The Shooter Act
Synopsis & Praise for The Shooter Act
"A timely concept, and an even timelier commentary. The Shooter Act echoes the spirit of Philip K. Dick in its vision of the future yet circles much closer to our world than some far-off potential reality. And it’s this perspective that gives the plot such an impact. On the surface, it’s a contained and enthralling thriller, but underneath lies a mature and contemplative glimpse into the dangers of ‘advanced criminal justice,’ crafted by an author who threads stark thematic relevancy into the genre.” - Matt Misetich, Book Pipeline Competition
"...a thrilling piece of fiction...the characterization was a delightful blend of the insane, the wealthy, the powerful....[Shooter Act] rises, peaks, and falls with breath-taking precision." - Reader's Favorite Book Reviews
"The Shooter Act hits the ground running and never slows up, with a pace that will leave any reader struggling to set the book down. Storylines develop very quickly but with enough efficiency to leave no questions unanswered.. or so you think. Just when it seems you've got everything figured out, you're hit with barrage of twists and turns that leave a deep hunger for resolution." - Amazon review, Cody Gray
"I won't tell you what happens, only that it's exciting and a bit scary. The scary part is that this is so well done that it possibly could happen to us right now." - Amazon review, Larry Edell
"A Great story, set in the near future, that demonstrates the old saying 'The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions'. I consider this to be a MUST READ, and a cautionary tale, to always keep an eye on legislation and it's unintended consequences." - Amazon review
"Disturbing, in a good way." - Amazon review
"Unputdownable!" - Amazon review
"The Shooter Act is a fast paced, well written thriller. The plot is intriguing, original and thought provoking." - Amazon review
"A Roller Coaster Read!" - Amazon review
"The stuff in Turner Tomlinson's novel, The Shooter Act, could never happen in real life. Could it? The answer is as frightening as it is obvious: Absolutely. Corrupt big business, government overreach, cover-ups, press manipulation. Any of this sound familiar?" - Goodreads review
"I never imagined I would consciously root for a "mass shooter". The Shooter Act grabs you from the first chapter and unapologeticallyy rushes you down to the last one." - Goodreads review
A man has taken over terminal 4 in LAX. He's pulled his gun out and forced everyone to take pictures of him--of what he's wearing. The QR codes he has pinned to his shirt all link to different web addresses, and as the pictures spread across social media, the world begins to pour over his manifesto. The Shooter has just transformed himself into an information virus.
But as soon as he pulled the trigger he also became something else: the newest target of The Shooter Act. If they catch him, they'll erase him from history, systematically deleting all record that he ever existed.
The man with the gun knows this especially well because he's one of the people who helped get the law passed. That's why it has to be him. He's the only one who might be able to convince everyone that the law has gone too far, and that it's being used to hide a murder that implicates some of the most powerful people in the world.
The Shooter Act is nonstop reading, an amazing mix of near-future techno-savvy and realistically detailed action too compelling to put down. A gripping tale of people caught up in a dastardly plot that's disturbingly believable.
First 4 Chapters
The events of this book take place across a single day.
Jack Paulson looked out the car window at the Southern California sky, thinking that this was a beautiful day. A great final day. Because he knew he was on his way to die.
As he rode along in the plush seat of the luxury sedan he’d ordered up, he tried again to shift into a more comfortable position. No matter how he angled himself, though, the skin-warmed steel of the revolver cut into his lower back.
They were coming up on the airport now, the car turning itself off the road, the driver playing with something on the large, in-dash touchscreen. He’d been peacefully oblivious to Jack’s fidgeting but now guessed that he was uncomfortable.
“You okay?” he asked, a genuine note of concern in his voice. “I can move the seat if you like. See here,” he was already swiping at the screen, pulling up the seat controls, eager to please.
“No, it’s not that – don’t worry about it.” The driver looked at him, almost annoyed that he couldn’t help. “Really, it’s okay.” Jack said.
The driver swiped the controls away and the screen went back to its default, an overview of the vehicle. At the bottom, a banner scrolled across: “Presenting NEXT Automotive’s Model 2.0 – Tap to Learn More & Pre-Order.”
Jack shifted in his seat again. Stupid, he thought to himself. He’d felt the weight of the gun in his hand when he bought it. He’d taken it to the range and practiced. He’d gone through the motion again and again: pulling it out from the back of his waistband swiftly until he was convinced that was the best place to put it. The one thing he hadn’t done ahead of time was sit down with the thing stowed in the back of his pants.
“I get it,” the driver said, eying him with a grin. “Nervous?”
Jack shot him a glance perhaps too quickly. “Why would I be nervous?” He ignored the bead of sweat rolling down his face. Don’t wipe it away. Don’t bring attention to it.
“Afraid of flying?” the driver asked.
“Something like that,” he said quickly, relieved.
The car inched through traffic now, past the giant, statuesque letters that had been planted at the intersection: L A X.
“Don’t worry. I hear they crash even less than these things do,” the driver said, gesturing to the car’s touchscreen. Jack realized too late he was going for a joke, now wiping the sweat from his forehead.
