(Copyright David A. Kearns, all rights reserved)
11:30 p.m. Dec. 13, 2014. Orlando Florida
Kyle Cogswell finished Tweeting his uncle, Sean. He was so proud of his uncle; wanted to be just like him. And why not? Women practically fell over with their legs in the air at Sean Cogswell‘s feet. And if they didn’t actually do so, you could tell they wanted to. It was rumored his uncle was seeing some hot vamp who was married. But Kyle didn’t believe it. He didn’t know if his uncle bothered with relationships. He certainly wasn’t the type to be involved in any torrid romances.
He knew that people in Sean’s office would get word to him that his nephew needed to speak with him eventually. It would take a few DMs through Twitter. Sean was up on that, all his dad’s friends were for some reason. For a group of older guys they were all very sophisticated and knowledgeable about technology. They even code names that changed every three or four days, as if they were being spied on like a gang of meth-selling bikers or something. More than once, Kyle had heard the men refer, only half-jokingly, to their little “underground.”
Uncle Sean had his office’s Tweet sight as well as four other accounts. Kyle used the touchpad system on an old iPhone his sister had loaned him. He liked using that rather than iBrain which gave him a massive headache. Didn’t own one of those either. The one he brought tonight was borrowed from CC.
Kyle was seventeen now. He could drive. His hair was sandy brown, and they said he had eyes just his father’s; the color of shallow, clear seawater over turtle grass, greenish blue. His was filling out too. Weighed just over 190, could run a 17 minute, 5 k and bench 200 pounds of free weights, fifteen times. He could knock out a thousand push ups, one hundred at a clip, in the space of an hour. He was meeting with a recruiter for the U.S. Marines in four days. This was his last year at Melbourne High School, where his father had gone, as had his dad’s best friend Tim Stanton, president and CEO of Highjump Products.
Tim was a mentor to him, but what Kyle really wanted was for his father to be a mentor. But Ryan Cogswell had been dead for nearly five years. So, in second place, he wanted his uncle Sean, war hero to be his mentor; to tell him everything he could about his dad, Ryan. What he got was Tim; always sort of hovering with his own brand of oversight: always checking up on him, through the Malone family “uncles” Gary and Jay, who had also been friends of his father’s during his high school years, who themselves were constantly informed through Jay‘s son, Chase, a freshman cornerback at UCF, and Kyle’s lifelong surfing buddy.
He knew something special had happened to his dad and their little surf crew way back in the 1980s, but he wasn’t sure what it was. It was something that made these men bond like foxhole veterans, as though they had seen battle.
He couldn’t figure out his uncle Sean, the senator. He always seemed so sad, and aloof, as though he knew something bad was about to happen, couldn’t stop it, but at the same time, whatever it was, he couldn’t tell you about it either.
Mom Debra, was no help. His sister Charity, had her own problems growing up. CC was just so damned smart, it was infuriating. Probably going to Harvard, or MIT where she would skip class and still ace everything.
Kyle struggled academically by comparison but did well enough that his own friends considered him to be pretty smart. He sort of surprised himself with a 1590 on the SAT. But he wanted action. Wanted battle, like his uncle had seen. Wanted to gain that worldly, handsome gaze of the family men were so proud of. He had seen the photos of his granddad, Douglas, who had served in the Air Force in whatever secret capacity it had been. He liked the way the man looked, so strong, confident, alive; facing the challenge. Uncle Sean had that look, same hair color, eye color, same stony strength, only just a bit sadder. Kyle knew it had something to do with the death of his father. They said Ryan had been one of the most intelligent men to come along in his generation, and that intelligence had enabled him to look into things, that in the end, drove him to insanity and suicide. Yet somewhere in his heart Kyle knew that wasn‘t the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as they say. He knew that Uncle Sean was aware of what exactly happened, and that Sean was secretly dreading that long conversation where he explained it.
“Cogswell! WTF bro?” came the voice of Chase Malone.
Chase was nothing like his dad, Jay the former mayor of Melbourne Beach and real estate guy. Chase was more fun, like his own uncle, Gary. The men of the tribe said Chase even fought like Gary. He certainly wasn’t afraid of a little dust up every now and then.
“Leave your uncle alone, man. He’ll get back to you when he can! Jeezus,” Chase said.
Chase was lucky. The Knights had a shot at a national title this year. Chase was hilarious. Off the wall sense of humor. He had wanted someone to go with him to one of these devil raves. They were getting pretty wild, he said.
“C’mon man, it’ll be a hoot. All those freakin’ weirdo’s zoning out on whatever, doin’ their thing! Who knows, might be some hot girls in it for us.”
“Chase I don’t think it’s that kind of gig, man,” Kyle said. He had done a little internet search. But Chase had been curious and so he bugged and bugged his surfing buddy until he relented at last. Chase didn’t do ‘no.’
‘No’ was for pussies.
