Security Culture

By Jay Friess

The pigs were coming. Only a matter of time now.

They’ll hit the convergence center first, Larry thought. Then they’ll start wringing out the community flats. Several of his friends would die. Maybe Georgia made it out, but that was doubtful. Her passport was flagged three months ago when she jumped off Luna.

Larry’s trembling hands kept losing their grip on Georgia’s plastic package of Zip! tubes. His own weed was not going to help him now. He needed something to take him up and fast. Tubes tumbled across the particle board set on red cinder blocks that served as the table for his community room. He grabbed one, snapped off the seal tab, and lifted it shakily to his lips. He looked up at Georgia’s wall hanging – a meter square of pink cloth with a huge red heart and the words "Keep loving/Keep living." He recited the toast silently and inhaled.

The Zip! burn filled his lungs, and, seconds later, an electric buzz shivered down his arms. After a few seconds, his brain leapt from its concussive, depressed stupor and began churning. Fire seeped into his veins, and bulges appeared on his neck and temples.

"Keep living!" he shouted.

The room smelled of burning cannabis and body odor on the night that she arrived two months before. Larry’s roommates took her traveling friends to an affinity group meeting and left the two of them alone. Larry lay on the plank table and moaned as she straddled him and forced her fingers into his knotted hair. It was a perfect moment – no pigs; no Struggle; and everyone else was gone. They found each other again after that long separation.

"I missed you," she cooed later, sitting on the stained couch with only a torn T-shirt draped over her thin teenage frame. He smiled.

"I missed you too."

"I brought a really brutal Bloc with me," she said. "Really damn brutal. The pigs are gonna freak!"

She giggled. Larry looked at the grounds floating in his coffee, grinning at Georgia’s fondness for aggressive, yet controllable, men. He detested using violence to solve problems. He once argued against it. He said it polluted The Struggle’s moral mandate. Gandhi didn’t need it. King didn’t need it. Why did they need it?

But he couldn’t argue with the results that it brought. Georgia’s mysterious friends had been known to pin down, scramble and even rout the police for hours at a time. It was evident that they were highly trained, but, like his affinity group, Georgia’s Black Bloc had no central leader or hierarchy. They seemed to possess a collective conscious. Georgia attributed that appearance to the constant communication they maintained through their comm sets. Their tactical actions at the last mining strike on Luna, executed without pre-planning or a leader, had actually allowed his Luna Struggle for Decentralization group to block three mine entrances and broadcast propaganda for one and a half uninterrupted hours.

Larry didn’t like seeing images of black clad bruisers pelting cops with shotgun beanbags, stopping foam and EMP grenades on all of the news nets. The commentators focused on property damage and injuries rather than workers’ rights. Still, the group smashed the all-time Lunar protest record by lasting six hours before being corralled, beaten and processed. The previous record was 15 minutes.

Georgia missed the success party in the prison. She and her Bloc had staged a last stand at the mine’s orbital elevator base. Things looked grim on the prison television, until the police siege party started collapsing and vomiting en mass. The news feed was abruptly cut, but Larry and his group knew that the Bloc kids’ weapon – bio, chemical, whatever it had been - had helped Georgia safely off the moon. At that moment, knowing she was safe, Larry decided to stop arguing and welcome the Bloc to his group’s actions - so long as no one got killed.

Georgia drew her knees up under her T-shirt, and the hole near the neck gaped a bit wider.

"It’s cold in here," she said. "Keep me warm."

The Zip! was picking up speed. Larry tore apart his closet, looking for his old computer. He found it under a box full of ‘zine cards. The cards spilled across the floor as he yanked the plastic slab out from under them. Throwing it on the bed, he ripped the eyephones from their jack and fumbled to remove the comm processor core.

Back in the community room, he plugged the eyephones into the comm and looked for a data socket on the wall. He tried two, both dead. The one in the kitchen responded, but wouldn’t take any input. Georgia’s new secure community system was cut off. He would have to go wireless. Reluctantly, he plugged the comm into the house antenna. He set it on the counter next to the sink and sighed. Fishing into his overalls, he found the necklace pouch. Inside was the stolen plastic data card. Written on the back, in a flagrant violation of department policy, was the policeman’s access code.

