax or knife the needs of the
Human Race are satisfied, not through button presses on interfaces provided by the
Tower. Building timber into shelter is the way to housing, not by allowing groups of
robots to move possessions into an unoccupied daltra on an anonymous level of the
Tower. Waking to the smell of flowers in the morning and saying good-night to a
sky full of stars at night is the natural way of life. The Tower is merely a replica.


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Survival without the pleasures of the world is death. To suffer without providing
ourselves with these senses is no longer tolerable. We must seek to distinguish
ourselves from the herd of common animals, who live a life of dependence. The
time is now to return to a world of manufacture and simplified commerce.
        “With the increase of commerce we shall gain our spirit, and we shall find a
new identity which will fill us with a sense of pride that is impossible under the
dependence of the complex systems which coddle us. We shall mature! Cities will
grow. Maturity is the seed-time of good habits as well in nations as in individuals.
The present time is the true time for establishing these habits. The intimacy which is
contracted in infancy, and the friendship which is formed in misfortune, are of all
others the most lasting and unalterable. Our present union is marked with both these
characters; we are young, and we have been distressed; but our concord has
withstood our troubles, and provides a memorable era for posterity to glory in.
        “The present time, likewise, is that peculiar time which never happens to a
nation but once. Most nations have let slip the opportunity, and by that means have
been compelled to receive laws from their oppressors, instead of making laws for
themselves. Attempting to carry on with the operators is no form of government that
I would choose for future generations. New articles of government can be formed,
and men delegated to execute them afterwards; but from the errors of other nations
let us learn wisdom, and lay hold of the present opportunity — TO BEGIN
GOVERNMENT AT THE RIGHT END.
        “While we profess ourselves the subjects of America, we must be considered
as Renegades. These proceedings may at first seem strange and difficult, but like all
other steps which we have already passed over, will in a little time become familiar
and agreeable; and until an independence is declared, America will feel itself like a
man who continues putting off some unpleasant business from day to day, yet knows
it must be done, hates to set about it, wishes it over, and is continually haunted with
the thoughts of its necessity.
        “Yet, the domestic tranquility of our nation depends greatly on the chastity of
what might properly be called technological dependence.
        “To CONCLUDE, however strange it may appear to some, many strong and
striking reasons may be given to show that nothing can settle our affairs so expedi-
tiously as an open and determined declaration for independence. The birthday of a
new world is at hand, and the Human Race shall receive its portion of freedom from
the events of a few years.
        “On these grounds I rest the matter. Instead of gazing at each other with
suspicious or doubtful curiosity, let each of us hold out to his neighbor the hearty
hand of friendship, and unite in drawing a line against the injuries we exchange for
our luxuries and freedom of time. Let the name of operator be extinct; and let each


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citizen be an open, resolute, and virtuous supporter of the RIGHTS of MANKIND,
and of the FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES OF AMERICA.”

                                          7

        Everybody was finished with their meal. The bowls emptied in the middle of
the table and the plates wiped clean. When High Operator David finished reading a
moment of calm reflection fell over the room. The listeners were lost in their own
thoughts.
        “That's the end?” asked Jared.
        “Yup,” said High Operator David. “Nothing else to read.”
        “That was truly excellent. Why would you censor it?” he asked.
        “What's most interesting,” said Kevin, “is that our complaints against the
operators have never been about the underlying systems. It's always been about the
operator's rules. It seems like somewhere along the line Maggie lost her original
focus.”
        “Prior to this year, I'd never met anybody else who had a reason for being
mad at the operators because of a failure of one of the ARS,” said Maggie. “And
personally, I've always felt the argument against the rules was more compelling then
my original theories about the systems.”
        “Scientifically speaking,” said Patricia, “the ARS were designed to follow a
set of rules based on a number of assumptions made by the operators. To put it
another way, the entire society is dependent on the hope that all of these assumptions
have been correct.”
        “What about tangible complaints against the operators for simple things like
writing fiction or dancing?” asked Juan. “We each have unique problems. Instead of
saying the Maggie lost focus, I'd say she just allowed her original inspiration to
evolve over time.”
        “But that doesn't answer my question,” said Jared. He addressed High
Operator David, but he was speaking to all of the High Operators, “Doesn't this
country stand for freedom? How could you have censored this?”
        High Operator Gates answered, “We're forced to censor it. We didn't have a
choice. The nature of our nation depends on it. If we let the populous read material
like this, our control of the meticulous inner-workings of society would be in
jeopardy.”
        “But censoring those arguments is effectively the same as admitting they're
true,” said Patricia.
        “Precisely,” said Gates, “and if these thoughts were to gain wide acceptance
throughout America it would cause a massive panic. This life would be over.”


