It happens so slowly it becomes a task to watch, the way the fog climbs the road, but during the pause Gunny tried anyway. Gunny liked the pauses in conversations, the natural lulls- good friends of Gunny were the kinds of people that appreciated silences, the sort that weren’t uncomfortable during a break in conversation.
Bradley was uncomfortable.
Bradley said: “You know this cocktail, it is shit.” and then shot a nervous laugh into the silence that followed. Gunny sighed, loud enough that Bradley heard and grabbed onto it, relieved, he asked Gunny: “What are you thinking of?”
Which made Gunny cover up another sigh with something resembling a groan. For once Gunny would have preferred if Bradley just used his glasses for awhile, looked up whether whatever latest comic he was into updated, or even played some AR app…”Gunny?” repeated his old friend.
Gunny responded: “I’m thinking about the fog. It’s a game I play.” And waited for Bradley to inquire further.
Bradley said: “Man. Fucking San Fran. Fucking hills, fucking fog, is miserable man. I miss Hong Kong when it’s like this. The old days you know?”
Gunny said: “Yeah. Sure. But the fog, I like it. It’s like, if you watch it, really closely, it climbs up the street. I play this game where you focus on the fog and see how much you can track it’s progress. It’s like meditation- barely make it one or two streets before your mind drifts, and then you look back at the fog- well you’ve been looking the whole time, and now all of a sudden it’s creeped right up to you.”
Bradley twirled the ice in his glass. The tinkling preceded him saying: “Man I prefer playing S-S-B. You ever try it out? It’s crazy, should download. Helps pass the time during crappy meetings, you know? Swear to God, I’ve gone through a conference doing nothing but playing S-S-B, just sit with my hand under my chin- like so- and then nobody could tell I was using the controls you know?” Bradley appended a trickle of laughter to his story.
Gunny eventually said, “Nah I stopped playing games a long time ago. Pity really. Too busy.” Which was a lie that summoned thoughts of Kayan, her angry shoulders, ears plugged up as she played the same games rather than tell him what was wrong and how to fix it. Gunny shook his head till the memory disappeared. He hated that he still thought of his ex-wife, especially since meeting Jessica. He began to compare Jessica to Mara, the way they dressed, and the way they sounded, then Gunny shook his head again. Then he noticed how the fog had climbed that much closer.
Bradley twirled his ice again, before saying: “Okay man come on. I know something is bothering you. It’s been ages, sure, but I can still tell okay? It’s obvious you know. So why don’t you get it off your chest. Not like I see you often enough to make it count you know? Is it work Gunny? Girl? Heard about Kayan man, sorry about all that. Want to talk about it? You can you know. I mean shit, you rememeber I was there for Florence.”
Gunny looked his old friend in the eye. “Okay. There is something I wanted to ask you. Some advice I guess.” He stared hard at the table.
Bradley prompted him with a gesture, so Gunny continued with: “You remember how we wanted to be shout-casters? Starcraft 2? Okay, Company Of Heroes for you, but you remember….”
Bradley interrupted with glee, his deep voice reverberating: “OF COURRRRSE.” One of his hands chopped the air for emphasis, slicing it up as he said: “FAA-cking COH. Man I remember your screen name- Gundammit. GUNDAMMIT! You know, our videos, they are still there? Found them on YouTube man, seriously. I watched them like, a few years ago, for fun. Was strange you know?”
“Gundammit…Yeah. I remember I trained myself to talk like Day-Nine. Trained. I never told you, thought it would be embarrassing.”
“Gunny, man, I knew. You sounded just like him. It was fucking obvious man.”
They both laughed, Gunny stopping first. He looked back at the fog and said to it and his friend: “You ever regret not going for it? I mean, we were pretty good, we’d both done tournaments. We could have been big. In fact did you know they have courses for it now? If I had kids, I could send them to get a degree in it- hell, Day-Nine could be the one to teach them.”
“Gunny man, if you could afford that, maybe, but let me tell you, children are expensive. Time and money you know?”
“Do you ever regret…I mean I do sometimes. Sometimes. Not always. I’m glad I’m at Bain, really. I think I’ve done alright, compared to some. It’s not even dull. A lot of people, they hate it, me I like it. It’s good, or at least, it’s not bad. But sometimes, I think if I did, do the shoutcasting…who knows?”
