America is changing fast. Cities are becoming dangerous. Time to bug out…
Security Engineer, Logan Cahill, and a woman who may or may not be his girlfriend, Skylar Madigan, live together, but only because it makes their conspiring that much easier. Logan, like Skylar, is tormented by the notion that time is running out for America.
As the nation spins perilously out of control and foreign forces make their foothold in the country known, Logan is tasked with investigating the mysterious Harper Whitaker, a programmer he believes to be working under false pretenses. Is she caught up in cyber espionage, or something darker? And how does Skylar fit in with this? Has she been using him to get to Harper?
Things are not as they seem, and the lid is about to blow off the whole city, maybe even the country. The question that plagues Logan is the question of when, and how. When does he bug out? How will he survive a total collapse of society? The good news is, Skylar has a plan and Harper just might be a part of it. Will they be able get off the grid before all hell breaks loose? The apocalypse is coming, which means the end is near…
Books in the Dark Days of the After Series:
- Dark Days of the After
- Dark Days of the Surge
- Dark Days of the Apostasy
- Dark Days of the Enclave
Release date: November 27, 2019
Publisher: River City Publishing
Print pages: 120
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The Last Light of Day: A Dark Days of the After Prequel
The first time Logan Cahill saw Harper Whitaker, he thought nothing of her, except that maybe they were the same age. Late twenties, early thirties. He wasn’t attracted to her, nor did it seem she caught and held anyone else’s eye. She was just a dutiful employee of the San Francisco tech giant, SocioSphere. At the time, if he had known who she was, or what she was really doing, he would have thought otherwise. Maybe he would have asked for another assignment. But he didn’t. So by and large, he dismissed her, just like everyone else he met. And when he was tasked with spying on her, he agreed to do so with barely a nod.
On the outside, Harper was about as ordinary as anyone else he’d ever seen. Like himself, there was nothing overtly special to account for. She wasn’t thick or thin, pretty or ugly, exceptionally dressed or drab. No one really cared about looks anymore, not with what was going on. It wasn’t like the old days where Hollyweird or New York drove the fashion world into a multibillion dollar industry.
People were too preoccupied with surviving to care.
So she wore her hair flat and blonde, like a lot of people, and it was touched here and there with a few natural lowlights. Her face—being neither round nor angular—was wholly unexceptional. It could be pretty, Logan thought, but she had a few extra pounds on her that was maybe hiding her best self. Same as him. Nevertheless, her skin was dry but washed, without distinct markings, save for a blemish here or there. Even her eyes were the plainest blue you’d ever seen—two dimensional, like construction paper. No shine, no life, certainly nothing you’d ever look at and get lost in.
Beyond these sparse, rather uninspiring, observations of the woman, until Logan began covertly monitoring her daily activities, he hadn’t given even the idea of her much consideration.
When he began watching her through the camera built into her computer screen, however, it was clear she took her job as a software programmer seriously. He could see this as plain as day. Then again, Logan knew how to read people. It was his expertise. He was especially good at non-verbal cues as indicators of emotion.
As a security engineer, not only did he have access to his target’s entire online search history, he had special access to their texts and cell phone conversations as well as their home, but only if their work activities turned out to be treasonous. Seeing recordings of their home life compiled from audio and video retrieved from the bedrooms and kitchen via the smart network, i.e., the internet of things, often proved to be invaluable in crafting a complete picture. There was also the matter of video retrieved from around the homes and apartment hallways themselves. In the new world, there was no hiding, no conspiring.
It was sold at first as a means of keeping the peace, finding lost children, locating runaway pets, but that was the ruse. The lie that made everyone say yes. Today, everyone saw it for what it was…the spider’s web of surveillance.
When you began investigating every aspect of a person’s work life—like Logan was doing with Harper Whitaker—you stopped thinking of them on a first name basis and began to distance yourself from them completely. He didn’t want to think of her as human, a woman with a life, someone’s daughter. He preferred to see her as a puzzle that may or may not be complete. She was no longer a she but an it. As in a question. A potential problem. Something to either investigate or check off the list. She had been reduced to suspect, target, potential dissident.
The truth was, he didn’t like looking at her that much. That’s not to say she was irritating or boring. To that measure, she was extraordinarily boring. That’s what threw him. No one was that controlled, or that robotic.
But Harper was...
The reason she was flagged for review wasn’t because she said anything wrong, or that she was behaving suspiciously—the terrible Ms. Ming Yeung told him that she was too perfect. That was why she was now under observation.
“People like that are often hiding something,” the horrendous looking woman said in her broken English.
Ming Yeung was a Cantonese national, severe looking with the kind of voice that made one think of unwarranted torture. That was the first time he heard that voice and saw those ugly, pitiless eyes. He felt bad for thinking ill of the new boss, but even his best friend Han said she was no daisy in the roundabout sense of the word. Logan’s gaze dipped down to her hands when the woman first arrived at SocioSphere. Looking at those small, fidgety hands, he saw no ring. Big surprise. If she ever had a husband, Logan was sure he would have killed himself by now.
