Happy with this one. Longer than I thought it would be, but even so there's no parts I'm going to rewrite totally before transferring it to digitalraven.org's archives. Plus, it's me ranting on politics.
And Nothing... But the Truth
by Stewart Wilson
At its heart every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. The story of my life had a beginning that any editor would reject straight away for being flat and boring. The middle at least was exciting and fast-paced, a story about freedom in the face of oppression. Standard fare for Hollywood action movies. It might make a good summer blockbuster that nobody remembers six months down the line.
The end came far too soon for my personal taste, everything ramping up into overdrive for one last big finale where the secrets come out, the killer is revealed and our heroes blow up the bad guy and ride the shockwave off to a massive victory party.
How I ended up the bad guy in the story of my life is something I'll never know. But it's in these moments, snatched seconds of tranquillity between the chaos, that I have time to think and reflect. Frame things as I'm sure the directors and screenwriters will, picking out the action but leaving the social subtext out. It doesn't speak highly of them, but people might not go see as many movies any more if they left it in.
Zoom out. Our protagonist, wearing an old t-shirt and black biker leathers, is slumped on the floor of an underground train station. The empty platforms, the trains never coming, are a recurring motif in the story, crammed full of meaning and hidden subtexts. Or maybe I've just never got around to buying a car? The station's underground. Could be under any number of European cities, where the only people with cars are tourists. Said protagonist is clutching a bag to his chest, fumbling with something inside.
Jump-cut to fifteen minutes ago. The main departure hall of Munich's Hauptbahnhof, the central train station. A crowd of people. milling around the forty platforms, getting on or getting off trains from all over Europe and Russia. Easily a thousand people, and this isn't a busy time. The big globe-clock is working for the first time in eight months. It's twenty-three minutes past five.
Our protagonist (OP) runs through the door to the left of the ranks of platforms, in from a street awash with late-summer sunlight. The crowd gets in his way, a few apologies in English and German as he makes his way through them, obviously heading for the main atrium. When he's halfway there, three plain-clothes policemen enter from the same door. One thinks she has a bead on OP and fires twice. The sharp crack of gunfire turns the crowd into a riot as people stampede for the relative safety of their trains or try to get out. OP goes with the flow, dragged into the atrium and towards the stairs. The mass of people slows and mills around as he leaps for the escalators for the underground. Too many people standing around, he runs down the handrail. Action movie physics. No time lost, a slight trip at the end turned into a rather dashing roll because it looks good for the cameras. Not a slight trip at the end fucking up his wrist so bad it's almost sprained. That might make be truthful, but nobody likes a sympathetic villain.
The police follow, shouting "Aus! Schnell!" Barging their way through the crowds. It's amazing that they don't have a maverick American cop leading them. Three more gunshots. The camera doesn't show the twenty-six year old girl who was going to catch a train to meet her boyfriend getting her head blown apart by a police bullet. OP makes it down the next stairwell and into the crowds. View from the police on the escalator, the doors of a train closing right after OP boards. Fade.
Fast fade up on the exterior of the Siemens building just outside Munich, an hour ago. Used to be the local headquarters of the Lego Corporation and nobody's redesigned it, blocks of colour and odd design rules the day. There's a motorcycle propped near the side fence. Easier on the viewers than having it hidden in the woods across the street. It's a flash, fast job. Probably of the latest model being released, used as a tie-in with the film rather than a ten-year-old thing that takes four goes to start at the best of times.
Inside. OP, dressed in a suit-jacket and carrying a satchel, walks the white corridors. No light coming from the window above one door, so he ducks against it. Tests the handle. Unlocked. He slips inside and locks the door behind him. Takes a laptop out of the satchel, connects it to the workstation and watches flashing 3-D animations from a “hacking program”. Certainly doesn't sit and spend a while testing for existing exploits and then going for one. One guy staring alternately at a reference book in a browser and a terminal is boring cinema. This way there's more tension. He types on the laptop, puling across secret documents. Siemens will claim that they are trade secrets, manufacturing specifics for their next generation of chips, and the film will go with that.
Really they were detailed financial reports, showing just where the dirty money went. Who was paying for what slave-labour in China and India, who had donated what to various political lobbies. Why were they laying around in a file? Because people are stupid, especially corporations. They need documentation, have a love of paper trails. Sometimes that gets the worse of them, especially with the document recovery tools on their servers. Sometimes big companies have their payroll spreadsheets open to anyone with Google and a clue. It was there. It was evidence.
Someone tries the door handle. Rattles it a couple of times. The sound of a key in the lock outside. The laptop's already back in the satchel, OP is standing behind the door. Which opens, letting in a clean-cut German businessman. OP punches him in the throat and runs. He doesn't knife him, though the film will probably try to claim that. OP is doing his best at this stage to avoid being a killer.
Confused with shock and fear, OP forgets the best piece of advice anyone's ever given him, and runs. Left-right-right and out the front doors before anyone can say anything. The guard raises the alarm but it's too late. At full pelt, OP makes it out through the door. wrenching his shoulder in the dive. The locked door does slow down the security staff as he heads for the bike. Starts the bike eventually, sweating bullets. Swaps the suit-jacket for the bike-jacket while he's there, the suit burning as it hits the ground. Then vroom. Straight line on the bike back towards the city, revving high all the way.