“Yeah. But, things might be simpler too. No responsibility in shout-casting. You just have to well, entertain people. Make people happy. You don’t actually I don’t know…you’re not a part of things? I mean, big things. Not that I am, obviously we’ve consulted on some massive projects but…I’m just saying it seems carefree, just doing what you want to do…”
“Yeah man I regret it. Could be fucking famous now you know? Blowjobs on demand!” Bradley laughed at himself.
Gunny continued to watch the fog. Bradley said: “But not really as well. Life is good in the end, wouldn’t trade my girls for anything. So that’s it? You want to count regrets with me? We can count them together man.”
The fog was less than a street away. Gunny watched a streetcar disappear into it, the weak glow of the ads dissolving to white.
Bradley clicked his fingers again. “Oy. Gunny? That it? You wanted to ask me about what, shout casting?”
Gunny got up from the table. He looked at Bradley. “Well.” He leaned on the high, round table with both hands, before noticing Mara’s card, held in his right. He quickly hid hand back in his pocket. Bradley looked at his old friend with a serious expression. “Sure man? Just that?”
Gunny flashed a grin. “Sure.”
They shook hands, hugged, made promises not to wait seven more years before speaking again. Then Gunny began the long walk back his street. Down the slopes he trudged, in the direction of the bridge hidden in the fog. As he listened to some new, catchy, song, Gunny convinced himself, by degrees, that it was best he had lied to Bradley. Whether or not he ought to lie to Jessica about where he would be tonight- the debate continued all the way home.
Thus in the pristine lobby he forgot to smile at the korean doorman, and stood in the immoving lift till he realized he had not pressed his floor. In his apartment he deposited his things on the table, smoothing Mara’s card onto it, then paced, then went into his room, collapsing into the ergonomic seat in front of his dead monitors. He stared at the black for a beat, before tapping on his plastic table, summoning the red letters of his virtual keyboard and bringing his displays to life. Blinking against the glare, Gunny found the window he had last left open with all the quotes.
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
“…the opposite of love is not hate — it’s apathy. It’s not giving a damn. If somebody hates me, they must “feel” something … or they couldn’t possibly hate. Therefore, there’s some way in which I can get to them.”
Gunny checked his missed calls, noticed amongst all the ignored notifications that Jessica had tried to call him two more times. His finger hovered over calling her back. He cleared his throat in anticipation. Then he sighed, loudly, alone in his small room, and continued to read.
“We shall have to repent in this generation not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
He swallowed, not allowing himself to cry, even here, on his own.
“When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”
He spoke out loud: “Search. E-O seventeen explanation.”
Then he read in the new window till he became too scared, till the very next sentence was like a verdict of death, and he found it too difficult to continue.
He closed the window and his breathing slowed. He brought back the quotes, read:
“It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others: or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.”
“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?”
And that was enough to make him minimize to his desktop and move the folder from there to his glasses, before syncing it to store a copy online, and deleting the one on his desktop. Gunny stood up. Walked. Then standing in the door frame of his small room he thought again about how if Jessica saw the folder she would end up leaving him, one way or another, and that made him sit back down. He told the room it wasn’t fair.
The room did not respond.
He took out a coin. He thought of flipping it. He found a die and almost rolled it. He went to his search engine said: “Search…” and then covered his mouth so hard he slapped his lips, berating himself silently about how close he had just come, to slipping. He told himself it was not paranoia, that that was the lie.
He sat and went online and took no savor in his usual sites and somehow found himself on a random chat site. He agreed to the terms and conditions without reading them, and waited for someone anonymous to connect.
Eventually someone did.
Gunny cursed out loud and prepared to close the window. He stopped when he noticed his deskstop background had changed to an image of Jessica and himself, playing chess in the swimming pool, Jessica as usual destroying him, and him smiling like an idiot nonetheless.
<You> 36/M/San Francisco.
<Stranger> Thank fuck a citizen
Gunny typed an honest lol.
<Stranger> Do you play LoL?
<You> No. I laughed.
<Stranger> I know. just asking
<You> Oh. Is it because of the categories? Sry didn’t put any categories. Ur with a random.
