The Know Circuit
November 2, 2028
There were ghosts in the club.
The Tanz was full of people both there and not there, a disorienting dance of ghost figures and solid constructs, neither one carrying the visual or physical solidity Bridge’s mind required to surround himself with a coherent reality. His head, his mind was in searing pain, trying to reconcile itself with its warped perceptions. The club itself was the ghost, the dance floor, even the table beneath his hands an immaterial shimmering construct of light. His hands were translucent, their edges fuzzy and glowing with reflected energy yet they did not pass through the ghostly table.
The rest of the club had the same smoky quality, a half-remembered mirage left on the inside of his eyelids. Some of the club’s patrons looked around at themselves as if seeing their bodies for the first time, while others were staring at these lost souls as if snakes were crawling out of their ears. The latter were even less substantial than the former, barely lit phantoms observing an alien landscape.
Overlaid on top of the club’s interior was another world, another series of lights and sounds and smells and things, all of it much more substantial than the actual club. His table was wrapped with another table like the skin of a 3D texture, a rough-hewn wooden table with the knots of the tree’s rings still visible underneath a slick varnish. An ornate flagon of ale rested on the table in the same position as Bridge’s bourbon. It was so real he could smell the ale, see the beads of overflowing liquid tinkling down the side of the metal cup.
Across from him, in the place of Aristotle sat Angela in her virtual disguise as the Baroness Eletheia, the white-haired lich queen of the virtual world Ars-Perthnia. "Angie?" Bridge
stammered, his voice sounding distorted and distant, as if he heard it underwater.
"Artie? What the hell are you doing in… what am I doing in the Tanz? Everything’s going slideways… sideways… losing focus…" She seemed to be struggling with something, something that Bridge could even now hear in his head.
The sound wasn’t even an audible sound, so much as a driving compulsion, a rumbling emotion that crested in waves barely underneath the level of perception. It was a name a place a thought a concept a there a here a thing a people a something he needed to get out of his head. And as it grew he screamed its name.
The club returned to normal, the ghosts gone as quickly as they came. He was on his knees by the table, and he was screaming.
One word. "Boulder!"
Aristotle was shaking him, the gargantuan bodyguard firmly gripping his shoulders while screaming in his face. Bridge shrugged off the hands angrily, answering back with a "What?! I hear you!" Bridge had somehow slipped to the floor. He grabbed hold of the chair and tried to pull himself up, but the exploding lights that blurred his vision caused him to sit right back down. "Why are you yelling at me?"
"You were screaming out the word ‘Boulder’ over and over," Aristotle replied with a concerned expression.
"Yeah, Boulder. What the fuck was that about Boulder? Where did Angie go?" He finally noticed the silence of the club. There was no beat, no music, just the murmuring of dozens of similar conversations being had all about the place. He peered around through the dense smoke and dim lighting. Fully half of the club’s patrons were on the floor, some still screaming like Bridge had been while others were in various states of disheveled confusion. Even the Ardents were on their backs. Their vocal mikes were still hot, and Bridge could hear Bobby screaming. The singer lay writhing on the floor staring blankly at the ceiling. The unaffected patrons were busy either trying to help their friends or trying hard to ignore it, fearful of catching whatever had caused the seizures.
Bridge’s interface jack was burning and itching and throbbing painfully all at the same time, and he began to rub it as he mulled over the seizure. Maybe it was some nanobiological in the air? That was the only way to affect so many people without spiking every drink in the club, but such a tactic would likely have affected everyone and not such a random selection. Or was it random? As Bridge examined each victim closely, a pattern began to form. The conscious ones were all rubbing their necks, and not just their necks but the same spot on the back of their necks. It was the spot where interface jacks were implanted, right underneath the hairline at the base of the skull. He peered closely at the ones who were not affected. None seemed to have an interface jack.
"Look around, Aristotle," Bridge whispered. "Notice something?" The big man shook his head. "Look closer, man. Everybody on the floor has a jack. You ain’t jacked, are you?"
"Negative. I always felt wrong about defacing such a splendid body with cold metal just to see the Web faster."
Bridge frowned. "That’s not what we use them… never mind. It only hit the ones with jacks. What the fuck is…?" Just then, Bridge’s musing was interrupted by the sound of ringtones, a chorus of ringtones sounding out at once from all over the club. Cell phone hand units were buzzing, screeching their pop music snippets and default tones all at once. Every person who had not been affected by the first wave was answering a phone. Bridge looked over to Aristotle, who retrieved his phone from the front pants pocket and flipped open the screen. "Who is it?"
"It’s a text. It says, ‘Boulder'."
"That’s it? Just one word?"
"Affirmative, just the one word. ‘Boulder.’ What the hell is going on, Bridge?"
The band used a set of video screens set to randomly switch between GlobalNet feeds, and Bridge noticed a number of news feeds in the spew. One in particular caught his eye, a shiny logo that said "Breaking News: Boulder Rocked." He chuckled at the overbearing cheese. Jumping up, ignoring the dizziness that caused him to wobble on his feet, he made his way to the DJ’s booth next to the stage. The DJ, who had been relaxing with a drink during the Ardents’ set, was laid out on the floor next to the attractive blonde he had been hitting on. Bridge reached over the DJ’s panel to stop the random switching, focusing all the club’s monitors on that news feed. Chrono News Network raged into loud life around the club, causing Bridge to dial back the sound. The screen was overtaken with the stylized titles, dramatic music playing in the background.
"We’ve just gotten word out of Boulder, Colorado of an unspecified explosion. We’ll be taking you to an affiliate in the Denver area shortly with an on-the-scene report."
Bridge stared over at Aristotle, whose face had gone an ashen color. The bodyguard frantically punched in a number on his phone, putting the ear piece to his head and chewing nervously on a thumbnail.