The Netrunner Vanguard Project is here

Not a expansion set, but a complement for your game.

Silent Impact is here

Released for the first time ever, grab now the unreleased official expansion set.

Classic is here

Grab now, for the first time ever in pdf the last official expansion set.

Proteus is here

Grab now, for the first time ever in pdf the first official expansion set.

Base Set is here

Grab now, for the first time ever in pdf the official set that started it all.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Netrunner Archives are now open...

On today update we didn't release any new set, but we tried to complement our site the best way we could. As that we added an Fiction Archive with all Netrunner Fiction that we could found on the web. And it didn't matter if the fiction was Official or Fan Created, as we have both on the Fictions Section of the Downloads tab.

But more, we also added a new Resources Section to the download tab, this section has now available the NETRUNNER-L LOGs and the TOP RUNNERS' QUARTERLY pdfs, but in the future it will have playmates and more NR related stuff.

Featured Card - Corporate War

Welcome to the second "Featured Card", today we will introduce you to an Basic Set Corp card called "Corporate War".

And why? Cause in today update we actually collected various data from old NR corporations, as that, and due to our insane world of today, it seems appropriate.
--Ophidian Lord




Featured Card - New Job

Welcome to the  first "Featured Card", today we will introduce you to an Open War Corp card called "New Job".

And why? because we can, and because we want you to know that creating this site/blog is like getting a new job, but we'll do our best to introduce you to all new contempt and stuff in the next couple of years, well unless we're fired, but that's a card for another day...
--Ophidian Lord

Gideon's Chip, Part Fifteen, Final Installment


Gideon's Chip, Part Fifteen, Final Installment 

***

   Dr. Singapore was more helpful during our Net meeting than he was in
person - certainly less distracted. After an hour answering questions, I
authorized another electronic funds transfer into his European account an=
d
said my good-bye. I kept careful notes and went to work as soon I jacked =
out.
   The lapel pin sat on one side of me and Gideon's chip on the other as =
I
spent another few hours on computer work. Charles had fried my old deck a=
nd
the new one my mysterious benefactor had been kind enough to provide took
some getting used to. The keys weren't in the right places.=20
   When I was done with that chore, I cleaned my apartment. Not a cursory
once over, but an honest to goodness cleaning. I found dust in places I
didn't know dust could go. The bathroom was a mess.  And after finding
wrappers behind the furniture, I remember I used to eat out before Lily
started cooking for me.=20
   I thought about her as I scrubbed the counter clean.
   Lily came in to relieve Victor a few hours later, groceries under one =
arm,
various electronics and programs I'd asked for under the other. She smile=
d
and set them on the counter. I pulled her over to the rickety piece of ju=
nk
that passed for a kitchen table for a talk. I poured my heart out, explai=
ning
everything. I told her about Anna, and even managed to salvage my macho i=
mage
my not crying too much. It's hard to be macho in front of Lily anyway.=20
   When I was done, I kissed her on the forehead. Her hand came up, curle=
d
about the back of my head, and pulled me closer. I kissed her again, stil=
l on
the forehead. She let me go and I immediately wanted to erase the hurt lo=
ok
now in her eyes.=20
   "I can't do that," I whispered.
   "If its Anna, she's dead, Tom. Let her be dead."
   That ache. That old ache. "It's not that. I just don't feel right..."
   "I see." But she didn't.=20
   "I wanted you to know why I am doing this."
   "Remember that friend of mine? I can still help you disappear. We coul=
d
disappear together."
   I shook my head. "I can't do that either. It's not right."
   "You're going to die, you know," she told me, her voice coming close t=
o
cracking.
   "Maybe."
   "Not maybe. This is crazy."
   I went over to my deck and started packing it in its protective case. =
I
spoke while I did it. "Don't you understand, we're letting them win. We'r=
e
letting the big guys win."
   "They're bigger than we are."
   "No, they work harder." I paused, my packing done, then added, "You're
going to help me, right?"
   "Of course!"
   I didn't wait for Lily as I headed for the door. When I reached the ha=
ll,
she was there, pulling the deck out of my hands and slinging it over her
shoulder. I checked to make sure I still had my gun, then reached out and
took my bodyguards hand as we walked toward the lion's den.

***

   The ride to the mysterious benefactor's science facility was shorter t=
han
I'd imagined it would be. My stomach clenched itself into a knot when Lil=
y
scouted its parking lot and there were fine tremors running down my limbs
when we finally parked for the walk in. We decided entering the facility =
on
foot would be best.
   Like the benefactor's house, the buildings that contained the research
labs was well beyond the city limits. The way the night invaded my space =
with
only the sounds of crickets, only the light of a half moon, made me ever =
more
nervous.=20
   We crouched in a trimmed hedge and watched a guard pace for half an ho=
ur.
At some signal I did not catch, Lily burst from our hiding spot and had
incapacitated the guard before he could raise an alarm. She was fast.
   Lily nudged the guards shinny black assault rifle with a toe. "Watch o=
ut,"
she whispered. I rolled my eyes at the unnecessary warning, but she
continued. "This is a Militech Ronin. They're playing for keeps." I nodde=
d to
keep her happy. I wasn't about to confront any guards, even ones with
substandard automatic weapons.=20
   We didn't have the security codes for the door, so Lily watched my bac=
k
while I withdrew a Techscanner from my nifty black backpack and gave the =
lock
a once over. Satisfied that the program I had written could get us inside=
, I
forced the lock's face plate up and hooked a hand-held computer into the
system. With the touch of a button, my program fired up its algorithms an=
d
began to input quasi-random combinations.=20
   The door clicked open a second later. I was pleased.=20
   Lily took the point, some kind of electronic unit in hand. A few feet =
into
the building, she pointed to what appeared to be a gateway scanner like t=
he
one we'd passed through at Dr. Singapore's country club. This one could t=
o
more than detect weapons, however. If the company's security measures wer=
e up
to date, the scanner could read our features and compare them to a databa=
se
of employees. Or maybe everyone who was supposed to work here had a chip
implanted somewhere that kept the gate from going off. We couldn't risk
walking through it.
   So we did what we would never have been able to do during normal busin=
ess
hours. I got down on all fours and Lily climbed up on my back. She pushed=
 a
tile loose in the ceiling and then reported there was indeed space up the=
re
to crawl over the scanner. We did that. It wasn't so much fun. The cleani=
ng
crew would have to be fired.=20
   If what Lily knew about corporate security was correct, the gate scann=
er
should be the last obstacle before we reached our next goal. The corridor=
s
were carpeted and utterly silent. As we looked for a nice office, I could=
n't
help but imagine people walking through here in the day time, stopping to
laugh in the halls when they met up with co-workers, and gossiping at the
desks we passed. It was eerie.=20
   I set my program to work on the lock of the office we chose. It took
slightly longer this time, which elicited a frown from Lily. I ignored he=
r
and concentrated on getting the face plate back on straight. We got insid=
e
without seeing another guard.=20
   The decor was tasteful if somewhat pedestrian, all oak, leather couche=
d,
and leafy plants. It was just what you'd expect from a middle management =
type
and when I found the office's computer and logged on to it, I discovered =
my
assessment was correct. J.P. Morgan, assistant to the head of New
Acquisitions Department, was going to have so explaining to do tomorrow.
   I sat at the desk and wrote a letter. Lily paced by the door, sometime=
s
stopping to place a hand on its faux wood. The addressee was my own
mysterious benefactor and I launched into the work with glee. My first dr=
aft
went something like:

   Fate is a double-edged sword. I know who you are. I have dreamt about
confronting you for years and now the means has fallen into my hands. I h=
ave
the data you requested. I know what it is. Why don't you stroll down to y=
our
New Sciences Branch and let's discuss my payoff.=20

   But I deleted it. I would have very much liked to send it, but it was =
too
dangerous. I was walking the razor's edge as it was. If I wanted to see
things through to the end, I had to control myself and act according to p=
lan.
So I wrote another draft.

