A Shift in Operations

director-haas

She stood for a moment and bathed in the orange glow from the rising sun. From the plate glass windows surrounding her office on the 45th floor, she watched the city begin to stir. Drones whizzed by. People in the streets below moved like ants around a hill. The morning news feed kicked on over the radio. She fired up a cup of coffee and leaned against her desk, head swimming and groggy from a restless night. She pressed her fingers against her temples and closed her eyes.

Yesterday’s attack had not left her mind. Around  4PM, a hacker had broken into her Cerebral Imaging subsidiary and made off with a Beta Test file from halfway across the world.  Security Chief Ryon Knight had reported the incident straight away, but had little information to offer. The terrorist was in and out without a trace, IP location immediately scrambled. Her life and soul were in this company and theft was not something she took lightly.

Beeeeep!

 “Director Haas,” her secretary said through the intercom. “You’re guests have arrived. They are waiting for you in the lobby.”

The Director took a moment to savor the aroma of coffee in the air. She inhaled deeply and pressed a button on the monitor behind her. “Thank you Katie. Send them up, please.”

Haas hoped that these consultants would have some solutions. Immediately after yesterday’s theft was flagged, she and Knight had gathered a group of her top level specialists to discuss security options for CI going forward. The impromptu council had identified a number of shortcomings in their cyber-protection suite. Some had suggested adjusting the ice distribution over their central servers. Others proposed an increase in defensive security upgrades. All well and good. Not exactly the most inspired ideas, though, and experienced hackers could navigate around them with little difficulty.

She gave some consideration to the PriSec units that had begun to surface internationally. The ’23-Seconds’ incident and the ensuing chaos had given them the chance to capitalize on an unstable political climate. Now, they dotted the globe like fleas. She liked the idea.

Most promising were the dozens of Mumbad consulting firms that had gone public since the region emerged as a commercial and economic bastion. These were highly skilled teams of professionals that could bridge gaps, secure valuable contracts and solve security problems. Their influence of late throughout the world’s corporate structure was almost ubiquitous. It was to the most prominent of these that Haas and her team decided to reach out.

A soft rapping on the door brought the Director back to the present. “Enter,” she called out, taking her cup of coffee from the machine. She watched Ryon Knight hold the door open to usher in three consultants, as well as one of his own blue-level security specialists. He smiled and raised his biotic right hand to greet her.

“Good morning, Director,” Knight said closing the door behind them. Ever casual, he already had his white sleeves rolled up and his black tie slightly amiss. For years, the handsome blonde man had been the Haas’ most trusted adviser and friend, reinforced especially by situations like these. “I hope you slept well. Our guests here tell me we have a lot to talk about and more to do. This is Ahmad Malhotra, James Chance, and Mahira Kassem.”

They arrived earlier that morning at Hannover and were quickly escorted to Cerebral Imaging by Knight and a full green level security detail. Their alacrity was not lost on Director Haas, who valued speed and efficiency more greatly that anything. Within twelve hours of the previous day’s security breach, they were standing in her office ready to work.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you all,” replied Director Haas, shaking each of their hands in turn. “I hope your flight went smoothly. Our accountants will see that you are compensated for you travel and expenses.”

“The pleasure is ours,” Malhotra spoke for the three. A petite man with skin like auburn sand and a thick black beard, he was exquisitely dressed. He wore a pressed blazer accented by a blue cummerbund and kerchief. The golden turban that smothered most of his head was decorated with a large ruby and his fingers were covered in gold rings. “It’s an honor to finally have the opportunity to work with your company.”

“Likewise,” the Director responded, cordially. “I regret that it couldn’t be under better circumstances.”

“No need for apologies, Director. “Corporations tend to reserve our services until things have gone awry.”

“Very well, then. Please, have a seat.” Haas motioned toward the chairs encircling her desk. “Can I get you anything to drink?”

“Thank you, no,” Malhotra said politely, taking a seat between Chance and Kassem. On his lap he opened a large briefcase and began unpacking a number of odd looking Pads and a PortCom. “Mr. Knight has explained to us that you are having some security issues here at Cerebral Imaging.”

“Regretfully, we have no security to really speak of,” Director Haas replied. “While the world’s most aggressive and experienced hackers are siphoning our accounts and disrupting our internal operations, we have less than nothing with which to defend or retaliate.” She paused to fire up the two terminals behind her desk. She waited for the computers to sync up with the consultants’ devices and took a sip of her coffee. “An accelerated server protection program was stolen without so much as a trace last night. These so-called ‘runners’ never jack in from the same digital location twice, encrypt their IPs and go completely invisible once they jack out.”

As the Director concluded her rundown, Mahira Kassem pulled a Pad from her satchel and turned to address Ryon Knight, who was leaning nonchalantly against a window. “Mr. Knight,” she began, “what specific defense protocols and server upgrades are currently being employed by Cerebral Imaging?”

“Unfortunately, there isn’t much to speak of,” Knight replied. “We’ve been running the same Cyberdex Suite for years. It’s effective for what it does, but it’s outdated and doesn’t solve the bigger problem. Additionally, our funds are funneled through the Crisium Grid. It protects our finances from the most parasitic runners, but the theft of classified projects goes unimpeded.”

