Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gideon's Chip , Part Twelve


Gideon's Chip , Part Twelve

***

   Lily was at home drinking at the bar. She had her back to it, her arms
sprawled along its edge as she watched the other patrons. Occasionally, the
hand with the drink in it would rise to her mouth and she would take a sip of
her Bloody Mary. Her eyes never left the drunken men making fools of
themselves behind me.
   I was another matter altogether. Where Lily was alert and cautious, I was
half-conscious and too drunk to know what I was doing. I was rapidly downing
tiny glasses of Vodka so it could slide, burning all the way down, to my
stomach and wrestle with the fear there.
   It didn't work. Not very well. Not tonight.
   "Can I ask you a question?" said Lily.
   "Sure."
   "Why am I guarding you?" Before I could answer, she added, "I mean, you're
not anyone important. Don't take that the wrong way - you're nice and all -
but you're not corp. So why the bodyguards?"
   "The mysterious benefactor thought it best," I slurred.
   I was drunk again. When I was getting to that state, I promised myself I
would stop. But the tiny glasses of clear alcohol just kept coming. No, said
the sober part of my mind. This isn't good. Stay alert. Like Lily. I was
drunk again. Was it really what I wanted?
   "The who?"
   "Your boss."
   "Oh." She paused. "That doesn't really answer my question."
   "Yeah," I agreed.
   A man with a silvery, cybernetic hand was crushing a beer can. That done,
he moved on to someone's fingers. There was yelling, a fight thundering in
like time lapse storm cloud. I watched it happen dispassionately.
   Lily tensed. She had a gun in a shoulder holster and took it out.
   Without taking her eyes off the fight, she asked, "So you're in some kind
of trouble?"
   I considered her statement for a moment. Should I laugh or respond?
"Yeah," I said.
   "That's what I thought. What you gonna do?"
   I started to answer, but someone screaming drown me out. I tried again
after a second. "To be honest, I have no idea. I just keep getting myself
deeper and deeper in."
   "Do you need to disappear? I know someone."
   Hope. There was a flicker of it. I tried to respond, but more noise from
the fight. Without thinking - with over half a dozen tiny shots of Vodka
crusading against a knot of fear - I glared at the man with the artificial
hand. He didn't notice, so I yelled to him. "Hey, shut up for a minute!"
   The sober part of my mind panicked first. Lily was a close second.
   If the fight had been a storm, we had reached the calm eye of it. The bar
fell silent, the men involved in the altercation gaping like bloody fish in
my direction. The barkeep, suddenly deciding things were serious now, fumbled
for the lock box under the bar.
   The man with the cyberhand turned towards me, the laser targeting system
in his eyes sweeping over my face with first a red pinprick, then a tunnel of
red light as it passed over my eyes, and then a pinprick again. It moved like
a lazy fly, flitting from spot to spot until it found my heart...
   I realized Lily was firing her gun.
   The first shot went wide. A chunk of wood exploded off a table.
   A red dot drifted on my chest.
   Lily fired again. One of the lesser combatants cried out.
   The laser began to blink, it's target acquired.
   The third shot chipped tile at the feet of the gunman. He fell back,
startled.
   The red pinprick, having my total attention at this point, disappeared.
   And I dove off my stool. I hid the floor hard and rolled under a table,
panting. My stomach was a mess of fear, alcohol, and now nausea. My leg,
coming to rest in an abrupt manner against a metal table leg, began to throb.
I was still alive. What do you know.
   In my hurry to find cover, I missed the fourth, fifth, and sixth shot. I
dimly heard the sound of metal ringing, a ricochet near the bathrooms, and
another, different man protesting in pain. When I peered through the forest
of table legs, I could see the man with the silver hand still standing.
   A long knife sprung from the tip of one finger as I watched.
   Then Lily leapt on him. Leapt was the only word for it; one moment she was
tossing the gun aside and the next she had her legs wrapped about his
midsection. The man's expression went through three distinct phases:
surprise, alarm, and an expectant smile. He drew the cyberhand, and its
blade, back behind his head.
   But it never struck Lily. One hand held the weapon away while the other
struck a few blows at his chest. I could see her legs tighten about him, but
I didn't know if they were the cause of the man's ribs cracking or if it was
her rapid strikes.
   A moment later, Lily was standing above the man.
   The bar experienced another moment of stunned silence, then the crowd
began to close in on my bodyguard. I was thinking about getting up to help
her when the first two men stagger away clutching broken arms. A leg sweep
from Lily knocked a third to the floor. This yoga was potent stuff.
   "Get out of here!" Lily yelled at me as her hands struck out at her
attackers.
   I did what I was told. Just as I had finished fumbling with the doorknob
and slipped down the steps that lead to the street, Lily was there. She was
sweating and her chest heaved as she sucked in the night air. It would have
been pleasant to watch if my leg wasn't yelling in painful protests and
gravel hadn't shredded my hand during the fall.
   We were halfway home when Lily finally let me stop to vomit. Wiping my
mouth, I dared to break the silence that hung between us. "What the frag was
that?" I panted because my stomach was still churning.
   "What was what?"
   "You missed every shot. Some solo."
   "Oh, that," she said. "I've never really shot a gun before. I mainly use
them for show." She didn't smile when she said it.

