Short Story – “The November Uprising”

Ladies and Gentlemen, we present you a Sunday Steampunk Cyberpunk Short Story. If you wish to submit your own prose for the reading pleasure of The Pandora Society please following the instructions at the end of this tale . . . 

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The November Uprising

by

Josh Moberly

“On average 300,000 pedestrians enter Times Square every day. With an audience that size, there’s no better venue for my first broadcast,” spoke a man with a distorted voice. He appeared on every electronic sign in Times Square instead of the thousands of ads that normally bombarded the public. He wore all black clothing and a shining silver pendant engraved with occult symbols. Where his face should be was an image of a red right hand, circled by the phrase ‘I’m a ghost, I’m a god, I’m a man, I’m a guru.’ Most ignored him, but enough had stopped, and some recorded his message on their phones.

The man continued, “I’m here to talk about the battle being waged downtown. For three months, we have occupied Wall Street while the corporate controlled media mocked our lack of leadership. You wanted a leader, here I am, and this is our ultimatum to the one percent.”

He paused, and people began to realize that this was no publicity stunt or viral marketing campaign.

“Greed’s corrupted your souls. It’s made you destroy our planet for the sake of lining your bank accounts while your employees starve under minimum wages, minimum hours, and under the constant threat of termination, as if they were replaceable automatons. Abandon your greed. Help us build a sustainable society. If you don’t, then those you oppress will rise up against you. It’s already happening. Our occupation is proof of that. There are no pitchforks pointed at you, yet. If you don’t change though, there may well be.”

He shifted gears. “To the ninety-nine percent: you are the majority. You have the power to make this life free and beautiful. There is more to your lives than slaving away on minimum hours for minimum pay. You’re not machines! Rise up! Take back what is yours! Join us, join me, let us all unite and together we will fight for the bright future humanity deserves.”

Every screen in Times Square cut to black, as if someone had pulled their collective plugs. When they lit back up it was back to regularly scheduled advertisements. Sixty-six blocks down the Sprawling Manhattan Grid from Times Square was a copse of trees planted directly into the concrete and surrounded on all sides by monolithic towers dedicated to human greed. This fine example of corporate control of nature was Zuccotti Park, the headquarters of the Occupy movement in the heart of Wall Street.

At its center in an old green tent, a man wearing all black took off a silver medallion, switched it with one made of bronze, and set to work in covering his tracks. His fingers danced across his keyboard like lightning across the night sky as he executed programs on a command prompt. When he was sure that there was no way to trace his broadcast back to him, he looked at his computer and asked, “Ready to go RENA?”

A slightly digitized female voice replied, “As ready as I’m going to be. You know I won’t be of much use if you lose an internet connection. And my processing power will be limited by the memory on your phone.”

The hacker plugged his phone into the computer and replied, “It’s a risk I’ll have to take.”

He executed a final command, Transfer: This PC/C:/Program Files/whte_rbt.obj to F:/APPS/TPS Reports. He stepped back. The progress bar inched across the screen. Outside there was a CRASH followed by the wailing sirens in all directions. He glanced outside his tent. The NYPD were swarming toward the park in all directions. He took a deep breath, told himself to remain calm, that panicking now would only lead to trouble. He had contingency plans for this.

He wrapped a black scarf around his nose and mouth, and pulled a matching beanie over his head. His computer beeped; the transfer was complete. Rena now spoke through his phone, informing him that the police had surrounded the park. He had to act fast. He unplugged his phone, stowed his laptop in his backpack next to a change of clothes, and shoved a Taser and a pair of red tinted wraparound mirrorshades into the pockets of his duster. He took another deep breath, reached for his lighter, set his tent on fire and walked out, phone in hand. He passed several burning tents as he ran to a nearby manhole cover. He pressed a button on his phone. The electronic lock on the cover beeped, and it swung open.

Cops in riot gear shot teargas into the park and marched in, gasmasks on, shields up, batons out. The park descended into utter chaos as protesters tried to escape, only to run right into the batons of the NYPD. The Hacker looked up and saw a nearby elderly woman receive an excessive blast of pepper spray to the face. He moved to help her, his hand reaching for his Taser. If he could get the cop in the neck between his helmet and vest – but it was no use, a teargas canister bounced off the head of a now unconscious protester and landed a few feet in front of him, blocking his path. He swore and ran back toward the open manhole cover.

