Eugene Sureshot, one mile tall, strides through the wasteland. Where his limited edition trainers hit the ground deserts bloom, city blocks rise and mountains rip themselves from the ground. Vistas erupt from each footfall, spreading like bacteria, mingling, creating landscapes. New places from the dead ground. Civilizations rise, intricate detail evolves around the soles of giant feet.
Then Sureshot stops as if something blocks his path. He looks up. Looks left. Looks down and then looks right. He breathes and condensation forms on the screen. Sureshot steps back, raises a foot from the ground—leaving behind light-trails of glass skyscrapers and steel domes—and puts one limited edition kick through the screen, so all that Grids can see is the rubber sole, embossed tick logo.
Grids and College both flinch, then try to pretend they didn’t. Glass showers the sofa. Sureshot steps through what’s left of the screen, now just nine feet high, and brings one perfectly clean limited edition crep down through College’s mum’s coffee table. It smashes, splinters, spraying broken mugs and cold tea. The drops fall like slo-mo rain onto the carpet, which is transforming itself around Sureshot’s feet into streets and parks, buildings and city blocks. Infinite fucking detail, like Grids hasn’t seen since the last time. As he looks he can see little statues of Sureshot, his face on billboards and video screens. So small, so complex, a perfectly formed world at carpet-scale.
He looks up again, and Sureshot leans in to meet his gaze, their eyes locked, their noses so close they nearly touch. Sureshot breathes, condensation on Grids’s spex.
Sureshot speaks, gravel tones, Atlanta drawl. “This is my world now, understand?”
Fade to black. Red tick logo. Just do it.
“Shit, fam,” says College.
“Hype ting,” says Grids.
“Bit too hype,” says College. “IMO.”
“Yeah. But nice kicks tho man,” says Grids.
“Oh, seen,” says College. “Serious nice kicks, fam.”
SneakerFreak: WHOOOAH new Sureshot kicks TV spot is up! These some fly shoes people! #thisismyworldnow >blink<
RizzaDaRizz: BIG TING: unboxing vid for new Sureshot shoes! For real! >blink<
Melody’s voice comes hurtling down the cliff-face of the tower, echoing off the concrete.
“WHAAAT?” Grids screams back. Him and College look skyward, scanning the matrix of windows. They can see her head, the glimmer of her hoop earrings, leaning out of the eleventh story balcony, a sparkle of gold against the faded, damp pastel of the Barton Hill monolith.
“What girl want now man?” says College.
“GRIDS, PUT YOUR SPEX ON!” Melody screams again. Echoes.
“I GOT NO CREDIT,” replies Grids.
“Jesus fam, ’nuff shouting,” mumbles College. “Girl give me focus-static, bruv.”
“THEN GET YOURSELF UP HEEERRRE!”
Grids looks up again. Melody’s head has disappeared back into the tower. He stares up at the grey, flat ceiling of low cloud, lets himself soak in the sounds: the drone of traffic, the synthetic bass rumbles, the tick of ancient, processed drums. For a second he lets himself drift reverse-vertigo, as the towers circle and sway around him, synced to the distant, filtered breaks that ebb from unseen speakers. Their tops fade into the stationary drizzle, and the fear hits him again, flooding him with insignificance, as though any second they could come alive and crush him like a wounded ant. Nothing scares him like the insignificance. He fights the urge to run, but can’t kill the need to climb, to be high, to be safe, to dominate.
“We should probably move, man,” he says to College. “She sounds pissed.”
College sucks his teeth. “She always sounds pissed.”
EugeneSureshotOfficial: Hold tight RT @RizzaDaRizz BIG TING: unboxing vid for new Sureshot shoes! For real! >blink<
Piss-stink lift. Squeak of kicks on laminate. Knocks on door. The bass and snares are louder on the eleventh floor, de-tuned 808 hits vibrate up through Grids’ shins, but it’s reassuring up here. Safety at altitude. Significance.
He hears chains unhook, bolts slide. Melody pulls back the orange, paint-chipped door, looks them both up and down.
“‘Bout fucking time,” she says.
“Hello, Melody,” says College, his voice dripping with mock civility. “It’s very nice to see you.”
