John Kwok


In Belfast photographer Jimmy Kuo becomes an eyewitness to war, watching a French marine gunned down by someone he suspects is an IRA gunman, Liam McKay.  Back home in Tucson he meets with Australian media mogul Gerry Riordan, who sends him on a perilous errand to San Francisco, bearing a disk containing smuggled Chinese military software, to Riordan’s Silicon Valley consultant, knowing that he’s pursued by Tattoo Guy, an ex-Soviet Spesnatz agent, who has already killed Manuel, Riordan’s Mexican-born assistant. In San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden, he learns more about the software from the consultant, only to watch her die at the hands of Tattoo Guy and two of his fellow Spesnatz agents.

Brown University-educated IRA robotics engineer Billy McCann tests the latest version of his ants - a nanotech weapon - against EuroPax armored columns during their nightly raids into West Belfast’s Catholic neighborhoods, aided by Seamus Devlin – his sympathetic, though frequently skeptical, IRA commander. The IRA builds a barricade on one of the main roads into West Belfast; its construction supervised by Liam McKay. Brendan McAllister, the IRA’s technology expert, shows Seamus a new weapon, a huge holographic projector. Billy finds a microwave generator in his closet, and tells Bridget Mulroney, his girlfriend, to deliver it to Seamus.

Jimmy flies to New York, and is greeted at the airport by his old friend from high school and college, fellow Brown University alumnus Duncan Malcolm Schwartz, who surprises him with the news that he, too, is working for Riordan. In Duncan’s Battery Park City apartment, they discover that the software is an icebreaker, a sophisticated computer virus. They are told to meet someone on cold, wind-swept Roosevelt Island, only to discover that is none other than Riordan, who enlists them on his mission to deliver the software to Belfast’s IRA.

EuroPax attacks Billy’s home at night. Bridget confronts Liam, accusing him of insubordination. Brendan and Seamus set up the microwave generator barely in time, just as a EuroPax armored column attacks. Brendan is severely wounded. Seamus switches on the generator, destroys the column, and sees his fellow IRA fighters pursuing EuroPax troops. Billy leaves his home, aware that he is a EuroPax target, and joins Seamus and Bridget at McKay’s barricade.

A second EuroPax column attacks the barricade, but is beaten off, with help from the nanotech ants and the holographic projector. Returning home with Bridget, Billy is surprised when Liz Sheehan – Billy’s Dublin-based collaborator - arrives, bearing a well-founded rumor of some gift from America, courtesy of Gerry Riordan. Billy decides to dig into Riordan’s past, and unearths a surprising link to Riordan and Liam McKay. Riordan, Jimmy and Duncan arrive at Billy’s house, just as it is shelled by Protestant terrorists. Billy learns Liz’s real identity; that she is Monica Brodie, Jimmy’s long-lost lover. He also realizes that he and Duncan had the same Brown robotics professor. An IRA force rescues them. They discover that the attack was staged by EuroPax to resemble a Protestant terrorist raid. Duncan receives an impressive tour of Brendan McAllister’s house.

 Seamus assembles a council of war, tells all present that Northern Command (IRA headquarters) has approved an all out assault on EuroPax’s Maginot Line; its fortifications overlooking West Belfast’s Little Falls neighborhood. He assumes command of the IRA’s Belfast force and deals with McKay’s attempt at insubordination. Duncan, Monica and Frank head over to Brendan McAllister’s house. From one of Brendan’s computers, Duncan sends the Chinese icebreaker into the EuroPax security grid, deactivating it. Jimmy joins Billy and Seamus at the front line, awaiting the final assault.

The IRA storms the Maginot Line without much EuroPax opposition, aided by nanotech ants and microwave generators. Entering the geodesic dome that is EuroPax’s command center, Seamus , Jimmy, and their IRA comrades are plunged into a desperate firefight with Tattoo Guy and his Spesnatz comrades.  Captured by McKay, Admiral d’Orbigny, EuroPax’s commander-in-chief of Co-Dominion forces, hears Seamus dictating the terms of surrender, which the admiral accepts reluctantly. Monica explains to Jimmy why she left him. Riordan confesses his involvement with the two main IRA factions, and rewards Duncan and Jimmy, who is seen leaving with Monica to visit her relatives in Limerick.

