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Resonance Dogs

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Barracuda_Kali

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« on: <11-14-11/1851:37> »
I started this to kill time between some of my work and to help as a mental palate cleanser. These are drafts, mind you, so they're going to be rife with errors. Please, point 'em out and drop comments!

Next chapter is about someone cooler, I promise. I should have led with that one, too.
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Resonance Dogs
Part 1 – Bug in the System

   Cockroaches adhere to walls with a combination of deforming pads, hooked tarsal claws, and a semi-liquid injection. Each pad is covered in impossibly small hairs that form a smooth surface, useless for sticking to anything on its own, but a series of pressure-sensing mechanisms inject glycogen-based polymers between the pad and the surface; the exact mechanism that keeps the insect stuck to the wall is unknown, simply that all the parts need to be in place in order for it to work.

   Roach's feet were not that dissimilar; her hands, all four of them, and feet would slap down on the concrete and hold firm, and when she pulled up, she could feel the thick gel being drawn back into the pores of her palms. The Underground ran all through downtown Seattle, radiating out from the massive pyramid that was the Arcology Commercial and Housing Enclave like the plains of Giza, if the plains of Giza were an oppressive coral reef with schools of mechanical fish that had a propensity for commercial broadcasting; buildings rose to grasp at the sky like clutching hands, the upshot of which that they needed an extensive support structure, with sewers, tunnels, and older buildings serving as scaffolding for the decadence of the world above, and it was in these crawlspaces where people like Roach could easily move around without alerting any measure of authority.

   She wasn't the only one that had the idea, either; the full name of the place was the Ork Underground for a reason, serving as a haven for ruddy, bulky-framed people of all stripes. It was dank, it was smelly, and it was stocked with people who still used the term “chrome” to refer to cybernetic implants because it was likely that old. At the moment, however, she was alone, crawling upside-down across the broad surface of an anti-earthquake foundation, with free floating pillars anchored to dynamo magnets with supercooled semiconductors anchored to the bedrock beneath Washington. The lack of light made it seem all the more hollow and lonely than it was, with the walls of the confines invisible and wrapped in solid, inky shadows.

   A cold wind ripped over her; liquid Nitrogen pumped in to keep the superconductors cold created plumes of chill mist that forced a nearly constant wind exchange and fresh air rolling; the corps' mindless pursuit of self indulgence created the pulse of life in the depths beyond the reach of their hunt for profit. Paydata lived here, forgotten codes, files, lists, and the contents of corporate pocket secretaries downloaded into hard boxes and cables, abandoned and fragmented during the global computer crash six years ago.

   She skittered across a series of cables, following them to a junction box, which she ran over with her nose, extending four pedipalps, like four slender fingers, from where they usually rested alongside her jaw behind the ear, to dance over the edges, feeling and tasting things in the dark that she couldn't with her eyes. Finding a weak point in the panel, she pulled up the corner, bracing on two legs and her smaller pair of arms, popping it off with her larger pair.

   On her back was a cyberdeck, a bulky Fuchi Cyber-4, which looked something like an oversized keyboard that a drunken Christmas elf had vomited over after too many bomb shot cocktails down at Matchstick's on a super Tuesday. In the grand old days of seven years ago, it would jack into a matrix terminal and then get plugged into some brainer's skull, where it would translate digital impulses into a virtual reality image. These days, it was mostly just a neat drink holder. Unless you had a converter box for a wireless commlink, a palm sized smart device that hooked up to computers like this and made them feel like an elven man watching troll porn, which is to say inadequate and disgusted at the same time. So, when she flipped that bad boy around and plugged in her converter, her little burn commlink tore through the box's firewall all by its lonesome.

   She dove the commlink. In the meat, she was a freak; a changeling, mutated into the semblance of gigantic vermin by some twisted combination of genetics and the wrong dose of mana at the wrong time. Most such changelings got useful traits, tough scales, rhinocerous-like skin, finned ears for better hearing, or even gills. She got a misshapen carapace, entrapment in a kid-sized body, sticky pads on all of her limbs, one extra degenerate set of arms, and the special ability to cause people to try and empty their clips into her hide when they saw her. Surfing the resonance, on the other hand, listening to the song of connectivity and the hiss and pop of electromagnetic emissions, she was empowered. She became her icon, a svelte gunslinger in a long flowing scarf. Her brain and the machine dancing together, rushing at the speed of light, senses thrown into bountiful, almost religious ecstasy fueled by the crazed and manic pulse of radio emissions racing down the cables or through the heavens on beams of life.

   For over eleven years now she'd lived through this, but it was the past six that had been truly spectacular, when the unstoppable, lightning-fast hiss of the beating of the world's information started pounding in her head, straight through her eyes, down her limbs, causing her to shiver in ecstasy as she ran past pyramids on a green and black grid dotted with cylinders and cubes of letters and numbers. Copying data in those blocks was exceedingly fast; it wasn't like this anymore, either. Intrusion countermeasures moved in slow motion compared to the attack programs she'd seen in the wireless world, and they dropped long before they even reached her. She'd never seen the Matrix before the crash, not before hearing the Resonance, but if it was all like watching everything move through aspic, it was a wonder anything ever got done in time. She even had to sit through loading icons more than once.

