Thirty-three days in and the newest victim of the Apocalypse seems to be the political left. T.V. ratings and radio listenership are way up, and that's where the Right thrives. NPR is no match for the multi-pronged attack of Republican talk radio, and MSNBC can't compete with Fox. The Internet was the only thing that the Left was almost kind of good at. And while it's refreshing not to have my inbox flooded with sophomoric Moveon.org vids comparing Sarah Palin to Hitler, like during the 2012 elections, it's a little frightening that even with a Democrat in office, the public influence war is over. All we have is the New York Times, and who's shelling out two bucks for a paper in this economy?
Shop owners have been marking up prices without competition from the Net. And while that might be good news for those businesses, computer and gadget sales have tanked along with all the tech and marketing jobs that go with that. Firms and businesses keep laying off IT people too. After all, how many guys do you need to fix your Excel spreadsheet or document management program? But despite the cutbacks, there hasn't been much of a protest. We know something has changed. I wouldn't call it acceptance, but people aren't even clicking refresh anymore. It just seems stupid like pushing the elevator button a second time.
And, of course, there's still the continuing reports of planned terrorist attacks against the city. As a security measure, the entrances to New York remain closed, but now people are free to leave. New York has lost 25 percent of its population in the last four days. And just like before the Apocalypse, all the most frightened and boring people took off for New Jersey.
The three of us have holed up at Oz's hotel in the Village because going back to Brooklyn would lock us out of our chances of finding the Internet. I kicked in some money for the room, and Tobey offered Oz his last fifty bucks to watch her shower. It's probably for the best that she declined considering I'm fairly certain Tobey just wanted to make more retarded Australia jokes. "Crikey, that's not a rack. Now THAT'S a rack!"
But even sexually retarded, self-proclaimed Libertarians aren't free from the Right's growing influence. This morning Tobey awoke with a start, falling off the couch and rousing Oz and me from our sleep. To my credit or shame, Oz felt safe sharing the bed with me. It helped that we kept something between us - her sleeping under both the sheet and comforter and me sandwiched between the two with only a sheer layer of cotton separating my broken desire from her body. Most mornings, I woke first and had a few moments to myself to watch the covers rise and fall with her breathing. I would stare at the flush two blankets brought to her cheek and try to divine her dreams.
But this morning, all that was lost with Tobey's claims that he dreamed who stole the Internet. I was skeptical. Most of Tobey's inspiring dreams involved jokes about how hot he still is for Demi Moore ("If my right arm got sheared off in an industrial accident while Demi Moore was blowing me, my only concern would be that I'd lose consciousness before she finished.")
"Gladstone," he said. "Why are we making this so hard? Terrorist Internet chatter intercepted somewhere downtown. Duh? Why don't we go to the Ground Zero Mosque?"
"Park 51? For the same reason we're not going to the Olive Garden in Time Square. It's stupid idea. And what's more, the Mosque doesn't even come with breadsticks."
"Oh, here we go again," Tobey mocked.
"Nice retort, Drudge. I guess you've made your case."
Tobey and I went back and forth until Oz interrupted, "I know you guys think I'm just some chick from a country filled with crocodile hunters and baby-eating dingos, but if I could..."
"And vegemite sandwiches," Tobey added.
"Yes. Vegemite sandwiches. Thank you. But it doesn't really matter who's right. We're out of ideas. Terrorist sympathizers or slandered Muslims, the Mosque is downtown and we've got fuck all intelligence so, y'know, why not?
It's two days later, and now that I have my journal back, I can document what happened after our decision to go downtown. It started innocently enough. Like any mission composed of people who didn't know what they were doing, we decided the first thing we'd need were supplies. The KMart in Penn station gave us plenty of opportunities to fill our arms without reason. Swiss army knives, compasses, backpacks, and even an inflatable raft. It wasn't until we were done shopping that we realized our purchases were gleaned more from old MacGyver episodes than anything we might need in the Apocalypse. But seeing as we didn't know what that was exactly, who's to say they weren't the same thing.
We got off the 1 at Rector street and made our way to Park 51. I was surprised to find it was still just occupying space in the abandoned Burlington Coat Factory while trying to raise construction money amidst a sea of bad press. Tobey adopted a stealthy Spider-Man creep fifty yards from the destinate.
"Y'think there's a way in through the roof?" he asked.
"No, but it has a front door, jackass. The center's open to all New Yorkers."
We walked in and started gathering intelligence which basically meant Oz and I took a free class on Middle Eastern cooking, and Tobey had a pick-up basketball game with three Egyptian exchange students from NYU.
Go to page 2.
After a couple of hours, even Tobey began to believe Park 51 wasn't the hotbed of terrorist activity that Glenn Beck had led him to believe. And even if it were, we couldn't find any trace of the Internet. We were about to grab our things and get wrecked at the Heartland Brewery in the Seaport when we heard it. Something I hadn't heard in at least ten years. A modem.
