Book Two, Necessary Force, is almost here! Enjoy the first chapter!
Friday, Close on 0800 Hours PDT
The man in the grey lululemon sweat chic didn’t look malevolent. Or dangerous. Or even deranged. But he did look furtive. And he wasn’t particularly tall.
Surrounded by exactly seven exotic cars in the parking area of the twenty-thousand-square-foot white farmhouse on the two-plus-acre lot, he was kneeling next to a red motorcycle and feeling under its rear fender.
He might have been checking the taillight’s wiring or he might have been, I don’t know, checking for dirt or tire wear or something like that. But he wasn’t.
He was scoping out a location. Looking for a flat, clean surface under the finished piece of metal.
He rooted around some more.
He looked once over his left shoulder toward the house. Satisfied, apparently, with what he hadn’t seen, he reached into the side pocket of his gunmetal grey stretch pants and removed a tiny wafer. He then carefully reached up under the rear fender of the red motorcycle, groped around and re-found the receptive surface, and attached the magnetized wafer to it.
He checked over his left shoulder again, brushed his hands together, picked up a newspaper that was lying a few feet away on the driveway and stood up.
A woman in a long black dress burst through the front door of the stately white farmhouse carrying a cello case. The man smiled at her and casually opened up the newspaper. The woman hurried to the motorcycle, slowed her movements with practiced control and gently laid the cello case in the motorcycle’s sidecar, strapping it in with two thick elastic belts.
Barely acknowledging the man and showing only the suggestion of a smile, she accepted the man’s cheek kiss and put on a black helmet. The woman started the motorcycle, keyed in four numbers on a pad, waited for the gates to the driveway to swing open, and rode out of the property with her cello case securely fastened.
The man didn’t look long in the direction of the departing motorcycle with sidecar and began a circumspect trudge back to the farmhouse. His farmhouse was one of five white farmhouses on his street, all of similar majesty. Along the way to the house that would forever be linked to his neighborhood in his era, he inspected a smudge on the smoke grey Pagani Huayra’s carbon fiber hood, moved on a few steps and ran his right hand along the flank of the MacLaren and headed to the tall white wood planked structure.
Filth, especially car filth, offended him.
Nester would be here in an hour to clean and service and start the seven cars. As he did every day. That way they were always clean and ready to go. Though the man took an Uber most everywhere he went, he wanted the cars to be spotless and at the ready. Nester serviced the woman’s motorcycle, too. The man never touched it. Except for today.
Passing through the white kitchen and into the cobalt blue mudroom, the man deposited the unread newspaper in the recycling container. He didn’t read the newspaper. No one in the white farmhouse read the newspaper. He could think of only one reason why the household still received a daily paper. But, at the moment, he couldn’t have told you what that reason was.
The man turned right out of the mudroom, skirted the second entry foyer and stepped into his office. Pausing in front of his desk, he opened an app on his phone. A red motorcycle icon moved across a map crisscrossed by city streets. The Good Lord bless and keep GPS and strong magnets, he thought.
Still, like, concentrating on the cell phone’s screen, the man edged around his desk and, not really paying any attention to what he was doing and misjudging the distance from the seat, sat clumsily in his desk chair. The man disliked clumsiness and accidents as much or more than he disliked car filth.
The cell phone in his left hand, he tapped a key with his right forefinger and woke one of the two sleeping laptops that shared the desktop with a 25” monitor.
Quickly he scrolled through and trashed fifty or so emails from various beseeching parties that he knew he’d never respond to. He didn’t want to respond. To anyone. Well, to almost anyone. But that situation –
An alarm toned from and on and because of his laptop.
He looked up.
He looked annoyed.
It was hard to tell if he was annoyed about the morning’s clumsiness and filth, or if he was maybe just concerned or maybe even reluctant. About something. Or maybe about nothing. It was hard to tell.
He called out the doorway in the way humans do when they want their voice to travel around corners and up stairs.
“Sandrine!” he said loudly but not angrily in that combination of ways.
There was no answer.
Quiet in the twenty-thousand-square-foot white farmhouse.
An orange-furred, medium-sized dog of unparticular origin wandered expectantly into his office. The dog was called The Prawn. Or Prawny. Or the Prawnster. Or Doggie of the Sea. Or the Sea-Dogster. Or ten or eleven other various variations on her given name or fanciful free associations loosely based on her given name. The dog took an accustomed initial position at the head of the man’s desk.
Again, the man projected his voice around the doorframe and up the staircase.
“Sandrine! Your education beckons!”
The Prawn, emboldened by the extra-decibel calls that seemed to her to be for her, moved around the right side of the desk, sat, and rested her chin on the man’s knee. In the accustomed higher-intensity, higher-interest position. She was anticipating food. What else could loud rousing human vocalizations mean?
