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Runner, part 2

A board dedicated to fan written work about Pandect. Includes poetry, original song lyrics, and short and serial stories.

Moderators: Sihaya, Metanaito

Posts: 3532
Joined: Sun Jan 20, 2008 5:02 pm
Location: Belgium, Europe

Runner, part 2

Post by Sihaya » Wed Jul 20, 2011 8:04 pm

From the dock they’d been driven straight to the small conference room they now found themselves in - not by Kouros, to Teddy’s chagrin. Venus had already been waiting for them, absentmindedly toying with one of Kouros’ hologram emitters.

“You boys should have a drink,” she said. “They’ll be a while.”

“Money’s prerogative,” Noah mused, and poured Teddy and himself a glass of real cognac.

“They can keep me waiting all day as long as I get this,” Abel sighed. “Coffee that’s not made out of soylent, thank Gaia.”

Venus smiled and sipped her tea. “I always get the real stuff, no matter what it costs. My only indulgence,” she said.

“You need some more, then,” Teddy signaled with a smirk. “I could set you up on a date with a buddy of mine, Nelson...”

Venus scoffed. “I’d never date a runner, even if I did have the time to.”

“Your loss,” Teddy said, fingers waggling so fast she could hardly follow him. “Is Kouros here yet?”

Venus put the holo emitter on the table. “Not yet.”

“Hey... Do you know where his apartment is?” Teddy asked shyly.

Venus smiled softly. “I do. But you didn’t hear it from me.” She sent the information to his comm.

“I owe you one,” Teddy signalled before kissing her cheek.

“Don’t you know it,” she winked.

The door opened and Ameer and Titus stepped through, each accompanied by their personal secretaries Cleatus and Rocko. The runners rose to shake their hands.

“Mr. Khan,” Noah said with a crooked smile.

“Mr. Johnson,” Teddy said.

“Herr Smith,” Abel said.

“Mr. Johnson,” said Cherokee.

Ameer glared, more so after each greeting. “You all know I really hate that,” he complained.

“Mr. Jones,” Venus finished, with a curtsy.

“My lady,” Titus replied with a grin, pressing a kiss to the back of her hand.

“Now that we’ve gotten the ‘formalities’ over with,” Ameer said, “let’s talk business.”

They all got another drink and settled around the table. Venus called Kouros and his icon appeared over the holo emitter.

“Still not up to doing this in person, huh?” Titus sighed. “No matter.”

They’d all known each other long enough not to beat around the bush. “To put this in perspective right from the start: if you guys pull this off we’ll pay you a million Nuyen.”

Noah looked round at his team and could almost see the Nuyen signs in their eyes. Over 160K would get Abel that much closer to giving his Ayubu an actual house with a real garden in a decent place on the surface. Teddy could afford to get another surgery at a respectable clinic to fine tune his cyberware, get the kinks worked out that pained him daily, maybe even get some bioware. Venus and Cherokee would be able to bring their families up to ZO station.

He turned back to Ameer, the words ‘we’ll do it’ already on his lips.

Titus leaned forward over the table.

“Each,” he added.

They stared at him in stunned silence. 6 Million. ZO was going to pay 6 million to get this job done. Suddenly they were not so eager to accept.

“What’s the job?” Noah finally said.

“We want you to find the Gecko. Alive, and in one piece, with all his faculties intact. This hacker has gotten into our most secure databases -”

“Multiple times,” Titus interjected.

“- and we want him. With him on board, we’ll be unstoppable,” Ameer finished.

“Isn’t he violently opposed to Zurich Orbital?” Venus asked.

“Yes. He’ll come round,” Titus said, and he smiled in the way that had gotten him his notoriety on the streets.

“We don’t care how you do it. You’ve got all the qualifications that could ever be needed for this job. Take as long as you need. But get us that hacker.”

They glanced at each other.


“Always enjoyed a challenge,” the rigger said.

Noah turned to look at Ameer and Titus.

“We’ll do it,” he said.

After their employers had left, they immediately started to make plans.

“First of all we'll need to make sure the Gecko we're chasing is the real one," Venus said. “He is so infamous he’s got more copycats than there are elves out there.”

