Big Echo

Critical SF

Don’t Be Evil

By Tim Maughan

The bus is just about perfect. Not too crowded, but enough people to make it worthwhile. And no driver, most importantly. Iker hears Paulo curse when they get on and the driver seat is empty though, cos Paulo hates the driverless buses. His dad used to drive the buses see, and then he used to sit in the seat while they drove themselves, and then the city said they didn’t even need him to do that all the time, so he swapped the seat on the bus for the one on their porch and just spent all day drinking until Paulo’s mom had enough and left. And that’s why Paulo lives in Charleston Park now.

So Iker gets why he’s pissed, but it always kind of rubs him the wrong way when Paulo sucks his teeth and curses like that because he shouldn’t be surprised – they know roughly when there’s gonna be no drivers, always midmorning after the school runs are done and the rush is easing down - and that’s why they pick them buses in the first place. Because no driver means nobody to stop them, at least until the bus tells them it’s calling the cops, and then they can all just bundle off and be done.

 Anyways. Pissed or not Paulo steps up to talk, Molly at his side, addressing the whole bus, their voices both raised to cut through the dampening effect of the scarves tied round their face. They take turns dropping the lines, synchronized and practiced like everything else

–Ladies and gentlemen

–good day

–good morning

–we are the crew

–that’s here to stop you yawning

–so please hold tight, make way

–make room

–cos we about to make this bus go boom

and with that Molly pulls the limpet out of her hoody pocket, learns over between two bored commuter heads, and slams it  – suction end – on the scratchiti covered window. The other end of it starts to glow a dull, pulsing LED blue.

Molly snaps her fingers at it and the blue turns red

and the bus goes boom

a solid bass tone spreads through the whole bus, reverberating steel frames and rattling plastic seats, making windows shake and teeth vibrate, turning  the whole bus and everyone and everything in it – office workers, phones, tourists, spex, tired looking parents, newspapers, shopping bags – turning all of it into one huge, overloaded subwoofer, groaning with chest-slamming distortion.

Iker always loves that first boom, that first kick hit, the way everything in the bus screams at once in its own voice-frequency but always as one, always in tune, like a perfectly disciplined choir. But he ain’t got too long to marvel at it; he always just lets that first bar roll out – kick, snare, kick-kick, snare – and then he knows he’s up–

he half skips between a running man and crazy legs, never missing a reverberated beat, enough to get things warmed up so that by the fourth bar he’s on point–

molly whoops–

and he jumps, offa both feet, hands grabbing the rail above him and pulling his whole body up, tucking his legs in under him so he’s like a ball hanging from the ceiling, and still hitting that beat he starts to work his way down the bus, dangling like a monkey on the bars. He flips himself upside down, so that monkey turns into bat-style, pauses for a tight second in front of some suit-guy with a newspaper, offers him a fist-bump, but the old stiff leaves him hanging so he over-exaggerates an upside down shrug, and swivels round to face some teen girl with purple hair and chrome spex on the other side, who blushes but awkwardly bumps him back. He gives her a wink and smile, triggers more blushes, but he’s moving on, never missing a beat, till he’s hallway down the bus and stripper-sliding down a pole, rolling perfectly into a windmill as he hits the ground, spinning on his head and shoulders and ending on the final kick of the sixteenth bar, lying on his side on the floor, between shoes and shopping bags, smiling and arching back, arm outstretched, introducing Molly–

–who hits the first beat of the next bar like it ain’t no thing, like she wasn’t even paying attention, just casual as all fucking shit like what, yeah, I’m here, what now, yeah alright, her eyebrows raised in that I don’t give a fuck–

–and she follows him down the bus, same route, but each step with more relaxed flair, each swing from bar to bar utilizing some spins and twirls, like that olympic gymnast shit, each perfectly timed so her feet just miss commuters faces by bare inches, less even, until she drops down in front of him, same pose but mirrored and all nonplussed not giving a fuck

