By Dwayne MacInnes
T.J. Murdock's head was pounding when he awoke inside his Corvette the next day. T.J. sat up and blinked his eyes as the bright afternoon sun shone through his windshield. He did not know how he wound up at the Texicorp headquarters building in Houston. In fact, he vaguely remembered something about an Easter egg while in Austin.
T.J. groaned as his scrambled brain started to reassemble the previous day. Then as the memory of his meeting with Vargas materialized, T.J. jumped up. He needed money and he needed it fast.
Cursing himself T.J. stepped out of the car. Why did he return to Houston? The U.S. government would surely be looking for him. Vargas's men would be looking for him. In fact, in all of Texas, Houston was the worse place for him to be. T.J. remembered that it all made sense when he was drunk. Now, in the light of day, with a raging hangover, things appeared the complete opposite.
For the first time, T.J. realized that the parking lot was empty. Only his blue Corvette occupied the huge lot. Slowly T.J. realized that he was alone at the building and that he still had an access key. If his father had not changed the security code, there was still a chance T.J. could get inside. Moreover, maybe he could find something of value to exchange to Vargas for his life.
Hope started to rekindle itself in his heart as T.J. started to walk briskly across the asphalt to the building's entrance. He was only a hundred yards away from the building when he heard the sound of an airplane's engine. It was growing louder. T.J's curiosity got the better of him. He stopped and looked in the sky behind him.
Shielding his eyes with a hand, T.J. watched as a civilian propeller driven private plane grew larger.
"Damn, fool!" T.J. grumbled, "he's flying too low."
The airplane continued to grow in size as it approached closer to where T.J. stood. The plane did not relent in its descent. Cursing loudly, T.J. dove to the ground as the plane flew over him. As quickly as that it collided with the building. A great fireball mushroomed into the air as the Texicorp building began to burn.
Showered in debris T.J. stood up and brushed off his clothes. The explosion did not help his splitting headache. Perhaps that was the reason why he at first did not hear the jubilant cries of the crowd marching down the street.
A large group of people holding signs (and guns) marched down the street towards the building. T.J. realized that the pilot was not aiming for him but instead the Texicorp building. Panic seized his heart. If the angry mob recognized him as a Texicorp executive, albeit a former one, he could be in serious danger. Without a second thought, T.J. sprinted in the opposite direction.
Running down the street, T.J. found that a few other people were running away as other mobs converged on the burning building. Chaos was now the rule in Houston. Fear compelled T.J. to run even faster.
Ducking down a side street, T.J. noticed police in riot gear approaching him. T.J. stepped into a doorway of a shop to let the police pass. A couple of officers stopped momentarily to look at him. They obviously did not see him as a threat, so they continued on their way.
T.J. moved more cautiously through the downtown area of Houston. More rioters were torching buildings and more police and soldiers marched to meet the new threat. Tear gas permeated the air. Furthermore, the smell of burning alcohol and gasoline from homemade Molotov Cocktails came to T.J's nose. The bottles were shattered against walls and spread their fiery fuel all over.
Soon gunfire could be heard in the distance. T.J's panic renewed itself and he desperately looked for some place to hide. Buildings were being torched, cars were being overturned, and even dumpsters were set ablaze. None of these could offer any security so T.J. just kept running.
Tucker looked out the window of his office. The protesting mob was now a chaotic mix of rioters and looters. Law enforcement personnel and soldiers fought desperately to restore order. The fact that all communication systems were down hindered the efforts of the various parties to coordinate their efforts.
President Tucker sighed as he noticed more flames and smoke lick the horizon. More sounds of gunfire and sirens filled the air. It had been a long day. It started with the U.S. bombers flying over nearly every city in Texas and delivering an ominous message. That, in turn, led to the antigovernment protests that now were a full riot. In addition, the breakaway nation lost some of the northern counties. These counties became the new state of North Texas. In addition, the United States Congress officially declared war on the New Republic of Texas. Finally, in between these events, the vice president had an unfortunate accident. She was fatally stung by a bumblebee.
"Tell me again why we lost communication?" Tucker said as he turned towards his staff.
"Sir, in an effort to hack into the U.S. military's computers, we stumbled upon some dummy accounts," began an aide. "We thought they were legit, but it was a ruse so that the U.S. hackers could backtrack to us. They managed to infest our network with every type of malware you can think of. The various viruses have shutdown all our computers, including compu-phones."
"How long before we can fix it?" the president pressed.
"We don't know."
"How about the old phone lines? Surely we can use those."
"Sir, the computers that operate the phone lines are also out of service. We are down to sending messages through radio or good old-fashioned couriers."
"Radio?" snorted the president. "You gotta be kidding me."
"No, we have some old radios, walkie talkies, CBs and the like that we are distributing to our government and military forces."
"Radios," President Tucker said derisively under his breath as he returned to his vigil at the window.
He flicked at a fly with a finger and watched it buzz away.
"Might as well send smoke signals. We seemed to have plenty of that on hand."