“How do you suggest we do that?” Abel said.

“I think we need to play this in both worlds,” she replied. “Track him down in the Matrix while we attempt to find him out there. He’s not an ordinary hacker. He won’t have used equipment we can track to a fence or a fixer. We’ll have to find his friends and go from there to track his persona, and investigate his runs to find out where he is.”

“No equipment at all?” Cherokee asked.

“He’s a technomancer. He doesn’t need any. He doesn’t use a program, his mind is the program. He doesn’t need any power, his body generates it for him. He doesn’t need to encrypt or databomb files, because his synapses and neurons do it for him. He doesn’t need an agent to run ICE for him, his brain is the ICE. None of us can really comprehend what it is like to be a child of the Matrix, a true digital native. His ability is probably the reason why he is able to get into ZO where no one limited to a piece of electronics could ever succeed.”

“You sound a little jealous,” Noah smiled.

“Of course I’m jealous,” she said softly. “All of us are jealous of them.”

“I bet he’s a jerk,” Cherokee said. “You’re a million times better to be around.”

“Thank you,” she smiled.

“Here’s what I suggest,” Teddy said over their commlinks. “Venus can sort through Matrix leads while we identify the Gecko’s last run and get to the bottom of it. Let’s hope it gets us closer to a physical location. Once Venus has something for us, Noah can get close to the Gecko’s people. Between his persona’s location and his physical one we’re bound to catch him eventually.”

“It sounds like a good way to start out,” Abel agreed.

“I wish we had something solid to go on,” Noah sighed.

“If there was anything solid about him, we most likely wouldn’t have been hired,” Venus supplied.

“I get a sinking feeling that one million might be slightly underpaid,” Kouros said.

“Always be careful what you wish for...” Noah muttered to himself.

“What did you say?” Teddy signaled.

“Nothing,” Noah waved. “Let’s get to work.”

Let’s get to work, Edgar sighed. He stretched out, feeling his sprites press into him to steal a little body heat. There were over a dozen of them with him right now, all shaped like a different animal. Their names were a feeling, not a word, and he knew each molecule of every one of them. They were his, and him, and themselves all at the same time. Living programs, like he was a living persona. Technomancer. Matrix Child. If he could, he would never return to the husk of his body.

He reached out to feel if his worm had finished skimming through the Azteknology accounts he’d sent it after. Stealing money knowing that no one would ever find out about it was always very satisfying. He started to funnel the money into account after account until it was as white as newly bleached linens and then deposited it where it was really supposed to go: a museum, a school, two hospitals, a research center, and a tiny amount into the account that paid for his coffin hotel room and nutrients. With that the satisfyingly simple first job of the evening was done.

“Now for a real run,” he said fiercely. The panther by his side growled.

Edgar looked up, to the flicker of light high above that represented the Zurich Orbital Space Station, seat of the Corporations Council. It was a crying shame that making the station crash to Earth would do a ton of damage to anyone except for the corporations Edgar was trying to fight against. Slowly he rose up to meet it, the glow of the different matrix persona’s below him dimming with every virtual meter - buildings, cars, people, everything with a node, a commlink, and AR-uplink as far as his perception could reach. In many ways it looked exactly like the real world outside, but infinitely more beautiful.

He entered ZO territory. The ICE surrounding it was perhaps the most stunning he had ever seen. They improved it after every pass he made, but it still posed no real difficulty. It would take long, yes, but he would always find a way through. They just had no way to outthink a technomancer when it came to the Matrix.

Sprites with thick, soft fur wrapped themselves around him and he reached out, palm flat against the ICE. He hooked his mind around one of its nodes and convinced it he was a fellow node, that he needed to be encapsulated by the ICE as well. Instantly the ICE started to expand, crawling over his hand, arm, up to his shoulder, taking him in as if he was a part of it, welcoming him. He stepped forward slowly, while the ICE opened up and enveloped him.