–as Paulo somersaults over the both of them, landing on his feet right on the final beat as the limpet goes silent, his only trick but it ain’t easy on a moving rush hour bus, trust. As he lands his arm goes out straight, cap of his head bouncing on his inner elbow and into his hand, classic dancers end pose turned beggar’s request.

voices raised again to cut through the dampening effect of the scarves, taking turns dropping the lines, synchronized and practiced like everything else–

–show your love,

–show your support

–any donations

–would be highly appreciated

Iker and Molly pop up to their feet, caps off and held out, quickly working the commuters. A few people throw in coins, the blushing teen girl drops a note, but most of the passengers might as well not be there, absorbed in unseen screens or just pretending they can’t see them. Some shrug and apologize, mutter something about not having any cash – and Iker knows they ain’t even bullshitting him, they’re all on those contactless payments these days, but they can’t take that cos none of them have spex or even a phone and even if they did then it’d be fucked, because the city would see them get that money and just snatch it away because they say what they do be soliciting and that’s illegal on the buses and–

–and as if right on cue the bus pulls over, stopping and sighing on air breaks, doors squeaking open, as it tells them in a digitalized, crackling woman’s voice that what they’re doing is illegal, that they’ve been recorded, that the law enforcement agencies have been informed, and with that Iker and Paulo and Molly are slipping their caps back on, hoping the scarves are hiding enough of their faces, and flipping the bird to the ever twitching dome cameras that watch them as they skip out the open doors.

She always hates the morning wait, standing in the sun on the corner of San Antonio and El Camino, trying to avoid catching the gaze of the unconnected hanging around outside the Starbucks. There was a time she’d go in there every morning; grab an iced mocha for the ride, maybe a pastry, talk to the barista, smile. He knew her name, that one guy that was always on the 7 am shift, never had to ask her, always just scribbled Lisa in black sharpie on the plastic cup, along with a cartoon smiley face. Sometimes a flower. Cute. Tattoos, winks, jokes about the weather. She’d always leave with a spring in her step. Not like she’d date a barista, of course, but. Who knows? Maybe that's not his main thing. Maybe he just does a few shifts on Retail Warrior to keep the rent ticking over. Shit, she did that when she first hit the Bay. He’s probably in a band. Maybe he codes. Maybe he has a start-up. Most people seem to have a start-up. Or an idea for one at least.

But she doesn’t know, she never asked him.

And now she never goes in there. She waits till she gets to the campus and hits the Starbucks there. In fact more often than not she waits till she gets to her cubicle, orders from her desk, waits a few minutes until the auto-cart drops it off with a dull chime.

The cart knows her name, too. Knows her Google profile, knows her favorite orders, knows to deduct the 6 bucks from her fortnightly wages. But it doesn’t smile at her. No tattoos, no winks, no weather jokes. No sharpie scrawled Lisa or cartoon faces. No smiles. No spring in her step.

And now she never goes in there, the Starbucks on the corner of San Antonio and El Camino. She never goes in because she doesn’t like walking past the unconnected that gather outside, slumped on the concrete in the half shade, muttering at each other, pawing at those trying to enter, always asking for money. The stench of stale bodies, cheap tequila, tobacco smoke. Eyes always trying to make contact, invasive, as though that’ll magically trigger empathy. It used to be safe, walking over there from the bus stop here, there used to be a guard, a SecOps officer on the Google payroll, enough to keep the derelicts at bay – one at each bus top, making it safe to talk to cute baristas – but then the city objected, the prehistoric Mountain Bay Police Department’s union kicking back against private cops on the street – she’d understand, sympathize even, if they ever came down here – to the Starbucks at the corner of San Antonio and El Camino – but she never sees a city cop down here. Never.

They say that it’s getting too expensive to live here now, if you don’t work for Google or Samsung or your start-up hasn’t got funded, but Lisa can’t see how that’s true. If it was then what are all the poor people doing here? Some say there’s two cities now, two Mountain Views. But they say it like it’s a bad thing, and she’s not sure about that. Why not have two Mountain Views? One for the Googlers and the start-ups, one for the unconnected? Two Mountain Views, two police forces, two shopping districts, two transit systems, two cities. Surely everyone would be happier then?