She screw-faces at him, shakes her head. Turns her attention to Grids. “What the fuck? Been trying to inbox you. Where your spex?”
Grids pats an upper arm pocket on his stormsuit. “Got no credit.”
More head-shakes from Melody, followed by a sigh. “Wasteman. You can use my mum’s network. She give me the password, but don’t be doing no sketchy shit, yeah?”
“Oh, so we can come in then?” asks College.
They follow Melody in to the flat, her bunches and earrings bouncing at the sides of her head, and Grids’ eyes fall into the dark skin at the nape of her neck. He feels a twinge of affection, and embarrassed he covers his eyes with the spex from his pocket. Melody ‘tooths him a Post-it with the passcode, a seemingly infinite string of digits and symbols. Blink: network settings. Blink: connect. Blink: cut. Blink: paste. Green tick. Online.
Melody’s mum’s flat feels safe. It’s clean and warm, and smells of food, enough to make Grids’ stomach rumble. Not that it takes much; he’s not sure when he last ate, maybe last night. Money must be tight, thinks Grids. There’s only Melody’s mum and the three kids, but she works and holds this shit down. She doesn’t like him much, or at least not Melody hanging around with him, but apart from that she’s alright. He feels pangs of jealousy along with the hunger.
“So what’s the fiasco?” asks College.
“Check your timelines.”
Grids pulls down a menu out of his periphery, blinks icons. The air around him fills with windows and doorways, images and words, rumors and opinions, music and politics. Lies nestle with facts, jokes with atrocities, the exotic with the mundane. More information than the human brain was built to handle floats about him in a multi-colored, vari-textured, ever-shifting mosaic of triviality. Grids tries to stay away from the timelines; there’s too much insignificance, and it’s contagious.
Grids yawns, shakes his head. He defocuses on the swarm so it goes translucent, looks straight through it at Melody. “Yeah. And. What?”
She screw-faces and he feels embarrassed again because she looks cute when she does it. Not bimbo, high-street, wannabe-gamer cute, but smart. Confident. And cute. He kinda likes her, but he’s known her for time. Since they were little. Plus her mum would kill him.
She sucks her teeth at him. “Can you not see what everyone in the ‘codes is chatting?”
Grids sighs. The timeline thing is such a chore. He blinks a couple of times, sets filters by popularity and neighboring postcodes, and the swarm reassembles itself around him. A few things jump out, elbowing other tweets and posts and topics out of the way: a police beating in Lawrence Hill, a big graf bombing in Easton, some body in the canal by Feeder Road, and a skunk-factory raid in Brislington. But one thing stands out, dominating his view, pushing its way to the front. A video file, bare retweets.
Grids clicks it. It’s a spex cam capture, stereoscopic. Brief disorientation of being-there-but-not. He’s in/not in a small room, scruffy walls, lit by fluorescent tube lighting. Stacks of red shoeboxes, white ticks on the side. Arms that he can’t control extend in front of him, grab a box, flip off the cardboard lid.
“Oh seen,” says College behind him, clearly riding the same clip.
Pulls aside tissue paper, drops it to the scuffed floor. Underneath are two trainers, white leather with grey plastic details, red ticks. They’re turned to face him, a signature stitched in flickering OLEDs: Eugene Sureshot. Underneath: Limited Edition. This Is My World Now.
“Yeah, they’re nice kicks,” says Grids. “And. What?”
Melody sighs. Again. Grabs him by the shoulder and drags him over to the window. South Bristol lies in front of him. Infinite fucking detail. From up here it looks like the carpet-scale world spreading out from Sureshot’s kicks in that ad, but twisted and broken, weathered and greyed, stained and British. An unplanned, confused mess of roads and buildings, housing estates and railway tracks—the grey and brown occasionally broken up by defiant patches of green trees and parks. It’s decentralized and pointless, never ending until it fades into the ever-present drizzle bank, and all he can see on the horizon are the flashing warning lights on the bent-paperclip shapes of cranes and communication towers. He thinks again about that Sureshot ad, and how Bristol looks like someone bio-hacked his shoe’s terraforming virus to make something poisoned and already dead. Or even that this is what was there before, this is the wasteland, waiting for Sureshot—or the next man that’s big enough to wear those kicks— to come along and make his mark. Wipe it all out, trample it down, and start over again.