   This is Thomas O'Neil. I have assembled the data you requested, but
because of, shall we say, pursuers, I have taken refuge in your New Scien=
ces
Building. As per our bargain, I would like an extraction, and will hand t=
he
chip over when you arrive.=20

   That was more sane, better bait, and I sent it out to his personal
communications address.
   The second I did, Lily hustled me into another part of the building. W=
e
broke into another office and sat down behind the desk. My bodyguard woul=
d
not allow me the slightest light, so I occupied my time with thoughts abo=
ut
the past. I dug the lapel pin out of a pocket and turned it over endless =
in
my hand.
   We waited for three hours for the other shoe to drop....

***

   The men the mysterious benefactor had chosen to bring with him were no=
isy
and soon half of them had fallen prey to Lily. She was fond of kicking th=
em
as they passed open doorways, chatting with each other about the search a=
nd
sports. They all went down hard.=20
   I did my share as well. Accessing the facility's environmental systems=
, I
located a room with its lights turn on, heat turned up to a comfortable
level, and which was producing a moderately high level of carbon monoxide=
. I
pointed out of the headquarters of our prey to Lily and she began to brea=
k
the kneecaps of passing guards so that we could get their safely.=20
   Sneaking through the halls with just the night guards in force had bee=
n
nerve wracking enough, but creeping through carpeted corridors with hired
goons as well was even more unsettling. I jumped at every sound and when =
we
did encounter someone, my heart pounded as if I had just gone through ano=
ther
charming meeting with Charles.=20
   Once I was shot, however, I calmed down.
   We were three corridors away from the lab which the mysterious benefac=
tor
had holed up in, Lily scouting ahead for trouble and I clutching at Gideo=
n's
chip as I tried to silently follow, when I first heard the noise. It was =
a
kind of soft, streaking sound.=20
   It came again. I kept walking.
   But Lily had turned already and was running back towards me. By the ti=
me I
realized my shirt was wet with blood, she had tackled me and half pushed =
me
under a nearby desk. The man with the silenced gun kept firing and when h=
e
paused to reload, Lily attacked him.
   I was so absorbed in trying to comprehend what had causes the round,
ragged wound in my back that I don't know what she did to him. I was tryi=
ng
to touch the bullet hole with awkward fingers when she return.
   "Shhhs," she whispered, although I hadn't said anything. She took hold=
 of
my searching hand. I heard her tear open a foil package and then she told=
 me,
"Try to be quiet. This is going to hurt, but I have to clean the wound so=
 I
am see the damage."
   I flexed my hands to see if my spine was intact. It was.=20
   "Oh god," gasped my bodyguard.=20
   "What?"
   "Lie still." She was opening more first aid packages.
   "What happened?"
   She pressed something soft against my skin and taped it there. "You we=
re
shot in the back," Lily replied quietly.
   "I know that. Is it bad?"
   "You're going to have to roll over now so I can see if the bullet exit=
ed
your body."=20
   When I did, gasping through the sudden pain despite my decision not to=
,
she lifted up my shirt. There was another angry red button of wound on my
stomach. It wasn't bleeding much, but I started to feel a dull ache creep=
 in
all directions from it.
   Lily was crying as much as a solo was allowed to. I touched her hair.
   "Tom, we have to go," she said. "The bullet must have hit a rib or
something. The exit trajectory is different from the entry. Stand up."
   "What does that mean?"
   "It means a bone deflected the path of the bullet. It cut you up insid=
e. A
lot more than it would if it had gone straight through. You're probably
bleeding inside, so we have to get you to a hospital. Stand up."
   Lily's charge had knocked the chip out of my hands. It was lying by a =
leg
of the desk and I reached over to pick it up. It was strange making my
fingers work. It took conscious effort, like I was trying to get the chip
while jacked into the Net. Lily tried to take it away from me. I didn't l=
et
her.
   "Tom, we have to go to hospital." She had given up on crying, or had
decided to stop, and now let a commanding, stern tone enter her voice. He=
r
eyes were red and puffy and there was blood on her fingers. She tried to =
get
the chip again, saying, "Put that down. We have to go."
   I used a commanding and stern voice, too, when I said, "We have to get=
 him
the chip."
   "We'll do that later. You're hemorrhaging."
   "We'll go after we get him the chip."
   Lily went from sad and frightened to angry. "This isn't worth dying ov=
er!"
   I didn't know how to answer her. This wasn't worth dying over. I didn'=
t
want to die. But I couldn't stop. To tell the truth, if I left now, I don=
't
think I would have had the courage to come back. So I couldn't go.=20
   The pain was becoming more intense. My back wasn't aching anymore. Now=
 it
was as if there was a mindless thing drilling into my nerves, burrowing
slowly along my nervous system until it found my brain. My lungs whistled
when I breathed.
   "Patch me up," I told Lily.
   She was looking down the corridor - for more guards, I suppose - when =
she
said, "I could take that from you and break it. Then we could go to the
hospital."
   "If you did that," I wheezed, "I wouldn't go with you anywhere."
   She kept looking for guards for a few seconds longer. When Lily taped =
a
bandage to wound in my stomach, dragged me to my feet, and helped me walk
down the corridor towards the lab, I knew I loved her, too...

