Commercial District 2B5
Secaucus Municipal Corporation
The small box on the dashboard beeps, causing the five men in the utility van to jump. They nervously stare at the LED lights flickering on the unit as they enter the tunnel. Haven takes a deep breath. After years of planning this operation, it’s terrifying to think that success or failure hinges on this black transponder.
“That thing had better work,” Nyvar says from the driver’s seat.
“It will,” Haven says, far less sure than his voice sounds.
“We’ll know soon enough if it doesn’t,” Jasper says from the back, a computer balancing on his lap. “If that thing isn’t transmitting the correct code, we’ll have a welcoming party waiting for us on the other side of the river.”
Haven forces himself to relax. He’s been on edge since they left their Hell’s Kitchen motor pool. New York may have the most magnificent skyline on the planet, but he lives his life underground now. This tunnel is closer to home than anything else he’ll experience on this mission.
“Here we go,” Nyvar says, gripping the wheel tighter.
Everyone holds their breath. Scivix checks for the tenth time that a round is chambered in his rifle. All five men are armed, not that the pair of hackers will be of any value in a firefight. Adiz and Jasper would be nothing more than additional targets for Public Safety and Security to shoot at.
Traffic is light in the tunnel at this hour. There will be no warning if the transponder fails and the barrier is closed. Fortunately, nobody is waiting when they emerge back under the inky blanket of the night sky. Haven exhales as they clear the tunnel exit without incident.
“You know how to get there, right?” Haven asks his driver.
“You didn’t bring me along for my looks.”
“You need to slow down, Nyvar,” Adiz whines from the far back. “I can’t disable the cameras fast enough.”
Nyvar glances over at Haven, who shakes his head. They are on a strict timetable. The whiny hacker will need to work faster.
“I’m serious. I can’t disable them fast enough.”
“Quit your bitchin’, Adiz. You have one job to do. Do it,” Haven commands.
Nyvar guides the van down an exit ramp off the main road. He turns left and heads past one of the countless data centers occupying this street. Haven checks his watch. They’re less than five minutes from their target.
“Talk to me, Jasper.”
“I looped the feeds of the three cameras covering the building. That’s all I can do remotely. We need to be on-site to isolate their IP addresses and take control of the monitoring system. It will register as active, but I can suppress all reporting back to the PSS.”
“Then don’t waste time talking to us.”
Jasper nods as Nyvar pulls the van into the office building parking area and guides it around back. Scivix follows the hacker out the back, his rifle at the ready.
“Give me the rundown, Scivix.”
“Two guards on shift alternate going on rounds at the top and bottom of every hour. They take eleven minutes to complete. The second guard should return to the security desk in four minutes.”
“No mistakes, Scivix. And zero body count.”
He nods and closes the back door before Nyvar drives off. Their first target is less than a quarter-mile up the street. This part of Secaucus was a commercial area before the Great Collapse. It hasn’t changed much, other than adding more data centers to house corporate information technology operations.
Nyvar pulls up to the intersection, and Haven checks up and down the thoroughfare. There are still no conveyances on the streets at this hour. The first hint of dawn on the horizon means they’re about to lose the comfort that darkness provides.
“Street cameras within a half-mile radius of each junction are inoperative. They’re blind.”
“Good. Let’s go, Nyvar. The clock’s ticking.”
The men make quick work of their first and second objectives, a half-mile apart from each other. With two-thirds of the mission accomplished, they circle back to the intersection.
“Last one. Let’s go.”
The two men exit the vehicle and hustle to the black roadside box that houses the underground communications utilities. They could target the power conduits a dozen feet away and blackout all of Secaucus from here, but that defeats the point of what Liberteum is trying to do.
Nyvar pops open the panel as Haven digs through his duffle bag. He activates the remote detonator for the brick of plastic explosives and sets it in the cabinet. It’s the smallest of the three but will do the job.
Flashing blue strobes bathe the area in light. Haven curses under his breath. He never heard them pull up.
Nyvar reaches for his weapon, and Haven shakes his head. “Last resort only.”
Haven turns to the PSS guardian, who greets him by shining a torchlight in his face.
“Lower it a bit, will ya?” he says, shielding his eyes. “Good morning. What can I do for you guys?”
“We have reports of cameras being out in this area. Do you know anything about that?”
“Yeah, we were dispatched here to fix them.”
“I see. Playing a little fast and loose with the municipal corporate dress code, aren’t you?”
Haven rubs his unkempt brown beard and looks down at his clothing. Liberteum managed to procure two sets of standard-issue utility coveralls and vests. He wasn’t concerned about grooming since this was an early morning operation and didn’t expect interruptions.
“I’ve been working long hours. We’ve been experiencing outages all over the grid the past couple of weeks.”
“Mmhmm. Can I see your work order?” the guardian asks.
“Sure. The tablet is in the van.”
One of the guardians keeps a watchful eye on Nyvar as his partner accompanies Haven over to the driver’s side of the vehicle. He moves as slowly as he dares without looking like he’s stalling for time. Adiz had better be doing his job.