“Stand here,” Melody says, impatiently, “and blink the geo-tag, man.”
He blinks the slowly turning globe icon. Instantly a huge arrow appears above Bristol, spinning and bouncing, and he knows straight away where it’s pointing down on to. Avonmeads Retail Park, sandwiched between train tracks and a muddy river, half-hidden under the concrete sprawl of the traffic-filled St. Philips Causeway flyover, looks out of place among the grid of infrastructure and housing, like a scrap of unwanted paper—like a discarded burger wrapper—that’s been blown on to this huge rolled-out map, or a crumpled note pinned in place with electricity pylons and aerials. A nowhere-zone studded with near-forgotten retail brands and fast food franchises, a glorified car park that would have been abandoned to the rats and seagulls if you could download coffee, fried chicken, and cheap household goods straight off the timelines.
“Shit, fam,” says College. “It must be Foot Locker, innit.”
“What?” says Melody. “Foot Looker long gone. It’s Sports World now.”
“Not even,” says Grids. “Sports World shut down, fam. It’s a Track and Hood now.”
“Whatevs,” says Melody. “Fact is, they’ve got them Eugene Sureshot kicks right now, and they ain’t even street date until next week.”
“And the rest. They ain’t meant to be out for another ten days,” says College.
“Damn, I want them kicks.”
“Then let’s go get some then,” says Melody.
“But I’m skint,” says Grids.
They three of them all look at each other for a second, then laugh.
“Seriously,” Grids says, looking at Melody, “You wanna do this, yeah? No gaming?”
“No shit I do. What else you gonna do today?” She shoots him back a cheeky grin. “But if we gonna do it, we gotta do it quick. That clip’s been all over the timelines for like nearly a full hour fam.”
“Shit. Yeah. We gotta move fast. Like now. And we gonna need more mans. Like a few. Most of BS4 is gonna be thinking the same, probably worth a collab. College, can you get us somewhere we can talk?”
“Yeah, think I know a place. I’ll get it running then I’ll hustle some people in. And get the Smash/Grab server prepped.”
“Nice, but keep it tight, yeah? On the down low until we’re actually running. Shit, I need to go get changed while you sort that. Oh, and Melody?”
“Can I beg some credit?” Grids holds his rumbling stomach. “And has your mum got any food in?”
Smash/Grab87064: Daily unrest highlights: Beijing Tesco riots >blink< Seattle coffee looting >blink< Croydon (UK) Nandos fire >blink<
ShadowKing: Don’t forget #ThroneofShadows is free to play! Sign up today and get 50,000 gold credit! All spex OS supported >blink< #FREEPLAY
“Fuck me. This shit is embarrassing, man,” Grids looks down at his heaving, over-muscled chest, barely contained by the overlapping plates of shining armor. “I mean, Jesus, fuck. Look at me bruv.”
Melody giggles, twirling a battle-axe with blood-stained blades the size of hubcaps above her head like it’s a majorette’s baton.
“You can fucking talk,” he says back to her. “Take a look at yourself. Cover yourself up girl, serious.”
Melody giggles again, insensibly sized breasts jiggling. “You know I’m hot. You wish you could get with this.”
“Heads up,” interrupts College, from under the oversized brim of a purple wizard’s hat festooned with gold stars. “Lawrence Hill crew incoming.”
There’s a flash of light, a swirl of mystic winds, and a puff of magical smoke, and suddenly a green-skinned ogre and a hooded ranger stand in front of them. Text floating above their heads reveals them as Flex and Brainstorm.
The other three burst into fits of giggles.
“Fuck you, man,” says Flex. “And fuck you too, man. Seriously. Look at me. Man look like a special-needs man.”
“Dunno blud, orc-style kinda suit you, Flexman.”
“I said fuck you, man. Hate this neckbeard-virgin epic fantasy shit. Throne of Shadows—what does that even mean? Why couldn’t we meet in one of them mafia games or World War Two or some shit, man?”
“’Cos them games are full of people bruv,” replies College. “And where there’s people there’s the Feds, innit. This game is dead, son. No one’s monitoring this shit. Plus it’s free innit.”
