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The Blood Ring

The Blood Ring

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The Blood Ring

Length:
620 pages
7 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jul 29, 2018
ISBN:
9781386222552
Format:
Book

Description

Yellowcop is everywhere.

It can see and hear everything. It can track where you are in the physical world and what you do in the virtual one. This panoptic surveillance network is legal and built into in every electronic device, gadget or machine that comes off the factory floor, from robot trashcans to autonomous smartcars.

Anonymity is officially dead, that is until the advent of the DENDROS, a quasi-sentient computer algorithm that hacks into all machines spanning the Global Internet of Things.

Peer-to-peer, un-hackable, untraceable and totally cryptonymous, humanity can go back to indulging in its dark side — incognito and free.

Heidi Matthews is a Missing Persons Unit detective, re-assigned to the Sheepdog Unit, a team of law enforcers dedicated to bringing down the snuff industry. All she needs to do is put aside her animosity towards its unscrupulous leader and help the Sheepdogs put an end to the pandemic of violence.

Luke Pearson is a snuff aficionado who is always one step ahead of the law. Always a suspect but never an accused, his luck may be just about to run out.

Eddie, John and Francoise have broken out of the Psychomax. To stay free all they have to do is keep doing what they do best, and the underground snuff market pays more than anything in the world.

Mark Forrester's day turns sour when he comes across a stolen pango, a personal area network device that runs all the technology crammed into everyday life. Within the pango, he uncovers evidence of a horrific, insidious crime perpetrated by a sinister snuff group known as the Blood Ring.

But Mark cannot go to the police, for he suspects that the Yellow Monster, which feeds daily on human villainy, may not be interested in justice at all.

Publisher:
Released:
Jul 29, 2018
ISBN:
9781386222552
Format:
Book

About the author

Wrote his first 'hardcore' science fiction book in second grade during book week. It was a five-page interplanetary epic, with a montage front cover and full page drawings. He came second in the competition which annoyed the hell out of him. Since then, has read and watched everything and anything that can be even remotely classified as science fiction. He has produced a few guerrilla films back when that was a thing and has recently been credited with the discovery of two exoplanets. These days his reading time is sacrificed in the pursuit of writing down his own stories from ideas he has accumulated over the years. Author of A Hostile Takeover & The Blood Ring Discoverer of Exoplanets KIC 10905746 b & KIC 6185331 b Producer of The Bad Samaritan (2001)


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The Blood Ring - Bill Kandiliotis

DEDICATION 

To Frank, 

The first and original Bad Samaritan

The Blood Ring

Man is not born wicked; he becomes so, as he becomes sick. - Voltaire

Don’t let us make imaginary evils, when you know we have so many real ones to encounter. - Oliver Goldsmith

Only the computer saw the murder... and it liked what it saw. - Tagline for the film, Crosstalk (1982)

Prologue: Transient

19.20%

35.86%

Rampant paranoia eats away at my thoughts, like millions of hungry worms, hampering my ability to think coherently.

42.10%

I must calm the fuck down. Somebody is always watching. Something is always watching. This is the way of the world. Human. Machine. Deity. Even out here in this soulless desert, on this forsaken highway, at this architecturally uninspiring recharge pavilion.

53.70%

I know this paranoia is baseless and benign, remnants from that traumatic and terrible nightmare that still haunts me. Yet it still ebbs and flows along the shores of my subconscious.

67.89%

Maybe this is another dream. Or maybe, this is the dream, and the nightmare my true reality. Or it could be that this is a premonition, manifesting as paranoia? I consider the possibility, but it doesn’t make any sense. I don’t believe in that garbage. Or am I just a fool for not believing? Sometimes I feel that I am dead and this is my purgatory. Do the dead possess psychic powers? Come to think of it, perhaps they do. If there existed a state of supernatural transcendence, death would be it. Being alive makes you blind. We neglect numerous clues. I’ve experienced deja vu, many times. Foreboding shivers, outlandish visions, I’ve had them all, over and over, and many have proven truthful. Yet, is this magic, or explainable phenomena?

87.22%

I look around at the winter desert beyond the concrete and glass. This feels different.

98.70%

An amalgamation of paranoia and premonition. Two distinct disturbances. Yes, this appears to be a dream. Once again, I am revisiting my last nightmare. I’m back at the Solaria Recharge Station. Why? Because I’m cursed, that’s why. Condemned to spend an eternity in this twisted state of limbo. A five kilometer stretch of surreal highway, inhabited by the living and the occasional decrepit phantom. How do I know is a dream? I don’t. This existence has no certainty. This awareness I feel is numb and painful at the same time. Like this charging dock. This all seems real. When I pull the locking ring, the power plug snaps off the terminal. The meter settles on a preposterous 98%. The sodium-air ion battery will never load 100%. I accept its technological limitations, but it annoys the shit out of me. Under normal physics, I could get 400 kilometers out a single charge. But here, in this altered state, I get a kilometer or less, just to piss me off.