“Yeah, I hear they’re really something.” He kept the sarcasm from creeping into his voice, but only just. All these people, so in love with their new cars. If they knew half of what he did…
But of course, that was the problem. Jack knew only half of the story himself. The half about Katelyn Patterson’s murder. The other half… well… that’s what he’d come to the airport for. That’s why he’d brought the gun.
As the traffic slowed and they zippered in with the other cars nearing the drop-off zone, Jack shifted again in his seat, the gun seeming to find a new, more uncomfortable position every time he tried to adjust around it.
Maybe he should have gotten a smaller one? After the background check, the ten-day waiting period, the mandatory gun safety class, he’d gone to the store and informed the cashier a bit awkwardly that he wanted to buy a gun.
“Really?” the woman behind the desk had asked him. “You walked in here, an’ I figured you were lost. I mean, no offense, it’s just you don’t look the type.” She was just being amiable, and Jack had done his best to play the game, smile back.
“Yeah. I’ve got my paperwork here and everything.”
The woman behind the counter had looked over it, nodded, smiled.
“What sort of gun were you after today?”
“Um,” he barely stopped himself from saying, ‘it doesn’t matter,’ realizing what sort of flags that would throw up. “A pistol.”
She put an assortment on the counter, and he picked up the first one, a tiny 9mm. That one would have fit better in the waistband, he thought, shifting his weight in the front seat of the car yet again. It felt like that was a hundred years ago. A different person. A person with a plan who didn’t realize he was going to have to go through with it.
“That’s a good pick,” she’d said, but when he put it back on the counter another caught his eye.
“Wait, this is it,” he said, picking it up and turning the black, cold steel around in his hands.
“Ah,” the lady behind the counter commented, “good eye. A real throwback.” He’d selected a Smith & Wesson Model 29, a .44 magnum with a six-inch barrel.
There was a reason it had caught his eye, although he wouldn’t realize the connection until he started receiving compliments at the shooting range. This was the gun that Dirty Harry had used in those old Netflix movies he’d marathoned one weekend. It had received a facelift since Dirty Harry had used it, though: there was no wood stock, and this one was now black on black with a matte finish. Intimidating. Perfect for the task at hand.
“This is it, I’ll take it.” He’d told the woman behind the counter.
“Are ya sure? Only holds six, and you have to do manual reloads one by one. A little slow unless you get –”
“That’s fine. I need one that keeps the bullet casings in it.”
“Ah,” she said with a knowing nod. “Load your own ammo? You are full of surprises!” She laughed, putting the other guns away. He smiled, playing along, not really knowing what the hell she was talking about.
He’d been at the store another hour at least, finalizing the purchase and signing all the forms. Letting the woman talk him into a biometric lockbox to store the weapon in. Since then, he’d done everything except sit down with the damn thing in his waistband to see how it would feel on the ride to the airport.
“You said American right?” The owner of the car snapped him out of his memory.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, “American Airlines, Terminal 4.”
The driver put the car in manual drive mode now, trying to fish out a spot. “This place is insane,” he said. “You know they say the day before Thanksgiving is the worst day to travel, right?”
“Yup,” Jack said, eying the security guards out front.
“And LAX is, like, one of the biggest airports in the whole world. I read they did a hundred million passengers or something last year.”
“84,” Jack corrected him. “84 million total passenger boardings.”
“Wow,” the driver said, turning into a spot, “so you need help with your bags or –”
“That’s okay. Just the carry-on,” Jack said, undoing the seatbelt and fishing the messenger bag out of the floorboard. He fished a crisp $50 bill out of his front pocket and handed it over to the kid. He was just a kid really, and Jack felt a little guilty for being annoyed with him. Handing the money over, making eye contact, he realized this guy was probably Katelyn’s age.
“Oh, you don’t have to –”
“Just take it.”
“No, see, it’s all done in the app here.” He was reaching for the in-dash touchscreen again, more comfortable with that than the eye contact.
“Kid,” Jack said, perhaps a little too sternly. The driver looked up at him and Jack raised an eyebrow.
“All right, all right,” he said, smiling and taking the bill.
Jack slid out of the seat and onto the sidewalk, careful to not catch the gun on the door and send it spilling out onto the busy sidewalk.
“Hey, have a good flight man,” the driver said to him, and Jack shut the door, noting how the electric servo in the door hinge caught it before it clapped shut, easing it into place. The door disappeared into the frame like ice melting into a puddle, completing the sleek, aerodynamic form which now rolled back out into the stream of vehicles.
He stood in the crisp morning air, watching it, noting that even here the car almost instantly found a few like itself to queue in with, all of them traveling with less than a foot between them. A robotic convoy.
Jack watched the stream of vehicles for a moment. If anything, the concentration of the NEXT Automotive cars was a little higher than typical here. Across the few lanes, he guessed perhaps 20% or 25% of the cars he was seeing pass were NEXT version 1 autocars. What had he seen on one of their commercials? They were at something like 12% saturation on all the roads in the US now – the slow and steady erosion of internal combustion dominance.