She thinks for a second about her barista, which Mountain View he’d be from.

She puts it out of her mind. She’s never enjoyed politics. It’s messy, illogical. It seems unnecessary. Thinking about it is a slippery slope to talking about it, to finding yourself on the timelines in endless circular battles, screaming into echo chambers. Talking fixes nothing, nothing that shouldn’t just be streamlined with code and reactive management.

The bus arrives, kneels with a compressed air hydraulic sigh, swings open silent, unsqueaking doors. She boards, escaping oppressive sun and unconnected stares, the bus feeling the unseen pass in her purse, beeping gently to welcome her into its driverless, temperature controlled haven. It’s less than half full, as always – just other Googlers, faces she recognizes but doesn’t know, strange yet safe. She has this sudden flashback to riding the city buses before she got this job, or standing on cramped BART platforms, in piss stench soaked CalTrain cars, sharing those spaces with just anyone – potentially everyone–

–her skin crawls
–chest tightens
–heat panic of claustrophobia

–and she breaths again, pushes sense memory aside, remembers where she is. Relaxes.

Scans faces again, recognizes all but knows none, enjoys the anonymity, relishes the fact that no eyes try to make contact.

Except for one pair. Right at the front. Attempting to connect.

Scruffy clothes, unwashed combat fatigues, stained trench coat. Flavella chic, they called it when she was in high school. Looks Mexican. Latino, is that what you’re meant to call them? Or is it Hispanic? Tired. This guy looks really tired, but awake. Alert. Over alert. Anxious. As quickly as the eyes meet hers they dart away, out the window, then down at the hands in his lap, fidgeting, turning his pass over and over, passing it between the gaps in his fingers like a cheap croupier’s trick.

Eyes tired but alert. Over alert. She’s seen it before. She’s been it before. Probably Modafinil, stacked with Oxiracetam. Maybe a shot of Sulbutiamine and some cold-pressed caffeine. Possibly a line of coke on the side, or a hit of roof-grown khat. Standard deadline cocktail. Last night must have been tough, no sleep and a head full of code.

She feels sorry for the guy, but only fleetingly. It comes with the territory. It’s what we get paid for. Plus learn to handle your shit. Organize. Schedule and reactive manage. Or if you can’t do it get on the other bus, with potentially everyone.

She takes a seat.

*

–come on, the others are all back already
–how you know?
I just do, come on jesus it’s late

she grabs his hand and pulls, and he runs after her, her enthusiasm leading him, through the still air and under the trees full of LED light strings, bumping through the crowd, bouncing off bodies and drawing shouted curses. there’s so many olds now, much more than there ever was – he remembers when it was just all kids down here, but now the unconnected old folks come down too, nowhere else to go either, and they hate it when he and the other kids come running through at night, back from their raids.

tough shit, they were here first. they made this place.

Molly pulls him forward, pulls him out of the night air, through the rows of tents and across cardboard floors, under the tarpaulin slung between trees, away from the drone-gaze. She was right, the others are all back already.

–yo what you got man?
–yo Iker?
–what you get homie?
–yo where the fuck you been man?
–you get anything good man?

They all wanna know what Iker got, because he’s the best at raids. He stands up straight, throws his shoulders back, grins, tries to hide.

–yo i got shit man, i got the best shit
–you got bullshit man
–yo Iker show us man what you get man

Iker is the best, that’s no fucking bullshit. King of the raids. He’s the best because he’s really unconnected. See, some of the other kiddies that go out on the raids – well, they SAY they unconnected, but that’s straight up BS. Because they got family see. They’ve been to school and shit, been in care, in detention, foster homes – that means they know your face, know your blood – know who you are. Know your family. It don’t matter whether you got access or not, you ain’t unconnected if they know where you stayed, know your family. Then they know you. You on the network then. They know your face.

