Kyle surveyed the smoldering wreckage of the Kohl’s from the roof of the Wingstop across the parking lot next to the freeway. Except for two middle aged women down by what had been the mall’s high-end appliance store, the crowd had moved on. Those two were trying to move a large Vulcan range by tipping it onto a couple skateboards, probably abandoned by an earlier wave of more mobile looters. They weren’t having much luck.
They’re making some common but mistaken assumptions, thought Kyle. Let’s say, contrary to all appearances, the two ladies get the range home. Then what? How long do they think the gas and power will keep flowing? Or do they imagine they can list it on eBay, pick up some easy cash? Like the web is going to stay up, the banks stay open, the shipping companies remain, waiting to take orders from randos? Who will pay them in what, exactly?
The last straw was Reality’s refusal to bring about the Apocalypse. Several centuries of millennialist fervor has to go somewhere, and came to take any number of odd shapes, like the water in a balloon being squeezed. Heaven and earth, with remarkable indifference, showed no sign of passing away. We’d been promised 4 Horsemen, workers of the world casting off chains, or at least some ice caps melting. Something, some sort of comeuppance. But nope.
The children of the Puritans became the children of Marx, the environ-mental-cases, the Deconstructionists; fervor and zeal undiminished, their spirit flowed into all the isms pouring forth from the world’s fevered imaginations.
The dogmas of the abstracted are infinitely flexible. But zeal for their father’s demise consumes them, under whatever liturgical trappings this week’s catechism dictates.
The women gave up and disappeared. Kyle noticed a team of people, looking suspiciously organized, doing something at the power poles. Two men and a woman stood watch at the pole’s base, while one or two others clambered up, cut some wires, and smashed some equipment. Hard to figure what they were doing, but looting wasn’t it.
Suddenly, a grimy face appeared over the low parapet of the Wingstop’s roof. Kyle took a step back, and watched an older but fit-looking man heave himself onto the roof without taking his eyes off him. Kyle showed him his palms in an instinctive ‘I’m no threat’ gesture, but the man had evidently reached the same conclusion.
“Kid, I’ve got a couple things to take care of here, then I’m gone. We’ll just keep our distance until I’m done. Capisce?”
“Sure, no problem.”
The man, in grey coveralls, nodded, looked around, and headed over to one of two surveillance cameras set on the corners of the roof. He pulled out a prybar, ripped the camera off its moorings, then smashed it with a couple brutal swings. For good measure, he yanked the wires out. With a glance at Kyle, he went to other camera in the opposite corner, and treated it as poorly as the first.
“So, no appetited for looting? Just want to watch the world burn?” The man was now focused on a satellite dish and what might be a cell phone base station atop a large rectangular box – air conditioning unit? Kyle didn’t know – in the center of the roof.
“What’s the point? If it needs power, can’t use it. If it don’t, it’ll probably still be there tomorrow.”
“Hmmm,” grunted Coveralls, who then pulled himself up atop the box, and went to work on the equipment perched there.
“So, what are you doing?”
Coveralls didn’t turn from his work. “Oh, establishing a perimeter. Something like that.” He then stopped, and turned to Kyle. “Kid, gotta admit I’m impressed. Not one in a 100 of your contemporaries seem to understand that little obvious point you just made. They imagine they are going to burn the world down, and then settle in for some serious MMO action to celebrate on all the nice equipment they lifted.”
Kyle nodded. “I’m trying to figure out how not to get murdered, first, and how not to starve to death, second.”
Coveralls yanked the wires out of the satellite dish, then pulled on the ends still in the conduit on the roof until he’d ripped out several yards of wiring. Satisfied, he dropped back down on the roof and faced Kyle.
“You have a better handle on things.” He stared into Kyle’s face. “I’m going to trust you.”
Kyle wasn’t sure he wanted to be trusted, but he didn’t see a way out at the moment. “OK.”
“Do you have a cell phone or tablet on you?”
“Both, in my bag.” Kyle pointed to a daypack up against the parapet on the other end of the roof.
Coveralls nodded toward the far side of the air conditioning unit. Kyle followed until it was between the two of them and his pack.
“What we need to be secure against is electronic surveillance. You, or at least your phone and tablet, are a glowing dot on somebody’s screen right now.”
A whistle cut Coveralls short. The team working on the power poles was scrambling for cover. A forklift, ‘Dick’s Sporting Goods’ stenciled on its side, came rolling into the lot below, carrying a large metal box topped by a black hemisphere bristling with tubes and wires, setting it down in the middle. The forklift then hurried back to the wreckage of the mall. Kyle watched, transfixed.
Coveralls grabbed Kyle’s arm. “We need to get down and out of sight. NOW!” He yanked Kyle over to the ladder, leapt over the parapet and slid down to the pavement. Kyle had to climb. “10 seconds!” someone shouted. Coveralls kicked in the Wingstop door (the looters had used the shattered windows) and dragged Kyle in, shoving him to the floor.
Kyle could see a Tesla drive up. Where its hood should have been was a shiny metal tube, pointing upwards at about 45 degrees. .The driver ditched the car, and was sprinting toward them. A buzzing sound, like a 40 pound bee, grew louder.
A black drone the size of a gurney swung into view, and strafed vainly at the driver as he dove into the Wingstop. The drone exploded; then a flash and the sound of thunder hit them. The Tesla rocked.
“Got the bastard!” shouted the driver, sprawled amidst the shards of safety glass covering the floor. “Oh, hi, Bob.”
“Afternoon, Juaquin.” He motioned to Kyle. “This is, ah…”
“Hack’s in?” Bob asked Juaquin.
Bob and Juaquin fell silent at the sound of a swarm of 10 pound bees. The black hemisphere spun into action. As the swarm of smaller drones came into view, a high pitched mechanical whine could be heard over the drones. The hemisphere flashed and spun, and each drone fell from the sky in smoldering ruin.
“Nice!” said Bob.
“As far as the network knows, those drones just took us all out. They even have footage.” Juaquin smiled. “And, in a few minutes minutes from now and a few miles from here, they all get shot down. As far as the network knows, anyway.”
“Good work.” Bob had stood up, and now lifted Kyle to his feet.
“What – what was that?” he sputtered.
“Tesla batteries can power a small railgun.”
“Yea, two shot, max, and then you gotta plug her in.”
“Autotargeting was awesome, Juaquin! Old Betsy Blaster just – wow!”
“It helps to have their positional data off the network. All I did was make the tiny allowances for movement during lag. Fish in a barrel.”
“Not everybody in the government is a fascist creep.”
“Only most of them.”
“Yea, well, only takes a few. We are so deep in their systems, they can’t spit without us calculating wind direction and splatter radius.”
Bob tuned to Kyle. “Betsy’s got a liquid sulfur battery. Fast and hot. Powers little pea shooter particle beams. Good enough to smoke smaller drones.”
Juaquin was dusting safety glass fragments off his coveralls. “We gotta get out of here.” The two men started towards the door.
Bob stopped, and turned towards Kyle like he’d just remembered he was there. “So, ah, … “
“Kyle, right. About trying to improve your chances of not starving to death. Maybe we can work something out, maybe even up your chances of not getting murdered. A little, anyway.”