Cover01-300I hear that some folks are getting their Silverwood paperbacks already! Rock!!!

Silverwood is a “Popular YA Read”  and “Best New YA Fantasy” on iBooks – go, little book, go!

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I’m starting to get my stuff together for Big WOW Comicfest April 18th-19th – I will have some new prints, plus old prints, plus drawings and time/space portal buttons that I may just rashly give away to people who have, bring or buy books. BECAUSE.

I will have a fresh batch of Neptune Road Paperbacks too. Whee!

 

134

Old Bob pulls up his bike and kills the engine. The rest of the Rocket Angels come in behind him, parking and dismounting. There are about twelve of them today. They sport leather jackets with patches on the back and look a little too new for a motorcycle club, but they’ll break in quickly in the Neptune sun and dust.

They have come out here to monitor an Earth drop site. A metal container the size of a train car has dropped to the surface, a house-sized parachute limp on the ground to one side. Lights blink on the container’s corners like an airplane, as if these would help at all if the drop were to unfortunately come down on someone’s house or person.

Mavis and some of the others set about placing caution cones and stringing yellow tape around. Neptunians are already arriving from all directions, alerted to the drop by Radio Neptune an hour or so before it came down. The contents are rumored to be bedding, which is almost as popular as pipes and wiring – but not quite. Bedding can be used as insulation, shelter, and of course to sleep on. Anything with multiple uses is sought after by everyone in the Badlands.

Some Neptunians arrive in groups, others alone. Many bring home-made carts and wheelbarrows, made from materials harvested from a previous Earth drop. As they draw near, Old Bob steps out front.

“Alright everyone, we are the Rocket Angels, and in exchange for a fair portion of the proceeds, we will be providing security at the drop site here. Please line up, first come first served.”

“We don’t need no security, this is just a scam,” a bent man in grey sweatpants grumbles. “Nice jacket, though.”

“Thanks,” Old Bob says. “Now let’s keep this orderly.”

As the crowd grows, the line snakes out into the desert. Rocket Angels patrol up and down, placing more cones until they run out. After that, the crowd bunches up and loses its shape.

Someone breaks open the lock on the container and small groups go inside, emerging again with arms full of blankets.

“Plenty for everyone,” Old Bob says. “No need to rush.”

Old Bob senses movement in the corner of his eye. He turns his head just in time to see Mavis fall to the ground. The line splits in two, severed by a hulking figure in a plaid shirt and work pants. The fellow stomps toward the front of the line. Smaller – that is, normal-sized – people scatter in front of him.

Old Bob steps in front of hulking man. “Sorry sir, these folks were here before you. Take your place in line.”

Hulking man swings a meaty arm across Old Bob’s face, knocking him backward. Old Bob springs up and sweeps hulking man’s feet from under him in one movement with his boot. Dust flies as he secures hulking man’s arms. Percy appears from nowhere with a plastic zip tie and wraps up the man’s arms behind his back. The two of them, with much effort, drag hulking man to the side of the container and prop him sitting there on the ground, back to the wall.

“Do you really think we would have taken on this job if we didn’t have any skills?” Old Bob says. “Alright everyone, it’s alright. Carry on then.”

In an hour or so the container is about empty, Neptunians having departed with several tons of new bedding (or, insulation). A small child emerges clutching a pillow to her chest.

“Thank you sir,” the child says to Percy.

“No problem,” Percy says. “Our pleasure.”

“Anything left?” Old Bob says.

Percy peers inside. “A few things. Let’s let Mavis have first pick.”

“Oh come on,” Mavis says. “Just ’cause I’m old and have a bony butt doesn’t mean I have to have more blankets. You boys help yourselves.” She moves off and has a seat on her shiny chrome bike, peeling open a granola bar.

Percy and Old Mike pull out what’s left and pack it up. In a few hours, Scar City Construction or some outfit like that will arrive with heavy equipment and salvage the container for underground building projects.

———-

NEPTUNE ROAD ©2015 BETSY STREETER. PLEASE SHARE! SHARING IS CARING.

133

Philo sits in a folding lawn chair in the middle of the hallway. He looks like a man, with a telly for a head, on vacation.

His odd choice of location relates to a particular control panel mounted in the wall. He has pried off the covering to reveal a series of communication ports. He is trying various combinations of plugs between the wall and his head.

May comes rolling down the hall on a skateboard, and stops when she sees Philo. She pops the board up into her hand and watches him work for a minute.

“I found the source of some of the codes we got from Bad Angelica,” Philo says. “You know, the ones that she seemed to recite as we were shutting her down in Dr. Mangrove’s bloodstream.”

“What if it turns out all of that information was real?” May says. “I hoped it would be, but I wasn’t sure. I mean, it was an invading intelligence injected into a human by the Bird People. It was a corrupted copy, too.”

“Yes, my expectations were low also,” Philo says. “The Bird People should not be making copies of a downloaded consciousness at all. It is extremely dangerous. But in this case, it does appear that the words and codes that she was verbalizing may have been authentic.”

“So, what are they?” May asks.