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        “But ignoring these concerns is like sweeping a pile of dust under a rug. It
merely hides the problem.”
        “You must understand,” continued High Operator McKinnell, “if you realize
it or not, we've taken the warnings from Maggie's essay about a lack of security to
heart.”
        “Also,” said High Operator David, “we've analyzed the risk to the Towers
versus the probability for a successful transition to the simpler way of life suggested
by Maggie's arguments. A declaration of independence from the ARS would be a
major risk for all 500 Million people who live happily in the Towers. As Maggie
pointed out, people have become too reliant on the ARS providing them with basic
physiological needs.”
        “So since it's too risky, you've decided to do nothing. That isn't a very good
strategy if you ask me,” said Jared.
        “No,” said McKinnell. “We've elected to make the ARS more robust.
Maggie's essay attacked the practice of patching the systems to fix incremental
problems. She was right about that being a bad idea, but she ignored the possibility
of re-engineering the ARS to be simpler and easier to administer.”
        “How can you do that?”
        “Very carefully,” said David. “For the better half of the last decade we've
analyzed the ARS and identified the biggest risks. At the end of the tricentennial cel-
ebration in July we're going to announce a new set of initiatives to create solutions at
the University.”
        “And if the solutions don't come in time?” asked Patricia.
        “They will. We've got a tremendous amount of faith in our education system
to bring us out of this.”
        “Would that be the same education system which made me kill an infant 6
years ago to cure if from crying?” snapped Patricia.
        “And I think that's one of the assumptions that your rules depend on to
work,” said Kevin. “At this rate, it makes your plans seem hopeless.”
        “But, Ms. Stark, you never killed any children,” said High Operator Camp-
bell. “All the children from your research project who had the will to continue
crying after a certain amount of discomfort were revived and then erased.”
        “That doesn't fucking make it any better that an operator stood over me while
I held the child's neck and caused it to stop breathing. Do you understand? He
stopped breathing. No heartbeat. No more life.”
        “If I may interject,” said McKinnell, “you don't know what the term 'erase'
means, do you?”
        “It means you take us away from our friends and families and kill us.”
        “Nonsense. No wonder you're outraged at us.”


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         “What I meant when I said the children were erased,” said Campbell, “is that
they're assigned to a family in the colonies.”
         “The colonies?” asked Maggie.
         “This refers to people who don't live on the Towers. Either by virtue of never
moving here in the first place or because they've been exiled. In the case of the
children, it's like an exile case, but we do it at such a young age so they don't
remember their natural parents or any specific details about their lives on the
Towers.”
         “You take them away from their friends and families,” said Patricia. “Don't
you see how that's a terrible thing to do.”
         “Listen, we don't have time right now to debate the morality that
accompanies the choice to erase people. It's always a tough decision to make,” said
McKinnell. “We don't enjoy sending people to the colonies. It's an admission of the
fallibility of the Towers.”
         “You admit the Towers are fallible!” chimed Kevin.
         High Operator McKinnell ignored him. “We're actually here today to discuss
erasing your organization.”
         “You're all scheduled for erasure from the Tower by the end of June. In the
meantime, you'll be allowed to make final preparations for your departure from the
rooms I showed you earlier,” said Campbell. “How does that suit you?”
         “That's it?” questioned Maggie. “You're going to send us away?”
         “Listen, it's always a tough thing to accept whenever we initially tell people.
This is a big reason we make every attempt to identify candidates for colony life
before the third year of life. Toddlers are much less compelled to feel strongly about
staying. But since it's getting late, I'm going to have to cut this discussion short so
we can all get some rest tonight. I'll see you all back here tomorrow at 10am? By
then, you'll have had some time to think about living in the colonies. Is that
agreeable?”
         Maggie nodded, “We'll see you again tomorrow.”
         High Operator Walton pushed back from the table, “I'll bring you to the
rooms that have been prepared for you tonight.”