It was good to take a moment and think about something else. To put off the plan just a little longer. In the car on the way up, when he realized he was really doing it, his heart had started to race and it wasn’t slowing down now. There was still time to turn back. But that moment, the exchange with the driver. The little bit of humanity exchanged between strangers. That’s why he had to do it.
Slinging the messenger bag over his shoulder, he took a deep breath, looking the building up and down. This was it. His last chance to walk away. He was a bundle of jangling nerves, excitement cut with mortal terror and uncertainty. You don’t take a gun into an airport and walk out, no siree.
He took a breath and went through the doors, trying not to think about whether he’d come back out alive. Hoping that the revolving door wasn’t his own personal gate to the afterlife.
Immediately he fell in with the queue of human traffic as they all waited their turn, handing over boarding passes and identification at the front desk. Taking off first shoes, then belt as they were herded through security. Depositing phones and laptops into special boxes, along with their bags, to ride the conveyor through a small scanner while they walked through a large one. A carefully designed filter that squeezed out passengers while carefully sluicing off any pocketknives or half-full water-bottles.
Finally, it was Jack’s turn. The TSA agent looked at the boarding pass on his phone.
“You can leave your shoes on sir, jacket too. Bags gotta go through here though,” the agent said, gesturing at the conveyor and waving the next person forward.
He’d expected the first problem – the body scanners. To bypass, he knew he’d need to be TSA pre-check certified, but that took time and money. A few nights before, he’d started Googling the problem and come out the wormhole of links and obscure forum posts hours later, his phone jail-broken and a special app downloaded from one of the Chinese pirate phone-software companies.
After he’d checked in for the flight and downloaded his boarding pass through the American Airlines app, he took a screenshot of it and uploaded it from his photo reel to the tiny Chinese program. The app generated a new copy of the boarding pass with a little green checkmark in just the right spot.
Just like that, he was TSA pre-check certified. No body scan, no metal detector, no disrobing. And especially no $259 pre-check background check fee… although he had paid 99¢ for the app.
It had worked. He was through. He dropped his messenger bag on the conveyor, breathing a sigh of relief.
He waited in the privileged line, moving along fractionally quicker. With fractionally more dignity. His bag was already riding the conveyor belt, and everything was going according to plan as he took his ID and phone back from the tired woman sitting at the station. He started to walk between the metal detector and full-body scanner but a hand shot out to his chest, stopping him.
“Sir,” the man said, pointing to the metal detector.
“Oh no,” Paul said, handing the phone forward, “I’m pre-check.”
The man looked at him, uninterested in the phone’s screen which Jack offered forward.
“Pre-check still has to go through metal detector, sir.”
“Oh.” Jack said, his brain going a mile a minute now. What had he read? Hadn’t it said on the TSA’s website that you could bypass security? That was the whole point of the special line right? He moved toward the metal detector.
Shit. How could he have missed this? He should have gone on a test run before. Should have read more about the actual security process. Shit shit shit.
Of course, the metal detector chimed. Was this it? Should he just run forward now? Try to make it to the right gate?
“Sir,” the man said, and Jack found himself stepping backward out of the scanner and now walking into it and sending it chiming again. He was a sheep, bowing down to the body language of this uniformed TSA member out of some kind of deer-in-the-headlights autopilot.
Beginnings were tender times. He wanted to be at the gate when things started. This was too close to too many security people.
He offered up confused assurances that he “didn’t know what it could be” before the agent came at him with the metal detector wand.
Was this it? Was this how it started? His hand twitched, starting to reach back toward the skin-warm steel of the weapon, but another person was in the metal detector now setting it off, distracting the TSA officer just as he was about to wand over the gun.
The TSA agent sighed. “You,” he said to the person in the detector, “come over here. You,” he said to Jack, and it was Jack’s turn to sigh – out of relief. He was sure he was about to be waved on, bypassing the scanner. Perfect.
“You just go through the body scanner.”
His heart was racing now. No avoiding it then, this was where it was going to start.
Another agent gestured him into the body scanner and he stopped at the step up, swallowing hard. On the other side, another TSA agent gestured to the footprints on the floor, waving him in like they were leading him up the gallows.
He climbed in, lining his feet up with the images on the floor of the chamber. He mimicked the simplified graphic painted on the window, assuming the position, hands above head.
Through the glass wall of the chamber, he could see the monitor where two TSA agents were peering down. One was watching the baggage scans while the other, an older woman, kept her eyes trained on the body-scanner’s screen. Jack was excited, tingling with expectation and wondering if that was at all a natural feeling for someone in his position, but then the scanning instrument spun around him and he held his breath for the results.
The older woman watching the screen looked up over the monitor at Jack, hands still raised. Her eyebrows were furrowed, confused, and she nudged the officer next to her and nodded down at the screen. They both looked for a moment, then exchanged words before they both looked up at him. Again, they looked down at the screen, the man leaning in and squinting, pointing at something.
Jack could tell the instant where they both recognized the brightly lit object on the screen as a gun. The lady fumbled for something, trying to keep her eyes on Jack as he tore his jacket off, throwing it down in the body scanner. This was it.
