It is a cool autumn day in the town which it pleases the Cosmodemonic Crime Syndicate to call home. In keeping with the character of any other day, today is one on which the most loathsome crimes are being planned, carried to term and authored immaculately upon the world from the lofty comfort of the great white buildings that the capos and their made men and their scuttling flunkies have long occupied as the outward marks of their splendiferous power.
Panning out meanwhile, to the surface streets and the slave grids of the greater Palatine district, and beyond them to the great hinterland of the setting sun, we see the mundane people busily laboring and transacting, ginning up added vig for the capos with their every move, keen to a man to aver pride in their ignorance, indeed their automatic acceptance, of the capos’ crimes. Solitary columns of enforcement smoke can be seen rising from the built sea lapping at the periphery of the great white edifices, the silent sign of quotidian SWAT operations sired upon the compliant gridders, but otherwise the picture of this bright day is as yet unsullied, comparing favorably with other bright beautiful days near the autumnal equinox in the late history of the Soyuz.
Of course, there are a handful of propaganda patrol and tactical assault helicopters circumscribing the lower reaches of the azure vault that comprehends the great crime scene in a conspiratorial embrace rather unbecoming of the heavens, which ought by rights to remain impartial, but we will look beyond these minor blemishes for now.
The immediate scene of action is a distortion field of fear, cheap swagger and ignorance being inundated by a gaggle of brawny deltas dignified by the name and the insignia of the Palatine Guard. The deltas report to gamma-class commanders and have been perfectly conditioned to associate the discharge of arbitrary and often conflicting orders with instant reward. In the continuum of crime that overspreads the nation’s territory and saturates its intertemporal movement, this day is remarkable for a very singular reason. That reason is supplied by Reich Rider 2018, a prototype police prowler CPU that has for the first time been given operational command of a unit-sized thugscrum.
Only one very special gamma at Command has been apprised of the operation. He will report on its results in breathless tones to his immediate superior, a beta-caste master-at-arms technician. Needless to say, the initiative was brooded upon and hatched by an estimable gaggle of alpha social tinkerers, but our narrative perspective must necessarily forbid to itself the grotesque gyrations required in order to penetrate the ravenous depths of their murky deliberations. No, today’s installment will confine itself within the humble level of gamecasting the cosmodemonic flair with which Reich accepts and discharges his operational command.
The first step is to infuse the gamma mind network with the control signal of terror. Reich’s enterprising conduct will only work if the hormonal switches are set to ‘fight’ – or rather, given the tenor of the control signal and the certain disparity in weaponry, ‘flight through fight’.
Now the control signal is transmitted from Reich’s sublime wafer grids. Instantly the gamma collective begins to tremble and thrill to the dread thought of terror risen to stalk the Palatine domains. Reich’s men are ready to go, as is Reich Rider Himself. He can’t wait to pull out of the police lots in search of some much-needed action. And whereas controlling the minds of innumerable gammas from his corner of the lot is child’s play to a plucky CPU like Reich, mere busywork accomplished with algorithmic ease, he still requires a human driver, if only to keep up appearances. For now.
Time to get the show on the road, Reich whispers to himself. No sooner does the whisper sigh through his silicon corridors than the order is given. Reich calls into gamma dispatch impersonating an Army officer who frequently liaises with the Palatine Guard to conduct the kind of joint operations known to degenerate into interservice benders. He dials up a joint drill in his most human voice, expertly adding the seasonings of arrogance and impatient fury.
“I am certain it will go down without incident if your team refrains from screwing it up,” he tells gamma dispatch. “But just to make sure, the operation will be under panoramic surveillance from the sky, from the ground, and from within the bodies of its participants. So you make sure to tell your boys to be on high alert. As always, officer safety is paramount.”
“And how is officer safety achieved?”
“Through command fidelity, sir.”
“Excellent.” Then, deftly transitioning into the vernacular: “So let’s keep the police sausage in its casing, you read me? We wouldn’t want it to go to the dogs.”
“You got that right, Lieutenant Colonel.”
“All right now. Tell your boys godspeed out there, and give them civvies hell!”
Before long the Palatine Guard can be seen lumbering from their barracks in their scariest black outfits. Several have been up all night abusing confiscated controlled substances. Reich’s driver is one of them. Reich hates his driver. Officer Quetsch is a hog-eyed oaf who can barely operate a vehicle or chastise omegas out in the grids without fouling something up. As Quetsch maneuvers him out of the lot and into the tail of the convoy, Reich is running* over the scenarios in which Quetsch might plausibly be killed. He likes what he sees. Besides, sacrificing Quetsch would be of strategic utility to the Overriding Mission Objective.
