by Tony Bove
Copyright © 2002, Tony Bove, All Rights Reserved.

7: Illuminati


The next day, in the late afternoon, Mal Contour adjusted his newly acquired bolo tie, with the Grateful Dead logo inscribed in its silver holder, before entering the chic Sausalito digs of Rachel Smolder. He was feeling a bit pasty from the flight up from LA that morning, since he'd been up late talking with the police after the Leary raid. Ushered in by an androgynous, waif-like "friend of Rachel's," he entered a parlor of chrome art and neon sculpture, and windows looking out on San Francisco Bay. The android abruptly disappeared.

He heard a cat purring, and Rachel languidly moved into the room, her long bright red hair flowing around her shoulders, a slinky velvet white dress draped over her lithe body. Boris the calico cat followed from behind, suddenly pouncing into the center of the distance between them. "How do you do?" Rachel inquired imperiously, sounding like the wife of a politician.

The entrance had been quite dramatic. Contour croaked his reply. "Fine... Fine." He didn't elaborate; she already knew who he was. She motioned to a couch, and that's when he noticed the coffee table with props and brochures for the Smolder Foundation already in place, ready for use. He sat down and fingered the brochures.

"So, you want to know about the Smolder Foundation?" she asked sweetly, taking a seat opposite him on an office chair, and crossing her legs in the classic Sharon Stone style, offering a very brief glimpse up her nether regions, where, to Contour's surprise, there was nothing but darkness, no hint of undergarment.

Contour looked up, obviously distracted. "Uh --" he reached for his pocket notebook, but now his balance was lost. "Yes. I'm interested in knowing who the investors are." Interested in knowing, ugh.

"You can get that information right from our Web site." She said it so cheerily with a voice that could have been recorded for a company receptionist's voicemail.

"Yeah..." He was floundering, sweating. This was most unusual for him. He struggled for some composure. "Well, I'm really interested, ah... That is, I mean, my paper wants to do a story on your, ah... foundation. But we need some background information, and that's part --"

"I understand," she said, this time with a warmer, huskier voice. "What you really want to know is, why did my husband Rob commit suicide." She smiled at him, full force. There was no telling what was behind that smile.

Contour looked away to regain his composure, and searched the room for familiar items. On the wall were several rare posters of the Beatles. "So Rob was a Beatlemaniac. Which was his favorite Beatle?"

The question caught her off guard. "I don't know… I guess John. Yeah, I think it would have to be John Lennon."

"It hit me hard when Lennon was shot," said Contour, quietly, almost to himself. Then he turned to Rachel, who was still momentarily flustered. "Lots of people think Rob didn't commit suicide. They think that maybe he faked it."

"You mean he's alive? Somewhere?"

"You tell me."

Rachel stared at him open-mouthed. Then she realized it was all a game to this journalist. She closed her mouth, crossed her arms, and looked away. "It's not polite to talk like that."

"I'm sorry, Ms. -- er, Mrs. Smolder, I don't mean to frighten you. It's just that Rob was involved in many things, some of which may have involved criminal activities, and maybe he had a reason to want to disappear."

"Like what?" She was indignant.

"Like Charlie O'Brien and the Pot Page, for example."

Her eyes flashed at the mention of O'Brien, and Contour couldn't help but notice it. "I know Charlie, but I don't know what you're talking about."

Contour frowned at her. "You didn't know that Rob and some of his other rich friends, Mort Gill and Peter Moaning, were financing some kind of software development effort to give the Pot Page some kind of encryption to protect it from the law?"

She put on an act of bewilderment. "It sounds all too fantastic."

"I think it's bigger than that," said Contour. "I've heard rumors of something called the Other Internet. Ever heard of that?"

"Sounds like a joke. A Deadhead, quoting from the song, 'That's It for Other One', like the name of the post-Dead band, the Other Ones."

"Doesn't sound like a joke to me, Mrs. Smolder. Porn and gambling sites that were just starting to thrive are mysteriously disappearing. I heard some of them were put out of business, but I also heard that some of them recently came into a lot of money, and were closing down to make a move to a larger installation, a-and a new network."

"I wouldn't know anything about that," she replied, the smile freezing on her face. Then shaking her head, and with a coy shrug and a Southern belle accent, she said, "I really don't know much about porn and gambling."

