I do not know but do not doubt someone will read this. I have decided to write in oldskool.txt partly because I've just found I can and partly because I am among the last to have learned it, to have learned much of anything. I savor in it something elegant otherwise absent.
I arrived here at 23:57:05, I recall noting as I pushed my head through the roof hatch. My friend Paul and I had intended to de-PICT each other, as Paul told me earlier we could. But Paul is dead, his body arranged neatly with the others. They will commingle in the collapse, perhaps.
I do not know if I will join them but I will finish this testament. The air will be alive with persicops at 05:00:00; only yesterday I digi-signed the order. Demolitions invite suicides—usually, I used to think, defeated ManaTechs or cheeky Specialists, thumbing noses or grasping glory. Today I learned of the moreorless ritual aspects that brought us to the rooftop of WYNC, to perish with the edifice of lies. Instead I preside over a communication device made not many years after this building opened and wielded much of the balance by the Chairman, stiff beside Paul.
As I was until very recently his chief factotum, at least for the many tentacles of WYNC, I should relate the events that led me to the roof of this glasscurtain curve opened 50 years ago this date. My readers might wonder what launched these events—the formation of WYNC in 2015; the surgical installation of my first Personal InterCranial TelCom in 2024; my wife's death five years ago. I believe it started roughly 24 hours ago, after an unexpected dialogue with my daughter.
I knew that Outs had devised ways to compromise PICTs, and I remember wondering if Maggie's itinerant clan was involved, concerned that HomeSec would descend upon them with its usual tenacity. I've seen clips of DHS operations. That fear returned when Maggie's reedy voice awakened me at 04:08:16. At first, though, as I reluctantly shed sleep, I assumed it was the Chairman, jesting or testing. He was the only person privileged to PICT-XS me without alert, although my corneal-implant Hedzup would dutifully display "Chairman." Three question marks winked in the upper-right quadrant.
It was Maggie saying "Daddy." I sat upright in my bed, scanned the room.
"Where are you?"
The plaintive voice familiarly shifted to peevish: "In the desert. I'm sure you know already."
"I do not." Were I in my office —at this moment about 50 feet below me—I might have known, once my query cleared HSData. I was among 35 executives cleared to search HSData, usually to learn why someone on our routinely submitted list of prospective Teamers had been rejected. About 90 percent of the time it was Out-related, suspicion of sympathy, that sort of thing.
"You know. All of ..." Then, witheringly: "You."
My throat tightened and the heartrate icon flashed in the Vitanviron quadrant. I resisted the temptation to thumb-index it center, focused instead on the likelihood someone would be monitoring, that paternal solicitude would excuse only so many sins. Thinking this stiffened my misery; she probably guessed as much.
"I'm sorry to bother you, but we're kind of on the run. They came tonight and some of us managed"—the signal broke; she had to be somewhere exceedingly remote to outrange ubiquitous microrelays "—have much time and I just—" more garble, then I barely made out the words: "Don't hate."
"I know I said that once and I just—" This time the static abruptly ended.
Parents who fret about children gravitating Outward might wonder that one in my station should experience this. A child need not be the morose blackrobe of those pubserv spots intended to frighten you into suspicion of your children. Maggie was a fine but sensitive student; when her mother died the neat social web woven for her raveled. By the time her older, equally sensitive and guileless brother Karel registered for the WarTer Legion she was on the way Out.
The first sign, I suppose, was her adamant rejection of breast surgery, which like most parents we offered when she turned 14. Of course some girls decline in adolescent defiance; usually the sneers of classmates bring them around. But Maggie adhered to prickly principle she could have absorbed only from reading oldbooks. Catalina and I were confident—as I imagine many our age and older have been—that our children could sustain reading about predays without succumbing to irony. We had, after all. (Catalina and I were in the last class to graduate college before the AcaFree Law of 2021.)
Usually I would fly my HovMob over to WYNC, dock at CorpOff but occasionally I would walk the .5km from MetroTower, and anxiety propelled me today. Most everything's gone from WYNC, even the name transferred to the new flagship just south, but I had details to superintend. Predays implosions would be cleared weeks in advance but WYNC keeps its properties humming almost to the first charge; tested with Bellagio2, perfected with GranDome: Close hotel a week early but keep casino floor churning to midnight DemoEve. The frisson of impending devastation loosens wallets; win's up about 20 percent.
