What if nothing were private — not even your most closely guarded thoughts and memories?
In Book I of Eric Hanberg’s brilliant new sci-fi trilogy set in 2081, the latest technology has made privacy as we know it obsolete…
by Erik Hanberg
Byron Shaw can track and find anyone on Earth. Except the people who tried to kill him.
By 2081, privacy no longer exists. The Lattice enables anyone to relive any moment of their life. People can experience past and present events — or see into the mind of anyone, living or dead. Most people love it. Some want to destroy it.
Colonel Byron Shaw has just saved the Lattice from the most dangerous attack in its history. Now he must find those responsible. But there’s a question nobody’s asking: does the Lattice deserve to be saved? The answer may cost him his life.
5-star praise for The Lead Cloak:
Gripping, suspenseful, and thoroughly enjoyable
“…thoroughly developed and completely believable, drawing upon the utterly current theme of privacy. But, you don’t have to like sci-fi to get gripped by the suspenseful plot, which left me stunned by its unexpected twists.”
Believable tech and scary social implications
an excerpt from
The Lead Cloak
(The Lattice Trilogy, Book I)
by Erik Hanberg
The Year 2081
Byron Shaw was in a jump. For ten glorious minutes, the men’s room was transformed into a small forested hill at the edge of some Pennsylvania farmland.
The body of Colonel Shaw was in a bathroom stall, but his mind was two centuries in the past, visiting another Colonel—Joshua Chamberlain—who was protecting Little Round Top from the Confederate army that was attempting to flank his position.
“We’ve only got enough ammunition for a single volley,” Shaw/Chamberlain said to his closest troops. “We’ll use bayonets and attack down the hill, the left flank starting their charge first and the rest following, like … like a swinging door. Pass the word down the line and tell them to wait for my order.”
Chamberlain waited for the order to reach the men under his command, his face projecting calm.
Despite the years between them, Shaw could feel how intentional the expression was, how much Chamberlain was masking his fear. He felt the doubting questions begin to bubble up in Chamberlain’s mind. Was this lunacy? How would his family and friends back in Maine remember him if this failed? Was this the last desperate act of a desperate man?
There was no time for such thoughts, though, and Chamberlain pushed his doubts aside. He couldn’t count on any more time from the rebels at the bottom of the hill.
“Fix bayonets!” Shaw/Chamberlain cried.
As the Union line began mounting their bayonets on their rifles, Shaw felt a pinch in his right ring finger. In fact, the small metal ring had gone quite cold, causing the metal to constrict and squeeze against his skin. It would squeeze more tightly if he didn’t jump back from Gettysburg within the next five seconds.
With a sigh, Shaw touched the ring against the implant in his right temple, and immediately Chamberlain and the Union army were gone, replaced by the drab blue metal door of a bathroom stall.
He shouldn’t have tried the jump when he was on duty. He never got to stay longer than a few minutes before his ring pinched with an urgent request. When off duty in his quarters he could jump for a few solid hours, choosing a soldier at random and following him and his thoughts around. Most people would consider that kind of jumping to be boring, but Shaw preferred it … if for no other reason than it allowed him to continue to tell himself he wasn’t an addict.
Shaw washed up quickly and found a young man waiting for him just outside the bathroom door. He was a new face … Yang? First Lieutenant Tim Yang, Shaw remembered. Yang was shifting from foot to foot. His nervousness wasn’t a surprise—it was his first day at the Installation and he’d just interrupted his superior officer in the john.
“I’m sorry, sir, they said I should come and—” Yang started, but Shaw wouldn’t let him finish.
“No apologies. Work here a few more days, and you can be guaranteed someone will have gotten you off the can eight times. Can I borrow your cuff for just a second?”
Yang held it up, confused, and Shaw played with it for a few seconds. “What’s the message?”
“An intruder on the desert sensors. One hundred ten kilometers away.”
“One ten? Shit.” Shaw dropped Yang’s arm and together they hurried down the corridor.
“You see how I wedged the coat sleeve under your cufflink, by the way? Now you’ll always see your cuff. It won’t get lost up the sleeve.”
Yang looked down at his wrist as they walked. “Thank you, sir.”
“Don’t mention it. It’s the easiest way to look sharp in these shit uniforms,” Shaw said, rapping his hand against his standard-issue soft-shelled helmet. “Try it on the other sleeve after we take care of this raider.”
Shaw looked Yang over as they walked. The young man looked like he was trying to find a corner to hide in. “Awfully young to be here, aren’t you?”
“Just a few months away from twenty-four, sir.”
“Shouldn’t you still be in the Academy?”
“My parents believed childhood was for studying, not playing. It meant I went a lot faster than everyone else.”
“No doubt. I wasn’t out of the Academy until I was twenty-six. So. What do we know about the raider?”
“Major Iverson said it was a hovercraft. Flying just a few feet over the desert surface. It’s doing three hundred K per hour,” Yang added, his voice strained. Shaw recognized the note of panic. He’d hoped to put Yang at ease. Shaw remembered his own nerves during his first raid, back before they dulled into routine. All they did now was interrupt his jumps back to the Civil War.