“I cross-referenced the formats with different security and encryption systems,” Philo says. “Assuming that the number of characters and use of symbols might correspond to a particular entity. I was correct, in one case. The codes that appeared to be of Casino origin did appear to unlock Casino surveillance.”

“Yeah, I know about that one,” May says. “Remember? I put it in my little Atari navigator and used it to zoom around and watch people gamble.”

“Right,” Phil says. “So, that’s a start. But there were other codes that had no recognizable pattern at all. As if they were generated in real time. And they are never used more than once. At first I thought it must be an encryption system that simply generates codes. But when I looked closer, I realized that they were genetic markers.”

“Genetics?” May says. “From a particular individual?”

“It is impossible to tell,” Philo says. “They could also be just made up to look that way. I think a better question is, why was a downloaded intelligence in possession of these types of information? How does such data relate to the real Angelica Brubeck? Were these things that she knew and had memorized, or were they planted there? Or, more troubling – what if the intelligence had the capability of traveling through systems and harvesting information? What if injecting Dr. Mangrove had less to do with invasion and more to do with spying?”

“Philo, those are stupendous questions,” May says. “They are also pretty scary. You’re saying that there could be multiple versions of Bad Angelica cruising around spying on systems from the inside out.”

“Yes, and the real Angelica could be doing the same thing,” Philo says. “What we need is, a reliable way to contact the real Angelica, and enlist her help. That’s the only way we can sort out why these codes were there in the first place.”

“Sounds like we need to devise some sort of test, like I use to evaluate my robots’ logic,” May says. “An Angelica test.”

“That won’t be necessary,” a voice says directly into Philo’s head. It sounds like Angelica, or a version of her. Philo raises a finger to let May know he is listening.

“Why is that?” Philo says.

“I can prove to you that I am the real Angelica, the one uploaded by my son.”

“How will I go about testing whether what you say is true?” Philo asks.

“You have a built-in Angelica test on your airship. It is called Doctor Drake Mangrove. He will be able to tell which of us is real or corrupted. He knows things about me, my research, my life. Short of my own son, he is your best option.”

“Well, we don’t have your son, so I suppose we can give it a try,” Philo says inside his head. Out loud he says, “May, let’s pay a visit to Dr. Mangrove’s workshop.”

 

———-

 

NEPTUNE ROAD ©2015 BETSY STREETER. PLEASE SHARE! INDIE STORIES LIVE ON SHARING. AND, CARING.

132

Agent Millman sets aside the handwritten note and digs into the rest of the envelope contents. This package, supposedly from Angelica Brubeck, seems – off. Something about it is not right. He will have to run that letter through authentication testing to find out where it really came from.

He sticks a tiny video drive into the side of one of the video monitors that lean on the walls of his otherwise bare apartment. The lights of the Scar City skyline reflect on the black marble floor, providing the only illumination except for the screen.

There’s a menu with a series of eight or so rectangles that each look like they represent a scene of video. Millman pokes one of the squares with a finger to open it.

The first clip he watches he has seen before. It’s of the main entrance to an emergency room. Ambulances come and go. A young man leaves, in a hurry. It is Sam Brubeck. This video has been used numerous times to place Sam at the scene of the crime when his mother was murdered, but it proves nothing. Walking around at the wrong time and in the wrong place is not a crime.

The second clip looks like surveillance video from some sort of medical facility. He can see a hallway, with gurneys and other equipment arranged along the walls. There is no color, and the sound is muffled.

Nothing happens for about a minute, other than orderlies going in and out of rooms and various doctors and nurses moving around and writing on clipboards or talking to one another.

A figure comes into view, walking down the hall. It’s a young man in a hurry, wearing a hoodie under a leather jacket and heavy boots. He carries a bouquet of flowers in a glass vase cradled in one arm. He seems to know where he is going. He maneuvers around a few people and then disappears into a room at the far left.

Another few minutes pass, more people moving around. Some static, and the picture flips a few times.

The young man emerges and walks back out of the room, now without the flowers. Just as he reaches the middle of the hallway, an alarm sounds. A voice on the intercom says something about doctors being needed in a particular room. Everyone in the hall snaps to attention and begins moving very quickly toward the room at the far left. Doctors in long coats and nurses in scrubs seem to come from all directions.

The young man, however, walks with resolute steps away from the room and exits the frame back where he came from. Staff members bump into him running the other way, but he only looks straight ahead.

When the young man gets close enough to the camera, Millman pauses the video. He zooms in on the face and enhances the details. There isn’t much to enhance, but it is enough.

That is clearly Sam Brubeck. Agent Millman has not seen this clip before.

“What you doing inside the hospital there, Sam?” Millman says quietly, peering at the face. “If I’m not mistaken, that looks an awful lot like the hospital where your mother died. Time to authenticate this and try to extract some time and location stamps, I think.”

Millman ponders what he has seen for a few moments, and then goes back to the menu to view another of the surveillance videos.

———-

NEPTUNE ROAD ⌐2015 BETSY STREETER. PLEASE SHARE! INDIE STORIES LIVE ON SHARING. AND, BURRITOS.

 
 
DMS