He reached behind his back, pulling the hammer back in a practiced motion, and at the same time the woman behind the scanner pulled the walkie-talkie up to her mouth, eyes widening as she realized what Jack was doing.
She was about to press the button, put out the alert, but that’s when Jack fired his first shot.
First there was a chorus of screaming, mingled with the tinkle of broken glass. The TSA agent next to the body scanner dropped to the floor.
“Everybody down!” Jack yelled, bursting from the scanning chamber and waving the gun around. He rushed to the end of the conveyor and collected his bag, sensing the ripple of people away from him as he moved. Behind the scanning station, the security guards were moving up, and everyone was staring at him. They were looking at the gun, yes, but also at Jack’s shirt, which was covered in strange markings. The bits of paper he had pinned all over himself were square boxes, checkered white and black in a language that only computers could read. They were QR codes, more than twenty of them, each linking to a unique web address.
Something moved quickly in Jack’s periphery – someone charging him. He whipped around, firing in their direction but carefully aiming too high. The person fell down mid-step, thrown off balance by the sound of the gunshot, frantically searching themselves for the wound but finding none. They scrambled back, suddenly not liking the idea of being a hero.
“Okay,” he said, “quickly now, pull out your phones.” Nobody moved. “Do it!” he yelled, pointing the gun at the nearest person’s head and pulling back the hammer. “Pull ’em out or I shoot her.”
His eyes darting, the taste of metal in his mouth. Adrenaline spiked through Jack’s nervous system, and all the sudden he was relieved that he’d practiced with the gun. Something about the chemical cocktail now rushing through his system sent his fine motor skills through a blender and he was shaking.
“Do you want this lady to die!?” he yelled, and slowly they started to follow his instructions. They pulled their phones out. “Now,” he said, “use the cameras.”
Some of them were on the ground crying. Others tried to slip away into the background, but many were frozen. Deer in the headlights, following orders, fight or flight giving way to a sort of middle ground where they were passively subservient.
“Now,” he said, gun still shaking. “Take some pictures or –” he pointed the gun again at the now-sobbing stranger. The tiny speakers rang out with their camera shutter recordings. The flashes flashed. For a moment, he was blinded, and the terror of it all set in on him. Who was he? A killer? The creeping feeling that he’d passed a point of no return and that he was in over his head started to overwhelm him. Focus, he reminded himself, keep going – remember the next part.
“Now, send it out. Post it to Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Snapchat. Everything. If you don’t do it, I’ll kill her.”
He took a step toward the stranger, causing her to give a little shriek and drop down to her knees. She looked up to him and cried “Please, I don’t want to –”
“Don’t tell me,” he said, “tell them.” He gestured the gun toward the crowd.
“Please,” she cried, “do what he says!”
And they did. Now, from LAX, the data streamed out faster than any plane ever had. Pictures of the gunman, and in every picture of him were the codes.
“All right then,” he said, picking up his bag and backing away slowly.
He moved down the hall into the terminal, and all around they were staring at him. People ran, hiding here and there, some of them frozen by the sight of the gun. Mostly, though, the security end of the terminal had been emptied by the gunshots. It was surreal, Jack thought. Creepy.
He shook off the feeling and moved down the hall. Have to stay focused. This was the calm before the storm. He was now on a timeline, and if he didn’t move fast he’d be dead before his plan would have a chance to work.
Back at the security checkpoint, the traumatized travelers flooded out. One of them looked down to see their phone was lighting up. 232 new notifications. The post was spreading.
In minutes, the pictures had been liked, shared, retweeted, and favorited thousands of times. After a few more minutes, the pictures had been seen by over a million people.
Already the QR codes were being scanned, the digital islands of information were being plotted and their treasure plundered. The small pockets of redundant evidence and explanation were being sewn together and reproduced, taking on new forms and being passed from person to person. Jack had transformed himself into an information virus, the data package now spreading to people a hundred times faster than HIV or SARS or the Spanish flu. It made the Black Plague look downright geriatric, and all this before the message finally came across the walkie-talkies to all the vendors and ticket-counter staff and pilots at LAX: “We have an active shooter.”
Hundreds of miles away, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Anders Bruick swiped at his phone to silence the alarm. He rolled over in bed, struggling to work the phone’s touchscreen. He squinted against the light streaming in the window. It was too bright – he’d overslept.
Normally, he got up early and spent an hour or so getting ready for the day, but now he sat up flushed with the anxious energy of being late. From the bedside table he scooped up his phone to see if anyone had called or messaged yet. They were pretty lax around the office about when you came in, but Anders was already an hour late.
It was a good day to be late though. Skimming the first few emails that had rolled in, he saw a full round of out-of-office notices, including one from his boss. He smiled. The pre-holiday exodus from the office was in full swing. There was another, more recent message from the boss directly to him. Since everyone else was out, the message said, Anders might as well take the day too.
The boss – Conrad McCohen – was pretty much everything you could hope for in a mentor. Understanding, experienced, with an eye for leadership that was neither too friendly nor too domineering. Anders had been lucky to snag the job fresh out of college, and so far he had no regrets.
