The Beam S1: Chapter Ten

The Beam S1: Chapter Ten


Sean is co-founder of the Collective Inkwell and Realm & Sands imprints, speaker, and author, with breakout indie hits such as Yesterday’s Gone, WhiteSpace, Unicorn Western and The Beam, as well as traditionally published titles Z 2134 and Monstrous. Follow him on Twitter @seanplatt

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Doc Stahl was grinding like hell down the A05, the airborne avenue that roughly followed Broadway from above. All of the autocops stationed by the buoy lines marking the skyroad’s sides should have been lighting up and following, but Doc’s hover had a jammer — a good one, too, bought from the same crooked son of a bitch who’d sold him his anonymous router. Doc had another anonymous router in the car, but given what had happened back at his apartment, he was afraid to use it. Luckily he knew where to go without Beam guidance. That was unusual these days. Most people couldn’t find their asses without The Beam showing them where to wipe. Doc saw both sides of the tech coin. Selling add-ons — some of questionable legality — had made him rich, but dependence on machines was fucking society six ways from Sunday. The Enterprise, at least, still had a work ethic. But the Directorate? If their Beam connections blitzed out for a day, a handful would be despondent and panicked enough to commit suicide. You could set your nano-tattoo watch by it.

Doc exited at A14, then banked like a maniac down toward the AP41. Noah Fucking West was the air map complicated. No wonder people couldn’t find shit up here.

The AP41 was packed. Autocops were patrolling a stopped line of hovers jammed in tight as if they might catch the dead line of vehicles for speeding. Doc almost rear-ended a Daimler Sport, veered to the side, and crossed the buoy line. The car behind him, which he’d just cut off, laid on the horn. The line inched up and he jockeyed back into the column of cars. Doc swore. Back when hovers were new, they were few enough that District Zero had let them simply float up and go where they wanted. But after hovers went from novelty to seeming necessity and there were enough mid-air accidents, the skyroads were built. Now there was barely an advantage to driving above the ground. Gridlock was officially everywhere, even on a Saturday.

Duly halted, Doc looked down at his dashboard’s small screen, where his guidance map would normally be. He had to get onto The Beam, if for no other reason than to figure out who might have broken into his apartment. It had to be because of what he’d seen at Xenia. He remembered Vanessa’s and Killian’s reactions when they’d realized that Doc was where he wasn’t supposed to be. He remembered how the guards had moved to block the door. He remembered the implication that he was going to have his mind wiped whether he was willing or not. Doc wondered what people so paranoid might do if they knew about his wipe-blocking implant.

Of course, it now seemed likely that they did know.

He put himself in Killian’s shoes, or the shoes of whoever Killian reported to. Would they simply let a man leave after having seen classified wares and chalk it up as a mistake? Would that be enough? Or would they do some research to find out if the man might be a problem? Doc knew he would, and Xenia had deeper access to The Beam than Doc’s official level — maybe even deeper than Doc’s actual level. Xenia could probably find out that Doc sometimes bought wholesale from a man in Little Harajuku named Ryu. They might be able to find the rumors that Ryu dealt in illegal wares… such as autocop jammers, anonymous routers, and implants that could deflect handheld memory wipers.

If they knew that, they’d know that Doc hadn’t forgotten the upgrades he’d seen. Doc knew that biological enhancement ability had far, far, far surpassed public awareness. What might the people in charge of that dangerous secret do to preserve it? And how good might their own tracking ability be, given their superior technology? Might they be able to trace a connection even through one of Ryu’s routers?

Doc looked down at his dark screen and resisted the urge to log on. He took a deep breath, telling himself that he wasn’t like the fools who couldn’t be disconnected from The Beam for more than a few hours without their worlds crumbling. He was able to walk to the wall and flip his own manual light switch. He could use a match to start a fire in his apartment’s fireplace. He knew how to write letters with a pen, on real fucking paper.

And he didn’t need to know who’d broken into his apartment. He only needed to know that they hadn’t been coming to say hi, that they had the ability to hack (or force) their way into a highly secure building and an even more secure penthouse apartment. And, of course, that they were surely still somewhere behind him.

Doc swore at the line of traffic, then made a decision.

He decreased altitude, submerging below the line of hovers. The car behind him honked, as did several others. But Doc was already gone, speeding through the open air off the skyroad like a land car crashing through a barricaded highway median. Several autocop cars broke from the buoys and descended after him. They were behind; he could outrun them. His destination was nearly directly below him, so he dove, nearly nose-down. His back pressed into his seat like an astronaut in a centrifuge. The gap between Doc and the autocops widened as they shied from his reckless dive, taking a more level approach. Official-sounding entreaties to stop where he was blasted around him, but even if Doc stopped now, he’d end up being fined half a year’s profits just to retrieve his license — if, that was, he was lucky enough to remain undiscovered by his pursuers.

Doc’s hover dove between the buildings below. He banked hard right, nearly striking a large glass office spire. You weren’t allowed to fly this low, and Doc caught sight of several shocked faces staring out at him. He slipped down a street he didn’t recognize, then darted down a smaller one lined with quaint looking shops and parked with a lot of wheeled vehicles. Pedestrians looked up and hoverbikes braked hard as drivers rubbernecked at him. He heard at least one accident, and hoped no one was hurt.

Doc sped through a residential neighborhood, eventually flying out near Houston, by the old bomb crater that had been kept as a themed tourist district.

Shops. Spires. People still watched him, aghast. So he slowed down, dipped into a line of traffic and continued at street level. After a few more blocks, people stopped looking. The autocops were long gone. They’d communicate his car’s description along The Beam and every traffic light would be looking for him, but Doc drove a Ford Magnum, powder blue — the most popular hovercar and color on the market. And thanks to his jammer, they’d only gotten the car’s spoofed Auto ID, which he’d already toggled to a new value.

His heart still thumping, Doc pulled the car to the side of the road, engaged the security, and half-walked, half-jogged the remaining five blocks on foot.

It was noon. Doc knew he’d wake Kai when he rang her buzzer because she worked at night. And he knew she’d be pissed.

But Kai was also the only person in the world Doc could trust to help him.

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