“I ported into the wrong place at first,” says Brainstorm, flicking what looks like sticky black gore off his pretty green cape. “Had to murk some goblins fam.”
“Really?” College asks, genuinely interested. “How was that?”
Brainstorm shrugs. “A’ight.”
“Alright games masters, y’all can compare your experience points inna minute,” says Grids. “We got shit to sort and we ain’t got much time. Flex how deep you rolling today?”
“Dunno, reckon I can drum up ten, maybe a dozen mans. Short notice innit.”
“Safe, that’s good. Reckon we can get the same from Barton ends. Should do us. But they all gotta drag their asses into this shameful place and get registered, seen? Like College said we’re using this ’cos it’s dead and free, plus it’s got its own pervasive messenger so we can all chat in the real and the Feds won’t know shit. You get me?”
The orge, the wizard, the ranger and the scantily dressed she-warrior all nod back at him. Grids shakes his head and tries not to laugh.
“College is gonna be outside, running media,” explains Melody. “Me and Grids and our crew will take point in Track and Hood. You guys will be on crowd control.”
“Alright,” says Flex. “I get you. Look, don’t take this the wrong way. This is your run so I got no problem with you guys taking point. But my boys, y’know, they ain’t gonna be happy unless most of them come away with a pair of those Sureshot kicks. You get me?”
“Yeah, I know what you’re saying. Don’t get vexed—that’s why we doing this. Get them kicks. Reason number one. Anything else—boosting rankings, whatever—is a bonus. In and out. And I’m sure it don’t need specifying, but standard Smash/Grab rules, yeah? No casualties, especially no staff or civilians. Right. Everyone go get prepped, get your mans prepped. I want feet on that tarmac at 3 PM sharp. No gaming.”
Smash/Grab946355: Daily unrest highlights: Illegal Disneyland flash-rave broken-up >blink< Shareholders throw chairs at Google meeting >blink< Tokyo pensioners set fire to over-budget, newly opened nursery >blink<
BattleBriz: Check it! Them kicks were filmed in Bris! 10 days and counting >blink< #thisismyworldnow
When Grids and his crew get to Avonmeads, he sees they’re being eyeballed by a fat black crow perched on top of a CCTV pole. Like the camera, it watches them pass. Last summer when they came down here College would go into this big thing about how the crows and the seagulls were in this big turf war around Avonmeads, but after watching them Grids ain’t too sure. He’s seen both sides fighting with their own. There’s no loyalty out here in the wasteland, and it makes him jumpy. Back in the ends he knows everyone, knows who he can trust, has a fair chance of guessing people’s motives and strategies. Out here the same conditions don’t apply. This ain’t his territory, he doesn’t belong here, and the low whine of the camera and the crow’s eyeball tracking him hammer this point home. He feels knots in his stomach, that feeling of being out of his comfort zone, of being watched and pointed out as an outsider.
Avonmeads is less than ten minutes walk from Barton Hill, from his ends, but it feels like a different world to him. Whenever there’s any trouble with youth in places like this the timelines erupt with opinions, people angry and shouting, saying why are people like him making trouble and tearing up their own community. He shakes his head and laughs to himself. Community? There’s no community down here. This isn’t a community space—it’s nowhere, a non-place. Nobody lives here, it’s populated only fleetingly by transient visitors: van drivers getting lunch, shoppers buying the few things they still can’t buy through their spex or print at home. Even the staff in the shops here—none of them live here, they just come for a few hours a day, a few days a week. And most of them don’t even hold that down for long; there’s about as much of a sense of career down here as there is community. For a start, the shops never stay for long. Something opens, fills a short-term need, closes. Storefronts lie dead and abandoned, until someone thinks they’ve found another fleeting need, moves in, shuts down. Open, close, repeat.
No, the only thing that matters here is cash flow. It flows in and it flows out in huge, armored, drone-tracked security vans. And that’s all it does. Nobody lives here, nobody works here for long, and the money doesn’t stick around. Grids ain’t no sociologist, but he’s pretty sure that’s not how a community is meant to work. And even if it is then he’s still not part of it, because he’s got no cash. Never has. And down here that makes him irrelevant, an outsider. It makes him insignificant.
