Everyone works, everyone shops, and everyone plays. Everyone is happy.
Knapsack Washington is not happy. And she knows she’s not alone. At least there’s that.
The noise level on Confluence Avenue rivals Cairo’s back in the 21st century, the screens report. It is a celebrated fact sloganized repeatedly – LOUDEST STREET IN THE WORLD! – on the massive displays of every building and flashing hover ads drawing the attention of streetside crowds of workers, shoppers, and gamers, as if they have no choice. When they are not looking at them, they look at their gleaming wrists.
She turns up the noise reduction in her ear buds.
Her displeasure has many sources. It is Friday night. And even worse, she’s on Confluence Avenue, the very worst place for someone like her to be.
She never goes out on Friday night. She wants to be lighting Sabbath candles.
But this is war. Or might be. So she won’t be home in time to light.
She’d learned to light candles on Friday nights when she was seven, long before she took the name Knapsack. It was a somber night when her father raised his eyebrows and slanted his mouth indicating he’d made a decision. And then he taught her how to light a match and bring it to the wick until the wick burned on its own. He taught her what to do with her hands, the words of the blessing. What to concentrate on. How to concentrate. How to breathe.
He said, “You do this to bring light.”
“Because it’s what your mother did, what my mother did.”
“Why did they do it?”
“Because they were Jews.”
She remembers feeling afraid. “So we’re Jews.”
Her father scraped a can of tuna into a bowl. Put up a pot of rice on the burner. Smiled at her from across the table in their one room apartment.
“Tonight we’ll have something special, Chana. A night to remember.”
On Confluence, the danger is immeasurable.
Recharge stations call out for her attention, “You must recharge.”
Eye scanners seek her. She can walk right by them, look right at them. Nothing.
Knapsack Washington is off the Grid. If anyone notices, the alarm will barely go off before she’s disintegrated by a shadowmaker, the preferred weapon of Authority. One splash of blood easily cleaned off the fabricated concrete. The rest of her gone. No body to clean up and burn.
We are approximately 20 years after The Great Hack, a 48 hour period of world-wide anarchy, the claimed impetus for the present state of things, which Knapsack understands to be not much different than how humans have always behaved toward each other, each time with better technology and more efficiency. She knows the history. No choice there, thanks to her father Gershon ben Aaron, a.k.a. George Washington Weiss.
Apparently, Knapsack’s grandparents had a sense of humor or history or both. No one who knew them has ever in her lifetime been alive to tell her much of anything about them. Some 3D prints, jpegs, and ancient handwritten letters wishing happiness for various holidays are all that’s survived.
Her father came to consciousness as a toddler in one of the many Jewish homes who took in survivors of another time of chaos and destruction. He knew little more than his Hebrew and English names, a few songs. Before he could learn any more, official legal recognition of religion connected to any ideas of divinity had been severed with all the absolute benevolent powers of the CEO and the Authority.
Her father was born in a time of continuous short-lived world-wide civil wars. Crushed, one after another. Markets crashed. Fear fueled what fear fuels: hatred, world-wide suicides, slaughters, a culling of populations on a scale immeasurable. In fact, it wasn’t measured.
Everything else is almost predictable. World War III did not happen. They soon called it Restructuring. The Agreement of 2120 solved everything. The CEO was chosen to lead the world forevermore.
And everyone was happy, of course.
Everyone worked. Everyone shopped. Everyone played. The proof was on every screen. Who could argue?
The Authority provided libraries of screens guaranteed to contain every bit of information ever available and made them available to everyone everywhere. Technology continued to progress exponentially.
Humans evolved with purpose. Machine and man married at the cellular level, predicted to one day be at the atomic level. Who needs Gd when we have the means to create ourselves anew, to end calamity and death, to live forever?
Implants and enhancements became ubiquitous. Twenty years later, a week after the tribulations of The Great Hack, they became obligatory. From then on, every child was tagged with the newest, über-firewalled enhancements. And everyone who hadn’t been previously was now required by law to be enhanced.
There were parties, galas, and balls. Celebratory riots like those after victorious hockey championships. The happiness was profound.
There was even an old-styled pogrom of a few communities of ultra-believers, sinners against the system, lovers of the outlawed ways. People who refused to be happy. No one cared because most of them were low class, dirt poor Jews who still read paper and parchment.