Mahira noted everything feverishly into her Pad as Knight ran down the corporations paltry security measures. Director Haas studied her and chewed anxiously on the end or her pen. Kassem looked very much a Mumbad native. She had pointed, dark features, a small bindi on her forehead, and glistening black hair that she wore in a braid over her shoulder. Her pantsuit was a plain charcoal grey, but in typical Navi avant-garde fashion, very low cut to reveal an ample cleavage.

After a few moments, Mahira finished her notes and took some time to analyze Knight’s information against the company’s budget and overall function of R&D. Haas watched the wheels turning in her head. She noticed then that she was gnawing on her pen and quietly put it down, hoping no one could read her nerves. She was not used to letting others solve her problems.

“This company’s efficiency is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” Kassem had apparently come to some conclusion. “Average project completion time is well under twenty four hours. Even Victoria can’t boast those numbers.” Haas felt a swell of pride wash over her. “That being said,” Kassem continued, “mega corporations in today’s political and social climate cannot hope to survive without the flexibility for implementing extreme counter measures. I have a suggestion.”

Vague. Cryptic. “Interesting,” Director Haas replied. “What might these measures be? How extreme? More importantly, what is it going to cost?”

“With our help, not much. I think my colleagues would concur that we shift your R&D temporarily to violet-level security clearance. All projects will be placed on hold. Nothing in and nothing out. We do not publicize this transition, and we withhold documentation from the federal government until the transition is over. An under-the-table shift in operational function would give us a window to send a violent message to cyber terrorists around the world.”

“As we’ve said before,” Director Haas reiterated, “we possess no retaliatory measures at this time. It has been that way since the inception of Haas Bioroid, and it remains our guiding principle. We maintain a pacifistic philosophy, at least on the surface, and the federal government leaves us be. No interventions. I will not throw money into a blood-soaked defense project that would tarnish this company’s reputation.”

“If I may interject,” James Chance spoke up for the first time since their arrival, “the very nature of this counter strike means there will be no legal ramifications for Cerebral Imaging or Haas Bioroid.” In contrast to his counterparts, James looked very American. He was slender, pale of skin, with a generically handsome face and grey-white hair. He wore a tight vest over a white shirt, black tie, fashionable translucent glasses and a comms device in each ear. If anyone looked a business man on the go, James was that man.

“We have worked with the Weyland Consortium almost exclusively for years,” he boasted. “Some of our biggest investments have been with their weapons and defense sector. For the right price, I believe Elizabeth would be open to negotiation. I will work to contact her immediately. Mahira, establish a line to Victoria as well. Her global surveillance network will be paramount.”

“On it,” Kassem turned her attention back the PortCom on her lap and began again at her typing.

“Director,” Chance continued, “what is the next project in queue for execution?”

Haas took a moment to scroll through one of the HoloMonitor screens in front of her. “Project Vitruvius would be next in line. Scheduled for tomorrow…execution and completion.”

“Great! Create a server for it, immediately. These hackers want project files. We are going give it to them.”

“Excuse me?” The thought of surrendering a file to a terrorist set her temper flaring and her face turning a shade darker. Ryon Knight raised an eyebrow.

“As soon as they touch the file,” James put his hand up to calm her anxiety, “we can fire a trace to triangulate their location. Pin them down. Hard. All eyes on. Once traced…… well, I don’t think I have to explain what happens next.”

Malhotra and Kassem had regressed into their own bubble to establish communications servers with Weyland Consortium and the Near-Earth Broadcast Network. Ryon Knight stood to the left of the Director, watching everything silently and sipping at his coffee. Her blue level security specialist stood with hands behind his back, postured and silent behind black glasses.

“The ball is rolling, Director, and it’s in your court,” James Chance finished. “What you do with it is up to you. You brought us here to solve a problem.”

Director Haas looked again to Ryon Knight for affirmation. He smiled back, coyly. “Sounds like we’ve got a sting, Director.”

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Out With the Old

andy

She remembered the parties. The flashing lights. The exclusive guest lists. The dresses and tuxedos. The red carpet. The fast cars. The designer drugs. The handsome men fighting over her.  The good life.

It was like time stood still when she entered a room. The lights would reflect off of her glittering dress in tiny beams like a velvet chandelier. She was greeted with bright smiles from some of the most influential people in New Angeles. Escargot, fancy cheeses and flutes of champagne offered up on silver platters were just a normal Saturday evening affair. Her passport told a story of lavish trips on her private jet. Andromeda knew all about the good life, for as little as it knew about her life as a runner.

All but a memory.

Andy pulled up to the curb on an abandoned street around two o’clock in the morning. The rain beat down on the roof of her shiny Advanced Concept Hopper. A breaking news feed scrolled in green and yellow beneath the instrument cluster with her name and alleged crimes as the lead story. Sliding the key from the ignition, she let the vehicle’s security console scan her eyes.

“Thank you for using LockTec protection services,” a robotic female voice came through the speakers.