But Iker, well – he ain’t got no family. He ain’t been to no school, not been in no care home.

He’s really unconnected.

What that means is he can stroll in to anywhere, cameras or no, whatever, and they don’t know who the fuck he is. He ain’t on their network. Or sure, they might know his face  – they know everyone’s face, know it from every time he walks past a camera, under a drone – but they don’t know HIM. They don’t know who that face belongs too. All the kids here in Charleston park, most the adults too – they here because they want to be unconnected. Because they wanna drop off the network. So they can do their raids and deals and hustles or whatever shit they gotta do without being traced. But it’s bullshit. Because most of ’em are known. And if they know you they know your family, and then they’ll get to you eventually. The cops. Do some bad enough shit, or do some not too bad shit often enough, and the cops’ll shake down your family. Or your friends. make it hard for them to do their shit. Make it hard for those that have got access to keep access. Take their money. Just like that. Take their money straight out of their banks, straight off their cards, take it and tell them to come find you if they want it back. for every dollar you take in the raid, every cent, they’ll take that off your family’s cards, off your friends. With interest. They changed the law just so they can do that. Associated Criminal Damages Compensation, that’s what they call it. ACDC.

And if there’s someone you don’t wanna fuck with even less than the cops, then it’s friends and family who’ve had their money taken because of you, man.

But not Iker, he ain’t got nobody. Means he can take the big risks. just walk in there and do the big raids. Keep his head down, away from the cameras, sure – he ain’t stupid, he don’t want them to call the cops as soon as he walks in some place – but he knows if they do see him, they ain’t got a clue where to find him. No friends or family to take compensation from. No ACDC. Nobody gonna rat him up.

Because he ain’t got nobody.

–so what you got man?
–what I got? I show you what I got homie

They’ve formed a circle around him now, as he slips his backpack off, unzips it, turns it upside down and pours it out on to the floor–

It flows, his shit flows out. Rainbow downpour on to the damp park ground.

Reeces, Almond Joy, M&Ms, Caramello, Haribo...

–holy shit man
–yo look Iker man, Iker always got the best shit

...Oreos, Snickers, Hersheys, Twix, Kit Kat, Jolly Ranchers...

–yo Iker man lemme have some man

...Butterfingers, Mars...

Iker is the best, man. King of the raids.

 —

Lisa sees the movement first through translucent blur; through shards of data and endless lines of code, through the gaps between ever shifting flow diagrams, the spaces where objects and systems touch.

At first she thinks it’s just someone getting up to leave, but the bus is still moving, doing at least 40, heading East on West Middlefield. At least 7 minutes till they hit the campus.

She ignores it all, none of her business. Focuses back on her code, on chimes from her inbox, on her own private space.

Then she hears the voice, cutting through the air conditioned stillness of the bus; nervous, on edge. Thick with latino/hispanic drawl.

–Ladies and gentlemen

She swipes away her workspace with her left hand, clears the air in front of her face so she can get a good look.

–good day

It’s that guy, the tired looking one. The one that’s been up all night.

–good morning

What the actual fuck? He’s stood at the front of the bus, addressing everyone. Looks fucked.

–we are the crew

Kiddie must have totes lost it. She blinks record. This should be worth grabbing.

–that’s here to stop yo yawning

Maybe they are working them too hard, the noobs. But if you can’t stand the heat–

–so please hold tight, make way

Although, this doesn’t feel right. She blushes, sudden awkward embarrassment, looks down, into her lap–

–make room

Somebody in the aisle opposite her screams. Someone else shouts. This jock looking guy behind her gets to his feet. She looks up, leans around the chair in front to get a good look at the guy.

To get a good look at what he’s holding in his hand

wait

To get a good look at the grenade he’s holding in both hands now

One hand on the pin–

–cos we about to make this bus go boom

@SFGateTravel
Transit update: traffic at a total stand still on the eastbound lane of West Middlefield Road as a Google staff bus appears to have suffered a catastrophic failure. Drivers are advised to find alternative routes.
<<blink>> for more

@Boyzee
Shit dunno what’s happening on the West Middle. Google bus blocking three lanes, cops telling everyone to get out of cars?

