April 21, 2004


Posted by shonk at 11:48 AM in Literature | TrackBack

My good friend George Potter hasn’t updated The Frontierist in a while, but that doesn’t mean he’s not writing. In fact, he’s been busy writing “Roadkilling”, which he calls his “swan song”, his last piece of net writing; he’s retiring from writing for the net to focus on writing a novel. He was gracious enough to give me permission to post the first part of “Roadkilling” here, so it follows below. Also, be sure to check out his parable “The Liberators” and the collection Micropiece (and other tales), available from Lulu.


by George Potter

(for Sean)

“We’re never going to figure out exactly what The Crash was, or all the whys and hows. The Feds and the Phantoms went to war on the Old Net and the Old Net died. Since The Feds were Old Net dependant, they ‘lost’. Since the Phantoms had created and were Overnet dependant, they ‘won’. How it happened really isn’t important. What we’re going through now and where we’re going to end up is one hell of a lot more important.” - Carlton Rose, AGAINST BACKWARDS PROPHECY

    I knew some crazy shit was gonna come down as soon as IKDR started acting weirder than usual. It’s not like he ever acts normal or anything, but he was on a total fucking roll, the lies and nonsense coming thicker and faster than I’d ever known it to — and I’ve known the little freak since he was two and me and my friend Cheffy found him in that garbage dump.
    Line after line of that zipped by. Ugh. I finally just blocked it out, ignored it, and nodded every once in a while at his almost dancing form beside me or said “Cool, bro.”

    IKDR stands for I Know Damn Right, and you can’t blame me for that, either. Cheffy and me decided it wasn’t our place to go slappin’ names on a kid we didn’t even shoot no juice to make. Unfair, you know? So, when he was four, we told him he had exactly one week to make up his own name. That confused the shit out of him, since he thought his name was ‘Kid’ or ‘Dumbass’. So for awhile he told us to call him Kid Dumbass. We did, but we couldn’t stop cracking up when we said it, and he got all pissed. For a while he was ‘Superman’. That didn’t last long either. Then he was ‘Fucknut’ for a bit, ‘cause that’s what I called Cheffy half the time and he sorta idolized Cheffy.
    But, for some reason, about five minutes before the week was up — and hell yeah we were timing it; wouldn’t have been as good of a joke if not — he walked up and told us he wanted to be called IKDR.
    We asked him what that meant. He told us it meant ‘I Know Damn Right’.
    We asked him why in the hell he’d want that for a goddam name.
    He said that it was the coolest name ever. And that we were just jealous and shit.
    So that was his name. Hey, it was a joke, but you gotta stick to the rules you make. If you don’t, life in the Old Strip is pretty short.
    The really funny thing is that IKDR never stopped thinking it was the coolest name ever.