He was halfway in the hole when three people approached him, one of them, a redheaded woman wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. She asked, her voice filled with panic, “Where are you going?”

“Away from here,” replied the Hacker in a calm, gravely tone.

“Where?” asked the black man behind the woman. The Hacker noticed he was wearing a US Navy Uniform decorated with medals from Vietnam. Behind him was a kid who couldn’t be older than sixteen.

The Hacker looked at them. “Safety. Feel free to join me.”

A minute later, they were all standing in a shaft of light at the bottom of the ladder. The Hacker pressed a button on his phone and the manhole sealed itself, leaving them in complete darkness save for the phone’s pale glow. His new companion looked at him in amazement.

“That trick was brought to you by the city’s newest modernization attempt,” he explained before they could ask. “Plan’s to have all maintenance tunnel entrances automated by 2020. Right now, it’s only in place in the wealthiest parts of Manhattan. The rich get the newest tech before anyone else, go figure. All of the entrances use the same signal. No big deal though because supposedly only city maintenance workers have access to it. Problem is, the signal has no protection, so if you know what you’re looking for –which I do– you can hack into it.”

The kid complained about the dark, she had a thick Brooklyn accent. The Hacker activated a flashlight app, as did the others. In the newfound light he could see them looking at him as if he were a wizard.

He sighed. “Alright so for our safety, I’ll give you each an alias to use while we’re running together. Here’re your names,” he said as he pointed at each member of the group. “Navy, Brooklyn, and Lady Fawkes.” He then turned started down the tunnel.

Navy stopped him. “And who are you, and where are you going?”

The Hacker stopped and laughed. “Both excellent questions, sadly there’s only time for one answer. Right now, I’m heading for the abandoned City Hall Station.”

Brooklyn looked over at the Hacker. “Why we headin’ there if it’s abandoned.”

“Because the rails still work, and I can have a train sent to us,” he explained.

Brooklyn shook her head. “How?”

The Hacker again tried to proceed down the tunnel. “Same way I hacked the ads in Times Square.”

“That was you?” asked Lady Fawkes. However, this time the Hacker didn’t stop and turn around. She ran up to him and turned him around. “How’d you pull that off?”

The Hacker waved his phone. “It’s a kind of magic. Now, if you please.” He again motioned down the tunnel.

Navy cocked his head to the side, “Thought you said you hacked into them.”

The Hacker laughed, “Hacking, like all seemingly advanced science and technology is the magic of the modern age to those who don’t understand it. Now please, a little less talking and a little more escaping.”

They could hear the sounds of chaos on the streets above them as they advanced, the group followed closely behind the Hacker as they traversed the dank tunnel, especially Brooklyn, who positioned herself in the middle of the phonelight. Navy grunted. “I should be out there fighting instead of hiding in tunnels like vermin.”

The Hacker didn’t stop. “If you want to leave, go ahead. You chose to join me.”

Brooklyn groaned. “How much further?”

“It should be just ahead,” the Hacker replied, and he was right. The tunnel ended in a rusted steel door. “Would someone care to give me a hand? I’m afraid there’s no technomancy to use here, just old fashioned physics.”

Together with Lady Fawkes and Navy, they forced the door open. The Hacker walked out first, phone held high, trying to get a signal. The air was heavy and stale. The only light came from their phones. Graffiti covered the walls; some of them were gang tags with bold letters displaying names like the Deckers, Riffs, Fixers, and Rogues, while others were murals dedicated to urban decay crafted by anonymous urban spelunkers. A mosaic of beautifully arranged tiles decorated the vaulted ceiling above. Like everything else in the station, the tiles had sixty-six years of grime molding over them.

RENA sighed, her voice even more digitized. “It won’t do any good. It doesn’t look like Calway Construction’s connected the station to the Transit Wi-Fi network, and I can’t tap into the Transit Authority without a viable connection.”

“That,” the Hacker said, “is precisely what I was afraid of.” He turned to the others. “Do any of you have a phone that can broadcast a mobile hotspot?”

Only Navy rose his hand. “My daughter says my phone can, but I’ll be damned if I know how.”

“Toss it here,” the Hacker ordered.

Navy handed it over. It only took a second to find the right menu, he handed the phone back. “Go up those stairs,” he pointed to a flight of stairs that had the words ‘City Hall’ over them in grimy sapphire letters, “until you have at least four bars. Then press the button on your phone that says launch hotspot.”

Navy nodded. “How long do I need to be up there?”

