Demos is an illustrated speculative fiction novel in development.
“This thing’s about to kick the bucket!” Vinegar shouted over the raucous chants. Vinegar’s phone was perpetually running out of juice, bringing urgency to even mundane communications. It stressed out Dina and Isai as they plodded through the night city.
“Don’t worry,” Vinegar bellowed, “just get your sweet asses to the meeting spot! You goddamn millennials need to accept that things work out in the end! They really do! Always! One way or another! And this time, they have to! The world has no choice!”
“But what if…”
“Get over yourselves and have some goddam faith!” Vinegar’s accent was a mix of Lower East Side and her native Polish, slurred with drink much of the time.
Meet near the “Red Thing” at 2 am was the plan. There was an outside chance she’d get sidetracked, Vinegar had explained, but they could just ask around. Although the park was a human tapestry of thousands of strangers, this was apparently a reasonable scheme, because “Vin” was a well-known Occupier. By 1 or 2 am, the day activists and tourists would have returned to their indoor comforts and the hardcore would know where she was for sure. Folks could track her down in the debate circle or near the meditation tree or medical tent or food tables or she might be at the falafel stands along the edge of the park if the pizza ran out. If not, they could just wait near the Red Thing, and sooner or later she’d turn up.
“You’ll stop worrying after you see Liberty Park in all its glory!” Vinegar had harangued. “You’ll be zapped by the revolution! And when you meet Survival, you’ll understand what’s possible!”
“Stop with the fucking buts!”
They could hear Vinegar slough off her aggravation with a great big breath she’d been practicing at the meditation tree.
“Look kids, what do people do in an occupied park? Think about it. This is no protest, it’s about meeting people. And who? The veterans! I’m talking about the Occupiers of Tahrir and Puerta del Sol, maybe even Tiananmen Square, maybe even Seattle, Tompkins, Stonewall! All that embodied wisdom is in the park! And why does it matter? Because you’ll fucking learn something. See where I’m going with this? It’s free college, kids! Master classes in communal decision-making, self-defense, short-circuiting the police state: I’m talking about practical knowledge! Stuff you can’t learn in the sad old ivory tower! Stuff they’ll never let you learn!”
“No buts! Just come and see. You arrive at the park as (sorry but it’s true) atomized capitalist sheep, but by tomorrow’s general assembly, you’re activated humans! Revolutionaries! Occupiers! And all without being brainwashed by the PMC—that’s the professional-managerial class, kids. And most importantly: without a fucking red cent of debt! And that means you won’t be forced to join the zombie death squads to pay the banks back for your mind upgrade—and by the banks, I mean those who should be wearing orange—those who should be behind lock and key! Kids: there’s even a meal plan included! There’s free pizza for fucksake! What are you waiting for?”
That sealed it for Isai who’d spent his first year as an art major at UC Santa Cruz but couldn’t stop himself from obsessively calculating the accrued interest of his future loans—he’d promptly dropped out to certify as a CPA. And it sounded interesting to Dina, a junior at Yale, but bored, and yeah, the professional-managerial vibe around campus was part of that—everyone constantly prettying up their resumes so they could grab a bigger slice of the pie. Probably she was supposed to do that too—especially as a Black woman whose people had been denied access. But Dina couldn’t see all that primping as anything besides mediocrity. She wanted to do something great, something historical.
And now, Dina and Isai had spent all day and part of the night meandering from New Haven down Manhattan Island toward little Zuccotti Park. That’s how much they trusted Vinegar, whom they’d never met face to face. And Vinegar had made a big thing not just out of the Occupy Movement, but of a brooding hacker who called himself (Dina thought it pretty silly)— Survival. That was the guy Vinegar claimed possessed the missing ingredient that would make their work really matter.
Along the way, Dina and Isai stopped at bodegas twice for snacks, and eleven times, to make out. The long day had given way to a clammy November night— one that now reverberated eerily with sirens as they approached the park. Vinegar had spoken of the Occupy movement as some sort of updated Be-In, but to Dina and Isai, lower Manhattan seemed foreboding as fuck.