Except right now he can feel his significance rise. Partly it’s because he’s rolling seven deep; most of his crew fronting behind him as he strides in, the rest are already on site waiting for the green light. But mostly he feels the wrong kind of significance radiating on to him, from the top of the poles and the sides of the pylons that litter the two-thirds empty car park. He can feel the cameras twitching like the crows and seagulls, tracking their moves, trying to place their faces. There’s nothing much they can do to avoid the knowing gazes except keep their stormsuit hoods up, their cap brims low, and their spex polarized. Depending on what version the cameras are running it might be enough, but even if it’s not then legally it shouldn’t be an issue—they’re all underage, and most of them have never been cuffed for anything major, so their faces shouldn’t be on file. But Grids knows where there are laws there are loopholes, and it’s more than likely the cameras are trying to match his face with timeline pictures, retail security wikis, and the pupil data that Bristol City Academy dumps online for a small fee.
But fuck them. Fuck the cameras and the wikis and the school that sells out its own kids. Fuck them all. They’ve got nothing on him, fucking zero, and even if he is out here in the wasteland where he doesn’t belong, he’s rolling with his crew seven deep. Shoulders back, hoods up, heads high. You don’t like it, then what, son? What?
“Oh shit, here we go,” Melody says.
From out of the gloom of the overpass he hears the pathetic whine of electric motors. A golf cart pulls in front of the group, blocking their path. Big fat fucker in the driver’s seat squints at them through crappy, unbranded rent-a-fed issue spex as he sticks a McDonald’s coffee in the dashboard cup holder next to a bag of Greggs sausage rolls. He’s got Group 4 Retail Response embroidered on to the poly-carbon body armor that barely fits over his beer gut, and he winces from back pain as he heaves himself out of the driver’s seat.
“Alreet then, boys,” he says in a deep Bristol drawl, attempting to pull his sagging trousers up over his fat arse. “Where’s you to today then?”
“What? Who you calling boy? What, you blind?” Melody fronts him, screwfacing.
“Alreet me babber, no need for all that is there? Just answer my question now, where you going?”
“Going get a burger,” College chips in. “What?”
“Ah right. And you got money for that burger, have you? All of you? Let me see your wallets.”
“What?” says Grids, “Wallets? We don’t carry cash, granddad. What is this, the nineteen-nineties?”
“Let me check the credit on your spex then. And you,” he points at College. “Show me what’s in that backpack of yers.”
“What? You can’t check our spex or search him. You ain’t real feds.”
“Fucking rent-a-shop-cop,” someone murmurs behind him.
“Under section 12, paragraph 18 of the 2014 Anti-terrorism, Illegal Protest, Sporting Events-Related Violence and Retail-Slash-Enterprise Zone Security and Management Act—” Grids can tell the guard is reading off spex-prompts now, “—Any privately employed retail-slash-enterprise zone security or management employee with reason to suspect potential antisocial behavior or incitement to civil unrest can order the—”
“Fuck you, man,” interrupts College. “You ain’t looking in my bag.” Grids feels his stomach turn. College’s bag is full of goodies. The sort of grey-to-black market goodies that could get him in a fresh pile of shit.
“Come on, son, don’t make this all unnecessary now.” The security guard reaches out an armored arm to grab the straps of College’s backpack.
College slaps his hand away. “Get your fucking hands off me, you fucking pedo!”
Suddenly the whole crew is crowded around the security guard. Grids likes the feeling of strength he gets rolling with them, but right now he can feel plans and any vague sense of control he had out here slipping away. He can feel things about to kick off before they are meant to, and not how he had sketched them out.
Then there’s a pinging sound from the golf cart and the guard’s spex. He holds a hand up to the kids: shut up. He turns his face away and sticks a finger from his other hand in his ear. “Received. On my way.” And then he’s awkwardly clambering back into the tiny toy car and speeding, if it can be called that, away.
“That’s right, you fat pussy,” shouts College after him. “Go run your way back to Krispy-K for some donuts!”
“Fucking wasteman,” says someone else.
“Yeah, get back in your milk float, granddad.” Everyone starts laughing.
“Fuck,” says Grids to Melody. “Shit was close there, fam.”