Andromeda sat for several minutes watching the windshield fog up. She glanced at the enormous duffel bag on the passenger seat beside her, then down the alley across the street. The street lights shone no further than ten feet into the filth ridden corridor. The rest was left to her imagination. At the entrance, a thickly muscled Pistolero leaned against a plate glass window smoking a vapor cig beneath an awning. The leather strap across his chest holstered an assault rifle that he made little effort to conceal. His eyes had not left Andy since she pulled up.

Here goes nothing.

With a feigned confidence, she swung the door open, stepped out into the pouring rain and hoisted the duffel bag over her shoulder. Her arm ached from carrying the outdated armor from one potential buyer to the next. No one wanted it, but she stubbornly refused to accept that it was worth nothing. She made her way across the street and almost tripped on a pot hole hidden under a puddle.

“Are you Mr. Marròn,” she asked as she approached the man in front of the shop. A sudden flash of lightning and clap of thunder made her jump. The gangster chuckled.

Aaron is back there,” he corrected her, pointing back through the alley. “Past the second dumpster. Door’s on the right. 32B. And don’t presume to impress him with those formalities and false manners, ristie.”

Even out of her formal wear, drenched in dirty New Angeles rain, Andromeda found it difficult to conceal her affluent background.

By the time she found the door, her clothes were soaked through and her bag felt ten pounds heavier. She squinted to make out the barely legible characters printed on the door. 32B. The aggressive Latin rap music coming through the other side made her pause as she lifted her hand to knock. She gave a soft tap at first, in an awkward effort to be polite.

With her foot, she poked a man sleeping under some wet cardboard at her feet to see if he was still alive. He stirred slightly. A couple moments passed with no answer. She knocked harder.

“Hello?!” she called out.

At that, the door swung open immediately, stopping short on a chain. Andy was greeted by another Pistolero, even more imposing than the first, gripping a loaded S&W in his right hand. The sight of a ristie standing in the rain at that time of night caught him off guard.

“Hola, mi amor,” he said slyly. “And what can I do for you?”

“I was hoping to speak with Aaron,” Andy responded, shivering.

The man took a quick glance up and down the alley before ushering her in and slamming the door behind them. Andromeda’s  repulsion by the condition of the room must have been obvious.

“What’s the matter,” asked the gangster. “Not up to your presumida standards?”

“It’s, um…….not what I was expecting, is all,” Andy said, her voice barely audible over the music.

The walls of the hallway leading from the door were stained yellow and brown from years of mold and mildew. Most of the lights had either burnt out or flickered randomly, and the stench of a dog kennel saturated every square inch of the place. Three Pistoleros at a makeshift bar to her left forgot about their drinks for a moment and eyed Andy warily. She gave a shy smile, and the men turned back to the bar, disinterested.

“Aaron, mira,” her escort called through one of the doors at the back.

“Que,” a voice yelled back.

“Esta chica dice que necesita hablar contigo.”

“Ven aca!”

The huge man walked Andy to the door and pushed her inside, leaving her staring at a one-eyed Aaron Marròn, draped in gaudy silver and gold jewelry. He bore the traditional red and black of Los Pistoleros, his crimson shirt intentionally ripped to expose a muscular physique painted in myriad gang tattoos. His missing eye, spiky black hair and mutton chop sideburns made for a striking first impression. Andromeda took note of the enormous bowie knife hanging from his belt.

He stood before a row of collapsible tables covered weapons, stolen jewelry, pawned rig components and all other manner of illicit contraband. The walls and ceiling were as plain and decrepit as those in the other rooms, and a nude girl laid passed out on a short mattress near the door, surrounded by nearly a dozen empty vials of some sort. Aaron seemed to recognize Andy immediately, and opened in a burst of excitement.

“Dios mio,” he exclaimed. “You’re face has been on the news all day.” His accent was thick enough to cut with a knife.

That’s why I’m here,” Andy replied. “They’re after me. Gabriel said I should come to you.” she paused to look around the room, ironically. “This was the one part of town he said NBN and the NAPD wouldn’t follow me into.”

She finally gave in to the weight of the bag on her shoulder, which Aaron hadn’t failed to notice, and dropped it on the mattress, nearly crushing the naked girl underneath it’s weight. The girl barely mustered the energy to roll out from under it.

“A gift for me on our first date,” Aaron said, facetiously. As eager as a child on Christmas, he walked across the room and shoved the girl on the mattress aside with the bottom of his boot. “And I thought I was the romantic one,” he said, plopping down.

Andy felt a quick flash of pride as Aaron unzipped the bag and examined the beat up old armor. She remembered how every ding, dent and scratch got there. The demolition charges Blue Sun had placed around her apartment. The contract killers Gagarin sent after her.  The PriSec agents employed by Haarpsichord.

“This is yours,” Aaron asked.

“It is,” Andy replied.

“For a ristie, you’ve been in some shit, chica.” Aaron sounded impressed. “But what do you expect me to do with this hunk of plascrete? There’s no market for this crap anymore.”

“It’s still structurally sound,” Andy protested. “It just needs a bit of cosmetic work.”

A sudden change in Aaron’s tone made Andy nervous. “Seems you’ve wasted my time, and yours, mi amor. I’ll have Ramon see you out. I think you’re in over your head, here, little girl.”

He sprang from the mattress and grabbed the back of Andy’s arm so hard that it hurt.