“Any chance it’s just a lost tourist?”
“No, sir. It’s on a direct collision course from West South West.”
“Out of Death Valley. That explains why we didn’t catch the signal until now.”
“Visuals are tricky out there, with the heat. Cloaked planes or drones can get through easily. So instead we have sensors across the desert. But even those can be fooled. If you move slowly enough, if there’s enough sand in the air, or the heat you kick out isn’t much different from the radiant heat … you can get pretty far through before we catch you. How strong is the radiation signature?”
“No radiation, sir.”
“Really?” Shaw’s eyebrows arched and he quickened his pace. No radiation signature meant the pilot wasn’t carrying a dirty bomb. But it was so rare these days that he felt himself growing uneasy. “Conventionals, then. Unusual.”
“What’s unusual, sir?”
“The raiders gave up on conventional weapons years ago. In theory, they’d work well enough, but only if the pilot thinks he can get within just a few kilometers. And no one even tries that anymore. Hmm.” Shaw began thinking out loud, partly for Yang’s benefit. “All right, so we have a raider about a hundred clicks out heading straight for us. At three hundred kilometers per hour we’ve got fifteen minutes before he’s within range to fire a conventional missile.” Shaw grunted. “Well, he’s already closer than a lot of raiders have gotten recently. Who knows, Yang? Not too much farther and you’ll remember your first day as the closest anyone’s gotten to the Lattice in ten years.”
Shaw smiled widely at Yang, his face fully reflecting his excitement. He could feel adrenaline pumping through him at the prospect of an actual fight. Normally the computer would have given his team so much warning that—if he hadn’t been in the bathroom—he would have already dispatched the raider into a cloud of smoke and sand. But today … things might actually get interesting. If there were more days like this, he thought, maybe he wouldn’t have to keep jumping back to the Battle of Gettysburg. As much as he enjoyed the historical battles, they didn’t get his blood pumping—he already knew the outcome. No matter how many times he jumped, no matter the different perspectives he found, the battle of Little Round Top stayed frustratingly the same.
Although the outcome of the fight today was pretty well preordained, too. The lone pilot had nothing but some conventional weapons, probably decades out of date—or worse, made at home. He had no chance. Already, lasers on the ground and in orbit above them were waiting for Shaw’s order to blow the hovercraft out of the sky. If through some shocking feat it could survive those, Shaw still had a small array of tactical nukes under his command. As long as they were detonated more than ten kilometers away from the Installation, they wouldn’t damage the Lattice.
Shaw put his hand on the metallic door at the end of the hall, waiting for his fingerprints, body heat, and DNA to be recognized. Not foolproof, of course, but what was anymore?
It would almost be worth it to let a raider get close, just to put a little thrill into the game, Shaw thought, before immediately pushing the thought away. It’s that kind of thinking that can cost you your job, he told himself.
His hand cleared him for admittance, and Shaw entered the command center. As the door opened, he told Yang, “My first priority is downing this hovercraft, but stay close to me. I know we’re a little different than what you were used to in Geneva, so I’ll do my best to answer any questions.”
The familiar glow of screens lit up the room. Shaw went to the center of the room to the large table and glanced through each illuminated screen. He focused on the map first, confirming everything Yang had relayed to him. The craft was now within 100 kilometers and had less than fifteen minutes before it was within range to deploy its weapons.
Shaw looked for more data about this unusual raider. What game was he playing at, trying to run against the most sophisticated weapons system in the world with—with what exactly?
“Who jumped to the hovercraft?”
“Me, sir,” Johan Iverson answered from behind his station.
“What’s it carrying?”
“Antiques, sir. Six Interceptor missiles, at least fifty years old. No other weapons. The whole thing looks like it was cobbled together in someone’s garage. It’s lucky it’s even two meters off the ground.”
“No, sir. A single pilot.”
Shaw continued to look over the displays.
“Are lasers targeted?”
“Yes, sir. We’re having trouble bringing the ground-based lasers online for some reason, but both Thunderbolt satellites locked on as soon as the AI found the hovercraft. They’re waiting on your command.”
Shaw nodded. He looked over at Yang, who was standing behind him—just a little too close, like a loyal terrier. Shaw struggled to come up with words to explain to him why a knot was slowly forming in his gut. He looked back at the table and muttered, “Something’s wrong.”
“Sir?” Yang asked, stepping even closer.
“No one flies conventionals at us anymore.”
“Why is that significant, sir?”
“Such low tech … against all this?” His hand swept over the table and the room, encompassing the satellites and lasers in the process. “It’ll be like shooting fish in a barrel. And yet … it doesn’t feel right. He’s got his heat modulated to the outside air temperature within a hundredth of a degree. It enabled him to get as far as it did without the computer finally recognizing the heat difference. He goes through all that trouble, but he doesn’t even bother buying a dirty bomb? You see what I’m getting at?”
Yang shook his head. “It seems straightforward to me, sir. By the book.”
“And how does the book say we should proceed when we have a single pilot raider this close to the Installation?”
“Make contact with the pilot and warn him off.”
