circa 2010, Virginia -

It's dark out here between the wires of the Internet, and I measure time in the inconstant tonal song from the pager in my pocket. Dark out. Full dark, 3 AM, and I'm sitting in the shadow of a data center with a knife, a pack, and a red pickup with half a tank (half a week) of gas. Out here. Waiting. In the dark.

Right, so.

Plot says I wasn't supposed to be here, and who knows why or how I got here? Four years ago, I was drawing spirals into napkins and gazing into the void on my last $40 and a broken heart. Never was supposed to escape the snow. Now I'm just here and shivering in 30F in a too-thin hoodie in an empty parking lot.

If I had a cigarette, I might have something to do with my hands. All I have is the knife to twist between my fingers, back and forth, flick open, flick closed.

Nervous habits will be the death of me. Pick at stray threads, pick at skin, pick at the rough places in your mind. Anxiety is a stimulant that will run you dry even faster than caffeine, but it keeps an edge going for night shift.

Flick, flick, flick. There's orange lights from the lightposts in this industrial park, shining off the blade, there's the shadows from the cooling towers as they hum and give off their artificial rain into the morning air. There's a faceless guard in the window of the front office, staring out between the blinds and waiting for me to stay or go. There's a truck driver, idling down this little side road, waiting for the dawn. There's a lot of us out here waiting.

They're waiting. I'm waiting. Natasha is waiting, still, but her engine warm. The pager is waiting, expectant. All of this, one moment in time, and I gaze out into the mist cast down from above, from the tower, and I hear the low change in hum, the fluctuation of power, the tenseness before things change again.

In the few dark seconds before the pager sings alive and the lights across the warehouse light up, I whisper a soft hymn to the dark and the waiting and the spirals on napkins a long time ago.

Northern Virginia is worm-eaten, a rich red apple eaten away by curving, flawless black asphalt roads that connect perfectly identical subdivisions. There are no straight lines anywhere in this part of the Commonwealth, where the data centers live. There are only office buildings with perfectly manicured lawns, perfectly manicured trees.

And there are data centers, single-story windowless, with massive rooms filled with the black and white of the Internet, with RAID controllers and thousands of disks. There are technicians hunched in the dark, eating their liver dead on alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, methamphetamines, cocaine.

Underworld attenuates, simple beats woven together into complexities, a binary symphony. It is both loud enough and repetitive enough, to keep one awake. It's the song of the engine in a pickup truck, reassuring patterns. It's the air handler breathing in the dark.

Where does this pattern break? It breaks on the roads away from the data centers. It breaks past the curving lines of subdivisions, identical in the dark. It's beyond the same tree for miles along the berms of flawless emerald grass, and the shrieking urge to pick at the loose threads, to flick the knife.

It's those roads that lead out into the country and away, the ones no longer perfect. It's where the pavement stops and becomes gravel.

Out in the rugged stone outcroppings of the Blue Mountain piedmont, the roads wind through the ghosts of small towns. Hobby farms for the rich adorn the countryside. The hum of the connectors and the parking lot is far from here.

The thread unwinds, the knife falls closed. Roads unwind across the country.

Freedom is 70MPH and 30 miles to the state border, beyond subdivisions and into the unbroken pattern of the engine until dawn.

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