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

14: Queen of Las Vegas



The Las Vegas evening skyline was ablaze with unearthly delights. Tinker saw it first, blinked, and saw it again, as he drove over the slight rise in the desert plain on Highway 95, heading south from the Amargosa Valley, on the edge of Area 51.

They were living in the moment. Tinker was feverish, a vision of thousands of computers crashing at once, displaying the symbol of the Media Liberation Front, spreading the encryption client and making his song a hit throughout the Internet, and at the same time, marking him for life as a fugitive. He had driven most of the way from the upper Sierras, through Death Valley, out past Beatty and the infamous Nevada Testing Range and Area 51, all the way to here, without feeling tired. He punched out U2's Joshua Tree CD and popped in the B52's Whammy! and ran it up to the track "Queen of Las Vegas".

This woke Charlie from his stupor. Charlie looked up from the front passenger seat, and didn't have to say anything. They were both in awe of the Las Vegas skyline shimmering out there, another 50 miles away.

"Don't you ever sleep?" Charlie mumbled, or more like grunted.

"How can I sleep with my life so turned upside down?" Tinker whined. "I'm frightened out of my wits."

Charlie didn't want to argue, so he did what he usually did when irritated, and offered an ultimatum. "You have a choice," he said to Tinker in his stern voice. "You've always had it in your laptop."

"Oh!" exclaimed Tinker, "Like I could have just tapped my shoes and said, 'there's no place like home'?"

"In a manner of speaking," said Charlie sardonically. "Just email the code to the Feds. There'll be no hassles. You can return to your former life."

"My former life," answered Tinker ruefully. "No one wants it, least of all me."

"So get with the program," scolded Charlie. "Think about what we have to do."

And so they did. Vegas shimmered like a jewel in the desert. To Charlie, it represented everything shiny and promising and false about the high-tech industry. The tradeshow was just another gaudy spectacle. You had to wear your best suits; or if you were a rich entrepreneur, your best casuals. Despite the miles of aisles you had to walk, you still had to wear your best shoes, and cram the latest personal digital devices into your belt. You had to meet potential investors or partners in piano bars of posh hotels. You were not a player in this industry if you couldn't work the casino lounge one night and the exhibit floor the next morning.

This would be Charlie's last Internet Vegas Show, for sure. The last time he would witness entrepreneurs begging for capital, small companies begging for customers, and journalists begging for access.

* * *

Eric Mauer flew into McCarren Airport in Las Vegas on a chartered flight, after a police escort from the Knights of Malta embassy in San Francisco, arranged by the Knights. He felt like he was moving with the real power of the world when he moved with the Knights. If an alien being from another planet landed and asked to be taken to our leader, the alien would not be taken to the US President, the so-called Leader of the Free World. The alien would be taken to a holding cell somewhere out in the Nevada desert, perhaps Area 51, where it would be visited by a leader of an unknown but vast conspiracy stretching back through the ages to the time of the pyramids. Perhaps the Knights would be there, too, acting as bodyguards. They seemed to have an unlimited capacity to move people, or information, or money, or any other substance, through established channels undetected. This capability fascinated Eric, and he studied the order's organizational strengths to see how he could apply them to his own venture. They had mastered the physical world, and Eric would one day, with luck, master the cyberspace world.

One strength was their vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience, followed by all the order's top leaders. Poverty in appearance only, as in a parsimonious and unpretentious lifestyle, for all of the order's members were rich. But the leaders now practiced a new form of poverty, like the Diggers of the Sixties, eschewing leadership postures and publicity. Which meant that any of the older Knights could claim leadership or non-leadership, but for all Eric knew, the ultimate leader might be the doorman or a member of the kitchen staff.

Chastity was a quaint holdover from earlier times, but in practice it meant focusing sexual energy on the task at hand. Masturbation, indulging in sexual fantasies, even having sex -- these were all activities that weakened a knight's resolve to press forward. Fanatics and extremists of all kinds, including many politicians, are able to focus solely on their agendas because they don't get laid often. Like a Zen monk, Eric had chosen to focus all his sexual energy on meditation, hoping to encourage a deep fanaticism.

