The cops raided their camp last night looking for weapons and terrorists. They didn't find anything. There was nothing to find. A bunch of transients living in tents. Just like any other across the country. Happy campers. They beat a couple folks who showed minimal resistance, albeit halfheartedly. Then they tore through all the gear and kept moving. They had a lot of ground to cover.
Bob woke her at dawn. "Get up soldier," he jostled her. She had just met Bob, her cell leader, for the first time the night before. Bob was not his real name. He could have been the guy who sprayed chemicals on the lawn.
She slept in her clothes so she was ready to go as soon as she could lift her head up off the ground. She wasn't used to this kind of living, no matter how she had prepared herself for it. Just two days before she had been a graphic designer at a small, but thriving firm. Now she had a four day smell of ass on her and some grimy thriftstore reject rags.
Her specialty was designing neographic clothing. Neographics were clothes that displayed as bright as a billboard the changing images of advertising that was popular culture. Shirts with a band video that played the song in surround sound, tiny speakers and cheap optical fibers woven into the cloth. She despised the job. But what was a failed artist to do?
She had set out from an early age to be a fine artist, showing amazing sensitivity for drawing cartoon figures with complex emotions. Through high school, she made a series of paintings based on photographs from wartorn areas arond the world. But in college, she couldn't see how making paintings or fiber art hangings made the world any better place. She felt a failure of relevance. The environment was going to hell. A police state kept an uneasy peace among a people who were used to both being treated like cattle and allowed a lot more freedom. People were literally walking computers, wearing sophisticated communication and computation equipment. All the movements of dissent seemed to be completely lacking in coherent message. To make money was the only thing she allowed herself through the anger and cynicism that had developed.
By degrees, she had come to be in contact with this group. It was like a puzzle that she solved. So clever. Find clue here. Meet person there. No one took too many chances. It was a sign of her intelligence and discretion that she had made it this far. Her actions were part of a greater fabric that composed the actions of the group. And her membership in the group was like a habit of personality. Her identification with the group was so personal it suited like a second skin. But any false move and she would be dropped like a loose hair. Lost with no reference.
The signal to convene at this point had been filtered through several anonymous postings on an Narcotics Anonymous bulletin board on the Internet. She had made her minimal preparations, sewing items she might need, like a bit of cash, some supplies, a couple energybars, into a heavy jacket.
[description of people who showed up.]
Last night she had listened to a couple of kids from their camp talking. She was pretending to be asleep. They were nervous, as she was.
"My mom told me that in her day only crazy people talked to themselves. Now you can't tell the difference. Everyone is talking to someone far away."
Laughter. "Yeah, and I don't see the difference."
She joined the small group of her comrades already forming around Bob. They huddled around a shopping cart like they were doing something innocous like smoking crack. Something that wouldn't alert any security personnel to their plans.
"We've got about 2 miles of hostile territory to cover before we get to the site." He showed us a transit map. "We'll be heading through this industrial area here. And that's what they expect us to do. They'll be using sonic weapons, scramblers, and, of course, whatever other conventional weapons they have at their disposal. Since we are unarmed, we'll have to be wily as hell to deliver payload. You'll be wearing this headgear, we call it a jelly." He held up the cap. "It absorbs shocks and has an internal farraday cage of copper filament to filter out scramblers and whispers that will turn your brain to goo." Everyone nodded. The information was rote. "You'll also need these earplugs. Massive signal jamming means we will only be able to communicate with hand signals. Don't fall apart. Stay in eye contact with your peers."
"Aren't we going to eat first?" one of the kids asked.
"You can eat as soon as they have you detained, if you make it," said some ass in a beard. She loved this life, but she hated some of the folks that it attracted.
"I heard there are other groups, is this true?"
"Communication is sketchy and misinformation is widespread. We know that security forces are heavily taxed and, most likely, not expecting us. They rely on technology to control the situation and a few troops to haul in fallen combatants. We do know there should be groups all around this area converging at the same time. Of course, no one knows who is a camper and who is an insurgent."
"You mean terrorist? Cause that's what they say we are," said the guy with the beard.
Bob gave him an eat shit and die look, "You can call yourself whatever you want." Then he went back to the map. "We'll seperately move to this location, a dumpster, where civilian clothes are hidden. It is two blocks from the site."
Helicopters buzzed back and forth across the skyline, as they snuck along the sides the warehouses that comprised the wasted area of town. Bob signaled to break into two groups of three each. One group took an alternate route down a side street. She walked behind Bob, doing her best to seem authentic.
Coming around a corner, Bob walked directly into a group of security cops, dressed up like a swat team with masks and riot gear. They grabbed him and threw him against the wall of the warehouse. Bob tried to break free but they held him back and beat him with their fists armored with hard plastic. With no weapons, the rest of her cadre grappled with the troops. She tried to pull one of the goons off Bob. He tried to grab her but she dodged and all he caught was the top of her head. Her jelly came off.
