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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/3/14

Short Story: "Standing to Resist"

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This series started with the story, 'Bait'.

"Standing to Resist"
(Part 5 of a series)
by P. Orin Zack

Having a medicinal herb garden wasn't exactly something you told the neighbors about in East Chicago. For one thing, self-medication was grounds for losing your government-mandated insurance card, which, eighty years after the Affordable Care Act became law, had become enough to get you ostracized from what became a grudgingly polite society, not to mention cut off from any government services you might have needed. But Rafi Thandri's indoor garden was even more off-label than that. The really damning feature about it was the way it was watered: with rain collected in a modified recycling barrel that was hidden in the attic.

Police HMMWV
Police HMMWV
(Image by matthrono)
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Right now, though, his main concern was the leak in the gutter that diverted water to the barrel. That was because his sister Eshana was running short of a few ingredients she used for compounding a salve that was especially popular among the maintenance crew at the Daley Transshipment Center, and the herbs didn't much like the chemical cocktail in the city's corporate water supply. He steadied himself and looked down at the puddle spreading out across the barren ground below. Trying to grow anything that wasn't a genmod on land that used to be an old steel mill was a fool's errand, so you could either shell out hard-earned money to green your yard, or do what the Thandris did, and turn it into a rock garden. Inside, however, hidden away from public view, they had a patch of what ought to have been healthy hydroponic greenery, except for that nasty leak. For the moment, the primary beneficiary of their rainwater was the rock garden, and that's why he was on the roof on this brisk autumn day while she was inside keeping warm.

Eshana's main concern, on the other hand, was about a thousand miles south of them. When he went back inside, she was still watching the IndyMedia vid feed of the stretch of HyperLoop tube in Louisiana that had tipped over and was hanging over Lake Pontchartrain.

"Did I miss anything?" he asked as he came up behind her.

She glanced up at him and chuckled. "Yeah. And you'll never guess who was trapped inside."

"Seriously?" he said, still wiping his hands. "Did he just come out and tell them, or did someone beat him to it?"

"That you, Rafi?" The disembodied voice was that of Ferdinand Wu-McCrory, better known as Ferd to other members of the Hacker Collective. Audio-only chats were hard-core retro, but when you're tunneling through the corporate cell network, privacy trumped the bandwidth requirements of an illicit vid stream.

"It is. My sister said you're driving the Indy-cam feed we're watching. They planning on paying you a bounty for the scoop?"

The mystery HyperLoop passenger was Alphon Quince, a freelance infrastructure troubleshooter from California. He'd been accused of blowing up the Golden State Barrage, which had kept the risen sea at bay for most of the century, causing billions of dollars in flood damage to Oakland and the Central Valley; of murdering a known subversive named Meg Butler, whose daughter Phoebe was in the pod with him; and of masterminding the destruction of the Cold Comfort resort in Greenland, along with the murder of dozens of high-ranking financial officials from business and governments around the world, who were there for a conference. Ferd had borrowed the IndyMedia camera drone to help Quince and the others escape, and was now using it to stream the unexpected press event to the world.

"Nah," Ferd told him, "for as long as this has taken, I should be paying them rental on the gear."

Eshana shushed them both so she could hear. Ferd had auto-framed the vid on the man's face, so it followed when he moved, which wouldn't have been a problem if he weren't so nervous. He couldn't have been more than his early twenties, but the color in his hair was stripped to make him look prematurely gray, and he had the kind of unnaturally earnest expression that kept you hanging on his words, even when he wasn't saying anything, which at the moment, he wasn't. If anything, he looked thoughtful, as if he'd been asked the most important question that anyone had ever asked him. He was very still for a few seconds, and then stole a sidelong glance at Phoebe, before nodding at whoever had asked that question.

"You have every right to ask that, ma'am," he said, "after all, the military are supposed to be here any minute now, and this is probably the last chance anyone will get to question me directly. So yes, I did study infrastructure failures for a personal reason. But it wasn't revenge, like you said the government claims. It was because of my little brother, Tony." Quince took a deep breath and wet his lips. "He died because the Central Banking Coalition in Basel was more concerned with profits than safety. To them, a few kids crushed to death in a public school collapse was just another cost of doing business, a minor wrinkle in their drive to eliminate what they called "engineering overkill' in government-funded projects, such as schools and the public infrastructure."

Rafi's mood darkened. "Overkill," he muttered. "It's a wonder they haven't registered that as a brand name for Chicago River water."

The reporter, who Quince had singled out to lead the questioning, seized on the obvious follow-up. "Was that also why the ice cave over the Cold Comfort resort collapsed?"

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Ever since I learned to speak binary on a DIGIAC 3080 training computer, I've been involved with tech in one way or another, but there was always another part of me off exploring ideas and writing about them. Halfway to a BS in Space Technology at (more...)
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