Newsreelmancer PART 2

Continued from Newsreelmancer PART 1

Welcome to the year 2036. Technology has changed, but society’s ills have remained the same.

Our hero purchased a pair of smart lenses off the darknet, so he could slack off at work. Too bad the first thing he saw with them was a terrorist attack. Three planes crashed into the Freedom Tower at the exact moment our hero turned his lenses on. Coincidence, or is there something sinister about these so called Oracle Eyes?

Newsreelmancer PART 2

The night the One World Trade Center was attacked I lay in bed staring at the applications on the ceiling. I scanned through those rune stone icons, opening and closing them. Apart from the News app, none of them opened with a strange flurry of pictures.

There was one app that refused to open at all.

This rune had a keyhole etched into it. I squinted at it but it wouldn’t enlarge nor would it ignite. After thirty seconds of staring all that appeared were the words DET HEMMELIGE KAMMER. I ran them through a Norwegian to English dictionary. They translated to THE SECRET CHAMBER.

I’ve seen applications that pose as other things: documents, system apps, or folders. Things a suspicious spouse wouldn’t bat an eye at. Developers marketed these apps as little black books for swingers, photo libraries for sexts, and lock boxes for corporate secrets.

Those apps hid in plain sight. DET HEMMELIGE KAMMER had “Secret” in the title and an icon that demanded inspection.

I kept trying, but the application wouldn’t respond to squints, nor would it give me a field to enter a password in. Stranger still, it wasn’t present in any of the Oracle Eyes beta operating systems I found online. Either these lenses were pre-alpha prototypes or they’d been modded after the fact.

•••

The next day I exhausted all the assignments on my docket. Coding required all of my concentration, until I ran a sample through the testbed and had a moment to think. That’s when I saw the towering inferno collapsing. I saw pedestrians covered in ash like petrified villagers at the foot of a volcano, and empty firetrucks with no one to drive them back to the station.

I couldn’t stand that intrusive thought knocking on my skull, so I squeezed my eyes shut and let it in. Soon the air filled with virtual vapors, my desk drowned in green ooze, and I was up to my eyeballs in those terrible bubbles, double double toil and trouble.

I counted the seconds for the startup sequence. One one-thousand, two-one thousand. The office boiled for a solid minute before the rune stones spread through my vision.

I honed in on the scroll icon until the word NEWS appeared beneath it. It sparked and fizzled as images rushed at me from the fire: the Washington monument, the pillars of the white house, and caskets draped in flags.

•••

I spent the evening pacing my condo, examining a 3D model of One World Trade Center at the moment of impact. It was synthesized from thousands of security cameras, cell phones, and telephoto lenses. It left none of the horror to the imagination. I was zooming in to see the workers diving out of the tower when a news bulletin flashed on the ceiling:

50 FEARED DEAD

BRIDGE COLLAPSES INTO MISSISSIPPI

The aerial photos made the destruction look like a toy race track in the wake of an angry toddler. The support beams were scattered on the shore like Lincoln logs. Pieces of street sat in the river like warped cardboard, and the cars looked like matchbox racers in a tub.

The river was clogged with motorboats filled with rescue workers in yellow vests.

I was about to squint to zoom in when another notification flashed across my kitchen counter:

100 FEARED DEAD 

BRIDGE COLLAPSES INTO HUDSON

Then another across my entertainment center:

200 FEARED DEAD

BRIDGE COLLAPSES INTO SAN DIEGO BAY

The notifications came faster than I could read them until my condo was coated in red lines.

Most people remember where they were when a terrible tragedy happened. When the nation’s infrastructure came crashing down I was in the kitchen in the fetal position.

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That night I laid in the bathtub soaking in all the headlines. Loki ran his whiskers along my fingers, petting himself as I lay and read.

NATION’S BRIDGES COLLAPSE

EVIDENCE POINTS TO COORDINATED ATTACK

At 12PM EST, metal service centers around the country received large orders from a masked IP address. These were minimally staffed stockyards that relied on automation. Pallet jacks loaded self-driving trucks with heavy metals. Something bypassed the jacks’ safety protocols making them fill the trucks beyond their maximum weight.

It was rush hour when the semi trucks drove across hundreds of overpasses deemed “fracture critical” by the National Bridge Inventory. Traffic was bumper to bumper when the trucks put themselves in park. That’s when the cracks began to show and the waters filled with wreckage.

It would be months before authorities could tabulate the loss of life.

As for who was responsible: Chinese, North Korean, or Russian hackers? It was anybody’s guess. All the usual suspects claimed responsibility and none of them could show their work. The purpose of terrorism is to use fear to achieve a goal. With no clear ideology these felt more like acts of mass confusion.

The tub was lukewarm. I turned the handle for the hot water and squeezed my eyes shut until the bad news went away.

The rune stones spread across the ceiling. I debated messaging my mother. She’d lived through the first attack on the World Trade Towers and the second had her sending hysteric texts.

Your father and I are cashing in our liquid assets to buy a fallout shelter. We need you to fill your trunk with canned guys and come home. I plotted a route for you that avoids bridges and major metropolitan areas.

I didn’t feel like spending the rest of the night arguing how an order from my mother wouldn’t get me out of my mortgage.