***

   Lily fought her way into the lab. I smiled, impressed, as I sagged aga=
inst
a sterile wall. My breath gurgled in my lungs, pain chiseled at my nerves.
The two men at the door were both knocked on unconscious with vicious kic=
ks
to the head as they ran towards us, then Lily, panting, dropped a third g=
uard
with a blow to the throat.=20
   I started forward, leaving a smear of blood behind me on the clean wal=
l.=20
   The lab was a computer-lined pit. The door opened onto a kind of walkw=
ay
the circled the room's lower central area. Stairs led down into that. Bel=
ow
was a bank upon bank of monitors and two mainframe terminals. There was a=
lso
some kind of huge round tank. It was filled with a bubbling goo deeper th=
an I
was tall.=20
   The mysterious benefactor sat behind one of the mainframes. His aide -=
 the
woman who had given me the lapel pin the night I met my unwanted employer=
 -
was standing just behind him. He rose as we entered.
   "There you are," he said. "Come in."
   Lily was already moving down toward him and his aide when two men with
automatic weapons brushed past me and sprayed a tight arc of fire down at
her. The concrete floor suddenly erupted with ragged chips and ricochetin=
g
bullets. Lily stopped dead. She looked up at the men, her eyes full of
predator as she mentally gauged the distance between herself and the
mysterious benefactor, then herself and me.
   "Lily..." I called down to her. "Don't."
   "Listen to him," said out mutual employer. "Thomas is a smart man to h=
ave
gotten as far as he has."
   She continued to stand where she was. Her eyes glittered.=20
   I was pleased she wasn't going to ruin my plans. I took the disk out. =
I
held it loosely in one hand and clutched at the pin in the other. I shook=
,
because of blood loss and nervousness, so I slid down the wall and sat.=20
   "Is that the data?" asked the mysterious benefactor, coming up the sta=
irs.
   I nodded, holding it against my chest.=20
   He stood over me, his men at the ready. Because I was not a threat, th=
e
pointed the muzzles of their assault rifles toward Lily. A kind of electr=
ic
arc leapt between her and the guards as each tried to establish themselve=
s as
dominant, more capable, and more deadly. I bet on Lily.
   "You're going to give it to me, aren't you, Thomas?" said the benefact=
or,
motioning toward the chip. When I hesitated, he added, "There's nothing d=
own
there that can't be replaced. Except for your bodyguard, that is. Grown f=
ond
of each other, have you?"
   Lily snarled. I tried to shrink back into the wall.
   "I have to admit I am shocked by your actions," our employer threw to
Lily. "Your file listed you as a true professional." Then he turned back =
to
me. "As I was saying, I have nothing of value you down there. I can have =
my
men fire if you don't give me the chip. So why don't you?"
   I paused, my heart thudding weakly, and offered it up.
   His face was transformed as he snatched it out of my hand. He smiled
broadly, nearly laughing. He ran his fingers lightly over the matte black
finish as he said, "My immortality is assured."
   He tucked the chip into a pocket and knelt by me. "That's the differen=
ce
between men like us, Thomas. I am going to live forever. I am going to be
here well into the next century because I have worked hard to do so. I ha=
ve
struggled against the odds, making the impossible possible. I worked at i=
t.=20
   "But you, you ride the current of things. At least, you do now. You're
like a leaf being blown where ever the wind takes it and then lamenting
because you have not control. You react rather than act."
   He stood. "Men like me, we're going to live forever. Men like you die.=
"
   As he walked down towards one of the mainframes, one of the two guards
followed him. They skirted Lily cautiously, shiny black gun at the ready.=
 The
other move past me and took up a position halfway down the stairs.=20
   "It's going to be pleasant being immortal," commented the mysterious
benefactor as he walked. "Think about how much money I can make off long
range investments. I'll see my great-grandchildren grow up. And now I'll =
be
able to see everything through to the end. You have no idea how frustrati=
ng
it is not being able to see your plans to fruition."
   I started laughing. I couldn't help myself. I laughed and coughed up
blood. Through a new wave of pain, I could see Lily staring up at me. She=
 was
concerned. It painted her face. The mysterious benefactor and his aide bo=
th
look at me quizzically. I ignored them.=20
   But I didn't stop laughing. I was very dizzy now. The catwalk was spin=
ning
beneath me and the lapel pin I was holding started to draw blood from my
palm. That was okay; the new, self-inflicted pain was a good focus.=20
   The mysterious benefactor tossed the chip to his aide. "Load the data.=
"
   "Sir, I'm not qualified to do the procedure. You should wait for a - "
   He cut her off. "I don't pay you to make decisions. Load the data."
   We all watched intently as she inserted the chip into a drive. Monitor=
s on
one wall came to life, coating the faces of the benefactor and his aide w=
ith
a sheen like a sweat. A second later and it was done.=20
   "Sir," warned the aide again. "We shouldn't be doing this now."
   "Initialize the program," he told her curtly, tugging at the top butto=
ns
of his shirt. She touched a key and more computers woke with chimes and
lights. The mysterious benefactor undressed as the tank of liquid started=
 to
bubble at a furious pace.=20
   The aide checked a readout out on the glass of the tank, then rolled a
short ladder over to it. My employer smiled at me as my bodyguard threw m=
e an
imploring look. I shook my head and I think Lily started to cry again.=20
   The mainframe chimed and the aide checked a readout on one of its scre=
ens.
"The program is up and running," she said slowly. "Reconstruction will be=
gin
as soon as you enter the bio-gel, sir."
   The mysterious benefactor beamed as he climbed the ladder. Lowering
himself into the gel, he said, "This is going to be the best moment of my
life. I am about to be reborn." Then he slid into the tank. He disappeare=
d
into the liquid.=20
   I wanted to laugh again. The emotion was there, but my lungs weren't u=
p to
it. I could hear air hissing out of them like an old tire. The bandages L=
ily
had taped to my wounds were soaked and moved from their original places w=
hen
the tape got wet. I was so busy listening to the silent, rocking booms th=
at
were going off around me that I didn't notice how much pain I was in. The
world spun under me, slowly, inexorably.=20
   The aide, the guards, Lily, and I all held our breath. We listened to =
the
tank bubble.
   Then there was a sound. A rhythmic sound. It was the mysterious benefa=
ctor
pounding against the glass of the tank. A second later, a red warning lig=
ht
lit up on a monitor. The aide, realizing something was wrong, hammered
frantically at the mainframe's keyboard, trying to abort the program.
   I knew it wouldn't work. She was trying to abort a program I had writt=
en.
I had changed the chip's data.=20
   As I listened to my ex-employer thrash about, as he tried in vain to
surface and breath through the bio-gel, I opened my hand to look at the l=
apel
pin. It's shiny brass Tetsura Bio Life Corporation logo was smeared with
blood. I wiped it off as best I could. The world was so dim.=20
   Anna. Oh, Anna.=20
   As the mysterious benefactor's genetic make up disintegrated with mute=
d
screams and the pounding of fists, the guard who was on the stairs drifte=
d
closer to the tank, fascinated as the previously blue-green liquid was ti=
nged
with red. When the guards' attention was fully fixed on the drama of it a=
ll,
Lily struck.=20
   She leapt at one, her feet catching him in the stomach and neck. He fe=
ll.
The other guard, startled, sprayed a wall with fire. Glass rained onto th=
e
concrete as monitors were shattered in the brief hail of bullets. Then Li=
ly
was next to him, striking him in the throat as she wrenched his rifle out=
 of
his hands.=20
   She shot them where they lay.
   Then turned toward the aide. As the muzzle of the gun swung up, the
corporate woman stopped typing. There was a long moment as Lily and she
looked at one another. Then, without hesitation, Lily shot the remains of=
 the
clip into the mainframe.=20
   Lily tossed the gun aside and ran up to me.
   I wanted to thank her, but my tongue wasn't working anymore. I could s=
ee
her crying. I wanted to comfort her. I could't hear what she was whisperi=
ng
as she checked my bandages. I think she said it was going to be okay. Bef=
ore
she had said I was bleeding inside.
   A peculiar feeling crept into my limbs. It was like a buzzing. It grew
very loud. Louder and louder, until I couldn't feel anything but it. It w=
as
like the molecules of my flesh were being vibrated apart, like they were
starting to drift...
   Then, as shadows poured down the walls, I started to see patches of
electric green in my field of vision. They wavered, settling down on me. =
The
world was so dim and growing dimmer. Dimmer and darker.
   The last thing I saw before I died was Lily bending down, her eyes red=
 and
puffy, to take the lapel pin out of my open hand.=20