    We were making a pay run, sweetest bit of the job. We had a small but decent haul to trade-off — fiber-o in thick sealed rolls, some blank ID chips, and two boxes of some ammo we didn’t recognize and didn’t fit any of the guns we owned.
    But the best loot was a black disk that looked like a datacard, just bigger. IDKR suspected it was just a vintage data card, but I wasn’t sure. The jobber had sent us to the place for it special, even printed out a fucked up map that wasn’t much help.
    And promised a clean 200 creditchit to place it in his hand. That was a lot of cash for an antique datacard that nobody could probably even read anymore. Hell, new tech was hard to get in Old Vegas Proper, almost impossible to get in the wreck of the Strip. Tech tended to smooth out, everybody using frankenstein creations. Cardreaders were a sort of prize — it was the reading laserpoint that died the quickest, and with a decent toolkit, it was an amateur hack to frank the ‘point from an old model to a newer one.
    I kicked it out of my head. Why should I care what the jobber wanted the damn thing for so long as he was good for the promised loot? That was the only important thing. And I trusted this guy, more or less. As much as I trust anyone who ain’t IKDR or Cheffy.
    O.W. Knoes worked out of a ‘stead on the third floor of what used to be an office building. Or at least he said that’s what it used to be. The rest of it was warehouse space for his goods and living space for the gang he had raised up over the years. Kids mostly, bout IKDR’s age — which was 10, If I had estimated right when we found him.
    Word in the Strip was that Knoes had faced only one attempted invasion in the six or so years he’d been buying and selling from his ‘stead. That had been a year ago, and by the Blackrock mob. Thirty medium to heavy modders had hit the ‘stead in midafternoon. They were all dead and hanging on plasticord from the rooftop by two PM. Knoes let ‘em rot there for months, as a warning.
    Nobody had fucked with him since. Mainly because nobody knew what kind of crazy shit Knoes’s gang was packing. He was one of the few jobbers in Old Vegas who seemed to have a reliable connection to the Texas weaponsmith clan-corps. It only made sense he’d sell the minor stuff on the street and keep the heavy shit for his own gang. What I’d do, anyway.
    Me and IKDR hooked up with Knoes about three months before, doing minor jobs and scavwork. He always paid on time and at decent prices, sometimes even tossing in a bonus if we worked fast or brought in something he had been looking for.
    He also treated us right. Brought us into his office and gave us — believe it the hell or not — coffee! IKDR was addicted to the shit, and got surly when we took offers from other jobbers. But hell, we had to eat.
    The text swirled fast across the interior of the right lens of my comshades. I’d had ‘em for a couple of years and took killer care of ‘em. Easily they were the best and most advanced piece of tech I owned - no more than five years old, top of the line SmartWraps. I knew because the date was proudly stamped by the tiny serial number in the bottom corner of the left lens. Right next to the words ‘NoTreason Silent, Lmtd.’ Fucking-A. The most famous com- corp in the damn world!
    I don’t like thinking about how I got ‘em.
    “You mean you gonna get me to ask him, bro? Knoes don’t wear SmartWraps.” I didn’t say I doubted we could afford any coffee, even with 200 creds, and wouldn’t have anything to brew it in even if we could. That would have just launched one of IKDR’s long manic fantasies about how he’d solve those probs.
    I looked at him. He looked kinda smug, so I figured he was telling the truth. Even though the comp mod in his skull was close to an antique, he was a wizard with it.
    He didn’t look like a wizard. He looked more like a cross between an elf and an orc, right out of the overnet feeds. Skinny as hell, short, bald ‘cept for a bit of fuzz, kind of bucktoothed.
    The eyes were the freakiest thing to strangers, but I was used to them. Dead black orbs of ceramic photoweave. They gave him vision. I wondered about that sometimes. Was it the same kind of vision I had? When I asked him, he shrugged and said he didn’t remember what his vision had been like before.
    The prosthetic arm was less noticeable, ‘cause IKDR refused to wear anything but long sleeved shirts (hell, sometimes a jacket) even in the middle of July. When we found him, his arm had been chopped right the hell off, just below the elbow. He wasn’t bleeding or anything, didn’t even seem to be in pain. The wound was cauterized. Burned tight.
    The vocal chords had been the last thing to go. It started simple — he just got quieter and quieter until he made no sound at all when he tried to talk.
    Cheffy and me had discussed this shit on occasion, about what the hell was wrong with the kid. He didn’t seem sick in the regular sense — he had tons of energy, always on the go, never complained much.
    But one by one his organs seemed to be packing up. It was a mystery we didn’t spend much time on, mainly ‘cause we didn’t have the time to spend. Keeping food in the pot and affording the mods to keep IKDR alive was work enough.
    He was right. Odd shit. Usually at this time the Strip would be bustling with bums and gangers, slinging mods and dope, bumming and begging. I’d only seen a few people and they’d been far between.
    “Just fucking hot.” I said.
    I just grunted back. I didn’t feel like arguing with him. The mod implanted in his jaw that let him sub vocalize to the skullcom and transmit to my wraps was either defective or IKDR just couldn’t sub vocalize worth a shit. The text he transed was always garbled as hell. Sometimes it was completely unreadable, if he were excited and started babbling.
    Which was often.

“The Feds were afraid of the Overnet because they were powerless against it — it was impossible to control. Overnet servers did not rest in easily reachable buildings. They rode in the phones and laptops and pockets and packs and — later — implants of ten million individuals. No wires connected them but the dancing frequencies ushered in by the superbroadband wireless revolution. Once again the market had outpaced the State, left it staring slackjawed.

This time though, their laziness was fatal. The other factor was that the Overnet was built from the ground up on an encryption base. The Phantoms had started the revolution after all, for their own reasons.”