Chapter Twenty Three

    Jimmy doesn’t like thinking about the NYPD cop standing watch over the front door of Duncan’s Battery City Park apartment. He knows why the cop is there, but it still gives him the creeps, even after Duncan shows him a substantial, five page-long text message from Kathy Preston, carefully explaining the NYPD security protocol for Duncan’s apartment building. He is aware that there are at least eight cops on the apartment building’s rooftop, virtually all disguised as construction workers adorned with hardhats encrusted with layers of grime and mud, keeping vigilant eyes out for anyone suspicious approaching this building, especially those vaguely resembling Tattoo Guy and his fellow ex-Soviet Spesnatz goons. And he knows about the two pretending to be building doormen in the apartment building’s Post-Modern lobby entrance that looks like a 21st Century homage to the Parthenon with its grand concrete Doric columns.
     But it still doesn’t feel right to Jimmy, being held here, feeling caged like he’s almost a prisoner, barely a few hundred meters from Stuyvesant High School. From Duncan’s Eighteen-story faux Art Deco windows he can see the old weather station on the school’s rooftop,  and then, as though it is just a mere architectural afterthought nestled not far from the school, the bleached white ventilation shaft of the Holland Tunnel itself, almost forgetting that that tower is nearly a kilometer due north.

    Stepping through Duncan's studio feels just like stepping through a religious shrine, Jimmy thinks, complete with paper offerings and sacred icons. Sheets of computer printout paper are piled high on the floor, beneath notepads and computer workstations glistening with brightly polished plastic and metallic chrome, like they were just pulled out of factory fresh bubble wrap. Notepads and workstations are arrayed in a circular pattern throughout the room, as though the pattern itself conveyed some strongly religious meaning that was now lost, hidden completely, and unknown to infidels and other nonbelievers such as himself.
    Only the scent of burning incense seemed to be missing, though Jimmy swears he has detected a slight musky smell, vaguely reminiscent of week-old mold, if not something worse.
    He wonders exactly when the last time was that Duncan had cleaned his studio apartment. If he had attempted cleaning it at all, in the more than six months since his last Big Apple visit, when he had stopped by briefly, en route to Paris and Berlin.
      A few days before he found himself strolling along Unter den Linden, holding onto one of his Leicas like he was Henri Cartier Bresson, hearing a bomb rip apart the Bundestag.
    Jimmy turns towards Duncan, sitting next to one of the computer workstations, holding the Chinese CD in his hands. The one Kate Pittman gave him, not the duplicate from Gerry Riordan.
    "Didn't you say something to me about carrying too much stuff?" Jimmy says, and then, he laughs, almost hysterically, shaking his head. "Talk about carrying too much stuff. I don't recall remembering when I saw so much computer junk..."
    "Six months, one week and three days," Duncan intones. "Give or take a few hours and minutes. According to my computer’s digital calendar, whose accuracy is to the nearest millisecond." He playfully taps his workstation's keyboard with his left hand. "It’s been a while. Hasn't it?"
    "Sure has, Duncan. It's certainly been a while."
    Jimmy closes his eyes. He sees himself strolling alone on one of Unter den Linden’s broad sidewalks, holding a Leica in his hands, preparing to photograph the crowd across the street. Suddenly he feels the ground twist and buckle, as though it was a severe Californian earthquake in progress.  He grabs instinctively a nearby lamppost with his right hand, bracing himself against it. The titanic roar of an explosion follows immediately from the north, in the direction of the Bundestag. Later, Jimmy hears that scores are dead inside the Bundestag, killed by an IRA-planted bomb. Local hospitals are overflowing with hundreds of wounded.
    A tragedy Jimmy hasn’t forgotten. Somehow he knows that he can never forget.
    He sighs, opens his eyes, and looks down at Duncan.
    Duncan has slotted the CD inside the workstation, an old Dell Pentium IV personal computer which Jimmy knows he had largely rebuilt, grafting panels and memory chips from much younger and faster machines. Duncan said he'd replaced the original Pentium IV motherboard with the latest Eureka Plus, and yet Jimmy has no trouble believing him, even if it does sound rather preposterous replacing a motherboard from a fifteen year old computer with the latest one.
    He stares at the Dell's viewscreen. His eyes looking straight at the lush, verdant Serengeti Plain of East Africa, a herd of gazelles grazing in utter serenity, surrounded by zebras and wildebeest, not far from a water hole. Jimmy swears he has seen this same tranquil scene countless times before, something he'd caught briefly on one of the cable networks. Maybe it was something he'd seen on PBS
    The Serengeti Plain implodes, dissolves and fades, replaced immediately by gently rolling waves on a wine-dark sea. He sees porpoises diving and leaping and somersaulting in the air.
Somewhere off the coast of Greece, maybe the Peloponnesus, in the placid waters of the Aegean Sea. Something he'd seen the last time he was on assignment in the eastern Mediterranean, covering a couple of island resorts for one of the travel and leisure magazines he'd occasionally glance at inside the Tucson Mall's Barnes and Noble, filled with glossy photos of the rich and famous on vacation.
    "Duncan, what's this? Are you checking the CD?"
    "I am. Sorry, Jimmy. It's my software encryption program."
    "Your software encryption program, are you kidding?"
    "Downloaded some of the video from a cable network's website and decided to splice it together. The Discovery Channel's, I think. Keeps me from being bored, I guess. While the program searches for encrypted patterns. Hidden algorithms. I programmed the visual display myself, keyed it to the time it takes to decode encrypted software..."
    Jimmy keeps his eyes fixed on the Dell’s viewscreen, before he yawns and closes his eyes.