@Xmans
LOTS of cops all over the West Middle right now, between Midrock and Cottage. Traffic stopped on both sides. Drones buzzing everything. Everyone being told to abandon vehicles and get behind police cordons.

@Fredrik
Dunno what’s going down on the West Middle but looks like heavy shit. ISIS? Antifa?

@SFChronicleBreaking
UPDATE: Mountain View PD confirms that failed Google bus was stopped ‘intentionally’, apparently through use of what they are calling ‘an illegal electronic counter measures device’. Full blown siege situation in progress.
<<blink>> for breaking notifications

@TheVerge
“electronic counter measures device” used to stop bus prob = EMP grenade. The same devices that caused havoc during the Oakland slum clearance riots last year, they were originally designed by Indian anti smart city hacktivists and are powerful enough to shut down a city block’s systems almost permanently. Manufactured from mainly printed parts they are easily available on the street if you know who to ask, and have become both the protestors and armed robbers toy of choice.
<<blink>> for more

The air con died with the rest of the bus when he set that grenade off, she guesses. It’s why it’s so fucking hot in here. Her knees hurt from kneeling on the seat for – what, two hours? – but she’s strangely thankful to be leaning up against the window; the glass still cool, a thin layer of relief pressing against her face and palms.

Just as long as she doesn’t open her eyes.

Because when she does open them she can see outside. The 30 feet of empty tarmac and then the wall of stopped traffic. The cop cars. The red and blue lights. The police snipers peering around abandoned vehicles. The drones, hanging insect-like on quad rotors, unable to approach any closer. All of them, she knows, watching her. Capturing, broadcasting, posting, recognizing, tagging. She wonders what her metrics must be like, how many impressions she’s getting, how her interactions must be off the charts compared to her daily averages.

When she opens her eyes the exposure anxiety threatens to dwarf even the fear of death, so she keeps them closed, and she finds herself wishing she could close her ears too, close her nostrils – her mind wanders and she’s imagining that the EMP grenade had wiped out all her sensors like it did the bus’. Shut her down completely, full sensory deprivation, as oblivious to what’s going on in here as the bus company’s systems must be – because try as hard she might she just can’t shut down the sound of weeping, the stench of fear-piss, the sulphuric scent of burnt out electronics, the pricking of hot, shivering sweat running down her back.

Most of all she can’t shut him out, the sound of his breathing, his low muttering, his shuffling footsteps on the carpeted bus floor. She can’t shut out the smell of his body, rank and unwashed, tinged with shit and piss. She can’t shut out the feeling of his filth, spreading and contaminating the air, crawling on her own skin.

She hears him stop behind her now. Hears his breath.

Feels his hand on her shoulder, gentle. Breath evacuates her lungs, filtered through a weak whimper.

–Turn around

Sobbing, she complies. Slo-mo rotation, fish-eye through-tears effect. Rancid breath-stink. Glimmer of light reflected off gun-metal, limp at his side. Rows of bodies behind, trembling against their own windows. His piercing eyes, green, scared. Softly spoken, unsure.

–can you write?

–what?

His hand reaches inside his long, stained overcoat.

–can you write, for me?

Dry mouth, struggle to find words

–yes, I–

His hand returns from the coat, presents to her open palmed: cherry-red lipstick, cognitive dissonance.

–can you write backwards?

@SFChronicleBreaking
UPDATE: 6 hours in, and still no end in sight to the Google Bus hostage crisis. With security systems still inactive on the bus, police admit they are having problems identifying the perpetrator, who has positioned the passengers around the bus facing out of every window – ensuring SWAT snipers on the ground have little opportunity to make their move. LIDAR and infra red scans confirm he is armed. Initial attempts by police to communicate with him via loudspeaker have been ‘inconclusive so far’
<<blink>> for breaking notifications

@CNNBreaking
EXCLUSIVE: CNN has a full list of Google Bus hostages, based on image searches. Suspect still unidentified. <<blink>> now to enter our fully interactive infographic: tour the bus, meet the hostages, and connect with their social profiles while receiving updates as they happen.