Gideon's Chip, Part Fourteen


Gideon's Chip, Part Fourteen

***

   Dr. Singapore was more helpful during our Net meeting than he was in
person - certainly less distracted. After an hour answering questions, I
authorized another electronic funds transfer into his European account an=
d
said my good-bye. I kept careful notes and went to work as soon I jacked =
out.
   The lapel pin sat on one side of me and Gideon's chip on the other as =
I
spent another few hours on computer work. Charles had fried my old deck a=
nd
the new one my mysterious benefactor had been kind enough to provide took
some getting used to. The keys weren't in the right places.=20
   When I was done with that chore, I cleaned my apartment. Not a cursory
once over, but an honest to goodness cleaning. I found dust in places I
didn't know dust could go. The bathroom was a mess.  And after finding
wrappers behind the furniture, I remember I used to eat out before Lily
started cooking for me.=20
   I thought about her as I scrubbed the counter clean.
   Lily came in to relieve Victor a few hours later, groceries under one =
arm,
various electronics and programs I'd asked for under the other. She smile=
d
and set them on the counter. I pulled her over to the rickety piece of ju=
nk
that passed for a kitchen table for a talk. I poured my heart out, explai=
ning
everything. I told her about Anna, and even managed to salvage my macho i=
mage
my not crying too much. It's hard to be macho in front of Lily anyway.=20
   When I was done, I kissed her on the forehead. Her hand came up, curle=
d
about the back of my head, and pulled me closer. I kissed her again, stil=
l on
the forehead. She let me go and I immediately wanted to erase the hurt lo=
ok
now in her eyes.=20
   "I can't do that," I whispered.
   "If its Anna, she's dead, Tom. Let her be dead."
   That ache. That old ache. "It's not that. I just don't feel right..."
   "I see." But she didn't.=20
   "I wanted you to know why I am doing this."
   "Remember that friend of mine? I can still help you disappear. We coul=
d
disappear together."
   I shook my head. "I can't do that either. It's not right."
   "You're going to die, you know," she told me, her voice coming close t=
o
cracking.
   "Maybe."
   "Not maybe. This is crazy."
   I went over to my deck and started packing it in its protective case. =
I
spoke while I did it. "Don't you understand, we're letting them win. We'r=
e
letting the big guys win."
   "They're bigger than we are."
   "No, they work harder." I paused, my packing done, then added, "You're
going to help me, right?"
   "Of course!"
   I didn't wait for Lily as I headed for the door. When I reached the ha=
ll,
she was there, pulling the deck out of my hands and slinging it over her
shoulder. I checked to make sure I still had my gun, then reached out and
took my bodyguards hand as we walked toward the lion's den.

***

   The ride to the mysterious benefactor's science facility was shorter t=
han
I'd imagined it would be. My stomach clenched itself into a knot when Lil=
y
scouted its parking lot and there were fine tremors running down my limbs
when we finally parked for the walk in. We decided entering the facility =
on
foot would be best.
   Like the benefactor's house, the buildings that contained the research
labs was well beyond the city limits. The way the night invaded my space =
with
only the sounds of crickets, only the light of a half moon, made me ever =
more
nervous.=20
   We crouched in a trimmed hedge and watched a guard pace for half an ho=
ur.
At some signal I did not catch, Lily burst from our hiding spot and had
incapacitated the guard before he could raise an alarm. She was fast.
   Lily nudged the guards shinny black assault rifle with a toe. "Watch o=
ut,"
she whispered. I rolled my eyes at the unnecessary warning, but she
continued. "This is a Militech Ronin. They're playing for keeps." I nodde=
d to
keep her happy. I wasn't about to confront any guards, even ones with
substandard automatic weapons.=20
   We didn't have the security codes for the door, so Lily watched my bac=
k
while I withdrew a Techscanner from my nifty black backpack and gave the =
lock
a once over. Satisfied that the program I had written could get us inside=
, I
forced the lock's face plate up and hooked a hand-held computer into the
system. With the touch of a button, my program fired up its algorithms an=
d
began to input quasi-random combinations.=20
   The door clicked open a second later. I was pleased.=20
   Lily took the point, some kind of electronic unit in hand. A few feet =
into
the building, she pointed to what appeared to be a gateway scanner like t=
he
one we'd passed through at Dr. Singapore's country club. This one could t=
o
more than detect weapons, however. If the company's security measures wer=
e up
to date, the scanner could read our features and compare them to a databa=
se
of employees. Or maybe everyone who was supposed to work here had a chip
implanted somewhere that kept the gate from going off. We couldn't risk
walking through it.
   So we did what we would never have been able to do during normal busin=
ess
hours. I got down on all fours and Lily climbed up on my back. She pushed=
 a
tile loose in the ceiling and then reported there was indeed space up the=
re
to crawl over the scanner. We did that. It wasn't so much fun. The cleani=
ng
crew would have to be fired.=20
   If what Lily knew about corporate security was correct, the gate scann=
er
should be the last obstacle before we reached our next goal. The corridor=
s
were carpeted and utterly silent. As we looked for a nice office, I could=
n't
help but imagine people walking through here in the day time, stopping to
laugh in the halls when they met up with co-workers, and gossiping at the
desks we passed. It was eerie.=20
   I set my program to work on the lock of the office we chose. It took
slightly longer this time, which elicited a frown from Lily. I ignored he=
r
and concentrated on getting the face plate back on straight. We got insid=
e
without seeing another guard.=20
   The decor was tasteful if somewhat pedestrian, all oak, leather couche=
d,
and leafy plants. It was just what you'd expect from a middle management =
type
and when I found the office's computer and logged on to it, I discovered =
my
assessment was correct. J.P. Morgan, assistant to the head of New
Acquisitions Department, was going to have so explaining to do tomorrow.
   I sat at the desk and wrote a letter. Lily paced by the door, sometime=
s
stopping to place a hand on its faux wood. The addressee was my own
mysterious benefactor and I launched into the work with glee. My first dr=
aft
went something like:

   Fate is a double-edged sword. I know who you are. I have dreamt about
confronting you for years and now the means has fallen into my hands. I h=
ave
the data you requested. I know what it is. Why don't you stroll down to y=
our
New Sciences Branch and let's discuss my payoff.=20

   But I deleted it. I would have very much liked to send it, but it was =
too
dangerous. I was walking the razor's edge as it was. If I wanted to see
things through to the end, I had to control myself and act according to p=
lan.
So I wrote another draft.

   This is Thomas O'Neil. I have assembled the data you requested, but
because of, shall we say, pursuers, I have taken refuge in your New Scien=
ces
Building. As per our bargain, I would like an extraction, and will hand t=
he
chip over when you arrive.=20

   That was more sane, better bait, and I sent it out to his personal
communications address.
   The second I did, Lily hustled me into another part of the building. W=
e
broke into another office and sat down behind the desk. My bodyguard woul=
d
not allow me the slightest light, so I occupied my time with thoughts abo=
ut
the past. I dug the lapel pin out of a pocket and turned it over endless =
in
my hand.
   We waited for three hours for the other shoe to drop....