    Pale gray light filters through the studio’s shuttered windows hours later. Dawn was arriving, with the software encryption program still churning unabated, spitting out more placid images of nature. Duncan holds a mug of hot cocoa in his hands. He is staring again at the Aegean's placid waters, watching fishermen cast their nets. Looking at the viewscreen as the image dissolves, replaced by a screen burst, a midday Noon sun-like bright display of interweaving blue and gold bands. A fast moving stream of numbers fills the entire screen, and then afterwards, moments later, it is followed by a string of characters and letters.
    "Looks like the program has found something," Duncan says. He taps gently, with his left hand, Jimmy’s shoulders. Jimmy yawns, and draws imaginary circles with his arms, before he turns to Duncan. “Recognize this?”
    Nodding, Jimmy stares back at Duncan, his eyes filled with incomprehension. “It’s Chinese, I think….”
    “It’s Mandarin. Nearly all of this is written in Mandarin.”  The Mandarin Chinese was written in large broad-stroked characters, occasionally accompanied by a word or two in English.
    "Kate was absolute right. Your software's military. PLA. Now I see why Riordan's so goddamned interested..."
    Jimmy looks at him bewildered. "What?"
    "People's Liberation Army made this alright, but not where Kate and Riordan thought, in Shanghai, over in Pudong. Made right in the heart of downtown Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, South China Free Economic Zone. One of the software factories working for the PLA probably made this little gem. I did a little search on GOOGLE. The factory’s probably in Guangzhou, but all the information has been encrypted. Makes sense since it’s near Hong Kong, near the largest trading center China has with the rest of the world. Boy, I bet there are guys in the Pentagon who'd love to see this. Some of the NSA crowd I know. We're dealing here with a nasty piece of software. An ICE virus."
    "Ice? Huh? I’m not sure I’m getting this…"
    Duncan smiles. "I said ICE. Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics. Something William Gibson invented in his cyberpunk fiction, when he coined the term cyberspace. Piece of software like this will easily melt down a military base's electronic defenses. Like I said, it's a nasty piece of work, easily seen as Kate’s ultimate End of the World."
    Jimmy wears a mask of utter confusion, staring blankly at his friend. He shakes his head, and continues staring at the computer viewscreen.
    Duncan nods. "I think I'm beginning to understand why Riordan is so fuckin' interested...”

