The Future of Our Prosperity
by Dan Rice
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Somehow, Mother got me inside and led me into the kitchen. Together we ate chocolate chip cookies, too shocked to do anything else. I didn’t even taste the cookies. I had no idea how long we had been sitting when the doorbell rang.
“Stay here,” Mother said, standing.
I tried to stay calm as the perfectly rational fear that the APF returned for me hung over me like a pall. The deadbolt clicked and the door’s hinges groaned.
“Mrs. Moorhouse, what are you doing here?” Mother asked.
“May I come inside?” my teacher asked.
“It’s late for visitors.”
“I have information about your husband.”
Curious, I crept to the entryway. Mrs. Moorhouse, dressed in a dark trench coat that covered her from the neck down to her ankles, stood just inside the doorway. She stepped aside, allowing Mother to close and lock the door. I wondered how she could know anything about what happened to Father.
“Hello, Gabe,” Mrs. Moorhouse said with a sad smile. “I’m sorry for everything. Truly.”
Mrs. Moorhouse reached into a pocket and pulled out a keitai. Eyes narrowing her fingers flicked over the screen. Her keitai, I noted enviously, was an Osaka Cybernetics 9000-Z, the Ferrari of handhelds. It possessed more computing power than my tablet.
“What do you know about my husband?
“One moment,” Mrs. Moorhouse said and looked at me. “Router? HouseMateAI?”
“There’s a panel to the AI in the living room next to the TV. The router is upstairs.”
She brushed past me into the living room and marched straight to the touchscreen panel built into the wall. It was an interface to the HouseMateAI that controlled everything from the lighting to the kitchen appliances.
Mother trailed behind her. “What are you doing?”
In response, Mrs. Moorhouse held an extended index finger to her lips.
“Don’t shush me,” Mother said. “If you don’t tell me what’s going on, I’m going have to ask you to leave.”
Mrs. Moorhouse ignored Mother and tapped the touch screen once to activate it.
“Tell me what you’re doing, right now,” Mother said.
I walked up beside Mother. “It’s okay, Mom. I think I know what she’s doing.”
“What?” Mother asked, facing me.
I whispered. “Disabling anything connected to the Internet. She doesn’t want anything recording her.”
“Oh,” Mother said, her eyes going wide.
“Password?” Mrs. Moorhouse asked, looking at us expectantly.
“You help her,” I whispered to Mother. “I’ll go unplug the router.”
I returned to the living room to find Mother and Mrs. Moorhouse waiting.
“You unplugged the router?” Mrs. Moorhouse asked.
“Yup,” I said, nodding.
“It might be safe to talk,” Mrs. Moorhouse said. “Do either of you have a keitai or tablet down here? Anything that doesn’t rely on your local network to connect to the Internet? Implants?”
“My keitai is by the bedside,” Mother said. “We can’t afford implants.”
“My tablet is upstairs,” I said.
“Excellent,” Mrs. Moorhouse said. She seemed far more relaxed now. “Shall we sit down on the couch?”
“Tell me about my husband.
“It will be better if we sit.”
Mother sat on the couch in between Mrs. Moorhouse and me.
“First, your husband,” Mrs. Moorhouse said, handing the keitai to Mother. “I’m sorry.”
I tried to read the content, but Mother shifted her shoulders, so I didn’t have a clear view. “What does it say?”
The handheld slipped from Mother’s hand, bouncing off her thigh and onto the couch. Mrs. Moorhouse picked it up.
“What did you just show me?” Mother asked.
“It’s an intercepted government communication,” Mrs. Moorhouse said. “I’m with the Resistance.”
“Wow,” I said, shocked to learn my very own teacher was with the Resistance. I knew Maggie would be impressed, but I was just confused. I didn’t know what to think about my patriotism or the Resistance after the APF took my father.
“The APF is coming for your son next. At school tomorrow,” Mrs. Moorhouse said. “Did he tell you I warned him not to come to school?”
“No,” Mother said, looking at me askance.
“Sorry,” I said, unable to meet her gaze. “I was going to hide in the woods. At the fort Maggie and I built.”
“I believe APF arrested your husband due to the security clearance he needs as an AI developer,” Mrs. Moorhouse said. “This is all due to the Executive Order. Those taken so far are high-value targets, like your husband.
“Children are next. The APF believes by separating children from their families, the parents and other adults will go along with the roundup in the hope of being reunited with their children. I can get you all to safety, but we must leave now.”
“Why are you helping us? What about the other families?” Mother asked.
“We can’t help everyone. Gabe... he’s special. I’ve used what little influence I have with the Resistance to convince them to help. Just accept our help. Gather a few things, necessities. Change of clothes, prenatal vitamins. Don’t worry about food or water. I have that. Hurry. We must leave soon.”
“Okay,” Mother said. “We’ll come. For the children.”
“What about Dad?” I asked.
Mother faced me. “Gabe, I need you to stay calm and do what Mrs. Moorhouse and I tell you. She is taking us somewhere safe.”
“Your father is going away,” Mother said. “You know the APF have him. They will come for us unless we go with Mrs. Moorhouse. We need to do as she says, Gabe.”