   Once everything was done, copied over and uploaded into a shell on her commlink, she struggled with great effort against the joy that pressed in on her at all sides, against the sensation of the unfolding of a vast revelation, like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and slowly falling. She shook herself, letting the tunnel vision that would pull her back to reality overtake her. For a moment she felt cold and dead, unable to move, but that was her brain fighting to regain motor control. She shuddered like a sleeping moth and unplugged her gear before skittering back up the wall toward the surface.

   Might Be Asian wanted everything that was still on the node, and had given her the location of the functioning box earlier today. What he wanted with a pile of twenty year old employee name sheets and stock transfer files she still wasn't clear on, but she figured this was why he made the big bucks and she ate out of dumpsters. Not that she disliked eating out of dumpsters. People throw away the best food.

   Jumping was a trick; because her hands and feet got stickier the more pressure she applied, hunkering down for a leap to another wall took some effort into setting up. She had to learn how to wiggle her arms at the apex of her momentum, putting a short snap to all her limbs like a whip so that she flung herself free of the wall she was climbing and up a few meters into a tangled next of pipes and wires, scampering over a big, snow-covered television screen and up into the maze. Roaches can crawl through some surprisingly narrow shit.

   Leaving the Underground and even the sewer behind, she crawled up into augmented reality objects clustered like flies over rotten fruit. Billboards, open signs, neon crawlers, and assistant agents mingled with physical crowds moving back and forth along the bright fluorescent lights of a market stall-studded street. She pulled on her hat and jacket, turning up the collar, and moved amid warm bodies in the cold rain. It was easier to get lost here, up along the crowds, sliding like a smooth octopus over the ocean floor, changing speed and direction without startling the schools. She clambered up over some convenience store and out to Auburn, with pipes and factory stacks like burning cigarette cherries in the angry night, seeking out the noodle stall again.

   Finding MBA crouched over a bowl of soba, a dirty half-Chinese man with the fat of his low income puffing up in rolls on his body, laughing with his friends, she waited patiently until one of the men with him pointed at her, standing half in the rain, and she pulled out her burn commlink and another, smooth black number that served as her personal one. The fat man pursed his lips and picked up his bowl so he could eat while he was talking, slurping up noodles while the buzz of the electric lights captured moths and some high-pitched crooning in Cantonese wafted over the smell of burning pork. He cracked a smile.

   "Still using that little gopher?" he chortled in thickly accented English. "Someone is going to think you have a complex."

   She punched up her icon, a genderless figure, white and cylindrical, the default commlink figure for anyone who just picked up something random at the Novatech outlet. She liked using it because it obfuscated her identity; she looked like a twelve year old in heavy clothing, and used that to her advantage, letting her clients think she was just a messenger for a hacker off in some bunker someplace, wired into place. It gave them a sense of mystery, and made them think that if she disappeared, a hacker they couldn't put a face to would make life very difficult for them.

   "I got the information," her icon said, its voice a tinny, artificial whine. She dropped the burn commlink on the table.

   "Business only," the big man replied sadly. "You should come down sometime, have some drinks with the boys and me."

   She made the icon flicker and hiss; it was MBA's attitude that made her think he was a cop. Whether it was that or curiosity, she had little time for either. The longer she stood here, the more likely it was a strong Poverty Bay wind would tear off her hat, and that was not a pleasant thought.

   "Payment can be made to my agent," it answered. "Cash, please."

   MBA let out a heaving sigh and shook his head, counting out some bills and passing them over. Reason number three she liked to make people think she was someone's errand girl was that they had a tendency to tip. She nodded curtly and made the icon wave its mitten-hand while she jogged off into the night towards home.

   Home, in this case, was a literal hole in the wall. Two buildings, one with an abandoned Stuffer Shack at the base with some slum lord-owned apartments above it and the still blank wall of a Renraku building next door; the block had suffered some major economic blows when the company's stock tanked for a few weeks following the arcology incident, and she had moved in some time after her initial transformation seven years ago. The local cops used to know she was here, but with the election two years ago, the local officers kept getting swapped out because Knight Errant liked to look as though they kept things moving. For a moment, she took note that the bum she'd seen the last few weeks wasn't on the corner smoking up a storm, but threw up his absence to the cleaning run that the Knights had done earlier in the day.

   Through the alley, down past the side doors and fire escapes, there was an old maintenance grate that belonged to the warehouse section of the Renraku building, and about four meters down, she'd punched a hole through the floor. She used to have to come up through the sewers, but blocked that passage off when she made this one; the collapsed tunnels in the area meant getting to her personal space required actually being able to climb on the walls, which meant she'd never really suffered a home invasion. The personal space was a concrete bunker behind a metal door and was about three and a half meters on each side, a space she shared with an autocooker for soy packets, meager amounts of stolen electricity, some blankets, a devil rat named Snarf, and a whole lot of bouncing wireless signals that served as the river she used to sweep herself into the digital world.