And the CEO was a keen-minded Jew himself, an advanced scholar and a gentleman. Won Mentsch of the First Order, awarded to him by a committee of international heads of Internet States. Everyone had a sense of humor back then.
Resisters, later known as Refusers, were obliterated as soon as they gathered. Terrorists every one of them, instilling unnecessary fear in the hearts of loyal humanity. The CEO was celebrated as a hero, as a possible candidate to reign as Messiah.
He disposed of the loaded title, re-declared all faith in the divine to be false.
“People of the world, I declare: Believe in yourselves. Enough is enough. It really is that simple. Everyone knows it’s true. No opponent exists to dispute this fact: You, each an every one of you, my friends, you are the source of all profit. You are all gods!”
The cheers spanned the world.
Born during The Great Hack, Knapsack had no enhancements, no implants. She was off the Grid.
But she walks around with a pleasant face. Nonthreatening. Like a good worker, a good shopper, a gamer as good as anyone. And she is happy in their many eyes.
Putting up this façade is much more difficult on Confluence Avenue than on almost any other street on the planet. Be here she is, a Refuser on Confluence. Her father’s neshama must be shaking the walls of heaven in protest to Gd over this.
Why else thunder and threaten rain?
Gleaming black glass rising to the invisible sky towers over the rubble and garbage strewn streets. Patches of dirty fog cling to the undersides of some humming hovers with their burning plastic smell in the everlasting vertical traffic. Blue neon flashes around the caged bodega windows. Abstract beats blare from component kiosks selling memory, mini-flashes, and edible net-rides. Lit up doorways spew a cacophonous soundtrack of indistinguishable pop songs. Street musicians beckon from darkened alleyways with horns or guitars or electric harps.
Passersby with heads hopped and lolling. Every block, charging stations beckon to her, but – like very few others in the world – she has nothing to charge.
Drones flit everywhere. Everything is for sale.
She misses the trees. And the ocean. She misses being unseen. Soon, she’ll have that again. She believes that to her core.
“Miss?” The voice pierces through her noise reduction buds, sounds as if the audio comes from her own mind.
The white toki-o girl is maybe the equivalent of 10 years old. Dark eyes scan up at Knapsack’s long-sleeve black kev shirt, the straps and zippers of her pack, and her black military-grade Move pants down to her flexiboots.
The girl smiles. Knapsack knows what she is and she wants to cry. She shakes her head.
“We can cuddle?” The girl hugs herself and shimmies. She wears a neat kimono. Has no marks. Knapsack notices her fractal eyes, indicating she’s been recently quality enhanced. So far gone. Nothing in there.
Knapsack shakes her head. She looks about and sees the toki-o Handler, his bright, official white and orange uniform, his alabaster, graphened face. Fully coated. Fully syncopated. Fully integrated.
Eliminating him is suicide. Even looking at him as she does could be suicide. It’s too crowded. And she has the meeting with Z to get to.
Walking to the nearest lift waiting station, she spots a cleaning crew getting scanned. Surveying, she spots the corner, the blood stained graffiti: Capable∴Obligated.
This is the world Knapsack wants to leave forever. Find a place where that idea is not a crime.
She catches a lift up to the agreed upon local line of the SkyRail.
She finds Z sitting at a small table near the rear of a lounge car. Knapsack sits in an eggshell chair across a small table from him, sets her pack at her feet. Rain streaks the window behind him, blurring the endless city.
She notices Z mouths a blessing as he stuffs a handful of corn fries into his mouth.
She had met him on a pirate network she keyed into using an untraceable phone back when she was still curious about others like her. It was old school. No avatars. Straight up real jpeg selfies. Risky. After figuring out some code she realized he was legit, a soldier in a real rebellion of Refusers.
He acknowledges her with a nod. She nods back.
She looks out the window behind him. The rain patters to a stop. Two hundred floors up, the hover traffic tracing geometric patterns in blue electric fog far below, SkyRails like this one—all with the same trapped, pressurized air stink—twist and snake around and through the endless obsidian glass towers. Drones flit ceaselessly, darting shadows.
She needs to get away from this. But Z has brought her here to meet Y. For this she could delay another couple of days before going to her uncle’s country place that no one knows about.
The SkyRail stops at a building in the Center. They wait.
Knapsack shifts in her seat, slips out an ear bud, gets Z’s attention, and mouths, “How much longer?”
Much too loudly, Z says, “Rolling sales for the next 15 minutes.”