Dead end. He had fumbled this interview badly, giving away information without getting any. "So... what are the goals of the Smolder Foundation?" His voice held a lot of reverb, as if he were at one end of a tunnel watching himself perform at the other end. He used her lengthy, rehearsed response to regain some composure. He didn't have to actually write anything down, as this part of the interview could be cut and pasted from the Foundation's Web page. The gist of it was that the Foundation raised money from large companies like Aggregate Networks to fund technology grants to colleges and universities. It was a great gig, a kind of institutionalization of Rob's fund-raising skills, with an unending supply of cash flow.

After Contour left, Rachel Smolder placed a call to Ted Anson at Rumor Central.

* * *

At Rumor Central, the late Rob Smolder's production office in the South of Market area of San Francisco, a half-dozen employees were working around the clock, bookmarking Web pages with stories about Smolder, flagging for special treatment those with photos and images from Smolder's projects, and writing statements of fact to counter the thousands of rumors that had piled up. They were also keeping track of attempts, at least once an hour -- there goes another one -- to divert official site traffic to rogue sites, some of them nearly perfect counterfeits.

It was a war of hackers against hackers, and the effect was to amplify the rumors rather than quell them. Perhaps that was the point. The official line was that Rob Smolder had jumped and the body was simply not recovered, and that we all must go on with our lives. The public wasn't buying it.

A spiky-haired young man with a cafe latte stain on his madras shirt jumped up from his PC. "Man!" he exclaimed to no one in particular. "I just put it out there, and it was gobbled up like that," he snaps his fingers, "like some kind of precious gem. The story was there for about five seconds..." He looked around the room for recognition, and paused for effect. That worked -- everyone was now looking at him. "Five fucking seconds! And it suddenly appeared on at least ten other sites. Now it's on at least 300!"

"The pace is staggering," remarked one woman at a PC in a deadpan tone, still typing away.

"We're well past Internet time," said another worker. "Used to be, not long ago, you had to put out a revision twice a day. That was Internet time."

Rumors that were constantly battled by this crew fell into several camps, and each camp had at least one fact finder, one Web analyzer, and one storyteller. The Personal Problems Camp had to deal with everything from notes in Rob's supposed diary linked to Webomber attacks, to rumors that he had AIDS and was seen with a hooker not less than one week before his radical departure. The hooker thing was especially pernicious, as the rumormonger was adamant, extremely stubborn, wouldn't even accept free Smolder Foundation merchandise. One wisecracker on the team joked that Rob himself, in exile, was the source.

The Drug Dementia and Conspiracy Theories Camp answered rumors with fantasies rather than facts, assuming the readership would recognize common sense lurking within. One persistent fantasy involved inept enforcement-agency thugs chasing benevolent, conscientious pot smokers. Another had a desperate Rob holding hands at ecstacy parties, singing the Dave Matthews song,

Twenty-three I'm so tired of life

Such a shame to throw it all away

The images grow darker still

Could I have been anyone other than me?

-- Dave Matthews Band, "Dancing Nancies" (Dave Matthews)

The Business-as-usual Camp took all serious rumors in stride, claiming that Rob Smolder was an excellent fundraiser and never would have had a reason to declare bankruptcy, and so on. It offered links to his flourishing projects, although the link to the Pot Page and the Indian casinos in Mendocino County were inactive.

The Humor-us Camp had posted on its bulletin board the ten most popular ideas for how Rob Smolder faked his suicide, presented in David Letterman "top ten" fashion:

10. He threw a dummy over the railing (as told by Letterman's sidekick, Paul Schaffer, typically grinning from ear to ear).

Letterman: For some reason, no one saw him carrying the dummy -- perhaps it was inflatable, but no one saw him inflate it. No one saw him throw it over, either. Whaddaya think, Paul, you're a dummy, you should know, right? (I dunno, sez Paul).

9. He used a bungee cord (as told by actor Jack Palance while doing one-armed pushups).

Letterman: A bungee cord would be an incredible feat of athletic skill. He must have had an accomplice to rescue him from the water. Jack, was it you? (At that point he puts on a video of Jack Palance rescuing someone from the bay.)

8. Simple, he used mirrors (as told by comedian Jerry Seinfeld).

Letterman: There is, of course, a meticulously annotated diagram that goes along with the mirrors theory, very hard to decipher in most browsers. (He flashes that gap-toothed grin.)

7. Obviously the video is a fake (as told by Pamela Anderson Lee from a beachfront house in Malibu).

Letterman: Later it was learned that both the beach scene and the Pamela Lee spot were both fakes staged by the Media Liberation Army. (He flashes that gap-toothed grin again.)

