Science Fiction Short Story Contest Entry
I worked at a bank then: "yes sir", "no sir", and "May I show you our loan solutions?" The kind of crap only AIs deal with today, but it paid, and that was important. It was a rung on the ladder, a stepping stone to respect, and that's a big deal even now. My buddy Rohan worked at the same place, but in I.T.; we were roommates. He was my wing man in the bars, and we'd talk trash about the music scene. Good guy, wicked at pool. But you don't give a damn about that.
Let me skip ahead. The apartment was far off, on the north side of the city. Johnny's was a flaming wreck - looters were everywhere, shooting off their guns and their mouths, and I wanted no piece of that. No, I found Rohan standing nervously by a lamp pole in the park by Jane street, where we'd listen to the best homeless guitar player you ever heard in your life, right by the river. I almost missed him: Springfield wasn't a place you had to navigate in starlight, not on a sane night.
"Rohan?" I called out when I finally recognized him in the shadows. "What happened, man? We gotta bounce."
"Everything's down, computer virus or something. That's all I heard on the radio before I had to clear Johnny's. Power's out, obviously, but so is damn near everything with a processor and a network connection. Laptops, cellphones, cars, you name it."
I gave a whistle. "Damn, and what about the river? It's like three feet down."
Rohan shrugged. "Got me. Maybe the dam's blocked off. You know, maybe we should check it out. Last time we had Spring rains like this, they had to sandbag the river to keep it from flooding downtown. Three people drowned."
"You never left the boy scouts, huh?" I protested. "We should let the cops handle this."
"Lead the way, buddy," he replied.
That wasn't quite what I meant, but I was stuck now. I turned heel and headed north, toward the Great Springfield Dam, and the neighborhood police station. The station was near a mile a way, past a dozen shuttered stores: cigar shops, barbers, cheap Chinese hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and a couple adult toy shops. Some were protected: they sported a steel cage around the doors and windows, but a few didn't: and there the windows were shattered, with scissors and half-smoked cigars strewn everywhere. My skin began to crawl. Up ahead, I could hear shouting, and crude laughter. The police station was surrounded by a ring of large young men, jeering and throwing rocks.
"Pigs can't even keep the lights on? We oughta roast ya fat asses inside, comfy in them blankets."
Flashlights shone from the windows ahead, and voices called from a megaphone, asking the crowd to disperse. They knew better than to get close, but the cops were supposed to keep the lights on. With the recent riots between the new Nazis and the Brown Shirts, and the media shots of men and women laid out with fire hoses and pepper spray, people of every color were here to get some cheap revenge. A man with a pale shaved head was standing in front, yelling. He wasn't the leader, though. Nobody could lead this.
"Dumb idea," I murmured.
Rohan and I bolted immediately, and they followed, like any predators. The laughter behind us was hideous. I ran as fast as I could, but something sailed by my ear. Something thankfully soft pelted me between the shoulders. The words that came with were sharp-edged and ugly. I don't want to remember them. We jumped fences and dodged through alleys, as sometimes the pack grew. In the end, though, we left even the laughter behind, and we stood by a trickle that used to be a river, before an enormous concrete wall. It seemed to shudder with contained fury.
Rohan and I walked the nearby hill, and climbed the fence, then stalked towards the dark gatehouse. The spillway was completely closed. He and I shared a look, and then I grabbed a rock, and threw it through the window, ignoring the screech of shattering glass. I kicked it in, and we stepped inside.
There were a couple flashlights. We flashed them upon the control station console: everything was dead. All there was was a locked control valve that controlled the emergency hydraulic release, and the door to the basement. Through which emerged a tall man with brown hair.
"The hell - " he said, and pulled a gun. Its dark barrel was right in my face.
To this day, everything after that is a blur. Rohan and I fought, I know that, but this guy was near twice our size, and armed. I know a mag-lite must have dented the bastard's skull. I know I lost a lot of blood, and Rohan, who I'd teased for being a hero, didn't make it. But I won, if you can call it that. He said before he passed that it was worth it. I tell myself every day that opening the release valve must have saved lives. I hope so. I couldn't say how long it was until I woke to the sound of a helicopter, and the police came. Maybe it was a day, maybe more.
But if you're asking how it feels to finally be out of jail, it's bittersweet. I'm trying to feel good. I think I've earned it. I just hope Rohan really forgives me, and all the people in that basement we were too late to save. All because some idiot cyberwarrior's toolkit got away from him.