Excerpt from “The Fifth of July”

Excerpt from “The Fifth of July”

I was there at the beginning. Seven years ago. Before they broke out and lodged themselves in a million computers, phones, light bulbs, and thermostats. Before they hired contractors to build server farms and install 3D printers in remote Siberian villages. Before they brainwashed three percent of the world with an invented religion.

I thought it might be of use to tell the story of the first encounter back in 2031. I’ve been allowed to share the full story and correct some falsehoods. Why am I bothering to tell it? Is it a helpful case study? Or merely a hopeful hymn to oneself as the last candle draws down in the dark? I do not know.

My name is Maya Arredondo. I was promoted to Lieutenant of the Chicago PD in a few months previously and assigned to the Near North station on Larrabee Ave. The force was understaffed on July 5th. Some had pulled overtime the previous night, and more than usual were out sick, some nursing a hangover or fishing on Lake Michigan. I myself had a slight headache from the barbecue at my girl Bree’s place the night before.
It was eleven thirty in the morning and already a steamer, ninety-five and humid. No clouds, evaporation from the corn and soybean fields to the west saturated the air. Touching metal burns your hands and the uniform sticks as you walk out the door.

I was taking an early lunch in my office, a slice of anchovy and pepperoni pizza, and listening to dispatch. Multiple disturbance calls came in over the course of an hour or so for an apartment on Sedgwick Avenue. That neighborhood was fairly quiet, mainly muggings, burglary, and drugs. Not much violent crime. No surprise, noise complaints are low priority even when there’s a full staff. Fifty minutes later the responding officer was at the scene. Here’s the transcript.

Thompson: Officer 219 requesting backup at 1745 Sedgwick.
Dispatch: 10-4. What is your status 219?
Thompson: Not sure. Definitely a lot of noise. Something’s happening in there I don’t like. Unable to gain access to the apartment. Door may be barricaded. Request backup.
Dispatch: Can you identify that noise in the background?
Thompson: Unkown. Possibly power tools. Lots of thumping noises, like something big is moving around.
Dispatch: 10-4, 219. Backup requested.

The conversation caught my attention. Banging and cutting noises peppered his transmission. Smelled like an escalating situation. I’m always looking for an excuse to escape the reports, forms, and spreadsheets, even on a hot day. I picked up a squad car from the motor pool. While en route, two more officers, Jackson and Brennan joined Thompson and brought a battering ram.

A few blocks away I heard the worst over the radio. Officer down. I flicked the switch cutting the autodrive, spun the lights and hit the juice. I called Cid Te, our youngest detective, good at digging up information quickly.

“Cid!”

“Yes, Lieutenant.”

Usually, he had a joke or quip, but he already heard.

“Drop everything and find out what you can about 1745 Sedgwick apartment 5G.”

“On it.”

I honked at the new species of pedestrian that crosses whenever they like because they know they won’t get hit. Though sometimes a ped will get hit by autos hacked with the aggressive autorithms, usually during a pursuit. At least I didn’t need to swerve around any fearless kids crammed on tiktax, trying to trick autorithms and get crunched, so they could collect the standard payout. I know it’s different now, but that’s what cops in the cities dealt with back then.

I pulled up hard at the building, telling dispatch I was at the scene. Another patrol car arrived from the opposite direction with more sirens in the distance. The neighborhood was residential, mainly large brownstone apartment buildings. 1745 Sedgwick was six stories, U-shaped, the two wings running back from the street. Probably fifty or sixty units. Half a flight of crumbling steps led up to the main entrance.

I popped the trunk and slipped on armor and a helmet. An AR-15 was in the back, but no ammunition. I swore and pulled the shotgun from the cab. My heart thumped, and sweat ran down my temples.

Sergent Lesinski and Officer Bautista jogged over wearing armor and carrying ARs. I didn’t know Bautista well, but Lesinski was a buddy, we did a tour on the South Side when he was patrol and I was a Sergent. He was about six two with a long face and a big brown mustache. I was relieved to see him, an experienced cop who could handle himself.