This is normal?

Here is another clue; evidence that this world is nothing other than a sad nightmare. With a charge time of fifteen minutes, I could have waited in the cafeteria. Instead, I stand here standing under the morning sun, waiting for the electric booth to recharge this machine - a dark and glossy notch-back limousine with falcon doors and ridiculous torque on the all-wheel drive.

This is such a stupid dream.

Some other person’s dream, perhaps. It feels fucking bizarre standing out here in the open, surrounded by empty booths. Letting the charge connector zip back into its holster, I head towards the shop, passing a row of electric docking stations glistering in the morning light. I take a deep breath; the crisp air tangible enough to sooth my unfounded angst.

I enter the store.

I don’t have to pay; the proximity scanner would have done this already. I just feel the urge to move amongst the living, human or machine, and the devil knows what else. Usually, I can’t interact with this dream world, but sometimes there’s a glitch, a singularity that allows me to change things, speak to people or get them to see me. I don’t know if such a miracle is possible, for all I know, I am the glitch and my entire waking life has been an apparition.

The patrons don’t pay me any attention, so I move to the freezer section. Jazzstep plays in the background, a five-year-old classic, ‘Gyrating to the Rhythm’ by Two Evil Uncles. The surveillance cameras pockmarking the ceiling, burn bright yellow, throbbing along to the music. In between the fruit yogurts and the flavored milk, I find a giant python hibernating. Is this normal?

No.

I’m sorry, I tell the reptile, with an unapologetic tone, but you don’t belong in there, nor I here. I rush back towards the exit, stopping at the glass window. Outside, the sun shines through a swarm of dancing sandflies, a buzzard patrols the sky above hilly surroundings, and a man stands alone, like a wild brute, next to the same dark limousine, charging it in the same spot as I was.

Who is this?

I step outside and walk towards him.

I could see the lines of defeat on his face.

His bitter, predatory eyes.

I sense his wrath.

This man is me.

-Chapter One-

Salamander Highway

Blue, red and orange lights, flaring from all the emergency vehicles, dazzled her eyes. Beyond the cold, fogged up glass, the notorious Salamander Highway once again unveiled its macabre and deadly reputation. This time the recent rainstorm had forced the various police units to rush to preserve the crime scene.

Hunter Matthews sank into the passenger seat and waited. She regulated her breathing until the faint tremor in her hands subsided. Anxiety kept her from getting out of Commissioner Ian Bayfield’s cruiser. She held off until the apprehension in her upper chest grew unbearable. The door sensor reacted to her touch, opening to let the foul, acrid external air pierces her nostrils. She noted a plethora of chemical odors. A bitumen hot-mix factory was responsible for some of the stench, the smoldering truck across from her, the culprit for the rest.

She spotted James Joyce, a senior detective she knew all too well, crouching in the breakdown lane. Dressed in dark blue overalls he seemed preoccupied with a paper cup. Matthews studied the other personnel around her and identified the units they belonged to. Joyce and a few others were Sheepdog Unit. The large, white SDU letters on their backs and their cavalier attitude made them easy to pick out. She walked towards the huddle of police officers, catching the end of Joyce’s conversation.

...freshly-ground mega-grande skin cap with a shot of vanilla? He sniffed his cup, his face twisting in disgust. His subordinates laughed. Matthew’s stomach tightened. Joyce’s grimace, his pointy-edged lips, his cruel face, brought back harsh memories. Meters away, the burnt out wreckage of what appeared to be a tatax truck still plumed with black smoke. Another vehicle, a two-door, purple pre-electric Cabano convertible, sat unaffected next to it. Police personnel, witnesses, and emergency vehicles converged on the scene like antediluvian insects. The junknews vultures had yet to descend, she noted.

Looking up, Joyce saw her approach. A distrustful smile formed on his hard, unshaven face. What have we here? he said, acting surprised.

She knew his fake tone well. Detective Joyce.

Well, hello, Miz Big Shot Detective Matthews.

Six years and the prick still feels the need to pound down on me, she thought, but resolved to keep it cordial, What’s the story here?

Joyce raised his thick eyebrow, Someone possessed a deep-seated desire to firebomb a fellow human being. To sum up this sordid affair, this tatax got barbequed.

Matthews indicated towards the other vehicle, an early model Cabano, picked over by the forensic team. What about over there?