    “Eighty creds or fuck off.” Devlin said, slouching back in the swivel desk chair that seemed to be about ninety percent electricians tape.
    Devlin was a fat and nasty motherfucker. He stank. His office stank. His mod-room was filthy — but he was the cheapest and the least likely to ask questions.
    “This shit is old as hell, Dev.” Cheffy said, getting pissed. “For eighty we could afford implants.”
    Devlin laughed his ass off. Fuck. Even the man’s laugh was nasty.
    “You could afford the implants at a better shop. You couldn’t afford the fucking labor. I’m offering a package here, snotboy.”
    Cheffy looked willing to argue. IKDR just sat quiet in the corner, scared as hell, wondering if he’d ever see again. I thumped Cheffy on the shoulder. Devlin was right, and we all knew it.
    Nasty or not, the asshole knew when he’d won. I felt like putting a slug into that smug, sweaty face.But that wouldn’t help the kid.
    “Yeah, the photoweave mods are old — but they’re unused. Good, solid, reliable old tech. The only reason to favor implants over these babies is that the original eyes could be saved.” He started printing out a contract. “What the fuck would the point be? You plannin’ on striking it rich and heading out of Old Vegas anytime soon?”
    Son of a bitch. The idea that we didn’t want the kids eyes scooped out and tossed aside, replaced with those fucking freaky ass black orbs never occurred to his greedy ass. Some goddam people.
    “This is a good deal.” Devlin said as the shoved the contract and a pen at us. “Thumb on the top for a print record. One of you gotta sign. Gang chop is OK. Print is what matters.”
    “We ain’t in no gang.” I snarled, couldn’t help it, as I grabbed the pen. “And I can fucking write. And read. I’ve read this contract dozens of times. It fucks us in the ass but what don’t?”
    Devlin just raised an eyebrow.
    I signed.
    The fat fucker heaved his bulk from the chair. “Take the kid into the mod-room and strap him to the table. Make sure he’s comfortable, ‘cause once I hit him with the gas he ain’t moving for a lot of hours.”
    We led IKDR into the room and did as we were told. Devlin headed for the sink.
    At least the asshole washed his hands.

    We were only three blocks from payday when the shit hit the fan.
    IKDR stopped dead in his tracks, tensed up.
    The font was triple sized and red. I stopped.
    “Where and what?” I whispered. I pulled the Comanche from my backsling and thumbed off the safety. As usual I bitched silently that I only had forty rounds left for it. The non-auto mode held a clip of twenty slugs.
    “Go recon.”
    And he was. Little bastard dumped his full backpack to the ground and dissapeared, clambering up the rusting remains of a scaffold and finding god knows what sort of nook to hide in. He could climb like a monkey — he was lean and skinny, but pure ropy muscle, and the prosth-arm was a hell of a lot stronger than a natch.
    I myself hurried over to the graffiti-strewn building on my right,grabbing the kids pack and dumping my own to the sidewalk beside me, and pressed up against the wall commando style. Then I waited for intel.

    The left lens flickered and caught a transmission. The image sprang to life as soon as I accepted it with a subvoked code. The wraps received both full overnet and had dozens of private channels. IKDR could manipulate them like an artist. That’s how he’d got wind of the ambush — he kept a constant overnet scan running in the background, and the ‘bushers must have let slip some stray frequency. Probably some fucknut checking his mail or today’s odds. Didn’t matter. IKDR had caught it, and slipped in like a thief, counting boxes since the ‘bushers were obviously networked.
    The image stabilized. It was black and white and a little grainy, but clear. The kid could transmit much better, but he was in stealth mode, keeping the frequency and amp to a minimum.
    Three. Medium modders, all Blackrockers. Fuck.
    They were in the alley just half a block ahead. They looked bored, which was a friggin’ relief — they didn’t know we were this close. The angle was high and way to clear to be from anywhere IKDR could have gotten. He must have found an operating survcam and patched it in. Despite the frantic beating of my heart and the sweat that was slicking my body, I had to grin. Little fucker was deadly.
    Knoes had warned us. Since the Blackrockers were afraid of hitting him directly, they were sure to go after his freelancers. Fucking bastards. They were the biggest and clumsiest of all the Stirp gangs, and also one of the meanest. They must have terrorized the bums off the street this morning and cut deals with the other gangers. Just to hit two freelancers who were just trying to put food in the pot.
    Fucking waste of resources, you ask me.
    I subvoked to the kid. WHAT KIND OF POWER THEY PACKING?
    WEAPONS, BRO. WEAPONS. I tried to stay calm.
    I relaxed — a little. If they were typical Blackrockers they were probably stoned to the gills. Without slaving to a decent targeting com, I doubt they could hit the broadside of a building.
    Still..it was three guns to one.
    But I had a little surprise.
    While I watched the gangers lounge in the alley, I dug a small silver cylinder out of one of the many side pockets of my backpack.
    I felt a stupid pang of regret. Microgrenades were hard to come by, and Knoes would have probably paid tastily for it.
    But I had to be alive to get paid.
    I subvoked the plan to IKDR. Told him to take as much cover as he could.
    I took a breath and held it. I was going to have to throw based on the image in my left lens. The fuckers were wearing light armor, so I doubted that the blast itself would do the job. Didn’t have to. I just wanted to knock the fuckers down and off guard.
    I thumbed the det button. Click.
    I released the breath, threw.
    In the left lens, I saw the tiny shape bounce off the side of the alley wall, and roll almost out. Goddamit!
    I saw the Blackrockers start, then jerk to attention, guns coming up.
    The mg detonated, a shuddering whoomp, that knocked me off the building. No fire. No smoke. Just a savage concussive wave.
    The image in my lens died. Fuck. I’d killed the goddam cam!
    I had to go in blind.
    I was up like a shot, sprinting toward the alley.

