I'll learn to work the saxophone
I'll play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whiskey all night long
And die behind the wheel .
-Steely Dan, "Deacon Blues"
For what it's worth, I've thought quite a lot about where to begin. I hope it makes sense later that I started here, but ain't no way of knowing til it's done, of course, and by that time, it'll be way too late to start it any other way. Maybe it's already too late to start it any other way, now that I've started this way. I'm no writer, not that you'd have guessed THAT already; only an observer. And what I see, here, after all that happened, is that it's going to take ages to get it all down, and I sure as hell don't want to spend the next six months working out the first paragraph. So there, bleagh, it's done.
I'm probably going to screw the whole friggin' thing up anyway. I told Johnny there ain't nothing to be gained from writing it down, that all this adds is risk. I'm gonna drop someone's real name, or a critical identifying detail, and get someone snatched back from the great home free, and slammed into jail or shot dead after all. This could all end here with those who survived and the memory of who didn't and that's just how it should be, but Johnny didn't want to hear about that, and a promise is a promise, so here goes.
So here goes.
It all started at dawn. You would've called it noon, more or less-"dawn" was just our word for it, that priceless moment when you jolt the grid, and kick people's nice little world out of focus. Wake 'em up from that institutional stupor we all stagger around in, most of our lives. Dawn is when something unusual starts unfolding around you that you simply can't process. Is this a crime? alien invasion? delirium tremens? All you know is it's three steps out of the ordinary, and it's happening, as the old-time magicians used to say, "right before your very eyes."
For ninety-nine out of a hundred people, any disruption to the predictable pattern of things, any glitch in the matrix, is totally paralyzing. They can't do anything but helplessly watch the phenomenon play itself out, or maybe throw a glance at each other: you seeing what I'm seeing? Hell, I'd pause right there with the dumbstruck bystanders more often than not, jeopardizing the critical onset of an operation just to watch 'em glance around, and the concern knitting up their puzzled little faces.
It's a powerful thing, choosing to be a bringer of the dawn. If you ever want to see a crowd of fully operational humans turn to stone, just scream at the top of your lungs in a hotel lobby. It's a crack high, I swear to God: Crazy makes you unchallengeable, invincible. Nobody will even look you in the eye. There's no downside to speak of; worst case scenario an apologetic doorman will politely hustle you out. Don't be surprised if you find that you literally can't do it, though. Society survives by cleansing individuals of such disruptive fancies, breaking you like a stallion when you're young. Chaos is unacceptable to the system, and the system always wins.
But it is still just possible to live outside the system, though maybe for the last time in human history. And maybe, in the end, that's all this was all about.
Oh, for Chrissakes. Where was I?
Dawn broke at noon, more or less, on a dusty rural Tuesday way off in the ass-end of eastern Arkansas. Where the lid meets the rim, if you picture that state as the bowl of a toilet. I was alone in the grooming aisle of this grocery store, trying to look casual as I adjusted a pair of mutually interfering rubber bands on Owen's "Zapper." The Zapper was essentially two ten-dollar presentation-pointer lasers strapped to a science-kit astrolabe, adjustable in three dimensions to spike a store's security cameras. It was a homemade piece of crap, and it was