“Why are you here?” the man demanded, pointing the gun at Chess. “Who sent you?”
Chess tried to edge the side of his face away from the pistol. “No one sent me,” he answered, terrified, as the man’s face loomed over his. With both hands, he braced himself against the window at his back and felt the glass shift.
After a moment, another man appeared through the doorway. This newcomer was short but powerfully built, with an unkempt beard covering his face nearly up to his menacing eyes. The others stepped back as he passed, and the man with the gun growled, “What should we do with him, Woolf?”
Chess sagged forward, trying to catch his breath, only raising his eyes as Woolf neared. The guy suddenly reached out and, without any noticeable effort or change in expression, gripped Chess at the top of his throat, nearly raising him off the floor. Chess coughed sharply and gasped.
“Are you kidding me?” Woolf rumbled, now staring at Chess’s face in seeming disbelief. “He sent one guy? This guy?” Without relaxing his hold, he looked around at his men.
Chess thought he saw some of the other men shrug as his view began to narrow to tunnel vision. Heart pounding crazily, he scrabbled at the unstable glass behind him, but found no handholds there.
Woolf turned back to Chess. “Your boss doesn’t value your life much,” he grinned. “To send you down here by yourself. Well, he oughta’ know by now: he won't get anything from me.”
“Not sent here,” Chess managed to gasp. The guy’s face was beginning to disperse into pixels in front of his eyes. “Just walking…”
“Just spying, you mean.” Woolf suddenly let go, and, before Chess could take a breath, punched him solidly in the stomach, twice in rapid succession. Chess sank to the floor, his lungs completely empty of air. Desperately, he tried to think of some escape, but no answers came to his static-filled mind. Out of Chess’s view, Woolf was now bellowing. “He's taken over way too much already. And the drugs and whores are not enough for him -- now he wants to get into my business!”
Chess managed to raise his head just as the side of his face seemed to explode, and his vision fractured into red and yellow shards of light. He saw Woolf pull his hand back, readying for another swing at him, Chess realized. But he was too dazed to react.
“This place was free before he moved in!” Woolf roared. “We were free. And then he showed up. Like he owned everything.” Then the guy squinted at Chess, and dropped his arm. “Well, if he wants anything from me, he’s gonna have to send his entire ridiculous army,” he growled. “And you can tell him: anytime he wants to do that, we’ll be ready. Anytime.”
Woolf turned suddenly and stomped away, his men in tow. In a few seconds, all had disappeared back through the door at the end of the walkway. Still struggling to breathe, Chess stood unsteadily and, running one hand along the windows for support, managed to drag himself down the corridor.
Unable to focus, Chess stepped through to the adjoining building and made his way slowly down a flight of stairs. It was another few minutes before, with one arm still wrapped across his stomach, he felt that he could really breathe again. As for what had just happened, he sort of thought he understood what was going on: he had just wandered, unsuspecting, into some kind of territorial struggle between Razor and this guy, Woolf. And both of them seemed to control small personal armies.
Chess stopped and tried to get his bearings. Wherever he was right now, he wanted to take note of it, he thought, so that he would never come down this way again. He glanced around, and then out through the windows at the next walkway -- and then he blinked in surprise: it seemed like he was near the place where Razor, on Chess’s first day here, had smashed that guy’s face with the gun. Chess drew in a sharp, painful breath, remembering that Razor had called this area the “south corner.” He also recalled Razor’s disgust that none of his men had been on patrol here that day -- and now Chess thought he understood why.
Chess moved on, picking up speed as he went, and, just through the next door, he walked straight into the tall girl with the long dark hair: the one whom Razor had called “witch.”
Continued next page...
“If you blew the ‘cloud’ away, you know what would be there?” Patchett asked. “This. This is the cloud. All of those buildings like this around the planet create the cloud. The cloud is a building.”
-Tubes by Andrew Blum
Contrary to what the IT people at work used to tell me whenever my email froze, the “cloud” is not some shifting intangible that people really have no control over – it is composed of an almost infinite number of actual hard drives – boxy metal hard drives, similar to the ones that we used to snap into the little cages inside our personal computers. Nowadays the hard drives all congregate in stacks within massive warehouses all over the planet: out of our sight, but still existing as actual pieces of hardware. (Actually, I guess if you got really far back and kind of squinted at all those hard drives, they might look like a cloud -- one of those dark, formless Elder God kind of clouds.)
The connections that network service providers like Verizon and Comcast make with each other are also very tangible: they are wires that are connected to boxy machines. And (not to disparage them, but just using them as examples because they are big and popular) Facebook and YouTube store content – especially content that is popular – not in some amorphous space, but rather in multiple local sites so that it can be quickly accessed by many people.
These complex processes of deciding where data will be stored, and what wires will be interconnected, are all done to increase speed and lower cost so that we can get our movies and music quickly and cheaply. Great. But as I was happily learning all this stuff, I began to realize something about the consequences of all this business-driven management of the internet…
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