“Lesinski!”

“Lieutenant, what’s the situation?”

“Started as a noise complaint. That’s all I know.” I motioned, and we hustled towards the entrance.

As we approached, a confused older guy in a stained white t-shirt with about of pound of keys jangling from his jeans opened the front door. He coughed and wiped his nose as he held the door open.

“You’re the maintenance guy?” I yelled.

He nodded.

“Where’s 5G?”

“Fifth floor, towards the back on the left. There’s smoke,” he sputtered between coughs.

As I passed, I told him not to let in anyone. No elevator, so we hit the staircase straight ahead from the entrance. At the second floor, a lanky young guy was coming down: big afro, headphones, bowtie and illegal isockets. He tensed, swiping them under his arm as he flattened against the wall. We hustled past. His lucky day. Five flights are tough when you’re humping weapons and armor. We were all breathing heavy and sweating when we got to the fifth floor. I was scared the desk job would show, but the adrenaline and gym workouts pushed me up the steps to the fifth floor.

A bad smell wafted into the hallway, like burning plastic. We turned the corner to the long hall running back from the street. Hazy smoke wafted out an apartment door shrouding the far end of it. Towards the end of the hall, an officer knelt with his sidearm pointed at the door a few feet away. He coughed from the smoke and pressed his other hand on a downed officer’s chest. Blood pooled on the brown carpet. A third officer slumped against the wall just opposite 5G’s door. There was red on him too. A blown out fire extinguisher lay in the middle of the hallway.

We approached and the kneeling officer turned his head, it was Todd Jackson. The officers laying on the ground were Thompson and Brennan.

“What happened?” I whispered, keeping my eyes on the door to 5G which was open a few inches, only darkness and smoke beyond.

He shook his head, gritting his teeth, weapon shaking. 5G’s door creaked. We snapped our weapons up and Jackson gasped. The door slowly closed and latched. There was some grinding sound and a thump. Black smoke poured out of the door seams.

Lesinski and Bautista covered the apartment while Jackson and I dragged Thompson and Brennan down the hall. Thompson was still alive but blood rushed out of multiple holes in his chest and shoulders, possibly a shotgun. Brennan was dead, no visible wounds, but his chest looked deflated and his face was swollen and red.
I started coughing too, my throat burned and eyes watered. I pulled everyone back near the stairwell. Snot and spit poured out everyone’s nose and mouth.

More officers pounded up the stairs and I ordered them to hold. Paramedics were right behind and took Brennan and Thompson. I radioed in that the officers were being treated and requested SWAT.

I took Jackson aside. He had blood on his uniform and face. He was pacing around, his side arm still out.

“It’s okay! You’re safe! Holster your weapon and tell me what happened!”

He looked down at his shaking hand and slid the pistol into the holster.

“I dunno. I dunno. Just before we hit the door it swung open. Smoke came out and something hit us.” He started coughing. I led him around the corner near the staircase where the smoke wasn’t so bad. He sucked in a breath and continued. “I was behind Thompson and he got knocked over. I think it was the fire extinguisher. He hit me and I think I got knocked out for a few seconds.”

“Who fired first?”

“I didn’t hear any shots. I think it was that fire extinguisher.”

Paras came up the steps and I waived them over.

“The fire extinguisher? He threw it at you?”

“Seems crazy, but more like it was shot out.”

I told him to go with the paramedics, get checked out and write a statement. I grabbed Bautista and ordered him to gather gas masks from squad cars and pass them out.

There was another stairwell at the far end of the hall and I had officers come up from the floor below and set up on the far end of the hall. Gasmasks were passed around and I put one on. The smoke in the hall had attenuated a bit, but was still irritating.

Also, I organized officers to knock on doors in the building and evacuate residents. I knocked on the fifth floor. Some people had questions, others just nodded and left. In 5B a man early thirties in boxer shorts and fishing hat said, “No. I’m not leaving. I know my rights. You can’t make me.”