Chapter Twenty Four

     "Where's Seamus? Weren't you on that goddamned walkie-talkie of yours with Seamus a few minutes ago? Didn't he say he was returning soon?" Bridget asks the IRA fighter standing beside her. The man is a Steady, sent by Liam to keep tabs on her; the fellow claims he’s been assigned as her bodyguard.  He says McKay wasn’t taking any chances with her safety. That he was very, very concerned. He studies her for a moment, his pale brown eyes partly covered by the chestnut-hued ski mask he wears. Is he amused by my predicament, gloating over Seamus’s failure to report in? Bridget wonders. Seamus should have reported in to me. Or maybe he couldn’t give a feckin’ shite.  McKay’s man, that is, not Seamus.
    The Steady brings his walkie-talkie up towards his face, and starts pushing buttons. Bridget recognizes that he is adjusting the walkie-talkie’s reception, maybe tuning its frequency. She turns towards the Grosvenor Road barricade, feeling exhausted and quite glum. Jerry and the Frogs are heading her way, but she hasn’t heard the latest news regarding their progress.
    Now, she wonders, just where was Seamus? And where was that fuckin' sleekit bastard McKay too? Exactly where was he standing, by himself or with others, along the rubber rampart that was the Grosvenor Road wall.
    She looks up at the holographic projector. Billy is slowly inspecting it, carefully checking the projector’s instrument panels. “Billy! Billy McCann! Are you there?” She thinks she sees his shadow by the projector’s turret. It is two hours past dawn, and still the sky does resemble last night’s, heavily shrouded in dark, impenetrable clouds. "Didn't you hear me, Billy?" Instinctively she turns around, and stares at the holographic projector's control panel. Billy was just standing beside it like he was adrift, completely lost in outer space. "Where the hell is Seamus?” Bridget asks. “He said he'd be here shortly..."
    Billy nods his head a couple of times like he was truly adrift, hopelessly lost at sea. Until his eyes meet hers. Then Bridget watches him, as he shakes his head and yawns. And then he raises his arms, flexing them for a few seconds, before bringing them back down on the control panel.
    "He must be running late. Seamus said he'd be at the Royal Victoria, keeping an eye on Brendan,” Billy says, between yawns. “Poor Brendan. Our dear poor fellow Brendan. The last I'd heard they were wheeling him into surgery, trying to remove a few pieces of glass shrapnel."
    "Glass shrapnel? Oh my…"
    "Aye, love. Seamus and Brendan were standing beside a deserted store on Divis Street. Seamus said Brendan was standing next to a big window when a mortar shell or a round of bullets shattered it, sending pieces of glass flying. I heard that a couple of the lads with Brendan were also badly hurt."
    "Just as badly hurt as Brendan? Young fellas, Billy?"
    "Not sure, but I think so. Seamus said the lads were about as young as Paddy..."
    "Dear Lord. What a cryin' shame, you know? Bloody EuroPax bastards can't keep away from meddlin' in our own affairs. Maybe we can teach 'em a lesson or two with that projector," she said, nodding, aiming a finger at the holographic projector's controls. "And with your sleekit ants, too, my love."
    Billy opens his mouth, and looks down at Bridget, like he’s about to say something. Then he sees a brilliant bright orange flash from the corner of his left eye, reflected in the thin lenses of the titanium mesh-framed plastic eyeglasses he wears. Boom! He jumps, and falls down beside her, reacting to the loud sound like it was thunder from a close lightening bolt striking the earth.
    Billy hears feet crunching loose gravel. "Enemy is in sight!" Someone cries out. "Look sharp, lads! Man your positions."
    "Ready lads, look sharp! Take aim! Get ready to open fire! We'll give fuckin’ Jerry and the Frogs a good dose of their own feckin' medicine! Send ‘em back in coffins to their fuckin’ whores in Deutschland and la douce France!" 
     And then Billy hears another, more familiar voice yell. Liam McKay. He thinks angrily for a few moments, and wishes he could start swearing. Someone he has wanted to forget, ever since he'd spoken to him, with Frank watching in disbelief, a few hours before.