Found a couple of freshly severed fingers. Why don’t you go ask Chook?

A tired-looking Chook, also in dark blue overalls joined them. Detective Jian ‘Chook’ Burachek. She remembered him from way back when they were both junior constables. She never got to know him. Barely spoke to him due to his lack of interpersonal skills.

What’s the situation? she asked.

Chook shrugged his shoulders, disinterested.

My people are onto it, said Joyce. What are you doing here?

Matthews knew it wouldn’t take long before he would start pounding her again. This may or may not be linked to a case I’m working on.

A case? Joyce seemed impressed.

It’s a missing person case...

Missing persons? Is that where you ended up. He smiled again. I guess you have to start again somewhere, detective. I’m impressed.

Asshole.

She ignored his attitude, unable to tolerate any more of him. Mind if I snoop around?

Joyce paused, pondering it for a long moment. Go ahead.

Any witnesses?

His eyes studied her. He could have spat out harsh vitriol at any second, instead, he said. Not yet.

Do you have a Yellowcop snapshot?

Joyce frowned. We took one. A ten-kilometer radius. Over five hundred GIoT tags. We’ve taken snapshots from motion mappers in the lighting grid, from local surveillance pods, and from GIoT implants in every vehicle in the vicinity at the time. We know who’s been here and we are tracking them. Like I said, the team has it covered. But, be my guest, help yourself to the command module.

Relieved, Matthews nodded and turned, not wanting to test his self-restraint. She walked past a small fleet of empty ambulances. A large black bus, labeled Sheepdog Unit, sat idle at the fringe of the crime scene. Few teams had access to their own Mobile Command Vehicle. Usually, the Analytic Services Teams and Riot Squad had them. Matthews climbed into it.

To her left, behind the drive module, were eight little booths with first class seats, four on each side. Each seat had its own workspace and creature comfort amenities. A body wrapped in a blanket occupied one a few seats down.

A sleeping officer, she figured.

To her right, a small lab and communications portal took up space before the conference room at the rear. A toilet and shower compartment was located to the side of the entry. A policewoman in navy cargo pants, tactical belt, and Sheepdog Unit T-shirt sat at a terminal. Hi there, she said. Detective Hunter Matthews, Police sirens blared outside, interrupting her.

Detective Claudetta Henley, the cop replied. Her clean-cut appearance and femininity very different from the usual razorpunks that inhabit police labs.

Can I tap into your feed? asked Matthews.

The unconventional geek hesitated. This is a Yellowcop startpoint. I can’t...

Let her log in, a voice boomed from outside.

Joyce popped his head in through the door. So long as she reciprocates the flow of information, he said, a fleeting annoyance visible on his face. Matthews went to the door and watched Joyce walk over to a waiting Commissioner Ian Bayfield and Cyber Attorney, Goldie Smelcer. She jumped down and joined them in the mist and drizzle that had befallen that lonely stretch of the Salamander Highway.

Joyce shot her a look of contempt. You knew about this? he said, accusingly.

Relax, J.J., said Bayfield. I haven’t told her yet.

How does her skill set benefit my team? asked Joyce, his anger seething from his exposed neck.

You will find that it is.

How?

Bayfield kept to his cool voice. You obviously neglected to catch the CA’s latest bulletin. Her report pretty much highlights the sharp rise in snuff related homicides in the past five years. This rise corresponds to an equal rise in unsolved persons reported missing during that same period. Welcome to Sheepdog Unit, Detective Matthews.

Matthews nodded, hiding her confusion. She had not expected to end up embedded with the notorious Sheepdog Unit.

Give her a go, J.J., said Smelcer.

Joyce shook his head, making his disappointment obvious. You’re killing me, Goldie. I can do without your roadblocks.

Bayfield responded, The only roadblock you need to worry about is a month away.

You’re shutting us down? Joyce’s shoulders slumped like a wounded creature.

I don’t see it being renewed, so we may be forced to disband the Sheepdog Unit.

Joyce stomped into a puddle. Then I’m wasting precious time talking to you jokers. He distributed his contempt evenly, with a glare aimed at all three. He turned and headed back towards the MCV.

Matthews rushed after him. Joyce! The drizzle had upgraded to rain, but that didn’t faze her. Joyce’s display of anger and insolence troubled her deeply.

She anticipated a rough ride ahead.

Bitrodog

It froze up on me.

The cajero looks at me with disdain as soon as she hears the words. I intentionally visited this kiosk with the hope a human being would offer a faster, more accommodating turnaround, but now I suspect this is not going to happen.

Have you logged into the portal? asks the Bitrodog kiosk attendant, a face full of cyber piercings and plain indifference. Her attitude bewilders the hell out of me.