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Van Dyk                                                        2076




            Of Beginnings and
                              Endings
                                           1

        “What do you think about all this?” Patricia asked Charles as they lay
together in bed later that night.
        “About what?” He readjusted himself so that he'd be able to face her. He
rested a hand on her thigh.
        “If you were paying attention earlier you might have been able to pick up on
the fact that the High Operators are kicking us out of Alpha Tower.”
        “I think things turned out pretty well. I was expecting an execution.”
        “I was kind of thinking about what might become of us in exile, and I was
wondering if you'd entertain the idea of living in that cabin of yours."
        His eyes lits up. "Hell yeah.”
        “I know we'd have everything we'd need from food to water to shelter. The
only major downside is that it wouldn't be big enough for too many people to join
us.”
        “No, just three bedrooms.”
        “That's a shame.” She laughed to herself, then said, "It's too bad you don't
have your own personal mini-Tower hidden deep in the woods somewhere.” He
didn't reply. “I guess what I mean to say is that being able to live so close to friends
is something we typically take for granted on the Tower.”
        He shrugged, “We could go follow Maggie and the rest of the gang or we
could build up a small village of cabins for the others to stay in.”
        She wrapped an arm around his shoulder and embraced him with a kiss. “I
think for a couple years alone would be good for us.” She kissed him, again. “Being
able to relax would be nice. If things go well, I'd like to think about maybe starting a
family.” They kissed once more. Two minutes later she was cooing softly from his

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tender caresses.
       “Well,” he said, “if that's what you want then we'll make arrangements to
move to my cabin in the woods.” He hugged her and let her drift to sleep in his
arms.

                                           2

         Juan wanted to go have a chat with Patricia. He stood in front of her door
and contemplated knocking, but he knew she'd be busy with Charles. He moved one
doorway down the hall and knocked on Kevin's instead.
         “It's open,” Kevin called from inside.
         Juan opened it and saw him sitting at a table with a notebook open in front of
him. Kevin looked up and put a pen down. “What can I do for you?”
         “I was wondering about what it's going to be like living in exile from the
Towers. I think maybe we're going to be biting off more than we can chew. What if
it's too hard for us?”
         “Don't worry man. How hard can it be? I know you never got to go on a trip
to Charles' cabin, but it was a fairly comfortable week. The outside world grows
fruit and vegetables for us to eat. With minimal effort we were able to get meat to
eat, and the smells can't be compared to anything on the Tower.”
         “You don't think it'll be hard work?”
         “Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to tell you that I think it'll be easy, but
it'll be worth it because we'll be able to do the things the operators won't let us do.
You and I more than anybody else will benefit from this move.”
         “What makes you say that?”
         “We're entertainers, my man. While everybody else does the heavy lifting
we'll be working on our craft. Combining my creativity with your aptitude to
perform will be incredibly valuable to keep the spirits of the rest of the group high.”
         Juan thought for a second. “Have you ever thought about what makes
performance and fiction on the Towers illegal?”
         “Well, isn't it kind of obvious?”
         “No. Not for me at least.”
         “It's power and control. You heard the bit from Maggie's essay earlier about
how the operators unjustly made religious gatherings in the common areas illegal?
They did that to stop the churches from being able to gain influence over the people.
Public performance is the same way. If you ever gained the ability to attract an
audience of thousands, you'd be able to command a force strong enough to
overwhelm the Operator Guards.”
         “I don't think that's true.”


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Van Dyk                                                         2076

        “Have you ever heard of mob rule and rioting? I've seen a number of movies
from a hundred years ago where the emotions of the masses boil over. With a small
amount of coordinated effort political protests are capable of changing the
government. By preventing individuals from gaining influence, the probability of
mob rule goes down.”
        “So there'll be mobs when we're in exile?”
        “I'm hopeful that there won't need to be. They're only helpful while there's
injustice between the ruling class and the rest of the country.”
        “I see. So you think entertainment will open new opportunities for you and I
while we're in exile?”
        “Exactly, and you'll be able to dance as much as you want.”
        Juan did a little two-step that made Kevin smile. “Thanks for the advise. I
feel a lot better about all this. I think it may even be for the best thing to get kicked
off the Towers.”
        Kevin nodded. “As long as the colonies that the High Operators were talking
about aren't more of the same, I think you're right.”
        “Have a good night, Kevin. I'll see you in the morning.”

                                           3

        Maggie laid upon her designated bed within the Alpha guest daltra. Could
we have done anything differently today? she pondered. Are the High Operators
really as powerful as they seem?
        KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.
        “Come in,” she yelled towards the door.
        The door swung open and Jared entered. He'd changed back into his dirty
tee-shirt from the battle. “Is it alright if I come in?” he asked.
        “Sure, what's on your mind?”
        “That essay from earlier," he said. "where did all that come from?”
        “You know, here and there.”
        “No, seriously. Dad's remembrance ceremony happened when I was 9. It
couldn't have been too much later when they censored your manuscript.”
        She studied his face, then patted the spot on the bed next to her. “He
certainly had a lot of influence on many of my early ideas. During one of the last
conversations I had with him before his ceremony he gave my a stack of papers that
he called essential reading.”
        “So, your arguments came from the manuscripts dad gave you?”
        “I wouldn't put it that way. I may have borrowed a little bit here and there,
but for the most part I formulated the meat of the arguments on my own.”