And I don't wanna live my life like everybody else…

'Cause I'm not like everybody else

-- Kinks, "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" (R. Davies)

Eric recognized the discordant nature of reality; that the random element of surprise and mystery would always exist below the surface, foiling any effort to control the world. For example, this airplane could suddenly crash -- there was some probability, however slight. Even more improbably, taking a page from Douglas Adams' guides to galactic mysteries, the airplane could turn into a giant cheeseburger. Most people can't suspend disbelief long enough to accept that. Only the fanatic can act upon the improbable, and seize the power of that surprise and mystery. Eric was now focused to become a fanatic, the latest Random Element in the Scheme of Things. His project would succeed because he was focused and confident of its success, and because nothing else mattered to him.

Eric was acting, as usual, alone. Although Gill, Moaning, and even Grogan depended on his work right now, none of them owned him or could stop him from doing what he really wanted to do. And right now, he wanted to help Charlie, Tinker, and himself to some of the loot that would be electronically transferred at the instant the Net came back to life, after the Event. That loot was supposed to go back to the financial backers, shadowy men connected with Grogan and Moaning. He didn't really care that Grogan was part of some terrorist network, or that Moaning was essentially an asshole. He disliked the way his friends Charlie and Tinker had been treated, and he knew they'd be cut out if he didn't do something. So some of that loot would be diverted to new accounts set up by Charlie.

Mort Gill would understand, and there was no reason to think Gill would take sides in this. And Moaning, walking the delicate line between terrorism and organized crime, couldn't afford to make noise about what Eric wanted to do. The FBI and Grogan both wanted their own back doors to the encryption system; neither would be satisfied when the system was no longer under anyone's control. Even Aggregate would be unhappy when this happened. But they would have no say in the matter. It was in Eric's hands now.

* * *

Rachel Smolder rode into the Amargosa Valley ranch in the Nevada desert on her Harley, covered in leather, a dagger sticking out of her boot, her red hair spilling out from under the helmet. The ranch was buzzing with activity, the satellite dish rotating back and forth. Drew Anatole and some of the original crew from the C-Dome were operating the studio control booth, and Gretchen was on the air as a guest of Radio 51 (the all-night talk show), taking phone calls.

The topic on this night was the mysterious disappearance of three private planes that had been circling Area 51, and the prattle of callers was interleaved with appropriate desert music...

There's a killer on the road,

His brain is squirming like a toad.

-- Doors, "Riders on the Storm" (Doors)

Drew swore he saw an experimental fighter jet, with flat black wings, cruising the mountain range in the glistening, glorious sunset behind the ranch the day before last. Some of his colleagues had seen or heard black helicopters in the night. Everyone was tense. The radio show beamed out through a Las Vegas transmitter to millions of listeners at over thirty stations worldwide, and was simulcast over the Internet. Tonight's segment was titled "Armaggedon in the Armagosa Valley" and hinted that a group of eco-terrorists were planning something big for Las Vegas.

Moaning was in the camp; Rachel could feel it. Eventually, she was called into his tent.

"You know where Charlie is?" Moaning got right to the point.

"I know he's on his way to Vegas." Rachel tossed her hair, but nothing would charm Moaning at this moment.

"You know, with so much involved, so much money at stake, and you know the kind of people involved in this… well, he'd better not fuck up." Moaning turned back to his computer. "Your job is to manage the operation from here. I'll be going into town, to the Imperial Palace."

"AdultDex," Rachel smirked. "To get your jollies, no doubt."

Moaning glared at her. "Grogan needed to be satisfied, so he had his hackers go over the code and put in their hooks. He will give his CD to Charlie. And Charlie better not fuck up."

"What makes you think I have any control over Charlie?" she asked, innocently.

"Just keep everything cool out here. I'll be back later."

* * *

While hundreds of trade show attendees waited in cab lines or lines for rental cars, and registration lines at hotels, Brendan Barcode arrived in Vegas in his self-sufficient, solar-powered Econoline van loaded with electronics gear. Late at night he pulled into the Hilton's outer parking lot, a stone's throw from all the action, and settled in for the week. It really wasn't that much different than the parking lots and campgrounds he parked in throughout the Bay Area, just the air was much drier and he had no source for his favorite fruit juice. "Hey, no problem" he was fond of saying to himself. And so this time he'd stocked up on the juice back at the California border.

The convention center parking lot stretched out nearly to the horizon, festooned with giant balloons, inflatable signs, streamers, and cowgirls on makeshift stages barking through megaphones. A group of young people decked out in hippie garb handed out fliers for a new PC card offering built-in encryption and firewall protection. Asians lined the sidewalk outside the Beach Hotel, across the street from the show, handing out ads for nude dancers. Brendan caught one as it blew by, propelled by the hot Nevada wind. He wondered if the nude girl in the photo would be interested in trading some time for a latest model digital camera. He wandered off into the parking lot, looking for someone he could talk to about it.