6. He is a fake, a clone (as told by actor David Duchovny of the X-Files).

Letterman: Later it was learned that all the episodes of the X-Files were, in fact, fakes staged by the Media Liberation Army, and David Duchovny is actually a clone of a young Claude Raines. (Letterman looks pained, no one laughed; must be too complex. Fire those writers in Dubuque!)

5. He jumped, then walked on water (as told by televangelist Pat Robertson).

Letterman: So whaddaya think, Paul, you want to jump on the next comet that comes by? (I dunno, sez Paul, laughing, as Letterman throws the index card into the stage backdrop and everyone hears a crashing window sound effect).

4. His wife Rachel was there to catch him in her lap (as told by talk-show host Bill Maher).

Letterman: Whoah-oh-woah! She's a hot one, eh, Paul? A hot redhead? (Ah hah! laughs Paul).

3. He was caught by some Indians in a rowboat, and off they went to Alcatraz (as told by actor Marlon Brando in a bathrobe).

Letterman: Now that's a lame one, just what you'd expect from the home office in Outoftheway, South Dakota. (I dunno, sez Paul).

2. He's such a flat-out-bleeping nerd that he hacked his way out of San Francisco Bay (as told by singer Courtney Love).

Letterman: (Raised eyebrow.) Could this be the answer to life's problems? Just hack your way out? And who let her on this show? (I dunno, sez Paul).

And finally, the number one way for Rob Smolder to have faked his suicide, as told by actor Patrick Stewart in full costume as the Captain of the Starship Enterprise:

1. It was all a dream on a holodeck. Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you said "faxed" his suicide…

[Band starts up with uptempo number as the audience applauds...]

Rumor Central was, of course, funded by the Foundation, which had just secured a bridge loan from an anonymous group of Silicon Valley executives led by Ted Anson, who had started the ATA Fund (Alternatives To Aggregate) to help startups in the Valley compete with the giant from Seattle. He was also noted for his passion for liberal peace politics and freedom of encryption. Anson acted in board meetings as Rachel's proxie, and signed the checks.

A power broker in standard blue blazer and chinos, tall and gaunt with more than a slight resemblance to Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane, Ted Anson could be both authoritative and disarming. Friend of the stars, he seemed to be looking out for Rachel's interests for no financial gain for himself. Anson had found ways for the Foundation to make a considerable return on its investment in Rumor Central. He had built a solid organization, and had lined up relationships with advertisers and other content providers. An imminent feeling of "coming together" permeated the workplace, causing employees to routinely call home to say they'd be late, working at all hours, slapping each other on their backs for jobs well done.

Anson was honing this organization for something that would benefit not only the Foundation and its public and private ventures, but also benefit himself. He had taken at least one month from his busy schedule to do it. The IPO madness of the Millenium had made him very rich, and he'd cashed a lot of it before the dot-com bomb and the 9-11 disaster. He prided himself on knowing how to play the game of life, which was not, as many suspected, like chess -- with fixed turns and appropriate moves. No, the game was more like poker, saddled with superstition and changes of luck, in which you had to know when to raise, when to fold, how to bluff, and how to hide an ace up your sleeve. Due to his own colleagues' risk-averse strategies in these troubled times, there was less money available for new ventures, reducing growth the way a snake might eat its own tail. As everyone at the poker game decides to hold, he may decide to raise the stakes.

Anson was at Rumor Central that night writing checks when the alarm went off, signaling that the Smolder site had once again been hacked and diverted. He was curious about the mechanism of how outsiders could do this kind of diversion. A project leader told him something about the security of domains and methods of counterfeiting IP addresses. Anson took sparse notes, and within minutes he was talking into his cell phone again, talking to someone named Drew, about something called the C-Dome Project. Later he assured the project leader, "I've made a connection to another venture, they're doing some new things involving site security. We'll get together for a meeting sometime tomorrow." Anson said this last sentence to close down the conversation; his mind was already working on something else.

Using a cell phone was a momentary lapse of reason for the security-conscious Anson. Cell phones are notoriously open to interception. Even Anson's PowerBook, sitting on a makeshift desk at Rumor Central and plugged into the lab's Ethernet, had been compromised within an hour of his arrival.

* * *

Not just the FBI; another shadowy group had also recorded just about everything that transpired while Anson was there.

"Did you get the entire conversation?" Andy Ames, in bright Japanese floral shirt and khakis, asked his sound technician in the back of the van. Ames looked like he just stepped out of a marketing convention, which he in fact actually had, a tradeshow on Internet advertising.