That had never worked once, of course, but Shaw nodded. “Right you are. What frequency is our pilot on?” Shaw called to Iverson. Protocol dictated that whoever jumped to the raider looked for weapons and looked inside the cockpit, taking note of all communication devices.
“Old fashioned wireless. Channel four.”
“Grab the wireless over there, would you, Yang?”
Yang scampered to the wall where it hung and returned with the transmitter and receiver.
Shaw took it up in his hand, noticing the curly black cord that stretched from the console to the microphone. Sometimes he couldn’t get over that people once used things like this. He pressed the button on the side. “Unidentified hovercraft, unidentified hovercraft, you have crossed into restricted airspace. Please drop your speed and turn around. We will escort you out of the restricted area. Do you copy? Over.”
There was silence, and after a few seconds of it Shaw repeated his message.
“Eighty clicks out,” Iverson called.
Shaw picked up the wireless again. “Listen to me. You know what weapons we have here … what we have pointed at you. It’s never too late to turn back … It doesn’t have to end this way.”
Shaw waited. That hadn’t been by the book, and Yang was giving him a funny look. It had been worth a shot. Anything to shake off this feeling.
Shaw opened his mouth to speak, but the wireless crackled. “The future is uncertain. If humanity has one saving grace, it’s that the Lattice can’t see into the future. I strike this blow because our pasts and our private thoughts should be our own and no one else’s.”
This was the first time anyone had spoken back and Shaw and Iverson exchanged a surprised look. Should he attempt to ward the pilot off again? He looked back to the map screen and saw how fast the hovercraft was approaching. Could he reason with the pilot? He thought for a few precious seconds before he gently set the wireless down.
“Fire Thunderbolts at the intruder,” Shaw said.
“Firing Thunderbolts,” Iverson repeated.
Shaw touched his ring to the red symbol of the hovercraft on the table and then brought it to his temple. Within a second he was moving at tremendous speed over the bright desert, perfectly tracking the hovercraft. Iverson hadn’t exaggerated its state of disrepair. It was a bucket of bolts. Metal plates seemed to hang off it haphazardly—some plates were scorched black, as if they’d just survived an accident in the shop; others looked like they’d been patched on from a bright red sports car.
The blast should be coming within seconds. He waited … waited … waited.
Just when Shaw started to wonder if something had malfunctioned with the Thunderbolt satellites, the blast came, shrieking toward him. Even though the blast couldn’t touch him during a jump, Shaw flinched.
He waited for the burst of flame to clear … and he was shocked to see the hovercraft had survived, hurtling through the air at a breakneck speed. It looked like a brand new vehicle. The metal plates had fallen away during the laser blast to reveal a sleek black probe that must have formed a secret inner skeleton to the ship.
Was it moving faster too? Shaw felt like he was flying at least twice as fast over the ground.
His mind was still inside the jump watching the hovercraft, but his body—still back at the table—shouted, “Fire Thunderbolts again!”
Shaw waited for the next round of lasers. He heard the lasers cut through the air more than he saw them. The craft dropped closer to the desert floor under the direct hit, but to Shaw’s amazement, it stayed aloft, and continued its deadly trajectory.
Shaw touched his ring to his temple and his mind was back at his table. The first thing he noticed was the bleating siren—an automatic system when a raider was within fifty kilometers of impact. He couldn’t think of the last time he’d heard it.
“They were counting on the lasers!” Shaw exclaimed. The readout was showing that the hovercraft was indeed moving much faster. Estimated impact was now less than six minutes.
“That rusty hovercraft was just a shell,” Iverson cursed. “The energy from the laser was somehow transferred into propulsion.”
Shaw looked to Iverson, but his ring had just tapped his temple. Shaw turned to another officer. “Bailey! Are the ground-based lasers locked?”
“No, sir,” she answered. “They’re still offline. We don’t know why.”
Shaw didn’t waste time with screaming the What? he wanted to shout in reply. “Get Braybrook. I need nukes online.”
He pressed his hand on the table and said, “L T C T T W 3 V 1 1 G.” DNA, heat, fingerprints, and now his voice print on a long string of memorized numbers and letters. Even this could be fooled if someone went to the trouble, but it would have been unlikely.
“Authorization confirmed by General Braybrook,” Bailey answered. “Nukes are tracking the target. Command now fully on your screen.” A portion of the map on the screen changed to a sequence of six red buttons. All he had to do was drag one of them … and literally drop it on its target.
Iverson had jumped back. “The control panel looks ancient, but underneath it, it’s all modern. More than modern. I didn’t recognize all of it. The whole thing was a goddamn con job! And I fucking fell for it,” Iverson spat. “Working on ground lasers, sir.”
Shaw looked back at the table. Thirty-five kilometers. Less than three minutes.
“Forget it. I’m not sure they would have been effective anyway. We’re taking the ship out with a nuke and we’ll figure out what the hell happened later.”
“Sir?” said a voice beside him.
Shaw ignored Yang. “Bailey, sound the radiation siren. We need to give a warning to everyone in the tower that nukes are about to be deployed.”
Throughout the Installation a new siren began to scream.
Shaw watched the clock. He wanted to give the people in the tower at least thirty seconds notice. The hovercraft would just be seeing the top of the tower over the landscape.
