The Blink network encompassed some 120 million cameras in the United States alone. Along with the millions of live feeds broadcasting from glasses and pinned-on cameras, Blink also included hundreds of thousands of indoor and outdoor security cameras, in addition to most car dashboard cams (standard on every new model since 2020) and a swarm of aerial drones owned by police departments, TV news channels, and tens of thousands of random voyeurs. At any given moment, ninety-eight percent of these feeds were broadcasting absolutely nothing of interest.
But “Blink” wasn’t just a bunch of cameras. The nerve center of this
sprawling mass of electronic eyes was a software algorithm that made sure the viewer always had something to watch. So if you logged into Blink from your phone or computer, it greeted you with three general categories:
People, Places, and Events. Once you were in “People,” you could jump into your best friend’s camera to see what he was up to, or log in to see what pop star Latrell La’range was doing with his Thursday evening. If you had wired-up glasses, you could overlay your view with their feed—literally see the world through their eyes, blotting out your own reality completely. If you chose “Places,” you simply told Blink where you wanted to be and it’d give you the most popular view of it—if you wanted to see Mt. Everest, you’d jump into the feed of whichever climber had the most interesting view at the moment—or whichever one was having the most dramatic near-death experience.
“Events,” however, were the real star of the show. For example, if the aforementioned pop star got high and stabbed a dancer at a nightclub, as had happened four times in the previous year, then “Latrell La’range Has Stabbed Another Stripper” would appear as an Event on Blink within a few seconds. Then Blink could drop you into whatever feed had the best view of the situation, and would continue following the event from camera to camera as the mostly nude man with the massive orange afro fled from the club, stole a car, led police on a chase, and attempted to board a private jet to Mexico. As long as there was a working camera in range, you could watch the drama unfold in real time, the view hopping from one feed to the next. If things were moving fast and there were a lot of cameras around, the view jarringly switched every few seconds, which was disorienting to new viewers (and why everyone had started calling it “Blink” years ago). The result was that the network had become a massive breeding ground for spontaneous reality shows that organically popped up within that worldwide nebula of camera feeds. The “Event” listings updated in real time with everything from drama in your social circle (“Catfight at Rob and Jina’s Wedding Reception”) to worldwide news (“Hostage Standoff in Kyoto Burger King”).
A lot of this was new to Zoey, and had to be explained to her as she sat there on the sofa in the construction crew’s trailer. She didn’t own a Blink enabled device, as it seemed absurd to imagine anybody would want to watch her serve lattes and mood-enhancing teas to rednecks. She didn’t really keep up with the feeds, either, as she thought Blink was still just for creepy people to broadcast upskirt videos of women on the bus, as it had been when it was new. This is why Zoey didn’t realize that for the last eighteen hours, she had been the star of a viral Blink Event that at the moment was being followed by more than twenty million people.
The work crew in the trailer knew, however, because of Cesar. He was the youngest member of the crew who, according to Rico, had been following Zoey’s story religiously from the start. Rico called Cesar away from his task of ripping copper wire out of another part of the building, and when he walked through the door and saw Zoey, there were a few seconds of confusion followed by pure, starstruck awe.
Cesar uttered some kind of Spanish curse and clapped his handsand said, “So who gets the five million?”
Zoey said, “Wait, what? Is that the bounty they have out on me?”
Cesar said, “Girl, you don’t even know what’s going on, do you?”
“I’ve been traveling since seven, I’m out of the loop apparently.”
Cesar took over the controls on the wall screen and scrolled to an Event listing called “The Hunt for Livingston’s Key.” The icon for the show was a picture of Zoey’s face.
She sighed and said, “Already this is ridiculous.”
“Okay,” Cesar said, “it all started when that warehouse blew up last week. Right after that, this rumor floats around that Arthur Livingston had a vault, okay? But here’s the thing—nobody can find the key, because he hid it somewhere. There’s talk that there are all these clues hidden around and everybody’s obsessed with this mystery. Now, nobody even knows what’s in the vault, okay, some say it’s bodies of people he’s had killed, some say it’s gold, some say he’s got a woman trapped in there and she’s only got twenty-four hours’ worth of air. It’s all crazy rumors—you know how Blink is. Or maybe you don’t. Anyway, so then this huge offer pops up on the skin wall—”
“The, uh, board, the underground one where people post illegal bounties for freelancers. So an offer goes up, okay, a million for the key to the vault. It’s from Livingston’s own people, which is huge, because it confirms that the whole story is true and that they don’t got the key. Blink goes totally wild with this—for days the crazy stories are flying around, all these treasure hunters promoting feeds claiming they know where the key is, saying it’s in some abandoned cathedral or a cave out in the desert. But it’s always just a big show, nobody ever comes up with a key. And meanwhile, the hype over this thing just keeps building and building, millions of us watching, everybody talking about it. Then finally, this morning, pow, big plot twist, okay? The key ain’t in town. The key is in Colorado. With the daughter that nobody knew Arthur had.”
“So this whole thing is over some Blink rumor? Can I just look into a camera and tell everybody I don’t have the key?”
“You do have it.” Cesar pointed at his temple. “Up here.”
“What, like a combination? Because I don’t have one of those, either.”
“No. The vaults the rich people got now, they don’t open for keys or combinations or nothin’ like that—they open for people. Okay? Fingerprint scans, eyeball scans, that sort of thing. Livingston’s vault is one of a kind— it has a scan that goes right into your skull. Reads your brain neurons and synapses, all that. And Livingston set his vault so it would open for one person and one person only. You.”