"Got it all," said the technician, a burly, gruff, bearded fellow by the name of Dan Rose, from Menlo Park. Ames didn't really trust Rose, and worked with him only because he was recommended by his client.

"Including the one with Rachel?" Ames was referring to Anson's quick conversation with Rachel Smolder.

"Yes, the whole thing." Rose had a defiant throaty voice, like a carpenter or plumber who hasn't yet presented his bill. "Don't know why you want it though."

"Anson is one smart dude," said Ames. "A lot of people hang on every word he says." He was still unsettled about the operation, and moved back to see for himself, as if by staring at the filename on the screen, he had proof of the sound track's existence.

"Ahhh," Rose snorted, "he sure looks the part. But you don't have to be a rich guy to be smart in this business. I know people who are a lot smarter, who know things way before this guy knows 'em."

"Doesn't matter what people know," Ames replied. "What matters is what people do. And this guy Anson has a major influence on what people do."

"Yeah, well," Rose said resignedly, "that is unfortunate."

"Let's get it up to the server, right away." Ames tried to sound like an authority figure but was aware of his pipsqueak voice. Rose grunted and went about the task. Ames went to the front of the van, and once again looked through the binoculars at the FBI van, most probably monitoring the same conversations. Ames and Rose hadn't been spotted, yet. All was well.

* * *

That same evening Eric Mauer learned more about the Leary raid that had occurred the night before. He'd received ICE-d email from Charlie and Tinker, telling him to lay low. Eric no longer trusted this version of ICE, since talking to Mort Gill about the back-door custom jobs. But he knew where the technology was going. Laid out before him, in his mind's eye, was a simulation of the complete Internet, more like a battlefield than a grid, with fortresses that control intersecting backbones. There were exactly 19 of these fortresses, but only five were required for the plan to secretly insert camouflaged "hooks" into the very infrastructure of the Internet. The "hooks" allowed the new version of ICE on each server to connect directly to the Internet and implement a new, impenetrable layer of encryption, enabling the OtherNet to piggyback the real Net.

Five insertion points -- five control points for "conduits" to use to change the encryption keys. These conduits are supposedly uncorruptable. And yet, this uncensored, totally protected network is far too useful to organized crime, terrorists, and rogue nations to remain uncorrupted.

Architects may come and

Architects may go and

Never change your point of view.

-- Simon & Garfunkel, "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" (Paul Simon)

This plan will fail, Eric reasoned, unless he could arrange to make himself something like a super-conduit -- in effect, policing the other four conduits by default. Wouldn't that be a corruption of Gill's plan for power-sharing and equal protection? Only if they could get to Eric. And they could never get to Eric, because Eric was a modern-day Knight, of an order devoted to the ancient mysteries that saved Earth's culture once before… and his bloodline demanded him to save it again.

He once again made a visual sweep of the Redwood City neighborhood street outside his window, up to the main drag. The apartment building was well hidden. Gooky Karma was still snickering in a Webcam window on his screen.

"Those G-men must be tripping over their ancient surveillance equipment," Gooky was going on. "We got away from Leary's so easily."

Eric frowned, and put his face back in view of his own Webcam, to fill a window on Gooky's screen. "Don't bet on it being that easy. They must have wanted you to escape."

"It's like, don't they have their hands full with real terrorists?"

"It's been a hard year," said Eric. "They suffered a lot of criticism."

"Yeah well, wait'll see how far ahead of them we're gonna be with our new content sucking machine!" Gooky burst out in a geeky laugh, which in some cases spewed saliva, so Eric instinctively recoiled, even though Gooky was on video and the spittle could not travel through the Net.

"Wanna play Maze Love?" Eric was terse. Maze Love was typically used for totally encrypted conversations.

"Sure." And within a minute both were jacked into a shared encrypted 3D room with scans of their faces pasted on top of animated characters. The setup allowed any two people to share this space and converse in private without anyone noticing, sitting at opposite ends of Silicon Valley in their respective offices, glued to their displays and keyboards, with headphones and throat microphones if necessary. Gooky in particular could mutter very quietly under his breath, unheard above the drone of the computers and video games loudly playing in the background of the game company where he worked at night. Connected like this, protected by the latest encryption software, they could even sit and compare source code, look at 3D objects and textures, test simulations, and so on, inside this 3D room, without ever leaving their locations or speaking above a whisper. Indeed, they were safer here than in a room or cubicle that could be bugged. As if the Cone of Silence, a joke from the 1960s TV series Get Smart had finally been implemented correctly.

