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'Crowd Control,' part 20: When the dead fight back

In the latest installment of CNET's crowdsourced science fiction novel, the borders between life and death get twisted for a new kind of war on Earth.

This is "Crowd Control: Heaven Makes a Killing," CNET's crowdsourced science fiction novel written and edited by readers around the world. New to the story? Click here to start. To read other past installments, visit our table of contents.

Chapter 18

Adapted from the diaries of Cindy Parker.

(Date and location not disclosed), Earth, Summer, 2051

In the dimly lit control room of The Washington, Cindy watched the feed from various drones of the full-scale war occurring in various cities around Earth.

While many had expected the Uninstaller rebels to be completely powerless due to their mistrust of nanotech and biotech, they had resources and money to buy plenty of other weapons, as well as mercenaries armed with guns, rockets and armor.

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Transhumanist Zoltan Istvan during his first political campaign circa 2015, shortly before he ceased aging.

Zoltan Istvan

Lyle stood next to Cindy, having completely forgiven her for knocking him out on the way to the first round-trip journey to another universe.

Her father was away speaking to Transhumanist President-in-perpetuity Istvan and his advisers, attempting to brief the leader on their most recent multiversal discoveries and discuss strategies for further exploration and continuing contact with Terra Superioris. He had reported back to his daughter that the president seemed highly skeptical or perhaps unable to grasp the full gravity of the new revelations. Most of his questions centered on how the new breakthroughs could be used to compel a cease-fire or surrender from the rebels.

"Here, you must be tired," Lyle said, handing Cindy a dehydrated cricket protein bar and water. She responded with a half-smile and he looked worried, his golden glow turning blue.

A siren began to wail over the speakers and an announcer came on the screen. "This is not a test, I repeat, this is not a test. The rebels have issued a bomb threat. Please evacuate. Sydney Opera House in Australia. Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Taj Mahal in India and Eiffel Tower in France."

The words "Mandatory Evacuation" ran across the screen along with the names of the threatened cities.

"Evacuate," the newscaster said. "Evacuate the citizens!"

Click on the screen capture above for a look at an earlier version of this chapter from the crowdsourced rough draft, complete with contributor discussion.

Eric Mack/CNET

Cindy lifted her hand to her mouth. "Oh my god, oh my god," she muttered. Lyle put his arm around her shoulder and held her close. The fighting so far had been sporadic. She had not expected such a coordinated effort. "It seems they're targeting tourists," she said in shock.

"It kind of makes sense," Lyle said. "The rich are more likely to have installed."

The newscaster continued, "Evacuate toward less crowded and densely populated areas." On the screens, they watched as army officers were being deployed. All manner of vehicles jammed up streets and flight lanes as panicky masses of people tried to get out of the way of impending doom.

When the first bomb detonated at Sydney Opera House moments later, it sent a supersonic blue wave of electromagnetism out from ground zero, spanning many blocks, leaving physical structures untouched. People suddenly froze and crumpled to the ground. It was no ordinary bomb.

"Attention all. The bombs have a 5-km radius. It seems only to affect people with nanobiotics," the newscaster announced. "Walls don't stop the bombs. It sends a kill signal to the nanobots to shut down all organic systems."

And so it was that with one fell swoop, the Uninstallers had perverted the life-sustaining technology and weaponized it, thereby snuffing out the lives of thousands.

But an hour later, as Cindy stared at the screen, the bombs seemed ineffective. People who had previously fallen were rising again and started taking up arms with renewed violence and anger. It looked as if now both sides would be immortal after all, by inexplicably transforming into undead armies.

Where the Uninstallers and Transhumanists had previously been content to disarm and incapacitate their opponents, they were increasingly resorting to more permanent and visceral means. To stop their opponents from rising again, they started to dismember the bodies. However, the dismembered bodies still continued to move, then die, then move again. It made Cindy feel sick to the stomach as she saw the carnage unfold. She suspected that something was happening on Terra Superioris, but she had no means of verifying it without her father or any communication Rings nearby.

A real war of the worlds.