Anders smiled as he flicked through the rest of the messages. It was about as good as an overslept morning could be. He tossed the phone aside, looking around for his laptop. He’d fallen asleep next to it, the lid half open, and he grabbed it now.
The program he’d been working on was still open, the screen covered in the mismatched lines of code. It was part of a simulation to help an investigation on a metal linkage that had broken on an airplane’s landing gear. It was interesting but tedious. The night before, he’d had a breakthrough on a way to run the simulation so that its forecast would be more accurate, but executing the idea had taken most of the night. Eventually, he’d fallen asleep with the computer still calculating away next to him.
He picked back up where he’d left off, reviewing the results, typing in a few characters one-handed as he got up and moved toward the bathroom. He propped the laptop up next to the sink, setting it to run through the program again with a few different inputs.
After he turned the water off, though, he heard something like his phone alarm going off again. He thought he’d silenced the alarm but guessed he’d hit ‘snooze’ in his stupor. Squeezing a line of toothpaste onto his toothbrush, he headed for the bed and started shaking the covers out. The phone fell out onto the floor, but as he reached for it he saw something strange happening on the screen: updates were scrolling up the screen, one after the other, in a quick deluge of new notifications.
“What the –” he said past the toothbrush. There were missed calls from several friends and even his sister. Text message notifications poured in, each knocking the next off the screen too fast for him to read the senders. He moved his finger so that the phone read his print and unlocked.
The apps slid into place, and the first thing he noticed were the red badges of notifications still ticking up. 13 missed calls. 52 text messages. He swiped to the next screen where his Facebook app was, and the toothbrush fell out of his mouth. In order to contain all five characters, the little red badge on the app had been stretched into a horizontal bar which read, “32847.” As he watched, the number ticked higher.
“No way,” he said, opening the app to see the updates rolling in live. He tried to open one, but they were all coming in too fast for him to catch. He tossed the phone down, racing to the bathroom to grab the laptop. He pulled up the notification window clicked a few links as quickly as he could as they scrolled by, opening them in other tabs before they were bumped off the screen by the other updates that kept cascading in.
The large majority of what was being forwarded to him was news articles. Glancing over them, as well as a quick tab over to CNN’s website, showed him what was going on.
CNN LIVE – Breaking News: SHOOTER at LAX
He skimmed the blurb – apparently some nut-job had forced them to take pictures of him. He moved a few tabs over to one of the links that had been shared with him – a picture of the gunman in profile, pointing the gun at someone’s head, his torso covered in QR codes.
Naturally, his curiosity was piqued and he swapped over to another tab, an article that had been shared with him more than 40 times by different people on Facebook. At first he was put off by the news blurb – it was in another language and he had to wait a second for the Google translator to flutter across it. There was a picture of the shooter front and center, a cutout of a few of the QR codes cleaned up and flattened out next to the image with links to websites beside each one.
He read the title of the post: Crazed gunman takes over LAX, Names names in crackpot conspiracy.
He scrolled down, skimming the article, still wondering why his accounts were going crazy, but then he saw it. In the middle of the article, three names were quoted in large font. He felt himself flush, spine tingling, as he read the first name on the list: Anders Bruick – Forensic Engineer, McCohen Engineering.
It had to be a mistake. Some crossing of wires… something.
He kept moving around the web, taking in data. The man – Jack Paulson – had hidden a manifesto around the web, and the QR codes were the links. Not wanting to blindly click through links on the off-brand news site, he picked one of the codes out himself and ran it through a generic QR reader app on his phone. The reader thought about it for a moment and then coughed up a link. Anders squinted at the scramble of text that appeared. It looked to be a random mix of letters and numbers all ending with ‘.net’. This wasn’t a site you’d accidentally stumble across. If you didn’t have the link you weren’t finding it.
Transferring it to his laptop, he hit enter, but he wasn’t greeted with any sort of manifesto. Instead, there were three official-looking logos staring back at him.
A crest on the right with an eagle clutching an olive branch that read, “US DEPARTMENT of JUSTICE.” On the left, another badge-shaped graphic that read, “HOMELAND SECURITY INVESTIGATIONS.” The middle and most prominent of the three crests was one Anders didn’t recognize: a black silhouette framed by a red circle-backslash, the kind that was typically on a no-smoking sign. It was hard to tell exactly what was going on, but after a few seconds the image’s detail jumped out to him: The black silhouette was reaching through the circle-backslash pointing a gun. Around the crest, a band of text read across the bottom, “OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT,” and across the top “SHOOTER ACT ENFORCEMENT.”
Around the border of the screen, like digital caution tape, the word ‘SEIZED’ was stamped over and over again in yellow block letter on a red background. Underneath the badges, a curt block of text explained:
This domain name has been seized by HSI, Homeland Security Investigations, in participation with the SAE, Shooter Act Enforcement Agency, pursuant to a seizure warrant issued by a United States District Court under the authority of…
It then went on to call out the specific code, section, and line numbers of the law being violated before offering a brief summary.