@shepcodes
omg look at them writing on the windows, like some ghetto twitter shit

@SFChronicleBreaking
UPDATE: one of the bus hostages – identified as 26 year Lisa Kroenig, Google R&D employee and baking enthusiast (<<blink>> to see full profile) has started writing on the windows of the bus, apparently explaining the hijackers demands. <<blink>> for live video

@TheVerge
Full transcript of the hijacker’s demands, written in what appears to be lipstick on the bus windows:

MY DEMANDS

JUSTICE FOR CHARLESTON PARK MURDERS

MY FRIENDS WERE KILLED AND NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE JUST BECAUSE WE WERE UNCONNECTED
BUT GOOGLE SAW EVERYTHING I KNOW

AND HAVE PROOF OF WHO THE KILLERS ARE

Iker is all kinds of hype. Him and Paulo have been out late, practicing on the buses – it’s the only time you can get them to yourselves, after 3am – when there’s nobody on them apart from the odd tramp or shift worker or party kid – and you can bust out new moves without hitting anybody in the face or pissing them off. Loads of room to yourself for once. You still gotta jump buses every few stops because the cameras are watching you and they get angry, but it’s more chilled and the cops never seem to bother fucking turning up even when the bus says they will.

Practice was good, but that ain’t why Iker is hype. He’s hype cos he found a pair of spex on the bus, that someone had lost or just left there. One of them old fashioned, cheap looking plastic pairs  nobody uses except drug dealers who just want to be a little bit connected, reckons Paulo. Burners, he calls them. Paulo shows him how to turn them on – lights flaring up the arms in a flurry of bright squares – and then instantly how to make them shut up and not connect to the networks, so that whoever they belong to don’t find them if they’re looking. And then he takes Iker’s photo with them and they start laughing, taking turns to wear them, taking photos and selfies in the reflection of the windows and shit. Capturing each other doing their moves. And then the bus beeps and they’re back near Charleston and it’s time to get off.

Iker is hype cos he thinks maybe they can work out how to take money on the spex, so that when they’re out dancing the commuters can pay them like that instead of saying they ain’t got no cash. Paulo ain’t so sure, says it might not work like that, like you need to be connected to take money, but that they’ll ask Frankie when they get back. Frankie used to work the corners down in Oakland before that got all cleaned up, Paulo says he knows about burners and shit.

They both smell the smoke soon as they get off the bus, know something aint right. They run, straight for the camp, the sound of rotor blades buzzing above them like bee swarms, run until the smoke stops them, burns their eyes, blocks their path, claws at the insides of their lungs. The whole camp is ablaze, the shelters, the trees, the tarpaulins hung between them, a wall of flame where their home should be. Skeletal forms tumble and flow, the white hot debris of collapsing architecture and crumbling tents, and Iker has to look away when he thinks he sees bodies moving in the glow. Paulo tries to run into it but Iker holds him back, dragging him by the sleeve of his stormsuit top, the heat burning their skin, and between choking on the smoke they both start screaming over the roar of fire and the fucking drone buzz. Screaming for help. Screaming the names of their friends. Screaming for Frankie and Double, for Fat Charles and Dooks, for Shante and Joe. Screaming for Molly.

And then Iker turns, away from the flames and heat and back into the smoke filled park, and through tear filled eyes everything seems to change, to shimmer and flex. The spex do something, and suddenly he can see through the smoke, the whole park laid out in front of him in infinite fucking detail, trees and railings, trash cans and pathways. Like someone flicked on a switch and bathed the whole park in weak, dark green, half-light.