“Ramon,” he yelled to the man outside.

Andy’s mind raced in a panic. She couldn’t go back out there without going off the grid first. Leaving Los Pistoleros territory tagged would ensure her death before morning.

“Wait!” she screamed in desperation. She wrenched free of Aaron’s grip and slammed the door closed out of his hand. “I’ll give you one better. How much are agendas worth to you?”

***************************

I’m excited that FFG has been releasing cards like Sports Hopper, Aaron Marròn, Guru Davinder, Citadel Sanctuary, On The Lam, etc. as more flexible alternatives to Plascrete Carapace. That card just felt very flat and one dimensional in its design, and it was so often a dead card in your deck.  Cards that provide a meaningful interaction during the game are a lot more fun, even if they aren’t top tier. 

This story isn’t from any particular game. It’s more an illustration of the choices in damage protection we now have combined with the thematic interaction between Breaking News shenanigans and Aaron Marròn, told through the eyes of a tagged and desperate Andromeda. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and please feel free leave a message in the comments section below. 

Seedy Gamer

questcompleted

Club Wyldside buzzed electric in the humid, midnight hours. Psycho-trance music pulsed through the speakers. Strobe lights sent colorful patterns dancing across the room. Upstairs, the dance floor was packed. Downstairs, summer break parties were scattered around the lounge.

“Vodka tonic,” Valencia Estevez told the bartender. She watched the bioroid wheel away to fix her drink and pulled a PAD from her courier bag to check the time. Where is he?

Valencia was on to something big. She had been making daily runs on Weyland’s deep space exploration subsidiary for over two weeks. Their central servers were lightly defended, but Gagarin’s internal operations were not what worried her. It was the pace at which this corporation had been expanding. She simply couldn’t keep up.

In a few short weeks, they were able to land multiple contracts with a team of international commercial bankers. They invested in internal tech start-up programs, advertised heavily, and donated to the Sensie Actors Union on a regular basis. Most worrisome, they amassed a mysterious super server under the watchful protection of at least two known private security forces.

It was to this end that she sought help at a seedy club deep in the heart of Old SanSan. She arrived around midnight to meet with an anonymous runner who was said to have engineered a powerful new server-busting tech. A ‘cyber-nuke’, as it had been described to her, that dug to the heart of a server and detonated.

The bartender returned with her drink. Then another. By 1:15, Valencia was on her last nerve and had run out of patience. How unprofessional. The annoying patrons surrounding her at the bar were dancing, laughing and chugging drinks. She sat staring over the bartender’s head, reading the international news feed coming in on the holoscreen. With a sigh, she downed the last sip of her drink, packed up her bag and kicked the stool out behind her. What a waste of my time.

She turned and came face to face with a stout little man carrying a satchel of his own.

“Valencia Estevez?” he asked.

“We were supposed to meet at twelve,” Valencia shot back. How long has this guy been standing here?

The man looked like a caricature out of an old cyber punk movie. He wore a black leather trench coat that almost touched the floor. His left hand was heavily modded. He had a hologram projector implanted into his right temple, and he wore a comms device in his left ear. His sharp nose dropped down to a pencil thin mustache and goatee. His beady eyes pierced through Valencia.

“Come with me,” he said after a moment. “I have something you might be interested in.”

With that, the man whipped around dramatically and made for the back of the club. Curious and wary, Val hoisted her bag onto her shoulder and followed suit. The pistol concealed beneath her dress gave her some solace. They spoke not a word as they made their way back to who knew where. The stranger pushed open two double doors that read ‘Employees Only’ and lead Val through the kitchen. Dark and abandoned by that time, the sterility of the stainless steel and the gleam of razor sharp knives on the walls didn’t help Valencia’s nerves.

Past the dish pit and through the pantry, they entered a hallway of small offices and break rooms. A bioroid janitor wheeled past, polishing the floors and paying them no mind. Valencia glanced over her shoulder and watched it retreat into the kitchen and out of sight. Oblivious, she bumped into the odd little man she was following, who had stopped to fish something out of his satchel. Val felt her hand move toward the pistol strapped to her leg.

“No need for that,” said the man, producing a small ring of keys from his bag. He held them up proudly. “You ready?”

When the door opened, Val’s tension released and her hand moved away from the gun. She stood in awe. Before her was the most elaborate rig she had ever seen in her life. The walls of the room were a galaxy of blinking lights from dozens of pieces of hardware. Libraries of external drives, memchips, boxes of software and hackers’ logs from all over the world filled the shelves. At the heart of more than 15 holoscreens and keyboards sat a mint condition Obelus console.

The door slid closed behind them, shutting out the fluorescent light from the halls and leaving only the glow of the rig to illuminate the room. The man dropped his bag near the door and settled into a black leather chair. He pulled a thick blue-silver memchip from the Obelus and handed it to Val. Deeply engraved into the back were a barcode, serial number and the word ‘Singularity’.

“You can call me Whizzard, Ms. Estevez,” the man broke the silence. “Let’s get started.”

*************************

Singularity is a card I’ve always had an affinity for, ever since I first used it in an All-In Maxx build. It can bust up big servers, like Mumbad Virtual Tour/ SanSan City Grid, and dangerous servers, like Prisec/ Psychic Field. It’s a fun include in casual Anarch.