It took him 4 hours to walk through the ICE. His sprites were exhausted and he decompiled them. It was just him and the panther now. Beyond ZO’s ICE lay yottabytes upon yottabytes of information and Edgar had only ever been able to scratch the surface. Today the objective was to erase enough data in the stockmarket databases and their various back-ups to make them utterly useless without making it very obvious which data exactly had been erased. It would take days, maybe even weeks to fix and billions of Nuyen would be lost. Edgar reached out, let the data tell him what needed to be deleted, and set to work.

Controller. Parameter met.

Venus’ lashes fluttered against her cheek.

Controller. Parameter met.

She groaned, wondering why her pillow was so hard.

Controller. Parameter met.

She opened one bleary eye to stare at the screen while the tinny voice rang through her office again.

Controller. Parameter met.

It took one more repetition of the message for it to sink in. Parameter met.

“Noah!” she practically screeched into her headset, “He’s here! He’s here right now, in our mainframe! Noah!

Her fingers flew over the keyboard, trying to find out where the technomancer was.

"Are you sure?" a sleepy voice replied.

"A sprite just crashed one of my spy nodes," she bit, "yes, I'm sure. Get in there.”

“Get Kouros too. We need as much intel as we can get.”

Venus didn’t bother to reply. She directed as many programs as her deck could handle into the mainframe, hoping that at least half of them would make it in at all. Kouros’s joined her soon after, and she could sense Noah’s persona hovering over them as well.

There were dozens of sprites floating around, disappearing as soon as they came in contact with one of their programs, taking their nodes with them. Venus couldn’t quite reload them as fast as the sprites took them out again. And no doubt the hacker had put up ICE around himself. It made her a little afraid to switch from AR to the much faster VR. If he attacked her, the bioneural feedback and dumpshock might prove more than her system could handle. It might kill her.

Kouros had no such reservations. As soon as he located the ICE he dove in, confident in his defences. The cheetah pounced on top of the panther, raking his claws over it, biting every inch of flesh he could reach.

Edgar immediately realised something was wrong. This was not just an extra defense system making an weak stand. There were cowboys here. And they were not trying their hardest to kick him out. Suspicious.

Venus sent in a dozen programs to sting the panther’s hide and Kouros managed to dig his claws in deeper, to get the sprite’s jugular between his jaws. The panther decompiled.

Started, Edgar began to erase his tracks. Someone was right at his heels, trying to save the threads he was unraveling. They were too slow. He smirked, starting to withdraw from the mainframe.

That was the moment it happened. It felt as if a ghost passed through him, a whiff of something other, something self, as if he had lost something of himself in its passing. He’d never felt anything like it before. He logged off.

In a terrifying instant he resurfaced in his body, grasping at the walls of his hotel coffin and splashing the liquid supporting him around, trying to come to terms with the maddening restrictions of his flesh. His heartbeat raced dangerously and he was close to hyperventilating, already overcome with the longing to go back in, to leave his living coffin. The moment passed.

In the Zurich Orbital Mainframe Venus did all she could to piece everything the technomancer had left behind of himself together again - it was dishearteningly little.

“I managed to freeze about two thirds of the sprite’s code, perhaps you can do something with that?” Kouros said.

“I guess,” she sighed. “Not enough to make a definite identification if we meet one of his sprites again, though.”

“I have him,” Noah said. He sounded very weak, as if his persona was close to collapsing.

“What did you do?” Venus said, slightly disconcerted. Persona did not just collapse.

“I have his astral signature, for lack of a better Matrix term. I know what he feels like. If I meet him anywhere in there I will know. He can’t change it. I forced my magic into the Matrix. Nearly crashed myself doing it, as it turns out.”

“You are not equipped to take dumpshock or biofeedback! What were you thinking?” she yelled.

“That I want this over sooner rather than later. We’ve already spent over a month trying to figure out where and who he was and how to get at him. This is the first solid lead we’ve had since we started! That’s worth a little risk.”

“If you end up like Theo, I’m not coming to visit you!” she sobbed, and logged off.

“Could have played that better, Face,” Kouros said, and logged off too.

“Guess I could have,” Noah muttered to the mainframe, and sat there for a long time breathing in the scent that the Gecko had left behind.