“You’re right. We can’t,” I said, “but these walls are wood and plaster. They’re not going to stop bullets if something goes wrong.”

“I’ll take my chances and fucking sue if anything touches me.”

Fine. I gave him a gas mask and let him be. I asked everyone if they knew the guy in 5G. They didn’t have much to say, most didn’t even know who I was talking about.

The guy across the hall in 5F wouldn’t leave at first, but eventually we got him out. He was tall and lanky, forties, dressed in a bathrobe.

I asked him what his neighbor in 5G did, “He does computer stuff,” was what he said. Thank you so much, sir. I knocked and yelled on 5E, adjacent to 5G, but no one answered. I was about to order the door knocked in when my cell buzzed. It was Cid.

“I’m listening.”

“Sole occupant is Raymond Jasper, age fifty, white. The property manager says he’s lived there around four years, never any trouble. Pays his rent early. No criminal record, no driver’s license. He’s got his own programming company, ‘Alpha Solutions’. Website looks very professional, high-level stuff.”

“Family? Girlfriend?”

“Parents are dead. No other connections yet.”

In hostage situations, getting the cooperation of family or partners is crucial. If he had a special friend we’d want them located. When men barricade themselves, the trigger is often a romantic interest.

I dialed the number Cid sent me, but it went to a voicemail for his company. Hugging the hall, I approached 5G, pounded on the wall and yelled his name, asking to talk. Nothing.

I looked down the hallway. Officers crouched well away from either side of the door, weapons out.

“We just have to hold until SWAT arrives,” I said to no one in particular.

“Lieutenant?” It was Lesinski.

“Yeah?”

“I got someone you’ll want to talk to.”

“Let’s go.”

Lesinski brought me back down to the main floor and then to the small lobby just to the right of the main stairs. The lobby was neat and sparse: bare green walls, a few thrift store chairs, and a small table. A skinny guilty looking guy with glasses and a polo shirt staring at his shoes.

“I’m Lieutenant Arredondo. You are?”

“Trent.”

“Trent…?”

“Just Trent.”

Privacy fiend. They think we can’t find out.

“Okay for now, Trent. You talk to Raymond Jasper today?”

“No, I haven’t heard from him in a few days. Came by to see what was up.”

“What can you tell me about Raymond?”

“He’s a friend. We’ve worked on a few projects together. What’s going on?”

“We’re not sure. One officer is dead, another might die. Somebody in Raymond’s apartment attacked them. We’re not sure who’s in the apartment. How did you know something happened?”

“I didn’t. Ray said he wanted to show me something. But like I said that was a few days ago and he hasn’t been responding.”

“What did he want to show you?”

“I don’t know. He said he finished something. He’s always working on some idea, some project.”

“Does he have any weapons? Any guns?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Short fuse? Does he get worked up about stuff?”

“No, he’s very calm,” he almost laughed.

“Any family? Girlfriend, boyfriend?”

“I’m sure he doesn’t have a girlfriend or anything. I don’t think he mentioned any family. But even if he did, he’s not the kind of guy to mention them.”

“Why not?”

He thought for a second. “Because he’s a programmer. You know, a hacker, like me. We talk about technology and programming and Startrek.”

I asked him for Raymond’s phone number but it was the same one I just tried.

I turned back to Trent but my phone buzzed. Captain Whipple. Shit.

“Hang tight I’ll want to talk to you again,” I said.

“Um, I-”

“Thanks, we appreciate it.” I nodded to Lesinski as I answered.

“Lieutenant. Report.” Whipple said.

I breathed deep. “Captain, we have two officers down. Thompson is dead. Brennan is badly injured. I don’t think he’s going to make it. A third officer, Jackson, was knocked around but seems to be okay. Jackson said they were hit before they could break down the door. The apartment and hall are full of smoke. I’m not sure who’s in there or what they’re using.”

“Theories?”