Gotha was a giant warehouse with a huge stage off I-Drive. The warm up act wasn’t half bad; some Aerosmith-Run DMC tribute band. But everyone was here to see Feathered Lizard; the new thrash-hop group fronted by this demonic looking guy who called himself Quetzalcoatl. Clearly the man was unbalanced and manic depressive in the Marilyn Manson mien. As per notorious custom, the artist was late to the gig, so Kyle had taken the opportunity to run back near the johns and try to get his uncle to call him back.
These freaks in the bubble trying to sell him neural enhancers were really annoying. All Paul wanted was a damned Pepsi. All they had was “Red Bull Kava-Kava,” and something called “Ginseng speedballs”.
His uncle Sean seldom got back to him right away. Kyle really wanted his input into whether he should go to college and then try to get into the officer program, or just enlist, like Sean had; see some action, get his education through the marines as he went. Sean got a BS in communications from them, and an MBA. Yeah, he saw some action too, six tours; Iraq, Afghanistan, some time in Pakistan.
His uncle gave off signals like there was something massive he wanted to say, but couldn’t. Kyle felt like the marines was the way to go, but he knew his uncle had deep, deep reservations about the whole thing; just knew it.
Why won’t he tell me? Why won’t he at least talk to me?
“God damn, dude! You are such a GIRL! C’mon, do that shit later. We got to get close to the stage before the bubblers take all the good spots, man!”
As they walked through the crowd during the intermission, Kyle could see that they were very nearly too late. The bubblers indeed were lining up. Savante had also rented out big chunks of the general admission area for their bubblers, many of whom wore the neon-colored Savante T-shirts. When the strobes and black-lights whirled through the throng, these would light up with multi-colored creatures, sea turtles that paddled, flowers that made use of holo-tech and seemed to briefly bloom and close, bloom and close. Those in the bubble, saw a kalidescope of colors and images.
“Did you bring your iBrain, dude?”
“I have my sister’s,” Kyle said.
The device looked like a half head-band that wrapped around the ears and hooded the sides of the eyes. They were so compact you could fold them up and put them in your pocket.
“Your’s 3-G holo?”
“It’s upgraded to 3-G, yeah,” Kyle said sheepishly.
“Fuckin’ bubblers, man. I can’t stand ‘em,” Chase said. “Think they’re the shit.”
Bubblers didn’t have to have a headband of any kind. Their upgrade, 4-G, was a chip inside the skin. You had everything on tap. The voice activation system was a sequence of key words, which holoed you right to your desk-top. If you had the fast touch, it drove into your favorites and presented them split-screen translucent.
Increasingly, people were living more and more in the bubble. You drove down I-95 and pop-ups came into view, demarking hotels gas stations. Little down arrows just over the tree line, with the symbols above them McDonalds, Howard Johnson, etc. Did away for the need of those advanced plasma diode windshields. It killed that whole market like Walmart taking down the mom and pop grocer.
Good for the environment, they said. No need for billboards. Business paid a service fee and bam, that was it.
Savante was on this whole green kick these days: in every way imaginable the Neural Network “N-squared” was pitched as means by which the world would go green and who could argue? Aren’t you green? Don’t you want things to go green? What’s wrong with you!
What a joke, he thought. What a bunch of damned phonies!
Kyle supposed once his orders came through, he’d be inside the bubble on MarineComm A, or B depending on which route he went, but, he’d have to get used to that for the full ride. Once you did that, you agreed to their programming for the duration of your service, and then some if you signed confidentiality agreements.
There were new bills going through congress now to curtail some of all this, but how could you argue with something that also could be used to cure blindness?
They were looking into it, but for practical purposes, it was true. You tuned in and bam, you could walk around with your eyes closed, the internet GPS and a small camera accessory doing the work. If you still possessed most of your optic nerves, you were good to go.
Chase stopped in his tracks for a second.
“Hold on, Kyle. I just got a call from my dad on Flywire, said I need to check my email.”
“Set Red,” Chase said to his voice activated Holo desktop.
“G-Mail, Chasemaddog, red/7, Inbox, down, down, down…Open…”
“Well shit, Kyle, this is bad. Turns out something happened on the new Russ Bridges shoot. Tom Stallings is dead…”
“Our dads’ friend?”
“Yep. It gets worse. Russ Bridges has gone missing. Meanwhile, oh, shit. Mr. Finklestein is dead,too” Chase said.
“Shot during a robbery in a parking lot in Los Angeles. He was visiting Mr. Naigles for some reason. And Mr. Naigles has gone missing as well. Dad says we have to get the hell home. This is an emergency. He said we have to go now. Even me! Damn! I have practice tomorrow! What the hell can he be thinking?”
“Maybe he just means me,” Kyle said.
“No this is weird, he means both of us. We’re supposed to go directly to my house. He even used code, damn he wants me to bust out the Smartlife system in my new car. This is bad, Kyle.”
They turned to move but the throng rushed the stage just as the thrash-hop music flooded the hall.