***


   I woke up amused and don't know why. My body ached where I had dove into
the table and chairs during last night's fight, vodka had left behind little
hammers in my brain and now they were pounding on the elastic walls of my
veins, hired killers were after me, hired killers were babysitting me, and
there was a crazy AI waiting for me in the Net.
   But it was sunny out. Sometimes the sun peaks through my window.
   So I lay in sunshine and once again contemplated the gravity of my
situation. I had two immediate concerns. The first was Chuck, the deranged
Alice in Wonderland character who was living in a virtual Wonderland. I
wasn't sure he could leave his computer-generated home, but why take the
chance? Now that I had built buffers and circuit breaker type affairs into my
deck, I hoped that if I did meet him outside his Node, I would survive long
enough to run.
   Chuck wanted Gideon's data to build himself a meat body. I had agree,
under duress, mind you, to get him that information. But now that I was out
of his clutches, I didn't plan on doing it. Did I?
   I scratched at the thin start of a beard under my chin and considered. If
Chuck had the data part and parcel, what would he do with it? Create himself
a clone. And then? He'd said his father would have to help him transfer into
that body. Which would mean Chuck would share the cloning data with him.
   And if Chuck's father had all the data, what reason would he have to
pursue me? I thought about this one for a moment. If the father had
everything, the secret war for the chip would be over and I would become just
another someone who knew something. People do get killed all the time for
what they know, but if the megacorporations killed everything who had a
little classified information, there wouldn't be anyone left to work for
them. So once the data was fully in someone's hands, I might be free.
   What if I made my continued existence part of the deal? What if I only
handed over all the data when I was assured I would be safe? My next thought
was, how would I do that? And the one after that one was, is this what Gideon
was doing when he handed part of it off to me? I didn't like that last
thought very much.
   Okay. So I could end the war and possibly be safe.
   But the second of my two concerns remained: the mysterious benefactor. The
memory of his face ate at me and the sourness in my stomach had little to do
with my hangover. Even the sunshine didn't help.
   Assuming Chuck's father would let me go after it was all over, would the
mysterious benefactor? I didn't think so. I thought about the lapel pin his
aide had given me and I knew he wasn't the type to let me live in peace.
   Which wasn't much of a problem, since I wanted the mysterious benefactor
dead.
   One of us would live through this. One of us would be carried away in a
body bag.
   I rolled over and curled into a fetal position. Sun filled my eyes, but
that was okay because they were squeezed shut with tears rolling out of them.
I tried to let the warmth and brightness of the light erase the knot of fear
and hatred out of me. It didn't work.
   I lay there for a few more minutes, crying and angry, before I got up to
dress. As I did, I considered making the death of the mysterious benefactor
part of my future deal with Chuck's father. I buttoned my shirt and pulled on
my pants. Yes, that would work, I decided.