In this game, Gagarin started to get ahead of me spamming assets, and there was one mystery server in particular that I knew had two Prisecs attached to it, so I was leaving it alone. Suddenly, Wyldcakes fed me Rebirth and Singularity in the same draw, so I switched to Whizzard, dropped the nuke and began turning the game around.

Successful Demonstration

Jinteki: Biotech vs. Laremy Fisk: In this match, the coup de grâce was a Dedication Ceremony to a Ronin that was already on the table. After a bit of spamming, my opponent started to focus on central accesses and got careless. I loved the idea of the theme: Weyland holding a ceremony to help Jinteki get some project off the ground. That project being a massive neural blast to runners’ brains.

precog2

“Think about what a deterrent this would be for cyber criminals,” protested Marcus Batty.

The conference room at Jinteki: Biotech looked dark and ancient, illuminated only by the holoscreens glowing behind Marcus. Adorning the walls were a number of original Kuniyoshi prints depicting samurais battling giant snakes, koi fish, and dragons. Various recesses in the wall were decorated with giant bonsai trees hundreds of years old. A dark, hardwood table occupied the center of the room, around which sat Biotech’s cyber security task force, listening intently to Marcus’ proposal.

He was proud of Project Ronin. His latest brainchild. As the mastermind behind some of Jinteki’s most infamous security software, he liked inventing new ways to fry a hacker’s brain or send their rig up in smoke. He was responsible for the development of anti-hacker software like Project Junebug and Snare!.

This task force, assigned to Project Ronin, however, was at an impasse. The political and legal ramifications for what Marcus was proposing were too severe, and Chairman Hiro had his reservations. How could they paint this as anything other than murder? Cold blooded murder. This wasn’t a defensive trap; this was a weapon. A potentially lethal neural blast capable of flatlining any threats rooting around in Biotech’s myriad servers.

So, there Marcus Batty stood at the far end of a dimly lit room, making his pitch. Half a dozen holoscreens behind him displayed various charts, graphs, and logistical outlines. Hiro sat at the head of the table, occasionally exchanging whispers with the associate to his right. Their preferred methods were more subtle. However, Georgia Emelyov and Fumiko Yamamori sat closer to Marcus, and he could see their nods of approval. At least some people still preferred the direct approach.

“You come to this meeting to present us with what you refer to as a defensive asset,” Chairman Hiro finally spoke up. “But it seems the word you are looking for is ‘weapon’. It is a lethal offensive weapon that could too easily be abused. You’re Shock! software was defensive. This is homicide.”

Caprice Nisei seconded the Chairman’s sentiments from a far corner of the room. “A neural blast of this magnitude has never been used on a runner before,” she said, glancing up from the bonsai she was pruning. Her white eyes glowed in the darkness. “People will die. That is certain. Deaths mean investigations. Police, politicians and reporters bearing down. We can do without that.”

“Last year, Marcus’ Psychic Field software was seen as a massive success,” Tori Hanzo joined the fray. “We saw various private security forces jump on board, and even NBN experimented with it.”

“What if we bring the project public first,” Fumiko Yamamori offered. “We invite the press, government officials, representatives from corporations around the globe. Sell it as a dedication ceremony for the inauguration of a cutting edge corporate security software package. With an event as a distraction, collateral damage might go under the radar.”

It was a risky proposition, but Chairman Hiro could not deny that it was a good idea. A waiting silence fell over the room and all eyes turned to him. He drew in a breath and stood from his chair. Caprice Nisei turned from her pruning and moved to her seat at the table, her walk so elegant she appeared to float.

“If we agree to this,” Chairman Hiro said to Batty, “it’s your project and your responsibility. You will see to all of the arrangements and meticulously track all necessary expenses. Midori will be there to assist you. And, make no mistake, if this ceremony tanks, your career is going down with it.”

***********************

They flew in from all around the world to witness the unveiling of Jinteki: Biotech’s new secret tech. The lavishly adorned banquet hall in Hokusai was bustling with activity when Marcus Batty finally emerged from the red curtains on stage. Crystal chandeliers filled the room with a heavenly glow, as guests in tuxedoes and exotic dresses nibbled on passed hors d’oeuvres and sipped champagne. Elaborate centerpieces decorated the dozen tables in front of the stage.

All of the world’s most influential mega-corporations made a showing for the event. Elizabeth Mills stood near the stage talking seriously with Weyland’s mysterious new CEO. The monstrous man looked more like her body guard. Director Haas and Ryon Knight were sharing a laugh with Jackson Howard at a far table, while Haas’ Jeeves Model Bioroid stood stoically nearby. Keegan lane was nearby at the buffet, filling his face with crab stuffed mushrooms and bread rolls.

The lights in the room dimmed and a spotlight shone on Marcus Batty standing center stage. His guests quieted and made their way back to their seats as the curtains parted behind him, revealing a computer console and a number of holoscreens being operated by his intern, Midori.

