Leaving Battery Park is like crawling through the guts of a whale.
First there are cattle runs, four or five of them, to herd docile civilians in parallel streams for processing. Soothing pastel signage promises quick and imminent evacuation to those who are patient and wait their turn. The looped female voice I heard earlier—just as calm, just as reassuring, even more fucking irritating—says essentially the same thing for the benefit of the blind, the illiterate, and the voice actors guild. If you feel unwell, please make yourself known to medical staff immediately. Successful treatment of the Manhattan pathogen depends on early diagnosis. Martial law is for your protection. CryNet Security forces operate within a full federal mandate. Do not be alarmed. Do not be alarmed. Do not be alarmed.
Of course, if any civilian should be any less than docile there’s always the fallback solution they went with back at the waterfront. I encounter a few straggling CELLulites en route, running late to join the festivities at the castle; they seem more than willing to explore that alternative.
I help them.
At the end of the cattle run a workstation sparks intermittently on a table, too far gone to process my paperwork even if I had any, even if anyone was around to hand it to. Lightsticks and smart-painted arrows point me to a yellow hatch with a tiny window at eye level and a biohazard decal plastered underneath. I look through into a tunnel of shiny plastic, blown taut and puffy like one of those inflatable playrooms rich parents buy for four-year-old larvae.
A keypad glows on the wall to my right. I have no idea what the code is but the CRYNET NANOSUIT 2.0 encourages brute force on those awkward occasions when going through proper channels is not an option. The hatch rips free: Pressurized air sighs past and the tunnel beyond starts to sag.
Bad sign. I know something about these inflatable decon tunnels: the positive pressure in the passageway is supposed to only push back unruly microbes, not hold up the whole structure. It’s the higher-pressure air between the inner and outer walls that keeps the tunnel up. If opening the door is enough to cause a slump, the walls themselves must be leaking.
Like I said: the guts of a whale. The light shining through the walls is blood orange, like looking at the sun through closed eyelids. The walls themselves almost seem to breathe around you: air seeps from one bladder to the next, one segment of intestine still taut enough to stand in while the next is so flaccid you have to get down on hands and knees and push through curtains of billowing PVC. Disinfectant sprays like digestive juice from hidden nozzles; it condenses on my faceplate and fucks with my vision. The Reassuring Voice has a different routine in here, urges me to move to the next chamber when you hear the chime, tells me to remain calm and go with the doctors if the alarm sounds, hints at dire consequences for anyone who might obstruct medical or security personnel.
No alarms go off. No chimes sound. The only noises I hear are the endless maddening voice of Loop Lady, the soft wheezing of the tunnel between her announcements, and the scuttling of—
Wait a second: scuttling?
Something runs over my boot. Something the size of a sourdough loaf drops onto my face. I get a split-second glimpse of a very small fire hose nozzle or a very large hypodermic needle; things like gleaming scalpels rat-tat-tat against my helmet. I bring my fist up—pure defensive reflex—and I swear I nearly punch myself in the face before remembering the age-old question, Who wins when the awesome power of the Nanosuit 2.0’s artificial muscles meet the awesome protective shielding of the Nanosuit 2.0’s armored faceplate? I don’t know who wins but it’s pretty obvious that the loser is whoever’s wearing the Nanosuit 2.0 when we find out. Best-case scenario I end up with bug guts all over my windshield, and I haven’t seen any wipers on this thing. Worst-case, I punch right through the faceplate and smash my own brains against the back of the helmet.
So I deflect the swing at the last microsecond, pull off to the left, and however many thousand g’s these carbon-nanomyofibrils pull just kinda glance off the respirator and the momentum spins me around like I was sideswiped by a semi and I am going down, man, I am spinning like a ballet dancer into all that flaccid plastic and I can hear bladders popping and tearing all along the tunnel, wrapping around me and I am on the floor, gift-wrapped for the delectation of some giant mutant flea out of an old Bowie album.
Whatever it is, I land on it. It bursts under my ass like a burrito.
I buckle down and tear myself free and bull my way through the rest of the sequence. Maybe I see shadows moving behind the plastic, vague shapes the size of softballs and cocker spaniels. Maybe it’s my imagination. Valium Girl keeps urging me to remain calm, to be patient, to move forward when I hear the chime. Somehow she sounds a bit testier now. And when I hear for the hundredth time that Successful treatment of the Manhattan pathogen depends on early diagnosis I want to break out laughing—because nothing says medical competence and effective quarantine like a bunch of Mutant Chernobyl Bloodsuckers living in the heart of your decon facility.
It’s not working, Roger. Nice try, though.
Actually, I believe you. I’d know if you were lying, and even if I didn’t they’d probably leave you in the dark just on general principles. So let me fill you in: Your bosses just tried an emergency remote-shutdown through a backdoor optical channel in the twenty-thousand-angstrom range. Didn’t you see that little laser light winking in the air duct back there?
Oh, that’s right. You can’t see infrared.
The thing about radio, see, is you can always jam the signal. Optics are a lot tougher to hack. Pass a light beam through a cyclotron and it barely bends, you’re not gonna scramble that signal until the day we start building black holes for the battlefield. As long as your target’s line-of-sight, you’re golden.
So that’s the route CryNet went when they built in their kill switch—in case one of their Nanosuits fell into the wrong hands, you know, got used for good instead of evil. It’s wired into the saggital lens, and they just used it to try and shut me down.
I don’t think so. The only one I can hurt right now is you, and if they cared about dear old Roger Gillis they wouldn’t have sent you in here. They’re just trying to get back in control, but that’s the thing about heuristic battlefield systems: They’re built to adapt, so they adapt. Develop countermeasures to your countermeasures.
Hey, don’t look so worried. I don’t blame you; you didn’t even know. Hell, I don’t even blame them. I know the drill, I haven’t changed that much. If I was in their shoes I’d probably do the same thing.
Let’s see if they learn from their mistakes, hmm?