Pluralistic: The Lost Cause prologue (part 2) (07 Oct 2023)


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A mockup of the hardcover for the Tor books edition of The Lost Cause.

The Lost Cause prologue (part 2) (permalink)

My next novel is The Lost Cause, out on November 14; it's a hopeful tale of the fights we'll face after we address the polycrisis. Bill McKibben called it "The first great YIMBY novel":

https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250865939/the-lost-cause

As with my other books, I've had to produce my own audiobook for this one. Amazon won't carry any of my audio, so I make my own and pre-sell them through Kickstarter, along with ebooks and hardcovers (including signed, personalized hardcovers). The Kickstarter's going really well, and there's still time to back it:

http://lost-cause.org

Yesterday, I kicked off a serialization of the book's prologue, which jumps straight into the action:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/10/06/green-new-deal-fic/#the-first-generation-in-a-century-not-to-fear-the-future

And now, here's part two:

He was so surprised he fumbled the sledge, then squinted at me. I held the flash under my chin, squinting. “It’s me. Brooks. Palazzo. Richard’s grandson.”

That was when the siren blatted down on Verdugo, blatt blatt, two toots, and a crackle of PA. “On the roof, this is Burbank PD.” He did drop the sledge then, said, “Fuck,” and produced a water pistol from the suit’s marsupial pouch. He handled it with extreme care, shedding a glove to delicately peel away a big blob of some kind of plastic or wax over the business end. His hand shook.

I knew what it was. Hydrochloric acid. It was the weapon of choice for one-­on-­one white nationalist killings. It worked great, because even if you didn’t kill your victim, you’d leave them with skin melted and fused like cascades of melted rubber, a reminder to everyone who saw them that even if President Uwayni took away everyone’s guns, the American resistance was still armed and fucking dangerous. Gramps and his buddies would sometimes make jokes about Medicare for All, and how it was gonna go broke paying for acid burns when the big one came. I’d always found those jokes incredibly gross, but I learned to tune them out. They were coming back to me now. I took a step back and his hand jerked and I cried out, flinching in anticipation of the stream of acid that didn’t come.

“Dammit, boy, don’t scare me. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I don’t want to be hurt. Mr. Kennedy—­Mike—­you know my gramps. He relies on me. He’s getting old and frail. I’m all he has.”

I was crying now. A drop of clear liquid fell from the squirt gun’s business end and sizzled on the roof. I whimpered. “Please. Just put that down, we’ll go get the cops and—­”

“I’m not going anywhere. Listen, kid, turn off your camera, okay? I gotta say some things to you.”

“Mike, please—­” I was crying harder now. His hand was really shaking, and his finger was on the trigger, and the gun was pointed right at my face.

“Just do it, okay?” He pointed the gun at the ground, and I found I could breathe again. I pretended to turn off my screen and triggered the sound file I had of the “Recording paused” announcement.

“All right, kid. Straight talk. I don’t expect to survive this. I knew that was a chance from the start, and it was a sure thing once you got here and sounded the alarm. I made my peace with that possibility a long time ago.” He took some deep breaths that the voice-­ shifter made into the sound of a wind tunnel. He pulled the ghillie suit’s mask down and exposed the rest of his face. His lips and chin were shiny with wet sweat in the reflected flashlight beam bouncing up from the roof.

“God dammit, I’m not gonna kid you, this is a stupid thing to die over, but I was gonna die eventually. But you don’t have to. You can get out of this in one piece. You can carry on the struggle.” His real voice was hoarse with emotion.

Something about his real voice and his real face made me more scared, not less. Gramps’s friends were usually just . . . ​sour. But there was often this undercurrent of violence in them, a bowstring tension that sometimes snapped. Usually that just meant yelling or throwing something or storming out and slamming the door so hard the whole house shook. But every now and then, it turned into punches, and everyone in the room would pull the fighting men apart, and once or twice there had been blood on the floor before they were separated.

I had never been in a fight, not since grade school anyway, and had never thrown a real punch. I found the idea of punching someone literally unimaginable. But I was finding it incredibly easy to vividly imagine this guy punching me.

“Mike, you don’t have to die, we can talk to the cops. This is Burbank PD, not LAPD. They’ll negotiate. They’re not gonna shoot you. Not if you don’t give them a reason to. Why don’t you put down—­”

The roof was flooded with blinding light and the roar of a quadrotor as a BPD drone rose up over us, floodlights set to max. We both staggered back, hair blowing in the rotor wash, and squinted. Mike involuntarily squirted a small stream of acid that arced over the roof, then got his gun under control.

“THIS IS THE BURBANK POLICE DEPARTMENT. PUT DOWN YOUR WEAPONS AND LACE YOUR HANDS OVER YOUR HEAD. COMPLY IMMEDIATELY.”

He swore fiercely and pointed his gun at the drone.

“No!” I shouted. “Jesus, Mike, do you want to fucking die?”

He stared at me. His eyes were wild and unhinged. His mouth worked soundlessly, and then he shouted, “What the fuck does it matter to you?”

“Because—­” I almost said, Because I want to fight on your side and we need you. I could have sold the line, even though I didn’t believe it. Even though he was a terrorist kook whose cause was both idiotic and terrible. I could have sold it because I’m a good actor, even by Burbank standards, where the star of the school play might be moonlighting from their job as an A-­lister for one of the studios. But I didn’t say it. I didn’t want to lie to this guy. “Because there’s enough stupid death out there. Because I don’t want to explain to Gramps how I saw his poker buddy blown away by BPD on my high-­school roof. Because it’s a stupid way to die. Because it won’t accomplish a goddamned thing.” I found that I was angry. God, why did people have to be so stupid? Why was I sitting around with this idiotic person having this idiotic argument, waiting for the cops to storm the roof and maybe kill us both?