I'd forgotten what a forlorn copper curl WYNC had become in the thicket of towers half-again and twice its size; pocked with retrofit HovMob docks it looked like one of those 20Cent buildings carbuncled with airco units. Troubled about Maggie I sought distraction in the footourist view: Caesars' massive fasces aswarm with HovMobs; the tips of TEXAS' bristling horns reaching beyond WYNC2's intervening bulk to embrace the W-Ment, whose gilded head the morning sunlight appropriately haloed—its 2story fist seemingly gripped the gleaming crystal GibsonSpire of the Ecumenedral facing it. Thirty years ago there, a stream of oilpower vehicles separated the Eiffel Tower from the Bellagio1 fountain, dustmasked footourists shunted to either side. I fit myself into the flux of Asians in OxyHelmets, Euros nostril-plugged with TempFilts. Local Specialists, peddling or pulling cabs or hoofing it to kitchens and laundries, still wore dustmasks, unaware (maybe not) that cloth does not filter radioactive particles. In a day or so, PICT would remind me to have my implantfilters changed, but reflecting on this only reminded me of Maggie, hers by now surely were useless—the least of her worries.
I passed through the airlock and RadScrub and sure enough found the casino packed. Whenever I roamed the floor I'd check roulette tables for one showing no zero hits; like any a sucker's play but it meant beating the house on its advantage. Hector was working R2 as I'd hoped. He nodded as I stationed myself outside the scrum attracted by a long string of red. Black 20 broke that up; Red 1 busted the 30ish ManaTech at the first seat, which I took as he shambled away. I slipped a quarterchip on the zeroes. Hector is my age and literate though born to a Spec's life; often we'd talk art or lit, never of course history. Last year's crash had wiped out his PersAccount, as they do reliably and regularly, another house advantage. To help I set up a casino account for him in Euros; I deposited my winnings, occasionally just transferred a few thousand to it. I figured this was known but could not have mattered.
"Bad news," he said, waving his hand over the chip-clogged table. The ball rolled over the 0 pocket and onto 28.
"Great, I need some."
Hector deftly matched the chips in Black and Even, cracked three off a stack of blue and slid it to the Chinese woman next to me. Lifting the marker, he said, "Account's gone."
I controlled this and 15 other WYNC properties but should have known I could not help Hector. Our eyes met briefly; he knew. Hector flicked the ball into its doomed orbit; the steely whisper seemed to damp the ambient clangor.
"Don't forget your zeroes." Hector stalled his hand as players frantically flung chips. None stood to win more than he or she had bet; this is what made me but not Hector a rich man. I placed my chip.
I slid my winnings back. "Sorry, Hector."
I made for the cage but knew no one would have an answer and for a furious moment I simply stood next to a clattering Megabucks island, thumbing a scroll of subordinates. I thought hard for a moment, almost resisted; ring and rightindex stabbing the air I texted the Chairman: "WHY?"
I got my answer later, alone in my barren, adumbrated office. I had sent the staff home at noon although my assistant Ulrike discharged last details by PICT somewhere in the building. Among them, apparently, was shutting down landlines. I was holding on HSData when it died; I never learned why my inquiry about overnight operations around Yucca was denied, but I suppose that was an answer, too. At 15:52:46 the Chairman with unsettling politeness contacted my PICT instead of simply speaking inside my head. I considered declining.
"Greetings. Is everything in order for morning?"
At times his voice had a subcontinental lilt but mostly it was mannered BritEmp, the villain of those 20Cent cinés. I imagined him Macanese; that's where WYNC formed: Wie and Yoon, Inc.
"Can't think of anything."
He would give the order and could do it anywhere. I never knew where he was but somehow I suspected he was in the penthouse above me, longago a residence of the original namesake.
"Fine. Good job. As always."
"In appreciation it has been decided to elevate you to the board, emeritus status."
I rocked in my chair, watching HovMobs glide outside, keenly gratified I had not been busted like Hector.
Abruptly a dustmasked Specialist, portly, about my age, drifted diagonally through my tawny viewspace, struggling to control a sputtering old police PersoCopter. Funny how the term endures. I could not look.
Anger, relief and shame caromed about my prefrontal cortex but it was the plasticsheathed card fitted between my scalp and skull that began to harrow me. I could feel it there; microfilaments to the optical and auditory cortices tingling as the corneal HedZup again warned of elevated heartrate. Forcing myself to the window I spotted the wreckage on the rooftop below, security and Spec1s already cleansing the site.
With no clear idea what I meant to do, I started toward the office door, but it opened before I could reach for it, and Paul slipped in. We chimed: "What are you—"
I had the greater cause for wonder, for my friend and former security chief had suffered a similar cashiering a year ago, after his lover slit his carotid on the casino floor.
"Still have a few tricks." He was dressed in black. "Never mind how I got in, but that crash was certainly provident. I guessed correctly the upper floor cameras would be off. I figured to hide in your bathroom until ... later."
"Later ... when?"
