Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 24 of 64

He knew that guy from somewhere. The guy caught him staring and they locked eyes for a moment, and in that instant Art knew who the guy was. It was Tom, whom he had last seen stabbing at him with a tazer clutched in one shaking fist, face twisted in fury. Tom wasn’t wearing his killsport armor, just nondescript athletic wear, and he wasn’t with Lester and Tony, but it was him. Art watched Tom cock his head to jog his memory, and then saw Tom recognize him. Uh-oh.

“We have to go. Now,” he said to Fede, standing and walking away quickly, hand going to his comm. He stopped short of dialing 999, though—he wasn’t up for another police-station all-nighter. He got halfway up Piccadilly before looking over his shoulder, and he saw Fede shouldering his way through the lunchtime crowd, looking pissed. A few paces behind him came Tom, face contorted in a sadistic snarl.

Art did a little two-step of indecision, moving towards Fede, then away from him. He met Tom’s eyes again, and Tom’s ferocious, bared teeth spurred him on. He turned abruptly into the tube station, waved his comm at a turnstile and dove into the thick of the crowd heading down the stairs to the Elephant and Castle platform. His comm rang.

“What is wrong with you, man?” Fede said.

“One of the guys who mugged me,” he hissed. “He was sitting right across from us. He’s a couple steps behind you. I’m in the tube station. I’ll ride a stop and catch a cab back to the office.”

“He’s behind me? Where?”

Art’s comm lit up with a grainy feed from Fede’s comm. It jiggled as Fede hustled through the crowd.

“Jesus, Fede, stop! Don’t go to the goddamned tube station—he’ll follow you here.”

“Where do you want me to go? I got to go back to the office.”

“Don’t go there either. Get a cab and circle the block a couple times. Don’t lead him back.”

“This is stupid. Why don’t I just call the cops?”

“Don’t bother. They won’t do shit. I’ve been through this already. I just want to lose that guy and not have him find me again later.”


Art squeaked as Tom filled his screen, then passed by, swinging his head from side to side with saurian rage.

“What?” Fede said.

“That was him. He just walked past you. He must not know you’re with me. Go back to the office, I’ll meet you there.”

“That dipshit? Art, he’s all of five feet tall!”

“He’s a fucking psycho, Fede. Don’t screw around with him or he’ll give you a Tesla enema.”

Fede winced. “I hate tazers.”

“The train is pulling in. I’ll talk to you later.”

“OK, OK.”

Art formed up in queue with the rest of the passengers and shuffled through the gas chromatograph, tensing up a little as it sniffed his personal space for black powder residue. Once on board, he tore a sani-wipe from the roll in the ceiling, ignoring the V/DT ad on it, and grabbed the stainless steel rail with it, stamping on the drifts of sani-wipe mulch on the train’s floor.

He made a conscious effort to control his breathing, willed his heart to stop pounding. He was still juiced with adrenaline, and his mind raced. He needed to do something constructive with his time, but his mind kept wandering. Finally, he gave in and let it wander.

Something about the counterman, about his slips of paper, about the MassPike. It was knocking around in his brain and he just couldn’t figure out how to bring it to the fore. The counterman kept his slips in the basement so that he could sit among them and see how his business had grown, every slip a person served, a ring on the till, money in the bank. Drivers on the MassPike who used traffic jams to download music from nearby cars and then paid to license the songs. Only they didn’t. They circumvented the payment system in droves, running bootleg operations out of their cars that put poor old Napster to shame for sheer volume. Some people drove in promiscuous mode, collecting every song in every car on the turnpike, cruising the tunnels that riddled Boston like mobile pirate radio stations, dumping their collections to other drivers when it came time to quit the turnpike and settle up for their music at the toll booth.

It was these war-drivers that MassPike was really worried about. Admittedly, they actually made the system go. Your average fartmobile driver had all of ten songs in his queue, and the short-range, broadband connection you had on MassPike meant that if you were stuck in a jam of these cars, your selection would be severely limited. The war-drivers, though, were mobile jukeboxes. The highway patrol had actually seized cars with over 300,000 tracks on their drives. Without these fat caches on the highway, MassPike would have to spend a fortune on essentially replicating the system with their own mobile libraries.

The war-drivers were the collective memory of the MassPike’s music-listeners.

Ooh, there was a tasty idea. The collective memory of MassPike. Like Dark Ages scholars, memorizing entire texts to preserve them against the depredations of barbarism, passing their collections carefully from car to car. He’d investigated the highway patrol reports on these guys, and there were hints there, shadowy clues of an organized subculture, one with a hierarchy, where newbies tricked out their storage with libraries of novel and rare tuneage in a bid to convince the established elite that they were worthy of joining the collective memory.

Thinking of war-drivers as a collective memory was like staring at an optical illusion and seeing the vase emerge from the two faces. Art’s entire perception of the problem involuted itself in his mind. He heard panting and realized it was him; he was hyperventilating.

If these guys were the collective memory of the MassPike, that meant that they were performing a service, reducing MassPike’s costs significantly. That meant that they were tastemakers, injecting fresh music into the static world of Boston drivers. Mmmm. Trace that. Find out how influential they were. Someone would know—the MassPike had stats on how songs migrated from car to car. Even without investigating it, Art just knew that these guys were offsetting millions of dollars in marketing.

So. So. So. So, feed that culture. War-drivers needed to be devoted to make it into the subculture. They had to spend four or five hours a day cruising the freeways to accumulate and propagate their collections. They couldn’t leave the MassPike until they found someone to hand their collections off to.

What if MassPike rewarded these guys? What if MassPike charged nothing for people with more than, say 50,000 tunes in their cache? Art whipped out his comm and his keyboard and started making notes, snatching at the silver rail with his keyboard hand every time the train jerked and threatened to topple him. That’s how the tube cops found him, once the train reached Elephant and Castle and they did their rounds, politely but firmly rousting him.

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