“Fuck this,” I said. I stalked over to him. The drone dipped toward us, making him flinch, and I was able to grab his stupid water pistol full of acid and wrench it out of his shaking hand and send it skittering over the smashed solar panels. “There,” I said, and turned to the drone. “I’ve disarmed this goddamned idiot. Don’t shoot him. And don’t shoot me—­I’m a bystander.”

The drone’s PA clicked back on. “That was really stupid, kid.”

Mike looked like he wanted to cry or punch me.

“This whole thing is really stupid,” I said. “But it doesn’t have to be violent, too.”

“We’re coming up. Lace your hands behind your head.”

Mike opened his mouth.

“Just do it,” I snapped. “I just saved your fucking life, asshole. Do what the nice policewoman says.”

They burst through the roof door a minute later, and we both laced our hands behind our heads. They cuffed and searched both of us, relieving Mike of a long hunting knife and what I took for hand grenades, but which turned out to be flashbangs.

After patting me down and conferring, they uncuffed me and led me away from Mike, who was looking miserable and scared.

They took a statement from me in the cruiser, tapped my ID to their scanner, conferred a while longer, read messages on their screens that I couldn’t see—­the cops all had polarizing privacy screens on their devices—­and finally let me go.

The cop who opened the back of the cruiser for me was a big, jowly guy, someone who would have looked perfectly at home with Gramps and his pals, rocking a red trucker cap and complaining about “illegals.” But he was tender with me as he helped me up and asked me twice if I needed help getting home. I pointed out that I lived a ten-­minute walk away—­he knew that from my ID, of course—­and that I hadn’t been hurt.

There had been six Burbank PD SUVs on the street when they led me down, but by the time they let me go, there were only two. The other one had Mike in the back, behind reflective windows. Even though I couldn’t see him, I could feel his eyes on me as I turned and started to walk home. It was 3:27 a.m., and I was both completely wired and completely exhausted.

I let myself into Gramps’s place by the back door, made my way back to my bedroom, stripped off, and pulled the covers over me.

Who was I kidding? I wasn’t going to sleep after that. I rolled over and hit my screen. I had a notification that my livestream had been archived and that I could toggle it private if I wanted to, but that it was also going to be subject to FOIA requests because I’d used the 911 option and it had gone straight to Burbank PD.

I reviewed the footage. It was crazy of course—­the dark night slashed with my flashlight beam, the screen’s night-­sight flicking off and on—­but the audio was good and once things stabilized, the image was clear enough. I jumped it up to 3X and listened to Mike Kennedy in chipmunk mode spouting his crazy Maga Club garbage. Even at that speed, I picked up on stuff I’d missed, little bits of inflection and vocab, and most of all, how scared he sounded. He’d been more scared than me. I guess that made sense, because he was so sure that he was going to die. Look at it that way, I had saved his life.

And as soon as I looked at it that way, I knew it was true. I had saved his life. I’d saved a man’s life the night before. A man who had been ready to kill me. Or if he hadn’t been, he’d said he was.

The realization let something loose inside me and I started to yawn. I pasted a link to the video into my feed and dialed the syndication wheel all the way open because why not, it was freaky and everyone shares freaky stuff wide as possible.

I tapped out a message to the Burroughs High attendance office letting them know I was going to be late for school, then I put my screen down, thumped my pillow, and, amazingly, fell asleep.


Hey look at this (permalink)



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago FCC releases number-portability guidelines https://www.zdnet.com/article/fcc-issues-cell-swapping-guidelines/

#15yrsago US Customs: Sketching an SUV makes you a copyright infringer https://www.pressrepublican.com/news/local_news/keene-artist-had-hard-time-getting-back-into-us/article_57fca386-b99e-5b24-92c1-4358eb4d74ff.html

#15yrsago Canadian Conservative Party pledge to reintroduce the DMCA if elected https://www.michaelgeist.ca/2008/10/conservatives-to-reintroduce-c-61/

#15yrsago Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China — amazing memoir by American-born Chinese journalist https://memex.craphound.com/2008/10/07/factory-girls-from-village-to-city-in-a-changing-china-amazing-memoir-by-american-born-chinese-journalist/

#10yrsago NSA freedom of information requests up 1000% post-Snowden https://www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2013/oct/07/nsa-inundated-foia-requests-after-snowden-leaks/

#10yrsago Harvard Business Review to universities: your subscription doesn’t include classroom use https://digitopoly.org/2013/10/06/harvard-business-school-publishing-crosses-the-evil-academic-line/

#5yrsago Using “forensic architecture” to punch Greek Nazis…in court https://forensic-architecture.org/investigation/the-murder-of-pavlos-fyssas

#5yrsago Texas cops seize lawn-sign depicting GOP elephant as sexual predator https://www.texastribune.org/2018/10/06/police-seize-texas-political-yard-sign-gop-elephant-girl-skirt/

#1yrago "Don't spy on a privacy lab" (and other career advice for university provosts) https://pluralistic.net/2022/10/07/sensory-deprivation/#sensorship



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS FEB 2024

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: How To Think About Scraping https://craphound.com/news/2023/09/24/how-to-think-about-scraping/
Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • The Lost Cause: a post-Green New Deal eco-topian novel about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias, Tor Books, November 2023

  • The Bezzle: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about prison-tech and other grifts, Tor Books, February 2024

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025

  • Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025


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