The Hacker tried to sound reassuring. “Shouldn’t take more than three minutes if we are lucky.”

Navy was hesitant. “And if we aren’t?”

The Hacker patted him on the shoulder. “Just don’t get caught. There’s liable to be security at the construction site, and if not, well, you saw how many cops converged on the park. They probably have a mobile command center nearby.”

Navy sighed, gave the Hacker a quick salute, and made for the stairs. The Hacker hesitated and ran toward him.

“Wait.”

Navy stopped, and the Hacker took off his amulet. “Wear this. It’s a device I cooked up for jobs like this. I used a fancier model during my broadcast. This one’ll just scramble your image on electronic surveillance, cause you to appear as a blur on cameras, mask your phone’s GPS, that kind of thing. People on the ground will see you, but you’ll just appear as a glitch on any tech. Try and bring it back in one piece.”

Navy thanked him, donned the amulet, and ascended the stairs. Within seconds, the only trace of him was the light of his phone fading into the darkness. The Hacker went back to looking at his phone. Lady Fawkes leaned against a wall next to a tag for a gang called the Phreakers. Brooklyn meanwhile, stood in the light of the Hackers phone.

After a minute, Lady Fawkes spoke up. “Who’s that woman on your phone?” She paused. “How can she reach you if you don’t have a signal?”

“Because she’s on the phone.” His voice had a sharp tone of annoyance to it.

“That’s my point. She can’t be without a signal.”

“Correct, but she’s on the phone. As in she’s part of it.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“It does if you consider that she’s an A.I.”

“Impossible. I study Cyber Security Systems at St.-”

The Hacker cut her off. “Someone’s forgetting rule three of the internet. We are-”

“Anonymous. I know but still.” She hesitated. “True artificial intelligence technology is still at least a decade away.”

“Then welcome cyberpunk future of last year.” He went back to scanning for a signal. “RENA turns a year old in a month.”

Brooklyn, who up until now was content with just listening, spoke up. “Rena?”

“Yes,” his voice filled with agitation, Navy still hadn’t established a clear signal. “Remotely Executable Networked Ally, or RENA for short. She’s the one who helped me get into…” His voice trailed off. His phone was picking up a Wi-Fi signal. “The old man’s come through! Rena’ll get a train down here in no time.”

“I thought you were the one who pulled off that job in Time’s Square, or was that just your AI?” Brooklyn said in an accusatory tone.

“I think of her as my partner in crime,” the Hacker explained as he started tapping into the New York Transit Authority. “I give the orders; RENA takes care of the finder details.”

“Which, going from my current memory capacity, should take about five minutes,” RENA said. “I’ve tapped into the nearby CCTV cameras as well. You should take a look. Navy’s a bit too close to the surface for my liking.”

The Hacker looked at the security footage displayed on his phone. Navy appeared as a patch of scrambled pixels on the stairs that led to the platform. He was in the guards’ line of sight and if he so much as sneezed, they’d spot him.

The others gathered around the phone. Brooklyn panicked when she saw the footage. She said that the guards were going to get Navy, and that he had to help him because if he didn’t they’d be caught, too. Lady Fawkes, however, remained quiet, observant. Brooklyn’s screeching voice echoed and rang in The Hacker’s ears. He turned and snapped, “Quiet. I can’t do anything with you going on like that.”

She stopped. The Hacker sighed. “Thank you. Now let me get to work.”

RENA displayed a progress bar over the security footage. She was just over halfway through breaking into the transit authority and sending a train their way. On the screen a guard turned. The Hacker was sure he’d spotted Navy. The Hacker tapped his phone over a streetlight. RENA’s progress paused briefly as she hacked into the power grid and sent a surge of electricity to blow the streetlight. The guard that had seen Navy jumped and looked back. The three other guards were now moving toward the blasted light.

The Hacker tapped the phone in Navy’s hand and said, “Move back, you’re visible.” His words translated into a text message and sent to Navy’s phone. Judging by the scene playing out on the security footage, Navy got the message, but he apparently left his volume on because a couple of guards jumped in fright and approached the stairs just as Navy stepped back.

“They’re gonna catch him!” screeched Brooklyn.

“Not if I can help it.” The Hacker tapped the screen again, and the lights in the construction area’s office trailer turned on. The guards looked at each other for a moment; the one that had first spotted Navy was clearly barking orders at the rest. The three subordinates went to investigate the office, while the supervisor continued toward Navy.

