Rebecca drew close to the end of the concourse. The shooting had stopped behind her, and now she could hear only frightened yelling.
Overhead, a display screen changed from the view of the now-empty waiting area to a single word.
She stopped short. In the distance there was a shriek of pain.
The image changed.
Her mouth went dry. She became suddenly aware of the dozens of electronic eyes that must be watching her from every direction. She went right into a large room filled with benches and Global Net kiosks. There was an elevator on the right, and an escalator to her left. Most of the power seemed to be out. The escalator was off, and the lights were out. With no windows nearby, the room was quite dark.
She jabbed the elevator button, but nothing happened. The nearby display was black. It was dead.
She turned and headed for the escalator. As she approached it came to life, ready to carry her down.
The stairs themselves were almost pitch dark, with a small pool of natural light showing at the bottom. She stepped on and rode down.
At the base of the escalator was a small room that led to the baggage claim area. The remains of three TriOp security guards were stacked in one corner. Spent shell casings littered the floor. The room smelled like a firing range, and a haze of smoke filled the room. Humid air flowed in through the shattered window, which was the only source of light in the room.
She looked in horror at the bodies, and stepped carefully past them into the baggage claim area.
The lights were off here as well, but two large windows provided enough illumination to see where she was going. On top of the smell of gunfire, there was a strong smell of burning rubber. Black tire tracks crisscrossed the floor.
A man was pinned against the wall by a luggage bot. She immediately recognized him from his outline. It was The Director. Everything below his ribcage was trapped between the hard block wall and the heavy, thick chassis of the bot. She was alarmed to see him at first, but then horrified when she realized that the front end of the bot was only a few centimeters away from the wall.
Unless his implant gave him the ability to survive with most of his lower torso squeezed into the thickness of a few magazines, he was dead. As she approached, she could see that his skin was stone white, and his eyes were wide open in an eternal stare. His mouth hung open with a look of utter surprise. In his right hand he still held his sidearm.
A display screen flickered to life in a dark corner of the room.
Suddenly a phone began to ring. She looked around quickly but didn't see any obvious public phones around. It rang again, and she realized the sound was coming from The Director.
She approached him slowly, and the phone rang again.
The memory of his speed and strength were fresh in her mind. She didn't want to come within arm's reach of him, dead or not. It rang again.
She stood as far away as she could, and with one hand slowly pulled open his jacket. The bottom of the jacket was trapped in the mess between the bot and the wall, but she was able to pull it off to one side. It rang again.
Reluctantly, she reached in with her other hand and drew the phone from his breast pocket. She jumped back away from the body and hit the answer button in time to cut off another ring.
The moment she connected, an unmistakable voice spoke, "You need to get out of here. I don't want to have to kill any more of them."
"Are you ok Hacker?"
His voice was quick, urgent, "Don't worry about me. They're looking for you. Well, both of us, really, but you're the one in danger. Take off your jacket."
Beside her, the baggage machine began running, producing a steady supply of incoming luggage from the depths of the airport.
"The uniform you're wearing makes you stand out. Right now they're looking for a woman in her early thirties in a TriOp uniform with brown hair. Sound like anyone you know?"
"Early thirties? Give me some credit you bastards."
She stripped off the jacket. She was still wearing the pants, but they looked like any other pair of black pants. On top, she was now wearing a plain white undershirt. The moment she brought the phone back to her ear he spoke again, "Now, grab one of these bags and get out of here. Don't go back the way you came in."
She nodded and grabbed a suitcase at random from the moving conveyor. She followed the signs directing her out to the main concourse and broke into a light jog. Movement wasn't smooth with a phone in one hand and a heavy suitcase in another.
She neared a corner and he broke in again, "Walk here, don't run. You're just another passenger, following the evacuation."
As she rounded the corner she could see the way was guarded by three TriOp security personnel. They had moved away from the end of the hall and were now yelling at someone in the crowd.
She reached the end of the hall, she could see they were involved in a dispute with some police officers, who had drawn their weapons on the TriOp forces. The round, dark body of a peace sentry sat nearby, it's red and blue lights flashing. It's loudspeaker proclaimed that it had detected unauthorized weapons.
One of the TriOp guys was screaming over the din of moving civilians and the blaring of the peace sentry that they did in fact have full permission to be armed in this area. A police officer was screaming back that he didn't care what permission they thought they had, they needed to disarm right now. The fight was escalating quickly and she walked out behind the TriOp forces without so much as a glance in her direction.
She joined the flow of the crowd as they headed for the exit.
She opened her mouth to speak but he cut her off, "There is a car on the way now. It should be there by the time you reach the main entrance."