   As she approached, she shed her hat and coat, skittering through solid pitch using her antennae to feel along the tunnel and relaxed as the smells grew ever more familiar, except one. She froze, taking in a breath through her nose, antennae twitching nervously. Slowing her pace, she dropped from the shaft in the ceiling into the tunnel and pushed aside the door to the abandoned maintenance room slowly, seeing the harsh glow of lighting on inside. Snarf was nowhere to be seen, and in addition to the foreign smell, there was the hum of a personal area network. Someone was in her space. Not knowing how to react to that, feeling her lungs start to burn as her heart sped up, she turned to leap for a wall, and an unseen hand grabbed her by the shirt.

"Shit, did you ever get hit by the SURGE truck," the voice seemed to laugh.

   For a brief moment she saw down to the end of the tunnel where someone had torn through the wall of garbage and concrete, and she was manually turned to look into the blank, featureless mask of someone in a helmet and chameleon suit just turning off the ruthenium coat. He was well-built, and all his gear was worn under the suit's hip flaps, with his PAN turned to hidden mode; she probably wouldn't have noticed it if her antennae weren't so good at picking up smells and she had started listening for it actively.

   "Come on inside," she heard his voice say, his tone thick and authoritative. "I've got some questions about wireless networking that I hear you can answer."

   He dragged her into the room and closed the door.
« Last Edit: <11-14-11/2218:02> by Barracuda_Kali »

Barracuda_Kali

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« Reply #1 on: <11-14-11/2200:19> »
Resonance Dogs
Part 002 – Gameshow

   Street samurai. The very mention conjured up images of two things in Gameshow's head, and those were samurai and cowboys. The samurai images always showed up because the word “samurai” was right up there in the name. Cowboys showed up because everyone knew samurai trids were all reshot as cowboy pictures, and that both cowboys and samurai lived by the same code, the Code of the West. You do the job, you get paid. Once you're hired, your loyalties don't change until the job is over. They boys would tell you that you needed implants to really earn the name, to be stuffed to the gills with metal and plastic and tailored internal organs that God or Allah or the Old Ones never intended, but they were wrong. The Code was really what separated you from the common drek and made you a street samurai.

   If you wanted to talk katanas, Gameshow had one. It wasn't a sword, no, but he called it one. It was actually an Ares Predator IV, the baddest fucking gun on the market. Forget about firepower, this was a fifteen-round 12 millimeter semiautomatic assault cannon in the shape of a pistol, and you could buy it in a fucking blister pack at the Seven-Eleven. He had only ever fired the bad boy at a living being once, and it had splattered that fucking troll's brains across half a block. A troll, mind you, was a metahuman, a humanoid being over two and a half meters tall and covered in redundant plates called osteoderms made of impacted callus-shaped bone. Of course, everyone had stopped and stared at the marvel of the gun's firepower. He'd drawn a look of glee over his face, and the rest of the gangers cleared out. Since then, he'd fired twice at cans before deciding that was a waste of honor and of a gun, and had only pulled it two more times since then.

   His jacket was a black affair with heavy buckles, to go with his gloves and his pants; they looked thick, like they were designed to keep someone warm in the cold Washington air, but they had a second purpose. Carbon-based nanocomposite lubricant gel filled two thick carbon-fiber layers deep in the clothing, made of billions of beads that measured in the microns; they stacked together like tubes of slime and they moved like a liquid when you poured them out over the ground. When pressure was applied to them, they punched up and settled into place like slamming your hand down on sand or a corn starch suspension, turning so hard during the transfer of momentum between angry fist and jacket so fast it was like trying to punch a concrete wall or shoot a bullet through two feet of titanium. Gameshow's fucking cold weather jacket could take three hundred fifty tons of pressure per square centimeter without getting ruffled. Looking smooth was important to Gameshow.

   Gameshow also had a head soundtrack, which he reinforced by piping it through his jacket into his shoulders, at subvocal levels so that he was the only one who heard it. It was a cover of an old piece, “Warrior's Code,” originally by a band called the Dropkick Murphys. This one was by a j-pop group known as School Dump and the Flaking Baggage, which was composed of a troll and four Japanese girls playing the piece with an electronic samisen. He liked this mix primarily because the troll could hit the particularly Irish rolls with the force of a goddamn tsunami. He didn't care that the song was over seventy years old. It had aged well and that sort of music was coming back in style, anyway, what with Retrocalypse: New Hong Kong playing that shit over the in-game radio all the time.