Haven opens the door and pulls a tablet out of the center console. He turns and hands it to the guardian with a pleasant smile on his face.
“Here ya go.”
The guardian taps the screen. Nothing happens. He cocks his head to the side to look for the power button. He glances up at Haven and finds himself staring down the barrel of a gun. Haven squeezes the trigger and sends the round through the guardian’s forehead and out the back of his skull. Another shot from behind the van rings out. Haven moves quickly to peek around the back. Nyvar stares at him, standing over the body of the second guardian.
“We need to move fast. The PSS will respond in minutes once they notice that the biojacks aren’t broadcasting,” Adiz announces from inside the van.
“What do you want to do with the bodies?”
“Load them in their conveyance. The explosions will take care of them.”
Haven climbs into the passenger seat and turns to face Adiz. The hacker tries to avoid eye contact.
“What the hell, man?” Haven asks.
“The guardians weren’t broadcasting on the network. I had no way of knowing they were there until they triggered their lights.”
“You almost got us killed.”
“It wasn’t my fault!” the hacker argues.
Nyvar climbs in and slams the door. He fires up the van and pulls a U-turn before flooring it. The three men share the hope that Scivix secures the building without incident. They’ll be toast if he doesn’t.
“Bring it around back to the loading dock,” Haven commands after the driver veers into the parking lot and stops at the front door.
Haven jumps out and walks to the entrance of XQ Systems as Nyvar speeds away with Adiz. He is comforted by the cold steel of his rifle as he reaches the door. Their research indicated this is a seldom-used satellite office for the technology subsidiary. Security should be the only issue, and a new shift will arrive at noon. Haven hopes to be long gone by then.
“Building secure,” Scivix says, wearing a security guard’s uniform and sitting behind the desk in the foyer. “Jasper hacked the Maester system and suppressed alerting. The two guards are restrained in their office.”
“Good. Help Adiz and Nyvar unload the gear.”
Scivix does as instructed. Haven races up the three flights of stairs to the building’s roof access. He climbs the ladder and pushes the hatch open when he reaches the top. It’s dawn, and a stream of pulsing blue lights converges on the target area from three directions. Haven checks his watch and frowns. It’s almost seven. Waiting any longer will jeopardize the mission.
He moves across the roof to the north, careful to stay close to the sizable solar panel array. There is a nice view of the New York skyline off his right shoulder. The sun is coming up from behind the skyscrapers, silhouetting them. Part of him misses seeing sunrises and sunsets. Even their beauty isn’t worth living a life in a corporatist society.
“Here we go,” Haven murmurs after fishing the detonator from his cargo pocket.
He flips up the guard and presses the button. A split-second later, three fireballs less than a mile away erupt and belch flames into the early morning sky. The farthest detonation is the brightest as the ruptured gas main sends a massive column of fire high into the air. The shockwave from the nearest explosion hits him first, followed by the rumble of the soundwave.
Haven closes his eyes and enjoys the sensation. His work is done for the time being. What happens next is up to Jasper and Adiz. His focus needs to shift to getting them back into Manhattan alive. That’s easier said than done. Hundreds of guardians and Bureau of Corporate Security agents will be flooding into the area now.
Intercorpex Hall of History
Manhattan Financial District
ICX New York Exchange
Lyris checks his perfect blond hair and straightens his tunic one last time. He enters the security foyer and struggles to force a smile as the small group of eight passes through the virtual screening. Patricians, especially those who recently joined their ranks, are not known for their patience.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Intercorpex. My name is Executive Director of Global Exchange Operations Lyris. I’ll be giving you a tour of our New York facility and will answer any questions you might have about global trading.”
Now that these newly minted patricians are permitted to use their family names for the first time in generations, they’re all eager to introduce themselves. The reality of their situation won’t dawn on them for a few more months. While they may have ascended into the ranks of the gentez-minorez, they’re the small fish in that pond. The gentez-majorez call the shots within the ranks of the global elite.
“They’re all cleared, sir,” the uniformed ICX security guard says. At six feet tall and two hundred fifty pounds of pure muscle, he’s the smallest of the three men working at the Wall Street visitors’ entrance checkpoint.
“One quick administrative note before the tour begins,” Lyris says, clamping his hands together. “This is a controlled-access facility. Please don’t misplace your holographic badges or get separated from the group. You’ll find the reaction to either occurrence less than accommodating. With that unpleasantness out of the way, please follow me.”
Lyris hates doing tours. Specialized teams of trained employees handle most corporate visits to the facility. The administrator-general of Intercorpex feels that someone with a more impressive title should host patricians out of respect for their station. As the highest-ranking person in the building, that burden falls on Lyris.
The administrator-general doesn’t care if Director Lyris thinks it’s beneath his role. He’s only responsible for the trading operations at the global stock exchange’s three locations where billions of Bytecoin trade hands every day.
“Much of the Intercorpex Network Operations Center was built following the incorporation of the exchange in 2044,” Lyris explains, passing through an arched entrance into a vast hall. “This facility encompasses two of the three buildings that used to hold the New York Stock Exchange, including Eleven Wall Street, with its recognizable façade. Of course, we made a significant number of modifications.