“Sir?” Yang asked again.
“What is it, Lieutenant?”
“Thank you for showing me about the cuffs.” Yang sounded almost regretful.
“What?” Shaw asked, looking up. Yang was at his side, too close. In his peripheral vision, Shaw saw Yang’s arm coming toward his hip, something black in his hand.
Shaw was too shocked to have consciously reacted, but he felt his body twist away, and his hand groped for Yang’s wrist. Instead of his wrist, he caught Yang’s thumb. Grasping for something, he felt the tips of two fingers touch a black pad in Yang’s hand.
There wasn’t any doubt what it was now. A nanoshock. A wet black mass of millions of nano robots, programmed to soak through the skin on contact and attack nerve cells. Their effect—
Intense pain, somehow mixed with an intense numbness. It radiated through Shaw’s body from his fingers. He recognized the sensation from a brief jump during training. Somehow the pain was worse when it was happening to his own body. Shaw tried to cry out, but none of his nerves were fully working and he only managed a grunt. His legs crumpled beneath him and he fell to the floor.
The inky blackness was spreading, visibly crawling down his two fingers.
Above him, Yang was watching him writhe, almost as shocked as Shaw. Like he’d never seen the effects before.
Yang shook himself out of it, and moved his attention to the table.
The nukes, Shaw realized through the pain. He was going for the nukes.
Shaw struggled to move his arm. He had seconds left before the nanoshock left him totally immobile. His fingers were inches away from Yang’s leg. With all of his mental energy focused on the effort, Shaw lunged, his two infected fingers clasping around Yang’s ankle. Yang looked down at him, surprise on his face. Only a second or two before—there! Yang’s face wrenched and his body trembled. He was clinging to the table for support.
Shaw tried to let go, but he found his body didn’t respond at all. Any longer to grab Yang and his body would have been in the final stages of the shock, unable to move. But had it been enough? Yang was doubled over. Had he fired the nukes?
Shaw’s vision started to go, and through the growing darkness, he thought he saw Iverson throwing Yang away from the table. There was another figure too—someone at Shaw’s side, pulling up his shirt. Shaw thought he saw a needle slide into his forearm.
Instantly, the cry of pain he’d been saving up was unleashed. A terrible scream that made everything feel worse. But at least he could move. Shaw curled himself into a ball, willing the pain to lessen.
A hand was on his shoulder. “Sir? Sir? Are you all right?” Iverson. Shaw felt better, knowing that if he could recognize a voice the shock must not have reached his brain.
“The hovercraft,” Shaw coughed. “Not me. The …”
“I got it. Twelve kilometers away. Sir, we need to—”
Shaw moved his jaw again, recovering his muscles. “Help me up.”
“You need to take care of yourself, sir.”
“Help me up!”
Iverson and the other figure—a medic, it turned out—lifted him up. Shaw leaned on the table, his eyes trying to focus on the map. It kept shifting in and out of focus. Shaw took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
He counted to five and opened them. Things were clearer. His mind calmer. He looked at the map again.
The hovercraft’s trail was traced across the desert, ending in a red dot that was marked with a radiation symbol. Shaw looked down at the nuke count. Empty.
“You used all six nukes?”
“No, sir. Yang tried to deploy them against the Installation itself, but the AI asked for a second confirmation code. He started sending the nukes off into the hills, away from the hovercraft. He got five off. You stopped him from deploying the last one. If he’d gotten it off, the Installation would have been defenseless against the hovercraft … we’d all be dead.”
“You only had one shot at it?”
“Well, the computer did most of the work,” Iverson said, letting a grin spread over his face.
Shaw attempted a smile back. It was interrupted by a deep cough, and his face soured. “Let’s not celebrate too much. No raider’s ever gotten so close to the Lattice. There’s going to be hell to pay.”
Shaw paced Marc Braybrook’s office, waiting for the general to return and wondering if his career would survive the meeting.
When he got tired of pacing, he inspected the tips of his two infected fingers. They looked like blackened steel where they had made contact with the surface of Yang’s handheld weapon.
The nanoshock was a simple enough tool. Like a makeup compact, it could sit safely in a pocket until it was opened. And then … Shaw shuddered. There were low-pain and non-fatal strains of the bots for self-defense that legally could be printed at home. Shaw knew this one was not from a home printer. Yang had intended to kill.
Braybrook entered and sat down behind his mahogany desk, his eyes glancing at Shaw’s fingers. “You’re lucky you just grazed the fucking thing.”
“Yes, sir,” Shaw said, dropping his hand to his side. “Although the disinfecting bots the doc gave me didn’t work.”
Braybrook’s eyebrow went up. “There’s no antidote?”
“It stopped the pain, and stopped it from spreading. But the black’s obviously still there. They need time to reconfigure the antidote, I guess. Doc said the shock was ‘encrypted’ somehow.”
Braybrook grunted. “State of the art hovercraft, why not a state of the art nanoshock too?”
“Sit down, Shaw,” Braybrook said.
Shaw tried to focus on the General, his wide build, his graying moustache and gray eyes—though didn’t the right one look a little brighter?