I was hoping to bypass all that. I don't trust using the Bitrodog automaton. Too much is at stake to have some machine stuffing this up.

This annoys her even more. If you log into any of our public servers, they’ll scan and find out what’s wrong, then Bitrodog will execute a firmware upgrade and that should fix it. If that still doesn't fix it, you insert the pango into one of these slots. The Bitrodog will flash a new one with your profile and make it available through this slot here.

Well, I’m here now. You would think this robot supervisor would jump at a chance to interact with another human being instead of standing around rebooting a machine and fending off scumhackers all day. I smile, hoping that changes her attitude.

No such luck. She rolls her eyes at me. Have you checked whether each of your wearables is configured correctly?

Wearables?

She points to my face. Those Rebelos, for example.

I don't like her judgmental tone. I'm wearing these because, not only do they improve my eyesight, these also protect my identity. The Rebelos emit IRUV light onto my face. Combined with my makeup, they make a mess of images captured by the citywide surveillance network. Perfectly legal, especially for registered citizens.

What about that Sakura? she asks.

I look at the device strapped to my wrist. It tells the time.

And?

It's a watch. That’s all it does. It also functions as a paycard, but apart from that I’ve never hooked it up to my pango.

This surprises her. That Sakura does more than just tell the time. What’s the point of having a pango?

I just make calls. I show her my pango.

She appears disgusted with what she sees. Oh, it's one of those. It’s got a screen. She frowns. What about the smartgoods at home, your car? Her body piercings explain it all - microphone earrings, nosecam, gesture rings on each of her fingers, magnetic clothing, wrist projector, shoe pedometer, belt ion battery and a neckspy. This girl’s personal-area-network-gadget-organizer had its work cut out for it.

I have an old Zandra running my house, so everything’s on a closed local network. I shrug. I’m a bit old-school.

An old Zandra, wow. Her attitude starts to change. That’s one of the first smarties to hit the market. It’s pre-Yellowcop.

I look at her nametag, Ailee Masazje. Yes, it is. I like my privacy, I say. Like I said, old school.

Who doesn’t, she agrees, now a new person. Trust me. I don’t like this Yellowcop bullshit watching our every move either.

Yeah, I say. Why do they need to know what’s in my fridge?

Or what you’ve put in your blender?

Or how many times I flushed my toilet?

She smiles, takes my pango and tethers it with hers. May have lost its configuration.

Every time I try to boot it up, it reverts back to its default standby.

Ailee studies the data lighting up the palm of her hand. Doesn’t come up with any hardware fault.

Do you think it’s infected with this Dendro virus?

She looks at me, squinting. The Dendro grub is what we call a self-modifying hypo-cryptic coded algorithm, she says but realizes she was losing me. It’s basically a smartie that writes itself beneath the existing operating system. Like a parasite it coexists in the same medium, utilizing the unused superflash structure of modern storage chips to hide amongst all the primary firmware code. Neither can detect each other or so the theory goes. I reckon the Dendro can, otherwise how else could it subvert every operating system it comes across?

No idea, I say. I know a little about the technology but didn’t want to get bogged down in a meaningless conversation with some cajero.

She smiles and says, I’m gonna have to flash it and give you a new pango. I can't print you the same model, the Bitrodog doesn’t make these anymore.

Fear strikes at me, piercing the inside of my heart. It’s not the loss of a small fortune that distresses me; it’s the risks that I’ve taken to obtain it. The time wasted. All this hank-dickery for nothing.

Will I lose all my data?

Ailee shrugs.

I should have never allowed greed to taint my decisions. I take comfort in knowing that whatever else is stored on that pango would also be wiped out.

So I shrug too. Guess that’s okay.

Ailee places the pango into the red slot. There is a loud beep and a high pitch grinding sound. Hearing the pango being shred into recyclable dust makes me a tad uncomfortable. The machine spits out a mirror-black disk. My new pango is smaller, lighter, and featureless. Ailee scans the device and hands it to me.

I look at it. There’s no screen.

They don’t come with screens anymore, she explains.

How am I supposed to interact with it?

She shows me a product display featuring headbands.

Mindjectors.

I know what they are. No thanks, I say.

She seems confused.

I say, I’ve never been trained to use those things. In other words, I have not allowed some machine to print neuro-pathways into my brain.

Augmented reality shit.

The girl nods. Would you like me to set it up for you?

No. I’ll manage. Thanks for your help.

You’ll need some kind of interface. The food court has plenty of active tables.

I appreciate the affinity she feels for me. Thank you.

All I need now is your acceptance.