Gunny’s brows knitted. He never did this, and did not know the latest acronyms.
<Stranger> Np just glad you are an adult
<You> What about you? ASL?
<You> Wow double standards much?
<Stranger> lol. its why ive never been EO17d
Gunny’s heart jumped, then he realized it was a joke, and continued to type.
<Stranger> Crazy world. what u do?
<You> What do YOU do?
<Stranger> Same shit most people do: work
<You> Oh in what?
<Stranger> if i wanted to talk about my shitty job would not do it here. boring to talk about. do you do anything interesting?
<You> Idk. Im a writer.
<Stranger> O rlly? wat sort?
<You> Fan fiction. Bad fan fiction.
<Stranger> shit guess that means im a writer too
<Stranger> so u married?
<You> Was. Divorced.
<Stranger> wat happened?
<You> I did something wrong. I dont know what.
<You> Do you read the news?
<Stranger> lol news
<Stranger> i read news about LoL but otherwise not really
<You> You don’t care?
<Stranger> Something like that
<Stranger> no more like disillusioned
<Stranger> no point in trying to find out wats true and wat isnt. takes a lot of effort. in the end all that would happen is i would have researched who im supposed to hate
<You> The main character in my story is a bit like that. Disillusioned.
<Stranger> o shit ur actually a writer. tell me your story then (if it isnt boring)
<You> lol. Well, you can be the judge of that.
<You> So this guy he has this girlfriend but he doesnt tell her much, he keeps a lot to himself, even things he should tell her. He doesn’t want to risk the relationship, so he’ll do things behind her back, because he sort of has these feelings, but won’t tell her. Anyway that’s not really the focus of the story. Sort of. I mean it could be. Anyway. He works for a company that work for a contractor of the government. US government. He’s working there and one day he finds something. I mean not one day- not like baam, omg I never knew about this, more like everyone suspected something, everyone could know, but no one says anything because it’s all confidential and not really the business. *their business.
Gunny sat back from his desk. Stared up at the ceiling.
When he looked back the monitor showed:
<You> The guy used to say some things online, stupid things, in forums and stuff. He got into trouble at his first job because of pics of himself doing things.
<Stranger> fck all that what was the thing? that he found out?
<You> its hard to explain. Complicated
<Stranger> then whats the point in writing the story?
<Stranger> if its too complicated than i wont understand it ie no one would so no one will care. have to make it understandable. even a fan fic author like me knows that
<You> But real life is complicated.
<Stranger> i dont fcking care about real life lol. so make it something understandable. do it now. is good pratice.
<You> Okay. So this guy works for a major consulting firm, and they are consulting with a defense contractor. Automated weaponry- land/air drones, that sort of thing. Primarily we’re consulting on cyber-security, network security, but also a new contract on talent management.
<Stranger> wtf is this. wats the point man?
<You> Its complicated.
<Stranger> make it simple
<You> The guy comes across evidence that the US government is in a secret war.
<You> Drone strikes occur multiple times in the sovereign territory of a US ally. The ally however, takes the credit for the attacks, claiming they did the killing. In actual fact it was the US.
<Stranger> ok thats cool
<You> And the attacks kill civilians. Including dozens of children.
<You> Over 50. And the justification was sketchy to begin with.
<Stranger> when isnt it lol
<You> Women too. Children man. But maybe its better, then the alternatives. Maybe more people die if they didn’t use the drones.
<Stranger> lol ok
<You> So thats the story. The main character though he chooses to not do anything because it wouldn’t change anything probably anyway. No one would care. So he sits on it, doesnt even tell his colleagues. They knew about the intervention- I mean the info is there but not the children. That took some digging.
<Stranger> he does nothing?
<Stranger> wow ur character is an asshole
<You> But you said earlier you don’t even watch the news?
<Stranger> thats real life. lol because i cant do anything. i have no power. im just a regular human. but ur character has power. he has the ability to change things. if he does nothing he is an asshole. worse than the rest. he has no excuse.
<You> He has tonnes of excuses.
<Stranger> if he doesnt do something who the fuck will? who the fuck does? no one does.
<Stranger> u ever lost a child? u have kids?
<You> No. Do you?
<Stranger> ur story sucks lol. also we should say its a story in case they are watching. this chat log is going to end up somewhere.