“Sometimes we forget, those of us lucky enough to have survived the Crash in areas where the Phantoms had roots and power. Those of us in Houston and Austin and San Francisco and Birmingham and Charleston. We forget that in a huge chunk of the rest of the former United States the transition was not a matter of months or a couple of years. That the transition was a hell on Earth and remains a hell on Earth. The populations of Old Las Vegas and Old New York. The smoldering remains of Los Angeles. The hateful city-state of the Chicago Imperium. As we make diplomatic treaties with the tech starved Chinese lords of the rest of the world, as Europe settles into comfortable vassalage to their Chinese masters, we forget. That not one functioning road exists from Nevada to California. That bandits rule there. That the tech we take for granted filters into those areas like miracles in bible stories. We forget.” —Carlton Rose AGAINST BACKWARD PROPHECY

    I fought against going back to Devlin like a wildcat. I hated that piece of shit. After IKDR’s vocals died, we had him use a crude slaved lap top for a while. The problem was that he could barely write. He read like a king, but wrote like a fuckin’ chicken scratching at the ground.
    It was Cheffy who convinced me to go back.
    I really considered just busting in and forcing the bitch at gunpoint to mod the kid. It was a black thought in my head the whole way there, IKDR just acting scared, Cheffy not willing to mess with me in that kinda mood.
    Then the old man answered the door, smiled at us.
    I gotta admit I was a bit freaked.
    “You work for Devlin?” I asked.
    The old man grinned. And goddam was he old. He was so modded he made the Kid look like a teen fashion advert from the overnet.
    “Mr. Devlin is dead — and probably in hell, my boy. Are you here on business?”
    I didn’t know what to say, other than. “Yeah.”
    He ushered us in, and I was stunned to see how much the place had changed. Not only was it clean it was goddam immaculate. Sterile looking. I glanced into the mod-room as we passed and it looked to be completely refurbished. This was some crazy shit.
    The old man was a polite sort. He took us into his office and gave us tea. We all sat there feeling pretty much out of sorts. The old man didn’t seem to mind. Just sipped his tea and seemed content.
    “Don’t wanna be rude, but who are you, man?”
    He looked at me, obviously implanted eyes focusing hard.
    “My name is Stow. And to whom do I have the pleasure?” he asked in return, a smile on his lips.
    “I got the name I gave myself when I was old enough to do so.” I told him. “I’m Foadi. That stands for ‘Fuck Off And Die” plus I.”
    Stow looked delighted. “And why did you add the ‘I’?” he asked, voiced drenched in nothing but curiosity.
    “Because I ain’t a you, I guess.” I told him with a shrug.
    “Quite so.” Stow said, sipping his tea. He seemed satisfied.
    All of a sudden, I liked the old fucker. I hate when that happens.
    He put down his tea cup. “Now, Mr. Foadi. What can I do for you?”