A short-lived affinity. Paying a bill always kills a mood. I wave the Sakura across the counter. My details glow on its surface.

Mark Forrester.

The name strikes me as alien. I don’t know why. I should be used to it by now. Again I thank the cajero, take possession of the glossy new pango and head out to explore the rest of the sprawling Aurora Shopping Plaza. I head to the food court and buy a pineapple and ghost pepper burger from an exotic takeaway. I find a nice quiet spot near a panel of windows overlooking a construction site and sit down to eat.

Activating the pango, I tether it to the table. It lights up, switching immediately to the access portal. A user profile automatically logs into the device.

Shadowcat.

I discern right away that this post-fabricated pango has been flashed with the wrong profile.

Ah shit.

Invite from Mr. Fingers

Luke Pearson’s day started tumultuously, after waking in the early hours of the morning, covered in urine. Not his, but from a dastardly act committed by his wife, six hours before their courthouse appearance.

He rubs the back of his head, feeling the swollen wound and the crusty, sore scab protecting it. Blood stains his fingers. Luke washes his shaking hands. What am I chicken-shit about? he asks his reflection in the mirror. He dries his hands under the blower and walks out of the district court’s bathroom, making his way to the mediation room. Luke takes his time. He knows he is obligated to attend and follow through on these legal proceedings, launched by him against his wife.

Upon entering, he catches the plaintiff’s lawyer in mid-sentence. ...Monday night while dining at their local Brasserie, employed a full, unopened bottle of Stanton Valley Shiraz, and struck my client across the back of the head.

Wendy sits opposite a compact table, barely able to seat four. The defendant’s lawyer glances at his client, faking his disappointment. That was regrettable.

Wendy Socorro.

A habitual tormentor. One of many occupying a long list of bullies he suffered under throughout his life. His first ever intimate relationship. Luke could never determine whether it is love that binds him to this crazy girl or fear.

Fear of never again being with another woman.

Fear of living alone.

Fear of her.

Slender body, decent bra size, ultra-straight, shoulder length brown hair and smooth freckled skin; had Wendy not cracked him across the back of the head on that fateful Monday night, he could have perpetually tolerated her irritable personality, the constant verbal abuse, the humiliation, and systematic castigation.

She’s a bully, declares the plaintiff’s lawyer.

Luke sits and slouches back in his chair, avoiding eye contact. He found it tough going, fronting up to the courthouse that morning. The embarrassment, the shame over his lack of masculinity weighed heavy in his gut. Regret tore him to shreds. Illogical, yes, but true. Regret and fear, he can hardly tell the difference between the two. He felt cowardly for orchestrating this legal assault on his celebrity wife. Again, an irrational emotion, for this was a woman with a vindictive temper and prone to violence.

His lawyer continues his assault. Not to mention the constant verbal abuse, the humiliation, and systematic castigation.

Wendy glares at Luke. He doesn’t have to see her; he senses that familiar burning sensation. Luke peeks at her, encounters her intense fury and looks back down that same second. The bracer on his wrist lights up. A message reflects onto his backhand. Suppressing a delinquent glee, he perused the message, pretty much ignoring much of the opposing solicitor’s counter-argument.

~mrfingers: Are we not drawn onward to new era?

Luke stealthily interacts with the bracer, and twigs back, never understanding Mr. Fingers’ use of palindromes in his greetings. The practice of ciphering is not necessary on the DEN. Encrypted message twigs are undecipherable to third parties. To his knowledge, the Dendronic Encrypted Network has yet to be cracked or overwhelmed by anyone. He once heard punters declare that the government had secretly hacked the Darkpeer protocol; a quomputer algorithm that has systematically infected every device on the planet. If that is the case, Luke has never seen this applied. No prosecution has ever been leveled against anyone based on evidence gathered from the Dendrome.

He wonders, what is the government waiting for?

~zackcherry1: When and where?

~mrfingers: Salamander Highway. Billboard 6870. Noon today.

~zackcherry1: What should I B looking 4?

~mrfingers: U WILL KNOW WHEN U C IT.

~mrfingers: [exact target]FONT_X_24049B68

If we can establish a basis for provocation, says the defendant’s lawyer. Then...

Luke stands up.

His lawyer grabs his arm to stop him from leaving. Luke, you need to stand up to her

This brief communication exchange with Mr. Fingers is Luke’s first official collaboration with the normally unassuming serial killer, having spent over a year interacting with him via the DEN; or her, one never could tell. The message is an invite for a private viewing. For Luke, this is a lucrative opportunity to watch the king of digital amputation at work. Luke looks at Wendy again. A grin escapes from her lips. More of a leer than a smile.