I started to cry. Mother told me to be strong and that everything would be okay. I pulled myself together for her.
* * *
In my room, I stuffed my backpack full of clothes and my tablet. As I went to the door to leave, the statuette of the Lady of Eternal Prosperity standing on my study desk caught my attention. I stared at it with loathing. I didn’t want to add to the prosperity of the country that had sent thugs to arrest my father. I picked up the statuette and hurled it across the room. It struck the wall with a thud, leaving a deep gouge.
I marched downstairs to where Mother and Mrs. Moorhouse waited.
“No keitai or tablets or other electronics on either of you? Nothing that can be tracked?” Mrs. Moorhouse asked.
Mother shook her head.
“Nope,” I lied.
We walked to a red sedan parked on the street in front of the house. I threw Mother’s overnight bag into the trunk and kept my backpack with me as I climbed into the backseat. The dark leather was cold against my arms. Heaving a heavy sigh, Mother sat in the passenger seat.
“Are you okay, Mom?”
“My back aches. I’m having contractions.”
“Braxton Hicks?” Mrs. Moorhouse asked as she slid behind the wheel.
“I don’t know.”
The car quietly came to life, the dash lighting up when Mrs. Moorhouse pressed the power button. An almost imperceptible electric hum filled the cabin. The AC started, and pleasant warm air blew against me.
“How far along are you?” Mrs. Moorhouse asked, plugging her keitai into a cable attached to the dash.
“My due date is in ten days,” Mother said. “Any time, as the doctor says.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll have access to excellent medical facilities.”
Paying little attention to their conversation, I occupied myself by attempting to follow what Mrs. Moorhouse was doing with her keitai. “Can I ask questions about what you’re doing?”
“Of course,” Mrs. Moorhouse said. “We’re not being monitored.”
“Are you loading a fake route?” I asked.
“That’s right. If we’re scanned, the first thing the authorities will do is check the car’s last route. I don’t want them knowing we were at your house. Perfect. That should do it.”
A disembodied female voice came from the car’s speakers. “Human driver mode enabled. While operating the vehicle, you are liable for accidents. Drive safely.”
“You know how to drive?” I asked, genuinely surprised. Maybe my parents knew how to drive, but I’d never seen them do it.
“I do,” Mrs. Moorhouse said. She did not accelerate the car as smoothly as the vehicle’s AI would have. “I like having control. The car’s AI will take control when we enter the freeway.”
“SmartRoads,” I said. “How do you remain anonymous once you’re on the freeway? The SmartRoad and the AI will be in constant communication.”
“The AI will log a false route when we enter the freeway. Just before we exit, it will log a route change, also false.”
Mr. Moorhouse braked as we neared a stop sign. The jerky movement made me a little queasy.
“What about Maggie? Will she be safe?” I asked.
“She’s not an APF target,” Mrs. Moorhouse said. “I know you’re worried about your friend, Gabe. Believe me, she’s safer with her family than she would be with us.”
“You’re sure?” I asked.
“Gabe,” Mother said, “Maggie is safe with her parents. That’s where she belongs.”
I was still worried about Maggie, but I accepted that she would be safer with her parents than with us. Ten minutes later, we neared the on-ramp. The wide eight-lane road was almost empty and brightly lit by floodlights along the median.
I craned my neck to scan the sky overhead. I hoped to see an ASU similar to the one Maggie and I found in the woods. I saw only the glare of lights and, beyond that, the black sky, but that didn’t mean that a surveillance unit wasn’t up there, watching.
“Okay. We’re entering the freeway,” Mrs. Moorhouse said. “No more talking until we exit. Anything we say might be monitored. The car will connect to the AutoNet in less than a minute.”
After about five minutes of high-speed travel, the car queued at the ramp for Highway 101 North. Two cars were ahead of us. Astride the roadway stood a massive metal gatehouse, like the barbican of a medieval castle, studded with spotlights, communication equipment, sensors, and automated weaponry.
I sunk into my seat and hugged myself, convinced that we had reached the end of the line. There was no way we could make it through the checkpoint. It was the last gateway before the barely monitored vastness of the Olympic Peninsula. Maybe thirty miles up Highway 101, the SmartRoad ended and the roadway narrowed to a pothole-riddled two-lane route through failing communities and ghost towns.
Our car rolled forward into the gatehouse’s smooth white interior and came to a stop. A low hum emanated from the white walls that grew in intensity until my ears throbbed. A scanner imaged the car and us. The car’s AI transmitted all requested information to APF computers for analysis. We’d soon know if the false route raised red flags or not.
After almost a minute, the noise abruptly ended and the sedan drove onto route 101.
* * *
The car exited at Shelton, one of the few communities that were still viable on the peninsula, since it was close to the state capital. Mrs. Moorhouse took over driving. Towering Douglas firs lined the sparsely lit road like dark sentinels.
“We’ve been tagged,” Mrs. Moorhouse said, meaning an ASU had tracked us.
“How?” Mother demanded. “You told us you could get us to safety.”