Anyway, Ms. Yeung was officially brought into SocioSphere to oversee security operations. By all rights, she didn’t do anything but head up the tech giant’s internal spy grid. He assumed this because no one lost their job when she arrived, and no one seemed concerned she was there to replace them. Not with those hideous polyester pantsuits, and that long, perpetually unwashed hair.
“So what you want me to do,” Logan confirmed as he sat across from her at her awfully large desk for the first time, “is find something on her.”
“I’m a software engineer, Ms. Yeung,” he said, “not a snitch.”
“You’ll be security engineer,” she said, tired, her English not up to snuff just yet. “In charge of security.”
“I don’t think that’s how that title works.”
He was measuring his words at this point. SocioSphere was founded by the late Atticus Van Duyn, a bitter rival of Mark Zuckerberg, and one of the most widely respected billionaires in the world. Looking across the desk at this woman, he almost asked if she showed up to work at the wrong job.
He held his tongue, though.
He knew better.
In response to his assertion, the short, thin nightmare of a woman slipped off her shoe and began picking a toenail. She held his eye the whole time, unblinking. He swallowed hard, his stomach lurching. From behind her desk, where he could only see her from the waist up, he fought hard not to imagine what those feet looked like. That she had such little concern for her grooming habits in front of strangers was disturbing enough.
Well that and the duck tongue soup. He’d heard about the meal she ordered from his friend, Han. Han learned that the woman was from the heart of Guangzhou, the capital of the province of Guangdong in Southern China. A quick background check on Han’s part showed that she had an affinity for takeout dishes that included things like frog legs, chicken feet and the aforementioned duck tongue.
That in itself spoke volumes of the woman. Her unsympathetic demeanor and her complete lack of decorum regarding her toenails did the rest.
From what little he knew of the Guangzhou economy, the woman had to have received a pay raise coming here. After all, who would leave such a bustling city to come to the all but fallen city of San Francisco? No one in their right mind. He began to wonder if she pissed someone off to get here. Perhaps this was punishment for something else.
As his imagination began to unwind, she interrupted his thoughts to give him his assignment, his upgraded security clearance and the key to his new office.
“What if I don’t find something on Ms. Whitaker?” he asked, low and conspiratorial. Leaning in, he said, “Will you need me to find something?”
She stopped picking her toenail, slapped her bare foot on the floor and flicked a tiny nugget of dirt on the desk. Then, tenting her short rodent-like fingers together, she straightened her back and drew a breath. Was she smiling?
He wasn’t sure.
Perhaps her smile was just a crooked frown, for there was nary a hint of emotion in this woman, barely any tell to warn him of an impending storm, should she one day snap and demand he be shot.
“I see you understand the task you have been given,” she responded, satisfied by his question. “For being a white, you don’t seem too stupid. You look stupid, but you don’t seem stupid. There is a difference.”
He bit his lip and slightly lifted his chin. Hearing things like this grated his nerves, but seeing her looking so proud of herself for the observation made him want to pull her guts out. Chewing on his anger, trying to stifle the growing heat in his cheeks, he told himself he wasn’t that kind of guy. He was a go-along-to-get-along kind of guy. Watching one of your colleagues get shot in the office for treason had that sort of an affect on normal people.
“Thank you, Ms. Yeung,” he said.
She sat back in her chair again, hiked that foot back up and turned her attention back to her ill-timed, podiatric care session. “Leave me now,” she said. “You know your task.”
That was a few weeks ago. Ms. Yeung hadn’t spoken with him since then. This alone was concerning. Day and night, a sick anxiousness began to take shape inside him. Little tendrils of worry snaked through him, infecting his moods, heightening his fear. No matter the days or hours of focus, he hadn’t found a single thing on his subject.
Harper Whitaker, by all rights, was a model employee.
This meant the tide had turned. Because of his lack of evidence supporting Ms. Yeung’s suspicions, he was now being watched at work. His new “office” was a dark closet he could barely move in, a desk, and a computer. On the ceiling behind him, he routinely heard the small camera moving, the lens focusing. That was her. Ming Yeung. Connoisseur of fine reptilian cuisine.
She was watching him—he just knew it!
Day after day, he could feel her, those sharp suspicious eyes, those bits of toenail boogers crushed and smeared between the ridged pads of her fingers, a cold bowl of mostly eaten soup on the desk before her.
He closed his eyes, fought to clear his mind.
This was no easy task considering he was now under observation, the weight of her perceived scrutiny a crushing, debilitating indignity.
How could this Whitaker woman come to work day after day working for these tyrants and display not one hint of emotion, not a single indecency, not even one hint of treasonous impropriety?
It was exhausting. She was exhausting.
Despite the mounting stress, he kept his non-verbal cues in check. Emotional stability was imperative. After what happened to Byron Chance, Logan knew the risks of disappointing the new regime. He understood that self-preservation meant upping his game. Fortunately, his grasp on the understanding of emotions was his wheelhouse. Knowing all the tells of a rattled person allowed him to keep his own tells in check. Managing those under the watchful eye of Ms. Yeung felt paramount to his own survival.