***

   The men the mysterious benefactor had chosen to bring with him were no=
isy
and soon half of them had fallen prey to Lily. She was fond of kicking th=
em
as they passed open doorways, chatting with each other about the search a=
nd
sports. They all went down hard.=20
   I did my share as well. Accessing the facility's environmental systems=
, I
located a room with its lights turn on, heat turned up to a comfortable
level, and which was producing a moderately high level of carbon monoxide=
. I
pointed out of the headquarters of our prey to Lily and she began to brea=
k
the kneecaps of passing guards so that we could get their safely.=20
   Sneaking through the halls with just the night guards in force had bee=
n
nerve wracking enough, but creeping through carpeted corridors with hired
goons as well was even more unsettling. I jumped at every sound and when =
we
did encounter someone, my heart pounded as if I had just gone through ano=
ther
charming meeting with Charles.=20
   Once I was shot, however, I calmed down.
   We were three corridors away from the lab which the mysterious benefac=
tor
had holed up in, Lily scouting ahead for trouble and I clutching at Gideo=
n's
chip as I tried to silently follow, when I first heard the noise. It was =
a
kind of soft, streaking sound.=20
   It came again. I kept walking.
   But Lily had turned already and was running back towards me. By the ti=
me I
realized my shirt was wet with blood, she had tackled me and half pushed =
me
under a nearby desk. The man with the silenced gun kept firing and when h=
e
paused to reload, Lily attacked him.
   I was so absorbed in trying to comprehend what had causes the round,
ragged wound in my back that I don't know what she did to him. I was tryi=
ng
to touch the bullet hole with awkward fingers when she return.
   "Shhhs," she whispered, although I hadn't said anything. She took hold=
 of
my searching hand. I heard her tear open a foil package and then she told=
 me,
"Try to be quiet. This is going to hurt, but I have to clean the wound so=
 I
am see the damage."
   I flexed my hands to see if my spine was intact. It was.=20
   "Oh god," gasped my bodyguard.=20
   "What?"
   "Lie still." She was opening more first aid packages.
   "What happened?"
   She pressed something soft against my skin and taped it there. "You we=
re
shot in the back," Lily replied quietly.
   "I know that. Is it bad?"
   "You're going to have to roll over now so I can see if the bullet exit=
ed
your body."=20
   When I did, gasping through the sudden pain despite my decision not to=
,
she lifted up my shirt. There was another angry red button of wound on my
stomach. It wasn't bleeding much, but I started to feel a dull ache creep=
 in
all directions from it.
   Lily was crying as much as a solo was allowed to. I touched her hair.
   "Tom, we have to go," she said. "The bullet must have hit a rib or
something. The exit trajectory is different from the entry. Stand up."
   "What does that mean?"
   "It means a bone deflected the path of the bullet. It cut you up insid=
e. A
lot more than it would if it had gone straight through. You're probably
bleeding inside, so we have to get you to a hospital. Stand up."
   Lily's charge had knocked the chip out of my hands. It was lying by a =
leg
of the desk and I reached over to pick it up. It was strange making my
fingers work. It took conscious effort, like I was trying to get the chip
while jacked into the Net. Lily tried to take it away from me. I didn't l=
et
her.
   "Tom, we have to go to hospital." She had given up on crying, or had
decided to stop, and now let a commanding, stern tone enter her voice. He=
r
eyes were red and puffy and there was blood on her fingers. She tried to =
get
the chip again, saying, "Put that down. We have to go."
   I used a commanding and stern voice, too, when I said, "We have to get=
 him
the chip."
   "We'll do that later. You're hemorrhaging."
   "We'll go after we get him the chip."
   Lily went from sad and frightened to angry. "This isn't worth dying ov=
er!"
   I didn't know how to answer her. This wasn't worth dying over. I didn'=
t
want to die. But I couldn't stop. To tell the truth, if I left now, I don=
't
think I would have had the courage to come back. So I couldn't go.=20
   The pain was becoming more intense. My back wasn't aching anymore. Now=
 it
was as if there was a mindless thing drilling into my nerves, burrowing
slowly along my nervous system until it found my brain. My lungs whistled
when I breathed.
   "Patch me up," I told Lily.
   She was looking down the corridor - for more guards, I suppose - when =
she
said, "I could take that from you and break it. Then we could go to the
hospital."
   "If you did that," I wheezed, "I wouldn't go with you anywhere."
   She kept looking for guards for a few seconds longer. When Lily taped =
a
bandage to wound in my stomach, dragged me to my feet, and helped me walk
down the corridor towards the lab, I knew I loved her, too...

***

Gideon's Chip, Part Thirteen


Gideon's Chip, Part Thirteen

***

   Dr. Singapore laid back in his pool chair, one hand coming to rest next to
his mixed drink and the other on the thigh of the young blonde woman who sat
with him. He smiled at me as I tried to keep our conversation on track, but I
gave up as I caught his gaze skipping from nearby female to nearby female. I
threw the chip in his lap.
   "So this is it," he said.
   I nodded.
   With a practiced motion, he parted the wet hair on one side of his skull
and found a plastic socket in the flesh there. He popped the chip in and his
eyes, previously devilish, became blank as he lost himself in an inner world
of bits and bytes.
   My wristplugs itched and I rubbed them absently. Lily, who had refused to
have implants of any kind because of her esoteric Eastern philosophies,
tensed beside me. The sight of man interfacing with machine often had just
these kinds of effects on the watcher. It made for interesting thesis papers
for today's psychology undergraduates.
   Although my bodyguard was not cybered in a patio full of corporate type
people who were, I was not worried. Lily did not reject technology, just
having it sunk into one's skin. In fact, she had nearly caused the scanner
gate at the front door to overload. We both smiled at the attendant as we
continued on...
   Lily had a parasol. Not an umbrella, but an honest to goodness parasol. It
was just like something you might find a video clip about the Victorian Age
and I have to say, it matched the rest of her outfit perfect. A prim and
proper lady of years past would have been shocked to learn of all the
hardware that had been crammed into this accoutrement, however.
   The tip of each of the vanes held tiny sensors which were constantly
gulping in tiny samples of air and checking them for any unusual gases. The
fabric itself was supposed to be bulletproof, although I still had my doubts.
The spike at the top of the parasol was a one-shot taser and part of the
grip, when twisted just so, popped off into your hand so that you could throw
it before all the explosives packed into went off.
   And hidden in the lace at the wrists of Lily's close-fitting blouse were
thin metal spikes that would suddenly protrude if she bent her arms in the
right way. She demonstrated their use at my apartment and I have to say I was
surprised at just how long they were. There were similar devices in her
shoes. Tucked into the faux orchid corsage was another grenade, but this one
would just deliver a powerful, hopefully blinding flash of light when it went
off. Even her necklace was a hidden weapon: when the pearls next to the clasp
were crushed, they released a solvent. That liquid would dissolve the rest of
the string and a heavy-duty sleep gas would rise up out of the mess.
   Lily even had a gun in her purse. That was for emergencies.
   The vixen on Dr. Singapore's lap rubbed his bare chest as he evaluated my
data. I have to confess I did not expect to find nubile young women fawning
over a rogue bio-engineer, put the current woman was part of a kind of
changing of the guard that had happened as Lily and I arrived and many of the
opposite sex who walked by gave him admiring glances. As I said, the good
doctor returned them.
   Lily and I frowned at each other for the few minutes that Dr. Singapore
was absorbed in my chip. While I sighed and tried not to stare at the
bikini-clad female in front of me, my bodyguard scanned the pool-side crowd
around us.
   The Dr. Singapore was back. He pulled the chip out of his interface socket
and tossed it back. After a quick caresses for his lovely, he asked, "So what
is that?"
   "You're supposed to tell me," I countered.
   "Well, you said it was some kind of background research on cloning,
right?"
   "Yes."
   "It's not. It has nothing to do with cloning at all, really."
   I was getting used to being on the business end of thrown curve balls and
so I dodged this one adeptly. My mouth only hung open for half a second
before I said, "Then what is it?"
   "I'm not exactly sure." He paused. "It had something to do with DNA
sequencing, but the end result is not supposed to be replication. There are
reports on the analysis of chemicals designed for cellular regeneration.
Hints about a way to use messenger RNA to rebuild genes that have suffered
damage. Something about brain chemistry and procedures to regrow and restore
damaged neurons. That kind of thing. And it doesn't look like experimental
data, either. This stuff is ready to be put into use."
   I tapped the chip against my hand. "Well, if it's not about cloning, then
what is it about?"
   Dr. Singapore frowned and the blonde pressed herself into him as a result.
"Without taking more time to look at what you have there, I'd saying someone
has discovered the fountain of youth."
   That curve ball hit me.

***

   The red light of a neon sign came in regular, blinking waves. It found
Lily where she slept, one bare arm thrown across her eyes, and colored her
pale skin. My deck's display glowed ruddy because of it as great gouts of
machine code flowed down it. The apartment was still and silent, save for the
near constant clicking of my work at the keyboard.
   I spent hours writing and editing a custom program. When I finished, I
slept.

