Barry Eisler

Friday, May 30, 2014

TOR-RENTIAL RAIN: A John Rain and Edward Snowden Adventure

A journalist I'm friendly with online sent me this the other day. It was inspired by a series of guest posts I did recently with the Freedom of the Press Foundation -- and, of course, by John Rain. I thought, "An assassination/martial arts/journalism mashup? All my favorite topics in one short piece of fan fic!" It's a little short for Kindle Worlds, but I told the journalist I'd be happy to post it here on deep background. And so here we are...

John Rain had only a few seconds of air left. Former Crossfire host Michael Kinsley was sucking all the oxygen out of the room as he bloviated about Glenn Greenwald's personality defects. Rain couldn't tell if he was going brain-dead from oxygen deprivation or exposure to Kinsley's toxic fatuousness. He'd have to ponder that question from the afterlife.

***************************************************

5 DAYS EARLIER:

John Rain was a lethal martial artist and a pretty good lover. Or maybe it was vice versa (in the ultra-high-stakes realm of political intrigue and assassination, screwing and killing co-mingle fairly often). Regardless, both skills were in desperate need of honing. Like a sword sitting idly in its scabbard, John felt his edge beginning to dull. He hadn't made sweet sweet love in days and, worse, he hadn't snapped some asshole's neck in weeks.

Violent analogies aside, Rain couldn't afford to be choosy with his next assignment (or his next romantic encounter) if he wanted to stay rust-free. Which is why he ignored his better judgment (the one the CIA spent many years and many dollars augmenting) when he accepted a mission from the world's most shadowy private intelligence organization: the Pulitzer Committee.

The reach of the Pulitzer Committee's suction cup covered tentacles are matched only by the black inky-ness of its secrecy. Metaphorically, it was pretty much an evil squid- with one of the tentacles holding a ninja star, just because. The Pulitzers make the nefarious Military Industrial Complex look like the Breakfast Industrial Complex (the slightly-less nefarious group responsible for fooling Americans into believing Coco Puffs are part of a “balanced” breakfast). If they were ever careless enough to leave fingerprints (assuming squids can leave fingerprints), said tentacleprints would be inking up pretty much every conspiracy pie: Foreign debts, homeless Vets, AIDS, Crack, Bernie Goetz (basically everything listed in Billy Joel's “We Didn't Start the Fire)- plus the Pink Panther remake.

What the hell was Steve Martin thinking? thought Rain.

Whenever a journalist with the audacity to express deeply held personal views gets a hold of national security secrets, the Pulitzer People get together and vote on their fate. There are only two choices. Option one is to lock the journalist up and throw away the key. Option two is to award the journalist's organization a gold medal. It was never a simple choice. It wasn't up to Rain to decide- he was just the muscle. The target: Brazilian Porn-Spy Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden's handpicked chronicler of the NSA leaks.

It should have been an easy job; Greenwald was a marginal martial artist at best, though a surprisingly solid tennis player, albeit with a weak serve and no net game. While his debate skills were formidable, Greenwald's words wouldn't offer much resistance to a patented John Rain karate kick to the solar plexus. Plus Glenn was typically quite gracious when receiving accolades. All in all, an honest day's skulduggery. Only Rain didn't count on the Gray Lady getting involved.

***************************************************

2 DAYS EARLIER THAN THE FIRST SCENE BUT 3 DAYS AFTER THE TIME JUMP:

Arthur Sulzberger Jr. was literally a cauldron of hot rage. But literally literally, he was the middle-aged publisher of the New York Times). Word on the street was that The Guardian and The Washington Post were to receive Pulitzer prizes. The hell they were! Sulzberger was assured they were all headed to prison, leaving the Times the only game in town. His top henchperson Jill Abramson had promised him total domination of the news. If Sulzberger was known for one thing, it was his silly nickname, “Pinch.” But if he was known for a second thing, it was probably his extreme intolerance of incompetence. Pinch summoned Abramson before him.

What happened?! he snarled.

I'm sorry, milord! Abramson stammered. The Pulitzer People are so terribly mysterious! No one could have predicted they would decide to give them all prizes instead of draconian prison sentences.