"Where are you?", she asked.
There was a strange laugh on the other end, "That question is a bit abstract for me right now, but I suppose you mean where is my body, physically."
"Yeah.", she replied, "That's what I'm asking". He sounded so strange. It was clearly him, but he spoke differently. He spoke clearly, and with less attitude. His diction was clean, and free of the sloppy slacker accent he always seemed to have.
"Well, I'm safe. That's good enough for now."
"Where can I meet you?"
"That would not be wise right now.", he responded, "That would be putting all our eggs in one basket, wouldn't it?"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
He spoke calmly and evenly, "At least one of us must make it out of here alive."
"What? How about I come find you and we both get out of here alive?"
"No. I'm busy here for the time being. I have the entire security network of this station working to protect me. I should be safe for quite a while, but I need you to get away just in case."
She was silent for several moments. Her eyes swept over the crowd around her. She looked like any one of them, carrying some awkward luggage with a phone pressed to her ear having an unpleasant conversation. "So what happens now?", she said at last.
"I need you to get out. I need you to tell your side of the story. Tell people the truth about what happened, the truth about Shodan, TriOp, and Coffman."
"You found out about Coffman?"
"Yeah I'm just catching up on the news now. That is the worst part. I can't believe they killed Coffman. You probably won't understand, but they meant a lot to each other."
"Coffman and Shodan."
"You're right, I don't understand."
"It's too late to fix it, but I want everyone to know what happened. What Diego did, what TriOp did, and what I did."
The crowd was hitting a bottleneck at the doors. She dropped the suitcase and began elbowing her way through.
"Hacker, I don't think you realize how big this is. The TriOp PR machine is a titan. Coffman tried to fight it and look at what happened to him. One voice is just no match for them."
"You won't be a lone voice. Right now I'm uploading a bulk of data to Global Net for the world to see. I have hours and hours of video logs, reports, orders, everything you need to corroborate your story and then some. The world will see this. They will know what happened up there. You need to tell them what happened down here."
The reason for the bottleneck was clear. People were rushing out of the airport and then coming to a dead stop out in front. None of them had anywhere to go. A line of reserved cars waited for a lucky few, but for everyone else there were a dozen or so taxis to serve hundreds of people.
She was carried through the doors by the crowd. Outside, it was a different world. The sun shone brightly and a cool breeze washed over her.
Hacker sighed, "Well, you are beyond my cameras. I can't protect you anymore from here. My upload is about to finish and then I'm going to disconnect."
"How can I find you?"
There was another laugh, "You can't. But don't worry, I'll be watching."
She made a face, "It might surprise you to hear this, but that's not very comforting. So what happens to you now? You've got your implant. I guess you're going to go and pursue a life of hacking with impunity?"
Rebecca saw a reserved car waiting in line with LANSING projected onto the rear window. She headed for it.
"I admit, I wanted that for a long time, but I have new priorities now."
"I want to find someplace safe, get an efficient, high speed connection to Global Net, and go exploring."
"Global Net is big. There is a world of knowledge out there. I want to discover new things."
She stopped, "What happened to you up there?"
"Good luck", he said before disconnecting.
She stood there, looking down at the phone for a minute or so. She didn't want to carry around the Director's phone, but she didn't want to cut off her only means of contact with Hacker, either. After some deliberation she decided he could probably contact her anytime he wanted to, phone or not. She dropped it and crushed it under her heel.
She stood at the door of her car for a moment and took one last look at the madness around her. People were fighting over taxis, fighting with security, and fighting with each other. Those that didn't have anyone to fight with nearby were on the phone, fighting with someone far away.
Beside the entrance was a small area allotted to a few trees. It wasn't much, but it was good to see the color green again outside the context of a computer screen. She drew in a deep breath and smiled. It was good to be outside, to taste some fresh air. It was good to be alive, and safe.
As she took one last look at the scene she noticed a lone man walking away from the airport. He was dressed in an ill-fitting business suit, but heading away from the concrete stairs that led to the underground service entrance. He was thin and pale, and walked with a pronounced limp. The top of his head was covered in short stubble. He carried a suitcase in his left hand, while his right arm hung limp at his side.
She opened her mouth to call out to him, but decided not to. He entered one of the reserved cars and pulled away into traffic.
Rebecca entered the waiting car and told the driver to head out. She didn't know where she was going yet, but she wanted to get away from the airport.
She rolled down her window as they eased out into traffic and smiled into the sunshine.
"Drop me off in front of the TriOptimum building", she said at last, "I have a story to tell."