   He was currently strolling down the Seattle street in Tacoma, headed for the Downtown border, surrounded on all sides by thick black and gray towers, his goggles pulled down over his face so that he could see the advertisements and interact with the cute digital assistants the city's central computer node sent down in big floating bubbles like Glenda the Good Witch or on bicycles with freckles like  mid-western farmgirls. It was about the only time he ever smiled, otherwise he was all biz, black mirror-tinted goggles to keep off the excess flare of the downtown lights that shone brighter than the morning, even though the fog and the churning clouds kept it night all the time down here on the street. He didn't care if that was true or not. All the badasses walked the street with their hands in their pockets and their hair just down over their eyes, and he practiced the look in a mirror. He'd even added a sticky bandage to his cheek to add to the effect of mystery bad boy loner, even though the people who were really fooled were the cops.

   "You see this drekhead?" a mohawk said on queue, smacking one of his buddies lightly to get his attention. Gameshow didn't watch them go. He had a lack of a reputation to uphold. He kept his head down and his eyebrows furrowed as they laughed and moved on. He'd mastered the art of standing half-in and half-out of the shadows cast by the waning sprawl, and considered it a point of pride to look like the new guy.

   His System Identification Number belonged to Jack Suzuki, but his name was Gameshow. He was a walking fucking database of market commlink and operating system features, and spent the entire night of his first off-the-record job in Redmond explaining the virtues and flaws of each one that was publicly available, trying to help a troll pick one that was right for him, and the nickname cropped up due to his narrative tirades, meaning they never really got to a naming ceremony. Having a counterfeit SIN was important, because when Knight Errant stopped you on the road and read off their terms of service agreement while frisking your pockets, you needed an identification and a license for that thing in your jacket pocket or else you got carted off to wherever the cops damn well pleased and disappeared forever. Having Jack Suzuki in easy reach meant he got to continue down the road to grab some cheddar cheese flavored stuffers and loaf around eating the things and drinking Moloch Brand Instant Brown Milk-Like-Product Coloring Substance Product, which was totally browntastic.

   He flopped down onto a bench in front of a glass window, next to an electronics store at ground level, part of the base of some massive, cloying finger of black concrete and steel, digging around for the last of the cheese replacement product crumbles in the recyclable plastic bag that stuffers came in. He did that for long enough that he got to watch a portion of rush hour, which was pretty much all the time in a city of over twelve million, go by and take friends with it.

   Readjusting his gloves and tapping an idle window labeled Sakura Character VR Cafe, he watched in the lower left corner of his view as a virtual reality room filled with a mix of cute cartoon characters and video game heroes popped up. This was a place down the road, linked to his personal commlink through the nodes between it and kept in constant contact by the storm of wireless networks carried by each passersby. This was the room to watch while he whittled away at his e-mails and chat messages, scraping through job offers, data, and subscribed forum posts like mildew on the last sandwich in the damn house.

   There was an e-mail from a few chatroom buddies about how they'd found Tux's node for the night, and wanted to dig in, but he didn't answer it. Not only was he pretty sure he wasn't good enough to get in, he was pretty sure he wouldn't see the point if he did. He shuffled it off into the waning light, catching someone watching him, a girl at the post for the bus itself; she was cute, a little freckle-faced elf that had no business with the likes of him, and he wasn't into redheads, anyway.

   An phone call from Thor cropped up on his screen. He tapped the button and swapped to public mode, just so anyone nearby could see the face of the caller, an elven woman in a business suit with the kind of face you had to pay for at the hospital clearly holding out her commlink to make a video call.

   "Hey, Jack," she said.

   He waved.

   "I have something I wanted to see you about, swap to," she said, and opened a map window on her end. "Never mind. I see you already did. I'll be there in a few minutes, alright?"

   He nodded, and she hung up. See that, he didn't say a goddamn word. He was the coolest motherfucker in the entire world. He dropped into Sakura Character VR Cafe on manual with his icon, Puffy CuteCute Nyan, not worrying about virtual reality at the moment because he'd forgotten to bring trodes. The instant he logged in, he was stormed with a cavalcade of messages and greetings, most of which he replied to with a standard formula greeting and set to work answering older posts.

   When Thor arrived some ten minutes later and sat down on the bench next to him, she was wearing that same khaki business suit and had bought a soy bar sometime between the phone call and the bench, which she tossed between them. He didn't bother to look at her, staying in his relaxed badass position, waving his right hand like a conductor at the messages in the air in front of him; he knew she looked good, and probably spent a fair amount of cash to look like that. She was a known face, after all, and looking good was part of her stock and trade. She was an elf, Japanese, and too tall to find a husband in her native home, though he wasn't too clear on her other reasons for coming to this side of the Pacific, only that she got her name from knocking out a rigger while attempting to toss one of his tools at him.

   "I have about two hundred commlinks," she said. "I don't need them unloaded. I need them wiped."

   He picked up the soy bar and unwrapped it. It was strawberry.

   "They're varying brands. They're not part of a shipment. A team that I was working with found some very odd bits of malicious code in the pirated educational programs that the folks down in Puyallup are using, which is turning the damn things into IC. We confiscated as many as we could," Thor continued. "I know you've got some skill in that department, and I could seriously use the help. I came to you because you're the only hacker I know that isn't busy and can handle weird IC. If you're looking into the job, come down to Fairview and 9th Avenue Southwest. The pay isn't great, but I'll pony up some sneakernet information I have as a bonus."