“Did you hear the message though?” she replies. “Someting about trouble at Track and Hood.”
“Serious? You could hear that?”
“Yeah, I swear down.”
They watch the stupid little vehicle and its oversized driver wobble away across the tarmac. Grids sucks his teeth, worried some other crew has beat them to it.
“Guess we’d better go scope what’s happening then, innit.”
Everyone in Grids’ crew is pay-as-you-go, standardly. Which means they can’t opt out of ads, and they spend the walk over to Track and Hood swatting away floating Ronald McDonalds, grinning Colonel Saunders, and hyperactive anthropomorphic M&Ms. At one point—when some Z-list virt celeb is trying to ram a nonexistent Greggs sausage roll down Grids’ throat—it’s too much, and he actually takes his spex off for a bit, pulling his scarf up over his face to attempt to substitute the disguise. But he knows it isn’t really going to work, so he puts them back on. They’re all back there again, up in his face, reminding him how hungry he is.
Anyway, when they get there it’s clear, to his relief, that it wasn’t another crew making a Smash/Grab raid on Track and Hood. The fat rent-a-cop and one of his buddies are dragging some guy away who’s kicking and screaming—although the screams are muffled by the black and white splattered gas mask he’s wearing. His clothes, some knackered old stormsuit, is splattered in the same black and white too. Grids guesses it must be some kind of paint. Then he clocks something and it all falls into place—the guy they’re dragging away has stenciled a still fresh looking, 30-cm square QR code onto Track and Field’s window.
“Don’t you be blinking that, man,” College says to him. “Probably sketchy as fuck. Malware, believe.”
Grids looks at the QRcode, then at the vexed guy they’re dragging off, and back at the code. He blinks it.
The surface of Track and Hood’s window starts to shimmer and flex. A large black rectangle—something like a screen—pops away from the glass and floats in the air, video footage starting to fill it. It’s rough and jerky, disorientating—and it takes a second or too for Grids to realize it’s more spex cam capture, but even more illicit this time, like it was filmed secretly, by someone that really shouldn’t be filming at all. Wherever they are is fairly dark, apart from these long tables that are lit from above by painful flourescent lights. Lots of people in matching yellow hats sat in rows along the tables—lots of people. Mainly women it looks like, hunched over. No, not women, children. Chinese looking, or Thai or something. Grids isn’t sure. Is it a school? He can’t see what they are doing. The wearer pans the camera around the room; it’s not a school. Looks like a warehouse or a factory. The wearer gets closer to one of the tables. The kids look exhausted, sad, but they’re concentrating. Some of the girls look tiny, like less than his brothers age, maybe just ten years old. If that. The wearer goes up to one, who glances up and then looks away, ashamed or scared. Over her shoulder he can finally see what she’s doing—stitching, with a needle. The middle of the table is a conveyer belt, along which comes objects—he can see what they are now. Shoes. The girls reach out and grab them as they pass, work on them. They’re trainers, white leather with grey plastic details, red ticks. The girl in front of the wearer grabs one, and with tiny hands he can see she is stitching something in flickering OLED thread, filling a printed outline. A signature. Eugene Sureshot. Underneath: Limited Edition. This Is My World Now.
She looks back up at the camera again, tired and frightened. Freeze frame. Scrolling text—average ages, hours worked, amounts paid. Grids feels the hairs on the back of his neck prick up.
“Fuck me,” he says slowly.
“What?” College turns to look at him. “Ah man, you blinked it, didn’t you? Oh my days. Nice one, G. You better not be infecting my shit, yeah?”
“Nah man, not malware,” Grids shudders. “Just nasty.”
“I told you not to blink it. Fucking great.”
“I’m telling you, it ain’t malware. Just a video file.”
“What is it, Grids?” asks Melody.
“Probably a fucking trojan,” says College. “Dickhead.”
“Shut it, College. Just a video, Mel, bit murky. Don’t stress it.”
“Yeah, well. Assuming you ain’t just fried all your apps, I suggest we do this thing, yeah? Y’know, why Fatty and his mate are busy hauling off that angry hipster?”
“A’ight, yeah,” Grids tries to snap himself back into go mode. “Send that message out. Let’s do this, fam.”