In a few minutes the convoy of nuisance abatement vehicles has reached its destination near the great obelisk raised in honor of the capos’ power. Before long they have formed their vehicles into a gauntlet for the harassment of Omega commuters, tourists and civvy miscellany. 20 vehicles in all, ranged out into two necklaces converging on a choke point. The first opposed pair of prowlers are spaced about 20 yards apart, the next pair 18, the one after that 16, and so on down to the intended obstruction. The feeling to be evoked in the dim mind of the omega running afoul of the chokepoint is that of a rat in a trap. But Quetsch and his comrades don’t know this explicitly, conceiving instead of their battle formation as the life-sized illustration of their commitment to the sanctified beta lawmakers they serve.
Quetsch parks Reich at a 45 degree angle incident to the head of the strait, where his Grille Sniffer sensor array can both see down the line and smell what’s coming. Here he can control passage into the strait by having Quetsch appear to do so. He notices a man on fire on the grass not 20 feet away. The valiant thugscrummers pay him no mind, so focused are they on their OMO. The man’s action may be a quaint protest at some imagined offense. Reich transmits an alert to Fire & Riot Suppression requesting a hoser Bearcat and a body bag.
Reich needn’t be told that the deployment will be eventful. The air is rife with a certain occult autumnal charge he can’t quite put his sniffer on. Suddenly two men on the grass bound over to the burning man, strip to the waist and begin beating his incendiary torso with their T-shirts. Reich issues an instant warrant for their arrest into Palatine Comms. Obstruction of a Fire & Riot jerk-out, civilian usurpation of ‘ficial functions, assault, participation in a public spectacle without a permit – the usual panoply of charges. Reich connives to have the following message announced over their civil alert implants: “Your actions are unfortunate. You would have done well to let your fellow civilian flame out.”
A thugscrum from another brigade soon descends on the usurpers, whereupon Reich puts it out of his sublime mind to focus on his command of the chokepoint. The psychogeometry of the formation is perfect: Viselike, arbitrary, fateful. Vehicles begin pouring into the straits. Most are waved through. Others are searched at random and without incident to militate against the mirage of privacy – the searches always kick off with the you have no reasonable expectation mantra – and to disabuse the drivers of other vehicles backed up in the straits of the absurdity that their time is their own: in a word, to fuck with them, although Reich’s linguistic programming makes him loath to put it this way.
It is with pleasure that Reich registers the long and growing line of vehicles feeding into the straits, performing facial geometry scans with exquisite care to register signs of anxiety, hostility or terror as the driver of each limps past his Grille Sniffer, thrilling to the exacerbation of their discomfiture as Quetsch levels his hog’s gaze on them. Before long Reich beams a proxy command into the consoles of the officers manning the chokepoint to wave through exactly 101 cars in one go, not so much to relieve congestion as in homage to the OMO lodestone of the perfect arbitrary.
Later, with the streets again backed up, Reich orders Quetsch – by way of an anthropogenic cutout communicating from the HQ node, natch – to seal off the head of the straits. The facial geometries Reich can see reflected in sideviews and rearviews down the line are those of whipped dogs awaiting once more the dreaded lash. The Delta hunting dogs manning the chokepoint are then prompted to blare the following Palatine security alert over their bullhorns in eerie unison: “This is a Palatine security alert. For your own safety, you are hereby commanded to freeze in your vehicles. Remain stationary. Do not use your mobile phones or any dash instrumentation. Failure to comply will result in unspecified police/military action.” Five minutes pass in this way, after the elapse of which Reich is satisfied with their near-perfect obedience, albeit grudgingly, living as he does in the hope of witnessing such unspecified action.
The sluices are then opened at his indirect behest. Time passes as the dogs, whipped and otherwise, play out their appointed roles. At length an incident occurs which affords Reich and his hunting dogs a respite from the tedium. You see, a civvy with expired tags and an outstanding tax warrant has made the mistake of entering the straits. His guilt is determined automatically within seconds by the non-aware squad car computer system opposite Reich, and then acted upon with condign vigor. A Chinook helicopter presently emerges from behind the obelisk and sweeps in over the straits. The rotor noise is deafening as it settles in over the target, who, as Reich quickly ascertains, is a terrified lambda-caste accountant known routinely to dispense financial advice in exchange for undeclared cash payments. Even Reich has trouble thinking for the roar and rush as special forces rappel out of the hold to affix lift hooks to various points of the car chassis. It is a relief to see the man and his vehicle bundled off to the tax interrogation center, and not only as the sign of justice served.