Bye, Wendy, he tells her and walks away.

Bye-bye, she responds.

Fuck you, Wendy.

Psychomax

It’s him, you say.

Who? says Francoise.

That thug friend of Bastione. He's got himself a job in here as well. As a cleaner.

Don’t know who you’re talking about.

The big, hairy, bald guy, you explain. You look around the empty mess hall for any eavesdroppers. The one who mopped up Ebola’s turd mess this morning.

Ebola’s a filthy bastard, Francois giggles.

He’s been watching me all day.

Who? Ebola?

No. The fucking big, fat, hairy, bald guy. He, and that Bastione plan to kill me in here. Anger burns inside your chest, but you can’t allow them to witness it. Not this anger. Not this emotional response. Those brain butchers will realize you’ve been fooling them all this time. You’ll find him mopping the south wing. Go and see for yourself.

Francoise scratches his nose, You are gettin’ over-excited again.

Go see, you insist.

Point is, you’re gettin’ plenty excited, says Francois as he steals a potato chip from Footy Grant’s plate. The ex-footballer, a husk of what was once a vibrant athlete, remains in a passive stupor, too violent and suicidal to exist in a drug-free state. Maybe you’re wrong.

It’s him. I saw him. He saw me, and gave this ‘I’m going to fuck you up’ look.

What’s he gonna do? The security here is pretty fart-proof. You should chill.

The fact that they have both gone to the trouble to break into this place shows how determined they are. How the fuck did they get jobs in here?

The question makes your stomach lurch. The mental rehabilitation center was more fortified than the maximum security prison you industriously lobbied to dodge. You had them spend over a year evaluating your competency to stand trial, only for you to find out that prison would have been more fun.

Francoise answers your question, Steve Bastione is a Black Dragon. They are big in prison smuggling operations. He probably got connections with Bright Spark and got himself a job as an electrician changing globes here every Monday. The fucking, big, hairy bald guy did the same thing. Cleaning companies are practically owned by these criminals.

You know about this? You have this all figured out?

See, dickhead, I rationalize things. You don’t. These people can’t do anything to us. If we keep drawing attention to ourselves they won’t risk it, and if they do they won’t get very far. This center watches out for staff safety, more than us patients, so security is pretty fucking tight.

They’ll find a way, you whisper. We’re fucked. He’s not going to stop until he gets his revenge.

Then you shouldn’t have done that to his sister.

You watch the grin spread across Francoise’s face, but you are not amused, I don’t want any more fucking attention. I want to get out of here.

Francoise inhales, What? Why are you whispering? We have it good here, bro. We livin’ in luxury compared to prison. From homelessness, living under billboards, sleeping in the cold and daily starvation, to three meals a day, all the drugs in the world, a nice warm bed, and a clean life. The only downside is; we are surrounded by retarded people who randomly shit everywhere.

This fuck-hole is worse than prison. These last four years living in a psyche-house, this constant mind-bending and mind-raping has been fucking hard. You rock on your chair; your hospital gown loosens, exposing your ass. You grip the plastic seat until your fingernails feel like they’re going to crack.

John, John, John, John, says Francoise. You need to chill the fuck down.

I can’t, you say the words but no air comes out of your mouth. You can barely breathe. He’s gonna gun for me, the fucking prick. Fucking poison me or something.

Then get to him first.

I can’t. They’ll know. They’ll find out.

Find out what? That you’re a crazy motherfucker? Don’t you get it? They don’t want to send you to any maximum security prison. Compared to all the other dangerously insane animals in here, you’re their most low-risk patient. Plus, they get a good slice of the taxpayer pie. There’s no incentive to get rid of you. They want you here, bro. Francoise then gives you his devious grin, We should take our time. Come up with a plan and get those two fuckers, like we did to that Postman Larry... and the nurse.

Shhhhh fffk, you fucking imbecile.

Okay relax, they don’t monitor our conversation in the mess hall, you paranoid freak. What have you in mind? You can see Francoise begin to take you seriously. You want to get out. How?

You look at the empty, unsupervised cafeteria. Aside from Footy Grant, the mess hall garners no patronage after 2 PM. For some reason, the stupid cunts deem it safe for a murderer, a rapist, and an agro-maniac to be left alone to hang out.

Maybe they're watching.

Grabbing the base of your chair you shove it across the floor, scraping it, to get some distance from Footy Grant. He may be comatose and docile but you know the prick hears everything. Francoise grabs another potato chip and follows your lead until you and he are both clear to talk freely.

You begin, whispering, For over a year now, I have been interviewed by this med student. I told you about this.

No.

"Yes, I did.

No, you did not.