   She stood up slowly as the bus came in, giving him a wordless wave. He didn't respond to that, either, but sneakernet data was something incredible. He wondered what sort of fucker pumped out code that turned educational programs into intrusion countermeasures, and the very thought made bile rise in his throat, though a few minutes made him remember that he worked for people that did that sort of thing for kicks sometimes. That didn't do anything except annoy him even more, and he stood up from the bench and started south.

   Puyallup had a wall separating the worst of its low income gunfights from the rest of the city. Fires had a tendency to start up and just keep going in the neighborhood, and gangs had a tendency to start firefights and just keep them going. The entire district was rife with Knight Errant looking to make a name for themselves and Lone Star who either didn't know or didn't care that they'd been fired. Helicopters buzzed through, both law enforcement and tourist choppers screaming like banshees in the air, calling out death for the gangers below that dared defy them.

   They ran Jack Suzuki through the gate up at the edge of Tacoma, and Gameshow kept walking through. Once out of sight of the turrets and flood lamps, he could hear generators and vicious pops in the distance. Stuffing his hands in his jacket, he picked up the pace and hunkered near the walls. Despite carrying the baddest gun in the universe, he didn't like to pull the damn thing at all; he wanted his record with it as clear as possible.

   He came up to the warehouse at the edge of Fairview and 9th, being greeted at the back door by a pair of chromed-up toughs wearing the latest in 2053 cybernetics. The two nodded at him as he passed, and he was greeted at the back door by a Salish ork with shoulder length feathers and beads wearing an oversized coat with the hood pulled back. This was Wild Bill, a mage that he knew to have food baron connections in Redmond. He slapped Gameshow on the shoulders and laughed.

   "Gameshow, my friend, Thor said she would be sending you down, but I didn't actually expect to really see you!" he laughed.

   He guided Gameshow through racks of boxes and twisted metal lumps.

   "This isn't my usual warehouse," he shrugged. "But I've got these commlinks. I can't keep them in my boss's warehouse, since this is totally pro bono work. A friend of mine got his hands on these educational programs, but they've since started popping up with malicious strings of code, attacking the kids in the cold VR."

   Wild Bill threw up his hand.

   “I know the guy who got these, and I don't think he did this on purpose. Even if he did, he'd deny it to the end. So what I want is someone to poke the damn things with a martrox stick and see what falls out. If this guy did it, I wanna know. If he didn't, I wanna know that, too. I can provide examples of his code to compare, he wrote some shit for me before. You think you can dissect these things and purge the IC bits, both?”

   Gameshow nodded. This was kid's stuff. Literally.

   "Another thing, I want some more of these edutainment shits to replace what you're about to tear to shreds."

   He nodded again. He knew some good places to grab them. Wild Bill showed him the pile. They were every shape and size, and the majority were covered in stickers. He looked at the small hill before him, glancing back between Wild Bill and the racks of commlinks, wondering exactly how long an operation like this could stay quiet, and sighed. He fired one up, anyway, greeted by bright cartoon characters and the hum of a child's KidLink startup screen.

   Booting the edutainment program was easy. He made a gripping motion with his hand at Wild Bill, who passed over a set of trodes. Slipping them on, he clicked the VR button and found himself standing on a beach. Judging from the instructor icon, a woman in a lab coat with a harsh German cast to her features to contrast her warm smile, he was about a hundred-twenty centimeters tall and ankle deep in sea water. She'd scarcely begun to open her mouth when what he'd hoped was a lecture on tropical biomes turned into a screaming match between digital signals and his brain waves.

   Something emerged from the sea. It was a blue and green ball of code strings, twenty year old data patterns, red bolts of electricity, and babbling Sperethiel. It unfolded long, ropy arms of code and rolled in like the tide, extruding razor arms like the radula of a snail or squid, making excited pings like a submarine bearing down. There was no header, no extra lines of code broadcasting a warning, and it shifted icons into a cloud of seagulls to bear down on him. He reached up for his head and jerked off the trodes. He stumbled, trying to catch his breath, before looking up at Wild Bill.

   This was going to need a team.

Deepeyes

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« Reply #2 on: <01-24-12/1132:44> »
Very nice piece!! I specially like the part the humbling "reality check" at the end ;)

Bio ex Machina

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« Reply #3 on: <02-01-12/1711:45> »
Usually i consider prolific profanity in writing to be in bad taste, but in the case of Gameshow it really helps to reveal his character. Great writing, can't wait to read more!