* * *

Mal Contour took a cab to the Las Vegas newspaper building to meet his contact. A nasty rumor had circulated around the press lounge that the largest telephone and Internet service provider in Las Vegas had wide-open security holes in the private high-speed data network used for transferring large sums to and from the casinos and several banks in the Bahamas.

Contour thought of himself as a tenacious, incorruptable investigator. He would never suppress information, no matter how damaging to a company, and he would never accept a bribe, or even a book contract that required him to stay silent. Indeed, sometimes he imagined himself on a long journey, like Ulysses, heading for home from great adventures, listening as he passed the deadly sirens of corruption while his ship's crew covered their ears.

Well the dangers on the rocks have surely passed

Still I remain tied to the mast

Could it be that I have found my home at last?

-- Steely Dan, "Home at Last"

It was his destiny to hear the deadly sirens' songs. Whatever it took to get at the truth, he would do it. Unlike those Fizz dilettantes, those suburban slickheads like Marker, Contour's journalism credentials reached back to when San Francisco newspapers covered labor strikes, and Contour had stood with the men on the picket lines.

This much he knew: Moaning and ANAL, the Assholes Club, were under surveillance for having ties to an arms dealer in Amsterdam. Somehow, Mort Gill's encryption software was involved, probably in some scheme that ANAL had set up for its millionaire friends. That was probably how Gill's extracurricular projects were funded, but now Gill's C-Dome hackers had all dispersed, and Moaning was running with the MLF. Those rumors about a gathering in the desert were worth tracking down. Contour knew that Charlie and his friends, including Tinker, had some kind of falling out with Moaning. He knew there was a connection to Rob Smolder, and possibly to the Webomber, and it may be all connected to the FBI raid in Jamaica. The rumor about the Vegas service provider got him thinking about hubs and backbones, and how vulnerable the Internet itself might be.

The contact was the business reporter at the newspaper, who greeted him in the lobby and promptly took him outside into the hot afternoon sunlight. "Look," he said to Contour, clearly exasperated that he had to write about high technology companies rather than the sleazy nightspots and hotel conglomerates. "I need some background, you need the latest report we have, so let's do some horse trading. This group of hackers, calling themselves the Media Liberation Front… you know about them?"

Contour filled him in, and in the process, learned that the group had indeed gathered in the desert, out near Area 51. But Contour held back the bit he knew about Peter Moaning, one of the group's ringleaders, and the public phone in that café in Jamaica. He didn't say that there might be a connection to the infamous Webomber. He specifically did not mention his fear that the FBI had discovered a connection to terrorists. Maybe he was violating his own cardinal rule about sharing information, but the business reporter didn't seem to care about going any deeper. He just wanted to know why the MLF would want to disrupt Vegas. Contour patiently explained the MLF's charter to create a censorship-free network with most of the copyrighted works of the world available for free.

On his way back to the Las Vegas Convention Center and Hilton complex, he stopped the cab when he saw Brendan Barcode's van and Brendan himself sitting on the roof, shirtless, sunning himself. Everyone knew that Barcode was always good for a laugh, but Mal Contour was the only journalist that took Barcode seriously for the information he could get.

"Hey man," Barcode called out as Mal walked over. "You probably didn't hear about this!" Barcode swung down through the sunroof and came out the side door of the van. "My friend at the NSA said there was a special meeting out in the desert. I think they may have found out who the Webomber is. And did you know that there is someone who claims that Bill Gittelson hired some kinda lookalike to stand in for him when he gives speeches? Man, I think this is going to be one hell of an interesting show!"

* * *

Peter Moaning and Tiffany arrived at the Imperial Hotel by cab from the airport. Eventually they made their way over to the convention hall in the hotel, the site of AdultDex, the porn wing of the tradeshow. At that moment blue-shirted union laborers were assembling large displays, and forklifts cruised the aisles with rolls of carpeting. The show would not officially open until the next day.