<You> You know they never cared before, because it was too much information to analyze. Even if you collated every single thing said by every single person it would be impossible to analyze.
<Stranger> lol yes an algorithm that was fully effective be hard to make but with ai it can happen. also it doesnt matter if they cant analyze it in real time all they need is a way to get the information later once they decided to target u they have ur history online everything you ever said every fuck up. they can find you if they wanted to by seeing who u are. thats how they do.
<You> You…know more than I thought you would.
<Stranger> ur story sucks. i dont like how realistic it is
<You> Whats your name?
<Stranger has gone offline>
He stared for some seconds at the chat. Then he closed all the windows.
Gunny tried to remember the address of Mara’s newspaper. Realized he would have to check it on the card outside.
Gunny got up from the chair. His heart rate climbed. He stood and double checked that the folder was on his glasses. He put on his coat and went outside to the corridor. There he pressed for the lift, and leaned against the wall. He tried to summon one of the quotes he had read, but could not remember any of them exactly. Rather he remembered how they made him feel, and this was enough to have him clenching his empty fists inside his pockets. As the lift crept towards his number Gunny remembered he had forgotten Mara’s card. Not wanting to waste another moment or give himself a chance to reconsider, Gunny ran back inside. He hoped to be back in time for the lift door. His inertia maintained, he grabs the card on the table, crumpling it accidentally, then runs back out. His front door slams shut as the lift doors open, and he steps inside the empty box.
The doors close and the lift descends.
A mantra in his head floats on waves of determination, repeats: I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.
The lift stops on the floor below. The doors open and two policemen enter and nod at Gunny. They turn and face the doors. Their reflections slide into place, and the lift begins it’s descent.
Gunny’s mind freezes to white. He becomes oddly cognizant of his own breathing, and it’s volume, and how anything he does, says, or even thinks right now could damn him, completely. The lift crawls down a floor.
The first policeman is very tall, well built, with one hand casually stroking his holstered service pistol. He clicks his tongue and says to his smaller companion: “You must have gotten the floor wrong.”
There is a pause that lasts another two floors. The LCD screen, from which streams the silent news, reads “25” as the shorter cop says: “I don’t know, I’m pretty sure I got it right.”
The taller one rounds on his companion, speaks aggressively: “Check again. Quick.”
The smaller begins to fish for his phone.
Gunny tries to look at the phone’s screen, his eyes squeezing against the corners of his rigid face.
“No signal. Have to wait to see.”
The taller one says: “What was that description? Caucasian? Five-eleven?.
Immediately the smaller one says: “Asian. Korean I think. 5’8”.
Gunny suddenly feels like he is going to cry. A voice in him, one he has not heard before, screams at him to just wait. Gunny squeezes the old-fashioned business card in his pocket, soaking it in perspiration. He keeps his eyes locked on the reflection of his face, thinks that moving anything at all will end him.
The taller policeman rounds on Gunny, and looks him straight in the eye. His hand casually rests on his pistol and he says to Gunny: “Sir. I’d like to see some identification please.”
Gunny says: “You what?” and wishes he hadn’t.
The smaller police officer responds with: “Sir, identification please. Paper or chip.”
Gunny looks at the news display. On it are some details, of some e-sports tournament, with the winning team. He says to the policeman: “I…I…can you…wait…”
The larger policeman holds out a hand.
Gunny’s shoulders collapse, his head leaning to the left, as if it were about to fall off. He holds out his forearm, the way he was taught to when he got the chip, and the two men take out the scanner.
The doors open, the smaller cop standing in the frame. The doorman stares, somewhere in the background. The larger man passes the device over Gunny’s forearm. He regards the display, nods to himself in satisfaction, his whole body suddenly shifting, coiling, muscles tense.
Then he says, with the force of an accusation: “Gun-Woo Kim?”
Gunny looks up and asks, in a defeated voice: “E-O Seventeen?” and the policeman only nods, his face unreadable, before launching into his rehearsed lines, which he repeats flawlessly:
“Under the Espionage act of 1917, I am placing you under arrest….”
And Gunny stops listening.
Let’s them handle his body as they please. He tells himself they will be unable, at least, to stop him from speaking.