He strokes the short snaggle of his beard. “Sometimes technical difficulties cause delay, you know? ‘Tis the season.”
The doors whisp open and drones flit through the car. Most of the other passengers nod, smile, thumb up. A few have slipped on dark lenses and thumb down.
Z thumbs a clutch of pills from a mobile medserver that pauses at his shoulder. “I ordered 4 of these.”
The mobile medserver tilts its cylindrical chrome head. “Sir, Zbenji —“
“Z Ben J,” Z says.
“— fishmonger, craft beer and weapons enthusiast, ub-101 Blueberry vitamin clutches can be ordered 4 clutches at a time, but you ordered 1. Please check your order.”
Z calls it up on his wrist. “Shizzlet. Okay. Three more at the next stop.”
The medserver clicks twice, smiles, and skates down the car. Its heelie wheels squeak, turning heads, and it calls out, “Behind you. Thank you. Much obliged. Behind you. So sorry. I’ve just now sent you recompense. Thank you. Be well. Much obliged. Time to go.” As it leaves the train, it’s camera eyes look back at Z and Knapsack, and then it rolls out into the lobby of the terminal.
Knapsack says, “We have to toss that clutch. Time to go.”
Before he can respond, her pack is on her back and she’s pulling out her mask. Gas can be released at any sign of trouble. The Authority leaves no witnesses.
“Yo, Knapsack, this is a lot of sudden drama.”
She turns on him. “Where’s the clutch?”
Several passersby pause to look. She guides him off the train.
“Right here,” Z raises his right hand. “I ordered it. It’s legit.” His left hand reaching, getting closer to his thigh pocket for his weapon.
She says, “Since when do medservers – you know, the best servers around – need to oil a heelie? And since when do medservers look back? Something’s up.”
She notices the hush around them. They stand on the precipice between the terminal and the SkyRail car.
Knapsack looks around. She knows her mask is in her hand. She knows the tip of her bow may be poking out of the top of her pack. She knows what her face looks like. She knows why they are afraid.
And she knows they should be.
She sees what she needs about 25 yards away. “There’s a bin, by that column.”
The clutch in her hand now, Knapsack puts on her black mask and pulls out her bow in one fluid motion. The quiver automatically moves into position in her pack as she runs toward the bin.
Passersby pause. Those in her way move to the side. A few people stop and stare.
A standing recharge station wails: “Halt! Halt FEMALE of NO KNOWN ADDRESS.”
Deep breath, scream, “BOMB!”
Her voice shatters every frozen heart, bends most people around her to run in fear.
The Peace of 2120 is now over. And it will be the Refusers who are blamed.
Some citizens drop and curl up on the floors clutching themselves in suicide, swallowing pills and pushing every possible injection in their possession. Eyes roll back, some begin to moan in their bliss.
A chrome head appears just a bit taller than the crowd on the escalator going up.
She needs to nock an arrow, but first she needs to get the clutch into the bin.
Behind her, Z is shouting unintelligibly.
Something whiffs toward her. A shadowmaker. She rolls right and keeps running. Someone behind her screams once in pain and then no more. Others shriek, “Murderer!”
A few more steps.
She rolls left, escaping another shadowmaker.
Another sudden scream and erasure.
The station is in pandemonium. Citizens bolt toward the escalators, lifts, and open doorways of SkyRails, emptying the terminal. All drones simultaneously flit up, lock into ceiling chargers. An alarm begins to wail with urgent staccato, electric bleats.
She reaches the column and drops the clutch into the component trash bin. A hiccup sound within. A hiss. The red gas of a terminated Bliss Bomb seeps out.
She sees Z peeking at her from behind a chrome column, a lift entrance now shuttered. Goofily he smiles and waves, gives her a thumb up. A drone speeds toward him and crashes to the floor. The beams have been shut off. Z checks his wrist and shakes his head.
She points to her mask. He nods, slips behind the column, reappears with a grey streaked black gas mask like hers. He’s nodding again. Knapsack has no doubt he’s smiling. His weapon is in his hands. A gun of some sort.
It’s too bad, this. She would have liked to have gotten to know him.
All doorways of SkyRails have locked shut. All of the trains have shot away from the station, pressurized air pushes them onward, circling downward or upward or snaking across the transparent rails connecting the towers. None of the riders look back.
Scattered about, those left behind are convulsing on the floor. The death throes of peace.
Several yards behind the column she leans on, Knapsack hears a squeaky wheel.