“We live in a time when cyber-terrorism is easier and more profitable than ever,” Marcus began. “These ‘runners’, as they’ve taken to calling themselves, are developing increasingly efficient ice breakers and parasitic programs that are nullifying our cyber defenses. They are finding new ways to dig through our central servers, killing our projects before we can even get them off the ground. What’s worse, many of them are now being contracted by anonymous, black market investors to make these runs.”

“But we have a solution. Ladies and gentlemen, clones and bioroids, what I’ve brought you here to see tonight is going to push corporate cyber-security into new territory.”

Behind Marcus, Midori turned to the audience and held up a small security chip and external drive containing Project Ronin. She placed the drive into a slot in the console, waited for the program to load. Then she inserted the security chip, initializing the software. The screens read out line after line of code as Midori navigated her way through the firing protocol.

Marcus Batty started up again. “I present to you, Project Ronin. Thanks to a generous donation by the Wayland Consortium,” he raised his champagne flute to Elizabeth Mills, “we have not only expedited this program three-fold, but we have brought you all here to witness its inauguration first hand. Finally, the world’s leading corporations can take cyber-security back into our own hands.”

The crowd gave a soft clap, and Marcus turned their attention to Midori.

************************

Laremy Fiske was an average guy. He was handsome. He married his high school sweetheart and they lived in a spacious apartment together in New Angeles. He enjoyed his lucrative career in financial investing, and he was gearing up for a nationwide tour of investment seminars. His casual forays into the net were few and far between. Though his piecemeal rig couldn’t compete with his more obsessive counterparts, he enjoyed running when he could, and occasionally scored some big steals. He was a very unassuming target.

He arrived home that night filled with excitement. He dropped his keys on the kitchen counter and kicked his shoes off at the door like he always did. It was well passed midnight, and his wife was already asleep. He snuck into their room gave her a kiss on the forehead, then tip-toed into his office down the hall and quietly shut the door.

He flicked on the TV for some quiet background noise and started a hot shower. On the screen, NBN: New Angeles was recapping their News Now Hour from earlier in the evening.

Authorities are still unclear what caused the traffic light malfunction, and the matter is being investigated. We here at NBN: New Angeles offer our sincerest condolences to the family and loved ones of the deceased, Gabriel Santiago.’

            Laremy turned from the TV toward the shower.

In other news, controversial genetic research mega-corporation, Jinteki: Biotech will be holding a public demonstration later today in Hokusai, showing off their latest in cyber-security technology. Tune in at 12:30………’

            By then Fiske has tuned out the TV. The steaming water in the shower relaxed him, and his mind began to wander. He thought about tomorrow and about his first seminar at the world renowned Earthrise Hotel. He thought about his wife, and about starting a life and family together. He thought about how psyched he was to try out the new programs and hardware he had just purchased from Aesop’s that evening!

Laremy jumped out of the shower, toweled off, and threw on a pair of pajama pants. He plopped down in front of his rig and fired up the connection to his offsite security testing console. He inserted a holodisc containing a number of exciting new programs into the LOGOS console at his feet .

The TV droned on in the background.

‘…..what I’ve brought you here to see tonight is going to push corporate cyber-security into new territory.’

            Laremy jacked in. He prodded here and there at various random servers as his Paperclip and Peregrine icebreaker programs were downloading. He poked a less than threatening piece of ice and was greeted by a cute little barrier, named simply VANILLA.ETR. He would have to come back in a few minutes.

‘….corporations can take cyber-security back into their own hands’

            The voice on the TV ceased.

Seconds later, Fiske involuntary straightened in his chair, stiff as a board. His body began convulsing uncontrollably. Smoke rose from the hardware in front of him, and all of his holoscreens turned to a chaotic static. The shock sent his head realing, and he could feel his brain stem being electrocuted. Then, just as suddenly, his body grew limp and he folded back into the chair, semiconscious and hyperventilating. He touched his nose and realized it was bleeding. His mouth was full of blood too. Instinctively, he reach for the power cord behind his rig, but his actions were slow and clumsy. His head throbbed and the room around him was a blur.

Another burst of neural feedback shot through Laremy’s spine, this time sending him out of the chair and dumping his convulsing body to the carpet. Blood poured from his nose and he was foaming at the mouth. His spasms were so violent that his head was slamming against the floor. Sparks flew from the back of his LOGOS and ignited the carpet behind his rig. In the few seconds it took for the fire to reach him, Fiske was already dead.

‘If you draw your attention to this screen, please, you can see our network security is identifying that all invasive connections to Jinteki: Biotech have been taken offline or severely weakened. I believe these results speak for themselves. We hope to have this on the market…….’

            The voice on the TV was drowned out by a burst of applause

Calling In Favors

BLUE SUN vs. NULL: In this match, I had installed a Project Atlas and a PriSec in an undefended remote server and advanced it once. Null ran the server and took the PriSec tag, allowing me to rez a well-defended Zealous Judge in another server, and turning on a Scorched Earth play on my next turn.
door-to-door-2

Null was sitting his rig with a needle in his arm. Empty cans of Diesel littered the floor at his feet and his hand hovered over his keyboard. He was having second thoughts. He needed this one last run before he fled Salsette Island. Not for the thrill, though that was always a perk. No. Now he ran for the money. A quality data dealer would pay up to nine hundred credits for reliable corp intel, and that money would buy his way to freedom.