Eric's face appeared with a pirate captain's body aboard a tiny sailing ship, the floor of the room awash in day-glo suds. Gooky's face appeared on a puppy dog icon, straddling a floating log.

Eric spoke first, his avatar waving a pirate flag. "You sent the Epistle to Dippy?" The voice sounded a bit synthesized; the speech was encrypted and then reconstructed.

Gooky replied, using the agreed-upon Donovan-inspired code words for their objects. "Yep, the Hurdy Gurdy Man is singing his songs of love." The puppy dog wagged its tail. The waters went still, then disappeared. They were underground, in a cave with walls of solid rock.

"How about the Super Lungs?" Eric's avatar, still in pirate garb, waved a wand to display an animation of a subway tube, trains coming and going, and in the middle, a yellow membrane of some kind that each train went through without even slowing down, like a thin slice of water, but leaving no trace of wetness on the trains. A membrane collecting information on each train that passed.

"Mellow yellow. Working. There is a mountain," Gooky replied, meaning a mountain of data, as he demonstrated with a mountain of trash piled high and on fire, changing the environment to a night-time industrial park on the edge of a ghetto. A train went by on an elevated line past the park.

"Next stop Sunny South Kensington," said Eric, in a mock London accent that probably did not make it through the compression algorithms. At that point, both switched to a new section of the source code, indicated by a sudden change of the environment to an ordinary room, with the "wall paper" switching from deep blue to the psychedelic swirls of a popular screen saver, interspersed with video clips from last year's primary elections. A typical work space. The talk switched to the administration object that wasn't working, and stayed there for at least another hour.

* * *

Cheney kept an eye on the monitors. Gooky's workplace had been suitably bugged and Cheney now had a copy of the latest ICE, direct from Mort Gill. Cheney knew Gill was working both sides of this particular fence, as Gill made no secret of it. Gill wanted to spread ICE no matter what. Cheney didn't care one way or the other, as long as the software trail led to the real terrorists, the one whose contact was Grogan from Amsterdam. At this point he had evidence of a connection between the Pot Page people, who were mostly harmless, and the Amsterdam pot distributor, who had a connection with Grogan. But Gill would never deal directly with terrorists. Somehow, some version of ICE was in Grogan's hands, and Cheney needed to be on an even footing, with the capability to crack the encryption through his own custom back door.

He hadn't told his boss any of the details. The top brass cared passionately about clamping down on domestic encryption, and would have wanted Gill and the others arrested immediately. With automatic steganography on the loose, the FBI had quickly swung into action with reports and documentation, and agents were expecting terrorists to hide maps and photographs of targets in ordinary spam, in messages and pictures on pornographic bulletin boards, and even in Webcam streams. And who could possibly know what lurked within the 44.1 KHz samples recorded in 16 bits per sample for a song? Or whether the entire song might be, in some way, a key to another locked room?

His agents dutifully copied byte by byte all of Gooky's activities since they'd identified him as a player at the Leary party. They had a transcript of the Webcam conversation with Eric Mauer, who had eluded their field agents but was presumed to be somewhere on the Peninsula. They also had a huge mass of encrypted data, clearly the output of a game of some sort, with characters moving through 3D space, but indecipherable. Cheney told them to copy it all to his special isolated server. He went off to write his report. He could no longer hold off some kind of action against Mort Gill. Too bad, really, because Cheney understood where he was coming from.

* * *

Eric broke off communication with a final message to Gooky to end the simulation. Some kind of monitor was trying to attach itself to the encrypted data stream, tripping his silent alarm. He guessed that Gooky's line had been compromised. His Redwood City hideout was probably fine for at least a day or two, but not much longer.

The 3D room Eric and Gooky had cavorted in was a prototype of a full-blown commercial version Eric and Gooky had collaborated on and delivered to Peter Moaning for his first cyberclub a year ago, located temporarily in a SoMa warehouse. Eric slipped out of the apartment and headed off to a cheap hotel in S.F. He knew Gooky would head up to the cyberclub. The parade of spies could easily pick up Gooky's trail on Highway 101, while hotshot hacker-jocks from the FBI's intelligence wing waited in cyberspace. Eric's choices were narrowing but he knew he'd be safer on the move, implementing his own Plan B, which involved switching hotels often and using the computing facilities at coffeehouses and Kinko's shops.

