Saturday, September 10, 2016

Frenzy: The Spoon is Not There (Part IX)

All gangs in the metro have their own territories, but they’re a little more complex than simple geography. First of all, it’s important to realize that when I’m talking about gangs, I’m not referring to the violent or criminal elements that plagued earlier times. To be sure, those kind of gangs still exist, but advances in police surveillance—and more importantly, changes to legislation—have tampered those down considerably. The gangs of now are more like clubs; groups of like-minded individuals who reject mainstream conformity. They don’t belong to national organizations, they don’t have websites, and initiation can still be somewhat dangerous.
The Taggers, for instance, are dedicated to taking part in illegal artwork. Part of the newer legislation has been used to redirect police work to more serious crimes. Drug manufacturing and dealing are prosecuted so much more severely than drug usage, but still not as much as rape. Addicts are treated less as criminals, and more as patients. The key term there is patience. Likewise, as long as the Taggers don’t draw violence, nudity, or other unseemingly pieces, they’re generally left alone. There is also a sort of treaty designed to allow members of the Tagger gang to come back and clean up their paint jobs once they feel that their message has been effectively delivered.
The Tracers are also not known for being the most upstanding citizens. As but a probationary member, I’m only allowed to run with them in certain designated locations. Full members can run anywhere. Or rather, they do run anywhere, including places that require they be trespassing. Some of the best places to run are abandoned buildings and construction sites. If you’re caught, you’re in trouble, but they have to actually catch you. Just like in baseball, they can’t just see you, or even capture your crime on a recording. Cops have to catch up to you and take you into custody within a certain period of witnessing your crime, which is something most aren’t willing to do, because what’s the point?
The Beasts are an entirely different story. There’s a lot of controversy surrounding them, much of it fueled by its multiple semi-interrelated factions. The most innocuous of these are hippy-dippy tree hugging vegetarians. The most dangerous, however, are self-righteous vegan eco-terrorists. What began as a single gang gradually cleaved into these factions due to inconsistencies in their ideologies. No one wanted to give up the name, though, so like Christians, the rest of us just sort of lump them into one group, and we don’t really care how they feel about that.
There are other gangs; the Ballers, the Hardcore Gamers, the Codas, the Singularities, the Gunbenders, and several more. But the Taggers, Tracers, and Beasts are the main three that rule the proverbial playground. Like I said, they all have territories, but it’s not like they’re not allowed to cross at all. They form treaties and other agreements with each other. Taggers are allowed to cross borders to make statements, but only in the inner city, and only under certain circumstances. These either have to be cleared with that territory’s leader ahead of time, or during an initiation. Newbies are required to prove themselves worthy by an endeavor known as “flagging”. Flagging entails painting either over preexisting work, within another gang’s territory without permission, or at high-risk areas like police stations or museums. Freeley managed to become gang leader by painting the entire front edifice of a mayor’s home in Mission Hills. This had to happen much later, however, because he was caught and served real time in prison for it.
This is important information because the Tagger apartment building headquarters is located at a confluence of three counties. The Beasts generally run Johnson, the Tracers handle Jackson, and the Taggers have Wyandotte. If you looked at a map of territories, they wouldn’t follow county lines so perfectly, and there would even be some overlap, but there is a general order to it. By running even a few blocks, Krakken enters Tracer territory without permission. It’s true that he’s not doing it with the intention of tagging, but still, it’s common courtesy to let ‘em know. Unfortunately this is simply not possible. The infiltrator has taken Crispin towards downtown, so that’s where we have to go. Luckily Krakken has me, so I should be able to halt any disagreements. I might even be able to recruit some help. Freeley had the impression that Crispin’s kidnapper worked for a company of some kind, and if there’s one thing all gangs can agree on, it’s screw the man.
I can’t think of any other name for him, so we’re just gonna keep calling him Noobo, the one who stole Crispin from my arms. We’ve nearly caught up to him. Krakken is doing surprisingly well. Noobo’s weird outfit is within centimeters of my fingers when he makes a lateral move to his right that I did not expect. I can’t stop and zag fast enough to get back on track before he’s turned on his vehicle and taken off. Now he’s not operating a car, motorcycle, or anything that normal people drive. No, this is a hoverplat. It’s a niche product that never really caught on because it looks like a balcony that can’t go more than a foot off the ground. They were also never very popular because the consumed energy to speed ratio is far too great. But this one is different. It’s still not as fast as a car, but faster than a golf cart. And this means that it’s faster than a human.
He’s getting farther and farther away, and there’s no way we could ever overtake him. Not like this. He’s chosen his vehicle, and we can use that against him. I have one trick up my sleeve that he would not expect. “Do you have a phone?”
“Of course,” Krakken says. “Don’t you?”