“If you think I’m going to debrief you without a scribe …” the General said, and Shaw nodded, not surprised. Somewhere, probably in the next room, Braybrook’s assistant had jumped into Shaw’s mind and was feeding his thoughts verbatim onto Braybrook’s contact lens. It had been a while since anyone had spoken to Shaw with a scribe. But after today …
“Exactly,” the General confirmed.
“Would you like a verbal report, sir?”
“For old-time’s sake,” Braybrook said, with a trace of a smile.
“At oh-nine-fifty-six this morning Lieutenant Yang alerted me to an inbound raider,” Shaw began, and took Braybrook through the course of events that morning. It was a formality, of course. Braybrook and the Army’s team of investigators would have jumped back to see everything they needed to. Making Shaw retell it, though, allowed them to assess Shaw’s emotional response to each event, and to see what information he privileged, what he thought was important.
“In short,” Shaw concluded, “it was an expert attack, coordinated perfectly and capitalizing on all our weaknesses. They knew a jumper wouldn’t check far enough to detect that the hovercraft’s initial appearance was just a shell. They somehow took our ground-based lasers offline. And for the first time, they were able to turn one of our own without anyone knowing. Hence your scribe, I’m guessing. It was only thanks to Iverson’s quick actions that we were able to stop the hovercraft before it was in range.”
“First, to echo what Iverson said to you earlier, it was your quick actions to turn the shock back on your assailant that saved the day. And second, it turns out that the raiders didn’t turn one of our own. That wasn’t Yang this morning.”
Shaw sat up with a start. The scribe wouldn’t have a problem registering his true surprise. “Who was it, then?”
“A young man by the name of Yukihiro Ono. A Japanese national.”
Shaw was stunned. He thought about how often he’d recited numbers and pressed his hand against doors, thinking it was more theater than security. That the raiders had actually succeeded was … “I’m speechless, sir.”
“Getting a double into our command center wasn’t even the raiders’ most impressive feat,” Braybrook continued. “It’s their patience. We traced the hovercraft’s path to a hangar on the edge of the desert. It’s been complete for four months, waiting. They needed someone on the inside for their plan to work, and Yang’s transfer from Geneva gave them the opening they needed. Ono went through some intensive cosmetic surgery and makeup work to get him to look the part, but it was enough for him to be ready to report to duty this morning as Yang.”
“What happened to the real Yang?”
“Last night Yang went to sleep … and didn’t wake up. Drugged, not fatally, thank God. We’re still not sure how they delivered the drug, but they doped him so strongly that when the medical team got to his apartment an hour ago, they were barely able to bring him out of it,” Braybrook said.
Shaw frowned. “They were running a real risk that we’d check out Yang.”
“Of course we checked out Yang. We checked every thought he’s ever had since he was two, practically. We even jumped last night—after he’d been drugged no less. Sometimes people get antsy the night before they start here so we check in before they start.”
“How could we have missed it then?”
“Because Yang wasn’t conscious of being drugged. Standard protocol is that the night before someone starts, we check their thoughts. As far as the jumper was concerned, Tim Yang was in bed, sleeping soundly, and excited about starting today. We had no idea he hadn’t woken up.”
“When was the next scheduled jump into Yang?”
“We stopped that practice four months ago—there were too many ways to game the system if we had regularly scheduled checks. Instead the AI randomly gives jumpers their assignments. Even the jumpers don’t know who they’re looking in on until a minute or two before their jump. Even so, the system’s designed so that everyone working here or at the Geneva Lattice—me included, in case you were wondering—is checked at least three times a week.”
“When was the last jump into me?”
“Besides right now? Saturday.”
Three days ago. “And did you find anything?”
“Of course not. What concerns me was something from today.” The General quoted Shaw’s thoughts back to him, reading from his contact lens, “It would almost be worth it to let a raider get close, just to put a little thrill into the game.”
“And you know I immediately pushed the idea away,” Shaw said, his voice tight.
“You did,” Braybrook acknowledged. “But your next thought was, ‘It’s that kind of thinking that can cost you your job.’ That’s not exactly refreshing. We’d rather your next thought would have been, ‘But putting my desire for thrill-seeking ahead of the Lattice is a fucking bad idea.’”
“I can’t take it back, sir.”
“No. You can’t.”
Shaw nodded, thinking. After a few short seconds, the conclusion he came to was: You don’t trust me anymore.
General Braybrook sat forward. “That’s not true, Byron.” Usually anyone using a scribe played into the illusion of having a normal conversation, but Braybrook didn’t seem to care about convention today. “You feel that you owe your life to the Lattice, we know that. We don’t doubt your loyalties—your actions today to save it were proof enough. But the head of security for the Lattice can’t be wishing his job had more excitement. Wishing it is more like … like a risky bayonet charge that pulls victory from the jaws of defeat.”
“That’s not fair, sir.”
“This is not Little Round Top. We can’t afford to have another raid like this.”
“I know. But I can’t have you in this position while you’re feeling this way. We came so close today. In the grand scheme of things twelve kilometers may as well have been twelve meters. We were a hair’s-breadth away from losing the Lattice.”