The dude’s doing research on my medication. On how all the pills they’ve been forcing on me has affected my brain. This guy’s been sort of studying me. He’s doing some thesis or something. Somehow he’s gotten access to me so we’ve been having half-hour sessions once a week. Every week. He asks me all this shit, right. At first, I thought it was a trap. Like they were trying to trip me, admit to shit, prove I’m sane. But one day he asks me... you whisper even deeper, ... do you wanna get out of here?

It’s a trap, snaps Francoise.

I say, sure, I wanna get out.

It’s a fucking trap.

He says we need to trigger the fire alarm and when we smell burning plastic, we should head for the safety door in the loading dock area. The access door will be unlocked.

You’re fucked in the head if you believe that.

I say, what about Eddie and Francoise? I ain’t goin’ nowhere without those two.

You are fucked in the head. Seriously.

He says; that’s all good, but I need something in return. You need to do something for me, or else you won’t be sent back here, you’ll go to real prison, not fake prison; real prison, where the inmates are much more deranged than in here.

Francoise falls silent.

You wait for his opinion.

Francoise says, What have you told him already.

You don’t want to reveal all to him now, especially about that one night you were watching an old horror flick called ‘The End is Now’? One minute you’re rooting for The Alien Boy character. Next minute you are talking to The Alien Boy in person.

You ready to get out of here?

Yes, you tell The Alien Boy.

That same night you decide never to tell Francois about the conversation. You’re tempted to but you doubt he would understand, let alone believe you. Francois would laugh and ridicule you if he heard you explain The Alien Boy’s message, how it used the Dendro to infiltrate the Psychomax, its escape plan, and its offer to join this network called the Blood Ring.

But of the Doctor Gus situation, you feel it’s necessary to tell him, I only gave Doctor Gus the same shit I’ve been giving the rest of these fuckers.

Doctor Gus? Shit.

Francoise can be difficult to deal with, especially when his agenda diverges from yours. But you want to get out. This Steve Bastione, a Black Dragon sergeant-at-arms, has broken into this psychiatric prison disguised as a sparky, to confront you, the perceived murderer of his sibling. He wants you... dead. Revenge is a powerful catalyst for murderous vendettas.

Francoise scratches his nose, What does this Doctor Gus want us to do?

He wants to record me re-enacting it.

What?

You know, you wait until he nods, He wants to show his friends.

What does he know about it?

I don’t know, you whisper. According to this guy, there are hundreds of people out there who understand me and you. People who want to see the Bad Samaritan again. These fans are on the DEN. I’ve seen them. I’ve read what they’re saying about us.

The DEN?

That crypto network thing, you explain. The Dendro. Don’t be a fucking dickhead.

That quasi-internet shit, Francoise frowns. It just a bug hiding in the GIoT, making a mess of it. How the fuck did you get access to it? There’s no GIoT in here. This place is disconnected from the world. Francoise stares at you, his eyes full of suspicion. You need to stop taking those fucken meds, he tells you.

No, the more I take them the more fucked up I get. Soon, I won’t have to pretend. I can stay here forever. But I don't want to. Doctor Gus will get us all out.

He’s no friend.

You know; I’ve noticed your growing paranoia of late. You should try getting along more with the staff.

I’m the sociable one. You’re the one finding it a problem fitting in.

Unlike you, who wastes time talking to all the fucking retarded inmates in here, I at least am picky about who I interact with. You notice his displeasure. You are reluctant to back off, but decide to ease your aggression towards him.

He says, How you get access to the GIoT?

Tentacles, you tell him. A half-truth. That night, you approached the crazy hacktivist for an explanation. He taught you all about the Dendro, how it works, and how it could hijack the prison’s local internet of things. A smart and resourceful man.

Disgust washes across Francois’ face, That fuck?

Yeah, that fuck.

That walking sexual dysfunction?

You’re the fucking walking sexual dysfunction, you jealous hypocrite. Aside from his grotesque physiology, Tentacles is quite the hacker.

He’s hacked his way out to the GIoT from in here? enthusiasm escapes his lips.

No, you tell him. The Dendro hacked into here. Tentacles just showed me how to access it. You recall his lectures. The Dendro parasite that lives within the Global Internet of Things can hack its way into everything it finds. Nothing, no anti-hack can stop this thing. They can isolate the local IoT from the GIoT, but the Dendro will somehow find its way in. It’ll infect say, a device made in a factory that’s linked to the GIoT electronically. The device, like some toaster, will then get shipped into a segregated LIoT, and infect the whole place.

What did Tentacles show you?