The Hacker looked at RENA’s progress. The percentage next to the bar read ninety-nine percent. He tapped the footage of the guard supervisor and hacked into his phone. In one second, he had complete access to the guard’s personal data. His name was Tim Colding, age forty-three, ex-Arny Ranger; however, the contents of his photo gallery disgusted the Hacker. He dialed Colding’s number. Colding stopped, pulled out his phone and answered. “Hello, who’s this?”

The Hacker cut right to the chase. “If you don’t want the FBI knowing about the contents of your photo gallery, I’d back away from those stairs if I were you.”

Colding sounded nervous. “Who, how can you, is this a prank?”

“You have five seconds to back away and sound the all clear or you go to jail and your name goes on a very embarrassing list.” He’d taken a screenshot of Colding’s gallery and sent it to him.

Colding’s voice cracked,. “Alright. Just don’t send it. I’m backing away.”

“Good.” The Hacker hung up and sent an anonymous e-mail to the head of the New York FBI office containing Colding’s name, address and the gallery screenshot. He then sent Navy another message. “Mission accomplished, return to the platform, double time.”

Navy descended the stairs, while the other guards met up with Colding. They talked for a few seconds then started toward the stairs with their guns drawn. The Hacker moved to cause another diversion but lost the security feed. He swore loudly, his voice carrying through the darkness. There was a faint rumbling coming from the tracks.

Brooklyn flinched. “What is it?”

He ordered, “Lights off, We’ve been made.”

He and Lady Fawkes shut down their phones; Brooklyn resisted but gave in when Navy arrived back at the platform panting. He said that they were right behind him, but he lit a bundle of firecrackers at them to hold them off for a few seconds. The Hacker complimented his ingenuity and ordered them off toward the platform.

Lady Fawkes stood for a moment. “What about you?”

The Hacker pocketed his phone, and replaced it with his stun gun. He slipped on his mirrorshades. He pressed a button on their side and they glowed eerily in the darkness, “I’ll be right behind you.”

“No.” replied Lady Fawkes as she whipped out a collapsible baton. “We’re in this together.”

They didn’t have time to argue because they could hear the guards at the top of the stairs. They had just enough time to hide on either side of the stairs when the guards turned the corner. Four shafts of light hit the platform floor. The rumbling intensified as the train approached. A halo of light brushed past Brooklyn’s ankle.

Colding yelled, “STOP!”

The Hacker whirled out of the darkness. Colding only saw a flash of two glowing eyes as the Hacker tackled him, driving his stun gun into Colding’s crotch. Colding went down, twitching and screaming in pain. His gun skittered across the floor into darkness. His flashlight rolled onto the tracks.

The Hacker rolled out of the way just as other three guards turned their lights onto their comrade. He landed wrong, and banged his knee. He knew he wouldn’t be able to do that again. It was only a matter of time until the remaining guards trained their guns on him.

Lady Fawkes extended her baton with a flick of her wrist, ran up as quietly as a ghost, swept one guard’s feet out from under him, and brought her baton down on his sternum. She swung upward, and caught the next guard in the armpit.  He howled in pain, which gave enough time for Lady Fawkes to pull out her baton and whack him across the forearms. He dropped his gun.

The train arrived, its cars filling the platform with blinding fluorescent light. Navy and Brooklyn dove in. The final guard wheeled around, raised his gun, but then fell and writhed on the ground. He had two barbs stuck out from his neck, attached to thin wires that snaked their way to the Hacker’s Taser. Lady Fawkes’s save had given him the time to attach a projectile clip to his Taser.

He was breathing heavily, dust from his fall covered his clothes, and his scarf was askew, almost showing the lower half of his face.   He gave the guard another good pulse before he removed the clip. He slipped his Taser back into his coat, and scrambled onto is feet. He dusted himself off, “Shall we,” he readjusted his scarf, “complete our daring escape?”

Lady Fawkes nodded and they ran to the subway, entering just as the doors closed. They sat down opposite from one another. Both were breathing hard. The Hacker clutched his sides. Brooklyn was asleep, her head rested on Navy’s shoulder. The train jerked and pulled away from the station. It darted around a loop and shot north toward Grand Central like an electron coursing down a circuit board. Navy looked at them and smiled. “That was some impressive fighting you two.”

“Thanks,” the Hacker wheezed. “Christ I’m out of shape.”

Lady Fawkes panted, “Cardio.”