He lowered the eyephones and drew in a deep breath. Reaching for the comm, he pressed the data card into its magnetic sensor. The eyephones whined briefly and the lenses went opaque. The seal of the hated Olympus Mons Mining Authority appeared a few feet in front of him. It morphed into a menu: user services, transportation schedules, security administration ("pignet"), company store…

Larry quickly clicked past the proprietary menu into the planetary network. He swiftly navigated through the indy media outlets. Their update boards all reported the same rumors – police force decimated…hundreds dead…military units flying in. It all sounds a bit too hysterical, he thought. The corporate media were more sober. The death toll remained in the double digits…police furious…military standing by in orbit…questions about the Martian security services’ performance…

"Time to find out what this pig could access," Larry thought.

He exited the planetary network and clicked into the ‘pignet.’ An unusual new opening site appeared. Instead of the friendly uniformed help avatar and slick menus that usually greet the general public, Larry saw a dull gray wall of buttons. One of them read "Booking." He selected it, and entered the access code. Another gray menu appeared. He discovered he could report an arrest, add to an evidence record, check the status of a prisoner… He pressed the status button and entered "Georgia."

Her name returned few listings, and none of the records matched her description. As far as he knew, she didn’t have a last name. He briefly considered entering "Georgia the Whore," but opted to use other search criteria.

Larry realized a week after his reunion with Georgia that her interest in the Bloc kids was more than just professional. He woke one night, realizing he was alone on his foam mattress. He heard the sound of her hushed voice in the community room, where a handful of the Bloc kids were camped on the floor. As his hearing focused, he understood bits of what she was saying.

"…a really decent guy, and I’ve missed him…great sex and all, but I’ve changed…something more…need to be free…keep me warm…"

He lay awake, staring at the closed bedroom door, listening to her pleasure until daybreak. As the sun began blaring into his window, she opened his bedroom door, stopping halfway through it when she realized he was awake. The hem of her T-shirt played around her knees, its anti-corporate slogan defining the contours of her small breasts. Her dark, tangled hair was piled precariously on the top of her head. She smiled sleepily, sweetly at him.

"Want some breakfast, love?"

Larry stared, silent. For the first time in his life, he wanted to kill someone.

But he didn’t. And he didn’t eat. Later, he sulkily asked Georgia if he was the only man in her life. She smiled at him as if he had asked her where babies came from.

"I live in a community house, Larry. Of course there are other men in my life – constantly - more than I can stand."

"You know goddamn well what I mean! How many do you fuck!?"

She looked at him with a hurt, puzzled expression.

"Why do you care? And what’s the matter with you, anyway?"

"I waited six months for you, and I never slept with anyone else…"

"Well you should have, Larry. What if I had never come back?"

He didn’t have an answer. Somehow he knew from the moment that the prison news net feed cut out, that he would see her again. But he couldn’t explain how. He just knew she would come back, just for him.

"Larry," she sighed, eyes dramatically shifting into patronal concern. "Life is short and unpredictable. You find love where you can and you don’t forget what you have had. I remembered you. I’ll always remember you. But The Struggle is chaotic and crazy and we may not always be together."

Larry stared through her and into an epiphany. He and she were not destined lovers. She did not see him as he saw her. His face went limp, and he remained silent. Somewhere across the room, she was suggesting that they agree to "temporarily disengage" their sexual relationship to focus instead on their professional one. He just nodded.

As it was, their professional relationship didn’t leave room for much else in the following weeks. The police caught the affinity group responsible for hacking into the mine’s data system just two days after Georgia arrived. The one comfort was that the sting, executed to crash the group’s illegal gambling operation, exposed the secret vices some of the most powerful officials in the mine’s management. Larry laughed at the irony of it all, and Georgia spent the next several days with her face sutured to eyephones trying to find a new crack squad. Then she spent another week lining up secure network paths for their electronic assault. Since the new team lived on the opposite side of the planet, this required reserving pirated time a relay satellite, always a tricky endeavor.