Willful propagation of identity or motive of a Shooter is a federal crime that carries penalties for first-time offenders of up to 15 years in federal prison, and/or a $35,000 fine. Intentional and knowing violation of the “no-speak-or-spread” clause of the Shooter Act is a proximal act of terror, pursuant to…
It went on like that for a few more sentences, but he stopped reading and swapped over to another QR code’s link. He found the same notice of seizure on the next one, and then the next. People were talking about it though – it had to be out there somewhere. After a little poking around he found a couple forums that were linking and reposting copies of the original site’s contents. He’d heard about this sort of cat-and-mouse routine before, but he’d never seen it in action. Right in front of him. He was finding sites that people had supposedly reposted the manifesto on, but by the time he got to them he was met with the same notice of seizure. It was eerie.
But Anders, a computer science major, had experience traipsing through the subtler regions of the net. After a few minutes, he changed strategy, bypassing the cacophony of social media and blog sites in favor of the pay dirt of person-to-person file sharing. He quickly found a link to a torrent of the original site’s contents called, “PaulsenSiterupFull.xln5.torrent.” He pulled up some IP address–blocking software, a sort of digital mask. He knew it didn’t make him fully untraceable, but it certainly made his odds better. Without any hesitation, he downloaded the file and unzipped it to his desktop.
They were pictures with no commentary – rough screen-captures of the site that someone had taken as they scrolled down the page, stopping every few seconds to hit the PrntScrn key. The files all had “Dropbox” appended to the end – which meant someone had screencapped the images into a Dropbox folder and backed them up so fast that they didn’t even stop to clean up the default filenames.
He opened the first image. It was a professional-looking blog with a header and a list of links on the left side. In big block letters at the top, the title read, “THE RED PILL,” and below that, “By Jack Paulson.”
It started with a picture of a pretty blond girl, smiling into the camera, her arm around two friends. She was dressed up, apparently at a house party somewhere. She looked college age or perhaps a bit older.
Anders scrolled down and began reading:
First things first: This is a picture of Katelyn Patterson. They say she shot up her office, killed her colleagues and all that. You never heard about it, because we don’t hear about it anymore – because of the Shooter Act – which I’m ashamed to say is my fault. That’s why it has to be me. I’m the only one who can tell the whole story of what really happened to her. I can’t prove it, not yet, but before today is over the truth will come out. The truth that Katelyn Patterson was murdered.
Excerpt from Jack Paulson’s blog [1 of 3]:
Now that I’ve got your attention, you’re probably wondering who I am. My name’s Jack Paulson. Google me. You won’t find anything too special, just that I’m a sort of social justice activist. My blog – which by the time you read this, has been locked up tight – was my tool to chronicle the experiences I’ve had trying to help people. You’ll find on my Wikipedia a bit of trivia about my past, but what you really need to know is that I helped the Shooter Act get passed. Yes, me. The same one with the gun in the airport right now. If it were anyone else this wouldn’t work. My hope is that you’ll take me seriously enough to read through all of this before swallowing up what the news offers as the truth.
They’re probably spreading the gospel of my insanity already, because if you’re reading this I’ve already forced them to take pictures of me in Terminal 4. I will have fired my weapon, which means I’ve now fallen under the umbrella of the Shooter Act. They’ll be saying what they say about every shooter – that I’m troubled. Crazed. Misguided. Just give me a minute to explain.
How did you get here? To my website. This information. This is one of many copies, all linked to the QR codes I had stuck to me in the pictures. All identical. I had to spread as many as possible so that maybe the scrubbers wouldn’t find them all before they had a chance to multiply. If you’re reading this, then it may have worked, but it also means that someone has broken the law to get this information to you. If you post it, you’re breaking the law too. That shouldn’t scare you. Instead, it should signal just how far this law has gone. Much too far.
This isn’t what I meant to happen when I started down the long road that ended with a piece of legislation. I’m just a normal person, and like many normal people, I have met tragedy head on and tried to prevent it ever happening to anyone else.
This story starts with me visiting the University of Texas at Austin, my alma mater. I suppose it was only six or seven years ago now, although it feels like a century. My fiancé and I, both between jobs, were celebrating our engagement with a few weeks’ vacation. First Austin, and where we had planned to go next I can’t remember. Somewhere there are some unused plane tickets and dusty hotel confirmations. Coupons for continental breakfasts that were never used. That was supposed to be the start of the rest of our lives, and I guess in a way it was the start of the rest of mine.
It’s strange the things you remember. I remember the sun, a little too hot but balanced by a dry breeze. I remember the look on her face when the first shot rang out. The campus was full that day, and people ran everywhere when the shooting started. The shooter fired into the crowd. There were so many people. So many other people. And yet…
The police showed up eventually. Of course, the shooter was killed. It had become almost normal: the news pored over his emails, his Twitter, his Facebook. CNN ran a special on him, highlighting the specific lines here and there in his digital diary where he’d lusted after the fame of being a shooter. They said he was disturbed. The news cycle gobbled it up.
I was still in shock, but the reporter said an interview with me might help other victims cope. I didn’t realize how messed up it was at the time, and I talked to the camera like a zombie. To them I was just human content.