A mysterious-looking man in a trench coat, with a pockmarked face and a wiry mustache, met Moaning at the booth for one of the offshore porn sites Moaning was starting. Moaning introduced this man, identified as Grogan, to the booth staff and to Tiffany, right under a giant poster of a nude version of Tiffany, her scrumptious ass facing the camera, and her impish smile peeking around, smiling at everyone from behind pillowy breasts. Tiffany gave the man that wicked smile she summoned up whenever she needed to grab a man's attention. And from what she'd learned so far about these high-tech guys, it was real easy to get their attention. They acted like they hadn't had a piece of ass in decades. But this man was different. He paid her no attention at all.

"The drill is simple," Moaning explained to Tiffany, smiling broadly. "You get to stand in this booth all day, wearing, y'now, what you usually wear, signing autographs. You get two coffee breaks and another break for lunch. There will be two other girls here with you, plus the booth staff."

"Sounds fine with me," she purred, swaying a little, still checking to see if Grogan would show any interest.

"And you, my man," Moaning turned to Grogan. "You can find Charlie O'Brien at the Bellagio, as we arranged. O'Brien takes care of it."

"It had better go as planned," Grogan hissed in reply.

Moaning just gave him his trademarked grin, and turned back to Tiffany. "You know, I'd like to get in some gambling. Would that be alright?" His request was more like a statement. Grogan shrugged and walked off.

Tiffany wiggled in her walk up the aisles past the union laborers and forklift drivers, arm-in-arm with Moaning. She was looking forward to being treated like the Queen of Las Vegas by this rich man. But she never really made it past the hotel lobby as Moaning led her to an elevator and up to his suite. He wasn't at all suave or sophisticated about what he wanted.

She performed for him with an intensity she had not drawn on recently, as if she were reading for a part in a movie, a performance that was truly convincing. Moaning got way more than he expected or probably deserved. This woman was a tigress on top of him, she took his body and shook him up and down, and left him beached like a whale.

Later, Moaning got out his wallet, turned his back to her, and pulled out five hundred dollars for her. As he went off to the bathroom to wash, she lifted another fifteen hundred from the wallet and closed it before he noticed.

* * *

Internet Vegas was a monster show, with more than 200,000 attendees, filling up every hotel and every fleabag motel in town, with people staying as far away as the Utah border. Las Vegas was a carnival and theme park, powered by the latest technology; a bizarre Metropolis of carnal delight. Extravagant demonstrations fit right in here. Inside the auditorium were flybys and surface renderings of the planet Venus; outside there was a Frankie Avalon imitator singing "Venus". Inside, multimedia artists presented a live performance with projected interactive real-time computer imaging; outside the fake volcano out in front of the Mirage Hotel erupted every fifteen minutes, stopping traffic on the Strip. The line between real and virtual reality was blurred on the Strip, where you could get an all-you-can-eat breakfast for $1.95, and get married to someone in a vibrant pink chapel in less than 30 minutes.

Unlike Vegas itself, the parties at Internet Vegas were legendary and boring at the same time. People went to these extravagant affairs dressed to the hilt, ate mediocre food and marveled at the gaudy Dionyesian aspects of Las Vegas with the same group of people at every other tradeshow. Everyone pretended not to partake of the seamier sides of Vegas entertainment. Maybe they had experimented with a bit of gambling, but that was it. None of these people paid any attention to the millions of pornographic leaflets blowing in the wind out in every parking lot. The tradeshow could have been in any city, with the cocoon drawn around these people; the only real difference, besides the gaudiness of the architecture and signage, was that the Internet Vegas parties were more crowded with the gin-and-tonic yuppies looking to score with booth bunnies from AdultDex.

To drink with journalists, because they knew how to drink and they tolerated nearly any kind of behavior, Tinker went to the Fizz magazine party at the Liberace mansion and wandered through the fabled bed and bathroom of the late great transvestite, only to find a Liberace look-alike poised to take his picture with a poodle. This freaked him out a bit, sending him back out the gates of the mansion looking for a place to smoke a quick joint, where he ran into Ted Anson.

"This place reminds me of the frat parties back at UC Berkeley, at the Claremont Hotel, remember?" Anson was uncharacteristically friendly, putting Tinker on his guard.

"I don't remember much from college days," laughed Tinker nervously, pulling out a joint to share with Anson. "By choice," he added.

They moved away from the main path, Tinker by habit, Anson by necessity. They reached a point where the mansion's gilded cupola was visible behind and above them, and Tinker pointed up at it. "I remember one party, and crazy man Youngman climbing to the top of a dome just like this. He was crowing like a rooster at the top of his lungs."