   The morning was hushed, bright, and expectant. It was waiting for me to
rise before sparked the rest of the world to life and just as I opened my
eyes, it allowed a low river of noise to rise into the apartment. I sat up.
   Lily smiled at me from her exercises. I smiled back, flattening a rogue
strand of hair.
   We ate breakfast together in an easy silence, a quiet like a bond between
us rather than a barrier. Lily readied the dishes for washing while I doubled
checked my work from before and made certain everything was in place. I
powered up my deck, examining the new solders.
   "Okay," I said to the room.
   "Ready?" Lily asked, knowing that I was.
   I nodded and sat. She sat beside me.
   I took took my plugs, inserted them into their sockets, and then with a
grin for my bodyguard, hit the key that took me into the Net. Immediately,
the day was eclipsed by an incongruous electronic night and I was falling
toward stars. No, not stars - lights. Then the lights became individual icons
as a homing program in my deck sped me to the address I had entered before
the run.
   The Node was as I remembered. A Code Gate scanned my deck's
indentification number, then swung wide. I walked into the virtual wall and
was absorbed into someone's idea of Wonderland. I smelled lilacs again.
   "Charles," I called out, scanning the artificial landscape for the AI.
Nothing. I tried again and the breeze shifted. Then my deck whispered that
someone was coming. Charles, still cast as the Mad Hatter, materialized
beside me.
   "Tom!" He clapped me on the back.
   "Hello, Charles."
   "You're back already."
   I nodded gravely. He frowned, asking, "What's wrong? Did you get it?"
   "I did. But its not what we thought it was." Having said it, I let out a
breath I had been holding.
   "What?"
   "It's not cloning data. Nothing like that. I don't think it will help
you."
   The Mad Hatter snarled. "You're trying to trick me."
   "No. No, I'm not." I drew out a representation of the data, a thick bar of
orange light, and held out for Charles. He snatched it away from me, then his
ICON flickered for half a second while he read it.
   "This is a trick! This is not it!"
   I wanted to step backwards. I did not. "Listen to me, Charles. Listen.
This isn't a trick. I don't know what's going on here, but its obvious the
story about the chip containing information on cloning was just a cover. I'm
sorry."
   "No!" he cried. "This isn't it!" His hands clenched into fists.
   I shook my head. "I'm going to leave now." I started to do just that.
   He must have felt the added resistance when he first began to manipulate
might autonomic responses because his face, already contorted in anger,
became a deeper shade of red. His eyes darkened into points of coal.
   I did not feel the effects immediately. With a few keystrokes, I called up
an Icebreaker to begin working on the walls of my prison. Then my heart
twinged. My breathing seemed, clouded through my interface with this unreal
world, to suddenly become labored.
   Lily would be injecting me with a powerful depressant about now.
   My code ate at the programs and hardware of Wonderland as the iron harness
about my lungs tightened. I was aware of a stabbing pain in my head and the
bio-montiors in my deck crept toward the red line. It hurt.
   I took that step backward. "Don't do this," I whispered.
   Charles' mock face had once again taken on monstrous proportions. It was
impossible to read any subtle hints there because the whole thing had become
a caricature of rage. He shook his fist at me. "I want the real data! Now!
You get it for me!"
   "Stop!" I cried in warning. The stress on my system had pushed the
monitors into the danger zone. I could feel it without checking. And I knew
if not for the extra buffers built into my deck and the drugs Lily was
administering in the real world, I would be dead.
   "You! Get! The! Data! For! Me!"
   When my vision swam, a tendril of thought directed my hand to reach for
another key. I hesitated. Then hit it. I hurt, fire raced through my lungs,
as another program unarchived itself and launched.
   Moths, cobbled bits of colored light with wings, detached themselves by
the hundred from my ICON. They poured out from my outstretched hands, fell
from my clothing, and struggled up from my hair. They hung as a swarm for a
moment in the air, floating with the scent of lilacs, then descended on
Charles.
   The Mad Hatter disappeared under a haze of pixels.
   I knew what was happening, although I could not focus enough to see it. My
deck woudl record all relevant data, however. The moths were not mere
insects, but instead tiny bits of programming code. Each one located the
running program with the parameters I had built into them and then sought to
ingrate themselves into it. In essence, they were trying to enter the machine
code that made up Charles.
   But a piece of work as sophisticated as the AI would not just allow that
to happen. I realized this and so innovated. Instead of simply trying to
trick Charles' master sequences into absorbing them, the moths masqueraded as
sensory information and clustered near the routines that made up the eyes and
ears of the program. Because these routines were designed to accept data from
outside sources on a regular and steady basis, destruction was able to pour
in through those channels.
   Each little program had one function once it had entered the morass of
machine code that was Charles: seek out the master sequences and offer up a
question. Every tiny moth clamored for attention, asking for the result of
one divided by zero. At some point, AI would have to try and formulate an
answer.
   One error has plagued computers since their inception: the divide by zero
error. When any number is divided by zero, the answer is a set of all
possible numbers. Infinity, basically. A machine, no matter how fast, cannot
spit out every number that exists. But it has to try and it inevitably
crashes doing so.
   And so during the invasion of my moths, Charles' very nature rose up and
destroyed him. I watched as best I was able.
   After half a minute, the pressure in my lungs lessened. The pain began to
fade away. Then it was all gone. I could see and function normally, the
indicators on my bio-monitors plummeting as the destructive outside influence
disappeared.
   Their work done, the moths disintegrated. The Mad Hatter was left standing
in the grass, halfway to the pond, his face contorted. Tentative queries from
my deck came back with no signs of activity. Charles was dead, but he refused
to fall over.
   Without the AI influence to keep it closed, the exit hung open. My
Icebreaker was still eating through a wall when I deactivated it. I took one
last look at the frozen ICON, glanced out over Wonderland, then left.
   Lily was looking anxiously down at me when I jacked out.

***

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...

Gideon's Chip, Part Eleven


Gideon's Chip, Part Eleven

   I'm not sure what I last posted, so here's a couple.

***

   During a run, my brain always feels naked. It might sound strange, but I
think it is a normal response for a person in my precarious profession. At
least, I certainly hope that it's a normal response.
   I start thinking about how the brain works until I am convinced I can
actually feel neurotransmitters fi      ring and firing. Tiny electrical impulses
race down nerves and through neurons. I think it is fascinating to think we -
our thoughts, actions, intentions, morals, loves, and hates - can be reduced
to a hidden chemical dance...
   And its so easily damaged. That's what I think about really: brain damage.
All the delicate things that make me, well, me are exposed and vulnerable
while I am riding around like a cowboy in this electric fantasy. Would a
nasty piece of Ice ever short circuit my ability to fear that Ice some day?
Wouldn't that just be ironic.
   The address I had been given was unassuming in the Net. It was a pearly
cube that was twice as high as I was and, of course, about that wide. Walking
around it, I didn't see any kind of markings.
   So I typed something in a far away keyboard and magic fingers reached out
from my deck to run over the wall in front of me. Data poured through my link
to the machine: it was a normal data wall with a bit of Ice that was neither
unusual or troublesome. Nothing else.
   I frowned. Could it be this easy? Or, would the front door be this easy?
   I thought briefly about my conversation with the mysterious benefactor -
and the lapel pin I had been given - and activated a program to deal with the
first hurdled. Invisible codes in my machine wrestled with invisible codes
held by another anonymous computer. I could feel the struggle. I could feel
my neurotransmitters rushing to receptor sites.
   Then the struggle stopped. My deck informed me the wall would allow me to
pass.
   I walked to the wall and my ICON melted through it. What was beyond was
nothing like what I expected.