"You won't try to stop me," Paul more declared than asked. I only noticed the backpack as he slipped it off. From it he produced a hand revolver, another artifact of the cinés. I stepped back. "Don't worry, I'm not planning to shoot you. But please assure me you won't give me up."
I did, after Paul explained his plan to gain the roof and go down with the building. He and Tran had meant to do this, but Tran had spent all patience; younger, he had not cultivated the skills of stifling doubt and dissembling loyalty. They had planned to remove each other's PICTs; Paul showed me the crude, digicopied diagram he would have followed, clearly an Out production.
"You know this will work?"
"What's to lose?"
I had the same to ask: Catalina drank herself to death; Karel is somewhere in Central Asia, certain he serves a righteous society; Maggie, knowing better, chose to die by radiation. Might be dead.
So we sat, Paul and I, in my bathroom, silencing when we'd hear the office door open, waited until clearing the casino reduced the upper-floor patrols. At first I was not sure I would go through with it, but as we talked of college and predays, revived the sardonicism we had indulged only furtively since then, I saw the grace of it. Paul and I had believed that upholding pretense was both the duty and the birthright of the gifted, but what had it brought us? WYNC and work sustained me; without them I was left only the remorse of the craven.
"You know he hates this," said Paul.
"Going down with the building?"
"That you use his toy to torment him. It happens more often than you think."
Eventually we took the firestairs to the subbasement and the Chairman's elevator. Paul pried loose the retinalscanner faceplate, scrambled wires. The elevator descended with a hollow whoosh and the door opened.
"You know he's not here?"
"Oh he is." Paul replaced the faceplate. "The elevator always stays at the penthouse for him. It's a chance." My PICT again warned about heartrate as we rose, until the inner doors opened on a pewtery iron plate.
"Only he can open this," said Paul. "Here."
Another ciné scene unfolded, the bulky revolver weighty in my hand as Paul unfolded a MiniLad, stepped up and pushed open the car's ceiling panel.
Both my early awakening and my 50 soft years worked against me as I scrambled up. Paul refitted the panel, strapped a light to his wrist that illuminated an iron ladder to the side. This time I went first, through the simple hatch, hove myself onto the roof.
We rested against the wall, lightly panting in the tepid air. I could have nodded off, lulled by the thrum of the city and thousands of HovMobs. The last time I had been up here was not long after I had been appointed director. The air was lighter, of course, and fewer buildings could be seen above the wall. Catalina and I had a picnic celebrating that our choice had been right to pretend. We were the elect, the rest did not need to know; it was to their benefit. That was before the Yucca attack, of course, before Chicago was flattened, then Teheran, Manchester...
Paul was anxious: "Let's get this over with."
I knelt, bent forward, as he sheared away hair. I felt the needle, then nothing as he labored, until a general cranial pang. I awoke supine, Paul kneeling beside me, examining the bloody packet. I fingered the bandage over the throbbing incision, sat up with only mild disorientation, everything a value paler. Paul held up the PICT, a thumbtip's width, its loose filaments glistering in the moonlight. I smiled weakly. He tossed it into his pack.
Then I heard the Chairman's voice, oddly adenoidal: "I'll take that, thank you." Reflexively I sought the HedZup, then turned left to find three figures at the doorway. They strode slowly toward us, two guards straining not to outpace the little creature between them, who clasped something.
Paul drew up against the wall next to me, pulled the bag between his knees. They stopped about eight feet away. He was vaguely Asian, I suppose, with a corona of white bristles around his wizened oval face. Except for his age he was not unlike the bulk of ManaTechs and Specialists—or my children, for that matter—of every and indeterminate origin. Only the rare refugee from the sparse, pious interior looked much like Paul or me.
"I asked you a question earlier," I said, my heart thrashing my ribcage.
"We are not bargaining," the Chairman said. The guards each produced a SuperTaze.
With swiftness that astounds me still, Paul pulled the pistol and fired it. The guard targeting him reeled back, and the other just managed to get off a burst as Paul shot him, too. Then Paul slumped and groaned, dropped the pistol; smoke tailed from his chest.
The Chairman in his shock had dropped his handheld. As he stooped for it, I lifted Paul's pistol. "No."
He straightened and smoothed his suit, a high-lapeled type popular in the time of the device beside his tasseled foot.
"Perhaps we can come to an arrangement ..."
He rolled his head. "Oh why what? The time for why ended decades ago, you know that. Ask yourself."
As I shifted to stand, he turned and scurried fitfully. I had never used a pistol. It took me three shots.
I will never know why but I will ask again. I ask you. In my hand I hold an answer. I can destroy this building, or move millions of Yuan and Euros. Or find my daughter. The persicops will arrive soon. I must move these bodies.