by Liam Scheff
8 of 15×15
Vivian flips through the channels. Basic cable. It was our decision to limit it. “The two way mirror,” she calls it. We’re not permitted to have nothing (which would be our choice). The building requires a video-in for security. But we can modify it, so, no movies, just news and the networks.
She flips her hair gently to get it out of her face. Straight with a little curve, brown with a little amber in summer. She’s still so pretty. Prettier than when I met her. How does that happen to women in their late 30s?
She’s churning through channels trying to find what Mrs. Ekelsen was talking about in the hallway. Tokyo on fire? She gets to CNN, and they’re on the war. Skips to Fox. Sees Hannity and keeps going. She goes with the network, and there it is. A protest – not a fire – but a firefight. Protesters throwing bottles and – there it is. A fire in downtown Tokyo. The helicopter shot shows it from above. A couple city blocks are burning.
We listen to the audio, but it’s only telling us that there has been an emergency evacuation called in the Northeastern suburbs of the greater Tokyo metroplex. And once again, there are street riots by protestors, and they’re violent.
Viv looks at me. “It’s Fukushima,” she says. It’s burst the perimeter again. They’re not telling us, but that’s what happened.”
She’s smarter than most people I know. She’s smarter than I, so I listen. I get on the internet and click past the building’s safe-search-portal. “Island Towers Residents Secure Internet. You will be Assisted in Searches by a Safe-Search Algorithm.”
It’s what we get for living in a secured building. Everything is wired into a solid-state in-house network that is hackproof (or less hackable) by the roving grifters who jack into signals all over town, punching into bank accounts, credit cards and on-line commerce. Since the city went wireless, internet theft is up something incomprehensible like 4200 percent. You see the cars with small curly-cue antennas. It’s impossible to know – it could be for better cell service, or could be a roving network hacking device.
Our building prevents theft by wiring us into an exclusive network. As a result, we don’t have wireless, but our TV, computers, our machines are all wired into an in-house system with top security protocols…So, to get anywhere, I have to be creative. The only problem is, I’m not. Viv is, so I call her to help me.
She tells me the following: First, click the orange icon in the toolbar with no title. That re-routes to a third-party server outside the building, which hides my signal in a re-encoded stream in a regional network. That request is then sent into the satellite data stream, bounced to Paraguay, Costa Rica or Florida, where large non-national data farms are hosting unimpeded searches. My request is put into a queue – and all of 80 seconds later, I get a response.
Or, so she says. I don’t understand any of it. I just type: “Japan, fire, riot.”
Whatever magic is in effect takes hold and we get a widescreen full of images, trash barrels and bottles being thrown, night punctured by orange squirming flames, reflected in the visors of the fibersheath riot gear the Tokyo police are wearing.
The shrill, unnatural sound of staccato screams and yells in Japanese, now normal to our ears given the worldwide protests by ex-patriots, demanding military intervention at Fuku, rattle through our sound-system. Viv dashes to turn down the volume, so as to not signal an Urgency alarm in the building.
That’s the thing about security – you pay for it in normalcy. “We don’t get to be normal anymore – we’re too safe,” is our occasional joke. But we can’t move out. The city is not safe. Vi isn’t exaggerating; she’s correct. And to keep our Exec jobs in the ‘new economy,’ we have to remain in the city center.
Vivian looks a bit sallow, and I wonder if one of her depressions is about to set in. All of this is so hard on her. “I suppose it could be worse,” I say, trying to cheer her. She smiles with an appreciation for how true it is.
“Yes,” she says. “Of course. I’m just a bit…”
“I know. I am, too. How about to bed? We’ll feel better in the morning.”
We power down the lights and the shutters close automatically. We make it to the bedroom by blue emergency light, and climb onto our very large, flat, square mattress. “Matthew?” she asks in the dark. I say, Yes, my dearest.
“Do you think this will last long?”
“This?” I respond. She is silent, but I hear her thinking. Always thinking.
“Do you think we’ll end up like them?”
“Like…” I wait for her to clarify.
“Like them. Like…all of them. Like Tokyo. Like Chicago. Like Miami. Like the people outside tonight?”
“Oh…” I stall. I want to give her the impression that I have a reason for my response. “Well, I don’t know, my dear. I think… it’s possible. But, not likely. We’ve saved more, we have a river, we have fertile soil nearby. Plenty of farmsteads outside of town.”
“Will it be enough? Is that the difference?”
“It might be. I’m…genuinely not sure.” I feel her unease spreading like ink in water. “Would you like me to lie to you, darling girl?”
She breathes a long exhale of relief. “I would. I very much would.”
I look down at her eyes in the darkness, looking up at mine. “My girl, we’re going to be just fine. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
“Now, get some sleep.”
She nestles her head against my chest and I feel her breathing slow to a languorous drumbeat. I lay there, her question forming pyramids and kaleidoscopes in my mind, until dreams take the tendrils, and I drift off to sleep.
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This is Story 8 in 15×15. A story written and edited in one to two hours with no major revisions.