    "So that's where the fuckin' lazy bastard's been hidin'," Bridget mutters, watching a tall figure run from tire to tire along the wall. "I'd love to give him a good dose of my own medicine alright. A really good dose he won't be soon forgettin'."
    "Drop it, love. Stop your gurning. Like I said before, you'd just have to forget about him for now. Even if you think it's almost impossible," Billy says, and he begins playing with the holographic projector's control panel. "Where do you want me to aim it?"
    "Same dark, deserted place as before, Billy. Just exactly like I showed you earlier. I'd love to see lots of weird looks on their dirty faces. Throw a wicked bit of confusion into their goddamned ranks. Turn the whole bunch of 'em EuroPax bastards into feckin' eejits."
    "How would you know?" Billy looks back at Bridget for an instant, before he resumes staring at the holographic projector's digital display, watching a sequence of numbers blinking a bright emerald green. "How can you be so certain about confusing them?"
    "Oooh, that's easy, love. Real easy, I think. Take a look at the chief feckin' eejit himself, and you'll know what I mean," Bridget says, and then laughs. "That's right, the bloody fuckin' French admiral himself. Admiral Philippe D'Orbigny. Maybe after today, we can finally send him packin' all the way back to dear oul Paris."
    "We'll see. But I wouldn't wager a bet on it."
    Billy sees another brilliant flash, hears another thunderous explosion. More footsteps are heading towards them, loudly crunching the Grosvenor Road's loose gravel and asphalt pavement.
    "You better take a look at this. See if I've set the controls correctly," Billy says, and stares back at Bridget, who he sees frowning.
    "Me? But you're the expert, Billy..."
    "Sorry I'm late!" yells Paddy Cahill, gasping, gulping for air. "I brought Seamus with me."
    "Seamus?" Billy replies. "He's here? Back from the hospital?"
    The ground trembles for a moment, shaking violently. Billy hears yet another loud boom.
    "I'm here, Billy. Just arrived from the Royal Victoria."
    "Brendan? How is he?"
    “He’s been wheeled into surgery. The doctors and nurses say he'll be fine." Seamus looks up at Billy. "How about you, Billy, I heard about your adventure back home. Are you okay?"
    Billy sighs. “Fine, I guess.”
    He watches other figures running towards them, turning away from the barricade, machine guns in their hands. One of the young lads looks like he was holding a mortar launcher. Or maybe it’s just a portable launcher for rocket-propelled grenades.
    He points towards the advancing soldiers. "Who are these lads? I didn't think Liam McKay was going to send us a few more..."
    Paddy grins. "He didn't. Northern Command, or rather, Rory Mulholland, did. They’re fresh troops from towns south of Belfast, in County Antrim..."
    Billy nods. "Good. That's good news coming from Rory. The best I’ve heard all night..."
    "This projector's bein’ defended at all costs," Paddy adds. "I saw the e-mail from Derry myself. Was standin' beside Liam McKay when it arrived."
    "We lost the other one on Divis Street. Blown up by a mortar round," Seamus explains. "It was at a poorly defended position easily overrun by EuroPax armor."
    "Do you know how it works?" Billy asks. "Bridget showed me, but I don't know if I truly understand it fully myself..."
    "I think so. Brendan gave me a demonstration. He allowed me to play with it. Before we hiked over to Divis Street, with that generator in tow."
    "Will it work?"
    Seamus shakes his head, laughing. "After seein' that goddamned generator's handiwork again....sure, why not? It'll work."


* * *


John Kwok is a photographer, writer and computer programmer now residing in his hometown of New York City. A prize-winning student of the writer Frank McCourt at New York City's honored Stuyvesant High School, he has written an unpublished near future alternative history post-cyberpunk science fiction novel "Sonoran Sunrise" and is now researching another also set partly in Tucson;  a near future cyberpunk homage to his life-long interest in paleobioiogy.


home   about   donate | contributors | archives     contents © copyright 2012 / webdesign by Noah Saterstrom & Glass Egg Design