"Fuck, I knew it!" Tobey said.
"Knew what?" I said.
"Don't tell me you didn't hear that modem. That's the sounds of the Internet."
"Yeah, I heard something, but why would anyone be using a modem now?"
"What's a modem," Oz asked. (She was very young.)
"It's a terrible crunching beeping noise that used to connect people to the Internet on dial up."
"That?" Oz asked. "I think chef Abdul is just mashing some more dates in a blender."
"Wait a second. It's coming from outside," I said.
We looked up through the glass of the lobby doors to see twenty soldiers in riot gear. The black stormtroopers from the Park had returned. And that modem we'd heard now appeared to be merely dispatcher crackles over walkie talkies. But I didn't process that then. At that moment, all I could think of was the force of twenty troops plowing inside a lobby. Flowing like violence and filled with screams for everyone to hit the floor.
Oz broke for the door, and was taken down instantly. I sprung forward as if the knee pressing into her back were actually driving mine, but a trooper blocked my way, screaming, "Get down, now!"
Before I could even decide to comply, another guard shouted that someone was getting away. Tobey was sprinting uptown with two troopers following after him. They labored under the weight of their riot gear, but Tobey bounced off pedestrians all legs and elbows like an 80s video game character.
And then I was on the floor. My face inches from Oz. My own trooper for my back. She looked at me, hoping for something I could not give, and I watched them take her away.
I was placed in a van and taken to what seemed to be a conventional downtown office building. I wasn't told why I was under arrest or if I were under arrest. Once sequestered, my cuffs were removed, but so were my possessions: backpack, journal and flask. After about an hour, a man about forty-five and devoid of body fat or humor entered the room. He was holding my backpack.
"Mr. Gladstone," he said, pulling a chair from the small conference table between us. "My name is Agent Rowsdower. Do you mind if I have a seat?"
"Am I under arrest?"
Rowsdower sat and smiled. His teeth were too small or there were too many. Maybe both. Something was wrong and less than human.
"Why? Have you done anything wrong?" he asked.
"Good one. What have you done with Oz?"
He unzipped my backpack and tossed my journal on the table.
"Oz," he said. "Would that be the Australian webcam girl you write about?"
"What gives you the right to read my journal?"
"What gives me the right? What's the matter, Gladstone? Bright guy like you doesn't read the papers?"
"I used to get my news online."
"Right. Of course, you did. Well, you might want to acquaint yourself with the NET Recovery Act."
He pulled my flask from the bag. "Here. You're not gonna like this."
I took a swig and felt the numbing warmth tingle to my arms while Rowsdower proceeded to tell me about the National Emergency Technical Recovery Act. Drafted by Obama's White House and passed by an overwhelming majority in both houses across party lines, the Act gave the government additional state of emergency powers if used "in the direct furtherance" of restoring the Internet. This power allowed officials to interrogate and even detain "persons of interest" for up to 48 hours without charges or representation by counsel.
"And how the hell did I become a person of interest?"
"Well, you tell me, Gladstone. Do you think in the last few days most citizens have been consorting with Anonymous at covert 4Chan gatherings and visiting downtown Mosques amid rumors of terrorist Internet chatter emanating from downtown?"
"Still doesn't make me a threat to national security."
"Don't worry, Gladstone. I tend to believe you. I'm thinking someone out on psychiatric disability for the last two years isn't going to hijack the world's technology."
"Two years? Check your stats. More like two weeks. No wonder Anonymous kicked ass in your counter-intelligence wars. You guys are a mess."
Rowsdower remained calm. I was fairly certain everything he'd ever attained in life was achieved from this ability not to react. To not say the things a more honest man would say. But there was something else at play I couldn't discern. Not quite empathy, but something. He took a breath.
"Am I correct, Mr. Gladstone that you wouldn't want to talk to me about your wife, Romaya?"
"I'd prefer not to," I said.
"And why's that?"
"My wife is dead"
A pulse rippled across Rowsdower's face, beneath his skin.
"Right. That's what I thought," he said, zipping up my bag.
For some reason, it also contained Tobey's camera.
"You're free to go, Mr. Gladstone. I'm sorry for the disturbance. I'll let you find your own way out."
"Out of a prison?" I asked.
"Prison? This is just an office building. Under the NET Recovery Act, the Government is empowered to commandeer private property for the purposes of interrogation."
Rowsdower left the door open behind him.
I was free to go.
I was alone.
TO BE CONTINUED ...
GO TO PART SIX
Missed the prior installments of Notes from the Internet Apocalypse? Start here. You can also keep up with the latest Internet Apocalypse news on Facebook. And/or follow Gladstone on Twitter. And then there's his site.
Most rich kids just want to be pop stars.
How did these hyper-specific tropes spread so quickly?
The Hollywood rumor mill has been playing games with celebrity deaths for at least a century.