Her body rang like a bell. She was on her feet but it felt like her head had struck pavement. She staggered and fell down some stairs that led to a basement entrance to the warehouse. A loading dock shielded the position from most of the street. From this place of relative safety, she writhed in agony her nervous system reeling from the shock of the barrage of amplified signals flashing across the electromagnetic spectrum.
Just as she was able to overcome the flashing, the whispers started, "Give yourself up. You are defeated. No one loves you. Everyone hates you." All through suggestions of bad toilet training and lack of patriotism. The whispers bypassed the earplugs. Without the jelly, there was no stopping the subvocal broadcasts that vibrated her skull as if it was a stereo receiver.
She started a little conversation there. It was not something she had been trained to do, not that her training was all that extensive. She had learned that her steely resolve would get her through a situation like this. But it somehow taken flight from her. This was all she had left.
"I don't mind if everyone hates me, really, I hate them back. They betrayed me. But I have no argument with anyone in particular. I just hate them all. But it's a hate born from love. The hatred is the energy that propels me from my home of betrayed love. And I am home. Here, where I am. Doing what I should do." She fought with the doubt. And through the point and counterpoint, she began to make sense of herself again and gather strength.
She rose from the stairwell and moved through her confusion, wading through it like swamp water. The street distorted and the lines of perspective pitched and flowed. There seemed to be no one on the street. She saw the roadblock ahead that had been her goal.
Echoing like a canyon, she stumbled past the roadblock. There was a body lying on the sidewalk. It was a meaningless occurence to an indifferent mind. She approached the figure and barely recognized him. With his hair poking out of a couple holes in the jelly, he looked like a big dead rabbit. She hovered over him to drop down on his body, letting loose with her grief and the resurgence of her feelings and thoughts. What scared her was perhaps that she didn't feel that much for Bob. Who the hell was he anyways? She had never met him before. It was more the disruption of her mind that she would be grieving. Gathering strength, she touched him once and stood upright, gaining her bearings. The jelly enabled the street settled into a geometry she could recognize.
Without looking at Bob again, she limped to the dumpster that was to be the rendezvous spot. It was 6 blocks though the zone to the site. She hoped she had time to deliver her payload.
No one else was at the dumpster. It appeared that their group was completely routed. Her brothers and sisters were already on their way to the detention centers. She took off her jelly. She could handle the signals from this point on. They were much kindler and gentler, meant for supporters. She pulled a bag of clothes and started changing quickly, self consciously wiping with wetnap under her clothes to neutralize the stank she had accumulated. She examined her clothing, making sure she looked civilian and presentable, and began walking with as much determination and composure as she could muster on her sprained ankle.
She passed the first few civilians and saw them with their small plastic flags. She smiled and asked a homely guy, probably in electronics repair, where she could get one. He handed her his flag. "I got two," he said sheepishly. She thanked him and indulged the feeling of pride and patriotism that floated in the air tastless, odorless and colorless. It was just like the feeling of arriving at elementary school first thing in the morning. It was a feeling that gradually wore off through the day. They called it acclimation, when their signal would be ignored through its repetition. But this signal was much stronger.
Fortunately, she knew how to identify her feelings. She looked at the media calvacage that rose above the crowd, a pod of broadcasting equipment. The banter of a couple local celebrities was projected over the crowd. "It's a quiet day here on Lincoln Avenue. Terroristic activity is at an all-time low. In fact, a deputy undersecretary of Homeland Defense told me in person that we are in a teal alert." Chuckles from the crowd. The next thing they talked about was housepaint.
Most of the equipment was for crowd control, scanners looking for agitated nervous systems like her own. She wasn't at all sure that her confused signature would be tagged. So she didn't think about it. Cautiously she edged closer to the barricade lining the street.
Expectation rose in the crowd as the motorcade approached. She slyly began unbuttoning her jacket, changing positions to get a better look at the street. Across the street, she saw a man in sunglasses looking at her. Was that a wire in his ear? It was difficult to see.
The car cruised past slowly, a window lowered and a hand came out, waving to the crowd. Just as the car was within a few feet, she grabbed the sides of her jacket and pulled it open. The loose bulk of cloth inside unfurled into a banner that stretched across her chest from hand to hand. In neographic, bright letters, it read, "U.S. tortures civilians in Kurdistan." Images of handcuffed, mangled corpses flashed quickly across the screen the jacket made. Above the glare of the sign, she thought she saw the president's daughter's bobbed haircut inside the car pointed her way. The car quickly sped away.
"Get down! Terrorist! Bad signal! Scum!" The crowd erupted with paranoia and general outrage. She thought it was strange how no one could put together a sentence or a thought. It sounded to her like dogs barking. As the hail of fists brought her down, she smiled with the thought maybe her little piece of information would make it to the dinner table in the White House.