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        “Do you ever miss him?”
        “Huh?”
        “Dad, I mean. Do you ever wish he was still around? There was the
remembrance ceremony and everything happened so fast and we said good-bye but I
was so young and sometimes I wonder how things would've turned out differently if
he was still around.”
        “Well, to be honest I've always wished mom had stayed a little more in touch
with the family during the last half decade. Since he left she's been distant and
disconnected from us and John.”
        “I remember he used to take me out to the common areas to play catch and
every once in a while he'd bring me to a Long Ball game.”
        “Yeah, he was a hell of a guy.”
        “And he never liked the operators much. I don't know how I never made the
connection until now but all this time what we've been doing has been fighting the
fight that he would've wanted.”
        She cocked an eyebrow at him, “We've always done this for ourselves and for
the millions of people in the Tower who'd benefit from the changes we want to make.
Besides, even if this was what he wanted it certainly isn't the ending he would've
hoped for.”
        He adjusted himself on the bed and settled into an indian-style position facing
her. “We didn't do bad today. Just because we didn't win doesn't mean we failed.”
        “But Jared, we're being exiled. Don't you realize that our chances of making
any changes to how the Towers operate have gone and melted into the air?”
        “I'm going to ask that they not exile me,” he said boldly. “And I'm going to
ask them for an exemption to ensure that mom and I get to keep our balcony daltra
after you leave.”
        “And you expect them to listen to you?”
        He shrugged, “What do I have to lose? I don't want to move to the colonies,
whatever that means, and somebody has to keep an eye on mom. I'm sure you and
everybody else will love getting off this Tower and stretching your legs, but that's not
for me. I'm at peace with my classics, my view of Delta Tower, and my thoughts.”
        “Well, if you manage to get your way I'm going to miss you a lot.”
        “Thanks,” he said, “but I've got a feel we'll cross paths again. In this small
world, unless the colonies are some faraway world on another planet I'd except that
either you'll find some way back to Alpha or I'll find a way off it."
        “Yeah, I suppose that's a possibility.”
        He got up, “Well, I love you, sis.”
        “Wait,” she called. “Before you go, I have a simple question to ask.”
        “What is it?”


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        “Do you think we ever had a chance against the High Operators?”
        “Given what I know now? No, we never did.”
        “Will anybody ever have a chance against them?”
        “It's like you wrote in your essay,” he laughed. “They'll eventually grow to
be so incompetent that they'll be unable to maintain their control. Of course, if
anybody wanted to help that process along the place to start would be figuring out
the vices of the High Operators and then exploiting them.”
        “Could we have done that?”
        “Don't waste too much time thinking about it. By this time next month you'll
have a new set of challenges pushing thoughts of the operators so far out of your
mind that you'll have to focus to remember this little excursion we had today.” He
turned towards the door.
        “I love you too, Jared.”
        “Sleep well.” The door closed softly behind him.

                                         4

        Susan sat alone in her room reflecting on the previous year. So many things
had changed. On New Years Eve she'd been sipping champagne with her parents and
now she was being deported from the Tower because of a failed attempt at revolution
with Maggie and the Renegades.
        Is this really what I want from my life? she asked herself.
        She'd miss the Alpha Supremes and the fun she had cheering them through
their championship last year. There wouldn't be a CAPFAL Design ARS for her in
exile. The thrill she got from working on innovative articles of clothing would be
diminished, though deep down inside she knew that she'd always manage to find a
way to build new clothes.
        She shrugged. That stuff is all superfluous, she thought. There was a
common thread between then and now. As long as she has had somebody to share
bonds of love, she's been happy and successful. When her parents were in her life
they'd fulfilled that role in spades. Their love and devotion were indescribable. She
was lucky to have parents as great as she did. She also felt lucky that Maggie had
come into her life at the right moment, and while the Renegades would never replace
her parents they did a superior job of helping her get back on her feet. If it hadn't
been for the Maggie and the Renegades she wouldn't have been able to heal from the
loss. She was grateful to have such caring people in her life.
        No matter what challenges or hardships I need to face, as long as I have the
support of others I'll be alright, she thought to herself. Friendship is the sweetest
influence.


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