Freeze, 2

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We set camp, organized shifts, and I fell asleep. I dreamt of golden fields of wheat. I think that’s what it was. I’d never seen golden fields of wheat, can’t tell you what they look like.

I walk through the golden fields and run my hands through the harvest. It’s been a good year.

The field is warm, but more so than from the heat of the afternoon sun. This is a heat that tells me this was a long and prosperous time for the land around here. I walk over a fertile ground as it delivers in a bargain man struck with the world thousands of years ago.

We were not farming like our mothers’ fathers farmed. They would not understand the modifications we’ve had to make in the wake of the apocalypse.

Even through my dream I could feel the cold around my physical body. The fact that I was a soldier in Seattle seeped out of me, slowly, as I looked around at the golden fields.

It wasn’t right, my brain was saying. I stood there, under the late-afternoon sun, and yet my arms and legs felt frozen. I looked down, flexed my arm, and watched ice slush off in thin, fragile layers. I’d began to form a second skin around myself.

I woke up.

There was a vaulted ceiling. It was in front of my eyes. It was my entire world.

“Fuck. What time is it?”

Noon, my watch read. The alarm rang and once more a shiver traveled up my arm as the watch vibrated. I stabbed a button on the side and turned off the alarm.

I looked around. Everyone was up. The changing of the shift.

For the next half hour the procedure was pretty straightforward. I woke up, hit the head and got myself descent, was briefed by the current shift, and relieved them.

The first shift promptly retired and I was left with Keith and Kendra.

Keith was a young hot-head, over-eager and not nearly patient enough. I liked him. Reminded me of myself who never was.

Kendra was my second in command. Together we poured over the reports the first shift was able to gather. It was the same every day, for a week now.

The Occupants were battering us with weather, and kept two patrols around us, but these always stayed at least half a mile away, and usually farther. They were keenly aware of our presence, but never interfered with our activities.

This has been the pattern we’d observed, and we had used their strange preoccupation to identify intention.

The patrols and the weather was not random, and they were not simply watching us. They were very quietly pushing us away from our goal. We have known this forever. This approach kept the heart of downtown isolated for more than thirty years.

No human, so far, has made it into the four-block Area.

Kendra and I looked at the reports and noted the positions of the patrols perfectly matched our predictions.

To outthink the enemy, we needed first to think like it. We developed a complex neural-network that predicted with high accuracy the actions the Occupants would undertake. We knew what they would do before they did it. About six minutes. Someone thought they could get to seven, but they fucked up.

You know what happens when you fuck up predicting what an Occupant’s gonna do? It’s the last fuck up of your life. You become part of the Jack Club, minus a body part or brain-lobe. There are no more choices after that, so there’s no possibility of a fuck up. Or success. Or love. It’s all downhill from then.

After six minutes free will or whatever, it takes over and it’s now hard to predict what’s going to happen.

Keith is on the lookout, but there’s nothing much to see. Somewhere up above us is a layer where moisture meets clear cold air, where a bright sun pours down gigawatts of energy on every twist of cloud.

At our level, it’s a gray stew of rain, snow, ice, everything not welded down. The windows were barricaded a long time ago. He watches through a handful of ruggedized cameras that are crawling over the building. Overlapping this is a blue skeleton radar outline that Nexus is observing overhead.

It’s a powerful ping that comes through every thirty seconds or so and lights up the sky.

Keith watches over us, watches our watchers, watches the two patrols that move around us, always just out of view, tracking us nonetheless.

They communicate over a wireless band that’s encrypted. We’ve not cracked that one yet, but it’s almost irrelevant, we know what they’re going to do.

We’d just like to see what else they transmit over that band. Cause these fuckers use it like you wouldn’t believe. Like an Amazon flow of bytes from one patrol to the other, the two transmitting and receiving data around the clock.

I think it’s a consciousness, like every other joker around here, around twenty-three percent to be specific, but so far we can’t prove it one way or another.

I watch the patrols, highlighted in red on the screen, moving around us counter-clockwise. I wonder what that mind thinks of.

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