***

   If you had betrayed your employer, stolen sensitive data, and were running
for your life, where would you hide that data? I thought about this while
Victor, the other bodyguard assigned to me, handed over a glass of orange
juice and a bagel.
   If what Charles had said about part of the data being missing from my chip
was true, then Gideon had given me part of what he had stolen. I was going to
be his safeguard against being killed out of hand. So much for that idea -
they had killed Gideon and now I had no idea where the other half of the
files were.
   The bagel was chewy and the orange juice too pulpy for my taste. Oh well.
   But if Charles' father still needed the other half, that meant Gideon
didn't have it on him when he was in the Net or wherever his meat body was
when they caught up with him. And here was the rub, because if he didn't pass
it to me and didn't have it on his person, where the hell was it?
   I thought about Gideon, dredging up every fact I ever knew about the man.
We'd met when I was young and both being quite interested in computers, hit
it off. Where I was concerned about theoretical applications of computer
technology, he was looking at practical uses. In short, I supplied the tech
and he put it into use. We made a good team. A profitable one.
   Then his impatience soured the relationship. We'd been hacking into the
data stores of minor companies, changing the payroll figures of our plant or
fiddling with shipping invoices so that a certain fixer was shipped a few
hundred boxes of top of the line computer parts. Small stuff, really. But
Gideon wasn't satisfied with our current level of activity and kept pushing
me to write bigger and more elaborate ice breakers so that we could run a
Fortune 500 company.
   I did it. God help me, I did it.
   The Tetsura Bio Life Corporation looked like a ripe target. The corporate
new kid on the block, they hadn't been in town long enough to establish any
real security force and their presence on the Net was anemic. They made drugs
and medical miracles, thus Gideon and I assumed any intrusion countermeasures
they had in place would be rather weak.
   We were right. The run was like something straight out of a runner's
infiltration primer. We went in together, Gideon covering my back as I hacked
the system, and floated through their defenses like ghost. Whatever they
threw at us, we took care of. It was just dangerous enough to make it
exciting.
   Half an hour into the run, we had accomplished our mission. I remember
feeling my heart pounding adrenaline into me as the dummy program I had
inserted into the Tetsura operating system began to unfold like a ghostly
umbrella. No, it unfolded like one of those incredibly complex gag type
machines that uses pulleys and wheels and boots stuck onto rods to crack an
egg into a bowl. It created a space for itself in the system, then build
invisible walls around it. I watched vanes that would sense the attention of
the system's master controller going up. Little doors began to appear in the
walls. It slowly built itself in the virtual environment, half-conscious,
inexorable...
   Then it started to function. The commands of the master controller and its
slaves were routed in through the doors in the walls. Once these packets of
information were inside, my machine changed them, editing them with the
flicker of sentience I had written into it, and then releasing them back into
the system. They scurried away, unaware they had been waylaid.
   The Tetsura Bio Life Corporation began to produce a new product, although
the owners and operators of the company were unaware of that fact. My virtual
machine reprogrammed molecule synthesizers. It issued new commands to the
mixing bays. And when a brand new custom pharmaceutical was bottled and
rolled down a conveyor belt, another part of the Tetsura computer system
created an appropriate invoice and destination. Our drug, neatly packaged,
was shipped to us.
   A few days later, we were caught. I don't know how and was to stricken to
find out.
   The price for stolen bottles of neuropeptides was Anna's life. The Tetsura
Bio Life Corporation, represented by dark-suited assassins, snuck into my
apartment while I was selling what I had made and killed my wife. They had
flown people in for the job. I fell apart.
   As I was stumbling through the desolation of grief, Gideon was fleeing to
the protective arms of Biotechnia. Tetsura had finished with me, I was broken