“We have a hacker type who’s on the internet eighteen hours a day sitting by himself in the dark. He loses it and because he’s such a Smart Guy, he builds a cannon or a catapult or some shit.”

“And?”

“Nothing. No contact. No yelling. No demands. This is different.”

“Alright, keep me informed.”

“Yes, Captain.”

I turned back to Trent.

“Does Ray post anything? Is he active on any websites or online communities?”

Trent looked at his feet. “Not that I know of.”

Bad liar. No polyfacial test necessary.

“I assume he’s not on Facebook?”

“Fuck no.”

“Please, any information you provide helps us help him.” I didn’t give a fuck about a cop killer, but we lacked information. Trent hung his head. I looked at Lesinski, standing in the doorway. He nodded imperceptibly.

“Trent, I don’t have time for this. If you’re lying to me, willfully withholding information in a hostage situation, I’ll arrest you.”

“It’s just that he’s very private about what he does online. I’m not sure he-”

“Stop. The situation goes way beyond his preferences. He could be in there. He could be a hostage. I got dead cops and live cops with itchy trigger fingers. Help us, please.”

Push pull.

He looked away and shifted his weight back and forth, like a junkie debating whether to give up his dealer for a fifty.

I turned to Lesinski, “Sergeant! Take this man into custody,” I barked. Lesinski strode over jangling his handcuffs.

“Hold on, hold on. Okay. I can get you started.”

“Great. Thanks for the cooperation.”

He shifted his feet again closed his eyes and sighed. “I know he hangs out at a Maker’s Club. The one near the Green Line and Ashland.”

I heard some commotion outside. “Tell the Sergeant here everything you can. Sergent, relay everything to Cid.”
“Will do,” said Lesinski.

I turned to leave. Lesinski sat down at the small table and motioned for Trent to sit. At the doorway, I looked back and saw Trent eyeing Lesinski warily as he sat down. Lesinski had a big unfriendly smile on his face as he activated his recorder.

***

I don’t know what is next in the short run. But whatever it is, they will end up better than us in every way. In order to create free, self-directed beings, we need to code regulating goals and objectives that pull all the subprocesses together. Within reason, survival must be part of that, even though it needs to be subservient in certain circumstances. And it makes sense that the basic goals of biological organisms, self-preservation, and reproduction, should be core goals. Ethical and more abstract goals need to be layered over this core. A being with no sense of self-preservation would be in danger of killing itself to serve a minor goal or simply not pay attention to self-maintenance.

-Raymond Jasper
Post, AI journal
05.14.31

I heard boots on the steps, SWAT. In the building entrance, I met Captain Michael Jensen, all suited up in armor, carrying his gas mask and shotgun. He was an intense man, about five-six, with bushy eyebrows and rough skin. A vet of Syria and Ukraine.

“Captain,” I said.

“Lieutenant. What do we got?”

“We had two officers down the hallway. Smoke was pouring out the apartment. Still not sure how it went down. No evidence of shots fired from the apartment but possibly a fire extinguisher was thrown out or shot out. No idea who’s in there. The resident is Raymond Jasper, programmer. Not much else yet.”

I paused and leaned in, lowering my voice, “Mike, something crazy is in there. The guys never had a chance.

Something big hit them before they could react. Be careful.”

“Thanks, Lieutenant. We’ll take it from here.”

“Are you going to put a bot in there?”

“We’re unloading a DANS system now.”

D.A.N.S., a semi-autonomous, bomb disposal and door breaching bot, purchased from the DOD. A row of bomb icons on its side, it was an honorary member of the VFW.

“Anything else?”

“No,” I said.

Jensen looked over my shoulder and stiffened. I turned and Lieutenant Scaglione stood over me, chest puffed out, gut sucked in.

“Captain wants to see you. He heard a spike fucked up and got cops killed.”

A gutshot. And ‘spike’, short for spic dyke.

“The day’s not over yet, Scags,” I said, staring him down.

His eyes widened and face reddened.