The film will, at this point, likely have some character-developing meeting with like-minded characters, to get across the deluded and dangerous stance of people who still think that the truth matters. Maybe even an underground seminar by the elite terrorists of the EFF. Something to show how OP got involved in such obviously BadWrongEvil activities, what made that nice Englishman go so bad.
I'll break the cinematic retrospective right here and let you know how I got this way. I was a writer. Journalist, mostly, sometimes fiction. The day they formed the ICCA, I knew I had to do something. But not many people know about the ICCA, because just about nobody cares any more. It came out of the incestuous relationship of the MPAA and RIAA and the Berne Convention and a number of minor laws, the International Copyright Control Agency was a big "fuck-you" to anyone who dared create. They fought for landmark rulings that eliminated Fair Use and the public domain in one fell swoop, taking upon themselves the enforcement of copyrights if the original owners would not.
They served me with a suit for adding copies of my old articles to the public domain for free. My own work. I got off, but only just. I was just one victim of the legal chaos that fell out from the demise of the grey-market p2p networks. The ICCA enforced trade secrets laws and bought up the last free news outlets, removing the freedom of the press once and for all in order to avoid harm coming to the precious businesses that funded it. Businesses who didn't want the world to know that they were dumping ten thousand times the legal amount of toxic chemicals into protected waterways, or using Chinese slave labour to make their next-generation computer chips.
So I wrote a manifesto. New Journalism changed the face of journalism for a while, turning the objective subjective, inviting the journalists to live the story that they were telling. Hunter S. Thompson and the fictional Spider Jerusalem were the best-remembered examples at that point, so I drew from them. And I told my world, the underground of people who still believed in the truth and freedom, that we would just have to take that to the next level. Our new journalism was fighting the ICCA and the creatures that threw money at it. Corporations. Governments. To do that, we would have to live that fight. We would have to get our own evidence, often illegally. But the laws that prevented us doing so were no longer just laws, so we had a moral case for breaking them. The manifesto spread. New Combat Journalism was born.
I've performed successful raids on big companies four times so far. This fourth is where my story's ending. Ten minutes from now when the next train comes in, when they see that this is where I've got off and come shoot me because I am a Dangerous Insurrectionist and a Threat To Security. Just me, cold and aching, hugging the laptop to myself and wondering how the fuck I'm going to get out of this one. Cold floor underneath me, cold tiles at my back. Me and my laptop. Nothing else. Nothing but the truth.
I've carried one gun or another for three years but I've never used any of them. I get given them like they're care packages by local writers and journalists and sympathisers — even one from a mother who couldn't afford the license for her kid to play as his favourite superhero for that month. "Something to keep you safe," she said. I honestly never thought I'd need any of them. I always gave them back before I left. Looks like today is where I redefine that. I slide this one our of the satchel, slip it into my jacket. I'm tired of running and I'm damned if I'm going to turn myself in. The laptop glows to life as the first whisper of air tells me of an approaching train, I can hear it by the time the file starts uploading over the crappy GPRS link.
Three minutes. That's all I need. Keep that laptop safe for three minutes and I'm done. The train doors open, the cops keeping near the back of the crowd. One speaks into a radio. I pat my jacket and feel the unfamiliar weight of the pistol. I've never fired one of these before. Time to find out what it's like. The action movie finale's going to happen after all.
They shoot first but I'm already springing forwards, bullets hitting the wall and ground where I was a split-second before. I pull the trigger three times, jarring my arm. Not aiming for them, just giving them a reason to keep their heads down. More gunplay, they're as inaccurate as I am. I hear shouting from above, the heavy clomp of armed police boots. The kind with machine guns that could cut me in half where I stand. I shoot again and again, weaving back towards the edge of the platform.
Somebody shouts something I don't understand and the place goes white. A flashbang grenade, something I've only seen in video games. It hurts, a lot, and my eyes don't stop burning for a long time. When they do, I'm on the floor. Some big bastard in riot gear has an MP5 in my face. I could go along with him, take my lumps in prison. I could do something stupid, get shot, become a martyr. Either way, the movie ends. Final coda before the credits, then roll'em
Instead, I drive his testicles up into his chest cavity with a steel-shod toe. He crumples in shock, fumbling his gun. I wriggle out as people start shooting, gunfire filling the station. Before he's collapsed I'm in the tunnel, running for my life in the darkness. The laptop's back in the station, but it's finished uploading by now. I don't need it any more. Carrying nothing as I run for my life. Nothing but the truth.
Flash forwards six months. I walk out of the cinema, shaking my head. It was as bad as I had feared. At the end they had me shot for kicking the cop in the bollocks, final text that the heroic police had killed a dangerous terrorist and inciter of free thought. For some reason I find myself laughing as I turn onto the street, I was never as good looking as the actor they got to play me. And they really think that my life and my work boils down to a summer blockbuster... I may steal a copy of the DVD as a memento when it comes out.
The consuming world thinks I'm dead because the German cops couldn't admit that one pen-wielding lunatic escaped them. That's the best news I've had in a long time.