“Geneva could have taken over.”
“We have a fail-safe so we never have to use it!” Braybrook sat back and stared at Shaw. “There’s something else. Dvorak, L.R.I., and the other three companies that produce Lattice readers have agreed to pool their resources and pay for a massive new ring of lead shielding around the Lattice tower. The President’s given the green light for them to start work immediately.”
“That’s very generous of them, but I should be on site for that. I want to stay here, sir,” Shaw said. He wasn’t sure how much more clearly he could say it—or think it.
“I know. But for now we can’t allow it. Besides—”
“So you say you trust me, but you don’t want me running the show for awhile. Is this a paid leave of absence?” It was dangerous to interrupt a general, but Braybrook looked understanding.
“On the contrary. If it’s excitement you want, I’d like to give it you.”
Shaw opened his mouth and closed it again. He waited.
“I want you to track down these raiders. Find them and arrest them.”
“With all due respect, sir, now that the attack has happened, tracking them down is as easy as a few hours of jumping. I hardly think that qualifies as exciting or even interesting.”
Braybrook shook his head. “You’re wrong. We’ve already started our research, and what we’ve found is worrisome to say the least. Ono had no direct knowledge of the hovercraft’s design. So far as the preliminary jumpers can tell, he never talked to anyone. If he’d failed in his mission, if we’d caught him before the attack, he wouldn’t have been able to tell us anything relevant about the hovercraft, except the estimated time of the attack. Same with the pilot. But someone coordinated this attack.
“These raiders are the most sophisticated we’ve seen. We’ve been combing over everything we can of Ono and the pilot—you’ll have access to all the investigation’s jump logs of course—but we’ve got no hard leads to whoever planned this attack. These raiders know what they’re doing, and they’re still out there.”
Shaw was silent. If the masterminds behind the morning’s raid were still alive, then they were almost certainly listening to this conversation now.
Braybrook nodded, confirming Shaw’s thought. No more secrets, not even their thoughts.
Except one. How could these raiders orchestrate a complex military operation and stay hidden from all the jumps that would follow? He started to wonder what it would take. De-centralization, trust of shared-purpose, trust of strangers. It couldn’t be possible, could it?
Shaw’s mind was full of speculation when he saw Braybrook grinning at him. “It looks to me like this is going to be right up your alley.”
Shaw stood, and nodded. “I’ll find them for you, sir. Thank you for the opportunity.”
“Go home, Shaw. Spend a night with your wife. You don’t need to be here for this. Just … be watchful.”
“We don’t quite know what these raiders are capable of. I worry that you will make too tempting a target, especially if you make progress.”
“Then it’ll be that much easier for you to track them,” Shaw said, and there wasn’t any bravado behind his words.
“Nevertheless, I’m assigning you Yang—the real Tim Yang. He’ll accompany you, and protect you.”
“I’ve never actually worked with Yang, sir. Wouldn’t Iverson or someone else I know be more suitable?”
Braybrook shook his head. “He’s learned our security measures in preparation for starting here, and he knows Geneva’s security, too. Besides, the world just watched someone with Yang’s face nearly destroy the Lattice. I imagine seeing his face will provoke some … interesting reactions during your interviews. Understood?” He didn’t wait for confirmation, and dismissed Shaw with a small nod. “Get to it, Colonel.”
The military shuttle from the Lattice Installation to San Francisco was less than an hour. From there Shaw would charter a slingshot back to his home in St. Louis, another two hours. Normally he only made the trip for long three-day weekends to see Ellie, but he hoped to do as much jumping from home as he could before this new job took him away again.
As the shuttle turned, Shaw looked from the brown desert to the sprawl of the Lattice Installation. At its center was the one hundred meter tower, gleaming in the bright sunlight. The warmth of the sun couldn’t penetrate to the inner core, the home of the Lattice itself. Kept near absolute zero, the lattice of rhodium atoms was well-insulated from the desert heat. Those thin fibers of rhodium atoms, arranged in a lattice-like structure … that’s what today had been about, that’s what he’d nearly died trying to protect.
Shaw looked through his small window on the shuttle until the Lattice Installation was out of sight before he settled back in his chair.
The Lattice … he didn’t have to be at the Installation to feel its presence.
Anyone connected to it could have universal knowledge of the present and past. The entire scope of human history, planetary history, astronomical history, was captured in the Lattice.
As easily as Shaw escaped into 1863 and the Battle of Gettysburg, so too could he soar over the rings of Saturn, as he’d done once on a tour of the solar system he’d taken with Ellie. So too could he witness Pompeii’s eruption. Travel into the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. Listen to Socrates speak in the Forum. Travel to the interior of the sun. Watch Columbus make landfall in the New World.
So too could he jump into the mind of another, as he’d done many times for work and recreation. After all, what was the mind but a series of electrical impulses, just as easily mapped as any other series of atoms?
He’d jumped into the mind of Einstein, to experience the rush of thoughts at the exact instant his mind was illuminated with the special theory of relativity. He’d jumped into the minds of women giving birth. Babies being birthed. People at the instant they died. Schizophrenics. Sociopaths. Artists. Politicians. Prophets. Cats! Dolphins!