The man smoothed the smooth fur on top of her dog head – a gesture she suffered indulgently and only when the likely consequent might be either a cookie or one of those tantalizing peanut butter dog bones.
A teenaged girl in lululemon Capri tights and a coordinated short-sleeve top peeked her head around the man’s office doorway. She was thumb-typing an SMS and steeped in a communion with her phone screen.
“Didn’t school,” she said, academically, “used to start after Labor Day?”
She entered the room fully and with some level of commitment and immediately fixed on the orange-furred dog.
“Didn’t it, Prawny?”
The dog didn’t seem to know the answer.
The teenaged girl smoothed the fur on the animal’s soft irresistible dog head.
“Yes,” said the man, kindly, “but that was before –“
“What the–” said the girl, Sandrine, looking up, shocked, from her personal cell phone screen. “My phone just kacked!”
The man glanced at the phone in his left hand. His personal phone. The screen was dark. He lightly thumbed the depression at the bottom. The screen remained unlighted.
The man then tried to rouse his now-dead laptop screen.
In the near-distance there were screams. On their quiet block of white, indistinguishable farmhouses, cars collided and other cars almost collided.
“Ovid?” asked the girl, now perhaps expecting an in-command, everything’s-okay, adult explanation to set the situation right in all ways. Or, maybe, but actually definitely, expecting a solid explanation at least for why her phone wasn’t working. And why the screen showed absolutely nothing.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Which was the last thing the girl wanted to hear right then.
She didn’t know, either.
And the world, the entire freakin’ world was behind that screen. It couldn’t be blank. Really?
Now they both looked at their unresponsive, grey-verging-on-black LCD screens. Then they both looked out the window. And then back to the screens.
There were a few more screams in the neighborhood.
There was another automotive near miss and some squealing tires.
What were the likely contours of a day without the screens? Without the connection to the web and other people who were also connected, and with whom they were both connected?
Was everybody having this problem? Or just them?
Both Ovid and Sandrine froze in their places wondering what exactly to do without their devices.
There was a pause where neither one of them knew what to say or how to react.
Then Sandrine spoke up.
“What were you doing to her bike? I saw you out there.”
“I was,” said Ovid wading in delicately, “putting a tracking device on it.”
Sandrine narrowed her eyes, but appeared calm and understanding.
“You think that will help?”
“I hope so. She never has her phone.”
“Good luck with that.”
Sandrine felt a buzzing in her hand. She looked down at her phone.
The various screens lighted up again.
“Fu-fudge,” said Sandrine. “About time. About fudging time.”
They both looked hard at their phones as if an explanation might bubble up on the relighted screens.
And there was something. It might have even been an explanation.
But what they saw when they looked at their re-energized device screens wasn’t what they, Ovid and Sandrine Lachrymose, or possibly a few hundred million other United States citizens imagined they would see on a reboot after an unexpected and possibly nationwide shutdown of the life-giving screens.
At that moment, filling every screen of every device across the manifest and destined continent of the Republic was an image of a red cross-hatched grid. An image sketched millennia ago on a broken grindstone.
An old, essential image. And, in fact, an image that gave the first indication in human history of human creativity meeting device portability.
And the grid they saw was accompanied and perhaps even explained.
There was one more part of the message on all those possibly millions of screens.
One word stood below the image of the grindstone and the grid in bold, insistent capital letters.
Friday, Just after 0800 Hours PDT
A woman with dark hair, her lean, supple, sculpted body encased in patterned lululemon tights, was faced out away from the commanding beachside house and toward the Pacific Ocean. Her eyes closed, she was in the Firefly Pose, or Tittibhasana.
A younger individual, quite possibly also a woman, in a business suit and white blouse stood four feet behind the yoga woman on the lush lawn, her attention on a tablet in her right hand and a phone in her left hand.
The woman with the dark hair broke the difficult pose, took a breath, and opened her eyes.
“Yes?” she said, still looking seaward.
“As far as we can tell, coverage was ninety-nine-plus percent.”
The yoga woman inhaled a slow, deep, cleansing breath and slowly expelled the breath.
“Well that worked rather well, didn’t it?”
“As you said it would.”
“As I hoped it would. You just never know.”
“Yes, ma’am. You never do.”
The dark-haired yoga woman in the patterned tights placed her hands together, palms facing each other, fingers pointed up near her chest. “Namaste,” she said.
The assistant, who never quite knew what to say in response, or really if asking for a blessing was appropriate from a woman who could still the seas, replied ritually.
But the assistant still wasn’t sure that that was the right response.
“Let’s watch the news,” said the yoga woman.
The assistant turned and strode toward the house.
The dark-haired woman smiled.
It had all worked rather well. So far. She stood up and turned to go into the house.