The next week there was another shooting, and just like that I watched as everyone moved on to this next grisly piece of news. There, from within the machine, I could see the pattern playing out. We had all talked about it. We had grieved together from our screens. And like always, we changed nothing but expected things to be different.
Afterwards, I was obsessed with the shooter who’d taken my whole life plan away from me. Taken her away from me. What were his motives? What were the theories of why he – of why anyone would do that? I was struggling to find something to cling to. Some purpose. But then I realize that the shooter had given me one.
I made up my mind that if nobody else was going to do anything about it, then I would. I would start fighting back against this cultural disease.
The next few years were a long road of me teaching myself everything I needed to know to get a bill written and then actually get it made into law. It wasn’t easy. I had to move to Washington, make contacts, grease palms. I also got very lucky, and in a sickening way, my timing was perfect.
There was an attempt on President Winspear’s life during those crucial months when I was shopping my idea around. That was back when they still called him ‘JWW’ in the news, before he’d won the election. Gun violence awareness was cresting onto the news cycle again, and I was able to get a meeting with a few Senators. There was Jonathan Mills from Mississippi – an unlikely supporter, though I later found out he had lost a niece in a shooting. Harrison Teagan, Massachusetts. And crucially for the bipartisan aspect, Congressman Applegate from Wisconsin.
With sponsors who could win real political points acting on something so emotionally polarizing, this was no longer a pipe dream. A team of law students were assigned to rework my bill under Applegate’s supervision.
They kept me on, supposedly to help make sure the bill was handled properly, but after an awkward conversation with Applegate, I understood that I was to serve only one purpose: hood ornament. They needed me as the emotional focal point for this thing, but when it came to the rewrite I was to stay out of it.
From the time the bill started to the House to when it ended up on Winspear’s desk, two more shootings had taken place. And again and again my story was trotted out to help sell it.
The only problem was that the bill they signed was nothing like the one I’d envisioned and drafted. Mine was a three pronged plan. A third focused on mental health, another on gun control, and only the final third dedicated to disincentivization.
In the Shooter Act that got passed, though, there was nothing about mental health or gun control. They addressed only the disincentivization aspect. The new bill denied fame and infamy from shooters by guaranteeing the opposite: They would be removed from history. It was no longer designed to help people… only to give shooters a sort of ultimate punishment.
And in a way that worked. It’s now common knowledge to anyone reading this that if you commit a mass shooting you will be systematically erased from history. Social media, your friends’ and families’ documents, any public records (and some private ones). All of it would be wiped clean of any evidence that you were here.
Applegate rode the press from that bill right onto the ticket. He drummed up the fear, got everyone believing that shooters were something you needed to be desperately afraid of and something that he and Winspear could protect you from if they were elected.
Shortly thereafter I got a call from the new vice president. That was the day the first shooter was “prosecuted” under the Act. He congratulated me… but I wanted to puke.
Let the record state that I tried. I tried to keep the Act humane. I tried to tell them why this extreme of a tactic would never work, because we’ve been here and done this before. If you’ve got access to a browser, pull up the Wikipedia on Herostratus. You’ll find he was a 4th-century BC arsonist and that he burned down the Temple of Artemis. He wanted to destroy all The Seven Wonders of the World, thereby guaranteeing himself a place in history.
Herostratus wanted fame, and so as punishment the Greeks passed a law forbidding anyone to ever mention his name again. He’s proof it doesn’t work, because here we are, thousands of years later, talking about Herostratus.
Midmorning light streamed through the panes of glass that served as a wall for the on-campus coffee shop. At the University of Arkansas, the law building was quiet except for the two coffee shop employees, a handful of students that were now arriving, and Associate Professor of Law Quentin Davis, who collected his coffee before wishing the barista a happy Thanksgiving.
It was a convenient ritual: The coffee shop was built into the front of the building, giving a great view of the campus, and Quentin stopped at it almost daily before heading past the law library and up the stairs to the classrooms.
He worked his way through the lobby, meeting a few of the students and nodding good-mornings to them.
“Ready?” Quentin asked one of them as they moved into the classroom.
“Ready to get it over with,” the student jested back.
Quentin set his bag down at the front of the room and docked his computer. A few seconds later the projector warmed up and his first slide was being displayed to the seven students. It read:
LAWW 6133 – Antitrust Law
Midterm Exam Retake
“You guys know the drill. Scantrons out. I’ve got pencils here if anyone needs one. The test should only take about a half hour; I was feeling soft when I wrote it. Then we can all get on to our holidays in peace.” He pulled a manila envelope of crisp, freshly printed and stapled test documents out of his bag. “Some of you may even come back after the break to find out you did well.”
There was some grim chuckling at this.
Quentin stepped forward, handing the tests out. “Any questions before we get started?”
Nobody said anything, but two of the students seemed to be discussing something, shooting him sideways glances. His first thought was they were hatching some hair-brained plan to cheat off each other, and he was just about to tell them to sit a bit farther apart when he overheard one of them say to the other, “Tell him.”
The other student looked down at his phone, scrolling through something feverishly.
“Tell me what?” Quentin asked, approaching them with copies of the test.