“Probably something to take up.” The Hacker coughed. When he caught his breath he said, “This train’ll take us up to Grand Central, I suggest we go our separate ways there.”

Navy nodded. “That sounds like a plan to me.” He nodded to Brooklyn. “This one’s Mom’ll be a wreck after what went down tonight.”

Lady Fawkes looked at the two of them. “Is she your-”

Navy smiled. “Granddaughter.” He looked over at the Hacker. “I can’t thank you enough, man.”

The Hacker waved his hand. “It was nothing. Just trying to make the world a better place.”

As they entered regularly used tunnels, Lady Fawkes took to checking social media, and Navy held his granddaughter, while the Hacker executed his final run for the night. He and RENA hacked into the departure times signs in Grand Central, changing the words to a transcript of his broadcast, followed by the words, “I’m a ghost, I’m a god, I’m a man, I’m a guru. You’re whispering my name through this disappearing land, but hidden in my coat is a red right hand.”

The train pulled to a stop. Navy woke Brooklyn and they left the train with his arm around her shoulders. Lady Fawkes however, stayed behind with the Hacker. He glanced at her as the train pulled away from Grand Central. She was looking back at him from behind her mask. She was rocking slightly, as if apprehensive about something. The Hacker shrugged his shoulders. “I’m getting off at 68th street.”

She leaned back and hesitated for a few minutes. She glanced at him constantly, as if she wanted to say something, but didn’t. They arrived and departed 51st street station before she finally threw her hands up in the air and said, “To hell with the rules.” She pulled off her mask. Frizzy auburn hair framed her face. She had high cheekbones, soft freckled skin, bright tawny eyes, and thin bow shaped lips with snakebite piercings. She was very pretty. “My name’s Elisabeth Charles, Lizzie to my friends. Look, after what happened tonight I don’t want this to just be a story of how I had a run in with the guy who sparked a revolution.”

The Hacker raised his eyebrows. “What makes you say I did that?”

She scoffed. “Please, your stunt in Times Square’s all over the net.” He smiled at that. “People are calling you a real life Alan Moore character.”

He laughed. “So what do you want?”

“I want,” she said, her voice trailed off and her face grew red. She paused, trying to find the right words. “I want to do my part. I want to help you make a difference. And seriously, who are you?”

The train pulled to a stop at the 68st street station. The doors opened and he got up and walked over to them. Lizzy looked up at him. He stopped, the door held open with his right hand. He looked back. “I’m a friend.” He paused briefly, then chuckled. “Until I need you for something, then I’m a right bastard.”

She laughed at that.

“You can call me John. Just don’t go spreading that around.” She nodded emphatically and he stepped onto the platform. He turned to her. “I’ll be in touch, Lizzy.”

She was still smiling as the doors closed and the train carried her further north along the tracks. The Hacker meanwhile continued on, alone, up a flight of stairs and to the nearest restroom.

Five minutes later a man in his early twenties climbed the stairs of the 68st street station. He wore a Miskatonic University hoodie and midnight blue cargo pants and a rather full looking backpack on his shoulders. He was looking on his phone at the Facebook profile of a girl he met recently. He sent her a friend request as he crossed Third Avenue. He turned around the block and walked east along 67th street when she accepted and sent him a message: “Now I see why you wanted to be called John.”

He typed, “Do you? ;)” as he crossed First Avenue.

“Your secret’s safe with me,” she typed back.

“Glad you understand. I’ll talk to you later when the sun’s up. Phone’s about to die.” He hit send and shut off his phone. He turned again and walked through the front door of Memorial Cancer Hospital. Requested directions to room 901 at the reception desk. Took the elevator at the end of the hall up to the 9th floor, and walked into the first room on his right.

“Where have you been? You had me worried sick,” said the woman lying on the hospital bed in the room. “I saw what the police did and-”

The Man smiled. “Don’t worry about me, Mom.” He sat next to her and held her frail skeletal hand, “I can take care of myself.”

His mother frowned. “You still should have called and said you were okay.”

“I’m sorry, Mom.” He brought her hand up to his lips and kissed it. “I didn’t have a lot of time. I caught the first train I could.”

“Well,” she stroked his cheek, “as long as you’re okay, that’s all that matters.”

He smiled and glanced at the nightstand next to her bed. There was a hospital bill lying open. He grimaced at the number of zeros on it. In a better world, it wouldn’t be this way, he thought, and that’s why this one needs to change.

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