[Original Novel] Metal Fever II: The Erasure of Asherah, Part 16

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Previous parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

A lot of the listings were stolen ebike parts. Criddlers I imagine, though I have no idea where they get their fix, given how draconian the Chinese government’s drug laws are. Come to think of it, I saw something on the news about floating ebike chop shops out in the bay.

They lash their boats to floating wooden platforms built on sealed plastic drums for buoyancy. Then they use the space to store, tear down and rebuild ebikes. By randomly mixing and matching the parts, they disguise the fact that they’re all stolen.

While scrolling through the listings, I opened the cafe’s beverage menu. The flavors were all utterly alien. Snow pear? Is there really a species of pear that grows in snowy climates? For that matter, what the fuck flavor is “swallow’s nest”? Does it taste like twigs and egg?

I recognized the bubble milk tea, so that’s what I bought. With grass jelly instead of those little tapioca balls though, as I could never stand their texture. Apparently beggars can be choosers after all.

I then went searching for info about the security boxes I saw on the ebikes. However the internet in China is heavily censored, so perhaps unsurprisingly I could find no clues on how to compromise them. Probably there are US sites with the info, but access to US domains is similarly crippled here.

I searched the darknet next. There were some gadgets for sale, designed to defeat the “point cloud imagers” as they’re evidently called…but well out of my price range. Sites offering info on how to defeat their security manually were behind D-Coin paywalls.

I could tell I needed to consult someone with more expertise in this area, so I sought out a dedicated chat lobby set up by local criddlers. Someplace they could warn each other about upcoming police sweeps so they could move their tents in advance, sell meth to one another, that sort of thing. These days, even the homeless need to network.

As expected, they were planning a mass ebike heist. I mentioned offhand that I was currently sitting in a net cafe with upwards of twenty ebikes parked just outside, though for obvious reasons I didn’t specify which one just yet.

“I’m new to the area. I don’t know shit about ebike security, but Panopticon is my bitch. I can have all forms of surveillance in the parking lot offline for at least five minutes, maybe more. If you’ve got the manpower to steal that many bikes in such a narrow window-”

There was a flurry of confused posts about just who the fuck I was and how I got in here without being invited. “I’m just that good. So, any takers?” Silence after that, until one of them asked for a demonstration.

It was easy enough to set up, hampered only by my paranoia that Panopticon security might’ve meaningfully improved in the last six years. But as a government operated surveillance network, of course it hadn’t.

I knocked out Panopticon for an entire city block, hijacked a nearby autocab and had it do donuts in an intersection for ninety seconds before the transit authority remotely shut it down, locking me out. The criddlers then spent the following hour double checking my work to ensure I’d competently covered my tracks before resuming negotiations with me.

I waited another hour after that for the criddlers to consult whoever it is that gives such people orders. I suppose even rats have kings. I had no prior relationship with them, and as such was unable to negotiate any sort of partial upfront payment.

Instead, once the time we agreed upon arrived, I double checked that I had my ducks in a row…then pulled the trigger. Conceptually, very much like an invisible electronic Rube Goldberg machine. Fragile, elaborate workarounds to each security barrier executing one after the next.

The overhead lighting flickered. I heard the screech of rubber on asphalt, a few honks, and angry Chinese shouting. That wasn’t me, was it? I only meant to attack surveillance. I then heard a low pitched electrical whine as the truck pulled up.

All exterior feeds were dead by this point. Shame, as I’d like to have watched them work. More confusing shouting, probably coming from people who don’t often see criddlers pour out the back of a truck and start jacking ebikes.

I dared not go to the front in order to watch for obvious reasons. Just sat patiently until I heard the electrical whine return, signifying that the truck was pulling away. More confused shouting, this time at least a dozen different voices.

Over the din outside, I could just barely make out the manager on the phone with the cops. I could also hear lookey-lous emerging from their cubicles to find out what the noise was about. That’s when I allowed myself to join them.

Six years ago I might’ve been careless enough to go on ahead, drawing attention to myself. That was the old me. The new me moves in groups. The new me blends into the crowd. I hung back, not wanting to appear in any photographs as the police drones showed up.

They didn’t even bother to unplug the damn bikes. The sparking, sheared-off ends of the charging cables were still dangling from the sockets, snipped-out GPS trackers and PCI security boxes littering the empty parking spaces. Sloppy. But then, these are the fleas you get when you sleep with dogs. I headed back to my cubicle, noting that the exterior feeds were all coming back online little by little.

It proved even tougher than expected to collect my earnings. The thing about criddlers is, when they say they don’t remember making any deal with you, they’re often telling the truth. Either way, a little roughhousing typically loosens up the ‘ol neurons.

“I can take you to him!” the pitiful figure sputters, bubbles of blood forming on his lips. I’d knocked all three of his teeth out, not one of my proudest moments. “He lives on the bay! We can take my boat!”

Far be it from me to understand how somebody living on the edge of starvation affords a boat. Stolen, surely? But then how do they get away with it when they float ’em right out there in the bay, smack dab in front of God, the cops and everybody?

The answer arrived less than an hour later. The wretch I laid out still nursed his bruises, mumbling spitefully as he heaved the little rusty dinghy’s steering lever this way and that. The batteries were bare, unshielded terminals just chilling in the open.

How does he never electrocute himself? What does he do about rain? These fuckers are halfway clever about some things. But only whatever they absolutely have to stay on top of in order to keep the meth coming.

We sailed lazily down a waste water channel, at the bottom of a massive concrete trough with sloped sides. For flood waters, I assume. As we emerged into the bay, the modest wake left behind us beautifully distorted the reflection of Shenzen’s skyline, now rippling hypnotically in the water.

The last pair of buildings we passed between had a multi-story skyway connecting them. At that point, can you even really call it a skyway? I’ve seen whole restaurants and clubs tucked away in those things. Seemingly endless rows of windows cascading upwards, some of them lit up from within. Lives stacked upon lives, stacked upon lives.

A sudden glimpse of a beautiful pale face framed by short black curls captured my attention. The lowest floor of the skyway, now looming overhead…had skylights in it. I boggled. It was…the ceiling to them. Somehow? She stood upside down, looking “up” at me through the skylight. Down, really. What the fresh hell is this baboozery?

I noticed other party goers milling about all around her. All of them upside down relative to me. She waved half-heartedly, then resumed socializing. As we pulled away from the skyway, I could tell from the silhouettes that every damned person inside that thing was inverted.

Some sort of high tech gravity gimmick. Six years can really do all that? Must be. How do they get turned the other way up when they want to leave? Does blood pool in their heads or is it attracted to the floor plating as well? Assuming it’s the floor plating that does it, anyway.

Stay Tuned for Part 17!

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