The one scrolling through the phone looked up. “It’s Quentin S. Davis, right? Your middle initial?”
“Yeah, how did you -”
“Holy shit,” the student said, looking back down at the phone.
His neighbor elbowed him a little. “See, I told you it was him.”
“This shooter at LAX,” the student stopped scrolling, offering his phone to the professor. “He’s talking about you in his blog.”
“Shooter? What are you -” but Quentin was already taking the phone and looking at the list of three bold, italicized names the student had scrolled to. He didn’t recognize the other two, but there was his, second on the list. Quentin S. Davis, Law Professor.
“You seriously haven’t heard about this?” The student asked.
“Heard about what?” Quentin asked, handing the phone back.
“This guy,” it was a student who’d been listening from across the room who answered, “he, like, took over LAX this morning. Pulled a gun and made everyone take pictures and stuff.”
“Pictures? Of what?”
“Yeah,” another student piped in now, explaining that part of the story as some of the others nodded along. They were all apparently following in real time on their phones. “It’s all over the news. He had this big blog and stuff, talking about some girl he says was murdered.”
“Well,” Quentin said, disquieted by the news but not exactly sure how to interpret it. “Send me that link,” he said to the student who had offered up his phone, “and I’ll read up on it while you’re all taking the exam.” There was a collective groan.
“It looks like we’ve got time,” one of the students said, looking down at her phone. Most of the students were still in town just for this exam, and any of them flying west had already started to receive flight delay notifications.
“This is all over the place,” one of the students said. “Hashtag Paulson’s blog is trending.”
“Paulson?” Quentin asked.
“Yeah, that’s the guy’s name – Jack Paulson.”
A few of the students looked at the student who’d said it, eyes slightly wide with surprise. Everybody knew you weren’t supposed to say their names.
“Jack Paulson?” Quentin asked.
“You know him?” one of the students asked.
“Well… I know of him… he’s not really the type to… listen, you guys need to get started.” He checked his watch. “We’re already a few minutes late. Phones down, pencils out.”
They deposited their phones into their bags and began furiously filling in bubbles.
He watched over them for a minute or so, long enough to make sure nothing untoward was going on, then he disabled the screen updater for the projector and pulled up a browser window. It took only a moment to catch up on all the details of the shooting. All the major websites were linking coverage or providing it themselves.
He found the site the student had sent him and read through the list of names. There was his – no doubt about it – and the article said something about how the shooter wanted the people on the list to help him.
He looked at the list, confused. How was he supposed to help? He was half a country away. And why would he want to help someone who had pulled a gun at an airport?
He tabbed over and typed Jack Paulson’s name into the search bar. Quentin was pretty sure he remembered the name from somewhere, and a quick Google search confirmed it. Jack Paulson was the man behind the Shooter Act. Quentin had the vague feeling that he’d read the man’s blog a few times back when the bill was up for debate and he was keeping tabs on it.
The passing of the Shooter Act had even been used as a case study in one of the other classes the law department provided. An example of just how fast a bill can be pushed through with the right incentives.
He tried to find the blog, or at least someone making a reference to it. He wanted something that explained the logic behind what was happening. He Googled his own name to find that “Quentin Davis” was popping up all over the news now. It made his skin crawl a bit.
He kept his Facebook account on extreme privacy lockdown – as much as that was possible on the internet – and so there was only a trickle of notifications coming in from friends and colleagues. His LinkedIn, however, was being decimated by notifications. All of the sites that were mentioning him seemed to have a different take on the situation. He shook his head as he closed another tab. He needed the source.
Pretty soon Quentin started running into the ominous government seizure page, and after 15 minutes of running up against that every time he seemed to make progress, he closed the browser and swapped over to his email. That was a disaster too at this point, but he spotted something and filtered the deluge of messages by whether or not they had an attachment. Near the top was one sent only a few minutes ago from a colleague.
He pulled up the message, but when he read it, he couldn’t help but blurt out: “What?” He looked up, apologized for disturbing the students, and then reread the single line:
“Hot singles in your area!”
It seemed like an almost prototypical spam message, but the sender was a close friend. In fact, the spam filter would have almost certainly caught the message and funneled it into the junk folder had it not come from a trusted address.
His phone buzzed at almost the same time. It was the friend who’d sent the supposed spam message texting him now. The message was a single winking smiley-face. A follow-up email slid onto the top of the screen now. “Sorry about that; my email was hacked.”
He looked at the two emails, then at the message on his phone. After a second he realized what was going on. If his friend’s email had actually been compromised, then the hacker’s goal would have been only to send the contents of the blog – he wouldn’t have bothered with a message that would almost certainly be caught in the spam filter.
His colleague wanted him to have the information but couldn’t legally spread it due to the no-speak-or-spread clause of the Shooter Act. In a sly maneuver, he’d staged a hack, maintaining plausible deniability. If anything came of all this – which Quentin had to admit was possible now that he’d seen all the website seizure notices – his colleague would be safe.
There was no ‘theft-by-receiving’ equivalent in the Shooter Act, though. It was illegal to spread the information but not to consume it.
And so Quentin opened the attachment on the fake spam message and began to read.