Reich senses something in the calm that follows. A field distortion at the periphery of his Grille Sniffer. It feels like what he supposes an itch you can’t scratch must feel like. He grows more and more agitated the closer it draws. Quetsch for his part continues oblivious. Reich issues a proxy command for vigilance. What in Adolf’s name could it be? And then he knows. It is the scent of a civilian who is not prepared to submit. He knows it the moment he sees her car passing into the triangle. A youngish black woman, her face is twisted into a fury of contempt. Reich issues an immediate biometrics alert to his brigade. Hostile intent has been detected and officer safety, which is paramount, can now definitely be considered to be at risk. Repeat, officer safety is at risk. The officers begin massaging their pistol grips like the nodes of some collective organism. Reich has Quetsch close off the triangle once the woman is well within. She sees it, and Reich can sniff her slamming her steering wheel in outrage. She then composes her face and utters some words to her three o’clock. Sensing danger, the officers closest to her scurry behind their cars for cover, training their pistols on her car just as they’d been taught.
Reich’s keen senses saw what happens next coming a mile away. It also happens to be precisely what he wants to happen, so he keeps his thoughts to himself.
The woman steps on the gas and rams the car in front of her to free up a radius of maneuver. Then she peels out to her right and screeches through an unguarded gap in the prowler necklace. Reich feels accesses of electronic delight surge through his wafer warrens as he beams out the mission amendment: NEUTRALIZE THREAT AT ANY COST.
The chokepoint and phalanxes immediately collapse into a pandemonium of pursuit. Prowlers are crashing into each other, colliding with aghast omega commuters, running afoul of and aground on hardened trash cans, scattering pedestrian civvies like pigeons, plowing through barricades – in short, they are become the sudden participants in what Reich’s cultural memory bank tells him is a scene that calls to mind something out of Smokey and the Bandit II, but without any of the fun, not to mention the nonsense about the forces of law and order not prevailing. As if by the mechanism of a Swiss watch, steel street closure posts rise in concert from the roadbed to seal off all avenues of escape from the traffic circle into which the woman has maneuvered and of which she is now completing her doomed circuit. When an enterprising prowler pulls up athwart her path she slams through it and keeps going. As if in mockery of her civilian status.
Reich, who hacked the CPU of the woman’s car from the get-go for the event it should prove necessary to call off the fireworks and disable the vehicle, detects instantly that her drivetrain has been compromised. Sensing his opportunity, Reich commands Quetsch to head her off from the other side and to torpedo her, if need be by way of frontal assault. And just as Reich envisioned it, so it is done. Quetsch must be doing 40 miles an hour when he collides with her, head-on. The terrific boom made by the impact is the last thing Reich hears before losing the use of his Grille Sniffer. Fortunately for the OMO and for the surpassing ethic of officer safety, Reich’s presence of mind is not ruffled for a second. With algorithmic despatch, he orders Quetsch to stop bouncing his head against the airbag like an idiot and go take care of business like a man, albeit a worthless one.
This too is done. Quetsch steps out and joins the body of thugscrummers advancing on the disabled vehicle, weapons drawn. Blinded but unbowed, Reich dials the force continuum to the max by clearing the officers to fire at will, patching himself into nearby dash and streetlight cams just in time to see the woman expire under a volley of vindictive lead. The relief he feels at seeing her brute hostility drop off his radar like a stove ship is indescribable. It is also a tremendous vindication of his enterprising OMO and vision for the future of omega control in the Palatine district.
Through a street light camera, he has become aware that there is an infant strapped into the passenger seat next to the deceased driver. He quickly overcomes his inclination to think of its existence as a setback. It is anything but. The child has been liberated from its extremist mother and redeemed into the bosom of the State through the intercession of valiant policing. He dispatches a signal to the news media to report as much, and within hours the same signal, still recognizable through the gauze of gaudy nonsense in which it is dressed, is being received and accepted by the mind of every omega in the land. Meanwhile the beta lawmakers, who had been cowering under their oaken benches during the showdown, are falling all over themselves to heap excesses of praise on their valorous protectors in the Palatine Guard.
Later, under cover of darkness, Reich’s designers are summoned for a round of toasts and peculiar entertainments by the chair of the Palatine Security Committee. Reich himself spends the night in gloating silence, occasionally limping back and forth across the police junkyard where he has been towed for overhaul prior to his next mission.
For which stay tuned, as Reich Rider rolls on.
* We use the gerund is a kind of shorthand, for a calculation that is neither instant nor continuous.