The screen came down and an elevated platform began extending out into the audience. Massive screens at the top of the hall came on, as did screens on the walls of the building.
“Might as well watch,” said Chase.
The young men put their headsets on.
Bubble ravers were obviously getting more of an experience with the capabilities of their systems.
“Jesus, what the hell is that?” Kyle yelled.
The images dove and dipped at the audience members. Though computer generated, they were so realistic and terrible one avoided them on instinct at first, until the sensation wore off.
Holo-images of flying beast dogs swirled in the mist around the form of the lead singer for Feathered Lizard, a white man in his forties with a long mane of white hair, pink eyes like a pig caught in a camera shot of those old flash bulbs. Were those scales on him? Did a fan of reptilian spines briefly jut from his back like the plates of a stegosaurus?
The beast dogs encircled themselves around the master’s feet on the stage. They licked their scaly lips and hissed at the audience.
Band members completed the ruse by stepping over them, around them as they played, as if the hellish images generated by a program were real. Quetzalcoatl was screaming froth into the microphone, growl-yelling, the words, in Yiddish, Welsh? Irish? What the hell were they?
The bubblers were flailing around as the music thundered. It seemed to come from everywhere, from the floor, from the bodies of their fellow concert goers.
“If they are getting more on their systems than we are Kyle, I can’t even imagine what it’s doing to them,” Chase said.
“Damn, dude, that can’t be healthy,” Kyle said.
There were at least three couples actually fornicating on the “dance floor” if it can be called that; rapt with lust-madness, their eyes rolled back into their skulls, drones of fornication, reptile dogs like those on the stage. Various mosh pits could be seen back from this epicenter of insanity, people beating each other, flailing, gnashing teeth, the pulling of hair.
Someone reached for Chase’s considerable black mane, where-upon Chase wheeled around and popped them with a quick jab, undoubtedly breaking a nose or a jaw.
The injured youth merely rose to his feet again like a zombie and pin-wheeled away, swept up in the music.
“God damn this is insane, Kyle…”
At once people were backing away from a man on his knees, something was in his hands, something dripping like gobs of blackberry jam. The man, bald, shirtless his back a mixture of muscles, Celtic and Aztec tattoos, was to Kyle and Chase. Everyone formed an aisle before the stage.
The man rose to his bare feet and approached the stage as the music reached a crescendo. He placed his offering at the feet of Quetzalcoatl feet which briefly sprang talons and claws like those seen at the base of some Aztec statue.
The man raised his blood-covered hands in tribute. Kyle knew better than to keep watching but, he couldn’t turn away. The man would turn around and reveal something…
He turned to face Kyle and Chase.
“Dude! He ripped out his own fucking eyes, bro! That dude ripped out his own eyes and put them on the stage!” Chase said.
“To live inside, is to finally be free! To live inside, is to finally be free!” the man whispred directly at Kyle. How had a reptilian, sandpaper whisper reached Kyle’s ears above the din of the thrashing pumping music and chords.
He was dancing in perfect synch to the music, blood running in streams down his face from his empty eye sockets, onto his bare chest and obscuring his Celtic tattoos.
Kyle could see the dot on his forehead where the mini-cam was stitched into his skin.
“What the hell did he do?”
“I’ve heard about this, Kyle! I thought it was just an urban legend. They call it going inside!” Chase screamed.
“He’s gone inside,” Chase said. “Totally dependant on the Bubble, committed to it for the rest of his life. Sacrifice to the Gods of rock, Feathered Lizard. Fucking sick, man…”
Kyle felt himself being hauled backwards by a massive hand.
The man with angry eyes before him looked Samoan. What had he done to offend this man?
“You and Mr. Malone have been given orders. You need to follow them, right away, Marine. Do you copy?”
“Copy,” Kyle said on a reflex.
“Then move out!”
“Who are you?”
“You’re Uncle Sean sent me. Now move!”
Minutes later they had left in Kyle’s 1977 Dodge Dart. The classic was a restored beauty.
“Why does Uncle Tim want all us kids to drive these old pieces of shit,” Chase said at last as they headed east toward the coast on 528.
“Hey, you didn’t know how to disable Smartlife on your ride!” Kyle said.
“They're making it harder to do that. You’ve got to get down near the engine anymore, as well as yank the crap out of the dash. Plus the GPS pinger they have in the back. It would have taken hours,” Chase said.
“This time next year, they’ll be mandatory; even in classics and antiques like this one,” Chase said.
“I heard that, too,” Kyle said.
“I wonder what all this is about.”
“Me too,” replied Kyle. But something had come alive in him after witnessing the horrific nightmare of the man and his vacant eye sockets. It was as though he had lived that moment in a dream before. And it had finally awakened him from a sleep, a nice dream he had been having.
Kyle knew in that instant, he wasn’t going into the Marines. The world was about the undergo changes the like of which none of them had seen.