***

   The thready scent of lilac drifted on the breeze. I drank it in.
   Looking across the grass carpeted field toward the pond and bud of a
forest beyond, I realized I had stepped into somebody's toy. From the quality
of this virtual simulation, it had to be a rich somebody's toy.
   But why?
   Virtual realities are fairly common place. Hell, lower end ones are
becoming cheaper all the time. But this one, this was just about as virtual
as they come. I could smell things. The breeze was warm. If I had allergies,
I would be sneezing. This had cost someone more money than twelve people made
in their lifetimes.
   So why was it here? And protected by a simple Wall?
   My mysterious benefactor had given me nightmares and cold sweats for day.
The shoot out on my porch and subsequent chase had me thinking I was going to
die with a bullet - probably a clip full - in my back. But now...Now I was
truly terrified.
   A white rabbit ran by. It glanced at a golden watch on a golden fob,
muttering about the time.
   I turned to run...
   And found the exit gone. I called up a program, the far away part of me
listening to the sound of my hurried typing like rain on a tin roof.
Invisible fingers probed the virtual pocket for its invisible egress.
   But it had vanished.
   Impossible, I thought. Then a strangled, no!
   My fingers were now pounding at the keyboard. I called my probes back and
modified them as fast as was possible while I was still jacked in. Codes
flashed through my inner, electronic eye. I overwrote them. When I was
finished, I unleashed the program again.
   Two computers spoke while I waited, my flesh body sweating.
   Find it! Find it!
   My deck began to feed a trickle of data to me through my interface. I
sorted it out in a hurry. The program was now examining the nature of this
place on a very detailed level and sending me information about every
electron it could find.
   Find it!
   Something intruded in on the flows of data. It was a routine message from
the deck: someone else had just popped into the virtual reality with me. My
fingers sputtered on the keyboard.
   I couldn't see the intruder.
   My program was talking to the trees, dissecting the wind...
   The other ICON was behind me in the forest, my deck reported in a silent
whisper.
   Information poured in through the interface...Find it!
   "Hello, Thomas," said a voice. "I've taken the liberty of disconnecting
this node from the Net so we could talk."
   My fingers stilled on the keyboard.
   I turned. The Mad Hatter was smiling at me.

***

   I did not answer the ICON. What does one say to characters from children's
books?
   "I am Charles, but you can refer to me as Chuck. I want to be your friend.
Please sit down." My deck stirred, sending my brain a report of what was
happening in Wonderland. I knew the architecture was changing even before the
overgrown mushroom appeared. I sat on it. Then one popped in for Charles. He
sat down too, although his expression reflected the fact that he was much
happier about the situation than I was.
   Comfortably seated, he continued. "I was running checks on the Net,
sifting through data tables and lost bits, and your name came up. More
accurately, I found what was left of an inquiry into your background and
history."
   "I see," I said non-committally.
   "Since you were the person my father got the chip from, I was very
interested to see what the report said. When I reconstructed it, I found it
wasn't as spectacular as I thought it might be." He sighed.
   Little warning bells were trilling in my head. Not that I had relaxed. I
was still trapped in a botched run and wanted out. But as soon as the Mad
Hatter said his father had taken the chip from me, I said, ah ha. Now I was
afraid for my life and very interested to hear what the cartoon character had
to say next.
   "The chip isn't very good. Parts of the data are just missing. My father
had me try to reconstruct it, but I couldn't. That's how I know about the
clones. But now that you're here, you can give me the rest of the data. Isn't
that great?"
   Yeah, great. The Mad Hatter was beaming on the mushroom across from mine.
   I had to tell him. "I don't have the rest of it."
   He frowned. "Why not?"
   "I just don't. It wasn't my chip."
   The ICON's brows drew together as he sat contemplating the situation. I
sat nervously on my cute chair. After a moment, the Mad Hatter regarded me
and with a few serious tone said, "Then you have to get it for me. The rest
of the data about cloning."
   "Why don't you just get it yourself? With all the reconstruction work
you've been doing, you're obviously good with electronics."
   "I can't," said the Hatter.
   "Well, why not?" I asked, mildly exasperated. I knew he could damn well
get himself.
   "I'm not real."
   I had to ask. "Not real?"
   "I am a computer generated personality. An artificial intelligence. I
can't leave here."
   I was so startled I almost fell off my mushroom. An AI? Half a dozen
questions came bubbling up from my mind at once. Why couldn't he leave? What
was he purpose? And if the company had resources for an AI, why didn't it
have advanced cloning projects of it own already?
   Finally I said, "If you're an AI, why do you want data about cloning?"
   He smiled. "So I can have a body, of course."

***

   Was that possible? Could an AI actually inhabit a body?
    I didn't realize I had voiced my questions aloud until Charles, the
boyish artificial person, answered in an instructional tone. "Of course!" he
said. "Once I have a body, all my father will need to do is implant a few
coprocessors, MRAM chips, and an interface to the medula. Oh, and maybe the
pons..."
   Charles continued with a list of other adjustments that would need to be
made. I tuned him out as my thoughts turned immediately to my mysterious
benefactor. One obvious question pounded my brain: was he human? Or was he a
computer animated puppet?
   It was a difficult call. What was the criteria for determining such a
thing? I sighed. He certainly did seem to be able to move his body without
any difficult, any visible strain. He was coordinated and I didn't think an
AI could perform such a feat without a great deal of practice. But he was
cold and, well, cruel. I couldn't decide whether this was a sign of inherent
humanity or not.
   This lead me to a greater question. Would a cloned body have a soul?
   "Then I'll be able to move myself to the coprocessors inside the skull.
Once I learn how to control all the muscles and autonomic responses, I'll be
ready to begin living in the body on a full time basis. Won't be it
fantastic?"
   "Charles...Chuck, I can't get that data for you."
   Would the body have a soul? Would it?
   He frowned at me. "You have to. Why not?"
   If it did, what would happen to the soul when an AI began to ride the body
like a car?
   "It isn't right."
   "What do you mean?"
   "It isn't right. Morally. You can't make people - bodies - just to...use
them."
   "I don't understand."
   "Only God can make people, Chuck. God didn't make you and it isn't right
for you to have a body. Or even to try to have a body made for you so that
you can...ride it."
   His reaction was part temper tantrum, part cool rage. The face of the
virtual mask he wore, the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, contorted to
inhuman dimensions. The mushroom he sat on shook under him as he cried, "You
will do it, Thomas! You will!"
   I stood and backed away. I sent out an electronic probe to try and find an
exit.
   "I want a body! I want to walk outside!"
   Charles' face had become mass of graven wrinkles and throbbing veins. His
eyes were too large for his skull and sudden his mouth was full of teeth that
would put a wolf to shame. Elements of the virtual environment we inhabited
went haywire: branches swayed under a wind that wasn't there, the scent of
lilacs was overpowering and then gone, a white rabbit jumped backwards out of
a hole and ran facing the wrong direction into a pixelized forest...
   "Thomas!" roared the AI.
   I was afraid again, terribly afraid. I shook my head anyway.
   In another world, a hand clutched at my heart. And squeezed. Bio-monitors
built into my deck began racing to the red line. Although my virtual limbs
were still steady, my flesh ones spasmed as I tried to type.
   "I can kill you! I'm going to kill you! It's like black Ice, like
feedback! I'll do it, Thomas."
   Pain reached through the haze of the Net to feather a touch on my nerves.
   I was going to die.
   Charles hopped down from his mushroom and stalked me. He was all childish
rage.
   Monitors said my heart was destroying itself.
   Pain. Pain that was eating my consciousness -
   I was going to die.
   "Thomas!"
   But I couldn't let this angry, immature soul be born into a bio-engineered
body. It was wrong. I believed that. Sometimes you die for your beliefs.
   I was in pain. Such pain.
   My heart -
   Alice's world was dimming around me. It took a greenish cast as my brain
began to fail.
   Pain. Booming pain. Impossible pain. I was going to die.
   Charles kicked at my ICON after it collapsed. I could see his wicked face
from the corner of my eye, but couldn't turn my head to take it in fully. He
bent down to scream at my failing self. I couldn't only hear bits of what he
was saying. It came to me through my dying brain and sounded like a record
skipping.
   My sight continued to dim. I wouldn't -
   I -
       wouldn't -
                        I was going to -

   For a second time, I whispered, "Yes..."