Sam Falconer

Then something curious caught Cindy's eye. "Look," she said to Lyle, pointing. Lyle peered at a different holographic display. The combatants looked confused, and seemed to be turning on their own kind. Others were stopping the battle, instead of joining in. "What's going on?"

"Cindy," her mother's voice rang loudly in Cindy's ear from out of nowhere. Josephina must have managed to gain control over a Ring from T.S. "They're sending the migrants back to Earth. They were having trouble accommodating all of them at once. I tried to talk them out of it but they wouldn't listen...can you hear me?"

"I can hear you, Mom. It's terrible down there, and the fighting, it doesn't make sense. It's like they're zombies and, and they're switching sides."

"It's that Diplomat Nahuat, some sort of plan he kept talking about. I don't think he can be trusted," Josephina said, her voice unsteady.

Cindy looked back to the display of the horrific fighting on the surface of Earth below. She squinted at the holographic display, trying to see a glow around the holographic figures, something that was typically beyond her abilities.

She thought she could make out just the faintest of colored outlines around the figures, but something seemed off. Suddenly a realization came over her.

"They didn't!" She gasped and then remembered to lower her voice, hoping her mother would still be able to hear through her Ring. "You won't believe this, but it makes sense. Mom, they swapped their bodies!"

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A deleted scene from the rough draft of chapter 18.

Eric Mack/CNET

Chapter 19

Adapted from "Diplomat Diaries"

(Date and location not disclosed), Terra Superioris, 2051

"But where could he have gone? Earth?" Nara's former classmate Zulema spoke hesitantly from the other end of The Committee's conference room. The faces around the room looked sour at the mention of the vanished migrant worker.

"The idea is preposterous! He couldn't have had any kind of transversal physics training on Earth, and certainly no one would have given him any here!" Cortes looked defiantly around the room as if daring someone to say it.

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Click on the book cover to read past installments of "Crowd Control."

Sam Falconer

"But, if...if someone did help him, then shouldn't we try to..."

"No one helped him!" Cortes was adamant.

Zulema looked down at the reports in her hands, then back around the room, flummoxed. She seemed unsure as to whether she should continue in the face of Cortes' irritation.

"Why isn't Meta here to aid in this inquiry? This was his family's migrant worker, correct?"

Cortes waved off her question. "Diplomat Nahuat has been assigned to a new mission and he was being debriefed from another mission when this migrant, what's his name? Danish. When Mr. Danish went missing. He's not a suspect here and his family has always been loyal to the committee."

Nara interjected, "Our suspicions actually center on Dr. Parker, that migrant physicist whom this group has heard from recently. Interestingly, she was assigned to the same apartment building as our missing worker."

"Quite a coincidence," Zulema muttered just loud enough to be heard.

"Look, it seems that Earth EB-2 spies appear to be among us, and they have somehow gotten their hands on transversal tech, even built it themselves -- or they could be working with Superiorans," Nara continued until Cortes cut him off, suddenly.

"I doubt even our most ardent political opponents would trade the technological superiority of T.S. for a few slots in the next election. It's too integral to our way of life; who would care what policies they proposed if they had no foundation upon which to lay them?"

"Not everyone takes the long view, even here," Zulema countered again.

The meeting ended some time later, without Cortes managing to dispel the suspicion of Superioran spies among them. No team had managed to find any sign of the vanished migrant, or to identify any but the least substantiated of potential accomplices.

Nara remembered the pep talk Cortes had given them about their missions before this whole mess had started. Outside the Academy he had often gone along with Meta's persistent cynicism, but privately it had seemed so exciting, to take up the mantle of protecting and serving their society -- advanced, civilized, peaceful, bountiful -- out of all the worlds he'd ever learned of, the most paradisiacal.

And yet, if this migrant -- and perhaps others -- would choose to go back to Earth... and T.S. continued to use any and all schemes at their disposal to maintain the flow of Earth migrants at a consistent volume...It was supposed to be a mutually beneficent system, but if the humans did not actually see a benefit -- what would be the distinction, he wondered, between rescuers and jailers?

Next up: War may be ending, but the age of interuniversal James Bond-style intrigue may be just beginning.

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