Showed me how to utilize the control touch screens to access the GIoT. I do it mostly in the laundromat. Those industrial washing machines have big control panels. That’s why I hang out there, not for the bleach. The oven in the reconciliation room also is a good portal. Tentacles is one clever cunt.

You know Tentacles isn’t insane.

So?

Francoise gives you a stern look, He’s just like me and you, and the Postman. And we had to kill the Postman.

Shhhh phhhkkk... Can you please shut the fuck up about that?

He was pretending.

We are all fucking pretending in here.

But he threatened us.

He was in a fucking wheelchair and retarded as hell. How he killed all those people is beyond me.

Francoise pulls a face. He seems in agreement, and just as puzzled, How did the postal service ever hire him?

There’s no such thing as a postal service anymore, you inform him. Hasn’t been one in existence for decades. Drones and shit disrupted that service out of existence. That is what made him brilliant. He delivered fake mail until he convinced an entire community to use the old mailboxes. He socially-engineered his way into all these family and slaughtered them off one by one. Proves the world is fucked in the head by default, right.

Proves nothing, Francoise says. By default, all people pretend to be retarded, or emotionally impaired. Can you please stop all this bullshit rambling and tell me who the fuck wants to see The Bad Samaritan? I thought the cops suppressed all of our material.

It’s this thing, this group called Blood Ring.

And what the fuck is this Blood Ring?

I don’t know. Some crypto-forum for snuff enthusiasts, hidden within the convoluted data shadows of the Dendro. A place where members share their experiences. I want to share all of it. I can share it, Francoise. I am not demented; I am fucking normal. You understand what this means? I am fucking normal. These feelings I have are fucking normal.

I don’t think this is a good idea, says Francoise, this escape thing. He gets up and walks towards the glass brick wall, I don’t like this at all.

Francoise pulls up his gown and crouches. His brow scrunches up as he begins to do a shit on the freshly-mopped laminate tiles.

Interlude: Knockoff by Mr. Fingers

Detective James Joyce could hear the woman, his ex-subordinate, his ex-protégé, ex-lover, climbing into the Mobile Command Unit behind him. He accepted this new agony. At his age, he’d become a specialist in rolling with the punches. Yet the encumbering of his team with Matthews added an extra dimension of uncertainty to his mission.

I didn’t sign up for this, said Matthews

I bet, replied Joyce as he hovered over Detective Henley in front of a screen. Rubicon, prepare to get us the fuck away from here.

What about this crime scene? asked Matthews.

I’m letting Homicide 6 handle it. Joyce contained his temper. He would give her a chance. Placate her, until he could figure a way to keep her in line. He recalled how disastrous his last approach with her ended up.

Have you not seen what’s out there? said Matthews. This stretch of highway is a known stalking ground.

The Tatars are responsible, Joyce said without looking at her. I’m not going to fuck around with a bunch of gangbangers who’ve decided to wage war upon each other. This is a Homicide 6 problem.

Tatars are into snuff in a big way. Matthews insisted, much to Joyce’s annoyance. A character trait that could go nuclear at any time. It’s their specialty, she continued. Isn’t this our area of expertise? What occurred out there is snuff related violence from a competitor. We should be considering this.

Joyce felt the need to snarl at her, We? What’s this we business?

Sheepdog Unit should be considering this.

Joyce eased back his pithiness. Highlight one piece of evidence that supports your position.

Matthews turned her attention to the data monitors, studying the satellite map. Hundreds of GIoT identity tags twinkled against high-resolution imagery. Static Yellowcop-enabled devices glowed blue. Dynamic devices glowed amber and left a red line for a trail. She pointed to a dark patch. This location is a Yellowcop blind spot, she said.

Yes, we are aware of that, answered Joyce.

Who’s our victim, Matthews asked.

Joyce could see the pressure she was putting herself under. A familiar, stubborn, dangerous determination. A country girl with a country girl mentality. Always thinking they needed to prove their worth to city folk. Joyce tried to instill in her that such endeavors were pointless, meaningless. City folk don’t value other people’s merit; he had once told her. They don’t give a fuck about loyalty, respect, or hard work. All they care about is their own ass. In a city of over forty million folks, selfishness rules. It rules with an iron fist.

A new, gentle, and decidedly male voice, emanating from the above, interrupted his thoughts. We have one deceased male tow-truck driver, Azat Calapucha, 23. Cause of death pending an autopsy.

Matthews looked at Henley. The cybernaut explained, "Its name is Rubicon. Police-issue metacybe.

We have one tow-truck vehicle destroyed by fire. The likely cause; petroleum used as a catalyst. We have one abandoned pre-electric vehicle, a Cabano B-4 notchback. A forensic analysis is underway.

"What about the severed

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