Meanwhile, Larry oversaw the production of the counterfeit mining overalls. Another affinity group, consisting largely of student actor dropouts from Gaia, dyed secondhand rail worker overalls green, sewed stolen patches on the shoulders and chest, and stained them with the planet’s red rusty dirt.

The only real conflict erupted when it came time to discuss the weapons. Larry argued exclusively for non-lethal weapons, but Georgia’s Bloc kids wouldn’t budge. They explained that the chemical cocktail - their ace in the hole at the Luna protest - was now unavailable. The supplier had been captured. They wanted some assurance that they would be able to fight their way out of another siege. They argued that lethal ammunition should be included in everyone’s backpack, along with the rubber kind.

The discussion escalated into a row and then into an incoherent shouting match. Larry stomped into his room and slammed the door. Georgia followed him.

"What the hell is wrong with your boyfriends?" Larry bounced an unlaced boot off his bare drywall, leaving a reddish-brown stain.

"Security culture," Georgia answered.


"After you’ve been in the shit a few times, Larry, you realize that, no matter how noble the cause, sometimes you just got to look out for your own ass. The Pigs go crazy when their blood is up. It’s dangerous. They get a little paranoid. They don’t want to go down for nothing, not if they can help it."

"You are paranoid," Larry groused. "I have never seen anyone get really hurt unless they were trying to get hurt. The cops can’t be too sadistic with all the media drones floating around. So you get a few bruises. I can live with that, so long as I can help someone fight his or her oppression. I don’t want this to be Brazil all over again."

Georgia sat on the foam bed and remained quiet.

"What now," Larry asked. Georgia’s face was blank as she stared at the wall and answered. Her voice, nearly monotone.

"Last time, on Luna, right before we voted to fire the gas canisters, I watched those Nazis shoot two kids who tried to surrender. Shot ‘em both in the face. Point blank. I turned and ran. Fell down. And one of them bashed me in the head with a bat before the Bloc could push them back." She looked up at Larry. "I’m not paranoid; I’m sick of getting beaten. This is war, and we want to be taken seriously. Some kids, not your bunch of union groupies, really want to break the mining power structure and liberate this rock. But we’re not sacrificial lambs. We now keep an eye on our members, check their records, and give them the boot if they act fishy. And we want bigger guns."

Larry glared at her. "Nobody gets killed, and I mean it. Nobody. You got to play war on Luna, but not here."

"I’ll talk to them about leaving the lead at home," she said and left the room.

Whatever rank he was, the cop that had owned Larry’s new Pignet card had access to interrogation footage. Larry did a bit of sifting and finally found Georgia’s mug shot. "Jane Doe," as the file called her, looked pretty rough with one black eye and blood dripping from her chin. But she smiled into the interrogation camera as she sardonically explained to the interviewer what she meant by opting to participate in the "jail solidarity action." She explained that she and her friends would be happy to spend the next 30 days hanging out in the cells, eating free food and remaining anonymous until arraignment.

"Look, ma’am," the officer explained in an exhausted voice. "You haven’t committed any felonies. You can pay a 400 credit fine, walk out of here and go home. You don’t have to stay in jail. Just give me your name and address, and we’ll even put you on the tram."

Larry smirked at the word "felonies."

"Ah, but then you’ll have a record of me and can trace me and track me and eavesdrop on my messages," she said, then coughed. "No, I’d rather sit in your oppressive hell-hole and mock your injustice system."

For the first time, her speech struck Larry as very comical. Her diatribes, like his, were always a canned stew of leftist jargon, but hers never sounded canned. She always delivered The Struggle’s buzzwords with such unironic enthusiasm. That enthusiasm never faltered. She wore the same expression whether she was delivering a workers rights lecture to a group of lecherous miners or squeezing the trigger on an anti-tank rocket launcher. Even now, the enthusiasm twinkled out of her bruised left eye and rang crisply off the end of each "solidarity."