The 23-Seconds fiasco had brought too much heat down on runners everywhere. While he could probably just lay low for a while, reporter and movement sympathizer Valencia Estevez had made all of the arrangements for a hasty relocation. Null was not about to pass that up. First he needed the funds.

Finally, he punched the red launch key, flipped a few switches on his modded out Grimoire console, and stimmed up. As he watched the world fizzle away, cyber space rushed towards him in a three dimensional, binary kaleidoscope. Digital gibberish to the untrained eye. The intense buzzing in his head made promises of intense pain the next morning. But he pushed on, laser focused on the myriad servers in front of him. This “Blue Sun” division had been busy.

The first node he passed appeared as a cluster of digital code, so bright that it was difficult to look at. His read-out translated the node into WYLD:HQ:BLUSN/security/agg.rez. Though heavily defended, Blue Sun’s headquarters server was not impassible; but, Null needed maximum pay out from this run, and had no time to waste on fruitless single accesses. He re positioned to another facet of the network and continued probing.

Here and there, he passed half a dozen remote servers. This one too heavily defended, that one a marginally profitable campaign ticking away, the next one a spikey trap that fired a burst of feedback through Null’s cerebral cortex. His searching payed off when he came across an unprotected research project nearing completion. Slightly behind it, but clearly attached via several lines of code, he spied another file.

The most obvious defensive upgrade, or some devious trick, he thought. I should just move on. But, Null did not have a choice. He was out of time, and the target was too juicy. This is my window, he convinced himself, and if I miss it, I am not making it out of Salsette anytime soon.

He charged at the server, the code in his periphery racing by in a blur. At the end of the server, he touched the research project, ‘Atlas’. He watched the digital information unravel and added a few lines of code himself, sending the information onto an external drive and jacking out as fast as possible. The net fell away from his vision and became a pin prick in the distance, as the outside world slowly and fuzzily came back into focus. He waited a moment for his head to stop spinning. Damn stims!

The external drive in his Grimoire blinked red. He shot up in his chair, slid the needle from his arm, and ripped an external drive from his rig. On the back of his PAD, he opened a small compartment and jammed the drive into the corresponding slot. Then, he threw his PAD into his backpack, along with some clothes, grabbed his keys off the counter and sprinted out of his apartment.

On his way down the stairs, he felt his PAD vibrate as the newly installed chip downloaded to a secure folder. Had he been able to read it, he would have seen the name of the file: ATLAS.research.fin/SUB:PRISEC.exe.

******************************

   Henceforth, all projects deemed highly important

will be prioritized and sent directly to headquarters for immediate

execution. All expedited projects shall be made public for the purposes

of openness and political integrity……

-PROJECT ATLAS

Elizabeth Mills knew the details of Atlas. She had written it herself and had it passed above board. Its theft had not gone unnoticed. In fact, she had been counting on it. In the remote server control room of Blue Sun’s Salsette Island division, dozens of Weyland employees scrambled from one terminal to another, frantically responding to the break-in. Elizabeth sat in her chair at the back, calm as ever, and took a drag of her E-Cig. Three holo-screens in front of her, as well as her personal PAD, were linked to the information contained in that server. Now, they all flashed red, bearing the same message.

           PRISEC.TRIANGULATE.EXE

She inserted a security chip into one of the terminals and waited a moment. The prompt on the screens disappeared and her ear piece flicked on as a transmission was patched through. She was greeted on the other end by a waiting silence.

“We’re live,” Mills responded to the silence.

“Understood,” said a deeply muffled voice on the other end.

With that, all of the screens before her came online, and suddenly she had nearly unlimited access to the cyber terrorist, code name ‘Null’. On one screen, a satellite image displaying a pinpoint location of an apartment building in downtown Salsette. On another screen, a detailed list of connections and resources connected with the hacker, which she could now eliminate with the flick of a finger. A third screen opened a live video communication with the private security force already en route.

She didn’t particularly trust this ‘PriSec’ team that Weyland had recently employed. In truth, they were mercenaries, belonging to no one and easily available to the highest bidder. However, she could not discount their effectiveness.

Mills drew in a breath and turned her attention to the agent on the screen. “Great work,” she said. “The money should already be waiting for you in an offshore account. Two million, plus an additional three million for any successful ‘demolition’ work. Now, patch me through to the judge.”

With that, she retreated to her office on the thirteenth floor to await the other call that she knew was coming. There, staring out of the window smoking her E-Cig she watched the red and orange glow of the setting sun over Salsette. She watched the smoke rising in the distance as another apartment was being demolished to make way for a new construction project.

Eventually, her PAD flashed to life, sending into retreat the oppressive darkness of her office and jolting her out of her meditation. She moved across the room to her desk and beamed a projection of the image onto one of the holo-screens in front of her

A man’s face resolved into view, and he addressed Elizabeth first.

“Is this server secure,” asked the man. He was much older than Mills, a burly man with a thick neck and a shock of slicked back gray hair. His intense face and cold eyes spoke clearly of a cruel past that Elizabeth was glad to know nothing about.