I scanned the ceiling until I came across a drama mask etched into one of the stones. This was the video streaming application. I sighed. A movie might take my mind off of the days events. Then I thought about all the old comic book films wreaking havoc on the Golden Gate Bridge and thought better of it.

I noticed that the stone with the keyhole had a red number 2 in its upper right corner. I squinted at it until the words DET HEMMELIGE KAMMER appeared. Still it refused to open, despite the notifications.

It didn’t make sense.

If this pair of Oracle Eyes were coded to another user’s retinas then I shouldn’t have been able to access them at all. Yet I could open every application but that one.

I blinked in morse code, crossed my eyes, and darted them around the bathroom, but none of my ocular gestures could get the secret chamber open.

•••

The next morning I was stuck in rush hour traffic. There was a detour that shoehorned everyone onto the same narrow stretch of highway. The radio said every bridge with a fracture critical rating was closed for the time being.

I squeezed my eyes shut, flooding my dashboard with emerald bubbles. I would have been worried about the startup sequence obscuring my vision if traffic hadn’t been bumper to bumper all morning.

It was illegal to drive with Oracle Eyes on, but highway patrol scanners were tuned to detect that blue luminescence that mine weren’t emitting.

The rune stones spread across my windshield. The Secret Chamber had a third notification. Fat lot of good I could do about that.

I shifted my gaze to the stone with the scroll etching and squinted until it burst into flames. The loading animation turned my fatigue into a migraine. I caught flashes of military vehicles careening down city streets, FBI headquarters, and a senate hearing.

The gridlock drained my gas tank, while I fueled my impotent rage with information.

I was mad at the air force for letting those airbuses get so close to Manhattan without shooting them down, mad at the designer of One World Trade Center for not safe guarding it more, and I was mad at the city of New York for not putting a fire station right inside the building.

I was mad at the metal service centers for replacing their workforce with robots, mad at the trucking industry for doing the same thing, and I was mad at the ancient programing that left them vulnerable to hackers from a foreign land.

I was mad at the Office of Infrastructure Protection for leaving our bridges to collapse all at once. I was mad at the NSA for violating our civil liberties and having nothing to show for it. I was mad at the news media for making all of this seem so obvious only after the fact.

•••

I stumbled on the way out of the elevator, bumped into Deb, and almost knocked over the water cooler. I was blinded by all the bad news I was reading. I felt my way to my cubicle. Perturbed coworkers scoffed as I made my way there. I didn’t care. Their scornful looks were buried under block text.

When I plopped down at my desk I didn’t bother booting up the computer. My docket was done for the week. They were paying me to sit there. I rubbed my eyes as I quoted articles aloud.

A red notification flashed across the ceiling tiles.

I threw up my hands. “What is it this time?”

It didn’t matter if the office drones thought I was crazy. Civilization was collapsing. Gravity was bringing us all down.

BREAKING: THE HACKER HAS BEEN TRACED

FEDRAL AGENTS ARE MOVING IN ON HIS POSITION

I fist pumped. “I hope they crucify him.”

The hacker had sent a press release, while I was stuck in traffic. He’d bounced his signal through several thousand relays, but the feds were able to track his IP address to  somewhere inside the United States. Somewhere close.

The hacker wasn’t a communist, a jihadist, or a white nationalist.

He claimed to be part of the Illuminati, referring to himself as “The Light Through the Keyhole.”

There was a lot more to his manifesto, but I got stuck on his title, “The Light Through the Keyhole.”

Could the solution be that simple?

I ran to the window, drew the blinds, and blinked three times to reposition my home screen into the sky. I scanned the runes until the stone with the keyhole came closer. I positioned it directly in front of the sun. The rays pierced the darkness and it opened.

As it turns out DET HEMMELIGE KAMMER wasn’t an application at all, but a secret chamber housing many applications. There was now a brand new row of runes to scan. The first had an etching shaped like an airplane. It was called FLIGHT PLAN. The next had an etching of a pallet jack. It was called PALLET HACK. The next had a picture of semi truck. It was called CRUISE CONTROL.

There were many more runes, each with etchings that were equally disturbing.

I’d been searching for pre-Nerfed Oracle Eyes on the darknet for weeks. It never occurred to me that the seller had been searching for someone like me. Someone who bought contraband online. Someone who programmed for a living. Someone who’d be the perfect patsy for his crimes.

When I looked down from the runes floating on the horizon I saw who the FBI was closing in on. The lot was filled with armored vans. S.W.A.T. teams were already advancing on my position.

I ducked down, clawed at my eyes, and pried the lenses out. I tried to discard them behind me, but when I did I felt a pair of cold steel cuffs clamp down on my wrists.

Newsreelmancer full size

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Yes, I have seen Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror on Netflix. Yes, it’s amazing.

On Black Mirror Zed Eyes are neural implants that give users photographic memory and the ability to block people in the real world. In Newsreelmancer Oracle Eyes let people see the internet wherever they look.

Right now augmented reality is in its infancy so you can count on science fiction writers to use it in their stories.

Still, I should give a nod in Brooker’s direction since this story is basically Black Mirror fan fiction.

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