"Whatever, kid," the officer sighed. The mug shot blinked out. Larry stared at the multitude of empty data fields on Georgia’s police record.

It had been a rough day.

After hearing blurry rumors about an impending mine protest, the Martian police were determined not re-enact the Luna humiliation. In the early hours of the morning, they preempted the protestors by raiding the only activist collectives of which they knew. Their objective was information and intimidation - Georgia divined - a desperate act.

The collectives’ inhabitants, mostly Reds, were dragged to the security offices on trumped up vagrancy charges (Homelessness in the First Degree, Georgia called it). The Reds were anti-terraforming activists; bent on destroying the colony that "ate a cancerous human hole in Mother Mars." They treated the mining corporations and the Workers’ Struggle with equal contempt.

Larry, Georgia and the Bloc kids learned of the arrests at 4 a.m. when they were startled awake by the sounds of an alarm Georgia had rigged to improve the "security culture" of Larry’s community flat. The high pitched digital beep signaled that the police were honing in on the wireless network signals of the affinity groups’ computers. Georgia had the alarm box rigged so that it sent an encoded kill signal to the house broadcast network and shut it down.

At the first beep, Georgia instantly sprang awake and into action, unplugging her computer from the house antenna and plugging it into the newly installed (and still very temperamental) tenement hardwire network. She had insisted on installing the landlines for such security emergencies. Larry watched intently as she flipped on her eyephones, and clicked her fingers across the control board.

"Everyone got online," she said a few moments later, pushing the eyephones up to her matted hair. "The ACCG’s representative said that the pigs are wrecking the hell out of the Reds’ place on the north side. He suggested that we hit the mine today, while the anti-terror task force is off busting heads. I need an affinity group vote."

Larry’s roommates and the Bloc kids all looked at each other briefly and shouted in unison. "Aye!"

Larry just stared at Georgia.

Twenty minutes later, he watched the stark Martian sunrise through the polarized glass porthole window of the tram. His genuine "liberated" – Georgia’s term for stolen – mining coveralls were too large for his thin frame. He lost his comm in its labyrinth of pockets more than once on the way to the station. The Bloc kids remained sullenly silent, leaning on their huge equipment packs and staring at the floor.

Georgia yawned and leaned on his shoulder. The outer skirt of the city’s glass dome slipped overhead. For 20 minutes, he dreamed that he was on an inter-planetary flight, leaving Mars with this girl on his arm, free of the burden of The Struggle and complex relationships. Then the watchtowers of the Number 4 mining station slid onto the horizon. He reluctantly embraced reality again.

All of the affinity groups passed the first security checkpoint at the tram’s mine station airlock with no problem, as did several tourists and a class full of field tripping school children. The groups’ forged pass cards and counterfeit overalls aroused little suspicion. But the employee checkpoint, the last one before the mine’s entrance, proved to be an obstacle.

Five groups, not counting the heavily loaded Bloc kids, stood in a rough line at the only working weapons detector. The young security guard behind the thick armored glass at the checkpoint’s booth slowly began to smell a conspiracy when he realized that a large number of unfamiliar workers had logged in for overtime hours at the tram station. Larry watched the wheels turn in the guard’s head and felt a cold chill. Larry listened through his hacked mine communications line to the guard paging his superior. Larry shook off the chill, reminding himself that this was a contingency they had planned for. He just needed to stall until everyone was ready.

"What are you all here for again?" the guard asked.

"Ya see, feller, we don’t usually work at this mine," Larry began in his best proletarian drawl. "We got an urgent call from yer boss, tellin’ us ta’ git over here quick. Sumthin’ about a busted support."

"We brought in a robotic team to help with that," the kid replied. "Your foreman called and confirmed that your service call had been cancelled. What are you still doing here?"

"Well, now I didn’t hear nothin’ about cancellation," Larry replied, feigning indignance.

"All right guys, I’m sure it’s just bullshit, but they upgraded our terrorist threat level to code blue an hour ago, and I’m going to have to call this into the main office and let them make sure you all aren’t carrying bombs," the kid said with a wink. "Do me a favor and stand over there while I call the captain again."