Barracuda_Kali

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« Reply #4 on: <01-01-13/1528:13> »
Oh, man. I nearly forgot! I have more of this!
________________________

Resonance Dogs
Part 003 – Stir Fry

   Running the shadows wasn't a way of life for some people. For most, it was a last resort, rock bottom and a ladder up. It was a world filled with illegality and moral gray areas, where people lived fast, died on their feet, and forged a path in life as free as they could in the world the system provided. Of course, to live in the shadows, a runner needed a name. There was actually a very complicated process involved in it, most of which was unwritten. The most important part was that nobody ever got to name themselves. The rules are simple.

   1. You have ten minutes to come up with something crazy and or embarrassing you've done in your past, and can submit a name for voting yourself, but the actual naming and voting is done by the rest of the crew.
   2. If you like it, it's not a good name.
   3. If you don't come up with one and a story about why you don't like it, you will get one by the end of the first run.
   4. You won't like it, either.
   5. If you complain about it, you'll get a worse one.
   6. You only get awesome callsigns once you've earned them. For example, “Abrams” is not a good idea for a tough guy, “Slice” is not a cool name for a hacker, and trying to give yourself a name that sounds like that will get you hauled off into a urine-soaked alley and beaten to the tune of Roy Orbison's In Dreams.
   7. If you do not do something stupid while on your first run, it will be based off your name. If your name is Cesar, expect the other runners to call you "Salad." If your name is Kraft, you should expect to be called “Cheese.”
   8. This is not the name you use online. You can call yourself whatever the hell you want online.

   Stir Fry had no excuse for what her name really meant. Most guys had the ability to piddle off with some story about how they got their name by doing something awesome, or they got the name Ice for being that awesome instead of losing control of a vehicle at two in the morning in January, or the name Hash from being so good with decryption, rather than having the last name “Brown.” Stir Fry was Japanese, an elf, and had, during the great crash of '64, burned out two data jacks, half her brain, and the system she was jacked into, scorching her nervous system into near uselessness. Extensive surgery and bioware had repaired the damage, and had taken eight years to get back into the swing of things. She had not yet invented an excuse for the name.

   Right now she edited simsense, more specifically, a recording of her last summoning, all bone-ripping, flesh tearing, panic-inducing six seconds of it, from the tickling, reaching, gnawing sensation of an astral beacon to the direct and crying request to force it into screaming physical reality, coupled with the jagged lance of pain that always came with it, like giving birth out of her eyes and ears. It was a whirlwind of boiling emotion, of exhilaration, fear, and exhaustion, and she'd been experiencing it on repeat while biting through it to make sure she caught every nuance just right. When she was truly satisfied and finally pulled out all three wires, she dry heaved at a wastebasket for about five straight minutes.

   Sitting up from her bed, she stumbled off through hissing monitors and old style cables, taking a quick shower to rinse grease off herself and take care of her rather stringy hair. She was an elf, with slim and pointed ears and gangly limbs, with a face and body she was proud of, even if she'd paid pretty heavily for both. She messed with her hair until it looked terrible, gave up, and stomped into the kitchen. Half-rotten strawberries and kiwi greeted her, and she gave up that, too, and went for a pack of salt crackers and a can of Nerps before throwing on a sweater and jeans. Yesterday's message from Nagarjuna still hovered off to her side, blinking to remind her that he'd found the item she wanted, if only she would bring his sim disks by.

   Seattle was dark, lit up with neon lights both real and projected into her mechanical eyes by lasers dancing in artificial retina, dank with the scent of ammonia, and raining. Most notably, it was the type of late-February rain that still took the form of icy needles that managed to get down in between her sweater and skin and run down her back and make her reconsider the vat-grown hyper-sensitive replacement she had gotten herself into. Today was fairly normal, all things considered, and she was at least relieved at that.

   Sifting through the flash drives in her hands, she counted about three unique recordings plus the one she'd just finished. She made her way down the street, feet crunching in glass like she was walking through snow, clocking her credstick and identification for the Knight Errant security booth at the end of the road, crossing the border into the slightly better districts. She heard one of the officers talk about a better-than-life burnout with no evidence to drag her in and how much of a shame it was, as if the cops really cared about evidence.

   The roads leading up to Nagarjuna's convenience store were much more open than the street she lived on; hers was a claustrophobic alley lacking windows with laundry hung more out of habit than any real expectation of successful drying. This was an open street, a broad thoroughfare through Redmond scattered with the corpses of cars and newspapers drifting through like fallen cherry blossoms. At the edge of the crossroads, almost on a hill like a small castle, sat a broad-roofed convenience store with boarded-up windows and gutted drones strewn across the concrete parking lot like the carcasses in front of a lion's den.

   The black box over the door flicked from red to green with an audible snap, and she opened it to the thick smell of curry and incense. Indian pop belted out for the brief moment she was assaulted by the heat and scent, and she shut the door behind her. Nagarjuna kept his place warm and dry, with the floor covered in sheets. He was currently seated on a pillow with an old-style analog television embedded in a nest of wires, fiddling away with some archaic controller while horrifically pixellated aliens tried to kill a soldier.

   “What do you want?” the Indian said, scarcely looking up.

   “I have the sims you wanted to trade for the object,” she answered, fighting back the anticipation in her voice.