***

   Lily watched me build my fortress with a bemused smile and a bottle of
mineral water. I sat on the floor, circuit boards, odd wires, and a gun
encircling the small clear area of floor where I worked. Small puffs of smoke
rose up as I sodered connections.
   "What are you doing?" my bodyguard asked. The look of pure terror that had
fouled her face after I jacked out of my run screaming had faded and a pink
tint had returned to her pale, proportional features.
   "Adding to my deck."
   "Adding what?"
   "Protection. Buffers."
   "For when you run into Ice again?"
   "Yes." Ice. I had told Lily I had run into Black Ice unexpectedly as she
took my pulse with a shaky hand. It was the first thing that had come to mind
and it was almost the truth. Kinda. Somewhat. What Charles had done to me -
revving up my heart until it was ready to explode - was exactly the kind of
thing Black Ice did to you.
   Besides, neck deep in this double agent business, I couldn't afford to
trust her.
   Damn, Charles. Damn him to a virtual Hell.
   I watched soder melt, fusing another layer of capacitors and fuses to my
deck. Now instead of sleek lines and perfect plastic, my gear was a mass of
scrounged wires and naked circuit boards. But it would protect me from
biofeedback. Kinda. Somewhat.
   There just wasn't any way I was going into the Net without a greater level
of protection and since I didn't have the luxury of time, this homemade
buffer would have to do. The three sanitary store-bought ones I had ordered
would be delivered tomorrow, but I couldn't wait that long to make another
run.
   I blew on the circuit. Then I reached for the jack.
   "Are you going back in?" Lily asked, concern painting her tone.
   "Yep."
   "Good luck."
   I smiled for her benefit. "Thanks."
   I smiled and held on to the jack.
   "What's a matter?"
   "Nothing," I said, but the disembodied face of the Mad Hatter floated
menacingly in my inner vision. He was in there. He was waiting for me in the
Net.
   There was a long pause, after which I put the jack down so Lily couldn't
see my hand shake. I let out a sigh. Damn it. Damn it all. "Do you ever drink
anything but water?" I asked my bodyguard in a light voice.
   "Like alcohol?"
   "Yes."
   "Sure, sometimes. Why?"
   "Let's go get drunk."
   She raced me to the door.

***

Gideon's Chip, Part Ten


Gideon's Chip, Part Ten

***

   I did not answer the ICON. What does one say to characters from children's
books?
   "I am Charles, but you can refer to me as Chuck. I want to be your friend.
Please sit down." My deck stirred, sending my brain a report of what was
happening in Wonderland. I knew the architecture was changing even before the
overgrown mushroom appeared. I sat on it. Then one popped in for Charles. He
sat down too, although his expression reflected the fact that he was much
happier about the situation than I was.
   Comfortably seated, he continued. "I was running checks on the Net,
sifting through data tables and lost bits, and your name came up. More
accurately, I found what was left of an inquiry into your background and
history."
   "I see," I said non-committally.
   "Since you were the person my father got the chip from, I was very
interested to see what the report said. When I reconstructed it, I found it
wasn't as spectacular as I thought it might be." He sighed.
   Little warning bells were trilling in my head. Not that I had relaxed. I
was still trapped in a botched run and wanted out. But as soon as the Mad
Hatter said his father had taken the chip from me, I said, ah ha. Now I was
afraid for my life and very interested to hear what the cartoon character had
to say next.
   "The chip isn't very good. Parts of the data are just missing. My father
had me try to reconstruct it, but I couldn't. That's how I know about the
clones. But now that you're here, you can give me the rest of the data. Isn't
that great?"
   Yeah, great. The Mad Hatter was beaming on the mushroom across from mine.
   I had to tell him. "I don't have the rest of it."
   He frowned. "Why not?"
   "I just don't. It wasn't my chip."
   The ICON's brows drew together as he sat contemplating the situation. I
sat nervously on my cute chair. After a moment, the Mad Hatter regarded me
and with a few serious tone said, "Then you have to get it for me. The rest
of the data about cloning."
   "Why don't you just get it yourself? With all the reconstruction work
you've been doing, you're obviously good with electronics."
   "I can't," said the Hatter.
   "Well, why not?" I asked, mildly exasperated. I knew he could damn well
get himself.
   "I'm not real."
   I had to ask. "Not real?"
   "I am a computer generated personality. An artificial intelligence. I
can't leave here."
   I was so startled I almost fell off my mushroom. An AI? Half a dozen
questions came bubbling up from my mind at once. Why couldn't he leave? What
was he purpose? And if the company had resources for an AI, why didn't it
have advanced cloning projects of it own already?
   Finally I said, "If you're an AI, why do you want data about cloning?"
   He smiled. "So I can have a body, of course."

***

Gideon's Chip, Part Nine


Gideon's Chip, Part Nine

***

   The thready scent of lilac drifted on the breeze. I drank it in.
   Looking across the grass carpeted field toward the pond and bud of a
forest beyond, I realized I had stepped into somebody's toy. From the quality
of this virtual simulation, it had to be a rich somebody's toy.
   But why?
   Virtual realities are fairly common place. Hell, lower end ones are
becoming cheaper all the time. But this one, this was just about as virtual
as they come. I could smell things. The breeze was warm. If I had allergies,
I would be sneezing. This had cost someone more money than twelve people made
in their lifetimes.
   So why was it here? And protected by a simple Wall?
   My mysterious benefactor had given me nightmares and cold sweats for day.
The shoot out on my porch and subsequent chase had me thinking I was going to
die with a bullet - probably a clip full - in my back. But now...Now I was
truly terrified.
   A white rabbit ran by. It glanced at a golden watch on a golden fob,
muttering about the time.
   I turned to run...
   And found the exit gone. I called up a program, the far away part of me
listening to the sound of my hurried typing like rain on a tin roof.
Invisible fingers probed the virtual pocket for its invisible egress.
   But it had vanished.
   Impossible, I thought. Then a strangled, no!
   My fingers were now pounding at the keyboard. I called my probes back and
modified them as fast as was possible while I was still jacked in. Codes
flashed through my inner, electronic eye. I overwrote them. When I was
finished, I unleashed the program again.
   Two computers spoke while I waited, my flesh body sweating.
   Find it! Find it!
   My deck began to feed a trickle of data to me through my interface. I
sorted it out in a hurry. The program was now examining the nature of this
place on a very detailed level and sending me information about every
electron it could find.
   Find it!
   Something intruded in on the flows of data. It was a routine message from
the deck: someone else had just popped into the virtual reality with me. My
fingers sputtered on the keyboard.
   I couldn't see the intruder.
   My program was talking to the trees, dissecting the wind...
   The other ICON was behind me in the forest, my deck reported in a silent
whisper.
   Information poured in through the interface...Find it!
   "Hello, Thomas," said a voice. "I've taken the liberty of disconnecting
this node from the Net so we could talk."
   My fingers stilled on the keyboard.
   I turned. The Mad Hatter was smiling at me.

***