Terrorist threat blue, Larry thought, and felt another chill. The pigs were on to them. The kid pointed them toward a group of non-lethally-armed guards who stared intently at Larry’s group.

"We don’t need to be doin’ all that," Larry said. "We’ll just go on home…"

The kid’s head snapped violently sideways and back, and he crumpled into the corner of his booth with a tremendous bang. Larry watched the armored glass tremble and then shatter and fall to the ground. He turned to see a Bloc kid holding a large-barreled homemade sonic blast weapon.

The Bloc scattered, pulling their black hoods over their heads as they jumped the fences and charged the uniformed security guards with the polymer bats and shields pulled form their backpacks. Larry’s affinity group simply watched for a moment. Then Larry shook off the mental shock of the sudden violence and raced toward the mine entrance. He felt the concussion of gunshots behind him as he stumbled down the escalator. At the bottom, on Platform #1, he looked up to see the Bloc forming a line at the top of the incline and firing a volley of flashbang grenades out of the platform entrance.

"Get on the goddamn train!" One of them yelled, causing Larry to wince at the metallic distortion in his eyephones.

Larry’s group raced toward the railcars and pressed the locator buttons on their comms. Their hacker brethren, sitting comfortably at their tenements in a city half a world away, located their signal after a few seconds and started the train remotely. The cars shuttered a bit before slowly plunged into the darkness of the mine.

Ten minutes later, Larry’s team overpowered a handful of fat foremen and set up a union registry booth in their lower-level management office. They jacked their computers into the mine network and began soliciting miners through the employee comm system to come sign up. Larry briefly swelled with pride as he recalled the admiration of the hundreds of Lunar miners who thanked him for the opportunity to contact the union without having to use the management-monitored public network.

Miners began trickling in. Larry collected their contact information and sent it via the hackers’ secured line to the group’s storage server and on to the AFL-CIO’s orbiting satellite. He was so consumed with the work – talking to miners about disease-causing working conditions, listening to company health insurance nightmares, and doing salary comparisons – that he barely heard the muffled explosions and gunfire above him. He left his comm turned off.

After what seemed like minutes, Georgia approached and tapped him on his arm. She looked angry.

"It’s been two hours," she said. "We need to go."

"Two hours! Damn, I still have a hundred guys to register!" He smiled. Georgia’s face remained grim.

"Do you believe this?," he continued. "This is going great! Tell them to hold them off for just a few more minutes."

"Larry, the Bloc is losing its position, and the police are threatening to turn their operation over to the military if we don’t give up. Now let’s take the back way out and leave before they arrest us or kill us all."

"They won’t kill us," Larry laughed. "Our lawyers know who’s down here. They’ll hammer the commissioner into an agreement. We’ll do a month of jail solidarity while everyone sorts it out, and then they’ll let us go. Relax!"

"Three pigs are dead, Larry. They are going to kill us. Now let’s drop this registry shit and leave." Her eyes were fierce. Larry’s face fell.

"No one gets killed, Georgia. You promised."

"Tough shit, Gandhi. If you don’t want to join them, then let’s move! Nobody cares about us out there, Larry. The lawyers can’t prove anything if we’re dead. And you’re the only left who is still caring about this registry bullshit. Everyone else is grabbing a weapon and getting ready. This is war!" Her hands grasped his overalls and pulled. Her eyes flashed.

"You said no one would get killed, Georgia."

"Cumon, asshole!"

He stumbled after her down a large, harshly lit tunnel of deep, dirty red. A train ride took him to the front lines of her "war," Platform #4. The noise of the Bloc’s flashbangs and beanbag guns was deafening. He turned his comm on to listen to the chatter.

Soon he was able to piece together the scene. The Bloc had the pigs pinned down in the tunnel that led to the train platform. Most Bloc kids were armed with homemade flash grenade mortars - little more than spring-loaded steel pipes - trying to blind and confuse the attackers while a select few Bloc gunners pelted them with shotgun beanbags and stopping foam. One Bloc kid breathlessly reported that the cops were sending armored troops down the tunnel just as Larry stepped off the train.