   The screen froze, the word “pause” flashing on screen like a warning. He craned his head back and narrowed his eyes; he was light for someone from Sri Lanka, with jet black hair and a propensity for wearing sports jerseys.

   “Yes, but do you have what I want?” he answered.

   Stir Fry nodded at that; holding up flash drives in her clutched palm like spurs, she dropped them on Nagarjuna's desk.

   “A ghoul taking care of her man during a drain recovery from both perspectives, a day spent living in the arcology, and being shot to death by a Knight Errant officer. Collected at no small risk to my legal status,” she said.

   “My contacts will love them. Sorry you had to look for things that were so specific. What's the fourth?” he asked.

   “It's me summoning a spirit a little too big for me,” she said, shrugging.

   He laughed once, cleaning off his couch.

   “You know how many hoops I had to jump through to get this thing?” he asked, going under his coffee table for a locked box. “I couldn't find the stone, and I know that was the deal, but I like to think I went you one better.”

   She nodded. He pulled a key off his neck and opened the physical padlock. Inside was a velvet wrap, ever so gently folded over a sword. The handle was gold, inlaid with jewels and a gleaming silver blade; it was the sort of sword Gary Gygax would have loved. She picked it up, feeling the weight, even as a cold thrill ran through her veins. Stir Fry was shuddering in ecstasy by this point, and her simrig kept letting her know she was experiencing a heightened emotion while asking her if she wanted to activate it way off in her peripheral vision. She was too engrosses to pay attention to it, watching the light of the room glint off the blade.

   “The Sword of Ultimate Sorcery,” he said. “One of five items created for the Swordquest video games in 1982. Only two games were ever released and only two items were ever awarded, the Talisman of Penultimate Truth and the Chalice of Light. The Chalice still exists, and the Talisman was melted down, except for the silver center piece. The last three were lost. You now hold the sword in your hands.”

   Stir Fry was smiling like an idiot now. She swung it experimentally a few times.

   “The guy my contact took it from put up a fight for it,” he said. “Apparently, he kept screaming 'he is the one who builds the bridge,' and tried to cut him with it.”

   “But you don't have the stone?” she gasped, still giddy through her disappointment..

   “No,” he shook his head. “They tracked the sword down in Pueblo, and getting it out of the country was a fucking chore. They thought maybe they wouldn't get paid, because it's not what you wanted, but I asked them to bring the sword instead. You angry with me?”

   “Not at all,” she giggled, and gave him a hug. “It's amazing. I was going to try and get as much of it as I can, I just wanted the Stone first because I thought it's what I could get. To tell the truth, I wanted the sword, anyway.”

   She clutched it like it was a sick puppy.

   “It's amazing,” she whispered to herself. “Thanks.”

   Kissing him on the cheek, she took the key and box, twirling once, feeling as giddy as she did on her sixteenth birthday. The day was still dim, gray, and dry, but none of that really mattered. Skipping merrily back home, she snagged an ARO floating outside her door in the shape of a winged letter and fell back on her bed with both of them, grinning and with her heart light and her cheeks flushed. She kicked off her shoes and opened the letter.

   Gameshow's voice bleated out at her, and small whine. His image in the video wheedled and pushed its forefingers together.

   “Stir Fly,” he whined. “I need your help. Please? Call me when you get this.”

   She frowned. He only called her Stir Fly when he was trying to get something out of her for free. Usually sex or a sim of sex. Not that this was a problem, but she rolled around on the bed, holding the box like a pet cat. She needed to get a back sheath.

   “Gameshow,” she said aloud, and a window opened to her left. She looked at the camera on her wall and reached for a chocolate bar. His face came up after two rings, with a slate warehouse wall behind him coated in thick piping. He was in the dark someplace.

   “Hey, Stir Fry,” he laughed. “That was quick.”

   “What do you want, omae?”

   “I have a job. I thought maybe you want in on it.”

   “Is it a movie?” she teased.

   “No,” he looked away, as if he was checking outside the nearby door. “I need some help clearing some stealthed IC out of some commlinks. I was gonna do it myself, but I'm a code cleaner, not a crackerjack.”

   “I'm not a crackerjack,” she said. “I'm a sense editor.”

   “Goddman do I hate our little group being overspecialized,” he sighed. “Then who do you know that is?”

   “The bug is.”

   “Bug?”

   “BugintheSystem,” she shrugged. “So is whalewithlegs.”

   “Who and who?”

   “A hacker I know, she lives in the Underground, some kind of mutant. The other guy is an AI, I don't know how you feel about that, but he helped me during the crash.”

   He seemed to contemplate that for a minute.

   “Wait, is this the mystery hacker that MBA knows?”

   “How should I know? I don't get my gear from MBA. I get my shit from Burn Ward.”

   He boggled.

   “Wild Bill's boss? Are you fucking serious? No, fuck that. Are you sane?”