NextOne: TEN DAYS! These new Eugene Sureshots look NEXT LEVEL and they in #Bristol already! >Blink< #thisismyworldnow
College doesn’t know where the Smash/Grab servers are hosted, or who runs them, but he’s heard all the rumors. He’s heard the one that says they’re carried around by a swarm of autonomous, solar powered, high-altitude drones that never touch down and are maintained remotely by a collective of hacktivists on the East Coast of the US. And the one that says a Russian gambling oligarch hosts them in a stolen nuclear submarine illegally patched into a mainline cable on the floor of the Baltic Sea. Of course, there are the tinfoil hat theories that the Feds run the whole thing in order to catch kids like him, and even take a cut of the betting profits. College doesn’t know which is true, if any, but he’s pretty sure the last one is bullshit. He’s been running Smash/Grab games for a nearly a year now, since someone at school explained the whole setup too him, and he’s never been caught. The Feds have never come and knocked at his door, never surprised him with an unexpected visit at school. Yeah sure, the first few times they did a run he nearly bricked himself every time he turned a corner near the ends and there was a squad car parked up, but nothing ever happened. Beyond the standard stop and searches, he never got any hassle, and they were so regular these days that he doubted they were ever connected.
So, no, he doesn’t know who runs Smash/Grab, and he doesn’t really care as long as they keep it locked down. He logs into the server right now, blinks and focuses through layers of passwords and image security, until he gets to the game he’d prepped earlier, before they’d left. He’d spent a good hour this morning checking everything was right—set up the game objectives, registered the players from both crews, ensured their profiles were updated, and negotiated odds with the server’s automated agents. He’d even managed to pick up some sponsorship; a couple of glazing and security alarm companies had taken the bait—at least their autonomous ad-buying spiders had, giving them plausible deniability. Though, as far as College knows, no one ever does.
Anyway, the game looks set. He gives it all one last check. The players are all there, their avatars rotating slowly in a grid; stats unfurling when he lets his gaze hover over them. Followers, rankings, products liberated. Most common stolen and destroyed brands. Panes broken. Fires started. And the two most important of all: the Smash/Grab scores, the grand total value of damage caused and items robbed.
Now College knows there are some big hitters out there. He’s seen kids in Malaysia walk out of smashed-up shopping malls with TVs the size of a tennis court. He’s seen a gang of girls in Tehran cover an armored personnel carrier in pink paint and dance topless around it while its crew ran from the black smoke that poured from its doors and slit like windows. Mad points, big rankings. A different league. But scale things down to a city level—so you’re just looking at the rankings for Bristol— and his crew ain’t too shabby, either. Filter the tables by postcodes and really it’s only the hippysters, the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Stoke’s Croft, that give them a run for their money—but those soap-dodgers have got a different strategy on the whole game, and it’s reflected in their scores. They’re well down low on the rob scores, up much higher on the criminal damage achievements. Those kids just like burning shit. He’s watched them—both on Smash/Grab and out on the streets—set fire to a Nandos full of perfectly good chicken, smashing bottles of Peri-Peri sauce off of balconies in Cabot’s Circus while his crew’s stomachs rumbled. They say it’s because they want to make a point, because they’ve got a political agenda—but to College it’s just another way of playing the game, a different strategy. It’s wasteful to him and the crew he rolls with—to people who ain’t got the shit they want, the shit they’ve been told since they were toddlers they need to get—but he can see how it works for them. Keeps them clean, burning the evidence. He’s seen more gamers get busted through stop-and-search or random raids on cribs full of illicit stock than through CCTV footage or timeline track-backs, so it kind of rules all that out. Plus, those hippysters claim they don’t want any of that shit anyway, which is why they’re doing it, but College ain’t always buying that. He sees them, with the latest spex and augmented clothes, buying bread from their artisan bakeries, eating locally sourced chicken in their organic restaurants up in Montpellier, where he could only dream of being able to afford a cup of free-trade coffee. Nah, he thinks, fuck their political agenda. It’s just a cover; they want shit like everyone else—it’s just different shit, and they buy it with the money their parents give them. But most of all, like everyone on Smash/Grab, they want to be seen, they want the props. Like everyone on the timelines and off, they want the significance.