He looked up in time to see five or six canisters fly out of the tunnel and land in the group of Bloc kids. The cans exploded, filling the air with rubber stingballs and scattering the weaker Bloc positions. One caught Georgia in the chest, and another bruised his shoulder. He leapt to cover behind a garbage bin. He watched as Georgia ran, hunched over, toward a group of Bloc kids 30 meters away. More canisters exploded. Another stingball hit her in the leg just before she slumped behind their row of polymer shields.

Larry inched his head around to get a look at the tunnel entrance. A small armored car was launching the cans and lumbering toward the platform despite the Bloc’s best efforts to push mining equipment and structural beams in its path.

He felt something bump his leg and looked down to see a pistol lying next to it. He looked up. Georgia lifted her mask and smiled weakly at him. Then she turned and opened a rectangular case. She pulled out two metal tubes, connected them and then laid the newly assembled rocket launcher across her shoulder. She aimed it between the shields at the vehicle and squeezed the trigger.

"Georgia!" The din drowned Larry’s voice.

The tube flashed and the vehicle’s nose exploded. It stopped moving and began spewing smoke. Several armored cops came running from behind the wall of black vapor, firing automatic weapons. Bloc kids recoiled in pain as the rubber bullets pummeled their positions. Georgia’s group raised rifles of their own and returned fire…with real bullets. The troopers only stumbled briefly and continued firing – protected by their armor. One cop’s helmet exploded, and he fell, spraying his red life on the red ground.

Larry screamed. He grabbed the pistol and sprinted back toward the train. Jumping onto the tracks, he ran toward the planned fallback rendezvous point at Platform #3. He was only half a kilo down the tunnel when a pursuing trooper overtook him. Knocked onto his face, Larry rolled over, drew in his legs and kicked the cop in the chest. The cop staggered but recovered and raised the butt of his rifle over his helmeted head to strike. Larry focused on the mirrored faceplate, raised his pistol and fired at his own reflection.

Looking at all the blank spaces on Georgia’s empty Pignet profile, Larry was aware that he couldn’t remember much of what had happened after he shot the cop. He remembered the empty train that barreled past him in the tunnel, headed toward Platform #4. He remembered the stench of the pressurized emergency pod that took him to the surface. He didn’t remember losing his comm or riding the tram back to the city.

After seeing her mug shot, he now knew that Georgia was in custody and was not being charged with a felony. Perhaps that meant that she had escaped from the mine as well, only to be picked up in the city. Maybe the Bloc made it out unscathed again.

No, not this time. Someone was going to pay for those deaths. The pigs were out there at the convergence center right now making sure of that. Well, if someone had to pay, it wasn’t going to be him…or The Struggle.

Larry turned on a dictation program and began filling in the missing data fields on Georgia’s report. He told the machine her birthday, her Terran hometown, the last three times she’d been arrested, and her whereabouts for the past year and a half. He listed details about her involvement with the Bloc and left notes on Bloc weapons stashes and network pass codes. Then he logged out, turned off his old comm, and smashed it on the floor.

He felt a fresh ache from the stingball injury on his shoulder. He looked down at the blood-spattered police uniform that covered it. The cop’s coveralls, his life-saving disguise, fit his body better than the miner’s did. But they wouldn’t help him further if he didn’t leave soon. He searched the pockets and found a credit chip. Another pocket held some blinding spray. In his room, he gathered some nearly clean clothes into a spare backpack and grabbed all of his and his friends’ half-spent credit chips. He fished through a Bloc kid’s backpack and found a spaceline ticket card and a thermite grenade.

Back in the common room, he took one last look around and saw the pink wall hanging again.

"Keep living," he said, barely audible. "To hell with love."

He pulled the pin on the grenade, tossed it onto the particle board table, and walked out, closing the door behind him.

The End

Copyright © 2004 by Jay Friess



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