I found the missing piece in the former lobby of a collapsed building. A circuit board, ripped from the guts of a brand new Pentium II PC, had the processing speed I needed. I stuffed it into my pack and waited for a pause in the gunfire to make my break.
Low to the ground. Quick. Inconspicuous. I'd learned the hard way, but for a month now the ongoing Riots of '99 had left me almost untouched. All around, though, the city raged, burned, and fell. Scrambling over the rubble, ignoring the rats and the blood, I turned towards home. Or what was left of it.
I was a non combatant. There weren't many of us left in the city. Most had fled, gone east or over the border. They'd ceded the city to the warring Dominators and Satans.
Now and then, of course, the Riots threw up something you couldn't scuttle past and ignore. A week before I'd seen a not so neatly severed head. Eyes rotting, but still wide with terror. Looked like someone had used a sword to do the work of a guillotine.
I don't have to tell you how it started. A celebration draws a crowd. A few too many, in too small a space. The crowd turns violent. People get hurt. Soon the riots break out. Before you know it, downtown is a battleground and the cops have lost control. Hell, I wasn't sure if the cops hadn't started this thing. I guess the army could've come in and taken over. But really, who cared? Depressed area, I bet they said. Let it burn itself out.
Burn? It did that, alright.
But I was going to stop it. Me and my looted circuit board and the rest of my crazy contraption. Necessity is the mother of invention, that's what they say. And this was one motherfucker of a necessity.
When I crawled back into my basement, I rolled the tape again, trying to pinpoint the right moment. The very fraction of a second that a short burst of subatomic particles could, maybe, if I got this long shot right, deflect a mental signal. Change a no to a yes. Change one person's mind, and, if they were the one that mattered...
Make a non-goal into a goal.
And it would end there. No more angry recriminations from the Stars players. No more game winner from Peca a minute later. No more Hasek, standing on his head for a 2-0 game seven win. No Stanley Cup for Buffalo. And no Riots of '99.
Hate me if you want. I'll be tearing a city's heart out. But I'll be saving its life.