Pariah, English

The sky was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. Skunk scurried through the shadows; I could hardly see him from across the road. He moved jerkily along the alleyway, as if someone had tied strings to his limbs and pulled him onwards with no regard for how a human body was supposed to work. That was probably the only reason I noticed him from the start, had he been moving slower or more fluently he would have been more or less invisible in his mottled gray clothes. It also helped that I knew he was coming. Is this really what my profession had been reduced to? It wasn’t long ago that I had been a highly paid and well-respected member of the press-corps… and now I was skulking in shadows, using criminals and drug users as information mules. Evolution in society? What a fucking joke.

Slowly Skunk approached me, while keeping a lookout over his shoulders nervously, as if he was afraid that the walls had ears. Come to think of it, they might have. No eyes, though… I had made sure of that. This was probably the only placed in a ten block radius that had a blind spot from the Network. Before he could open his mouth I silenced him with a quick gesture. I hadn’t taken all these precautions just to get busted by some unusually attentive fucking Warden actually paying attention to the sound feeds. The scrambler I used was highly illegal and attracted attention too, but seeing as I was using illegal funds to purchase information so I could write a story to publish on one of the pirate feed-sites,(all things punishable by life in prison or death) I could hardly be picky when it came to equipment. It’d take the so called police about five minutes to trace the distorted signal and send a squad car. With a little luck, we’d be gone by then.

-“Here’s the disc, man… I had to go through hell to get it to ya,” he said in hushed tones. -”It wasn’t easy, I almost got caught… I want more cash, man… If they find me, they’ll fuckin’ lock me up!” he finished, on a slightly higher pitch. I gave him the funds he asked for in cash… yet another crime, but one that didn’t bother many people on the fringe of the law. Ever since the Union had pushed through the legislation that gave the corporations the right to keep their own police, life had become more and more difficult for those of  us who operated at the edge of what might possibly be considered legal. With that kind of weight behind them, the big companies could all of a sudden influence the laws a lot more, and step by step society became something to be feared. Banning cash so that all transactions could be traced, rewriting the censorship laws, removing freedom of speech and rejoining church and state… it had all happened so fast. All in the name of “security”. You might see why being a journalist today might be somewhat risky, yes?

He turned to leave as I quickly browsed through the disc he had risked imprisonment for.  Briefly scanning the documents on it, I couldn’t help but smile. It wasn’t only what I had suspected, from what I could tell it was also exactly what I needed. I had known Skunk for almost 20 years and when he started working as a janitor at one of the “Departments of Truths”, I talked him into doing a little ‘research’. It didn’t take much to convince him, and after finding out exactly what he could get access to it quickly became worth every cent. He had been supplying me with reliable information for almost three years now, so when he got a message to me saying that he had found ‘the holy grail of information’ I wasn’t going to argue. What he had given me might literally change the world.

A short muffled cry came from the other end of the alleyway, and as I looked up I could see Skunk fall to the ground. Not being a great believer in coincidences, I decided to get the hell out of there. I could already see flashlights swaying and coming towards me through the narrow alleyway, and even before I had taken three steps the access alarm I had set up for my iChip went off. Someone was trying to read the ID-tag remotely, and more than likely were becoming both angry and frustrated at their inability to do so. My encryption would not hold them off for long though, but it didn’t really have to. If I couldn’t get away within minutes, I’d be fucked anyway. The only reason I had survived in the world of underground journalism was my almost obsessive attention to details and planning, and this meeting was no different. I had three different ways out, depending on what went down. The police was closing in behind me and I couldn’t really work under the assumption that they weren’t in the other end of the alleyway too, so… plan B it was. A few steps behind a dumpster to my right was a sewer lid, and I ran over and bent down over the lid, prying it open with my fingers. I had earlier spent some time in making sure I could open it in a hurry… and this qualified as a hurry. It was old and heavy, and the rusted edges cut into my fingers. Heaving the lid over to one side, I fumbled in my pockets for a small bottle of ammonia and quickly sprayed the edges of the lid. Wouldn’t do me much good to get away if I left them a DNA-trail to follow, now would it? I could hear the footsteps of the police coming closer, prompting me to hurry up. Pulling the lid back over the hole, I then dropped into the old abandoned sewer.

The smell of still water and decay permeated my entire being, and covering my nose with my hoodie didn’t help much. Pulling up the blueprints of the sewer on my PDA, I started to move. Not only was this a way out that they probably didn’t expect; it also gave me access to a secure access node, and that meant that I could backup the disc to somewhere a lot more safe than my backpack. Even if they caught me, that would mean that the information would at least be out there, for someone else to find… and knowing my colleagues, someone would. Our little network of underground journalists had developed over time, and after the last “revision” of our constitution we had grown exponentially. It had all started years ago as a public project to show people more of the inner workings of the military and the government, but that set in motion things we could have never suspected. One might say that we ourselves were the instrument to our own doom. From that point on, things gradually started to change.  It didn’t take long at all to go from the banning of our site in some countries, to actually banning freedom of speech.

After about fifteen minutes of drudging through the filthy pipes, I started feeling safe. I couldn’t hear a single sound indicating that they were after me, my iChip hadn’t been broken through, and most importantly – I was still alive. I slowed down a bit so I could prepare my upload to the network. I had written most of it earlier, so I just needed a quick edit and to add the information Skunk had provided. He had been right in what he said; not only was it huge – they had gotten him, and were going to lock him up, at best.  I Wouldn’t  want his sacrifice to be in vain. I prepared two packages, one with my story and the relevant documents to prove that it was true, and one with the raw data of the disc … someone else might be able to use it too.  Sharing is caring, and all that. Having our own node to access the Network wasn’t only to protect us by bypassing the government filters and firewalls, it also let the rest of our group access the data without being discovered.

Ahead of me, I could see the node I was looking for. A sigh of relief crossed my lips; it was still active and undiscovered. We put up nodes as fast as we can, and the Wardens do the best they can to shut them down. Connecting myself to the node required a little bit of effort though. It didn’t use WiFi as everything else did; something like that would pop up like a little sun on the Network. Unpacking an outdated RJ45-cable from my backpack for the hardwire connection, I couldn’t help but feel a bit nostalgic. Making the connection was easy, and uploading the disc didn’t take long; now for the interesting bit.

About a year ago, two former Pirates had found out a way to temporarily override the governments control over media output; basically giving us a chance to flood the entire Network with our own broadcast. We could only do it for a short period of time and it was traceable, so we had been saving it for something big. And this was big. I set things up so that the story would be available for download even after our broadcast ended, and I also included the disc there as well. Let people make up their own minds about this. I recorded a short video to announce everything, and set it on a time-delayed upload. I Wouldn’t want to miss the reactions to this broadcast. After setting everything in place and making sure it’d work like i wanted it to, I headed for the nearest exit.

Making my way back topside I felt like I had actually accomplished something, and walking across the now busy streets of downtown Stockholm I found a place that served decent coffee. As the barista handed me my cup I could hear PDAs and InfoScreens all over town sing with my own voice:

“…This is Julian, and it’s  time to pay attention.”

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