His takeover at Weyland had not been a smooth transition. While  his new leadership generated enough revenue to get a number of critical projects  off the ground, the bad publicity it generated brought down the press and local media. Elizabeth had taken it upon herself to save face, but not without some difficulty.

“We have our strongest ICE online,” Mills said. “Layers of it. anyone with half a nerve to try and break in is going to have a hell of a hard time. Nevertheless, I think it’s best we keep this transmission brief.”

“Go ahead. What’s the status?”

“The target is in our sights, and our men are closing in fast” Mills confirmed. She projected onto various other screens the information that was shown to her in the control room. The satellite image continued to display the movements of the hacker, as he fled toward Salsette Slums in a stolen Sports Hopper.

Then, suddenly, all of the screens went blank!

The man on the screen erupted, “You lost him Mills! He shook the tag!”

Mills sat and sipped her coffee, calm as ever. “Just…watch,” she replied.

******************************

Omar slouched at his rig and stared at the dozens of keyboards in front of him. In spite of the chubby little man’s posture, the nervous tapping of his foot gave away his concern. Periodically, he would hear footsteps pass the door, or a car pull into the parking lot, and his thoughts went to the worst.

His journeys through the net were countless. Thousands? Tens of thousands? The first split second when he became submerged in the Net, as the world was washed from his vision and only the code mattered. The unknowns of what lay ahead from the moment he jacked in had him hooked from the first time. As he got better, honed his skills, became more confident, the rush only intensified.

He did not feel confident now though. The 23-Seconds incident, as it was dubbed by the media, has blown up in their faces, and Omar was forced to flee to the most isolated place he could find in the outskirts of Salsette. He had been there two days, but already he could feel the walls closing in around him. He moved to the window, and pulled the curtains just far enough to take a peak outside.

It seemed quiet. Nothing out of the ordinary. The usual drug dealers and street peddlers hustling for a few dollars on a crusty, litter ridden street in the middle of the worst part of the city. When things ended up in the slums, they tended to stay there.

BAM! BAM! BAM!

A knock at the door sent Omar’s heart into his throat. A visceral fear gripped him and the hair on his neck stood on end. Without thinking, Omar unlatched the window and quietly slid it open. His eyes never left the door as he clumsily tried to climb out backward onto the metal fire escape below. His second foot slipped, and for a second, he lay there on his belly,  half in and half out of the window.

BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!

“Omar, open the god-damn door!”

He recognized the muffled voice on the other side and was glad to hear it, though it was about sixteen hours late. He waddled his legs back through the window and dumped himself into the center of the room with a crash. With considerable effort, he scrambled to his feet and rushed to open the door.

The moment he unfastened the last lock, the door burst open , and sent Omar once again onto his back. From the floor, he saw Null whip around, slam the door shut and turn all five locks. It wasn’t until he was finished that he turned to help Omar to his feet.

The man standing before Omar was a tattered, bloody mess. His clothes were dirty and torn, his face bruised and swollen. His nose looked broken. Dried blood mottled his once white dress shirt. Worst of all, his left leg appeared to have been grazed by a bullet, and he was favoring it heavily.

“What the hell happened to you,” asked Omar, half annoyed and half concerned.

Null hobbled to the half-completed rig in the room and sat down. He ripped the hole in his pant leg a little wider to expose a weeping bullet wound underneath. Omar began to pace frantically.

Squeamishly, he let out a yelp when he saw Null’s leg. “My god,” he said. “Are you feeling ok? Are you sure? You’ve lost a lot of blood.”

“I’ve had worse,” Null snapped back, feeling irritated. “The worst of this situation is past us. I’ve got a little over nine hundred credits to my name right now, so gather what you need and let’s flee. We will be gone before they even realize what happened. Val told me you’d be good for that.”

Omar exploded. “Not if you’ve already been tagged! That changes everything!”

“I shook the tag on my way out to you,” Null shot back. “I ditched the hopper miles from here, too. I sold Blue Sun’s research to the first data dealer I could locate. Now…it’s time to go!”

By that time, a commotion had erupted in the streets as a squad of trucks and demolition vehicles swarmed the apartment. Security detail followed close behind in heavily tinted, jet black AC Hoppers. All the vehicles bore the large, ominous ‘W’ on the side doors, with the slogan ‘Powering the Future’ in smaller print. Omar and Null peaked out the window as far as they dared to, but when a man behind dark glasses with a wire in his ear seemed to looked in their direction, they jolted back out of sight.

Null had lost his cool. “SHIT! How did they find us?!”

“They found YOU,” Omar screamed back, and with that he shot across the room to a compartment below his bed. He grabbed his backpack and filled it with anything he could find quickly. A credit chip with some paltry amount still available. His PAD was next, along with a number of external drives hosted on it. A few keyboards for good measure, three cans of Diesel, and a few stims.

With a surprising quickness, the stout old man had all five locks unfastened in an instant. He yanked open the door, and turned to take one last look at Null, who was still sitting at his rig. He didn’t move. He didn’t say anything. He stared desperately at Omar, pleading with his eyes. With his leg a bloody mess, he couldn’t keep up. The *CLICK* and *SQUEAL* of the charges being place around the building brought Omar back to his senses. He turned from the room and disappeared into the crowd in the hall.