That’s what it’s about today: significance. And those fucking peng-looking Sureshot kicks, son. He blinks PLAY.
The server plays him a quick siren sample in confirmation, and the game stirs into life. Two hundred thousand dummy profiles start talking to a combined follow-mass of over six million, dropping updates and spamming forums, hijacking hashtags and spawning new ones. Botnets start subtly looting resources to host anonymous video streams. Ripples expand in socialspace.
College is out of the server for a second, blinks open the Throne of Shadows messenger client, struggles to read text in the hilariously cheesy fantasy font it insists on using for everything. In between sighing at the neck-beard bullshit, he manages to shoot out a message to both crews: go time.
Smash/Grab998677: IT’S ON! New game! Bristol (UK) trainer raid! Tune in and place your bets NOW! »blink«
Grids get the message, pulls his cap down tight, tugs his scarf around his face, checks his hood. The tiny Smash/Rob window pops open in his periphery. He’s already got 634 followers, and climbing. Who knows who they are? Bored office workers, slum kids, stockbrokers, fashionistas, online griefers, lazy journalists, housewives, angry Daily Mail readers. Better give them something to watch.
782 followers. Nerves start to churn in his empty stomach. He glances across the car park and here they come, spilling out of McDonalds and Costa Coffee, the rest of the combined Lawrence Hill and Barton Hill crews, rolling nearly thirty deep, hoods up, caps low, spex and bandanas, black, white, and brown skin all but disguised. Girls and boys, some youths, some older soldiers. Moving enmasse toward him, on point, on cue. Nerves steady, adrenalin kicking in, significance taking over.
1000 followers. Achievement unlocked. 10x points multiplier.
Next he and Melody are through the doors into Track and Hood, the others cramming through behind them, and it all goes off. Most of them are just grabbing shit, throwing it to the floor, kicking over displays. Some kiddie has bust open a tube of tennis balls and is lobbing them across the store, laughter, cheers, unadulterated joy. Playtime, pent-up frustration, and drab boredom channeled into expression and dance. Grids and Melody are more focused, though, that’s why they’re on point. He grabs a cricket bat, Melody finds a golf club. They laugh and whirl, raining stock from shelves with their newly found toys, for once enjoying their youth and innocence; free from judgment and control. They smile as one, the whole crew, a shared moment of ecstasy and belonging.
Grids smashes a glass display cabinet full of over-priced AR fitness gadgets—run-trackers and pulse monitors—and coins dance in front of his face, clocking up points to a ker-ching ker-ching ker-ching video game soundtrack. He crushes boxes with his foot like Mario stomping mushrooms. Ker-ching ker-ching ker-ching.
3000 followers. Achievement unlocked. 20x points multiplier.
WhiteVanStan: Check my stream! Little chav kids kicking off at Avonmeads! Streaming live now! #Riots >blink<
Outside, most of the Lawrence Hill crew is preparing for the inevitable. Four of them hurtle around from the back of Pizza Hut, dragging and pushing a huge wheeled recycling bin, scattering civilians from their path. Some run for the safety of their cars, but most of them just hang back, watching. Recording. Streaming. Filling the timelines with more traffic, a mixture of outrage, bemusement, and shameful glee.
College has to move quick, this he knows. He drops his backpack to the floor, unzips it, pulls out the first micro-drone, throws it into the sky. Then another, a third, the fourth. The four insect-like drones hang above him in the air, circling each other, suspended on quad-rotors, ball cameras twitching. With blinks he sends two through the shop’s open doors and the other two into higher orbits, a crow’s-eye view. Windows fill the air around him and he’s running the media, jumping between streams—not just the drones, but from Grids’ and Melody’s spex, too. Scratch mixing into one output to the Smash/Grab server—cutting, mixing, transforming, flipping highlights into backspun rewinds. From out of the shop a piercing alarm bell rings, a shrill, skull-piercing tone designed to scare as much as alert, and he samples it with a couple of blinks. Runs it through a loop chopper to make a wall of noise riff, drops one of Melody’s pre-cooked beats, sprinkles it with 808 snares, and grounds it with sub-base. Punctuates it with a few handclaps and dub-sirens. Checks levels, adds reverb, and drops it over the output stream.