Then he sees them, figures moving through the trees, homing in on the sound of their screams. Pale green ghosts in breathing apparatus and fatigues. Firefighters he thinks at first, hollers help at them, pulls at Paulo’s sleeve again–

–but since when did firefighters wear camouflage, carry guns–

–the first shot rings through his ears, deafening above even the fire-roar, and Paulo’s body goes limp aside him, tracksuit sleeve fabric still pinched between his fingers, like someone let the air out of a teenager shaped balloon, and Iker just stares at it, deflating, losing blood instead of air, somehow red even through the spex’s green night-sight tint.

He screams, chokes an acrid poisoned air, hears the second shot, lets the fabric fall from his fingers. Runs.

He runs through the trees, away from the smoke and the fire and the crack of guns, away from his dead friend, but unable to escape the feeling of letting him go, of the fabric falling from between his fingers.

And he looks back and glances up, one last time, towards the rotor-hum, and sees the drones, through the broken ceiling of branches and leaves, monochrome green against the black sky, dome cameras twitching to find him, seeing all.

@Zaksmomstits
I dunno why they’ve not just raided the bus this is bullshit :-/ what are fucking swat teams for even

@GuardianUS
SF Google Bus Siege Raises Charleston Park Controversy Again

Currently in its ninth hour, the siege of a Google worker’s bus in San Francisco has opened old wounds for the corporation, after the lone hijacker has demanded a re-opening of the investigation into a fire at a homeless camp in the city 6 years ago.

Charleston Park, once a public space next to Google’s sprawling Mountain View campus, was home to one of the bay area’s biggest homeless camps. Although technically illegal, such camps are largely tolerated by local authorities as an inevitable consequence of the massive disparity of wealth in a city where property prices have been spiraling out of control for decades. Many of the residents of such camps are also victims of the so-called digital divide; known locally as the ‘unconnected’, their lack of a digital presence precluding them from the majority of both public and private sector services in one of the most highly developed ‘smart city’ areas of the US.

Controversy reigned 6 years ago when a fire wiped out the Charleston Park camp, resulting in over 50 deaths according to some estimations. Two years previously Google had successfully won the surveillance contract for the city – fighting off strong competition from the likes of IBM and Cisco – by emphasizing that its locally managed fleet of drones would be used more for traffic management and accident safety monitoring than pervasive monitoring of citizens. After the fire – literally on Google’s doorstep – the corporation was initially slow at coming forth not just with footage, but also at answering questions as to why it had not intervened to stop the disaster. When blurry, barely viewable footage was eventually made public – apparently showing the fire had been started accidentally by the camp’s residents – protesters and activist groups accused the corporation of doctoring or even fabricating the capture feeds. Rumors still circulate today about a far right, anti-immigration militia being behind the tragedy. Google’s apparent inability to prove otherwise, despite it being one of the most surveilled areas in the city, seems to be keeping the rumors alive.

The controversy sparked up again three years after the event, when it was revealed city authorities had sold the park – which had been closed to the public since the fire – to Google, despite calls from families of the deceased to build a memorial there.

<<blink>> for more

She hates him. Hates the stench of him, the acrid sweat tinged with shit. Hates his stupid fucking clothes. Hates the way he looks at her and mutters, hates his stupid puppy dog eyes, begging her for mercy, blackmailing her for empathy.

–Of course you can trust me, she tells him

–I can?

She hates how fucking stupid he is. Hates how she’s had to become – in the middle of all this shit – had to become some sort of fucking parent to him.

–Of course. I’ll make sure you’re safe. And I’ll make sure we find out what really happened to your friends. I promise. But you have to let everyone off the bus.

He nervously glances past her, out through the window into the chaos outside. The chaos she’s trying to make go away.

–What does it say?

She turns around, looks at the drone hanging just a few feet off the ground in front of her, the text scrolling across the unfurled screen that hangs below it. She takes a deep breath, exhales hard, closes her eyes briefly before turning back to face him.

–It says that you’ll be fine, as long as you let everyone off now. That they’ll meet your demands to look into the fire again–

–The murders

–The murders, yes. It says they’ll look into the murders. If you let everyone off now.