Abramson had failed. Failure was bad, unacceptable even. Sulzberger activated the trap door beneath the very first female Editor-in-Chief of the history of the Times, sending her to a blazing pit of hot death/ unemployment. Good thing we never paid her commensurate with her male peers, he thought.

Sulzberger summoned his groveling third-in-command: Where is my minion, Baquet!?

Dean Baquet slithered into Sulzberger's throne room.

Yes, my liege?

Abramson failed to destroy Glenn Greenwald and to adequately address the challenges of transitioning a legacy print organization to the digital era. You are now Editor-in-Chief. How do you plan to make sure no one ever takes Glenn seriously?

It's already being taken care of. I've retained Michael Kinsley to write a review of his book.

How deliciously vicious! Also, make sure you implement all of my son's recommendations as outlined in this digital innovation report.

Of course. I will not fail you.

I hope you don't. You'll be needing a raise. How's 80 thousand dollars more than whatever Jill made?

Exceedingly generous, sir.

Ok, you twisted my arm. 100 thousand more.

***************************************************

ONE HOUR BEFORE THE INITIAL OPENING PARAGRAPH:

Rain had managed to infiltrate Greenwald's lush jungle fortress in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro. It was like Jurassic Park, only instead of velociraptors it was 12 mutts of varying degrees of manginess. But getting close to Glenn wasn't going to be easy- standing between them and the blogger's husband of nearly a decade, David Miranda. Miranda was a hulking five foot ten (and a half) tall Brazilian braggadocio with muscles and attitude to spare. What he lacked in real-life combat training he more than made up for in Call of Duty skills on the Playstation 4. A direct confrontation would be a risky proposition at best. Fortunately the CIA never taught John Rain how to fight fair. Rain glided down from his perch and knocked Miranda's legs out from under him with a sweeping karate kick. Before the behemoth could mount a counterattack, Rain had already stuffed the Brazilian's pockets with Snausages. The feral dogs piled upon Miranda in an instant. That'll keep him busy for a while.

Glenn glanced up from his computer with annoyance. He was too busy arguing with some random asshole with only 17 followers on Twitter to pay much attention to Rain, let alone the other assassin in the room...

***************************************************

IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE EVENTS OF THE OPENING PARAGRAPH:

Just as Rain was losing consciousness due to Kinsley's verbal asphyxiation, a mysterious figure appeared out of the mist holding six full-disc encrypted laptops and a kitana sword.

Why is it so misty in here? John would have thought if he were inclined to point out such an odd but ultimately trivial detail.

The mystery man threw one of the laptops and struck Kinsley on the head with a glancing blow. Suddenly, everyone word out of the pompous shitheel's mouth was just random letters and numbers. The oxygen flowed back into the room and into Rain's ragged lungs.

What the fuck did you just do to him? Rain asked.

I encrypted his communications.

---BEGIN PGP MESSAGE--- hQEMA2R0hT5KocvGAQf+MWcINOqB, said Kinsley.

The mysterious figure stepped out of the mist and revealed himself to be former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Well, not exactly. Technically it was a robot with a computer monitor for a head streaming Snowden live via Google Hangout.

With Kinsley rendered as voiceless and impotent as those unwashed masses who lack the sophistication and savoir faire to read Vanity Fair, Rain was finally within striking distance of Greenwald. Like one of those cool bolos that the Ewoks used in Return of the Jedi, Rain flung the gold Pulitzer medal as hard as he could at Greenwald. Without even looking (and still fully engaged in his Twitter-spat), Glenn snatched the prize out of the air and nonchalantly tossed it to a local capuchin monkey named Fábio in exchange for an overripe banana.

Banana? Glenn offered.

No thanks, Rain replied.

I was talking to Snowden.

But he's a robot.

He's a whistleblower.

There was no upside to arguing with Glenn Greenwald. Rain moved on.

Thanks for saving my life Mr. Snowden.

You can call me Ed. I was put on this earth to kick ass and secure the fundamental right of human privacy, and I'm all out of ass. Say, would you like to learn about the benefits of the Tor browser? I've prepared a 12-minute Youtube tutorial.

I'll take a Rain check, said Rain, winking.

Rain and the Snowden-bot exchanged knowing glances and jazz music recommendations as Glenn and David riffed on their air guitars to the tune of Rage Against The Machine's “Bulls on Parade.”

THE END
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