"Yes indeed," Anson laughed. "I remember Youngman. They called him Southern Man."

"I remember that fake Texan accent he had, those buckskin jackets…" Tinker drawled. "Those practical jokes. The weather balloons filled with laughing gas, that was his idea." Anson giggled back at him like a prep-school roommate as they shared the joint. "But whatever happened to him?"

Anson snickered. "Another acid casualty, I think. Back then I heard that he had flipped out and joined the Army, and about ten years ago I heard that he became a crazy homeless guy and was seen walking the streets of Palo Alto."

Of course, thought Tinker, the bell of awakening throbbing now in his temples. He's the Buckskin Madman of Sand Hill Road! That's why he looked so familiar. But now he couldn't bring himself to tell Ted Anson that Ted and his rich friends drove by this ghost of the acid era on Sand Hill Road probably every day without knowing it.

"The lost souls of our generation," said Tinker in a whisper, in the hope his message would be treated as profound, "gambled on drugs, lifestyles, and spirituality. But that's a step forward. Look at what happened to the lost souls of the previous generation. They gambled on booze, broads, and the American Way. And look at the result of the previous generation." He gestured out at the Las Vegas night sky.

They could see the entire Strip from their vantage point, a black pyramid with a Sphinx in front standing guard at one end, followed by massive hotels bathed in sea green, blue, and pink, then the brightly lit, faux-marble Bellagio Hotel looking like an oversized palace transported directly from the Italian Riviera, with a miniature New York skyline next door and a miniature Eiffel Tower across the street… They smoked in silence for a while, gazing in awe.

"Some day, a hundred years from now," said Tinker, "People are gonna look back on this period and wonder, what the hell were they thinking?"

"It's becoming a theme park," replied Anson. "Sin City. Gambling is no longer the draw, since you can now gamble almost anywhere. It's the extravagance itself that's the draw. That hotel, the Bellagio. It cost $1.5 billion. That one over there, Mandalay Bay, cost $500 million."

Tinker visualized a man in a suit and a fedora, standing out in the evening desert, with nothing around him except right in front, on the only paved street, a hotel and casino. Bugsy Siegel, dreaming big dreams of an emerald city in the wilderness, and not worrying for a minute about costs.

And here was Ted Anson, clearly the financial backer for many of the nefarious activities that Tinker found himself caught in. Anson was behind the Smolder Foundation, the MLF, and who knows what else. But now, gazing out on the city that epitomized everything rotten in the American soul, Tinker feared conversing with this man who had indirectly controlled his destiny. He was sure that the only question he could ask, "What is really going on," would only be met by a blank stare, as if to say, "If you don't know, why should I tell you?"

What Tinker really wanted now, more than anything else, was a true identity. He had really only lived inside a corner of his former self. What he really wanted now was to be taught how to live as someone else. He stared out at the Vegas skyline thinking about how scared he was about this whole operation, and he mustered up the courage to tell Anson, and he turned to Anson and… Anson had disappeared.

Coming out of the shadows was a man in a ponytail and a leather jacket, a large man, well built, exuding confidence. He introduced himself as Ray, from the FBI, and he smiled at Tinker and gestured for Tinker to hand him the joint. Tinker obliged, and was surprised to see the FBI man take a large hit and hold it in like a pro.

"You're in a heap of trouble," Ray Cheney said to Tinker, but in a way that would secure his confidence. "But I can help you out."

"How's that?" Tinker shivered in reply, looking this guy up and down.

"Your associate Peter Moaning is planning some kind of Internet disruption. You know what I'm talking about. There's an encrypion system, on a CD, that he will be giving you and your friend O'Brien. You're supposed to deliver it to Eric Mauer. Only you're going to give Mauer this," he held out a shiny silver CD, unlabeled, "as a replacement." He paused. "You realize this is a matter of national security, that international terrorists are involved with this, and we'll stop at nothing to secure the Internet. We'll do what we have to do," he said, grinning at Tinker. "You will replace the CD you get with this one. It has what we need to make sure the terrorists don't succeed."

Tinker just looked at him in astonishment.

"Don't even ask if you have a choice," said Cheney, grinning like an idiot. Then he disappeared back into the shadows, taking the joint with him.