   That was the reaction she'd expected; Burn Ward ran a food barony for the Vory, from Russia with love and guns, and had possible links the Tamanous organleggers out in Redmond. She was a good source for spare parts, knew a lot of really top notch surgeons, and she personally introduced her to Litterbug, the best damn cyber and cosmetic surgeon she'd ever met.

   “The old lady gives me the right goods for the right price.”

   “Those are bad people.”

   “I know they are.”

   “Good, then you know you're an accessory to anything they do. Look, just come down here to warehouse forty-eight, bring whoever you want. AI, giant bug monsters, whatever.”

   She sighed. As much as she needed more work for the moment, she really didn't want to go anywhere for the rest of the day.

   “I was gonna watch the Roast of Anatoly Kirilenko tonight,” she whined.

   “That's on tonight? 'And now introducing the man who owns the technology that lets sixty-year old Japanese men live out their fantasies by turning them into sixteen-year old Japanese schoolgirls, the CEO of Evo, Anatoly Kirilenko!' Here are two more jokes, you'll be hearing variants of all three the rest of the night! There, I just saved you an hour of content and three hours of Horizon and Aztech commericals. Now come down to Puyallup and help me.”

   She let the air of her nose slowly and stuffed the box under her pillow.

   “Fine.”

   “And bring me back my copies of The Hills Have Thighs 2: Thigh Hard and Lesbian Elf Stripper Ninjas 7,” he added with an air of finality, before closing the window.

   She groaned and sat up. He would be impossible to deal with at this point, but she knew people she could bring. Whale was usually tooling around in the chatrooms this time of day under an anonymous name, and Roach was, well, Roach was Roach, and probably digging in someone's trash or else being shot at again. She fired up her commlink.

[node: ?#428.$@2.198: whiteroom]
[#! - )$ - @)&@ : 17:03]
[you have subscribed to this node]
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[17:03] holocosplay: Hey, is Bug around? I need to ask her about some paydata
[17:04] BugintheSystem: I'm here. 'sup?
[17:04] blooscream: Eeyah, the cockraoches r back
[17:04] blooscream sprays the channel with raid
[17:05] holocosplay: I need to meet you in the meat. Come by this vending machine >data packet< sometime in the next hour. Also, if you see Whale, tell it I want to see it in my commlink as soon as you can.
[user trash.hog.47 has subscribed to this node]
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[17:05] blooscream: anythin i cn help with?
[17:05] trash.hog.47: has whale not fixed that stupid unrecognized node message or somthing? Isn't he some kinf of super AI?
[17:05] holocosplay: Actually, yeah, blooscream. You're an IC cracker, right?
[17:07] blooscream: yy
[17:07] holocosplay: Sweet. Meet me there, too.
[17:07] trash.hog.47: what's up now?
[17:08] holocosplay: A friend of mine wants some help with a hack in Puyallup.
[17:10] trash.hog.47: oh nevermind i'm in chicago
[17:10] trash.hog.47: tell roach I think i saw on of her buddies
[17:11] BugintheSystem: I'm still here.
[17:11] trash.hog.47: will i think I saw one of your buddies
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   Tossing her commlink back in her pocket, she sighed and wiped her hands off on her pants. Grabbing her fun kit and a few sims off the counter, she took one last look at the sword box on her bed. She grinned pointedly and slung it over her back before leaving. She felt power thrum from it like an old wound, and she laughed.

   Nice night.

VajraSupremus

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« Reply #5 on: <01-03-13/0247:45> »
Whoa, she's an extensively augmented codeslinger AND she's Awakened? Holy Burnout, Fastjack. I love those kinds of characters.

Inconnu

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« Reply #6 on: <01-03-13/0337:42> »
My bet is that either the items are those rare anybody foci or she's very initiated.

VajraSupremus

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« Reply #7 on: <01-03-13/0417:40> »
My bet is that either the items are those rare anybody foci or she's very initiated.

I second your assertion. Also, she could be just an Aspected Mage. A skilled Conjurer.

Barracuda_Kali

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« Reply #8 on: <01-03-13/0521:52> »
Whoa, she's an extensively augmented codeslinger AND she's Awakened? Holy Burnout, Fastjack. I love those kinds of characters.

I'll drop that on you, yeah. She's got the jack and the simrig in her head, and is suffering under some serious burn, with a conjuring specialist, and only Spirits of Man even answer her calls.
« Last Edit: <01-03-13/1748:07> by Barracuda_Kali »

VajraSupremus

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« Reply #9 on: <01-03-13/2054:00> »
Whoa, she's an extensively augmented codeslinger AND she's Awakened? Holy Burnout, Fastjack. I love those kinds of characters.

I'll drop that on you, yeah. She's got the jack and the simrig in her head, and is suffering under some serious burn, with a conjuring specialist, and only Spirits of Man even answer her calls.

Also that bioware on her skin for that tactile boost, and the Image Link Retinal mod(?).

Deepeyes

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« Reply #10 on: <05-24-15/2027:21> »
WOW!!! Please tell me there's more BKali!!