He’d jumped into the mind of Jesus Christ, as almost all recreational jumpers had done at some point or another, just to see what was there. And, just as the jumpers before him had discovered, he found a mess of indecipherable thoughts. The mind of a madman? Or just what you would expect from a man who was both God and man? Even looking into the mind of Jesus gave equal evidence to the devout and the skeptics alike.
Humanity had the power to see and know everything, if only they bothered to look.
What an enormous gift! What an enormous burden.
Maybe humanity wasn’t ready to cope with such abundance of intimate knowledge. But no one had asked humanity. In the twenty-eight years since Wulfgang Huxley had invented the Lattice, its continued ability to know more and more about people’s daily lives became … assumed. Commonplace.
The first incarnation of the Lattice was as a simple remote viewer, a camera that didn’t need a lens. A camera that could see anywhere in the solar system. Then scientists realized they could configure the Lattice to peer into the past as well. By the time those same scientists translated the Lattice’s data into decipherable thoughts, it was so entrenched in the world’s economy and society that there was no turning back. It was part of people’s lives, and the march of progress couldn’t be turned back. People just … adjusted.
Adjusted to knowing that every second of their lives could be mapped by anyone with a passing interest. Adjusted to knowing that every stray thought they’d had—every horrible, vile, evil thought—could be known.
The government required search warrants before they spied on anyone’s thoughts. But everyone understood that was a polite fiction. Most people didn’t care. They were more concerned about a nosy neighbor, a boss checking on an employee’s productivity, a wife seeing if her husband was faithful.
And not only whether a husband was faithful, but whether he had looked with lust at a coworker.
At a best friend.
At a daughter.
Shaw hoped that he and Ellie had found a healthy way to handle the Lattice in their marriage. Some couples pledged in their wedding vows that they would never look inside the other’s head. Others hunted for the worst in the other, and used what they found as humiliating weapons. Ellie and Shaw tried to balance an open connection without it feeling like suspicious snooping. It was a gift to become closer to each other. They checked in on each other during the day, or let the other guide them through childhood memories.
Like many others, they used the Lattice in the bedroom, too—once, after sex, they’d jumped into each other’s heads to see what it was like to have sex with themselves. (Looking up at himself, covered with hair and sweat, Shaw couldn’t understand why any woman found him attractive; Ellie didn’t understand how Shaw could be so intensely interested in having sex beforehand, only to let his mind wander once it had started.)
When they did stumble on things they didn’t like—and Shaw was very surprised how often Ellie’s eye was caught by a handsome man; he’d always thought men did that more than women, but she put him to shame—the other would discover the worry and they’d talk it through. If it was a bigger deal than that, then there was always their monthly chat with Doctor Egan, their marriage counselor, who monitored them both and broached the difficult topics for them when they didn’t want to do it on their own.
Not everyone wanted, or could afford, a marriage counselor. Not everyone examined the Lattice as a couple and made a conscious decision how to use it.
And so people fought. Was it a stray thought? Was it an impulse you were going to act on? These were the new arguments between people. And those arguments ended far too often with lives being destroyed. Those who’d been humiliated or fired or divorced after their innermost thoughts were exposed didn’t need to look very far for a target for their rage: the Lattice itself. The very thing that had created the opportunity to eavesdrop.
A few called for the dismantling of the Lattice, but no one wanted to hear it. The argument was over: the Lattice was here to stay. The only time the general public paid attention to the Lattice itself was when a company brought a new reader to market. Tablets, wraps, screens, implants, jump boxes, and—most recently—the ring. Otherwise no one cared about the complaints of a few who claimed their lives were shattered.
And so the raiders were born, angry and full of vengeance.
In the twenty eight years since the Lattice was constructed, the military base at Area 51—now simply called the Lattice Installation—had been subjected to thousands of assaults. After two years of sustained attacks on the Lattice, it became clear that they were not going to abate. Every day some new person suffered a humiliation and was converted to the cause. Because of the attacks, it was decided that a second Lattice should be built—this time at CERN, in Geneva, Switzerland, to act as a backup.
The Geneva Lattice was underground in the old CERN tunnels. Underground, and encased in lead, it was much more difficult to reach and destroy, although attempts were still made from time to time. Mostly it was the Nevada Lattice Installation that was regularly assaulted, despite its protection by sensors, space-based weapons, tactical nukes, and—of course—the Lattice itself, which was used to find that which the rest could not.
Until today, those defenses had been more than enough, and most raiders were shot down hundreds of kilometers before they reached the Lattice.
After a failed raid, the life of an attempted raider was mapped with excruciating detail, and any of his or her accomplices were found and jailed within hours.
But, as Shaw well knew, not until the raider was identified could the investigation begin. You couldn’t stop an attack beforehand. During the attack the Lattice could be used for defense, and afterwards it could reveal the entire life story of the raider and all his collaborators. But only afterwards.
There could be hundreds of people planning attacks on any given day—there probably were. But to find them, you still had to know where to look. There was no search option for thoughts that Shaw could query. No way to tell it: “Show me everyone who’s planning to attack the Lattice.”