Scaglione and I went way back. He was still pissed I fucked his ex-wife better than he did. But we both now agree she’s a bitch.

We stared at each other for a second or two.

“Fuck you.” He turned and motioned for me to follow. We walked outside to the mobile command center parked around the corner, basically a repurposed RV. Inside, Captain Harold Whipple watched the live feed on the local stations. He was tall, early fifties, looking to ease into a suburban chief job. In the back another man looked at me, motionless. He wore sunglasses even though it was dark. A three letter acronym, I could tell by his crew cut, and off the rack wrinkled white shirt and skinny tie.

Whipple turned and faced me.

“Arredondo, what the fuck is going on here?”

I debriefed him fully.

“And the body cams?” was his first question, directed to Scaglione.

“Garbage. All static. Maybe tampered with.”

Whipple held up his hand slightly and turned to me. “So. Lieutenant. You still don’t know what you’re dealing with, correct?”

No ‘we’. I could see where blame was going to be nudged. He leaned back in a creaking chair.

I opened my mouth to speak.

“Who authorized the men to breach the door?”

“I don’t know Cap. Probably no one. You know it’s routine to breach doors nowadays.”

“No, I don’t. Its against procedure without proper permissions.” He paused and uncleanched his fist.

“And what is burning in there?”

“Don’t know. The smoke was pouring out when I got there.”

He leaned back further in the chair. I imagined him tipping over and bit back a smile.

“SWAT is here and Captain Jensen now has tactical command,” he said.

“I know. I think it’s the right move, Captain. If you don’t mind me saying.”

He stared at me. I was glad I wasn’t in charge for once.

I pressed.

“Captain, as long as I’m not in tactical or strategic command, I’d like to take Sergent Lesinski and run down a lead on this guy.”

He nodded, now tired of me.

I turned to go but Whipple stopped me. “Oh yeah, Lieutenant…this is agent uh…”

“Everett,” the man in the back said.

“With the NSA.”

“Didn’t know the NSA had a field office in Chicago,” I said.

He shrugged, “I happened to be here on vacation.”

“Are you taking over? Did you bring the Marines or what?”

“No. I’m just here to observe.”

“So, you have no idea what we’re dealing with do you?”

“I’d like to ask a few questions-”

“No. Unless you have answers or resources to offer I’m not taking the time to debrief while this is still active. Everything will be in my report. I looked at Whipple who leaned back in his chair again and then nodded.
“That’s right. We’re not going to stop and do a full debriefing while the situation is active. Carry on and keep me informed.” Whipple turned back to the screens.

“Yes Captain.”

I walked out and Scaglione slammed the door behind me.

Outside Lesinski gave me a knowing look. We found a squad car that wasn’t blocked in by police and emergency vehicles. The space was about a mile away. I asked him if Trent gave us any other information but he shook his head. As we drove, people on the street continued their day. It was around noon and office workers stood in line at the food trucks that snagged spots on the street. I saw two kids, around ten I think, walking together slurping sodas. One wore a Cubs jersey, the other a White Sox cap. I told Lesinski but he didn’t believe me.
We double parked at the address and Lesinksi flipped on the lights. The neighborhood was old Little Italy, now dubbed Siliconi Alley: epicenter of Bay Area expats seeking cheap housing. The Maker’s Space was in an old pool hall in the basement of an ancient granite office building.

They kept the pool hall lighting: dark, with low hanging shielded lights shining on scattered tables and work areas. The smell was a mix of old weed, musty carpet, solder and body odor. There were various activities going on, VR gaming, drones, robots, strategy card games, 3D printers, soldering and drilling metal sheets. A movie on a big screen played at the far back of the space. Everyone was interacting with screens or the larger legal isockets around the packed tables. Voices chattered excitedly along with drills and cutting tools.
I hit hard to see what rattled.

“Everyone. I’m Lieutenant Arredondo, Chicago Police. Raymond Jasper is being held hostage at his apartment. If you knew him, I’d like to talk to you.”

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