Survival ambled through the highway’s overgrowth, a black duffel slung over his frame. He was considering how each fissure in the asphalt constituted a kind of clock. The road had been in good shape when he’d founded Hunter’s land, and over time, the cracks had spread, deepened, and sprouted. This had been his victory—the old world of shit slowly choked off by weeds. But now that same world of shit was calling him back.
He stopped to drink from a water skin. Then he stepped off the asphalt, fully entering the lush overgrowth, summer leaves pungent, mosquitos clouding his face. A steep incline in the forest forced the centenarian to stop every ten paces. He clutched a tree trunk for support and caught his breath. A fall would be disastrous. He had to make it up the hill.
A sun-bleached tower dominated the hill’s crest, shooting up to dizzying heights. Survival had no interest in craning his neck up to it. Instead, wheezing from the climb, he focused on the ground. Kneeling under the tower he produced a small adz from his belt, and began hacking into the soft black earth until it gave up a white cable. Then he reached into his duffel, and spread tools among the wildflowers. Deft as a surgeon, he spliced the white cable to the receiver he’d fashioned from a motorcycle helmet. He checked the circuit board connections on the helmet. The old skills returned as he worked.
Before slipping the helmet on, Survival closed his eyes. He appreciated the sparrows’ song and inhaled the forest’s windborne perfume. Being unconnected had been his power; to reconnect was to risk losing it all—not just his status as a feared leader of the Hunters, but most of all, the pleasure of all this. He’d miss the sweet berries that grew from the highway cracks; he’d miss the thrill of sending his carrier pigeon out, bound with instructions for the bloody raids into TruZōn.
But then, just a few days ago, the first rumors of a digital virus had reached Hunters Land, and he knew at once that all this sweet, bloody, hard-earned freedom was as good as shit. The virus meant there was zero choice. The virus brought him to this hill. He slipped the helmet on, feeling the musty padding around his skull. He felt for the button and pressed it. And then Survival’s limbs quivered as his brain tapped directly into the Mesh network via that white cable. And then he was mainlining the digital virus which had infested the entire network. His head began to bob rhythmically.
He hurtled into a crude flight. It sent him crashing and thrashing painfully against burned-out cities—deeply familiar ones. He was a mad pilot with no idea how to fly the thing. He was colliding with his past. But Survival was nothing if not dogged. He remained on the hill through a day and a night, enduring it. He endured nausea, dehydration, and delirium, and his skin was bitten raw by insects and the centenarian might have died like a rabid old animal there, under the plastic tower on the hill. But then, with his last bit of strength, he yanked off the helmet and lay on the hill disconnected, half-dead, but resolute. He knew what he had to do next.
He limped down the hill and returned a few days later with his followers, the Hunters. They wheeled hand-drawn carts bearing weighty spools of cable. They connected their spools to the white Mesh cable and laid the line through the swamps and the camps of Hunter’s land, snaking it all the way to its capital and the museum there. Then Survival sent the Hunters away and sealed the door, poured diesel into a generator for light, and sat alone among the museum’s paintings. He re-helmeted. And again his head started bobbing, and this time, he learned to fly.
After three days, a moan was heard in the museum—an embarrassingly private and feral noise. Lifting his helmet, Survival’s face was streaming with tears. What had he been doing all these decades besides attacking—literally attacking, with bloody raids using primitive weapons—the only ones who could help him with the task that lay before him?
He scrawled a message, rolled it tightly, and attached it to the leg of a carrier pigeon. He let it fly though the museum’s broken skylight. The message would end the raids— there would be no more preventable blood. And then, muttering under his breath “Long Live Vinegar,” Survival again slipped on the helmet and tapped back into the Mesh network. But this time he knew how to avoid being grabbed into his past by the virus. This time he accessed Demos— the platform he’d once coded himself more than half a century earlier, but banished from Hunter’s land. He entered Demos, which he’d once believed once carried so much revolutionary promise but ended up as shit, total shit. Through Demos, he sent the Unconditional Pact to Dina, Maria Paz, and Isai— his enemies. His victims. His former comrades. The founders of TruZōn.