Once a raider was identified, there was no hiding.
For crime other than attacks on the Lattice itself, the knowledge that there was a one hundred percent chance you would get caught was usually deterrent enough, as Shaw knew better than most.
When Shaw was six, he and his family were attacked while on vacation in West Rome. Their computer-driven car was taking them on a guided tour through the narrow streets near the high Vatican walls when eight Neo-Catholic terrorists descended on the car and cut power to its guidance system.
A man jumped on top of the car and slammed the butt of his laser into the glass dome over the car, shattering it into a million pieces over Byron and his family. He felt his mother’s grip on his arm, but it wasn’t enough to resist the pull of the man’s leathered glove on his other arm.
Byron and his younger brother Sagan were yanked out of the top and pulled away from their parents. Shaw’s memory of the rest descended into flashes. The thick black boots of the terrorist who had grabbed him. The wailing of his three-year-old brother screaming for his mother. And—for reasons he didn’t understand—a lingering smell of bread from a nearby cafe.
That was all he saw before he and Sagan were pulled into a steep stone staircase and deep into catacombs and sewers under the ancient city.
He spent the next four days there, doing his best to comfort his younger brother with games and stories, trying to quash his own fear. The man who had so easily grabbed Byron and stashed him under his arm introduced himself only as Dioli. He promised that Byron and Sagan would not be hurt, that as Catholics they would not take an innocent life. They needed the brothers to send a message to their father, and to the United States in general, that they should stay out of internal Catholic affairs.
Dioli told Byron the truth about Davis Shaw. Byron’s father was not merely in Italy for a vacation, as he’d told his family. And his job at the U.S. State Department was not as a low-level bureaucrat as he’d let on. He was in West Rome to offer military and financial support to the Italians after the disunification of the country the year before, and to pledge that the U.S. would ensure that the Papal States would have their membership to the United Nations revoked unless they renounced all claims of ownership to the southern half of the Italian boot and withdrew to the walls of the original Vatican City.
Unbeknownst to Shaw and his captors, a storm was rumbling on the other side of the world. A Japanese company called Kanjitech unveiled their discovery that the U.S. had been spying on the world with something codenamed the Lattice. This bombshell was followed by another revelation: Kanjitech had reverse-manufactured a device that could tap into the Lattice.
The secret exposed, the military tried to shut down Kanjitech’s ability to use the Lattice, but found it was impossible without affecting their own ability to use it. The Lattice was either on or it was off. So long as the U.S. wanted access to the Lattice’s incredible wealth of data, it would have to remain open to anyone who bought one of Kanjitech’s readers.
The President, his entire cabinet, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff met hastily and considered their options. Their final decision: leave it open. In a flurry of activity, the U.S. gave the Lattice specs to any American company that wanted to manufacture Lattice readers to compete against Kanjitech. In addition, they looked for something to show that the Lattice could do more than just spy on foreign nations. They found their story: two kidnapped boys.
Byron and Sagan were found and safely removed from their captors in the dead of the night, the Lattice guiding the soldiers step-by-step through the maze of tunnels and catacombs and directly to the sleeping boys. Their reunion with their parents was at the top of every news feed, and it was hailed as the first test case of what the Lattice could do to stop crime and improve the world.
As a boy of six, Shaw swore up and down that Dioli had pledged not to harm them and that he had believed his captor. Dioli had told the truth where his father had lied—he truly had been in West Rome to work with the Italians—and Shaw felt a certain sympathy with the man. Who was his father to dictate things to Dioli and his friends? They hadn’t done anything to him.
Dioli and the seven other terrorists were locked up for life, and Shaw’s testimony in defense of his captor was assumed to be Stockholm Syndrome. For the next three years he was excused from school early every Tuesday so he could go to therapy to treat his “misplaced” feelings toward Dioli.
Years later, when the Lattice was able to read thoughts, and Shaw was old enough to use a rented jump box without parental approval, Shaw jumped back to the four days of his capture and listened to Dioli’s thoughts.
Whatever compassion he’d felt toward the man was destroyed. Dioli was fully prepared to kill Byron to prove his resolve and to increase bargaining for the three-year-old Sagan. Just a few minutes in his mind, and Shaw was stunned by the calculations and the ruthlessness of the man he had previously defended.
One thing was brutally clear. One more day in captivity, and Dioli would have killed him. Shaw had the Lattice to thank for his life.
He never doubted that fact, and it was why he’d applied to work at Lattice security. It was why he had breezed through the background checks and been promoted so quickly. No one who jumped into him could question his resolve.
As the shuttle touched down in San Francisco, Shaw thought about that feeling of certainty he’d held when he’d signed up for Lattice security. It was still inside him somewhere, he felt … but hollowed, its nourishment from his childhood abduction and rescue depleted by the years. There was an uncomfortable feeling associated with it, a sense that he was holding onto a childhood blanket that he no longer needed for comfort. He was an adult now, and his questions about the Lattice were starting to outweigh his childhood story. In the back of his mind, he knew that he was truly starting to reassess everything.
Just what did he think of the Lattice?
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