Logan’s office was so small it got both hot and stuffy. There was barely any room for a desk and chair, or the small fan in the corner of the room. In fact, the door to his office was so close to his desk, it actually opened up against his chair. Wiping his brow, he couldn’t help thinking how badly the ventilation sucked in there. One day he’d suffocate to death and slump over dead in his chair and no one would care. And the last thing he would hear would be that damn camera zooming in on him.
Han said the same thing. They often complained about such things in the dead spots between work and lunch when they left SocioSphere for a bland café or a formerly chic bistro.
“I can’t breathe, smoke a cigarette or rub one out without feeling like any one of those three things will lead to me passing out,” Han told him one day. “But I did learn something!”
“Yeah?” Logan asked.
Three days ago they were walking to a sandwich shop two blocks away. Even though there were directional mics along all the streets, there were dead spots. In those zones, they spoke freely.
Han said, “Ms. Yeung always eats at eleven-thirty, and she always finishes at noon. We have eyes on her now, just to make sure. Four days in a row.”
He was a security engineer too.
“Don’t let her catch you watching her or you’ll get Last Chanced,” Logan warned his friend.
Waving his hand to show his distinct lack of concern, he said, “Tristan told me. I asked him to pop in and see what’s what.”
Logan swallowed hard over a huge lump in his throat. “Tristan…the hacker?” he asked.
“Yeah, that’s the one,” Han said, cool because now he was name dropping.
“You know him?”
“Of course I do,” he said proudly, “otherwise he wouldn’t be talking to me.”
“And he said…”
“Eleven-thirty to noon. That’s when you can do your thing. Just loop the cameras, disable two way monitoring, and you have a half-an hour of uninterrupted time.”
“For whatever. Peruse the internet at will, beat the bishop, take a nap, pick your nose, your teeth or your ass. It’s your time. Your thirty minutes of freedom.”
“When you say, beat the bishop…”
Rolling his eyes, he made the classic jerking off movement, then stopped so as not to draw attention to himself and said, “Whatever you want, man. You’re welcome.”
Han was born in Hong Kong to a wealthy family. When the city was bastardized in 2019 by China and taken by force, Han and his family fled to America, never thinking that nearly ten years later they would be subjected to the oppressive regime once more.
Han’s father killed himself in early 2028. He said he wouldn’t go through that again. Han found his mother a month later with a needle hanging out of her arm, her head flopped over sideways, her mouth a bit foamy. She didn’t have a pulse.
Like his father, she found a way to escape the Communist Chinese regime, a.k.a. the Chicoms.
Han did not possess the courage of his parents, so like Logan, he toed the party line, finding what few comforts he could, staying off the radar at all costs.
The clock on Logan’s computer said eleven-thirty. His stomach growled and he had to pee. Ms. Yeung was eating now, and soon Harper would leave for lunch. Logan would follow her, hoping to find something through external observation, perhaps a social hack, if he found her interacting with anyone. Ms. Yeung had offered this as a possibility for him, should he need it. He didn’t think he would, but now he knew he did. As stern as the woman could be, at least she’d given Logan free reign over his actions.
The woman’s words were burned into his head at this point: “Harper Whitaker is a high-priority target until I tell you otherwise. Do what you must to find her betrayal.”
Han informed him that Ms. Yeung said this to all the security engineers. He also said he knew for a fact that everyone would eventually go under surveillance. Byron Chance ruined that for SocioSphere. If someone as squeaky clean looking as Byron could betray the organization, and the state by proxy, then in their harsh authoritative minds, anyone could betray anyone. This meant no one was safe. He put Byron out of his mind, focused on his task.
As he watched Harper through the built-in camera in her computer, Logan saw a woman working diligently, writing code pursuant to her duties. It was the same thing day in and day out. He stretched, yawned, thought of his maybe-girlfriend Skylar.
Today was their two month anniversary. That morning he’d asked if she wanted him to do anything special for the evening. She looked at him funny and he made no more mention of the subject after that. He was still unclear on whether or not they were even dating. He was lost in thought about this perplexing subject when the door to his closet opened up and light flooded in. He sat up straight, shielding his eyes from the bright lights. Standing before him was the ocular nightmare in a bad pantsuit and a wrinkled satin button up shirt.
She should be eating!
Containing his panic, he said, “Yes, Ms. Yeung?”
“You are failing me,” she hissed. He gulped, said nothing. “Stop failing me.”
She slammed the door shut, putting an exclamation point on her assessment and her thinly veiled threat. Logan needed a good two minutes to get his heart rate back to normal. His mind refused to settle down, though. For a second there, he thought this was his last chance. That’s what they called it when you were sure you were a goner: being Last Chanced.
Byron Chance had his brains blown out at work late last year, on the third Thursday of November, the day America used to have Thanksgiving. Instead of seeing turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, everyone in SocioSphere watched the back of Byron’s skull eat a bullet. Maintenance was picking his teeth out of his monitor for a good thirty minutes after that.
That was 2029, last year.
Like everyone else, Logan was terrified of being Last Chanced.
Doubling down on his efforts, he vowed to find something on the elusive Harper Whitaker. He just had to! Should he ask for surveillance authorization of her cell phone, or her home network? Could he access the digital files for the last week?
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