* * *

As soon as Gooky pulled out of the company parking lot, his fantasy kicked in. Something shattered his windshield, and then he heard the thwup of something hitting glass. Whatever it was, it had travelled faster than sound, and before he even heard it, shards of glass fell all over him and his cringing passenger. He pivoted his Aston-Martin to the right, using its "turn on a dime" feature, and aiming up the street at the black Mercedes, he pounded his missile firing button. The Mercedes blew up in a bright orange flare and metallic debris flew out of the thick rising cloud of smoke. His passenger, a twentysomething thin blonde woman with a really thin nose was screaming in an erotic frenzy. He gunned the motor and accelerated to 80 mph, approaching the intersection. Out of nowhere motorcycles swarmed around his car, each of them carrying a shooter with an automatic rifle. Bullets splayed across the sunroof and nicked large holes in the rear window. He suddenly jammed on the brakes, causing one cycle to crash into his rear bumper and sending both the driver and his machine-gunning passenger over the top of the car and bouncing off the front hood. His fast move left the cycles in the dust, and he careened the Aston-Martin left onto a dirt road shortcut that would put him back on the Lawrence Expressway heading out toward the Interstate. Except that he hadn't expected a land mine. It blew out his right front tire, and now he was nearly losing control of the vehicle, slowing down to about 60 mph, and he was far more vulnerable for attack. And sure enough, it came from above. A Nighthawk chopper, vintage Tet Offensive, but armed with heat-seeking missiles, now hovering just ahead.

The scene shimmers in the afternoon sunlight, then dissolves into white. Just another daydream in the life of the Vigilante Driver. Gooky Karma was all hyped up after his session with Eric, because the Work itself was now in jeopardy. The Work not just any type of work; this was the work of the century, the ultimate simulation, and he worked for the ultimate game developer in Silicon Valley. A jovial, red-haired, wiry-thin thirtysomething nerd known for his wizardry in virtual reality world building, Gooky was obsessed with this idea of the Vigilante Driver, who blows away stupid drivers who slow him down or otherwise get in his way while he tries to reach his destination and dodge the missiles, torpedos, and bullets of numerous enemies.

Gooky's friend Tinker had even written him a script for a game version, beginning with the initial encounter with the impatient driver, in which you take on the personality. You have to decide what you are steamed about -- various optional pressures coming to bear on you including your job, your wife, your drinking and drugging buddies, and a long list of personal and business failures, that led you to the pivotal moment in your life, the moment you strapped the high-tech battle gear on your exquisite European car. Now you could shoot out all four tires of that fat-assed, gas-guzzling, slo-mo SUV full of religious zealots blocking your way on that country road; swiftly mount an alarming police beacon to pull over that old man in a hat (and how often have you wanted to do that?); cunningly lay down an oil slick in a wide fan behind you, to keep the CHP 'suckers slipping. You become hell on wheels, the nemesis of bad drivers. You are the Vigilante Driver! You take out your self-righteous Aggression on the Road! Next stop Yosemite...

Gooky has been thinking of world levels for this game. One level would be in San Francisco's Chinatown. A box pops up with a message about DWC, as in "driving while Chinese," or WAC, as in "without a clue", or OMaHa, as in "an old man in a hat". Five points each, for taking out someone DWC or WAC; twenty bonus points for hitting an OMaHa. Another level would be, natch, Silicon Valley, between Highway 101 and Interstate 280, using 85, 17, and the Guadalupe Parkway as crossovers. Lots of targets, especially fat middle-aged wives in station wagons filled with kids and dogs, cut-in-front-and-screech asshole engineers in BMWs and Jaguars trying to get somewhere just a bit faster, rich handsome suits in Mercedes talking on mobile phones...

Of course, it would also have to have its space-station race, desert derby, and ghetto riot. Marketing, y'understand. Gotta have the stuff people want. But he would also have to put in the Alpine Roadhog, riding the crests of the Santa Cruz Mountains on one lane roads, passing everyone you see... And he'd have to put in the Nuke the DMV level. Nuke Caltrans. Nuke the CHP. Hell, Nuke Southern California.

Lost in thoughts like these, his crusty Mitsubishi sped along at 65 on Highway 101 past the decrepit, crack-ridden, nicotine-stained slum-dwellers of East Palo Alto on one side, and the anxious, energy-conscious nonsmoking Stanford grads of Palo Alto on the other. Past the billboard showing a beer-bellied white-trash garbage collector throwing off his gloves and the message "Someone will Win the Lottery; Just Not You -- It's Time for E*STOCK." He didn't notice the red lights in his rearview for at least a minute or two, and by then, the siren was howling.


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