“Give it to me,” I order. “Frenzy racers aren’t allowed to carry tech.”
“Oh, right.” He takes out his phone and hands it to me. I dial one of the few numbers I have memorized, which connects me to one of the few gang members outside of the Tracers that I know. J-Cuken isn’t the leader of the Grammer gang, but he’s pretty high up there. And he owes me a favor. “J,” I say into the phone. “I need you to turn the device I’m calling you on into a master.” He gives me a little crap, but I tell him that it’s time sensitive and he immediately complies. “I’m also going to need a proximity ICC eavesdrop for the car I access with this.” He gives me that as well.
“What are we doing?” Krakken asks as we’re walking towards the car I’ve chosen.
“We’re takin’ this car,” I answer.
“We are?”
“I wouldn’t think a Tagger would be afraid of a little GTA.”
“I’m not, it’s just...”
“Get in or not.” I wave the phone in front of the door and it opens for us. “Vehicle, head North by Northeast. Search for any hoverplat in the area traveling more than thirty miles per hour.”
“You can do that?” Krakken asks as the car automatically drives off.
“All driverless cars on the road are connected to each other. They communicate traffic conditions, route changes, and upcoming hazards. Humans can’t usually read or write this information, but an eavesdropping protocol makes it possible.” It’s the modern-day equivalent of stepping into a New York taxi and instructing the driver to follow that cab.
“Wow,” is all that Krakken can say.
“We’re gonna catch up to this guy,” I say to him, “but I don’t know what happens after that.”
He shakes his head. “Taggers aren’t known for our caution.”
I nod. “I hear ya.”
Requested hoverplat found,” the artificial intelligent system in the car we’ve just stolen says through the aether.
I’m about to order the car to catch all the way up to it and knock it off the road or something, but Krakken cuts me off. “Follow at a distance of two car lengths.”
“What exactly are we waiting for?”
“For an opening. Unless you want to barrel through this like a typical tracer. I can’t ensure Raggy’s safety if we try that. Can you?”
“Point taken,” I respond. We wait patiently, hoping Noobo never realizes that we’re right behind him. After a few minutes, I start looking around. This is weird. “Vehicle, what is the hoverplat’s destination?”
I do not have that information.
“Predict its destination based on pattern of travel.”
Present course could lead to a number of destinations. Areas of interest include Linwood Strip Mall, Union Cemetery, Crown Center, University of Missouri Kansas—”
I interrupt the voice, “end list.”
“Do you know where he’s going?”
“He’s on my route.”
“You mean...?” Krakken started to ask.
“He’s heading towards my finish line. Where exactly he’s going, I can’t know, but it’s quite odd.”
“Indeed,” Krakken agrees.
I make a steeple with my hands and rest my mouth on it. I don’t know where he’s going, but I know where he is. Whoever he works for has no good plans for Crispin. They could show up at any moment, and it is then that I lose my advantage. I have to act now. “Do you know how to drive?”
“Please stop questioning me. You agreed to come along, so just answer me.”
“I don’t drive. I ride the bus or walk. But I can technically drive. Though, I don’t know why I ever would.”
“You would if I need the instincts of a human instead of the precision of a car’s artificial intelligence. I need you to do bad things with this vehicle. Could you manage that?”
He lifts his chin to get a look at the controls. “You’re lucky this even has manual option.”
“I take that as a yes.” I do a few stretches then place my hand on the door handle. “I trust that you understand what I’m going for here?”
“I understand, and I’ll do everything in my power to get you there, but I cannot recommend this course of action, Captain.”
I pull the door open and brace myself on the roof as Krakken takes over the controls and speeds up. So far, Noobo has still not noticed us, so that’s something. It does little to alleviate the stress of holding onto the top of a car as it speeds down the road, though. “Closer!” I yell through the windshield, fully aware that Noobo might be able to hear me. He does and tries to kick the hoverplat into high gear, but that’s not a thing. He was always going at maximum speed. Krakken gets me about as close as he’s able to without endangering Crispin’s life. Like an action movie star I may be destined to become, I jump off the hood of the car and head for the hoverplat. I land right behind Noobo and steal Crispin back from his arms.
“This is our property!” he yells to me, but only because we can’t really hear each other very well at these speeds.
“He’s not property, he’s a life.”
Noobo takes a gun out of his pocket and points it at my head, careful to keep it away from Crispin. He needs the rabbit dog alive.
Crispin transfers some power to me and I instinctively shoot a bolt of lightning out of my hand.
The electricity just surges all around Noobo’s body, affecting him only by giving me a huge smile. “Why do you think I’m wearing all this?”
That must be some kind of grounding material, or a Faraday Cage, or whatever it is that allows electricity to pass over him safely. What can I do with that?
Someone sneaks up from the side of me and takes Crispin for himself. He uses the same power of electricity to disrupt the operation of the hoverplat itself. He then takes me by the shoulders and casually steps us backwards off the machine. We land safely on the ground, magically ignoring the properties of momentum. We then watch as the hoverplat explodes. In the attempt to avoid a collision, Krakken swerves and ends up smashing into a giant Catholic church.
The masked man keeps holding onto me, and won’t let me try to help. He’s an infamous member of the Tracer gang who literally never speaks. “K-Boy.”

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