Come The Revolution – Snippet 32

Damn. That wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but figured I may as well get all the bad news at once.

“Okay, how come?”

“Encryption,” he said and then lit his cigarette with a pocket lighter, drew in and exhaled. “The municipal and national data pipes are encrypted five ways to Sunday, and nobody can hack into that stuff from the outside except in bad adventure holovids. If someone slipped you the security code we could do it, but otherwise you’ll never be able to read their feed.”

“No, I’m not talking about reading their transmissions,” I said. “I’m talking about piggy-backing onto their fiber network and sending ours.”

Moshe shrugged. “Oh. Well that’s easy. I mean, it’s illegal as hell, but these days what ain’t? The utility tunnel with the main data pipe from e-Kruaan-Arc to the capital nexus at Katammu-Arc runs right under Sookagrad.” Then he thought for a moment and his eyes got wider. “Hey, that’s some idea, Boss! We can get word out about what’s going on here. I’m not sure what good it will do us, but if the Army’s jamming the comms, it must be for a reason, right? Of course, you know that once broadcasts from Sookagrad start showing up, it could motivate the Army to wipe us out.”

“Walk with me. We have to talk to Stal. He’s the one with the fiber network we may need to borrow. And I think I have a way around the reprisal thing.”

We started walking toward the dry goods store that had Stal’s office on the second floor.

“So you crewed on a starship, huh? Why’d you stop?”

He spat out a piece of loose tobacco before answering. “Economy got shitty and the carrier I was crewing for cut back. I ended up on the beach for a year and a half, stuck here. Then a week ago I got an offer. In-system shuttle, back and forth to the gas giant, but better than nothing right? All set to ship out when all this crap hit.” He spat again. “Talk about pissed off.”

“Yeah, I bet. You know any physics?”

Bissel,” Moshe answered. “You know how it is. You work engineering on a starship, you pick some up. You have to or you don’t get any of the jokes.”

He assured me there were actually a lot of physics jokes, and so I asked him to tell me one. He said I wouldn’t get it but I wanted to hear one anyway. He thought for a moment and then nodded.

“Okay, here goes. Heisenberg is driving down the highway and a Munie pulls him over. Munie walks up to the side of his ground car and says, ‘Do you know how fast you were going?’ Heisenberg says, ‘No, but I know where I am!'”

Moshe stared at me and grinned. When I didn’t laugh he said, “I told you so.”

“So explain it to me.”

He shook his head. “Nah, it’s stupid to explain a joke. Either you get it when it’s told or you don’t. If I explain it, it still won’t be funny.”

I started to argue when we heard the sound of automatic weapon fire. We both stopped and listened, and so did everyone else on the street. The sound came from the north, out on our perimeter, but the intervening buildings made it sound far away and harmless, at least to us.

Moshe dropped his cigarette and ground it out. “So it begins, nu?”

I looked around at everyone frozen on the street, their faces made ugly by fear. The hardest thing to get used to in Sookagrad was the unbroken sea of Human faces. Everywhere else we were the exception. We had a reputation for playing poorly by other people’s rules. I started wondering how well we could play by our own, how this experiment in cooperative effort was going to work.

I took a deep breath and shouted to everyone who could hear me. “Okay, it’s gunfire. Get used to it. It’ll get a lot louder soon enough. Anyone with a job to do, get back to it. Anyone without a job, find one.”

We started walking again and then everyone did. The firing stuttered, paused, started again, and then faded out. Someone had probably gotten trigger-happy. If there had been a serious push on the perimeter, a few bursts of automatic fire wouldn’t have been enough to turn it away.

I realized I didn’t know beans about where the defensive perimeter was, and I’d need to if I was going to push ammo forward. It might be a better idea to set up ammo resupply points and have the fighting groups on the perimeter send ammo runners back. I’d still need to know the main concentrations, and what they were armed with. Ivanov might be a software wiz and the right guy to honcho ammunition production, but I had a feeling I was going to have to get personally involved in distribution.

Upstairs from the store, Stal’s admin assistant buzzed us into his office. Stal sat behind his desk looking at the smart wall panorama of the northern approaches, smoking another one of my imported cigars. I could smell the cigar: the rich tobacco and just a hint of spice, the scent of the Caribbean. He better be enjoying it.

I glanced at the smart wall. There was a burning ground car down there in a broad street which ran under the maglev tracks high above. A dozen people poked around it — Humans, so they were our guys.

It occurred to me that smart walls in some half-assed poured foamstone building in the middle of all this squalor seemed as out of place as a crystal chandelier in a chemical toilet stall. Speaking of which, I needed to get Billy Conklin to work on setting up a bunch more chemical toilets, and quick.

“Enjoying the cigar?” I asked.

He looked at the ash on the end and smiled. “Da,” he said slowly. “Kuba Maduro? Always wanted know how Cuban cigar taste.”

I decided not to tell him they were from Nicaragua. If you need something from someone, don’t start by spilling his soup.

He looked as if he’d been deep in a thought trance and was coming out of it slowly. He turned to face us and frowned. “Who this guy?” he asked, pointing his cigar at Moshe.

“Greenwald, my head of power, and an electrical genius. I got an idea.”

Da? As good as letting four Munie fugitives hang around in exchange for toy badges?”

So he must already have heard about that deal. Given his line of work I could understand his ambivalence. Well, I was going to have to tell him about it anyway for this whole thing to make sense.

“It’s related to the Munies. In fact, it’s essential, so if you want to scotch the Munie deal, say no to this, and the whole package goes out the window.”

I stopped and felt myself shiver involuntarily. The expression “out the window” suddenly had more significance for me than it used to and I didn’t think I’d be using it as much.

“Those Munies aren’t anything but a liability,” I continued, “unless we have the ability to communicate to the outside world.”

Da,” he agreed. “And?”

“Earlier I noticed you’ve got a hard-fiber comm/data network. I got an idea how we can use it to get around the jamming.”

He sat for a moment thinking. “Is why electrical genius is here?” he said, nodding at Moshe. He said “genius” the way you’d call someone a “smart guy” and not mean it as a compliment.

I just nodded.

He looked back at the smart wall, at the Humans down around the burning ground car, looking like bugs from this distance. He took a long drag on the cigar and blew a slow funnel of smoke toward the wall, watched it curl and rise toward the ceiling, just like the thicker, blacker smoke from the groundcar curled up around the maglev tracks above it.

It wasn’t tough to figure what he was thinking. We could play armadillo: curl up, lay low and do the absolute minimum to stay alive, make the fewest enemies possible, and hope things just blew over, got back to normal. Then we could all go about our business same as before.

Or we could play tiger, make something happen to save ourselves, even if that made us a bigger target.

One plan required faith in things just running down of their own accord; the other required faith in the active agency of people and institutions outside of Sakkatto City which had never gone to bat for Humans before. Tough call, and I wasn’t positive my idea was the best way to go.

He turned back to us and sighed. “Okay. Explain plan.”