“This is History Hall. We start with the origin of world stock exchanges, beginning with the Buttonwood Agreement—signed under a buttonwood tree by twenty-six brokers in 1792, only a hundred yards from this very location. Before requiring more space, those early brokers operated out of the Tontine Coffee House for twenty-five years. In 1865, they moved into the building where you now stand.”
The patricians are reasonably interested in the holographic images on the walls depicting the history of stock markets. One casualty of the global economic collapse was a collective understanding of world events. Now, corporations teach whatever they feel is pertinent for their future employees, or in some cases, little at all.
“The widespread use of the telegraph led to market consolidation and New York City’s dominance over Philadelphia as a major economic hub. Buyers purchased shares of corporate stock via an auction format. For most of the twentieth century, it was a manual process with transactions printed out on a ticker tape machine like this one.”
Lyris pauses at the pedestal with the ancient-looking device protected under a glass shroud.
“With the advent of television and computers, these machines were no longer necessary. Digital mediums relayed market information and executed orders far faster. Information flowed freely, and new ways of making money through high-frequency trading and dark pools became en vogue in the early part of this century.”
Lyris reaches the end of the corridor and moves through another arch into a second large hall. Dim lighting reflects the gloomy mood of the space. The imagery of hopelessness and human suffering is depressing.
“The journey to get to where we are in March of 2088 wasn’t an easy one. This is the Hall of Horrors. It showcases all the major crashes and economic events stock markets endured up through The Great Collapse. The first notable event is the Panic of 1907, where the stock market lost half its value.”
The patricians amble down the curved hall, whose marble walls grow steadily darker in color until becoming pitch black at the far end. The architects who designed this museum knew how to get the point across.
“One of the worst events was when the stock market lost more than a quarter of its value in two days in 1929,” Lyris continues. “That crash led to a ten-year Great Depression. The mini-crash of 1997 and the downturn after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001 are other traumatic examples.”
They pass holograms of planes hitting the two World Trade Center buildings and vivid imagery of their collapse. Lyris finds it hard to conceptualize that level of violence today. There are occasional minor attacks from societal outcasts in the corporate-controlled world, but only in the Middle East can anything comparable to the old world be found.
“All of those events pale compared to what would happen in 2039. After a half-century of governmental mismanagement, ballooning debt, and fiscal irresponsibility, the world economy could no longer shoulder the burden. On March 14th, after decades of rampant deficit spending, the United States of America defaulted on tens of trillions of dollars of debt, and the world plunged into chaos.
“What followed was the darkest period in human history. Politicians were dragged from their homes and executed in the streets during the Cleanse. Cities around the world burned to the ground. The United States government collapsed, and the rest of the world’s governments fell in the following months. Hundreds of millions of people perished worldwide through violence and starvation. Everyone else survived any way they could.
“Governments were gone. Militaries and police forces were disbanded. Society descended into anarchy after services broke down. There was one small glimmer of hope in the darkness. Several large corporations jumped into action, if only on a small scale.”
The darkness yields to the dancing flame from the struggling flicker of a holographic candle at the end of the corridor. If there is any part of the tour Lyris likes, it’s this one. He turns sharply to the right and stops at a set of thick black monolithic doors with no handles or visible opening mechanisms.
“Corporations had the workforce, infrastructure, and leadership to fill the vacuum the collapse of nations created. First in the United Kingdom, then here in the United States, they began restoring order by providing basic human needs: food, shelter, and safety. Their intervention gave birth to a new age and brought light to an otherwise dark world.”
The computer monitoring the tour acknowledges the phrase “dark world” and sends a command to the server that opens the massive doors. The brightest white light imaginable pours into the dark corridor from the room beyond.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Genesis Hall,” Lyris says with outstretched arms as everyone’s eyes adjust. “This great space is Intercorpex’s tribute to the corporations that brought us into existence and whose shares trade on our exchange every day. Feel free to walk around.”
Lyris watches the patricians marvel at the sight of holographic displays depicting the corporate takeover of governance, the rebuilding of infrastructure, and the restarting of the global economy. Five minutes later, he escorts them up a grand staircase to the mezzanine level and onto the balcony overlooking the NOC floor. On the opposite wall are three massive super-nano LED displays streaming critical information about exchange operations for consumption by the staff below. Below them are workstations where uniformed analysts monitor every aspect of exchange operations.
“Welcome to the Global Network Operations Center,” Lyris announces with the enthusiasm of an AME TV game show host.
Love the premise
Well done. This was the paragraph that hooked me... All of those events pale compared to what would happen in 2039. After a half-century of governmental mismanagement, ballooning debt, and fiscal irresponsibility, the world economy could no longer shoulder the burden. On March 14th, after decades of rampant deficit spending, the United States of America defaulted on tens of trillions of dollars of debt, and the world plunged into chaos.
I like the idea of explaining the world via a tour of the stock exchange. It will be interesting to see where this novel leads - it has a sci-fi feel as well as Apocalypse.