She takes another breath, blinks.

And you have to come off with us, at the end. You need to come out. Ok?

–Ok. But I need to give you something.

His hand goes back into that filthy coat of his again, and she panics slightly. What the fuck is he going to give her this time? Not more fucking lipstick?

He produces something plastic and scraped, scuffed paint around scratched lenses, and it takes her a second to clock what it really is; a pair of spex. Laughably old, unbranded.

–Please. Take them. Keep them safe. For me.

She forces a nod, a smile. Takes them from his hand, tries not think about him wearing them, how filthy they must be.

She hates him.

–Ok?

–Ok. Let’s go.

@CNNBreaking
Google bus hijacking stalemate comes to a head

More than 12 hours after it started, police say the siege of a Google commuter bus in downtown Mountain View today is coming to an end. Millions worldwide have watched the bizarre events unfold, as police officers negotiated with the still unnamed hijacker via Google employee and hostage Lisa Kroenig – the 28 year old writing messages on the bus windows in lipstick and the police responding with text displayed by one of Google’s own drones. Inspector Browlowski of SFPD said it had been one of the strangest hostage situations he’d been involved in, but that a peaceful solution had been reached and the hostages would be leaving the bus any minute now.

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As her first foot hits the tarmac she thinks her leg might give way, an outpouring of relief and anger and ecstasy as she steps down from the bus, and she watches the hostages in front of her jog away, into the arms of paramedics, of waiting family. She wants to join them, to run after them, but she can’t find the energy, even when she feels him behind her, feels her skin crawl for the last time, she still can’t run, overpowered by it all.

And then everything switches, the tempo changes

She hears the shouts from behind the police barricades, can’t make out quite what they’re saying, here’s him shouting back, fear and confusion in his voice–

–the shadow of the drone, sweeping low, blocking the sun for a second–

–the sound of the shot, the warm spray of his blood on the back of her neck–

–the sound of the gun going off in his hand, and she tries to run again, and this time her legs respond, but only for not long enough, as the white-heat pain rips through her spine, and the tarmac comes up to engulf her in black

@SFChronicleBreaking
MOUNTAIN VIEW: Google posted drone capture today showing that the still as yet unidentified bus hijacker fired first, wounding 28 year old Lisa Kroening, before he was shot by police snipers in the bloody scenes that ended the fraught hostage situation last week. The technology company also announced that Kroening, one of their employees, was in a stable condition and recovering well in one of their top research clinics in Palo Alto.

—  

 –It’s been a tough year

–It has. It’s good to be up and about, finally. To be back at work.

She watches the sunlight flicker through summer leaves, paint dappled shadows across Charleston Park’s freshly laid lawns.

–I can imagine.

–Google have been great, really. Not just with the healthcare – I mean the clinic is fantastic, the stem cell work they’re doing up there is revolutionary, I’ve been very lucky – but they’ve just been very supportive.

–They must have been. You look fantastic.

The journalist, the third one this week, smiles at her. Kind, but insincere. She knows what must be coming, the topic so conspicuous by its absence.

–Just one last question – why do you think he did it? Why do you think he got off the bus, when the drone clearly told him to stay on until the SWAT team came aboard?

Her eyes fall to the dappled shadows on the floor. She takes a deep breath, exhales hard, closes her eyes briefly before looking back up to face him.

–I don’t know. He wasn’t a well man. Drugs, I think. I don’t think he really knew what was going on at all.

They smile at each other, exchange pleasantries, and she leans on her walking stick as she watches him leave, walking through the dappled light to the waiting driverless Uber cab.

Her hand reaches in her hoody pocket, pulls out the spex. Plastic and scrapped, scuffed paint around scratched lenses. Laughably old, unbranded. For seconds she stares at them, remembering the hell they contain, the nightmares and suffering, the guilt and responsibility.

Through fresh tears she looks back up, the departing journalist a fish-eye blur, and holding the spex outstretched in front of her she calls after him.

–wait, there’s more