* * *

A group of Aggregate Networks millionaires were seated at the piano bar inside the Bellagio. Charlie wandered by and spotted the journalist Howard Marker sitting with the group, and stopped to chat. The millionaires, smoking cigars and drinking the best cognac, had sent a junior member of their unofficial club off to the crap tables with several thousand dollars in chips. The junior member came back with some winnings -- they were up by four thousand. Charlie winced as they whooped and hollered for joy, even though they only played the game by proxy. One of them slapped the slender behind of a waitress with the sandblasted look of a southwestern girl, with white-blonde hair contrasting perfectly with her blue outfit. She smiled through perfect teeth, pretending to like it.

"They're getting excited," said Marker.

"Yeah. Excited over pennies. It's just pennies to them," Charlie said in disgust. All careers in this industry were crapshoots. What a fitting end, Charlie thought, if he could just pull the one-armed bandit and win a million. Well, that's just what he was going to do.

"So this is what happened to the Woodstock generation," said Marker smugly.

"These people?" Charlie replied, irritated. "If they were at Woodstock, they were the ones that didn't share their blankets and the food in their coolers. And if they did, they wised up real fast."

"Do I detect some bitterness?" Marker eyed him suspiciously.

Charlie sputtered, realizing that he'd gone too far already with this guy, who was always a journalist, never one you could talk to. "You're right. It -- that whole Sixties thing was just an illusion. No one really wanted to make the world a better place. It was always just about getting rich."

"That's just human nature," said Marker.

"No, survival is human nature. Competition is aggressive behavior. It's something we learn by living in this competitive environment, but that doesn't make it natural."

"You sound like a communist," said Marker. "A communist in Las Vegas?"

Charlie just grinned. "Why not? Revolution is a crapshoot, like everything else."

A dark man in an overcoat, uncharacteristic for Vegas and too real in the surreal atmosphere of the Bellagio atrium, stood by, waiting for a moment to interrupt Charlie and the journalist. The journalist noticed him first, and backed off, leaving Charlie to shake hands with the man, who introduced himself as Grogan.

"I have something for you, from Peter Moaning," said Grogan, producing a silver unlabeled CD from his overcoat pocket. "It is essential that your friend use this version of the encryption system. You know what's at stake."

Charlie eyed him suspiciously. "What about my arrangements?"

Grogan replied with a smile. "They are in place, as your friend Moaning requested. You will also have a new identity, which is part of the package you have on that CD. My associates tell me that the Identity Kit on that CD works in seven foreign languages and in over 48 countries, and it's foolproof. You should have no trouble with it."

Charlie nodded, looking down at the CD without saying a word.

"You realize, my friend," Grogan said in an oily, con-artist way, "you are responsible for your friend Eric, and what he does with this CD. We will make sure you are held responsible." He flashed a grin at Charlie, and gestured around the Bellagio. "We have people everywhere, remember that."

* * *

Ground Decoy in the Nevada desert, near the Amargosa Valley ranch -- much grinning about the name, since it was a common joke among these media liberators that all activities were decoy activities, and that the real thing was always somewhere else… But in this case they didn't realize how true that was.

They had assembled a small army of RVs, satellite uplink dishes and aluminum air-conditioned trailers. They'd found a site a few miles away in the desert of the Armagosa Valley where just one powerful set of explosives would damage the trunk lines for phones, the data lines, cable TV, and even the main power lines into Las Vegas. A sane person might wonder how this rag-tag group of misfits had gotten so far into this operation as to be able to wreak real damage, but then a sane person would probaby not believe that the operation had been greased by an FBI agent in an effort to smoke out real terrorists.

Your inside is out and your outside is in

Your outside is in and your inside is out

-- Beatles, "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" (Lennon/McCartney)

Gretchen and Gooky were entertaining their friends from Earth First in the stand-up tent, Gooky with his collection of deer-antler pipes. A laptop was set up to monitor the activity, with Gretchen at the controls. The Media Liberation Front was running the show, by an arrangement Moaning forged with Earth First. The MLF's job was to initiate the project, then at precisely the right moment, the Earth First volunteers would blow the cables and power. Vegas would go dark for a moment, and as emergency power returned to the casinos, their systems would restart and resychronize, allowing the insertion of a bit of code that would enable an electronic skim of the casino's transactions. In a few minutes time, the amount of the skim, it was calculated, would approach $500 million.

The power would also go out at the Internet control point, in a bunker out in the desert near Pahrump, not far from the Amargosa. What Moaning didn't know was that Eric was out at that bunker, with plans to plant code that would enable the implementation, in all its glory, of a truly secure version of the OtherNet.



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