“And he did this knowing it would make me a target for every greedy psychopath in the country.” Zoey thought about all of the strangers giving her glances on the train, and the crush of reporters as she was being escorted to a gruesome death. She shook her head and said, “That man was cancer on two legs. So you were watching this the whole time?”
“Everybody was. And all eyes were on you, all these treasure hunters and crazies all heading your way, and the rest of the world watching them to see who gets to you first. Everybody on Blink forming up into teams, fans rooting for their guys to win. And then it gets really good. This other contract goes up, outbidding Livingston’s people, okay? Three million. Some other crime family, they want the key for themselves. So now you’ve got a whole other faction of scumbags in on the action, and everybody’s heading off to Colorado, and then that motivates all these white knight types who want to save you. All heading out to converge on your location.”
Zoey thought, and that whole time I was on my sofa watching wildlife documentaries and failing to dye my hair.
“But the problem is,” he continued, “they got the wrong town. They think you’re out in some suburb around Boulder, okay?”
“Ah. Nobody knew I’d moved.”
“So everybody’s trying to nail down your current address, but this wrongcock with mechanical jaws figures it out before anybody. So while everybody else is turning over every stone in the wrong town, this guy is staking out your trailer, just waiting, and watching. And then he turns on his feed and then there’s that crazy car chase and the thing with the ice . . . well, you know. You were there. So the next time it picked up was when you boarded the rail. So then all the hunters and crazies swarm the train station here waiting for you to show up, but a few guys get smart and go to Salt Lake, thinking they could get on the train with you. Two of ’em made it.”
“Two?” Ah, right. The Soul Collector, he was one. The other was, of course, Jacob. He hadn’t been hitting on her. He had been there to collect the bounty, and to shoot an impromptu reality show about it.
She said, “So explain the thing with the people who can shoot lightning out of their hands.”
Three different people in the room said, “The what?”
“The bad guy on the train? He could shoot electricity from his fingers. Is that something people just do here?”
Rico said, “Nobody I know. Seems like it’d be dangerous to take a leak.”
Zoey said, “Nevermind, forget I asked. So, whoever turns me in to Livingston’s scumbag mob gets a million, but whoever turns me in to this other group of worse bad guys gets three?”
“Make that five,” said Cesar. “Look.”
He brought up a list and at the top, just above the one-million- dollar offer from Livingston Enterprises, was an updated offer of five million dollars. The name next to the bid was . . .
“Who’s ‘Molech’?” Zoey asked.
The response was a series of nervous glances.
“Let’s put it this way,” said Rico. “Even if the people in this city didn’t need that cash, they’d turn you in just to get on his good side. You don’t want to know what he does to people who get in his way. Though if you do want to know, I can bring up the videos. He likes to do it for an audience. Got a creepy fanbase on Blink, these Team Molech guys were cheering the loudest when the Hyena started broadcasting from outside your trailer. Throwing up a lot of suggestions about what he should do to you.”
“Do I want to know how many people are on Team Molech?”
Cesar said, “It’s a lot. But ya know, not all of ’em are psychos, probably, some just doin’ it for the shock value. Still, if they saw you in public, they’d report your position without a second thought. Then they’d pop some popcorn and watch Molech’s people tear you apart on cam—”
Rico cut him off. “Enough. Cesar, you got to learn when to stop talking.”
Zoey went cold, but remembered that whoever got to her first, it was really her father who had murdered her.
Rico squinted at Zoey and said, “And you, get that look off your face. I got a wife and four kids, I’m gonna bring home a suitcase full of blood money? Where do I tell them I got it from?”
A-Ron said, “I’ll take your share.”
“Man, your momma would string you up. And she’ll know where you got the cash, because I’ll tell her.”
Cesar said, “I hate to tell you, but it’s either gonna be us, or those guys.”
He gestured at the screen, where the feed had switched. They were now watching a half dozen flamboyantly dressed men packed into the back of a van. One guy had a red Mohawk and was covered in tattoos, and was sharpening a scimitar. Another had what looked like a bazooka with war slogans painted on the sides. The guy next to him looked like he had covered his body in glue and rolled through a knife store. At the bottom of the feed was a logo that said “LEAGUE OF BADASS.”
Cesar said, “They’re in their van, on their way to Parkview. Right now.”
The feed on the screen cut to a dash camera on the van, which showed they were rounding the park, the collapsed apartment building sweeping into view ahead. Then suddenly, the feed went black.
Cesar said, “They’re jamming us, so we can’t watch how they approach. Smart.”
Zoey scooped up the sleeping Stench Machine from the sofa and said, “Where can I hide? Is there a place they can’t get to in the sideways building?”
Rico said, “We told you, you can’t go back in there. It’s not safe, the place is fallin’ apart. We don’t even let the crew go off unsupervised. If you stay here we can—wait, Zoey—”
She was already heading for the door. These people seemed nice but she thought there was no way they’d walk away from five million dollars when it was between that and fending off a bunch of high school dropouts with military-grade weapons looking to create a shootout for their Blink show. She yanked open the door of the trailer—
Standing there, blocking the view of everything beyond, was an enormous bald, black man in a suit that was an expanse of dark pinstripes around a white shirt and a bright purple tie. She had seen him before—he was part of the entourage of fancy suits who had showed up at the train station with Will Blackwater. He was one of her father’s men.