    I explained things, best I could. He nodded and said he had just the thing. He then told Cheffy to take IKDR into the mod-room and get him ready. When I started to leave with him, he put a hand on my shoulder.
    “Indulge an old man for a moment, son.”
    I did. I sat back down grudgingly.
    Stow sighed. “Mr. Devlin — whatever his other faults — kept extensive records. Not long ago you had the boy’s eyes replaced.” A long pause. “Do you have any idea what is wrong with the child?”
    I was wary. I just shook my head no.
    “It seems to be some form of degenerative disease. But the data from his last mod show no signs of anything.”
    I just looked at him.
    Stow nodded. “I was hoping you knew more than me.” he said. “I’ll do my best to find a cause.”
    I thought of something. “Let’s talk cred. How much?”
    He looked at me. Not hostile, no pity. Just an open look. He reached into his desk and extracted a slim plastic card. He passed it over to me.
    I read it. “O.W. KNOES” in a large font. Below, smaller: “Mutual Defense. Trade. Security. Pawn Services. Freelancers welcome!”
    Stow finished his tea, seemed to savor it. “Go see that man, son. He hasn’t been in the Old Strip long, but he’s here to stay. He’s…an associate of mine. Go see that man at your earliest convenience and this mod work is on the house.”
    When shit sounds too good to be true, it usually is. But I couldn’t find even the hint of a game.
    “Besides,” Stow continued with a wink “I’m new here myself. May as well start building a rep.”
    He then stood up and moved toward the mod-room.
    For whatever reason, I decided to trust him.
    But the shit that followed kept us away from seeing Knoes for almost three years.

    As soon as I hit the mouth of the alley, the SmartWraps engaged.
    All three Blackrockers were down, but were struggling up.
    The wraps targeted and centered. Lines intercepted. I raised the Comanche and put three slugs into the biggest fucker — just above the armor’s collar. He thudded to the ground, dead weight.
    Life went slow mo.
    The middle sized dude was recovering faster than the smaller, who was down on his back and bleeding from the nose and the ears. I concentrated on Mr. Quick.
    Still walking forward I leveled the Comanche. The Wraps processed. Lines intersected. Tiny servo motors in the guns mid-section began to adjust to a million different factors. My movement, air movement, the erratic movement of the target, the imperceptible shake in my hand.
    Three quick pulls on the trigger and I nailed the ganger in the left eye, just below the nose, and blew his trachea into gory splinters.
    Two down, one to go.
    The smallest ganger was up, still a bit dazed, but ready to fight.
    I shifted, aimed, let the slaved gun target…
    The Comanche jammed. Flat jammed.
    I actually screamed: “FUCK!”
    The ganger grinned maliciously, the shotgun rising, as I tried desperately to back track, seeing death walk up…
    Then the small form dropped from nowhere, right onto the ganger. The prosthetic arm grabbed the gun and ripped it away, flinging it down the alley. Strong skinny legs wrapped expertly around the midsection of the surprised ganger, as the other hand flashed and sent a blade across the exposed throat in another expert motion.
    The spray of blood barely missed me. I stared at the gaping hole in the gangers neck, as IKDR rode the body down to a soft landing.
    Lethal little monkey.

    U OKEE BROOO? he transed in a huge, scared font. He wiped the blade of the permasharp fullerene combat knife clean on the still jerking body of the ganger.
    “I’m fine.” I said, a bit shakily. That shit was too close.
    “Grab their guns and any electronics you can find on them, bro. Then let’s haul ass to Knoes before back up arrives.”
    He nodded and set to work.

    I cleared the jam, cursing. My own fault. I hadn’t serviced the gun in weeks. Clumsy shit like that gets you killed in the Old Strip.
    When I was ready to go, I turned to call the kid, only to find him staring down at the body of the ganger he’d killed. He had improvised a sack from some plastic sheeting and had the guns and other loot under his arm.
    “What’s the matter bro? Let’s get gone.” I said, impatient.
    He didn’t take his eyes off the ganger.
    Aww, fuck.
    “So what? Come ON!”
    For the fifty millionth fucking time I cursed Cheffy and my own stupid self for showing him those goddam King Arthur stories.
    “Well it ain’t very fucking chivalrous for fucking bitch girls to try and kill your bro, either is it?” I yelled at him. Goddam..we needed to go!
    He sat there a second, considering.
    GUEZZ NOT. He finally said.
    I sighed, relieved. I had been afraid for a sec he’d insist on burying the stupid skank.
    “Ok! Then come ON..we gotta get to Knoes NOW. They could have back up here in just a few minutes. I’m gettin’ our loot.” I moved quick out of the alley, afraid to resling the Comanche, to grab the packs.
    When I had them, I stopped in the mouth of the Alley. IKDR was actually fuckin’ bent over the bitch, all sad and shit.
    “Goddamit come the fuck on, dumbass! Don’t you realize we’ve started a fucking war?”
    He only paused a second more.
    Then he was up, black blank eyes emotionless, and right by my side.

    We ran, burdened by loot, towards safety.

PART II (FINALE) coming soon.