and safe now, but Gideon was a different matter altogether. He had no loved
one, no one with which a subtle warning could be sent. So it was his own life
in jeopardy and he protected it by getting in bed with Tetsura's closest
competition. It was a cozy deal, I decided after I came to my senses. It made
sense and I didn't blame Gideon for his actions.
   But I let him drift away. He was a painful reminder. Then he contacted me
with a new deal. Thinking back on our past relationship, I realize now I
should have listened to the urgent little voice in me and never gone. Damn
hindsight anyway.
   I set that thought, that grief, aside and concentrated on the problem:
where was the data?
   Gideon would have made his run to meet me from a safe place and if he held
true to his past habits, that place was his home. Wherever it was, the door
would be steel-plated and studded with locks. A regular Fort Knox. But the
corporate killers had gotten in. And searched the place after they tidied up
the loose end he represented. They had to have looked. But they didn't find
the data...
   So it wasn't there. I didn't have it and it wasn't in Gideon's place of
residence. That left, what? A public place? Some other courier? Work? I
considered my first guess, somewhere accessible to the public. What good was
a safeguard like this if you or your associates couldn't get to it? Could he
have left it somewhere in Suzie Wu's? No, that wasn't smart. I couldn't rule
out a public place, but it didn't feel right, it didn't feel like Gideon.
   What about a courier of some kind, a sealed letter left with an attorney,
or a bank deposit box? Upon consideration, these were easier to rule out than
a public spot. Surveillance is very advanced these days and electronic paper
trails follow almost every kind of transaction - I know, I alter and create
them. So if he had used something like that, Biotechnica would have found the
data and Charles wouldn't be asking me to find it.
   That left...work. Work. It was an intriguing idea. Gideon had always been
gutsy and arrogant; I could see him hiding the stolen merchandise right under
the noses of the people he had stolen it from. Work. It felt like something
he would do, so I went with this assumption.
   A quick call to the number of the computer support team the mysterious
benefactor had set up for me had over a dozen people scrambling through the
Net to find evidence of Gideon's last place of residence. Two hours later, my
phone rang with the information and half an hour after that, Victor and I
were crawling into the seats of a helicopter.
   I was right about Gideon's front door. One side was a normal wooden face
and the other nothing but naked metal and magnetic locks. I stepped over a
nasty stain in the carpet and entered his apartment.
   Between the two of us, he was always the messier and so resting on
carefully sculpted corporate decor was a layer of fast food wrappers, old
screamsheets, and other assorted trash. I kicked something and it moved away
from my foot under its own power...
   His deck was resting near the far wall in roughly two pieces. I held my
breath as I examined it and sighed when I discovered it could easily be made
operational again. I fiddled with it for a bit. When I was done, I signaled
for Victor to watch the door and jacked in.
   When I fell towards the Net this time, it was a very short drop. Before I
reached what passed for streets in the virtual world, a homing program in the
deck tugged me to Biotechnica's construct. When Ice appeared at the entrance,
I held up Gideon's electronic corporate ID. I was waved in.
   His work area was easy to find. The Net representation of it was a
pixelized keyboard floating below a one-dimension screen. I started to type,
calling up whatever files Gideon had either worked on the most or had
accessed most recently. He was in sales.
   When a file in the form of an image flashed across the screen, I froze and
then went back to it. Anyone else hacking Gideon's space would have just
assumed it was a picture of his wife or girlfriend, I suppose. I knew better:
Anna's face stared out at me. It was an old photo. My meat body wasn't
breathing.
   I touched the image and it dissolved into a hundred thousand pixels. Anna
appeared unexpectedly and then left me again. Gideon's deck whirred softly
under my hands as data began to transfer from the Biotechnica system to it.
The image had been a data archive of some kind and I had just activated it...


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