“I don’t know. Random selection. Maybe the false route raised a red flag,” Mrs. Moorhouse said. “Don’t worry. The Resistance is prepared for this. We have a vehicle stashed on the outskirts of town. I’ll lose the ASU on the backroads. Then we’ll switch cars and be on our way.”
“This car has a threat detection system?” I asked.
“It does,” Moorhouse said. “And an anti-cyber intrusion package too.”
“Wow,” I said. Military-grade tech; at least if it was the equivalent of what I had read about on the news feeds.
The desire to pull out my tablet tugged at me like a physical urge. I played with the backpack’s zipper, repeatedly opening it part way and closing it. Zip, zip. I wanted to test my theory on how to hack an ASU and bring it crashing down. I wished Maggie were sitting next to me in the back seat. She’d be excited too, and I owed to her insight my intimate knowledge of the ASU’s operating system.
In the center console, the keitai buzzed and the screen lit up. Mrs. Moorhouse slammed a hand against the steering wheel. “We’re being hacked. The ASU is trying to take control of the car.”
Unzipping my backpack, I said, “I can take out the ASU. I have my tablet.”
“You brought your tablet?” Mrs. Moorhouse said. “Okay. Okay. Do it.”
I rummaged through my backpack tossing aside clothes until I grasped the tablet’s cool aluminum case. I slid it out of the bag and hit the power button. I guessed the ASU had used the AutoNet to establish a connection to the car. When the tablet finished booting up, I punched the icon for DroneCom and connected to the AutoNet. DroneCom automatically scanned for nearby ASUs.
“Keep us close to 101. I’m using the AutoNet to connect to the ASU,” I said.
A pop-up window displayed a long alphanumeric code representing a detected ASU. I tapped on the number to establish a connection. As expected, a message stated that the attempt had failed. I pressed a button labeled “Connection Details.” A window appeared; it was full of configuration options.
Drumming my feet against the floor in a fast rhythm, I chewed on my lower lip as I configured the connection. My finger hovered over the “Send” button as I scanned the entries for errors. Satisfied, I pressed the button, and it dismissed the Configuration Details window.
Mrs. Moorhouse screamed an expletive just before the car swerved. I thudded into the window and the tablet slipped from my grasp, landing on the floor. Pain lanced through my lower lip and I tasted blood. I felt woozy and the world swirled around me.
“The ASU is taking control of steering,” Mrs. Moorhouse said. “Hurry, Gabe. Hurry.”
Her words cut through the haze. Blood filled my mouth, so I spat a dark red glob onto the floor.
“The baby is coming,” Mother said.
“No. Not yet,” Mrs. Moorhouse said. “Just hold on.”
I grabbed the tablet and tapped the alphanumeric representing the ASU. This time DroneCom connected. Blood dripped from my mouth onto the screen. I used the edge of my t-shirt to wipe clean the screen as the car weaved. Holding the tablet in one hand, I chicken-pecked the command to shut down the ASU’s motor into the command line.
“My water broke,” Mother said.
I looked up from my work. “Mom, what does that mean? Are you going to be okay? The baby?”
“Concentrate, Gabe,” Mrs. Moorhouse insisted. “The ASU is trying to disable the engine and put the car in lockdown.”
Turning my attention back to the tablet, I finished keying in the command. I stared at the command line, checking for typos. The command should work. I punched the “Enter” button. “I did it.”
“What do you mean?” Mrs. Moorhouse said. “It’s still—”
“Watch out!” Mother screamed.
Wheels shrieked. I flew forward. I turned my gaze to the roadway just in time to watch something big and black pass through the beams of the headlights and slam into the pavement with a loud crash. The car squealed to a full stop a few feet from the crumpled remains of the aerial vehicle.
“I did it! I did it!” I was bouncing up and down in my seat.
Mrs. Moorhouse examined her keitai. “Good job, Gabe. The car’s cyber defenses are quarantining the viruses.”
“Oh my,” Mother said. She raised a hand up. Fluid covered her hand.
“Hang on. We have to get out here,” Mrs. Moorhouse said, steering the car around the wreckage and slamming down on the accelerator. “As soon as the APF realizes the ASU is down, they’ll dispatch a ground team. Gabe, turn off your tablet. We don’t want the APF using it to track us.”
I powered down the tablet. Mother groaned.
“What about Mom? I’m scared.”
“I’m getting us within walking distance of the stashed car. Then we’ll ditch this one and head cross-country.”
“I don’t think she can walk,” I said.
“She’ll have to,” Mrs. Moorhouse said. “We can’t get closer to the stashed car without backtracking. That’s not an option. We don’t want to be here when the ground team combs the area.”
My head ached and I felt nauseated and my mouth kept filling with blood. I squeezed my lip to staunch the bleeding. My mind raced due to my anxiety over Mother. I wanted to take away her pain.
Mrs. Moorhouse pulled the car over on the side of the road and said, “Gabe, get out. Take your backpack. Stuff some clothes into it. We need to deliver the baby. Your sister will need something to keep her warm.”
I did as I was instructed, grabbing my tablet, too. Mrs. Moorhouse exited the vehicle and, a short while later, I heard the trunk open and close. Slinging the backpack over my shoulders, I got out of the car.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Dan Rice